Tag Archives: Casey

Review: Greek: Chapter Five – The Complete Third Season

Listening to the audio commentary on Greek‘s third season finale, I was struck by the mention of a “Save Greek” campaign – not because it brought back nostalgic memories of a barrage of red cups flooding ABC Family’s offices, but rather because I didn’t know such a thing existed.

Greek is one of those shows which operates outside of critical consciousness: there were no critics lining up to ensure that the series got a short ten-episode fourth season in order to conclude its storylines, and what fan behavior there was never seemed to bleed into even popular journalism. Instead, the campaign was apparently much like the show itself: inconspicuous, subtle, but ultimately effective. Without the ratings success of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or the scandal-driven storylines of Pretty Little Liars, Greek has pretty much been left to its own devices, and the result has been a compelling if not necessarily earth-shattering comic drama series.

Admittedly, I don’t write about the show a great deal – it just isn’t something that suits weekly critical analysis, although I did recently get the opportunity to review the fourth season premiere at The A.V. Club. However, I was extremely excited earlier this year when it was revealed that Shout! Factory would be taking over the DVD production for Greek (as well as the beloved, and sadly missed, Huge): the company has a sterling reputation when it comes to creating polished sets worthy of their respective series, and while this is normally in relation to beloved classics or cult favorites (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Sports Night, The Larry Sanders Show, My So-Called Life, etc.) they are in this case bringing the same sense of care to an ongoing series.

The result is hardly groundbreaking: this is not a complex show which would necessitate a detailed DVD package, and where one might normally find retrospectives or numerous deleted scenes you’ll instead find small snippets of behind-the-scenes footage and packages which seem aimed squarely at the show’s rabid fanbase rather than the television connoisseur. And yet I am acutely aware that I am not, in fact, the target audience for Greek: Chapter Five – The Complete Third Season (which releases today, January 11th, in North America at your retailer of choice). This is for the fans who sent in those red cups, the people who watch the show from an angle where Casey/Cappie are a portmanteau-worthy coupling rather than an ultimate detriment to the series’ success.

This set, dubbed Chapter Five for reasons I’ll discuss after the break, should please those long-term fans – it is also a good value, though, for those who have yet to discover the series’ charms.

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Season Premiere: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Anniversary”

“Chuck vs. the Anniversary”

September 20th, 2010

I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review, but I think this might be the last weekly Chuck review for quite some time here at Cultural Learnings.

This is not so much a reflection of the relative quality of “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” as it is a reflection of what kind of show Chuck has become over the past season. When I posted my review of NBC’s Chase earlier today, someone commented that Chuck similarly lacks character and consequence: they were joking, of course, but the latter point (consequence) stuck with me heading into tonight’s premiere.

This is still a show I enjoy, and a show I plan on continuing to watch, but I think Chuck has reached the stage where it no longer interests me critically. The season seems like it is onto a solid start, but it is a start which takes absolutely no risks, taking some potentially interesting new ideas and quickly absorbing them into the show’s existing structures.

And as pleasant as that is, I think it might be the point at which weekly reviews no longer feel like a good use of my time.

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Season (Series?) Finale: Party Down – “Constance Carmell Wedding”

“Constance Carmell Wedding”

June 25th, 2010

In some ways, there could never be a perfect finale for Starz’ Party Down. The show is about people confronting the fact that they might be living their finale, that working for a catering company may be the highest rung they will climb in southern California, and so “endings” are inherently unnatural. Instead, the characters are in a constant state of waiting to become, working hard or hardly working towards the end goal of achieving great success in their chosen field. And so while this may well end up the series finale (due to Starz reinventing itself as a genre network under new management and the middling ratings for the series) of Party Down, it is an episode about failed beginnings more than endings.

While very funny and quite poignant in a number of areas, “Constance Carmell Wedding” suffers a bit under the weight of those final moments, unsure of who would be returning for the following season or if there would even be a following season. Constance’s return is most welcome, and the focus on career goals is well met, but there’s a point where a half-hour comedy just can’t carry the weight of beginnings, endings, reunions, unions and everything else in between.

However, let’s not pretend this means I won’t miss the show should it truly be done, or that I didn’t find the second season to be particularly strong: while it may not have all come together perfectly, it was a confident second season which built on the first season’s success without abandoning its winning formula, and I sincerely hope that the show gets a reprieve if only to see what a third season would look like for these character I’ve come to admire.

