Tag Archives: Divorce

Parks and Recreation – “The Fourth Floor”

“The Fourth Floor”

December 3rd, 2009

That Parks and Recreation is a consistently funny comedy is no longer a surprise, and we’re also to the point in “The Fourth Floor” where we’re not even learning anything particularly new about these characters and their dynamics. Rather, the show has turned into what every good comedy should be: a showcase for these characters, these actors, and these writers to tell stories that make us laugh and enrich the universe without necessarily having to expand that universe.

The interactions found within “The Fourth Floor” are ones we’ve seen in the past, picking up on elements of “Greg Pikitis” in order to tell the story of Tom Haverford’s (not-so) loveless marriage coming to an end and how Leslie, and the rest of the office, react to the news. What makes it work so well is how carefully the writers control Leslie’s response to the crisis, and how use two and develop two separate locations (Jurassic Fork and the Glitter Factory) to house that drama in a way that allows the characters to learn what we already know in a way that is both funny and more resonant than it could have been.

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Glee – “Mattress”

“Mattress”

December 2nd, 2009

Over the weekend, I was chatting with a friend about Glee, and inevitably the conversation came to Terri Schuester. I find it’s usually a topic that every Glee viewer has in common: whatever they think about any individual episode, no one seems to actually like this character. And while I feel bad for Jessalyn Gilsig, who got stuck playing someone who nearly everyone hates, I think that from its very conception the character was a failure. In an interview with the L.A. Times (where she charmingly notes how a review of an episode which made an elated mention of her absence in said episode on the same site made her want to crawl back into bed), she notes that the character was conceived as a justification for Will’s flirtations with Emma; Will needed a reason to be straying from his marriage, so Terri needed to be someone who audiences didn’t like.

However, what I think Ryan Murphy and the rest of the show’s writers didn’t quite understand was how the show was going to be sold and what kinds of stories would dominate the early going. The show was never going to feel natural being about Will Schuester, to the point that those episodes that did focus heavily on his character (see: “Acafellas”) flopped primarily because the show’s core audience (and most of its mainstream buzz) were there for the less dramatic elements of the series (the music, the one-liners, etc.) or for the younger characters who were connected to the music/jokes but still capable of being expanded dramatically. The show had so many identities that a storyline which might have worked if this was an intense character drama like Mad Men had no chance of ever connecting with audiences, to the point where the character and the storyline were dragging down the rest of the show around it.

What makes “Mattress” work as an hour of television is that the show surrounding that storyline has matured to the point where Ryan Murphy has a handle of who these characters are and how they are able to wake up every morning with a smile on their face. For someone like Rachel, it’s knowing that she’s doing everything in her power to be a star, and for someone like Terri it’s knowing that she is doing everything she can to keep her husband from leaving her. By separating the means from the end, the show is able to take Terri and turn her into a character that is still inherently unlikeable without being so inherently unlikeable that she serves as a blight on its sense of momentum.

It’s not the best hour the show has ever done, but like “Wheels” before it the episode represents a clear sense that Ryan Murphy is back in control of this series just in time for it to head on hiatus.

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Season Finale: Mad Men – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”

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“Shut the Door”

November 8th, 2009

“I’m not going…I’m just living elsewhere.”

Every episode of television is a collection of scenes, individual set pieces designed to present a particular moment or to evoke a particular emotion or feeling. The scenes serve one of many potential purposes, whether it’s establishing a standalone plot within a particular episode, calling back to a previous scene or event in another episode, or even simply being placed for the sake of foreshadowing. A scene can change meaning as a season progresses, an awkward encounter with an overly touchy politico turning into a legitimate affair by the addition of new scenes that speak to the old one, for example. And, at the same time, other scenes are simply brief thematic beats designed to give the viewer the sense of a particular time or place, with nothing more beneath them than the aesthetic value apparent in the craftsmanship involved.

A great episode of television, however, is where every single scene feels purposeful, and more importantly where there is no one type of scene which feels dominant. There can still be scenes designed to engage with nothing more than the viewer’s sense of humour, just as there will be scenes that feel like the culmination of two and a half seasons worth of interactions. In these episodes there is a balance between scenes which unearth feelings and emotions from the past that have been kept under wraps all season and scenes which create almost out of thin air entirely new scenarios that promise of an uncertain future.

