Cultural Catchup-Lite: Parenthood, Doctor Who, Community
November 28th, 2010
While I had quite a bit of grading to do over this holiday weekend, my lack of family commitments (being Canadian, and all) meant that the holiday was also a chance to catch up on various things related more to the blog.
First, I’ve finally created a link to my Master’s thesis, which has been “available” via PDF for a while now on Acadia’s library website. Perhaps I just wanted to create some distance between the project and my new endeavor south of the border, but I have been remiss in adding the link to the “About” page. In short form, the thesis is an investigation of national identity in fictional representations of the Canadian small town, with chapters on Canadian television series Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. You can find the Abstract for the thesis on this page, while you can directly download the PDF here. Also, if you’re new and never visit my “About” page, my undergrad thesis on medieval Romance and Battlestar Galactica is available here if you are so inclined.
Second, I got to some of my viewing backlog, which means I’ve got some brief thoughts about some of those series. While you’ve already read my thoughts on the conclusion of Angel’s second season, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the second season of Parenthood, Doctor Who’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the third and fourth episodes of The Walking Dead, as well as the first season of FX’s Archer.
I also asked my Twitter followers what else they might want to hear more about, and so will dutifully comment on Community (although in less detail, for the sake of my productivity); I’ll be saving thoughts on Fringe’s third season (which has been really good, and structurally fascinating) and Terriers’ first season for later (and by later I mean Wednesday in the case of Terriers, as I’ve seen the finale and will be writing about it and the season at that time).
Similarly, I will probably keep the Walking Dead thoughts for a brief review of tonight’s episode (which I have not seen yet), and might wait to review Archer S1 when the DVD hits on December 28th (I was watching on Netflix); however, thoughts on Parenthood, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and Community after the jump.
I haven’t been writing about the second season of Parenthood, which is sort of a combination of issues related to time and interest. If I thought the show warranted weekly attention I’d find the time, and if I had the time I might think that the show warranted weekly attention. With Todd VanDerWerff covering the show at The A.V. Club, the internet has its weekly Parenthood analysis, and so I’ve been content to spend an hour every so often catching up an episode at a time on Hulu (since that hour is particularly crowded on the DVR these days, although less so with Caprica’s cancellation).
This season of the show has been…fine. While the Thanksgiving episode showed the show in comfortable territory, and seeing Haddie and Amber get more substantial storylines has been in the show’s best interest, the parts of the show which occasionally drive me crazy still drive me crazy. Characters like Julia and Kristina suffer because they tend to manufacture drama through their actions, and they sometimes make that unfortunate transition from flawed to irritating. I totally understand why Julia wants another child, for example, but that she would so casually ignore Joel’s position in their relationship became too selfish. Similarly, while I understand why Kristina is so pushy when it comes to a parent who has decided that her daughter’s wish to not invite Max to her birthday party should be fulfilled, that the moral of the story seemed to be that the mother was being close-minded as opposed to that Kristina was being equally if not more egocentric drove me a little batty.
I always resist outright criticizing the autism storyline considering Jason Katims’ own experience in the area, experience that seems to be informing these stories. However, at times Kristina is forced into a role where she plays advocate at the expense of any sense of character motivation. Her life is so driven by her son that her role as advocate can occasionally become her only role, and as Haddie’s storyline moved out of the immediate family (with her relationship with Michael B. Jordan’s Alex) and Adam’s workplace became his focus, you realize that’s sort of all Kristina has left. It’s a reductive characterization, and I feel as it the autism side of things becomes more problematic in a marginalized B-Story than when it is front and center (like in the great “Orange Alert”).
Everything else is in the show’s basic tradition: Lauren Graham’s Sarah continues to step into Lorelai shoes as she helps usher a daughter who is smarter than she is through a college admissions process (albeit here Lorelai’s staunch opposition towards patronage has been replaced by a broad opportunism considering Amber’s more troubled road), and William Baldwin stuck around for about as long as one would expect. I don’t particularly care about Adam or his employees, to be honest, but I thought the Thanksgiving setting showed the sibling dynamics which highlight the best qualities of the four Bravermans and nicely acknowledged the ways in which Crosby has unexpectedly, but definitively, stepped into the role of the male lead of the series in many ways. No real attachment to the Crosby/Joel storyline outside of getting more of the underused Sam Jaeger, but even then Crosby’s presence (and his own desire to prove himself as a father, in this case to the bored principal) elevates things. He is the one character who seems to be making an active change in his life, and that shifting identity is free of the melodrama which has somewhat plagued the very well-acted Zeke/Camille story.
Overall, the show is definitely the same show it was before: the season started out in a decent place, but it’s nicely coalesced as the various parts come together. Not one of television’s best, but considering that Brothers & Sisters is way past its prime I think it’s the most engaging family drama on the air (especially since the “family” side of things is one of The Good Wife’s weak points).
Doctor Who – “The Girl in the Fireplace”
In my pre-Series Five catchup earlier this year, I wanted to try to get through the entirety of Steven Moffat’s output over the show’s run. Unfortunately, I hit a hiccup catching up on Series Two due to availability, so I started with “Blink” as opposed to “The Girl in the Fireplace.” In some ways, I actually think this was for the better: not because the episode is in any way a disappointment, but rather because the parallels to “The Eleventh Hour” might have led me to view the new series in a different light.
There’s no question that Moffat was pilfering certain elements of “The Girl in the Fireplace” when he created the origins of Amy Pond: the first meeting in childhood, the shifting passage of time which leads to a sense of abandonment, the presumption that the Doctor was an imaginary friend as opposed to a time lord, etc. I do not necessarily mean this as a criticism: in relaunching the series in his image, Moffat simply returned to the kinds of themes and tones which he enjoyed. There’s a wonderful romanticism to this tale, a decades-long love affair told in brief segments, commentary on the passage of time and the way in which departure and absence only adds to the power of a connection. Madame de Pompadour became a sort of mistress for the Doctor, a second companion who he sees only when he is able, and despite her brief tenure there is a great deal of weight to the hour for a show which peddles in transience.
Amy Pond is what would happen if such a figure were to become his companion, if someone who experienced the Doctor’s arrival and departure was suddenly thrust into a life of time travel. What’s different, I realize now, is that David Tennant fits the stereotype the heroic male figure – for all his weirdness, he plays white knight riding to the rescue quite comfortably. By comparison, Matt Smith’s Doctor is not so comfortable as the romantic lead: he still has chemistry with Amy, but it isn’t quite the star-crossed love affair that “The Girl in the Fireplace” becomes at moments (in particular their big ol’ makeout session, which is a far cry from Amy’s almost slapstick efforts to seduce the Doctor).
As a standalone story, I ultimately prefer “Blink” for its less frantic, more serious take on timey-wimeyness. Tennant’s madcap approach, mixed with his more traditional heroism, has its moments but can’t live up to Mulligan’s skeptical, reserved approach to the Weeping Angels. I also felt that the Clockwork creatures were intriguing but not as well realized as they could have been: while I quite liked the reveal of why they had chosen Pompadour, and the way in which they lost their sense of purpose once trapped in a particular time, I thought the lack of context made the episode more scattered than atmospheric at points. Perhaps it was that Rose and Mickey remained on the spaceship to do some exposition, but the episode felt fractured, and I think this ultimately put it a notch below “Blink” in that regard.
And yet the episode was thematically cohesive in a way that you don’t always get with a Doctor Who episode, at least from my experience. That the story resonated with Moffat to the point of inspiring Amy’s creation speaks to the power of the installment, and he was right to want to return to this type of story on a grand scale. Just a really strong hour, and one which does signal Moffat’s ability to tell the kinds of stories necessary to sustain the show as a whole – he clearly had big ideas, and while “Blink” showed an ability to be economical they were smart to give him a two-parter in Series Four and control in Series Five.
My Thursdays are busy, with academic commitments late in the afternoon and then Office-related commitments in the evening, which means that extra-curricular reviewing becomes a bit of a challenge. With a show like 30 Rock this isn’t a huge problem, as its returns to form have been easily reflected in a tweet and its occasional struggles have been similarly easy to explain in 140 characters. However, the internet has decided (for good reason) that Community is deserving of more attention, and so I do wish that I had time to delve into each week’s episode to chart the series’ negotiation of both the hype and its basic premise.
I promise to check in for the Christmas episode (which just seems like the wildest of experiments, being in Rankin-Bass style stop-motion animation), but in the meantime I’m content with other critics covering the show in detail (Sepinwall, VanDerWerff) and offering the occasional tweet. This season has been heavy on “theme” episodes, offering further parallels between this show and Glee, and while I understand why some may want the show to return to simpler storylines I think the show has yet to fall to the level of gimmick. They can derive a theme episode out of something subtle like conspiracy theories or something broad like full-on zombies, and can have theme elements (like Abed as Terminator) integrated into stories like the mean girls which are pretty well grounded. I don’t feel as if these are all versions of a different show, and that cohesion means that I don’t feel enough whiplash to be pushed to write about each episode.
Instead, I just sort of sit back and enjoy the ride – a great second season for a great television show.
[Like I said, more to come on other series when I find the time.]