Tag Archives: Season Two

From Backlash to Beirut: Homeland Season Two [Review]

Review: Homeland Season Two

September 30th, 2012

When I saw the finale of Homeland’s first season, a season I oddly never wrote about it any capacity, I was quite impressed. As far as I was concerned, the finale was stuck in a situation where an anti-climax was inevitable: I did not believe they would ever actually kill Brody, and therefore I did not imagine a scenario wherein he would go through with his attack. That belief was something I carried into the episode, and so the fact that they still created a stellar finale with this fact hanging over their heads was quite an achievement.

It worked because it forced both Carrie and Brody to go through the emotional climaxes of their respective arcs without giving them the expected result. Brody presses the button but it doesn’t go off, while Carrie pieces together the plan only to have Brody’s malfunction and change of heart turn her into a liar. Both of them were so sure that they were doing the right thing, that they were doing what was in the best interest of their country, and yet in the end both were forced to move on with their lives wondering if they had just dodged a bullet or made a mistake that will change their lives forever.

I was fascinated, however, to see some substantial backlash toward this conclusion, although this backlash took two different forms. For one group of people, the very idea of Brody not going through with his plan was itself a disappointment, and a betrayal of the show they believed they were watching. For others, meanwhile, the deus ex amnesia ending with Carrie was a copout, an easy way of undoing Carrie’s revelation regarding Isa and delaying any real confrontation until some undetermined point in future seasons. Whereas I had expected the first development based on the logic of television development—which suggests you don’t kill your male lead—and found the latter cheap but also satisfying in its cheapness, there were others who were actively turned against the show in the process, comparing it to The Killing and vowing never to watch again.

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Sheltered by Speculation: How Smash Could Become a Different Show

How Smash Could Become a Different Show

April 17th, 2012

On the one hand, my opinion of Smash remains unchanged since the last time I dropped in on it: this is still a show that does not have a clear grasp on what it wants to accomplish, unable to move beyond the bounds of the musical with any confidence. While Uma Thurman’s arrival as Rebecca DuVall has helped flesh out the musical narrative, building on the detente between Ivy and Karen which makes them both more viable as characters, the show doesn’t know when to quit when it’s ahead: just as Julia’s personal life finishes imploding, Karen’s boyfriend Dev is elevated to a full-blown liability for both Karen and the narrative as a whole.

And yet I continue to watch. Part of me is simply riveted by the tone deafness of the series to its own creative struggles, and wonders how they believe this story should be resolved at the end of the season. However, more prominently, I am legitimately fascinated to see what this show looks like in a second season. Rarely has there been a case where that much hype has turned into this much vitriol, the squandered potential almost overbearing in our reception of the season’s final act (perhaps unfairly, even). And yet, despite all of this, the show has earned a second season since the last time I checked in on it, and so I find myself watching every episode wondering how much of this show, this near-complete mess of a show, will actually remain when it returns next season – the show, as the title suggests, survives on my DVR through its creative rough patches because it is sheltered by this anticipation for what might be to come.

Without entirely jumping the gun, given that the season isn’t yet over, I did want to offer a few thoughts on how the current model might need adjustment in the future, and why I’d argue this puts the show in a far more compelling place moving forward than its narrative alone would suggest.

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Season Finale: Fringe – “There’s More Than One of Everything”

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“There’s More Than One of Everything”

May 12th, 2009

I wrote a piece a while back about the ways in which Fringe sits between the procedural and the serial, with episodes that feel heavily formulaic and others that are heavily serialized and almost feel like a different show. “There’s More Than One of Everything,” as a finale, sits as the latter, an engaging with huge ideas, long-gestating character reveals, and the central “reality” that the show has been dealing with.

But what makes this episode work is that it didn’t come after a string of your run of the mill procedural episodes: by spending more or less the entirety of the post-hiatus period, which I haven’t been blogging about as I’ve been forced to play catchup more than once, balancing these two elements more effectively than in the first part of the season, the show has found its footing and was capable of delivering this finale without feeling as if this was an out of the blue burst of serialized interest to a show that too often falls on its procedural elements.

So when the scene eventually arrives when all of the individual cases suddenly tie together to help Olivia solve the true motivations of the infamous Mr. Jones, it doesn’t feel like the hackneyed scene it could have. The show doesn’t quite feel as natural as, say, Lost within this particular environment of the big event episode, but the show quite adequately and quite subtlely put itself into position for this finale over the past few weeks, and it was much more effective as a result.

