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Curious Character Study Of An Olympic Wannabe
SVU takes an interesting turn as an Olympic hopeful gets assaulted while the squad's Amanda Rollins faces her own potential headache.
The nuts and bolts of the criminal case are secondary to the mini-character study of Jenna Miller (Brit Morgan), an Olympic wannabe whose introduction comes as she brutally trains on a treadmill in her living room with her husband and child watching; that night she goes on a girl's night out downtown and soon meets business sleaze Michael Wheeler (an effective Theo Stockman); next thing we see is Jenna, her expensive dress torn between her legs and obvious bruises on her calves, vaulting between two buildings and incoherently screaming to a black-and-white that she won.
While this is starting Amanda Rollins is tending to a parole hearing for her ne'er do well sister Kim (Lindsay Pulsipher); she is released on parole and stays with Amanda, and Amanda is not in the mood for any shenanigans from Kim (Olivia Benson, herself with experience with wayward siblings, isn't either, threatening to yank Amanda's badge if Kim screws this up), especially as Kim must help take care of Amanda's child.
The accusation against Wheeler is investigated and it doesn't take much to establish him as guilty, but where everything starts going awry is when Jenna Miller in essence refuses to press charges because if word of this gets out she will lose her chance at the next Olympics and resultant endorsement deals. Even when she agrees to wear a wire to try and smoke out a confession from Wheeler that gets botched when Jenna's husband barges in and confronts Wheeler.
Though Jenna is clearly the victim, she is a curiously unsympathetic character for refusing to press charges and for the ridiculous obsession with an Olympic dream (and endorsement deals) that never comes across as plausible. In several spots it is stated she missed the Rio games on a technicality, yet this comes across as something tacked on by the writers to provide some sympathy for Jenna, and she makes it worse when she has to be in court and erupts in a full-undress meltdown on the stand.
The reason why only becomes apparent at the end and winds up tying into the subplot with Kim. Amanda's ne'er do well sis lives up to the promise of working to stay straight, and perhaps the strongest scene in the episode comes when Amanda winds up with egg on her face upon learning something Kim hadn't told her yet.
It all adds up to an interesting character study.
Nixon's The One As SVU's Prize Pest
SVU by 2007 was more than established for viewers and its tautness of plotting and strength of cast show through again in this very good episode with a show-stealing performance by Cynthia Nixon as the ultimate nut job, a split-personality who leads SVU on a wild goose chase for her sister.
This episode brings out the inadvertent humor that adds charm to the series as Nixon dons several guises, first as a lawyer reporting a child is being abused, then as a waif holed up in Central Park, then as a bitchy broad who tells off her own lawyer and then explodes in the subsequent trial - the bitchy broad telling off her lawyer is funny as heck, and the only thing this daffy duck doesn't portray is the telephone with dial tone - a Warner Brothers gag that, given how nutty Nixon's character is, would almost work in all seriousness on this show.
Easily the creepiest scene comes soon after Elliott Stabler has to sleepily tell off his teenage daughter who is griping about her punishment for drunk driving - Stabler goes to work, then gets a call that Nixon, in a hayseed guise complete with crude ponytails that looks like a deliberately atrocious Holly Marshall getup, has boldly walked into Elliott's house and is chatting with his wife and teenage children - complete with tightly-held butcher knife.
The other source of humor stems from the temporary "reassignment" of Captain Cragen over incidents of rule-breaking by Elliott, Olivia, and Fin; Munch is hastily promoted to oversee SVU and his protest to Fin et al that he wasn't seeking any promotion naturally isn't believed by anyone; he also doesn't inspire anything but snickering when he has to don the officious blues of his new assignment - which thankfully isn't permanent.
It's Always The Psycho You Don't Suspect
Zebras is an episode that seems to strain credulity at times but which allows for scenery-chewing at its best. We get that aplenty here when a woman is found mauled to death in a park with her child stacked in its carriage near a tunnel.
The first one there is a new member of CSU, Dale Stuckey. Right away Stuckey gets under everyone's skin with his deranged theorizing about mafia hits and his bellicose enthusiasm for his job, and we become more leery when we realize he's the first not only on this murder but a subsequent one.
