Tag Archives: Season Premiere

Review: Archer Season Two (Tonight at 10/9c on FX)

Review: Archer Season Two

January 27th, 2011

In December, as the semester wound down, I took the opportunity to catch up on a show that I honestly hadn’t given much thought to when it premiered.

As I am now aware, I really had no excuse to avoid FX’s Archer – which returns for its second season tonight at 10/9c – the first time around. Its cast  features numerous people who I enjoy (like Chris Parnell, Judy Greer and Jessica Walter), the spy genre seems like something with plenty of comic potential, and people I usually trust on Twitter, and in the world of television criticism in general, approved of the show.

However, I didn’t watch because it plays into two categories which I am less likely to actively seek out. The first seems particularly strange considering that I was raised on The Simpsons, but animation has not been a part of my more critical relationship with television. I stopped watching The Simpsons at around the same time I started watching everything else under the sun, and since I didn’t have access to Adult Swim or the Cartoon Network it wasn’t as though I was in a position to test emerging shows out at random. I just sort of stepped away from the form, not out of a lack of appreciation so much as a lack of habit. The other reason, meanwhile, is that I don’t tend to lean towards the particularly vulgar – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is low on my catchup list because its brash nature just doesn’t fit my general comic sensibilities, and so Archer’s reputation for being particularly “rude” meant that I did not necessarily rush out to see how it was working.

Perhaps it was that I was in the midst of finishing papers and in need of an outlet for expletives and insensitivity, or maybe I’m just being saltier as I get older, but mainlining the first season of Archer along with the first seven episodes of the second season was a whole lot of fun. While the show may be aiming for offensive in quite a few circumstances, it always seems primarily concerned with being smart – in its second season, in particular, the show manages to maintain a sense of excess despite having become a tighter, more well-oiled machine between seasons.

The result is a show that makes me laugh a great deal, and one which always leaves me wanting more (which is both a blessing and a curse, as always).

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A Plea for Pawnee: The Return of NBC’s Parks and Recreation

A Plea for Pawnee: The Return of Parks and Recreation

January 20th, 2011

Parks and Recreation was my favorite show on television last year.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know this. Despite the series’ absence from NBC’s fall schedule, the series has loomed large in both year-end lists and in week-to-week discussion of every other comedy on television. History will remember Outsourced as the show which bumped Parks and Recreation from the 2010 Fall schedule, if it remembers it at all. Even as Community has put together a string of winning episode  and Cougar Town has gained a certain cult following, Parks and Recreation was hanging around like the ghost of DJ Roomba, replacing the endless loop of the Black Eyed Peas with instantaneous access to the sterling second season on Netflix.

However, let’s get real for a moment. You might not be a regular reader of this blog, and you might not have any idea what a “DJ Roomba” even is. You might be one of those people who watched some of the series’ inconsistent episodes early in its short first season and decided that it wasn’t worth your time. It’s also possible that you just never found the show, limiting your NBC Thursday viewing to The Office and whatever happens to air after The Office. And, who knows, you might have no idea what any of this means, and just got here by randomly searching “Black Eyes Peas instantaneous access.”

Whatever category you fall into, however, you really need to watch Parks and Recreation. It is returning to television as part of an extended NBC comedy block, allowing for a certain degree of promotional attention, and it is finally nestled comfortably behind The Office where it should have been all along. And, as if that weren’t enough, the first six episodes of the third season are enormously confident, delivering big laughs while seamlessly transitioning into a new ongoing story arc. There has never been a better time to watch this show, and that’s saying something considering that there is never a bad time to watch this show.

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Season Premiere: The Good Wife – “Taking Control”

“Taking Control”

September 28th, 2010

I will admit to loving a good ironic title, and I’d argue that “Taking Control” somewhat misrepresents the state of The Good Wife heading into its second season.

I’ve seen a lot of divergent thoughts on the premiere: some seems to think the show is still in fine form, while others felt that it was “off” in some way. I’ll admit to being slightly in the second camp, albeit with a better sense of how, and more importantly why, the show feels this way. While I do think there are a few creative missteps here, I think the general function of the premiere was a good way to enter into the season (if not necessarily conducive to a particularly strong premiere).

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Season Premiere: The Amazing Race, Watermelons, and the Loss(?) of Uncertainty

“They Don’t Call the The Amazing Race For Nothin’!”

September 26th, 2010

Earlier this month, CBS gave away what I would technically consider a spoiler: they released a video of two contestants completing a Roadblock which was fairly clearly taking place towards the end of the first leg. Being generally spoiler-phobic, I resisted the video for a few hours, but then everyone and their mother were talking about it.

And when I finally watched it, I discovered why.

YouTube – The Watermelon Heard Around the World

I chose this version of the video with the highest number of viewers: while CBS’ own upload has 650,000, the copy posted has over two and a half million views. People have been watching this video for weeks, and it seems to have actually created some legitimate excitement around the season. I don’t think that the video is enough of a spoiler to ruin the episode (my usual spoiler-hating self didn’t really emerge), but I do think that it creates a very different sort of viewing experience than what we’re used to.

As a result, I want to ask (and perhaps answer) some questions about the strategy at play, which ended up helping the series to one of its most memorable premieres in quite some time.