As for whether it’s right up there with Abrams’ other shows in terms of finales, well, that’s a different story…but not an unpleasant one for the creator.

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Season Finale: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Ring”

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“Chuck vs. the Ring”

April 27th, 2009

“Go with your heart, buddy – our brains only screw things up.”

Wow.

In considering “Chuck vs. the Ring,” a title with two very different meanings, I think it’s important that we acknowledge just how amazing the accomplishment of the Chuck staff is when it comes to pulling off some of the most expansive material for a dramedy of this nature.

The first half of this episode is more or less an episode in its own right, one laden with numerous jokes, an amazing appearance by Jeffster, and what feels like a climax in and of itself. What is interesting is that, by the end of the episode, that storyline felt miles away, overshadowed by an amazingly epic conclusion that potentially changed everything. However, simultaneously, it was highly memorable and containing some of the best jokes in the episode. But when those elements would have felt overbearing, such as during that epic conclusion, they faded effortlessly into the background, never feeling separate but also never feeling like they were fighting in the same space.

It’s such an amazing balancing act, and when everyone in the cast is on fire, and when the writing is off the charts, and when Jeffster soundtracks an entire sequence with “Mr. Roboto,” it’s an example of how Chuck may not aim as high as some of the stronger dramas on television, or embrace absurdity as much as some of the biggest comedies, but in doing what it does I don’t feel there is a single other show that is this capable of executing this level of brilliance.

Forget about save Chuck – let’s praise Chuck for a while, and think with our hearts instead of our brains.

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Project Runway Canada Season Two – “Episode Two”

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“Claim to Fame”

February 3rd, 2009

Early in the season’s second episode, Jessica observes that something is beginning to change around these parts: after the first week where everyone was concerned about staying, they enter into one of two modes. They either, like Jessica and a few others, switch from survival mode to awesome mode, or they switch into a mode where all they have is personality-driven drivel. It’s a sad existence for those few, and it is not very surprising that they are amongst those who are almost out the door by episode’s end.

They might be designing a dress for Elisha Cuthbert, but considering that her requests are for a dress for a “night on the town” it’s not like this makes her very special. Instead, it’s a test of the designers’ ability to design a simple dress in a way that isn’t too ugly, and that isn’t too much for them to handle. It isn’t surprising, really, that it is the people who spend more time feuding and ranting during the conception phase are those who can’t put together a dress to save their lives in the end.

But in the end Jessica is right: we don’t get much of a sense of any major design emergences here, instead focusing more on personalities. And considering that they’re dressing a celebrity, I guess it makes sense to focus on some of the people only concerned about trying to become one through the world of reality television.

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Season Premiere: Project Runway Canada Season Two – “Episode One”

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“Fashion is a Battlefield”

January 27th, 2009

[If you're looking to view the episode online, you can do so at Global's website, but only if you're in Canada. If you're outside of Canada, well, be patient!]

My first experience with any sort of Project Runway was, for a brief moment, stumbling upon an episode of Slice’s Project Runway Canada wherein they were making dresses out of umbrellas. I only watched for a few minutes, but it looked intriguing enough. Eventually, I decided on a few recommendations that I should give the show a try, and I ended up going through three seasons of the U.S. edition during the first half of last year. The show is simply a strong reality competition series: there’s a reason it won a Peabody, after all.

But Project Runway Canada, which I went back to and completed as I was waiting for new episodes of the fourth U.S. season to begin, was in itself an entertaining project. Done on a fairly small network but featuring high production values, there were even things about this particular import that I preferred to the original version. It has a supermodel host (Iman, Mrs. David Bowie), it has a mentor who is respected in fashion circles and quite affable (Brian Bailey), and it has judges that, while not particularly famous, still have those kinds of quirks that make them the right people to be judging these contestants. The show at no point felt like a low-rate ripoff of the original, for one, but more than that had its own identity that kept me engaged until, eventually, Biddell walked away the winner.