SVU initially suspects a prisoner on work release, Peter Harrison. Harrison is mentally unstable and at one point tries to kill Stabler and Fin with poison gas. Nick Stahl is cast as Harrison and the character is played like a parody of Stahl's most famous role, as John Connor of Terminator fame.
By this point in the series the viewer should know it tends not to be the psycho you suspect who's guilty, but the one you don't. And when blood samples turn up that prove who the real killer is, the result gives Mariska Hargitay the best opportunity to chew up the scenery and it's obvious she's enjoying it for all it's worth and so does the viewer. One recalls her "getting abused" in the sham sibling rivalry fight in an earlier episode and here we see her "getting revenge." The plot may at times strain credulity but the end result is still brilliant.
The Fake Fight And The Judges' Card Game
Bound turns into a bit of an unusual episode for the SVU series in that while it has the usual high-quality tautness of presentation and strong Twilight Zone-esque plot twists, it also features a bit of a twist for primary characters Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler.
The strangulation of an elderly lady is linked to a home-care foundation run by two twins, Matt and Emma Spevak, and as SVU investigates it finds evidence linking Matt Spevak to several other strangulation murders for access to substantial wealth - which Matt Spevak needs to pay off severe gambling debts.
But when Matt himself is found shot to death at the abode of his latest victim, SVU's resident psychologist George Huang and Medical Examiner Melinda Warner quickly find the setup doesn't make sense, and suspicion now centers on Emma.
It is here that one of the episode's two strongest scenes occur. SVU can't prove Emma is guilty, so they have to smoke out a confession from Emma. To do this Huang recommends Olivia and Elliott fake a "sibling rivalry" fight in front of her. Olivia's reaction when Huang recommends this course of action is priceless, a mild anticipatory glee in her eyes (and a credit to Mariska Hargitay's ability to convey emotion through her eyes in the best David Janssen mold), while the sham fight itself allows Hargitay and Chris Meloni an opportunity for minor hamming.
Then there is one of the inadvertently funniest scenes in the series - ADA Casey Novak must get a judge's signature on a warrant to exhume Emma Spevak's mother, and she happens upon a poker game involving seemingly all of NYC's judges, a setup that works humorously for two reasons - it brings to mind such entertaining card game scenes as the Presidents' Card Game sketch from Rich Little and Batman The Animated Series' "Almost Got 'im" card game - one half-expects a judge to mutter, "Not the robot theory again." And adding to the unintended humor is ADA Novak's confession to having nightmares of facing all of the city's judges - while naked. Judge Petrovsky (Joanna Merlin)'s reaction to that idea is worth seeing as well.
It adds to an entertaining murder mystery.
Timid Tabby (1957)
Refreshing Change Of Pace For Long-Running Series
Timid Tabby is a superb change of pace for the long-running Tom & Jerry series, in that we see another member of Tom's family and also for a change see Jerry get the worst of the varied encounters. George is Tom's cousin and is deathly afraid of mice, a fact Jerry exploits by scaring George all over the house. Tom, however, bashes Jerry at numerous points of the short, then teams with George to trick Jerry into thinking he's gone insane, leading to an appropriate ending.
George is voiced by Bill Thompson, which adds to the strength of the character's weakness. As George is drawn as a twin of Tom it allows the animators to animate dialogue into the design while leaving Tom mute; given the quality that neither Jerry nor Tom speak in almost every episode, allowing a character who looks like Tom to speak is an interesting angle.
A Clever Character Study Of A Batman Foil
The Man Who Killed Batman is an episode that revolves not around Batman but around one of the people who gets involved with him, in this case a small-time stumble-bum hood named Sidney Debris who dreams of becoming a big shot in the underworld. He runs to mob boss Rupert Thorne when Batman disappears in a gas-tank explosion. With his fellow mobsters believing he killed Batman, he is hailed as "Sid The Squid," and now other punks want his hide, leading to a bar brawl and being bailed out of jail by a lawyer named Harleen Quinzel - who turns out to be The Joker's hench-woman Harley Quinn, as The Joker, supremely jealous that someone else succeeded where he hadn't yet made a full effort, wants bona-fide proof that Batman is gone - and seems to get it in a jewelry store holdup where no resistance worthy of the name is offered and Batman never appears.
