Tag Archives: Sarah

Season Finale: Orphan Black – “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

OrphanBlackTitle

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

June 1st, 2013

When I attended the Television Critics’ Association Winter Press Tour in January, BBC America presented a panel for Orphan Black, a new drama series originating from Canada (where it airs on Space). It was an interesting panel to attend, because none of the critics in the room had no opportunity to watch it: while we were shown a quick trailer to help give us context, most of the questions were actually asking for more information as opposed to specific responses to the series. What we saw looked interesting, and the panel was enjoyable, but it was an exploratory exercise in a space where greater context is necessary to achieve any real insight.

Reading back over the transcript of that panel, and revisiting this fun interview Will Harris did with the three stars in attendance, I couldn’t help but smile. In retrospect, there are plenty of hints there about the show Orphan Black would become: a fearless, balls to the wall science fiction pleasure that’s smart as hell. Co-creator Graeme Manson was asked about the possibility of flashbacks, to which he responded “Yeah, actually, none at all. We really, really like a story that’s like a runaway train that keeps you on the edge of your seat and has you not sure whether the story is going to take a hard left or a hard right.” Tatiana Maslany was asked about the challenge of playing multiple roles, and explained “Yeah, it’s a challenge, the different arcs. You know, there’s so many arcs to it. So it’s a bit of a mind — I keep wanting to say the wrong word.”

The wrong word is the right word in this case: Orphan Black is a mindfuck, and ends its first season with another segment in the runaway train first season, one that becomes four climaxes in one by the time it reaches its conclusion.

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Cultural Checkup: USA’s Suits and White Collar

Cultural Checkup: Suits and White Collar

August 12th, 2011

Although I’ve stopped watching Burn Notice, and ceased my bizarre commitment to the dull Royal Pains this summer, and didn’t bother with Covert Affairs’ second season, and didn’t even bother with Necessary Roughness (which I thought looked terrible), I remain really quite interested with USA as a network. With White Collar, they have a show that I think hits a lot of interesting buttons, and with Suits you have a show that seems to be aiming for the same goal. They’re shows that I like a great deal in particular moments, and that are in two very different stages of development.

However, as I drop in on both shows this week, I’ll admit that I find them a bit frustrating. While Suits has a lot of potential, its youthfulness shows signs of uncertainty in regards to questions of genre and narrative, problems that White Collar continues to carry even as it clearly leads the network’s offerings in terms of quality. I know that the general approach to USA programming is not quite this hyper-critical, but I’ve stored up a few too many things to say about the two shows, so I figured the Cultural Checkup was a good way to get through them.

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Season Premiere: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Anniversary”

“Chuck vs. the Anniversary”

September 20th, 2010

I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review, but I think this might be the last weekly Chuck review for quite some time here at Cultural Learnings.

This is not so much a reflection of the relative quality of “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” as it is a reflection of what kind of show Chuck has become over the past season. When I posted my review of NBC’s Chase earlier today, someone commented that Chuck similarly lacks character and consequence: they were joking, of course, but the latter point (consequence) stuck with me heading into tonight’s premiere.

This is still a show I enjoy, and a show I plan on continuing to watch, but I think Chuck has reached the stage where it no longer interests me critically. The season seems like it is onto a solid start, but it is a start which takes absolutely no risks, taking some potentially interesting new ideas and quickly absorbing them into the show’s existing structures.

And as pleasant as that is, I think it might be the point at which weekly reviews no longer feel like a good use of my time.

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Same as it Ever Was?: Second Impressions for Life Unexpected, Parenthood

“Ocean Uncharted”

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“I Hear You, I See You”

September 14th, 2010

Life Unexpected and Parenthood have a lot in common, industrially speaking: while their thematic similarities don’t go beyond “family” being a central component of each, their most important connection is that they are both midseason shows which were renewed for a second season.

This is important because it means that they, compared with other sophomore series, didn’t get as much time to tell their stories. Without full 22-episode seasons, we never really got to see everything that Liz Tigelaar and Jason Katims had to offer, which makes these debuts especially important. We’re not as committed as we would have been after a “full” season, and therefore each series goes into its second year looking to prove that they are going to make the most of this opportunity and that we should continue watching.

I want to discuss the two series together because they take two very divergent paths (and because I’m short on time): while Life Unexpected presents entirely new scenarios which complicate the series’ existing premise, Parenthood seems entirely comfortable in the rhythms it developed last season. Neither decision is necessarily better than the other, but I do think that one premiere was more effective than the other as a result of their strategy.

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Sherlock – “The Blind Banker”

“The Blind Banker”

August 1st, 2010

Look, “The Blind Banker” was bound to be a disappointment.

First of all, it’s the second act of a three-act series, which means that it has nothing to introduce and nothing to conclude, robbing it of any real serial potential.