It’s been a long time since that finale, and Project Runway Canada has made it to the bigtime with a primetime slot on National network Global. The parts are more or less still the same, but the location has been altered (the show moves from Toronto to the nation’s capital in Ottawa), and the new contestants have not yet really emerged with any sort of identities. The show had some lucky casting last time around, and while the jury is still out on that the things that made the show stand out for me remain: this is a no nonsense, straightforward, well-produced and entertaining piece of reality competition programming, Canada or no Canada.

And apparently, it’s also a show that was designed to break people both mentally and physically, as fashion really is a battlefield in the show’s first episode.

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Season Premiere: Damages – “I Lied, Too”

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“I Lied, Too”

January 7th, 2009

Damages is one of the few shows that, despite airing during the period when I began this blog, I have never honestly blogged about the show. The reason is simple: I wasn’t really doing episodic reviews back when the show first emerged, and it took me a few months to get to the final episodes of the season after losing interest in where the show was headed.

More accurately, I lost interest in the fact that the show had no idea where it was headed. The first season of Damages, for me, had two fundamental problems. First and foremost, I felt like the show was constantly battling the fact that its ostensible lead, Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, was far less interesting than her mentor, the fantastic Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. And secondly, it seemed like the show at its midpoint abandoned the nuances of that relationship for contrived, red herring storylines that never felt like they added up to anything substantial.

For this reason, the verdict on Damages Season Two remains out – the show knows how to start a season, and they know how to end one, but it’s going to be the middle section that causes them the most trouble. But what “The Lies We Tell” gets right has me hopeful that they are at least aware of his to solve their first problem: I never particularly engaged with Byrne in the first season, but here she is up to the challenge to portray a character who is exponentially more interesting.

With one of the most impressive supporting casts on a cable drama at the moment, the show has even opportunity to turn this strong start into a strong season: let’s just hope that there aren’t any contrived stalkers in the show’s future.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: 30 Rock – “Episode 210″

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“Episode 210″

Season Two, Episode Ten

Airdate: January 10th, 2008

I love 30 Rock: it’s a smart, intelligent and funny show that has emerged as a tremendous showcase for Tina Fey’s talent. And if this were a 2007 list, I could have told you exactly the episode that would make it into this time capsule, as “Rosemary’s Baby” is still perhaps the series high point for me (with “Hard Ball” neck and neck). But there is something about the 2008 episodes that has made this decision inexplicably hard.

This won’t stop me from attempting to explicate it, however – I think my problem is actually quite simple. While the show’s post-strike second season episodes were smart, featuring some great overall work for especially Tina Fey, none of them felt consistent. I thought that Fey had a great backend (wow, what sounded dirty), but Alec Baldwin wasn’t given much to work with. Similarly, the great guest appearance by Dean Winters as Dennis in “Subway Hero” coincided with the pointless but shockingly Emmy-winning glorified cameo from Tim Conway. And the third season is still climbing its way out of some early stuntcasting to shape its own identity – any judgments seem premature.

So, while I appreciate the thematic wonder of “Succession,” and still find Fey’s eating in “Sandwich Day” to be hysterical, I find myself gravitating to an episode that for all intensive purposes should have no business being here: completed while the Writers’ Strike was on, the episode was rushed to production to the point where Fey and Co. never even got to write a proper title.

Strangely, what emerged was shockingly funny, especially Liz’s epic battle against the Co-op board. It was one of those moments where Liz Lemon was let loose in the real world, and the result was a sequences that has made me highly conscious of drinking around telephones and has given me a lifelong goal of someday both running on a treadmill with a glass of wine and buying a Black apartment.

And while the rest of the episode isn’t that much more consistent than some of the other possible selections, something about it just kind of makes me happy: whether it’s the episode ending musical number, the bittersweet conclusion to what was a strong storyline with Jack and his senatorial lover CiCi (an up to task Edie Falco), or the jittery wonder of Kenneth on caffeine, the episode seems less like a rushed attempt at finishing a pre-strike episode than a controlled chaotic release of hilarity.

Yeah, Alan Sepinwall already beat me to this particular drum in his own year end list, but I think the point needs to be made: a darn good half hour of television is to be found here, nameless as it may be.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Chuck – “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

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“Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

Season Two, Episode Five

Airdate: October 27th, 2008

Entering into its second season, the expectations for Chuck were low. A smart show that never got beyond its initial 13-episode order in its first season thanks to the writers’ strike, its return was unheralded: by NBC, by critics, and by viewers.

