December 16th, 2012
When Homeland’s first season ended, it offered what some viewed as a clean slate: Carrie’s memory was wiped, Brody’s secret was safe, and it seemed to set the table for everything to go back to normal as though nothing had ever happened. And when the second season began, there was certainly some semblance of stability, every character going on with the new version of their lives.
“The Choice” draws a similar picture of the post-Nazir era for Brody and Carrie, in that they believe they have a clean slate, that this is the second chance Carrie referred to earlier this season in the motel room. And yet just as the early part of this season exploded any sense of stability more quickly than we would have imagined heading into the season, so too does any post-Nazir calm disappear with great efficiency.
It’s a thematic parallel that fell into place for me as I was watching the finale, one which did little to assuage my frustrations with a central principle of the season but did much to piece together how and why certain storylines were constructed leading up to this point. The season makes more sense as a result of the events in “The Choice,” but it didn’t necessarily become any more successful than the mixed bad heading into the finale, capping off a season of television that I admire for its commitment and question for its choices.
“Father Frank, Full of Grace”
March 27th, 2011
By the conclusion of its first season, I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless found something of an identity independent of its British predecessor. This is not to say that the show is better or worse, something I can’t judge given that I’ve seen only brief glimpses of the British series, but I felt as though the first season seemed driven by characters more than versions of characters. Between the work of Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney, the Gallagher siblings feel as though they (if not necessarily the world they inhabit) are real people who I want to see face the challenges that result from their position. Their story never felt like we were seeing someone else’s story transposed onto these characters, as each performer seemed to be driving the characterization as much as any sort of influence from across the pond.
That is a testament to the strength of the cast, and the writers for working with them, but it is only one component of the series’ future. The other side, the part where we consider the world that John Wells and Paul Abbott have created in Shameless’ Chicago, seems problematic as the show heads into an extended hiatus before a second season. “Father Frank, Full of Grace” has some strong moments, but it has already put into motion an enormously problematic return to the status quo which threatens to undermine whatever strong character work might be done.
Or, to put it in other words, it’s already threatening to be just like every other problematic Showtime series.
“Silly Love Songs”
February 8th, 2011
“I need more than just a song to get my juices flowing.”
There are various reasons why “Silly Love Songs” has been pretty universally praised, and pretty universally considered to be a much better showcase for the show compared to the fairly middling, incredibly uneven Super Bowl episode. There are also various reasons why some of this praise comes in the form of a comparison to “Duets,” which I named one of my Top 10 episodes of television to air last year (and is certainly the best episode of the show’s second season thus far).
Those comparisons are earned, and in some ways “Silly Love Songs” is an even greater accomplishment if not necessarily a superior episode. Like with “Duets,” a simple construct is used to justify various musical numbers and unite the characters under a common theme; however, unlike that episode, the “consequences” of these songs are more broadly drawn, with an excess befitting the Valentine’s Day theme but also stretching the laws of science and delivering some real anvils in the process.
However, Ryan Murphy’s script never feels as though it allows those moments to get out of control, and the episode’s charm wins out even given its occasional lapses. The episode seems inconsistent if you think about it, and the rush to get characters into certain positions is problematically apparent, but I never felt that even if I thought it. “Silly Love Songs” successfully severed the connection between the heart and the head, never losing its steadiness and quite consistently entertaining in a way that the Super Bowl episode only managed at Halftime.
February 2nd, 2011
Friday Night Light has never really been interested in the challenge of coming home. The vast majority of its story arcs are about the idea of moving beyond Dillon, Texas, of taking that next step towards the rest of your life. Despite the fact that the series opened with Jason Street and Tim Riggins sitting over a fire swearing that they were ‘Texas Forever,’ the show has to some degree indicated that one must leave before they truly find themselves.
Tim Riggins would be the one exception, really. While Jason Street has returned to Dillon, it was only as a successful sports agent who could comfortably connect with his former hometown from a privileged position. By comparison, Tim Riggins has twice returned to Dillon with no sense of direction, and considering that the last time resulted in an illegal chop shop resulting in an extended jail sentence there is plenty of evidence to indicate that it’s not easy to try to reintegrate into society.