Second, it’s the one hour not scripted by the series creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

And third, it has the ominous task of coming after a very strong premiere which overcame most people’s expectations for the project.

Mind you, I do not mean “disappointment” in the sense that I was not entertained by the episode, but the episode just has too much to live up to – the story is fine, and the characters remain well drawn, but the episode’s plot is thin enough that it seems to draw out my issues with the series as opposed to highlighting its best qualities. Lacking in both continuity and ingenuity, “The Blind Banker” struggles under the weight of its running time and eventually feels like little more than a basic procedural with some strong performances.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but certainly isn’t the same series we saw last week.

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Season Finale: Parenthood – “Lost and Found”

“Lost and Found”

May 25th, 2010

When Parenthood began a few months ago, what struck me about the series was how it felt unbalanced. There were some parts of the show I really enjoyed, but there were other parts of the show that simply weren’t working. It’s not that I expected it to be perfectly balanced, as the late recasting necessitated by Maura Tierney’s cancer meant that the entire tone of the show shifted in an instant, but the combination of the series’ sappy scenes of the family spending time with one another felt at odds with the somewhat incongruous elements of the ensemble. Those scenes made it feel like the show was pretending it was something it wasn’t, that this family unit was actually cohesive despite conflict which seemed to exist within the scripts (and to some degree the casting) more than in the characters themselves.

I understood from the beginning that this show, like Modern Family, is about the family unit and its complexities, but while Modern Family leaned comfortably on broad stereotypes to immediately jump into the series’ structure Parenthood didn’t have the same luxury. Sure, we could look to Lorelai Gilmore to understand Sarah, working mother isn’t exactly rocket science, and newly discovered son has some forebears, but we had to spend time with these characters in order to understand how they are responding to these situations. Modern Family gets to reset itself each week, but Parenthood’s characters need to grow into these situations, which means we need to understand what’s changing and how it’s evolving in more of a nuanced fashion.

Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights was about community, which meant that the show was “setup” from the very beginning: the show’s pilot clearly defined Dillon, Texas as a place where high school football is king, and the show was then able to go further into investigating how the series’ characters relate to that central theme so honestly portrayed in the first episode. With Parenthood, however, Katims is dealing with something far more variable, as every family is different and the impact of the series is dependent on our knowledge of how this family works or compares with our own. Throughout the first season, the show has done some fine work defining each individual family, showing us Adam and Kristina confronting Max’s autism or Crosby connecting with his son in a way he had never imagined. Sure, Sarah is still Lorelai by a different name in many ways, and Julia still remains the series’ weak link, but we now understand these different families to the point that we can see the ways in which they’d come together, their differences now points of difference more than points of incongruity.

“Lost and Found,” scripted by Katims, asks the same question that I was asking after the pilot: is this, in fact, a show about one happy family? I compared the show to Brothers & Sisters when it first aired, but that show very clearly prioritizes the sibling relationship over the individual families within it. Parenthood has yet to make its final decision, and each wing of the family faces that balance between “your” family and “the” family in the finale – and while there’s another one of those sappy scenes at the end, one of those wings is missing, and one of them remains pieced together with some ukelele and some emotional duct tape.

And there’s a realism to that which Katims really nicely captures in a finale that seems a fitting end to the season and creates a strong foundation for the show to hit the ground running in the fall so long as no Swedish lifeguards or serial rapists come out of the woodwork.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Role Models”

“Chuck vs. the Role Models”

May 3rd, 2010

I wasn’t actually in the writer’s room when it happened, but the more I watch of Chuck Season 3.5 (the six episodes ordered after the first thirteen were broken/written as a conclusive story) the more I feel like the writers quite literally went back to the drawing board. In some ways, this set of episodes is like a whole new spinoff series, starting with last week’s pilot-like “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,” and now these are the episodes where the show taps into various situations that seem to stem logically from the central premise.

In this case, Chuck has been reimagined as a series about two spies in love trying to make it work, so “Chuck vs. the Role Models” trots out an older married couple within the CIA to offer Chuck and Sarah a glimpse of their future, and to test their long term compatibility (after their short-term teamwork was proven in last week’s episode). Similarly, after last week’s episode introduced us to Morgan as a member of Team Bartowski, this week had Casey run him through his paces by offering some field training. They’re stories that feel like sitcom pitches based on where the show was situated after the end of last week’s episode, logical avenues for the show to investigate that could feel perfunctory is not executed well.

Fortunately, “Chuck vs. the Role Models” is a regular hootenanny (bonus points to who can tell me what episode of Buffy I watched today which has this word stuck in my head), taking full advantage of a couple of great guest stars and some nicely drawn situations to really get the most out of these central storylines. Throw in some nice subtle serialization, both through Ellie and Awesome’s time in Africa and through the consistency of character/tone throughout, and you have a show which continues to feel re-energized after a downer of a season.

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Parenthood – “Perchance to Dream”

“Perchance to Dream”

April 27th, 2010

Last week, Parenthood was given a second season, and I was pleased: yes, I have at times voiced my intense frustration with some of the show’s tonal inconsistencies, but in doing so I admit that they seem like a show working itself out more than a show which has no chance of ever reconciling its various parts. Rather, it’s a show that very clearly doesn’t want to know what it is yet, a show which wants to embrace the slack that we cut freshman series by trying out as many things as possible. The result is occasionally a show that makes me want to tear my hair out, but it’s also occasionally a show that really resonates emotionally, and there has always been moments which make you think that maybe these crazy Bravermans might just make it after all.

“Perchance to Dream,” easily the most consistent episode of the show thus far, feels perfectly timed to make me excited to see where this show goes in its second season. The show has, to this point, felt like one where the characters are sort of adrift in a sea of uncertainty, as changes and challenges to their family force them to react and respond accordingly. However, this week’s episode dials down the drama and creates “slice of life” scenarios which the show plays for some humour but ultimately uses to draw out some meaningful character moments that feel like they’re building towards something more than a saccharine conclusion. It finally feels like we’re seeing something out of Act Two rather than Act One, and showing characters capable of being self-aware and who share relationships with other characters which don’t have clear hierarchies that lead to formulaic storylines.

Dare we dream that Parenthood might some day become the dramatic powerhouse that is Jason Katims’ other show, Friday Night Lights? Well, no, but I do think we’re to the point where the idea doesn’t seem like a hilariously improbable notion.

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“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood? I Have No Bloody Clue.

“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood?

April 20th, 2010

When I was watching last week’s episode of NBC’s Parenthood, in particular the scene where Sarah (Lauren Graham) shares a moment over some Faulkner with Mark, her daughter’s English teacher and twelve years her juniour, I was not surprised. The scene plays out exactly as you would have imagined it would play out as soon as the two characters met, sparks flying over shared metaphors and the romance of literature as their love defies social constructions of age and awakens something inside of them. I was ready to write the scene off as the precise opposite of subtlety, falling into every cliche we could have predicted, but then I heard something in the background…and then my jaw dropped.

It was “In These Arms,” a song by the Swell Season; for those who don’t know, the Swell Season is the moniker under which Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are currently recording music following their Oscar-winning success with Once. However, my jaw did not drop out of simple recognition of this very beautiful and haunting song; rather, it dropped because Hansard and Irglova were at one point in time romantically involved, with eighteen years separating them. It was at that point that I came to a very important conclusion: someone, somewhere, on the staff of Parenthood is screwing with me.

It could be the Music Supervisor, as there is plenty of evidence to indicate that whoever is choosing music for this show is in fact still living in 2006, or it could be the performers, some of whom seem to have made it their life’s work to entirely take away my ability to tell when this show is trying to be serious and when it’s trying to be sarcastic. For every time when I think I finally have Parenthood pinned down, when I grasp at some sort of straw that convinces me that this could some day develop into half the series that Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights became, there’s moments which leap off the screen and just beg me to ridicule, abandon or at times even throttle this series.

And I’m sort of loving it.

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Parenthood – “The Big ‘O'”

“The Big ‘O'”

April 6th, 2010

I am well aware that Parenthood is not a perfect show, oscillating between moments of quiet complication and moments of tidy resolution without really earning the latter, but here I am reviewing it despite being a day “late.”

Part of that is due to the show’s ratings success: settling in at a solid demo rating that actually saw the show best both ABC’s highly-promoted V and CBS’ hit The Good Wife (which skews old), all signs point to the show receiving a second season, which means that any time I invest now will help me chart the show’s growth in the future.

However, most of it is due to the fact that as the show goes along, it continues to become more confident: it isn’t necessarily that much more consistent, but its inconsistencies are sort of moving around. Criticizing the show is in many ways like trying to hit a moving target: it isn’t that a single story is causing all of the show’s problems, but rather there’s always one story that just doesn’t quite add up, or which feels like it’s unfolding in a fashion too beholden to the unavoidable clichés the show’s premise creates. But because that’s never the same story, with the same characters, there’s always something new to talk about both good (in that past problem stories manage to pull off something quite subtle) and bad (in that some other stories take a wrong turn).

“The Big ‘O'” is certainly one of the stronger hours of the series, managing two fairly “big” moments in the show’s serialized narrative in a nice subtle fashion while going a tad bit off the rails with some of the other developments – next week, I’m sure, things will switch all over again, but let’s stick to what we’ve got for now.

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