But slowly but surely things started to change: critical praise of the season’s first few episodes proved more than warranted, NBC ordered an additional nine episodes before the premiere aired, and a fairly devoted set of fans emerged to herald the show’s quality. While good in its first season, the consensus was clear: it was downright great in its second.

And while there are a number of episodes that I wanted to select here (Not picking something out of the Jill arc feels especially false, and the execution on “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” was perhaps the best of the year), I polled the group over at the NeoGAF thread about the show and their thoughts coincided with my own: while the season has been extremely solid thus far, there is no better example of the show’s sophomore surge than “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer.”

The reason is quite simple: the show, before this point, had never felt so confident. This wasn’t a show treading lightly with its myriad of video game references, or one where the writers room shot down the Zune joke for being too obscure for a mainstream audience. The show had certainly featured its supporting players in key roles before, but even I had no idea how much I wanted to see Jeff let loose to pass out, get lost, and create hilarious stalker videos of co-workers.

While other episodes in the season felt more important to the show’s broader trajectory, and certainly did more to build the show’s characters, “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer” is nonetheless my favourite thus far. It has Sarah in a Nerd Herd uniform for the sex appeal, a “King of Kong”-inspired final sequence for the nerd audience, and nonetheless embodies one of the season’s real breakthroughs: no longer just a means to an end, Chuck here is at the very center of the threat against Los Angeles, and he is very much responsible for its safety while commanding this missiles.

While I believe that anyone not yet on the Chuckwagon should start from the beginning, even if the 1st season isn’t quite as good as the 2nd, I nonetheless might sit them down in a room, pop on this episode, and give them a sense of what they have to look forward to. Other episodes were more emotional, or even funnier, or perhaps even more accomplished, but there was none that better embodied, in my mind, why Chuck is the season’s greatest success story.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Pushing Daisies – “Comfort Food”

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“Comfort Food”

Season Two, Episode Eight

Airdate: December 3rd, 2008

Perhaps it was destiny, written in pie filling the moment the show even aired, or perhaps we can blame it on the usual scapegoats (Writer’s strike, economic downturn, etc.) – regardless, Pushing Daisies has gone from a hopeful future for whimsy to a series destined to be a sought after DVD set of only 22 episodes.

With a majority of the second season’s episodes airing after the show had already been canceled, the season had a sense of bittersweet inevitability: knowing that it would be ending left us trapped between hoping to soak in every last moment and cursing the harsh reality that would soon take it all away. But while it may not have gone through the same sophomore resurgence as Chuck, Pushing Daisies never wavered: it remained, through the 10 episodes aired of the 2nd season, the best darn resurrection pie maker procedural on television.

And while the season had a handful of great episodes, and I have a particular affinity for the costumes of “Dim Sum Lose Sum,” I think that “Comfort Food” is the episode I would choose to represent the series within the Time Capsule. My reasoning is actually decidedly simple: it is an episode about baking pies, solving mysteries and the ramifications of bringing people back to life. It is at its core the episode that dealt most with the show’s central qualities, and it feels like a strong representative sample as a result. Throw in a musical number at the end (Olive’s unrequited love bursting into “Eternal Flame”), and you have a love letter to the show’s fans.

YouTube: “Eternal Flame” via Olive Snook

But what really pits “Comfort Food” over the top is that this familiarity is achieved through two pairings that the show rarely delved into on this level. Ned rarely gets to spend anytime with Olive by herself since Chuck came around, while Chuck and Emerson rarely interact without Ned present as a buffer of sorts. By placing Ned and Olive at the cook-off (complete with a cameo from a character from Bryan Fuller’s Wonderfalls), and sending Chuck and Emerson to solve the problem of Chuck’s betrayal of Ned’s trust, the show demonstrates a willingness to shake things up a little.

But you can’t shake this show’s charm: even cancellation will be unable to entirely wipe away the show’s impact on these actors, and on those who stuck with the show since the beginning. Yes, the show was never a mainstream success, but from a critical and creative perspective few would argue against its inclusion within the 2008 Television Time Capsule. This is a show that people will be watching, I believe, for years to come: and when they come across “Comfort Food,” with the series’ end in sight, I have every reason to believe they will stop, smile, and realize what a fun road it’s been.

Still waiting on those final three episodes, ABC – make it happen or release the DVDs ASAP.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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