“Texas Whatever” brings the notion of coming home to the forefront more than perhaps ever before, pulling together two people who are having to deal with the question of what being from Dillon, Texas, means to the rest of their lives. And while the conclusion of the series is obviously concerned with the idea of saying goodbye to Dillon, understanding what it means to “go home again” seems just as important to closing off this particular chapter in the life of a small Texas town.
October 10th, 2010
“Not no; not now.”
As the penultimate episode of the season, “Blowing Smoke” has to do more than, well, blow smoke; while last season demonstrated the ability for a finale to offer an exciting climax without much direct plot momentum carried from the previous episode, the fate of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been developing for a few weeks, and the worst thing that could happen is if its impact is lost.
What’s interesting in “Blowing Smoke” is that the show mirrors its characters: still somewhat in shock from the new of Lucky Strike’s departure, they find themselves sitting around with nothing to do. They can’t bring in accounts thanks to concerns over their longevity, they can’t make dramatic changes without seeming to be in crisis mode, which leaves almost no options to feel as if they’re really making a difference.
This episode is about that circumstance, what it drives Don Draper to do, and whether trading certain doom for an uncertain chaos is the right path to take – in other words, it’s about the danger of a situation where it’s not no, but it’s not now, and how a person like Don Draper lives within that liminal space.
The answer is different depending on who you ask.
“The Pandorica Opens”
June 19th, 2010
As a newcomer to Doctor Who, one of the challenges I’ve had to face in terms of writing about the series is what to do with its two-part episodes. In particular, there’s a distinct challenge with writing about the first part of those episodes, as Doctor Who tends to quite literally split narratives in half as opposed to telling two connected stories. As a result, the first half tends to be fairly heavy on exposition and setup before the second half brings it all to a resolution: while this means that there is plenty to speculate on about the first episode, it’s tough to offer a critical opinion when so much of the two-parter’s effectiveness depends on how it concludes.
[Note: this seems as good a time as any to link to Scott Tobias and Noel Murray's fantastic conversation about the challenges of writing about television at The A.V. Club - I'd add "two-parters" to their list of confounding situations for television critics who write about television on a weekly schedule, although they are not particularly common in this day and age.]
I’ve gotten away with it so far this season by either writing about episodes from previous series (catching up with the Weeping Angels and River Song in my review of “The Time of Angels”) or catching up on previous episodes in this series (lumping reviews of “Vampires of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice” in with “The Hungry Earth”), but with “The Pandorica Opens” (the first part of the series finale) I knew that there was no such cheat available, which meant that the episode was either going to lend itself to instant analysis or it wasn’t.
There are times when I write about episodes of television because I feel I have something to say, or because I want to start or continue a conversation, but there are other times when I simply feel as if I need to write about something so as to be able to even come close to being able to wrap my head around it. “The Pandorica Opens” is one such episode, a first-part which wastes no time drawing a clear (and quite ingenious) connection between this story and the ongoing series narrative and in the process leaves me enormously confused in the best possible way.
“From This Day Forward”
June 7th, 2010
I wish that I had more to say about United States of Tara’s second season finale, but for the most part I don’t. This is not to say that the episode wasn’t enjoyable, or well-acted, but rather it seemed that the show had more or less choreographed all of its reveals, and so the primary function of “From This Day Forward” was more or less appearing to reset things to the status quo.
Again, this isn’t a slight on the episode: with some strong performances and some intense emotional moments, I think the series nicely capped off a complex and intriguing second season. The problem is that it works a little bit too hard to get to the point where the Gregson family is dancing wistfully in a beautifully lit backyard, cutting away the clutter of their lives for that brief moment of bliss. I understand the impulse behind that action, and the catharsis of the episode is helped by the calmness of those final moments, but it seems to be putting a button on too many story points which went unresolved or were cast aside with remaining potential. The series kept hinting at hidden motivations or long-kept secrets, and yet after revealing the biggest secret of them all the rest were sort of just chalked up to either misdrection or the frakked up nature of the Gregson family.
