Tag Archives: Episode 15

That’s Amoré: Modern Family and Cougar Town do Valentine’s Day

“My Funky Valentine”

“When a Kid Goes Bad”

February 10th, 2010

When a sitcom does a special “holiday” episode, especially in its first season, it’s the ultimate test of the show’s understanding of its character dynamics. For some shows, the show adapts to fit the holiday, while in others the holiday adapts to fit the show: it’s a subtle difference, and both can create entertaining episodes, but I tend to prefer the latter for two key reasons.

The first is that I kind of resent that holidays actually change people. There’s always that sense that holidays are supposed to change people, that in some way the days are “different” than others, but at the core of any real relationship is a bond which should exist whether corporations have decided that people should exchange gifts or eat chocolates on a particular day. So I want a holiday to feel as if it is being filtered through a particular show, rather than that the characters are in some way conforming to the traditions therein.

The second reason is that I find episodes where the show adapts to fit the holiday reinforce the most annoying elements of sitcom structures. Whatever adaptation happens isn’t going to last, and when it’s related to a particular holiday that structure becomes that much more transparent. Yes, every sitcom has episodes where new conflicts arise based on a particular impulse, but when it’s a holiday it feels particularly inorganic.

I make these points as a way to contextualize my (relative) annoyance with tonight’s Modern Family and my enjoyment of tonight’s Cougar Town, despite the fact that it was neither the worst nor best night, respectively, for the two series.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Large Hadron Collision”

“The Large Hadron Collision”

February 8th, 2010

Generally speaking, I consider myself a “Sheldon’s Advocate.” While the show often suggests that Sheldon is acting selfishly, that his ignorance to social norms is sometimes replaced by a cruel elision of interests other than his own, I tend to give Sheldon the benefit of the doubt, taking his side in those situations because the show so often pits the other characters against him without any logical reason beyond it being funny when they make fun of him.

However, I don’t want it to seem like I believe Sheldon is entirely without fault, or that only episodes which paint Sheldon in a positive light are enjoyable. I thought “The Large Hadron Collision” was a solid episode, one which had Sheldon at his most selfish but seemed like it used that to its advantage, with Sheldon making arguments which hinged on his ignorance to the influence that having a girlfriend would have on Leonard’s decision. It isn’t a complex depiction of the character, perhaps, but it’s a consistent one, and the resolution to the story was clever enough that even without Sheldon having a redemptive moment it felt true to the character.

And in the end, that’s all I ask for, other than a quick death to Bazinga.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Rabbit or Duck”

“Rabbit or Duck”

February 8th, 2010

I strongly believe there is a time and a place for Barney Stinson at his most one-dimensional, so I won’t suggest that “Rabbit or Duck” was written off as soon as it was clear that it would feature that particular version of his character. I think Neil Patrick Harris sells this side of the character better than he has any right to, and as a result it’s a lot of fun…when it’s relevant.

However, while the show gets points for a clever continuation of the Super Bowl narrative, the problem with this particular Barney story is that it is entirely one-dimensional both in terms of how it presents his character and in terms of its position in the episode. Whatever novelty that story gained initially was lost by the time it reached its conclusion, and while it was never asked to do any heavy lifting it also never felt relevant to the rest of the episode, which made it seem that much more frustrating.

It was an episode that had some nice moments, but which never felt like it moved beyond a couple of key hangups.

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Lost – “Follow the Leader”

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“Follow the Leader”

May 6th, 2009

There is something very jarring about “Follow the Leader,” which isn’t really that surprising. As, essentially, the season’s penultimate episode before next week’s two-hour finale, it was bound to be a transition episode, but in the second half of this season it felt like a more substantial transition than we’re used to. The show has been doing a lot more traditional episodes in the back end: Sayid, Ben, Miles and to a certain extent Faraday all had quite simple episodes that relied on the show’s old flashback structure to deliver character pieces for their individual focuses.

This week’s episode didn’t do anything even close to this, in many ways proving one of the least connective episodes in quite some time. The episode was almost entirely without a key theme, and ended with a cliffhanger that was less a huge shock than it was a subtle ramping up of tension. Episodes that only move pieces around are not that uncommon in this series or any other serial drama, but this one in particular felt really vague and distant: this isn’t to say that it was a bad episode, but rather that the big picture never really became any more focused as time went on.

If I had to draw attention to one element of the episode that perhaps explains this, I’ll point to Richard Alpert, who was the source of almost every cut between past and present. It’s no coincidence that this character unaffected by the flow of time would be the one constant in these two stories, and the one man who has always remained an unsolvable enigma that, even with a few clues dropped here and there, has never become more focused in his own right. He also sits in a unique position as it relates to the episode’s title: he’s never actually been the leader, always remaining nothing but the advisor, and it raises important questions about his role in this legacy.

And yet it doesn’t answer any of them, or really any of the questions we have: rather, it puts all the pieces into place for a finale that might get around to some of those pesky questions.

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30 Rock – “The Bubble”

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“The Bubble”

March 19th, 2009

There is something very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother in “The Bubble,” where we say goodbye to Jon Hamm in a way that makes you wish that he had been around a little bit longer. He and Salma Hayek were really the polar opposites: while she was made too central to the key storylines and fell flat after an episode or two, Hamm was in so few episodes and so far apart that while the individual episodes were quite strong we never really got to know Drew as a character, and we feel like we’ve been robbed of that.

