Sunday-Night TV Precap: Carl’s Awakening, Kenny’s Good-bye, Stevie’s Chin, and the Sad Soundtrack of L.A.

HBO/Grantland Illustration


The Walking Dead: Thoughts on Carl

Bill Simmons: I don’t mean to backseat drive with The Walking Dead, especially in the middle of such a stellar season. But they’re missing the boat with poor Carl, who went through puberty during these first three Dead seasons in the worst possible way — no cute girls in his age range, no older cougars that he could ogle, no dirty magazines, no Internet porn, no privacy, and, of course, zombies and blood everywhere. Instead of being a semi-normal 13-year-old kid, I guess we’re supposed to think Carl is turning asexual, or that he’s turning into a future serial killer … or both. And that’s no fun.

Lately, I’ve been trying to crack up my wife during episodes with the running premise that Carl turned into a deviant masturbator. It’s even funnier when Carl then shows up in a scene looking disheveled and vaguely guilty — which is how Carl always looks, but whatever. Every time Carl isn’t in a scene and Rick is acting depressed, that’s when it’s fun to make up fake scenes for “Carl: The Deviant Masturbator.” For instance …

Rick: “Where the hell is Carl? He’s been missing for two hours!”

Maggie: “He’s still in his cell — he’s resting.”

Rick: “Resting? The kid never rested in his life until three weeks ago. What the hell is going on in there?”

Maggie: “Rick, he’s just a kid.”

Rick: “Maggie, he draped a curtain over the bars of the cell so nobody can see inside. And all of our body lotion is missing. You don’t see what’s going on here? God, I think he’s trying to set some sort of record.”

[Hershel limps in.]

Hershel: “Rick, we gotta talk about Carl. He’s, um … ”

Rick: “I know what he’s doing, Hershel.”

Hershel: “I’m not even talking about that. Glenn just saw Carl drag one of those dead walkers into his cell.”

Rick: “Oh Jesus — the blonde one?”

Hershel: “I think so.”

Rick: “Was it the one who kind of looks like Kate Upton, but if half of Kate Upton’s face was chewed off?”

Hershel: “Exactly.”

Rick: “CARL!!!!!!! COME DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!”

**END**

The Walking Dead: When Will the Fourth Season Actually Begin?

John Lopez: With nearly a third of The Walking Dead’s season disappearing behind us faster than Carol in Rick’s rearview mirror, now’s a decent time to check the vitals (or lack thereof) of AMC’s undead juggernaut. The ratings, of course, are still sicker than a prison-farmed pig, as EW illustrated this week with some mind-blowing analogies. But story-wise, I’m not sure I feel a pulse; as I think back over the season, I’m hard-pressed to say what has actually happened. Yes, we said sayonara to Carol, but her departure mostly preempts the delicious conflict building between her, Tyreese, and god knows who else. And the Camus-inspired plague arc has seemed to serve little function other than to clear out the anonymous additions left over from last season’s Governor vs. Grimes cage-match showdown — and provide Hershel an excuse to name-drop his favorite authors from American Lit 101.

By comparison, look at the same span of episodes from this time last year: The group had found the prison complete with prison-buddy pen pals; Hershel had lost his foot; Merle came back; Andrea and Michonne had not only met the Governor and his ersatz Mayberry (complete with floating-head aquarium), Michonne had already figured El Guv for a psychopath and tried to cut his throat, even as Andrea developed a schoolgirl crush; and, oh yeah, fan-hate favorite Lori died shockingly while giving birth, sending Rick on a murderous rampage while Daryl and Maggie stepped up to take care of his newborn little girl. This season, however, has at times seemed little more than a haze of homilies and sermons about hope in a hopeless world — speeches that are starting to taste pretty gamey when you consider we’re entering the post-post-apocalypse here. Haven’t we all had enough time to adjust?

