“Dynamic Duets” and Season Four So Far
November 22nd, 2012
I was at a Thanksgiving gathering today, and an open question was asked regarding the quality of Glee this season. An initial opinion suggested the show was terrible this year, and without any hesitation I disagreed: Glee, to my mind, has been measurably better than last season, and probably the season before.
I don’t know if this is a controversial opinion, but it was met with skepticism by the room, and perhaps rightfully so. Given the sheer number of words I spent laying out my frustrations with the show before quitting weekly reviews, I am all too familiar with Glee’s flaws. And to be clear, the show has continued to have these problems, and I’ve continued to sit on my couch and complain to Twitter about them like a crazy person. But around those problems has grown a season moving with purpose the vague “graduation” theme never offered, pulling fewer punches and forcing its characters to ask questions that occasionally threaten to mean something.
Put more simply, Glee is a better television show this season. Its flaws, while still numerous, feel like the byproduct of trying to do something instead of the byproduct of doing nothing, a constructive shift that helps the show overcome its occasional missteps to reach musical resolutions that feel earned.
August 28th, 2011
“I never wanted any of this.”
We’re reaching the point in the year where my schedule is going to make covering Breaking Bad weekly a bit challenging, but we’re also reaching the point where I honestly don’t know how much I have left to say.
Now, I could technically write 2500 words talking about what happened in “Problem Dog,” given that the show continues to build on its mythology of tension and self-destruction. However, I’m finding that the show doesn’t really need to be “explained” or even “analyzed” at this point in its fourth season, with the focus instead being on experience. It’s something the show has been doing from the beginning, really, but the fourth season has been particularly built around the audience either sitting back to enjoy the spectacle (as was the case in Hank’s big scene this week) or on the edge of our seats full engrossed in the characters’ plight (as with Jesse at pretty much every point this season).
I’ve stopped taking notes while I watch the show, in part because anything I write down is just as likely to spring from my brain an hour later as I sit down to write a review, and in part because it feels counter-productive. I’m hopeful that I can keep writing about the show in future weeks, but chances are my responses will be a little more free-flowing, and a bit less detailed, given the position the show is in right now.
Which is a damn fine position, just so we’re clear.
“Once More, With Feeling”
August 5th, 2011
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.
My memory is generally pretty good when it comes to small details about my life, but I truly have no idea what possessed me to watch “Once More, With Feeling” in my dorm room about four or five years ago.
I wasn’t watching it with someone else, and I hadn’t borrowed someone’s DVDs. As far as I can remember, no one suggested that I watch it, and this was well before Dr. Horrible was a thing (although I think my memory wants to tell me that there was some relationship between the two things, if only to make sense of the abstract nature of the experience). Looking back, timeline wise, it’s possible that the Scrubs musical was what pushed me in its direction, but that’s at best an educated guess.
As I’ve discussed throughout this project, there are moments from pivotal episodes that have been floating around in my head from occasional experiences with the series. One was Riley crawling through a tight space in the climax of “Hush,” gleamed from a Buffy marathon my brother was recording, and the other was this random late night viewing of an episode for which I had almost zero context. Given that I was watching the episode exclusively as a musical, my memory is hazy: when I started watching the show in earnest last summer, I remember being convinced that Xander and Cordelia were going to get together because I had seen them in “Once More, With Feeling,” at which point you were quick to point out that my memory was even hazier than I realized.
Watching it this week really did feel like watching it for the first time, even if there were those brief moments of déjà vu. I remembered more about the episode than I thought, but the nature of those memories varied, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the episode’s success. You can’t remember what you’ve never known, and returning to the episode in the context of the sixth season gave me a much greater understanding for why “Once More, With Feeling” holds such an important place in the history of this show.
“A Good Man Goes to War”
June 11th, 2011
My choice not to review “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” is partly due to the awkwardness created by BBC America making the idiotic decision to take a one-week hiatus over Memorial Day Weekend, but I’ve also got to be honest: I didn’t think they were very good.
I saw a Twitter conversation go by, I think involving Jeremy Mongeau, and it really captured what I think the problem was. He made the argument, if memory serves me correctly, that serialization has actually damaged the show through the first half of the sixth series: everything has been so caught up in laying groundwork for future events or setting up the seasonal arc that it doesn’t really have time to breathe (or, if you’re “The Curse of the Black Spot,” was kind of just too dull to stand out).
Even if we argue that the serial elements have remained intriguing (which I would), and even if “The Doctor’s Wife” was a really compelling standalone that spoke to overarching themes in a strong fashion (which it was), “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” were like a narrative fetchquest. The Doctor needed to learn more about the flesh, and therefore traveled to where it first originated in order to better understand it, and a story had to be created around that particular event. It just seemed like Matthew Graham’s script never quite managed to make the characters compelling enough, implying a sense of depth instead of actually showing it to us.
Did the two-parter lay some important groundwork for explaining the Doctor’s “death” back in the premiere? Absolutely. And did it quite effectively transition into the reveal that Amy has been flesh since the beginning of the season? Yes. But it becomes a two-hour exhibit in exposition when “A Good Man Goes to War” begins, a too-long detour in a season that seemed to lose its momentum. Mind you, Steven Moffat regains that momentum in about three minutes and forty seconds, give or take a minute or two, and “A Good Man Goes to War” is a stellar effort that benefits from having some truly substantial exposition to relay.