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Party Down – “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”

“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”

May 21st, 2010

I told myself I was going to be content with just a Twitter conversation about this week’s superlative episode of Party Down featuring Steve Guttenberg as himself, but then I actually started to have that Twitter conversation and realized that I was going to need to write something down.

Specifically, I want to discuss what it is that makes “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” so fantastic, because it isn’t just Steve Guttenberg. The episode is entirely atypical, eschewing the traditional catering setup for a more casual atmosphere, and the trade of the show’s usual employment drama for more complex interpersonal drama is really well handled. It raises an interesting question for a series which relies so heavily on formula: is it possible for the show to veer away from its structure more often, or would episodes like this one become overbearing if they become too common?

It’s complicated enough that I want to spend a few paragraphs talking about it, plus I’ve got some thoughts on whether the show could live on without half its cast.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Tooth”

“Chuck vs. the Tooth”

May 10th, 2010

So far in this six-episode miniseason, Chuck has been barreling along not unlike the train in the “premiere” of sorts: the destination isn’t particularly important, we’re just along for the ride as Chuck and Sarah adjust to being a couple and fighting evil at the same time. It’s been a nice change of pace in a season which felt like it was so clearly driving towards the triangle between Chuck, Sarah and Shaw that none of the show’s other elements really got to shine, and I’ve been enjoying these episodes quite a bit.

However, with “Chuck vs. the Tooth” that train has put on the brakes, and you can very clearly see the switch turning to send the train in a certain direction. I understand why this is (we only have two episodes left this season), and I also understand the long-term plans at play within this solid if not spectacular episode. The problem is that the show manipulates short term reactions in order to establish potential consequences regarding the intersect, leading to an episode which plays out as Chuck’s worst nightmare when, in reality, I think the episode would have played out in a more logical and less dramatic fashion.

It gets the point across, no question about that, but it does so in a less than elegant fashion which hearkens back to the original 13 episodes more than this more recent run.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Role Models”

“Chuck vs. the Role Models”

May 3rd, 2010

I wasn’t actually in the writer’s room when it happened, but the more I watch of Chuck Season 3.5 (the six episodes ordered after the first thirteen were broken/written as a conclusive story) the more I feel like the writers quite literally went back to the drawing board. In some ways, this set of episodes is like a whole new spinoff series, starting with last week’s pilot-like “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,” and now these are the episodes where the show taps into various situations that seem to stem logically from the central premise.

In this case, Chuck has been reimagined as a series about two spies in love trying to make it work, so “Chuck vs. the Role Models” trots out an older married couple within the CIA to offer Chuck and Sarah a glimpse of their future, and to test their long term compatibility (after their short-term teamwork was proven in last week’s episode). Similarly, after last week’s episode introduced us to Morgan as a member of Team Bartowski, this week had Casey run him through his paces by offering some field training. They’re stories that feel like sitcom pitches based on where the show was situated after the end of last week’s episode, logical avenues for the show to investigate that could feel perfunctory is not executed well.

Fortunately, “Chuck vs. the Role Models” is a regular hootenanny (bonus points to who can tell me what episode of Buffy I watched today which has this word stuck in my head), taking full advantage of a couple of great guest stars and some nicely drawn situations to really get the most out of these central storylines. Throw in some nice subtle serialization, both through Ellie and Awesome’s time in Africa and through the consistency of character/tone throughout, and you have a show which continues to feel re-energized after a downer of a season.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”

“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”

April 26th, 2010

“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” is not an episode about “Chuck and Sarah.” It is an episode about Chuck, and Sarah, and their independent personalities; the argument the show makes is not that they should be together (although it does sort of implictly make this argument through its quality), but rather that they each independently want to be with the other, and that this is a conclusion which they have come to as human beings rather than as much-shipped television characters on a network series.

I’m not one of those people who particularly cares about “Chuck and Sarah,” but I am one of those people who cares about Chuck, and Sarah, and their own journeys through this crazy life they’re living. In an episode which has a lot of fun moments which play into the lengthy period of romantic tension which led to this inevitable conclusion, there are also a lot of fun moments which are just the result of how much chemistry that Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski have independent of a relationship, and how great the show’s stunt team is at making a low budget show look like an action film when it comes time to throw down.