Season 3 also had its ADD problems, so far be it from me to complain about excessive character building. And last week’s return of the Governor promises to inject a potentially vivifying dose of chaos into the proceedings. But when someone challenges me as to whether I’m actually enjoying The Walking Dead, I find myself at a loss: I could; I would; I have. But right now, I mostly feel like an imprisoned French existentialist, marking off the zombie deaths on the walls of his concrete cell, confronting the absurdity of a meaningless world as I wait for the plague to break and the quarantine to be lifted so I can go get a beer.

Eastbound & Down: Good-bye, Kenny Powers, and Godspeed

Tess Lynch: Kenny, I love you. I love your scientist’s mind, how you taught us to use catastrophic social mistakes as a springboard for character reinvention, and how you look when you wear your hair in cornrows. I might cry when we say good-bye forever on Sunday, but I know it’s for the best. Because:

Yes, Kenny. You must cease to exist before the rest of your story unfolds. They say you’re going to be on The Surreal Life, Kenny, and that you’re writing a book about an Air Force alligator — this is all after you try to become the mayor of Toronto. I don’t know how to tell you this, but you become addicted to Twitter — stop, Kenny, I’m saying that in the future you stop thinking Twitter’s for pussies and you get really, really deep into it. It’s rough going, Kenny, and I wish there were a way to keep you from all the harm that’s coming your way while still keeping you in our lives, but there isn’t.

I hope Stevie is able to reattach his enhanced chin, because I can’t do without it now. I hope you let April be free so she can marry a real estate professional who will treat her nice and sweet. I hope Dakota doesn’t eat your children, especially the boy (for your sake). I want to turn you off and know you’re pacing like a Sim cursed with an in-game bug, back and forth, back and forth, in a track jacket and a tank top with your eyebrows forever frozen an inch above your peepers in a look of confident defiance. I will see you in my dreams, and when I time travel — you, as Jose Canseco, taught me that as well — I’ll remember you as you were: just past your prime, mid-divorce, chopping up a mound of blow fashioned into the shape of a Christmas tree. Glorious.

Eastbound & Down: Good-bye, Stevie Janowski’s Chin, and Godspeed

Mark Lisanti: Dear Stevie’s New Chin,

Your time with us was short — too short, shorter than anyone could expect in a fair world — but a blessing nonetheless. Always remember it’s not the amount of time we spend on this earth that defines our value, but the lives we touch, and you touched ours. More importantly: You touched the life of a man who had moved through this life like a weak-chinned ghost, haunting the edges of a superstar’s life, and you finally gave him power. Gave him form. Let him know, however briefly, the rock-jawed might of a Leno, of a Hope, of — dare we say? Yes, we dare — a Hamm. There is nothing you can’t accomplish with a strong enough chin, unless that thing is keeping alive an inherently flawed dream like a mall kiosk that uses scantily clad waitresses to sell potatoes. You need a dedicated restaurant space for that. Everyone knows it. Taters 'N' Tits is a solid restaurant concept. This was a failure of execution more than of vision, and that failure was not yours.

That the $50,000 he spent to obtain you began to ruin his life was not your fault. Blame the breasts he bought his wife: They did not empower, they enslaved. The kids’ Christmas gifts were lost in her cleavage, not in the immaculate expanse of your surgically sculpted cleft. And maybe you can take some tiny solace in the fact that the children did, eventually, get their presents.

Because of your sacrifice.

And we will never forget it. We will always remember you as the cocaine-dusted face-Everest we see above. The mighty mountain, not the horrible, bullet-pulped mass of despair splattered against a wall in a moment of unfathomable anguish. We will celebrate the beauty and dismiss the ugliness. We owe that much to you.

Good night, sweet chin. You are with us always.

Boardwalk Empire: Giving the People What They Want

Alex Pappademas: Jeez Louise — you write one article arguing that a TV show would be improved by the addition of a couple of vampires, and everybody (read: 11 very passionate Twitter users) accuses you of not properly appreciating said TV show. So, for the record: I am a Boardwalk Empire fan. And between “My name is Nelson Van Alden — take off your nightgown” and that King Kong–greets–Godzilla shot of Richard Harrow shaking hands with Chalky White in last week’s episode, I’ve felt pretty excellently fan-serviced by this show of late.