Sidney Debris quickly establishes himself as a sympathetic character, and as incidents explode all around him through no action of his own, he becomes someone to actually root for, and when Rupert Thorne suddenly becomes suspicious his luck holds out yet again - and even holds out when he winds up in jail at the end, as the varied incarcerated hoods treat him with the respect he's always craved, since he succeeded in his encounters with Batman, Thorne, and The Joker.
Matt Frewer is perfectly cast as Sid.
The A-Team: Bounty (1985)
The A-Team's Warmest Episode
Late in 1984 a syndicated entertainment magazine show aired a segment on Dwight Schultz and his involvement with "The A-Team." The segment included an interview with Schultz's wife Wendy Fulton. Many fans of the show likely saw this segment and thus, when learning that this episode would co-star Wendy Fulton, looked forward more than usual to this episode.
Knowing that Wendy Fulton is Dwight Schultz's wife is important because it adds to the warmth of the episode as Wendy and Dwight play off the very real love they have and thus imbue the episode with an extra humanity mostly missing from what is supposed to be an action comedy. Wendy plays a veterinarian, Kelly Stevens, who lives in upstate California. When a gang of shotgun-armed hillbilly-style bounty hunters kidnaps Murdock in broad daylight they take him upstate but he escapes, and finds shelter with Kelly Stevens.
The sparkle that emanates from Murdock and Kelly is just part of what makes this perhaps the show's best episode. Not only is there the love angle between Murdock and Kelly, there is the three-way pursuit involving the A-Team, the bounty hunters, and Colonel Decker, who arrives on the scene upon learning of Murdock's capture. This three-way chase intersects at the end of Act One when Murdock escapes the bounty hunters and they pursue, scant minutes before the A-Team bursts down the door of their house and then Decker arrives in a hail of bullets.
This is a case where a little more of Murdock and Kelly and less action would have made the episode better - an Act Three action scene where Hannibal and B.A. blow up some of Decker's cars to force a diversionary pursuit uses mostly stock footage from an earlier episode and could have been deleted altogether without disrupting the flow of the episode. In any event the episode shines thanks to its mixture of action and warmth, and one wonders why Kelly Stevens was never returned to the series as a periodic guest star.
Oddest Entry In Popeye Series
This is the most unusual episode of the Popeye cartoon series in that it is made by one studio - that of Jack Kinney - yet it uses the opening theme and a particular cue from another studio - Paramount Pictures. Winston Sharples' mid-1950s power-march theme introduces the cartoon, editorially extended to cover the longer credits common to Kinney's entries, and the spinach cue from Paramount's 1957 entry "Patriotic Popeye" is also used, and also editorially extended.
The theme closes over the actual title card, which features silhouettes of Popeye and Olive Oyl over an outdoor stove. The silhouettes give away the cartoon's unusual visual quality. Dispensing with the handsome character designs of Paramount's 1950s shorts, Kinney goes back to the future with character designs straight out of E.C. Seger's newspaper funnies; Popeye even wears black sailor garb for the first time since his late-1930s shorts.
The subject matter here is a weekend off for Popeye and company in their new suburban setting, displayed by the opening establishing shot of a suburban block. Popeye is setting up a barbecue for himself and Olive. When he borrows some flowers for his sweetie from his neighbor Brutus, he gets a one-punch pounding but is otherwise unfazed. Brutus, after getting his "favorite pet petunias" back, begins scheming to get into Popeye's celebration (this leads to the short's funniest gag, when Brutus drops a lit match onto Popeye's grill, it blows up in his face, and all his hair is burned off only to regrow in an instant), but Popeye soon finds his hands full with J. Wellington Wimpy and Little Swee'Pea while Brutus regales Olive with his folk song about spilled mustard.
