“The Wolf and the Lion”
May 15th, 2011
“How long can hate hold a thing together?”
One could argue that Game of Thrones tells the story of two houses – this would be categorically untrue, especially given the ways in which the series expands in subsequent volumes (or seasons, considering its renewal), but the battle between the Lannisters and the Starks is obviously at the heart of this particular narrative. Even those who were fundamentally confused by the pilot, and perhaps even by subsequent episodes, were likely able to draw out that these two families are what one might term “a big deal.”
“The Wolf and the Lion” obviously makes this distinction clear, to the point that the story follows the two families almost exclusively – ignoring The Wall in its entirety, and foregoing a trip across the narrow sea, the episode narrows in on the mutual hatred which fuels these two families as they each try to go on with their lives as members of the other families attempt to either kill them or bring them to justice. And yet, at the same time, this narrowing is misleading on at least a few levels, given that this episode also delves a bit further into a few other houses which will become more important as a the series goes on.
In other words, despite technically being narrower in its focus, “The Wolf and the Lion” actually does some important work in broadening the scope of the series within these two particular areas. It’s a necessary step forward for the series, a strong statement for its commitment to the depth of this story.
“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
May 8th, 2011
The timing of the next few episodes of Game of Thrones couldn’t be worse on a personal level – it’s a busy time of year for me, what with the end of the semester, and it’s coming just as the series is entering some more distinctly complex episodes. While I had hoped to get these reviews done in advance, the truth is that things just became busy too quickly, meaning that I won’t have time to dive as far into “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” as I might like.
However, because of this, I do want to focus in on one part of the episode in particular, comparing and contrasting it with the episode surrounding it. Jon Snow’s time at the Wall is maybe my favorite central location of those introduced early in the series, and it is in large part due to the work done in this episode. Part of this has to do with my affection for the new arrival introduced here, but it also has to do with some key decisions which give the storyline a sense of camaraderie and humor which is more or less absent from the rest of the storyline.
It’s also a part of the story which disappears for two weeks, which means focusing my analysis on it makes even more sense given that I’ll have plenty of time to discuss Ned’s investigation into Jon Arryn’s death, the viciousness of the tournament, and the slippery nature of the metaphorical dragon in the weeks ahead.
15 Minutes in Westeros: Previewing HBO’s Game of Thrones
January 12th, 2011
There were two things which struck me as particularly strange while watching the fifteen minutes of footage from Game of Thrones which HBO has made available to critics (and which debuted at the TCA Press Tour last week).
The first was that it seems almost unfair that I’m seeing this footage while the majority of the show’s fans must deal with only detailed rundowns. I understand why it isn’t being made publicly available (it is unfinished, with temporary music and effects), but even as someone familiar with the books I know that there is a much larger audience out there who are much more anxious about this footage. Accordingly, I take on a sort of additional responsibility, knowing that the audience for my impressions (which are, of course, provisional based on the temporary nature of the footage) has an insatiable desire for information makes watching it a unique experience.
The other bit of strangeness is that it’s weird to see bits and pieces of a narrative, even when you know the rest of the story. Alan Sepinwall, who is going in without knowledge of the books by his choice, chose not to watch the footage simply because he didn’t want to see brief glimpses of a story that will, in the future, be a complete whole. And so while I might be in a position to fill in the gaps, knowing the meaning of each of these scenes and how they place within the larger narrative, there’s still the sense that we’re missing key pieces of the puzzle that would allow us to put to rest all of our curiosities surrounding the adaptation.
However, let’s not bury the lede here – it might seem weird to be sitting there watching this particular collection of scenes from Game of Thrones, but the more we see the less “weird” this adaptation seems. While the fandom has largely avoided snap judgments, resisting the urge to outright reject casting choices and waiting to see the final product, I still didn’t think that it would seem quite this natural. There are little hiccups here or there, but the world that’s been built is showing that a bit of faith, and plenty of talent and financial support, can go a long way in making a story work.
And, even in fragmented form, this story’s working.
“Water & Power”
June 6th, 2009
“It’s like putting your faith in the idea of someone before really knowing who they are.”
The above quotation, pulled from the episode, was my personal reaction to Pushing Daisies. I was “all in” from the moment I heard the premise of the pilot, pretty much, and was even more excited based on that episode. And there is something dangerous about that like, for example, having to deal with the fact that it was on the air for about 1/8 the amount of time as According to Jim. But the one thing that Pushing Daisies, as a show, never did was to displace my faith in any violent fashion – I was disappointed by its short end, but its quality rarely faltered, and that is something important to remember as we continue our journey through these final three episodes.