There’s something about that which is just a bit too easy, and something which all the catharsis in the world isn’t going to fix, and I feel like the finale needed to acknowledge that just a little bit more.
June 6th, 2010
“You are not a murderer – you’re not, and I’m not. It’s as simple as that.”
If I had been drinking something when Walt said the above line, I’m pretty sure I would have done a spit take.
This reaction comes for two different reasons. The first is the idea that Walt is not a murderer, which seems patently false when you consider the numerous people he’s killed (whether it’s not saving Jane or the two men who he killed as a result of the meth lab explosion in the pilot). However, that’s part of Walt’s character, his ability to convince himself that it doesn’t make you a murderer if you kill them for the right reasons, just as it doesn’t make you a criminal if you’re doing it for your family. And so I can understand that this is part of Walt’s self-delusion, and so my spit take is perhaps unwarranted.
However, even if we accept that Walt believes that his past actions do not define him as a murderer, his argument that it is “as simple as that” is laughable to the point of a solid guffaw. Breaking Bad is many things, but simple is not one of them, and while Walt has his delusions he should know by now that things are never quite that simple. It’s one thing to try to justify your behaviour through rationalization, and it is quite another to try to convince yourself that your world of meth cooking, money laundering, revenge seeking and turf wars is in any way simple, or that anyone is capable of maintaining a simple life when you’re caught up in that world.
And yet, in some ways I think “Half Measures” proved my guffaws to be misguided: while Walt’s first claim may remain laughable, his latter claim may not be so farfetched, his desire for simplicity ultimately futile and yet the only way he can think to respond to the complexity of his current situation. The result is a blunt, even simple, action with enormously complex consequences for Walt, Jesse, and the series’ narrative, the exact kind of bold move which has elevated the show to the upper echelon of television drama.
“Who Won The Amazing Race Season 16?”
May 9th, 2010
I don’t know if it’s because this season of Survivor has been so full of twists and turns, or whether it’s just the format showing its age, but I really can’t say I was invested in the conclusion to The Amazing Race’s sixteenth season (or in the episodes leading up to it, as I’ve fallen away from reviewing the show). The show has remained engaging this year – I haven’t stopped watching, after all – but it just hasn’t felt like “must-see” TV. The people running the race didn’t seem to have a lot of energy, and there wasn’t the sort of tension that we’re used to seeing on the race.
If I were to look at just the teams themselves, this finale seems pretty exciting: you have Jet and Cord as the fan favourites who have remained endearing and positive throughout the race, you have Dan and Jordan as a scrappy team who have a good story (Dan participating so that Jordan can achieve his dream of running the race), and you have Brent and Caite as the young and attractive team that we tend to root against. However, the show never quite figured out how to tap into these various roles, and spent so much time on Caite’s self-centered attempts to prove herself to the world that they missed creating any other narratives. I understand that Carol and Brandy were bitchy enough that they needed to be featured, but I don’t feel like the series’ narratives have been well drawn in the editing room this year (which isn’t something I’d normally say about the show).
However, tonight’s finale still managed to bring enough tension to keep me on the edge of my seat, as there were enough strategic moves and enough clever bits of race logic to keep things interesting as the race gets its sixteenth winners – unfortunately, the episode stumbles at the finish line, stumbling with late clues and allowing the drama of the race to spoil the ending.
April 29th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
When I was going through the first season, I was warned by many that there were some weaker episodes which weren’t indicative of the show’s future quality. However, to be honest, most of it worked fine: we expect there to be kinks, and the episodes only felt like failures if you were holding them to standards that the show simply didn’t have at that point in time.
However, I think “Bad Eggs” is a complete failure regardless of one’s expectations, an episode which never once evolves into something worthwhile or even all that interesting. You can see what the episode is trying to accomplish, and you can even see how the script tries to work around its inherent flaws, but none of it actually comes together into an episode that manages to stand on its own two feet.