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The Big Bang Theory – “The Adhesive Duck Deficiency”

“The Adhesive Duck Deficiency”

November 16th, 2009

I’ve not been remiss in noticing that the Sheldon/Penny shipping community has taken an interest in these reviews, and I want to make sure they know that I always appreciate the comments. And, because I’ve been following along with the group, alarm bells went off when this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory separated Sheldon and Penny from the rest of the group. In some ways, the episode’s opening scenes actually played out like fan fiction, and we were reminded that, as usual, this sort of pairing is when the show is at its best (even if I feel as if the show will never, ever, take this relationship to anything beyond a tenuous mutual tolerance).

However, unfortunately for this episode, something about the storyline never quite lived up to its full potential, and more problematically the other half of the episode was the epitome of half-baked (yeah, I went there). While the Sheldon and Penny storyline was enjoyable in the way that Sheldon stories always are, and Jim Parsons is as hilarious as ever, it lacked (until the end) the heart of their more enjoyable plots. And since the show’s two most interesting characters in terms of creating different dynamics were on their own, this left the rest of the guys to fend for themselves.

And while Sheldon and Penny might be a good combination for the show’s comic potential, nothing can give me back the time spent on the other half of this episode.

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FlashForward – “Black Swan”

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“Black Swan”

October 15th, 2009

All I can hear is the clock ticking.

Yeah, well, all I can hear is the crickets, FlashForward.

“Black Swan” is yet another example of the ways in which FlashForward seems fundamentally unwilling to engage with its most interesting elements and choosing, instead, to continue to ponderously engage with small-scale stories that feel like note cards on a bulletin board rather than something that’s part of a mosaic.

What’s interesting is that, if the show had ignored the notions of global conspiracy and the worldwide destruction, I actually think this would be an interesting hour of television. If the show had ignored the chaos of the pilot, and had instead had everyone experience a vision of their future without any time passing, then “Black Swan” would be an interesting investigation into a patient whose flash forward is inexplicable, or a young babysitter who wonders how she can atone for a sin she has yet to commit. Those questions are on their own a decent structure for an almost procedural series, a world like our own but where alternate futures dominate everyday conversation.

The problem with the show hasn’t been sold as anything close to that, but rather as a show rife with conspiracy theories and exciting serialized elements. And in an episode like this one, we understand the show’s central dilemma: when the show spends time with the mundane, we’re left wondering what’s going on with the big picture, but when they do spend time with the big picture we wonder why we were spending time with the mundane at all. And as long as both sides of the show’s storylines have some pretty serious execution problems, I don’t know how long the dichotomy is going to hold.

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Season Finale: Weeds – “All About My Mom”

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“All About My Mom”

August 31st, 2009

“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”

That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.

Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.

What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.

Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.

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Mad Men – “My Old Kentucky Home”

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“My Old Kentucky Home”

August 30th, 2009

“It’s a mistake to be conspicuously happy.”

Roger Sterling is a man trying to find happiness, but discovering that no one particularly wants to share in it. His daughter and his wife, as we saw last week, want nothing to do with the new woman, and here the employees of Sterling Cooper view their swanky country club soiree as a work obligation more than a chance to celebrate. There’s a fantastic moment during the party where Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy take to the dance floor and show off some admittedly very impressive moves. However, watch Pete’s face: while Trudie is getting into the music, enjoying herself, Pete spends the entire time smiling and glancing at Roger to see if he’s impressing him, to see if he’s got his attention. All social events have a sense of obligation, but this particular one feels more than all others like an event where people do as Pete desires and start handing out business cards.

“My Old Kentucky Home” is very much about the ways in which happiness is a negotiation, a struggle between individual desires (and therefore personal happiness) and the desires and hopes of everyone else around you. For Roger Sterling, his new marriage pits him against the world, having broken the cardinal rule of not romanticizing or idealizing one’s affairs. For Joan Holloway, her knowledge of the world and the customs of society place her at odds with the role her husband believes she should play. For Peggy Olsen, her own self-awareness of her position and her ability to navigate the complex world of a male-dominated business are questioned by those who have seen it all before and who know that it’s not that easy.

And for Don and Betty Draper, happiness is an act, a coverup for hidden desires and hidden secrets which can never be revealed so long as they continue to play charades. In this quasi-musical of an episode, we discover the consequences of being conspicuously happy, but also the consequences of avoiding happiness and finding one’s self just as lost as you would be if you were at odds with society’s expectation.

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Weeds – “Perro Insano”

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“Perro Insano”

August 10th, 2009

Ah, the false finale.

In many ways, “Perro Insano” operates as a finale would, giving every character a climactic moment or climactic decision and leaving them hanging as we move on in a new direction. In the events of this episode, there are moments of resolution, moments wherein you are seeing an entire season’s of storylines reach a particular apex. The problem, of course, is that this is a false conclusion: while Celia may appear to have reached that deluxe apartment in the sky, and Nancy has finally convinced the man she loves to marry her, one can’t help but believe that things can only go downhill from here. And, unfortunately for Nancy and Co., there’s still two episodes for that destruction to take place.

It’s an awkward point for Weeds, really, because we as an audience are conditioned to the point of numbness to these types of events, and for every bit of false resolution we’re given we can’t help but resist, pushing back as if in defiance of Jenji Kohan and her writing staff. It creates an odd bit of tension that I think the show wants to thrive in, but here there’s been too little definition in the supporting storylines, and too much sensationalism in the major ones, for it to feel like an example of the audience being manipulated rather than the storylines being contrived. It’s a difference between consistency and repetition, in a way, and I think the show is falling at least slightly too much on the latter point.

But not so much so as to discount the show’s overall quality too greatly.

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Weeds – “A Distinctive Horn”

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“A Distinctive Horn”

July 27th, 2009

As you’ve no doubt noticed as of late, things have been a touch slow around Cultural Learnings when it comes to summer programming reviews. This is due largely to a combination of extra-special T.V. events (Last week’s Torchwood: Children of Earth blogging, for example) and some personal academic commitments that have been particularly demanding on my time (or, more accurately, my sanity). But in many ways, I think it’s because each summer show (Royal Pains, Burn Notice, Nurse Jackie, etc.) have fallen into a pattern that hasn’t really changed. When an episode is good it’s good, but as fun summer fare as opposed to meaty content worth sinking my teeth into. I’ve shared a few thoughts on Twitter here and there, but it’s been a slow summer when it comes to television to really analyze in a critical framework.

However, what I find really interesting about Showtime’s Weeds is that the reasons I haven’t been blogging about it this year are fundamentally different than last year. Whereas usually Weeds struggles to have something to write about in each individual episode, as its plots tends to be fairly easy to choreograph but almost painfully drawn out, this season the show has the exact opposite problems: due to a newfound unstable temporality that saw the show leap into the future a few weeks back, the show has gone further than I expected them to go all season. I’ve been tentative to write about it simply because I’ve been waiting to see when the pace will slow down, and when things would go back to normal. At this rate, part of me thinks that the kid is going to a toddler by the time we get to the finale.

Ultimately, the end of “A Distinctive Horn” is probably the point where the pace begins to slow, but I figured a “State of the Weeds” address was probably in order.

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Weeds – “A Modest Proposal”

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“A Modest Proposal”

July 13th, 2009

Weeds is often a show that tends to drag things out, so I think there were more than a few collective jaw drops at the sight of a “Six Months Later” chyron early in “A Modest Proposal.” It isn’t that last week’s episode, which was quite good in its depiction of Nancy deciding for the tenuous safety of Esteban over Andy’s promise of safety, didn’t lend itself to skipping over the less interesting months of Nancy’s pregnancy, but rather that the show has never made this leap before and to do so seemed quite sudden.

In the end, it’s one of those decisions that allows them to skip ahead to where you could tell the storylines were going rather than having to build there gradually. It’s a narratological shortcut, and for a show that often tends to drag along I’d argue it’s probably a smart idea. I have some concerns over how things don’t appear to have actually changed, and how in some instances the eventuality of storylines were not nearly as interesting as the buildup would have been, but the show is in a better position to be more interesting with the current setting.

It’s added a healthy level of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings at the end of the day, and no one is really going to argue with that development.

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