When you enter into a bittersweet series of episodes like these, knowing that the show has been canceled and that not all resolutions will be possible, an episode like “Water & Power” is a real microcosm of that feeling. As soon as the episode begins with a shot of a young Emerson Cod, you realize that this will be the show’s last chance to give this character a proper sendoff, especially as it relates to his search for his missing daughter. It was a recurring bit of story that was never actually a storyline: we saw the book he made, and we were there when he told Ned for the first time, but it’s never actually been the central point of a mystery of the week.
But, of course, it never will be again either: although the episode allows the issue of young Penny to emerge as the purpose of the show’s narrative, it doesn’t resolve the storyline in some sort of final way, and leaves the door open for all of the things we know the show won’t have. It introduces a few highly compelling recurring guest stars, for example, but we know the show will never get to see them return, and since it doesn’t offer any real finality for Emerson and Penny it feels like yet another chapter that, while satisfying for what it could have been, isn’t all that satisfying for what it ended up being.
“Window Dressed to Kill”
Season 2, Episode 11
“The more you face your trauma the more power it has over you.”
I had meant to make a note of the return of Pushing Daisies to readers ahead of time, considering that ABC certainly isn’t promoting their 10pm Saturdays burn-off of the remaining three episodes of the show’s second season, but part of me wasn’t quite looking at this as a real event. I haven’t seen an episode of Pushing Daisies in over five months, and while some got to view the episodes online (their aired in the U.K.), and others got to see them screened during PaleyFest (I was unfortunately at Coachella that day), I’ve been entirely free of the exploits of a certain Pie Maker, the Alive Again Avenger, my favourite private dick and the subject of tonight’s episode, Olive Snook.
I don’t think I realized how much I missed them until I faced that fact tonight, watching a fantastic hour of comic/dramatic television knowing that there are only two hours left to go, and that after that these characters will fundamentally cease to exist outside of a comic book or whatever other form Fuller keeps the series alive in. These characters deserve more than what they received from ABC: the show, canceled in favour of ABC’s plentiful number of midseason replacements (all but one of which failed), was certainly struggling, and wasn’t destined for stardom, but in all of our commotion over Chuck’s fate I think part of me will miss Pushing Daisies’ unique blend of whimsy and mystery more than I would have missed that show.
“Window Dressed to Kill” wasn’t a particularly noteworthy Pushing Daisies episodes outside of its position as one of the “Final 3,” but it so embodied what the show does best that it’s hard not to be overpowered by this desire to write letters, buy pies, and just about anything else you could imagine, even when you know it’s all for nothing. This review, similarly, is positioned as such that it is only a celebration of the episode, knowing that whatever character development I speak of will have only two more episodes to continue, and that whatever stories I think have potential will likely prove unable to reach that stage in their development.
But damnit, I’m going to talk about them anyway.
December 17th, 2008
If there is a word that best describes Pushing Daisies, it is potential – it is the kind of show where you can imagine where they can take these characters, what kind of fantastical scenarios they can place them in. A world in which there is a crack team of Norwegian investigators who have too few murders to investigate and migrate to Papin county in order to take advantage of its high murder rate is the kind of creativity that the show thrives on, and it feels at this point that it is in an almost endless supply.
So as the show marches towards the halfway point in its generously offered second season, what we get is an episode where they’re starting to dig into some of the show’s bigger questions and more complicated relationships in a way that almost feels like the show is ramping up to some sort of a conclusion. But since that can’t possibly be…what’s that? Wait, are you serious? Really? Canceled, you say? How dare they!
In all seriousness, with this lame attempt at kidding aside, this episode is that Catch-22 of the canceled drama that pretty well knew it was going to be canceled when it entered into this stretch of episodes. Fuller has smartly designed his conclusion to serve two purposes: bringing to the surface underlying tensions and events of import for our characters and, more importantly, reminding us how broad and wonderful this universe is. The trick was to make episodes like “The Norwegians,” a tightly constructed episode featuring murder without mystery, a father with a surprise identity, and a healthy combination of both dramatic gravitas of the moment and comic timing that feels like it will never go away.
Unfortunately, ABC saw through both of those particular facts – perhaps someone staged a fake Pushing Daisies to throw them off the scent of sweet televised success.
“The Legend of Merle McQuoddy”
December 10th, 2008
I am going to miss Olive Snook most of all.
Yes, I will miss everything else about Pushing Daisies: Emerson Cod’s quippy one-liners, Chuck’s emotional integrity, Ned’s neurotic worrying, Jim Dale’s charming narration, Lily’s shotgun, Vivian’s heart on her sleeve, and the various quirky individuals who populate this world week after week, incapable of sitting still as they balance between our world and the whimsical universe Bryan Fuller has created.