It also tells a compelling story to go along with it, one that we can be certain will resonate both in the fall and beyond.
“The Great Escape”
June 1st, 2011
Given that I already offered a general opinion that “The Great Escape” is a tremendous return for the show’s second season, I don’t expect to say a great deal about the episode itself.
However, I feel that this episode more than any other captures the sort of “coming of age” theme that I highlighted in my pre-air review, creating a set of circumstances in which all of the characters prepare themselves to make an important life change before suddenly realizing that the moment has passed.
It’s oddly one of the most overtly thematic episodes that this subtle show has ever done, but its broad moments are triggered by such subtle observations that it never betrays what makes the series so compelling.
“You Win or You Die”
May 29th, 2011
“It’s the family name that lives on. It’s all that lives on.”
[You can also hear additional thoughts on this episode in a special edition of the Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast that I participated in.]
[Also, for more on "Sexposition," check out my review of Season 2, Episode 2, "The Night Lands"]
There has been a lot of conversation surrounding the question of exposition with Game of Thrones, understandable given the high volume of material that has been revealed through conversations in an effort to capture the complexity of George R.R. Martin’s world.
“You Win or You Die” is not particularly exposition heavy, although there is one example that I will break down in greater detail, but the function of exposition is to provide a sense of history and context and I would argue that this episode is very interested in this idea. Some have argued that flashbacks might be considered another way to provide insight into history, and that it would beat the somewhat sloppy exposition that has to this point been deployed, but I would ask this: is the point of exposition to inform or remind the audience of particular information, or is it designed to inform the audience that the particular information in question is, in fact, important enough to be discussed in this context?
The answer, as always, is that it is meant to function as both, but I think those decrying the very existence of exposition in its current form should consider the latter more carefully. The role of history within this world is an important theme that is highlighted in “You Win or You Die,” as various threads comes to a point where the past is either given new meaning or forgotten entirely.
Or, rather, forgotten in some circles and remembered in others.
“Save My Love”
March 23rd, 2011
I only recently caught up with FX’s Justified – after reviewing the premiere, I actually hadn’t seen a single episode, unable to find the time on Wednesday night to check in on what has been a pretty great second season. However, I was able to catch up over Spring Break, and spent Monday evening checking out last week’s episode, “Blaze of Glory,” and then following it with “Save My Love.”
Watching them together (they were on the same disc sent by FX) is a really unique experience, and I’m curious to know how viewers who waited a week between episodes responds to the transformative power of “Save My Love.” While I thought “Blaze of Glory” was fine, it was an example of a fairly simple storytelling method: a secondary character (Winona) gets mixed up with a primary case, the two storylines converging for a brief moment before eventually being resolved on their own terms. While the episode had a Justified feel, the material with Art hunting his old nemesis (slowly) being particularly charming, it didn’t really show us or tell us anything about the people involved. It might have said something about Winona, but the “resolution” sort of kept that from being fully investigated.
However, as you have no doubt figured out, “Save My Love” not only offered a stellar example of how serial convergence can function in a procedural setting, but it also dramatically transformed the ending of “Blaze of Glory.” It’s a stealth two-parter, undoing the resolution in a blink of an eye and marching on forward with an unending sense of tension. It’s an obnoxiously tight hour of television, but it also very much depends on both the series’ serial development up to this point and the lack of serial development in some of this season’s episodes.
March 17th, 2011
Parks and Recreation is like Li’l Sebastian. For those who don’t know better, it’s just another Office-like NBC comedy, just as Li’l Sebastian appears to be just a pony. For those of us who have become devotees, however, Parks and Recreation is more than a pony – it is a mini horse, a mini horse which inspires the kind of overwhelming emotions which drive even characters like Ron Swanson and Joan Calamezzo to…well, to lose their shit.
After a few weeks off, Parks and Recreation is back with the conclusion of the Harvest Festival arc. This is actually the first episode that I’ve watched live, and thus the first episode that I’m reviewing without having watched numerous times. As a result, this review is less likely to run those the episode’s finest jokes, but I don’t think “Harvest Festival” depends on particularly strong one-liners. Instead, it relies on moments: moments like Joan losing control over herself at the presence of Li’l Sebastian, or moments like Tom and Ben rekindling their Star Wars battle as if they’ve been having it on a weekly basis since we last spent time in Pawnee.
It’s all remarkably consistent, and all predictably charming given the series’ strong third season. The production hiatus between “Indianapolis” and “Harvest Festival” did nothing to kill the show’s rhythm, once again proving itself one of the most delightful mini-horses on television.
Even if it just looks like a pony to most of America.
November 16th, 2010
“Are you on anything? Because this is trippy.”
“The Substitute” is terrible, except that it’s sort of great.
Every moment stands on the precipice of being terrible, predicated on tenuous connections to our reality. And yet, with a willingness to indulge in fantasy the episode achieves something approaching self-actualization, finding the honest moments in storylines that could very easily have been devoid of such honesty. Some moments are worse than the show’s baseline of ridiculousness, while other moments spin that ridiculousness into the kind of character moments that the show often struggles with.
Ian Brennan, returning to the material of “The Rhodes Not Taken,” tells a story about loneliness, albeit in an episode so jam-packed with storylines that the actual feeling of loneliness is largely theoretical. While not quite the series’ best episode, “The Substitute” makes so much with so little that we can’t help but find it admirable.
If, also, a little awful.