Boardwalk is better when it lets plot and pulp run the table — cf. the “Richard Harrow is in ur brothel, killin ur d00dz” denouement last season — instead of trying to sell Nucky Thompson’s ongoing moral putrefaction as some great American tragedy. This week’s episode tees up the season finale, which is called “Farewell Daddy Blues,” after the Ma Rainey song, presumably in reference to a character who’s a father or a father figure not living to see 1925. Will it be Chalky (Michael K. Williams), whose escalating conflict with Harlem heroin kingpin Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) has estranged him from his daughter? Or Narcisse, whose own (surrogate) daughter is now Chalky’s lover? Or Nucky’s brother Eli Thompson, who got flipped by the Feds to save his son from a murder charge? Or more than one of the above? Or will the last two episodes of the season be nothing but Steve Buscemi down in Tampa trading sweaty Tennessee Williams pillow talk with Patricia Arquette between David Chase–ian dream sequences? (My money’s on Narcisse, and possibly also Eli, who seems to have run his course as a character — but you could say the same about Chalky, who has survived so many assassination attempts this season that his death would qualify as a twist. Will HBO let Terence Winter piss off a nation of Omar stans by offing Chalky after the first season of Boardwalk in which Williams has actual pitches to hit?) And what of cokehead Al Capone, probable grifter Ron Livingston, and Margaret Thompson’s embroilment with Arnold Rothstein? If they can pay off half these plot lines in two hours, it’ll be a blowout capper to a season that’s been (take note, anti-vampirists) quietly superb.

Hello Ladies: The Soundtrack of Our Sad Lives

Andy Greenwald: Hello Ladies ends its first (only?) season this Sunday night. I wrote about it earlier in the week, but to recap my recap: I actually think the show works best when it focuses more on the recognizable human emotions — loneliness, desire, self-doubt — bubbling beneath the cacophony of cringe-inducing humiliation. The one thing I stupidly forgot to mention was the very best part of Hello Ladies, the bit that, more than anything, suggests the kind of relatable melancholy the series could traffic in and triumph with if only it got the levels right: the soundtrack. I may not have liked every episode of the show, but I’ve loved the soft-rock songs that have ended every episode. I wish more shows had the budget or wherewithal to do this sort of highly specific mood curation. Even if Stephen Merchant isn’t always able to sell the neon-lit vacancy of his Los Angeles, Glenn Frey and his honking, desperate saxophone sideman sure can!

I made a Spotify playlist collecting all seven songs plus “Alone Too Long,” the sadly peppy Hall & Oates track that serves as Hello Ladies’ theme song. All of these deceptively smooth jams suggest glum palm trees swaying in the breeze, the sun sinking into the valley in a way that makes you wonder if it’ll ever rise again. (I’m particularly fond of Al Stewart’s sinewy “Year of the Cat,” a ghostly vibe that sounds (a) completely modern, and (b) like the source code from which Destroyer’s Dan Bejar stole his entire shtick.) This is yacht rock for when your ship is sinking and one life preserver is all you’ll need.

Hello Ladies: I Accidentally Watched the Whole Thing

Emily Yoshida: There were lots of reasons to watch Hello Ladies those first few weeks. There was the legitimate hope that it would become a must-watch comedy. There was the fact that it was easier to not turn off the TV after Eastbound. I should have known after the deeply unpleasant dinner-party episode that this was not a show I needed to keep watching, but a combination of complacency and denial forbade me from turning off the TV or catching up on Homeland (j/k, like I’d ever) instead. I found myself playing devil’s advocate for it in the semi-frequent “Oh my god, can you believe how bad Hello Ladies is” conversations with friends (most of whom happen to be Angeleno women in their twenties and thirties, go figure) and talking about how I was “still” watching it, the implication being that I would stop soon, that I would not possibly watch every episode of —

— season finale!? Wait, but I was not supposed to watch every episode of Hello Ladies and, ugh, do you seriously think I have it in me to skip the last one? I have to see what happens with Jessica’s pilot! Now I’m crossing my fingers for a second season if only so that I can feel superior when I don’t watch it.

Filed Under: Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead