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Season Premiere: Royal Pains – “Spasticity”

“Spasticity”

June 3rd, 2010

If you’re looking for thoughts on the more entertaining of last night’s USA Network premieres, then you’ll want to check out Alan Sepinwall’s review of the fourth season and Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the premiere at The A.V. Club. Ultimately, I’m about in line with Todd on the show: while I still enjoy it, and thought the premiere did some interesting things, I’m finding that I am far less engaged in the series than I once was. While before its scheduling in the summer months seemed like a welcome bit of intellectually-aligned fun, now it just feels like we’re, you know, burnt out on Burn Notice.

But since those gentlemen put such a nice button on the Burn Notice premiere, I wanted to turn my attention to that which came afterwards. If Michael Westen had tied me to a chair and interrogated me for two days, I honestly don’t know if he could have been able to get me to remember what happened at the end of Royal Pains’ first season last summer. I remembered the basic premise of the show, as well as the basic character interactions central to the series, but in terms of an actual plot the closest I could come is “Campbell Scott’s eccentric billionaire has a weird illness that he pulled a Jason Street to try to fix,” which doesn’t exactly constitute a lasting impression considering I relate to it largely through an obscure Friday Night Lights reference.

“Spasticity” is a fine example of both why I plan to keep watching the show and why, in a few months time, I’ll likely forget about everything I watched this summer. While the show has a way of passing the time in a way which I quite admire, it is not what one would call entertaining: there is nothing here to please crowds beyond a compelling guest turn from Kyle Bornheimer and residual love for Arrested Development having fundamentally changed our perception of Henry Winkler, the rest of the series comfortable to sit in a functional but lifeless holding pattern that honestly serves it quite well.

In some ways, I have a certain respect for the show not trying to push itself to be more explicitly engaging, retaining its understated even when it occasionally results in storylines which what one would generally consider “unmemorable.”

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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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Royal Pains – “Nobody’s Perfect”

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“Nobody’s Perfect”

August 20th, 2009

There’s really two trajectories for USA Network series as they approach the end of their first seasons.

The first is that they find a second gear, discovering another level of their structure where they are able to tell bigger and better stories. Burn Notice, of course, is the quintessential example of this, finding in its season one cliffhanger and then into its second season an entirely new identity that made the best possible use of its characters and setting to deliver some great television.

However, nearly every other USA Network series finds cruise control, that place where they are able to drift along at roughly the same, amiable pace as they began. This doesn’t mean that the shows are boring: I’d place Psych into this category, and I’d argue the show is still pretty fresh despite my refusal to keep watching it (time commitments, is all!). Rather, it means that their sense of identity becomes grounded and simplified in the face of potential expansion, finding a comfortable rhythm with which to become familiar and consistent with viewers.

With its final set of episodes heading into the finale, especially the primary focus of “Nobody’s Perfect,” I think Royal Pains is officially settling into the second category, and I think it’s really the only option. This isn’t a show like Burn Notice that feels like its universe could really expand: the laid back style of the Hampton’s has created a cast of characters who by necessity are not going to present broader threats, and the serialized elements like Hank’s previous firing are handled here almost entirely off-screen and brushed aside (mostly) by the end of the episode.

This is just a simple summer show, and one that has found its stride enough for me to say that it moving into cruise control about now will be enough to keep me watching, if not analyzing week after week.

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Royal Pains – “It’s Like Jamais Vu All Over Again”

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“It’s Like Jamais Vu All Over Again”

August 6th, 2009

Alan Sepinwall has often talked about how, with TBS’ My Boys, the season finale cliffhangers are almost always of a nature where he as a critic doesn’t actually care about them. TBS asks critics not to talk about the result of the latest love triangle, or such trifling things, whereas Alan (and myself) watch the show for the sense of camaraderie, the sharp dialogue, etc.

I feel very much the same way about Royal Pains, a show that in its first half season has made quite a ratings splash but has failed to really connect with me on an individual level. It isn’t that the show is by any means bad, but rather that there is nothing standing out for me. I was going to start this review by complaining that they, like My Boys, chose one of the least interesting parts of the show on which to hang their hat when it came time to focus on a “Cliffhanger” (loose definition, I assure you), but then I realized something: I don’t know if there’s actually an interesting part.

I don’t think that’s a condemnation of the show, but it is the kind of thing which keeps an episode like “It’s Like Jamais Vu All Over Again” from feeling all that, well, interesting. It’s not that the case itself is that poorly drawn, or that the various interpersonal elements weren’t up to par. Instead, it is simply an example of a show where the focus seems to be on the element of the show, the love triangles and the like, that really does absolutely nothing for me, leaving me to wonder if the rest of the show will ever remain as in focus as I’d like it to.

Only time, and the new few weeks, will tell.

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So You Think You Can Dance Season 5: The Finale Factor

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The Finale Factor

August 5th, 2009

While I accept any and all criticism of reality television as far as the sheer gluttony of the stuff that arrived on the airwaves over the past decade or so, I will say right now that the “Finale” is the reason the genre has continued to appeal to me. There is something about sheer uncertainty that few scripted programs can really match, as there is often no way to choreograph (eww, sorry) the twists and turns that could potentially happen. With shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, any small snafu could completely alter the power structure, leaving your expectations in tatters on the floor while an unexpected winner is crowned. That’s the kind of story that keeps me hooked on (good) reality television, and the kind of story that makes me believe the genre has a definite place.