But the strongest part of this week’s episode was, in a very HIMYM way, this term of the “bubble” that attractive people find themselves in, full of perks and salmon cooked with gatorade. But while HIMYM has lately been either expanding the scale of these ideas to the entire cast (“The Naked Man”) or treating them as one-liners as opposed to the foundation of an entire storyline, 30 Rock didn’t know what to do with this one: surrounding it were storylines which never connected, and an episode that fell flat at almost every turn.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Beefcake”

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“Chuck vs. the Beefcake”

March 2nd, 2009

Two weeks ago, I spent a great deal of my review discussing what I feel is Chuck’s achilles heel, the relationship between Chuck and Sarah. I want to clarify that I am not against their pairing: Levy and Strahovski have great chemistry, both actors can bring great dramatic material to the table, and the show is often at its best when it is delving into their relationship. No, the problem is not the characters themselves, but rather the show’s lack of movement in terms of their relationship.

It’s becoming a cliche, in other words, and this episode was ultimately no different: just as Bryce interrupted their relationship by returning to the scene, and just as Jill’s return earlier in the season turned the tables on Sarah, here we saw an MI-6 agent weasel his way into their lives and offer a more accomplished, more suave and potentially more realistic pairing for Sarah Walker. There will come a point where they are going to have to actually fundamentally change their relationship in order to keep things interesting.

But I spent enough time two weeks ago complaining about this, and the end of this week’s episode seems to indicate that some changes are on the way. While I remain wary, I also have to be honest: the show has so much working for it right now that even episodes that feel like they’re relying too heavily on one of the show’s elements end up coming out, if viewed in isolation of recurring trends, pretty solid.

And this is no exception.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Stinsons”

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“The Stinsons”

March 2nd, 2009

Listen to any fan of How I Met Your Mother talk about why they think other people should watch the show and, chances are, they are likely going to eventually say something along the lines of “this is not a traditional sitcom.” This is something that causes some people some doubts: the show has a multi-camera format and utilizes a laugh track, looking and sounding like any traditional sitcom they’ve ever seen.

Astute fans, though, will point out the show often evolves beyond its sitcom qualities through the use of things like the manipulation of time, copious amounts of flashbacks, and even the general conceit of this all being one big memory told by Future Ted. The show has a lot of tricks up its sleeve that, often, leave it looking nothing like a sitcom at all. There are other times, though, where these elements aren’t as present, and where anyone spotchecking the series for the first time might leave thinking that this is a funny, but not particularly original, sitcom.

“The Stinsons” is an episode that, if I had to put it into one of these categories based on its basic concept, would be in the latter classification. This is the very definition of a situational comedy: after Barney leaves the bar suspiciously, the rest of the gang follow him to the suburbs where they discover a secret about his life that could forever change the course of their lives…or, more accurately, the course of the following twenty minutes.

But what this extremely odd, but extremely entertaining, half hour does is prove that HIMYM isn’t just capable of fundamentally altering the sitcom DNA to make itself standout: in the development of Barney Stinson as a character, and through Bays/Thomas’ great grasp of the sitcom conventions, they are subversive just in delivering this scenario in the most dysfunctional but hilarious fashion. That the episode actually ends up boiling things down, even in its lunacy, to an important point of character realization is testament to the show’s strength: being awesome.

And that’s the Stinson family motto, after all.

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Battlestar Galactica – “No Exit”

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“No Exit”

February 13th, 2009

You know, sometimes you speak too soon.

When I posted that extended rant this morning, I knew that it was very likely that tonight’s episode, “No Exit,” would actually do much of what I wanted to have done:  a greater glimpse into the Cylon side of this fleet, a return to questions of human/Cylon connectivity, and more of an investigation into the central issues that I felt drove the mutiny in the first place. As a fan of the first two issues in any episodes where they enter into the show’s narrative, then, this one is a doozy: it answers questions about the Cylon creation process that we never even bothered to ask, filling in gaps of logic, philosophy and science in the history of these people like a Cylon bioorganism would fill in the holes within Galactica’s hull.

There’s a whole lot to discuss on that front, so I’m going to get this out of the way before we even get below the fold. To be honest, I still stand by my earlier thoughts about the mutiny arc, and actually felt this episode confirmed much of it. While there is some strong Cylon material here, there is still a disconnect between human and Cylon that feels odd when you are discussing the combining of these two forces at almost every turn. This episode raises some amazing questions of Human/Cylon identity, do not get me wrong, but because those questions appear as highly philosophical conversations on one side and as much less in-depth decisions on the other, there is still that sense of imbalance that struck me with the mutiny arc as well. We’ve switched to the opposite problems: the Cylons have apparently spent 18 months having these fascinating conversations, and yet the humans haven’t been afforded the same luxury quite yet.

All in all, “No Exit” draws itself further into philosophical and expositional territory than any other episode in this half-season, resulting in a slower but deliberate pace that offers more than enough food for thought – let’s focus on that, and maybe I’ll rant a bit more at the end.

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The Office – “Lecture Circuit Part 2″

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“Lecture Circuit Part 2″

February 12th, 2009

One. Big. Letdown.

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the second half of “Lecture Circuit,” which will go down as an entirely uneventful piece of comedy for a whole lot of reasons. Alan Sepinwall really sums it up best in arguing that this is just like every one hour episode: spreading it out over two weeks and throwing a “previously on The Office” in front of the second half doesn’t change the fact that it was one story stretched out over two episodes that really wasn’t in any position to handle it.

Combine this with the show’s bait and switch, shoving the potential of seeing Amy Ryan again in our faces and then snatching it away only moments into this episode, and it just feels like this one was operating on borrowed time as soon as it began. And while I think anyone would agree that the actual dramatic events of Michael and Pam’s trip to Nashua were engaging, and that there was some comedy there in relation to last week’s events, the rest of the episode did not provide a substantial comic element to feel as if extending the rest of the storylines through to another week

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