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Season Premiere: Fringe – “Olivia”

“Olivia”

September 23rd, 2010

Earlier this year, I wrote about what I called “procedural pacing,” wherein FX’s Justified gradually became more serialized throughout its first season: by starting with a more procedural format, and then having that format be interrupted and taken over by a serialized story line as the season wore on, the show established and then shattered its status quo. As a result, when the story eventually turned over in its entirety to Raylon Givens’ battle against the Crowder family, it felt “earned”: instead of seeming like an attempt to create false stakes, we had seen every step in this process, allowing the storyline to feel wholly organic and, more importantly, wholly satisfying.

I don’t think I entirely realized this before, but Fringe very much follows the same principle. It could have, at any point in its first two seasons, indulged in its science fiction premise to the degree we see in “Olivia”: we’ve known about the alternate universe since the first season finale, after all, so what was stopping them from introducing Fauxlivia at that point in the story? Fringe has had the potential for a serialized science fiction series since its pilot, and many have often criticized the series for not doing episodes like “Olivia,” a rollicking yet thought-provoking premiere, more often.

And yet, “Olivia” works as well as it does precisely because it is disrupting a status quo the series has established quite well over the past few seasons; much as Justified’s serialized elements had greater meaning due to the nuanced buildup, the slow development of the alternate universe and its role within this larger story has allowed the various dualities and conflicts the series is creating to have meaning which would have been lost had it been introduced at an earlier date.

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The Office @ The A.V. Club – “Nepotism”

“Nepotism”

September 23rd, 2010

As discussed earlier this week, I’ll be covering The Office at The A.V. Club this season, and my thoughts on the season premiere, “Nepotism,” are now up.

The Office – “Nepotism” [The A.V. Club]

…I went into “Nepotism” more curious than expectant: this season is going to be fascinating whether it falls apart or whether it rises to the occasion, and as a critic either option works for me. It would certainly be convenient if the premiere were to answer this question definitively, but the show is clearly not interested in offering a clear path to Carell’s exit. Instead, the episode is like a restaurant sign reassuring customers that they are still open for business during construction: change may be coming, but the series’ commitment to outlandish comedy and charming characters remains.

And, for at least tonight’s premiere, it’s even in pretty solid form.

If you want to find my previous Office reviews here at Cultural Learnings, click here.

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Season Premiere: The Big Bang Theory – “The Robotic Manipulation”

“The Robotic Manipulation”

September 23rd, 2010

My relationship with The Big Bang Theory is more or less entirely critical: while I do have an affection for Sheldon as a character, and was very pleased to see Jim Parsons pick up an Emmy for his performance, the fact remains that this show bothers me. It is a solid show, often quite entertaining, but it always feels as if the show is undermining itself – I want it to be better than it is, and I want it to take risks that it has up to this point seemed uninterested in making.

There are elements to “The Robotic Implication,” primarily within the epoynmous subplot, which indicates that I will not become an outright fan of this show in the near future, but the central storyline (and what seems to be the series’ primary interest moving forward) is much more enjoyable. While I will always have issues with cheap storylines that feel ripped out of American Pie, so long as the heart of the show remains as prominent as it did here I will be given a reason to keep tuning in.

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Season Premiere: Cougar Town – “All Mixed Up”

“All Mixed Up”

September 22nd, 2010

I am officially to the point where I am done “defending” Cougar Town: I refuse to accept that anyone who has recently watched the series could think it is anything but honest, earnest and hilarious, and so I’m just going to pretend that there are no naysayers out there. While many turn to Modern Family for their television comfort food on Wednesdays, for me Cougar Town manages to hit the same emotional notes while abandoning neither the honesty nor the snark.

There is nothing complex about “All Mixed Up,” largely relying on the strong interpersonal dynamics that developed over the course of last season, but the episode says something about those dynamics in light of recent changes. It successfully makes the argument that while their relationships will sustain them through any number of challenges in life, it will not be able to make it so that those challenges don’t exist. This is a starkly honest show (as I note above), and this allows them to say something tangible and real about their characters without introducing false conflict.

In other words, things aren’t “All Mixed Up” at all.

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Season Premiere: Glee – “Audition”

“Audition”

September 21st, 2010

I want you to imagine that “Audition” was, in fact, an audition for Glee as a television series: if this were the show’s pilot, what show would you imagine it to be?

The series’ actual pilot, if you remember, tries to capture an emotion: it is about the positivity of Glee club, and the potential for music to unite these social outcasts (and a football player) to achieve something beyond simple anonymity. It was predicated on the idea that one song could pull everything together: Journey was powerful enough to bolster Will’s spirit and calm Finn’s anxieties, and suddenly New Directions was full of hope.

And yet, the Glee club never truly moved up the social ladder, and this sort of romantic ideal of glee club was deconstructed just as quickly as it was constructed. Glee’s first season was spent trying to find new ways to challenge the Glee club, and to be honest they kept returning to the same premise: by placing the club’s finances in peril, the group would need to band together against external threats and thus recreate the final scene of that pilot. Everyone would get together and sing to help Quinn through her pregnancy, or help Will understand what he means to them, or some other holistic function that music could in some fashion solve. Glee was a show about people getting knocked down and immediately getting back up to sing things back to where they were before, a cycle that became dramatically problematic by the time the first part of the season came to an end.

By comparison, “Audition” is not that type of show: the emotion it captures is the discord within the Glee Club family, and it starts with the hopefulness of the ideal before quickly and quite viciously deconstructing any notion that happy days are here again. It is an episode about the impossibility of unity, about how our selfishness keeps the ideal from ever coming to fruition, and is thus an episode that taps into the sadness inherent in Glee’s concept rather than its triumphant musical enlightenment.

In other words, it’s my kind of Glee, which makes it a pretty substantial risk for a second season “Audition.”

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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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