However, for shows like So You Think You Can Dance and its musical counterpart, American Idol, there isn’t always that same sense of uncertainty. Sure, there’s always a chance that expectations can be defeated, but for the most part things have been narrowed to the point where the final performances are not a surprise, and where the result is more a foregone conclusion. Last year, I don’t think anyone believed that Joshua, with his combination of braces and some fantastic and memorable routines was beyond likeable, was going to lose, so the suspense was somewhat gone. On these shows, dancers give so many performances that there is a lot of empirical evidence for how audiences are responding and voting, and as a result one can feel like the finale is only going to cement what has already taken place.

All of this being said, I feel as if this fifth season finale of So You Think You Can Dance is an example of a finale that has only further complicated what has been a very difficult to read season. Most thought that Brandon and Janette, so strong throughout the competition, were going to sail into the finals, but both found themselves in the Bottom at Top 8 and Janette even went home. Evan, meanwhile, has lacked a single breakout performance, and yet has never fallen into the bottom. The top two girls, meanwhile, are Kayla the Partner Killer, who was regularly in the Bottom Three, and Jeanine, who carried Philip early in the competition before emerging as a powerhouse when it mattered most.

The result is a competition that’s too close to call, but based on the evening’s events I think we can say that this is a finale that will truly matter.

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Royal Pains – “The Honeymoon’s Over”

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“The Honeymoon’s Over”

July 30th, 2009

There are moments when watching a summer show that you start to realize just how much you’ve been treating it as a summer show, and at the start of tonight’s episode of Royal Pains I had one of those moments. As Jill and Hank seemed to be at some sort of relationship crossroads, I realized something: I have no idea why. I don’t even think I care to know why. Something apparently happened in last week’s episode that made Jill weary of any kind of actual relationship – I remember something about a summer crush, and concerns over Hank leaving, but I didn’t think things were quite as cold as they seemed to be.

And really, this is the problem with a show like Royal Pains where the conflict in each individual episode is contained, meaning that any conflicts needs to come from the same people each and every week. For Burn Notice (which I haven’t watched yet, but might blog about to get back in the swing of things), this is achieved through a single storyline that while occasionally repetitive is quite focused on one idea and executed as such. With Royal Pains, however, it seems like they want to just keep pulling out the Jill/Hank relationship drama card, and to be honest I don’t think it’s working for me. I don’t find they have a terrible amount of chemistry, and it just isn’t something that can legitimately sustain my interest for too long.

So, as we bounce from machination to machination, I’m looking for Royal Pains to really find its footing outside of its weekly medical stories, which quite strangely for a procedural have kind of been its strong point to this point in its first season – while I’m pleased the show has received a second season, I’m less pleased with the fact that it could mean two seasons of this less than wonderful relationship.

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So You Think You Can Dance: All’s Fair in Love and Dance?

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Top 8 Performance Show

July 22nd, 2009

In the past four seasons, there have been a number of routines where emotional factors beyond the performance itself have played a role in their success. Two seasons ago, Mia Michaels did a piece where she imagined her reunion with her recently deceased father in heaven. Last season, Jean-Marc Genereaux and his wife France choreographed a piece for Twitch and Kherington inspired by their autistic daughter. In both instances, they were danced well, and there is a sense that the dancing itself was really besides the point: they were there to convey the emotion of the piece, and in those instances the steps were certainly secondary.

However, to be honest with you, I have my reservations about the place of a dance like Tyce Diorio’s Contemporary routine inspired by the fight against breast cancer that we saw this evening. [Before we move on from this point: I was emotionally moved by their performance, and felt the message about breast cancer was incredibly important. I am demeaning neither the purpose of the work nor their performance of it. Just making that clear.]

It was beautiful and moving, don’t get me wrong, and I believe they danced it well, but I think that there comes a point in the competition where such starkly emotional pieces may be too unbalanced for the competition to handle. There’s no piece that could possibly compare to what Melissa and Ade did in terms of emotional value, and I don’t necessarily think that it’s fair at this point in the competition, when the decision is entirely in America’s hands, for them to give a team essentially a free pass from any sort of legitimate critique. The strength of that routine, in my mind, should not be enough to hide the fact that Melissa and Ade’s Cha-Cha was perhaps the weakest routine of the entire evening, but the chances of them going home are now slim to none.

At the same time, of course, choreographers have the absolute right to be able to express their emotions through their work, and Tyce probably wanted to wait until he knew that all remaining dancers could handle the piece before showing it to the world. That all makes sense to me, it really does, but at the same time some part of me wonder if it’s particularly fair for one couple to have something so powerful and moving and the other to have something that inspired absolutely none of that emotion, and was never designed to do so.

I don’t think there’s a particularly answer to that, but a bit more discussion and some general observations after the jump.

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