The cartoon is among the loudest and most chaotic of the entire Popeye animated series, theatrical or television, as Popeye runs himself ragged taking care of his unexpected guests while trying to get at Brutus. Falling into his cellar, Popeye finds a can of spinach and that gives him the strength to resolve this situation at last - Wimpy and Swee'Pea get the hint, but of course Brutus doesn't, instead being provoked merely by being referred to as "Junior." The soundtrack stock used for this cartoon has considerable room-sound-quality reverb in the voice performances, which hurts them (Mae Questel's in particular) as voices seem to crack at times. Nonetheless it still works as an entertaining if very unusual entry in the Popeye series.
Popeye Returns In Strong Fashion
The first cartoon of the 1960s Popeye television series, Hits & Missiles is a sleeper classic, in that you do not expect a made-for-TV cartoon to be this clever, funny, or well-made. This is the first Popeye cartoon made since mid-1957, and it's obvious that Paramount Pictures and director Seymour Kneitel welcome the chance to return to the spinach-eating sailor man given the cartoon's energy, much of it derived from the use of a new Winston Sharples score.
The cartoon is handsomely made, even though the animation is considered "limited" by the more free-flowing standards of 1950s theatrical animated shorts. This "limited" animation, though, is not any particular weakness; it actually gives the cartoon a nice stylized quality.
There are numerous puns and in one scene when Olive Oyl and Popeye plunge through the holes of the Swiss Cheese Alps on the moon, there is some semi-improvised Jack Mercer dialog, the use of which recalls its frequent inclusion in 1930s Popeye shorts.
Mercer voices both Popeye and his nemesis, the evil Big Cheese. There is a curious quality to the voice performances, for though they are crisply delivered by Mercer and Mae Questel, the soundtrack used sounds slightly rough compared to the backing score and sound FX tracks. Of course these latter production values were among the strongest in studio cartoons of the time and far better than those used on other entries in the series.
Most of Sharples' score is original to this short, except for the climatic showdown when Popeye downs his trusty can of spinach; here Sharples reuses the spinach cue from 1957's "Patriotic Popeye" to superb effect; this particular cue would become a standard for Paramount's entries into the TV show.
Without question this is a highlight of the Popeye series.
2006 Season Crossroads For Patriots and Vikings
Halfway through the 2006 season, Monday Night Football aired the New England Patriots visiting the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for one of their infrequent showdowns with the Minnesota Vikings. The episode itself opened with a cute bit, as the cast of Ugly Betty spoofed Bill Belichick's wearing of sweatshirts on the sidelines - the concept of America Ferrara or Vanessa Williams taking on Bill Belichick is enough to make one laugh.
The game certainly had promise of good competition - the Vikes stood at 4-2 after a stunning rout of their former nemesis Mike Holmgren, as they took down the ex-Green Bay coach's present team, the Seattle Seahawks, who owned one of the league's best home records (hence their 12th Man trademark). The Patriots, meanwhile, stood at 5-1 but were mocked almost incessantly by many experts because of the contract squabble that led to the trade of Deion Branch to the Seahawks at the very start of the 2006 season. Three shaky performances in Foxboro (close wins over Buffalo and Miami and yet another hair-pulling loss to the Denver Broncos) were cited in "I Told You So" manner by the team's critics about the supposed ineptitude of their passing attack, but lost in the snark fest were three strong road wins (a close win over the NY Jets plus road routs of Cincinatti and Buffalo) by the Patriots.
The game proved a crossroads for both teams, as the Vikings stacked up the line, daring the Patriots to throw - and were shredded thusly in the air; the only things that kept any kind of hope for the Vikings was a first-quarter INT that ultimately led to an end-zone pick by Rodney Harrison, and a third-quarter kick return touchdown. None of this was enough, and when it was over the Patriots would surge to a 12-4 record and yet another playoff run while the Vikings collapsed to a miserable season.
The much-mocked ESPN play-by-play crew lived down to its reputation, notably Tony Kornhiser's perennially uninspiring commentary; all across New England and Minnesota TV volumes were shut down and radios turned up to hear Paul Allen of the Vikings and Gil Santos of the Patriots deliver crisper, more engaging commentary than anything the ESPN types could muster.