But there is something about Olive Snook that pleases me the most, and makes me most upset for the show’s passing. It’s her sheer exuberance: without Ned and Chuck’s burdens, or Emerson’s gruff persona, Olive is the character who most gets to interact with the more fanciful elements of these storylines. The best mysteries are often the ones in which Olive takes part, or where Olive’s participatory spirit extends to the other characters – they have a certain bounce to them, a visual and aural sharpness only possible by the spunk her character brings to each scene, and they are in fashion throughout “The Legend of Merle McQuody.”
It is a testament to Kristin Chenoweth that Olive is still this charming even as she returns to idea of unrequited love, a notion which nearly sunk the character in the first season when it felt like an excuse to keep Ned and Chuck from connecting. Now that the show has settled, Chenoweth has made Olive’s emotional state more natural while also being integrated more closely into the week’s mystery. After being paired with Ned on “Comfort Food,” Olive here becomes a Jr. P.I. in Training with Cod Investigations, resulting in a fantastic comic pairing, some wonderful Olive moments and, most importantly, another in a series of great segments as Pushing Daisies marches towards its final Legend.
November 26th, 2008
I was one of the few who, really, wasn’t jumping up and down over last week’s episode of Pushing Daisies. While the episode was, no question, a strong investigation into Ned’s character and the show’s central questions, it all felt a bit heavy to me. And while I’m not saying that the show shouldn’t be allowed to enter into that territory, when I’m up to my neck in deadlines part of me would rather an episode of Pushing Daisies that feels more indulgent than self-indulgent, if that makes any sense.
This week, by comparison, falls on the other side of the spectrum; some, and quite justifiably, are likely to find that the story of a Robin Hood-dunnit seems inconsequential compared to last week’s episode, and that it felt especially marginalized when there was quite a large amount of development in relation to the arrival of Dwight Dixon (especially in terms of fallout from his discovery of Chuck’s empty grave in last week’s episode).
For me, however, I thought that it was what Pushing Daisies is: a crime procedural glossed up with charm out the wazoo and a sureness of character which allows them to balance recurring storylines with a deft hand that most standard procedures aren’t capable of. So, while this episode certainly felt more forced than last week’s, that it still charmed the pants off me is perhaps the greater accomplishment. And I won’t tell a lie: when I’m scrambling to write my 20-page research paper on Performance in the transition from Aestheticism to Decadence in 19th Century Literature, I much preferred this lighter concoction than I did last week’s overload.
“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”
November 19th, 2008
With production on the thirteenth episode of its second season completed last week, Pushing Daisies has officially completed all episodes ordered by ABC. This is an alarming fact that hasn’t been lost on fans of the series, and they’re (justifiably) hoping that tonight’s episode brings a solid ratings bump and a chance for a third season (or, even, the order of more episodes for the Spring). As someone who is very much a fan of this series, I count myself amongst them: my fingers are crossed for tomorrow moning. Call it a cliche, but we’re hoping for a little bit of magic.
“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic” is actually a really interesting study for the show, and poses a question to this particular critical eye: is it the fanciful locations and atmospheric qualities that give Pushing Daisies its magical quality, or is it the characters who populate this world who have such pure and human emotions that magic spontaneously erupts when they’re on screen? While Fred Willard’s guest appearance as an illusionist (“The Great Herrmann”) and the world of magic offer some points of interest, the season has had better locations (in particular, the monastery and the circus exploded off the screen in ways that the claustrophobic stage just doesn’t).
Instead, this first episode back from a three week hiatus finds the show leaning on its characters, finding its emotion in their humour (Emerson and Olive) as well as their own tragic pasts (Ned and Chuck’s parent troubles). While there have been some who have called this one of the show’s best episodes yet, I felt somewhat more lukewarm about it. Until it kicks into gear in the third act, where the emotions finally overflow into a very exciting and meaningful conclusion, it was what Pushing Daisies always is: a show that finds magic in procedural mystery, and one that we hope continues to do so for a long time to come.
“Dim Sum Lose Some”
October 29th, 2008
If there is a new mantra on Pushing Daisies, it seems quite simple: leave no character behind.
Excluding the Aunts, who have been absent for quite some time now likely in an effort to save money and focus the show on other issues, we’re seeing a lot more interaction between our four main characters. Ever since Olive’s last stand at the monastery, especially, the four have been intertwined into the mysteries in a way that the first season only really accomplished once, in “Bitches.” Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Simone, one of the four wives of the polygamist dog breeder returns in this episode to a similar dynamic, and a similarly strong episode.
Although the episode deals a bit with Ned’s past, and Emerson gets almost all of the great one-liners, it really is a group effort: when the episode evolves into an almost “Chuck”-like espionage scenario at the Dim Sum restaurant, the entire cast comes together in a comic scenario that just clicks. I wouldn’t contend that this is amongst the show’s best episodes, but it’s a definite sign that the creative resurgence that began the season is still going strong.