The show can never be exclusively “about” Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, but so long as the show’s investigation of its potential results in episodes like this one which are damn entertaining entirely independent of the shipper mentality, I’d say that this little six-episode mini-season could be quite the ride.

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Season Premiere: Party Down – “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party”

“Jackal Onassis Backstage Party”

April 23rd, 2010

“It’s no picnic being the boss, huh?”

When we write about Party Down, we tend to focus on the premise over the characters. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re all preparing for the fact that the show might lose many of its characters if it gets a third season, so there’s a vested interest in emphasizing its revolving locations and the general focus on struggling actors/writers/show business folk working to support their dreams over Henry or Casey. While we’re attached to the characters, who were certainly one of the most important parts of the hugely enjoyable first season, it’s the diverse engagements that really set the show apart, and which have formed the basis for its most enjoyable episodes.

“Jackal Onassis Backstage Party” reminds us that these characters are very funny, but it also reminds us that the show isn’t used to handling quite this much character. While the dynamics of the first season cast took some time to develop, they eventually formed into something truly fantastic; however, it was rare that the show seemed like it was really spending a lot of time introducing, or renintroducing, or “changing” character dynamics. The second season premiere has to go through a lot of exposition, which keeps the humour from rising to the level achieved last season, but the central premise remains strong, and the changing dynamics work in the show’s favour at the end of the day.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Other Guy”

“Chuck vs. the Other Guy”

April 5th, 2010

I’ve taken to referring to “Chuck vs. the Other Guy” as the “FormerFinale,” if only because I want to bring as much attention as possible to the fact that this week’s episode was written as the final episode of the show’s third season. The thirteen-episode order has been the cause of most of the show’s problems: the limited characterization of Daniel Shaw, the sporadic motivations of Sarah Walker, the forced characterization of the “changes” in Chuck’s personality, and the disappearing and reappearing cast members have all been a result of the original episode order and the budget cuts that came with it.

None of these problems, individually, have taken this season down, or fundamentally ruined the show’s premise or anything of that nature – I’m not the person who threw a stink when Chuck/Sarah weren’t immediately brought together, or someone who has been entirely against the character of Daniel Shaw (or Brandon Routh’s work in the role). However, collectively they have formed a sort of distance between the show and I, both as a critic (where certain episodes have struggled to pull things together) and as a fan (where the “fun” of the show has sort of disappeared in the rush to advance the show’s plots).

And so the “FormerFinale” was always going to be a turning point: before it was the point where the show would enter into the limbo of whether or not it would get an unlikely fourth season, and now it’s the point from which the final six episodes of the season will depart from. And for the first time all season, “Chuck vs. the Other Guy” lives up to every possible point of evaluation: as a “FormerFinale,” as a launching pad for the rest of the season and as an episode of the show overall, it delivered enough to turn a somewhat shaky start into an extremely promising future.

But it wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t enough to make me forget some of the missteps earlier this year.

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Season Finale: Greek – “All Children Grow Up”

“All Children Grow Up”

March 29, 2010

Despite having been in college when the show began, I have never really “related” to ABC Family’s Greek in the way that you might expect. While I certainly have met people like the characters in the show, I went to a school without a greek system, and so I was sort of like a pledge myself when the show began. One of the show’s best qualities is how they’ve managed to turn the fraternities and sororities into an integral part of not only the show’s universe, but also each individual character: while no character is solely define by their position in a fraternity or sorority, it remains an integral part of their identity that the show has given depth over the course of three seasons.

While the show has its love triangles and its relationship drama, and its fraternity drama can sometimes boil down to simple concepts of revenge or rivalry, at the core of the series is a sense of belonging, a community that is powerful enough to want Cappie to never leave college, for Casey to abandon the opportunity to go to law school, and for Dale to want to be a part of it even with his moral reservations. And while I may not have been part of a fraternity, I fully understand the characters’ anxiety about leaving all of that behind, abandoning all of that for the great unknown. While the machinations of a show working to set things up to potentially continue in the future despite lead characters graduating are apparent in “All Children Grow Up,” the drama is driven by a nuanced and subtle portrayal of the struggles which come with leaving everything you know behind for something new; that we so wholly believe their concerns demonstrates the effectiveness of the show’s world-building over the past three seasons.

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