In a season finale in particular, this last point is imperative. A great season finale assures the reader that, as the quote above indicates, the change which is going to take place in the season to follow is both fundamental (in presenting something which surprises or engages) and incidental (in maintaining the series’ identity), both chaotic (in the context of the series’ fictional universe) and controlled (within the mind of the show’s writers). It is an episode that must feel like the fruit of the thirty-five episodes which preceded it while also serving as the tree for the twenty-six episodes which will follow. It is the episode that, for better or for worse, will be more closely scrutinized than any other, and for which expectations are exceedingly high.

“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” is more than a collection of scenes. It transcends the concepts of script and screen to capture characters in their most vulnerable states, in the process tapping into the viewer’s emotions with a sense of purpose that the show has never quite seen. Where past amazing episodes have sometimes hinged upon a single scene or a single moment, or on the creation of a particular atmosphere, this finale is like a never-ending stream of scenes that we have been clambering for all season: characters say everything we wanted them to say, do everything we wanted them to do, and yet somehow it never felt like puppet theatre where the characters would follow the whims of Matthew Weiner more than their own motivations.

It is a finale that never wastes a single scene, and which marches towards an uncertain conclusion with utmost certainty. Somehow, in a finale which does not shy away from scenes which are both disturbing to watch and destructive to the show’s tempestuous sense of balance, it maintains a cautious optimism by demonstrating that not everything will fall apart at once, while retaining the right to have everything in shambles by the time we return with Season Four. It’s a singular achievement, an hour of television which sits perfectly in the gap between the past and the future while never feeling as if it takes us out of the present, the moment in which these characters are captured in these scenes.

So, shut the door and have a seat: we’ve got some discussing to do.

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Season (Series?) Finale: Flight of the Conchords – “Evicted”

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“Evicted”

March 22nd, 2009

While the title above is fairly ambiguous, and HBO hasn’t come out and said what kind of finale this was in the end, the actual content of the episode spoke quite clearly: while this was not the season’s musical or comic highlight, it had that air of finality not just of some sort of season-long storyline but rather the very setup of the show. Offering up a meta-commentary wherein the show’s Bret and Jemaine move closer, albeit more wackily, to the commercialization of the real Bret and Jemaine feels like the way you end this series, not just a season, and coming back from the episode feels like it might not just be impossible, but also inadvisable.

And yet, at the same time, it also captures the reasons why the show is so charming, and why this second season has remained a weekly highlight even when I’ve been disappointed by much of the season’s musical interludes. The show found itself quite the comic voice as it headed into this season, and that’s something it has maintained with startling efficiency. While parts of this episode returned to more simple forms of humour that the show used in its original premise, the supporting characters around it have evolved so much further that it’s an entirely different show, and a better one.

So HBO and the Conchords have a very tough decision to make – is it good to go out while you’re still making people laugh and when you’ve crafted a satisfying conclusion, or do you want to continue to tell the story of the band that starts at the bottom, continues along the bottom, and ends up at the bottom for another season?

I’m still not sure which camp I find myself in.

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The Office – “Stress Relief”

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“Stress Relief”

February 1st, 2009

I am not conditioned to enjoy this hour of The Office.

First off, I don’t think the show should be in this position in the first place: Chuck has a special 3D episode ready to go tomorrow night, and is much more vulnerable to audience erosion than what is quickly becoming NBC’s flagship series.

Second, I don’t like hour long episode of The Office: they are often overblown, and rarely is there enough comedy to justify the longer running time. Combine with the always frustrating reality that they will eventually be split into two parts in syndication, so they’re forced to split into two separate stories at some level, and they are rarely worthwhile (“Goodbye, Toby” and “Weight Loss” could be seen as a reversal of the trend, but the Amy Ryan variable is the more likely explanation for their quality).

And third, as if that all wasn’t enough, we have the blatant stuntcasting of Jack Black and Jessica Alba, a principle that has been a bit of an achilles heel for NBC’s other Thursday comedy, 30 Rock, all season. The Office has always been pretty immune, being as it is about the mundane life of office employees, but now even that is bleeding its way into the series.

So going into “Stress Relief,” my expectations were fairly low, and I was fully prepared to harp on all three of the above points for 1500 words.

And, well…old habits die hard, I guess – this was a mess of an episode that tried too hard to be worthy of the Super Bowl, was too scattershot to be a cohesive hour, and represented the most superfluous and tangential use of guest stars that I could possibly imagine. So in the end, my opinion remains the same: it shouldn’t have been an hour long, it shouldn’t have cast celebrities, and it shouldn’t have even been airing after the Super Bowl in the first place.

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