Tag Archives: Season Two

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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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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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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Season Finale: Skins – “Everyone”

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“Everyone”

Season Two Finale

This summer, I stopped in to review the first two episodes of Skins, a British series which aired this Fall on BBC America. And then, promptly, I completely abandoned the series – it was not out of lack of interest, but there was something about the show that didn’t particularly make it “appointment viewing.” If I had to put a finger on what it was, it was that the show’s artistic side (unique to the genre) only occasionally felt like it was elevating this material to something beyond the teen cliche. The weird interrelationship between a really interesting visual and cinematic aesthetic and somewhat less interesting long-run storylines kept me from writing about Skins week by week, but when I did eventually finish the first season I had to appreciate it; while the overall arcs never really caught fire, individual episodes (organized to focus on a specific character) were quite strong, and going into its second season the show had a lot of questions to answer.

BBC America finishes airing the show’s first two seasons tonight, and I have to admit that the second season was perhaps better than the first. I have some issues with some of the individual characters not quite getting enough attention (Anwar, although Dev Patel may have been busy preparing for a certain likely Oscar nominated film I reviewed yesterday), getting the wrong kind of attention (Michelle, who just never clicked in either season really), or feeling like the attention they’re given doesn’t really offer us a proper sendoff (Cassie and Syd, in particular). Considering that the show is switching out its characters in favour of an Effy-led ensemble for the third season, the second season finale has a lot to handle, at least related to fixing these types of problems.

But what buoys the season is that it also does a lot of things right. In Chris and Maxxie it finds its characters most concerned for the future, both of whom don’t find it in the traditional school system due to either dreaming bigger (the West End for Maxxie) or getting expelled (Chris’ excursion into the world of real estate). Similarly, the show chooses Jal as the emotional center, the character who has always been perhaps the most logical and as a result both legitimizes Chris and eventually offers the finale’s most pivotal grounding force. And although getting hit by a bus seems a horrible fate for Tony, it in fact creates a far less obnoxious and more human Tony once he comes to terms with his memory loss and develops into someone far more comfortable in this world.

The result is a season, and a finale, that feels like the show was better organized to take advantage of its artistic side, embracing its almost dream-like state more often and with greater success. This isn’t to say that the finale is perfect, or that I think we’re ready to say goodbye to these characters, but I think it does indicate that the show and its formula has plenty of life and could work well transitioning into new characters.

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Season Premiere: Flight of the Conchords – “A Good Opportunity”

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“A Good Opportunity”

Season 2 Premiere

Over the summer, I finally got around to watching the first season of Flight of the Conchords, HBO’s wonderfully offbeat and hilarious comedy series from New Zealanders Bret and Jermaine. The first season, using songs from their great back catalogue of hits combined with new songs to stretch out the plot of each episode, was a triumph of comedy, and the very small but very alive world they created makes for the perfect antidote to the testosterone-laden comedies that more recently have dominated the pay cablers.

The second season won’t premiere on HBO until January, but U.S. viewers (and resourceful international folks) are able to catch the full episode on FunnyorDie.com. What you’ll find is the first episode where the Conchords are flying without a net: out of original material from the pre-television era, the second season is already confirmed as their last, the creative output necessary proving as taxing as you might imagine. Even the second season, though, feels different: once the backbone of the show, the music here felt by comparison to be either entirely unrelated or simply perfunctory.

This isn’t a total slight of the premiere, but rather an observation that it is changing: after spending a season developing a show that could support their music, they are now transitioning to music that can support their show. For that reason, unmemorable songs isn’t so much a concern as it is the show’s new reality: in terms of the quest of the Conchords to succeed in the music industry, with their bumbling manager Murray and their one fan Mel, the show has become about plot, specifically how the band more or less lost both of those things in the first season finale.

“A Good Opportunity” is not destined to be a classic, and doesn’t answer every question about how the show will manage a second season creatively, but the machinations of the episode are done in good form and, ultimately, add up to a welcome return for the winners of the Grammy Award for Best New Zealand Artist – or, more accurately, a pencil sharpener spray-painted gold.

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Pushing Daisies – “The Legend of Merle McQuoddy”

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“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.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. The Sensei”

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“Chuck vs. The Sensei”

December 1st, 2008

Any show coming out of a major story arc is going to have a bit of a tough time of their next episode. This isn’t to say that the episode is going to be bad, but rather that it’s inevitable: whether Lost after their premieres or Battlestar Galactica after its inevitable midseason pit stops, there’s going to be a point when the rising action has reached its climax and it’s too soon for the next story to really pick up.

This was, for Chuck, as good a time as any to return to the past of one John Casey, stern-faced Buy More employee in one life and…stern-faced NSA agent in the other. While I like seeing more of Casey, the episode spends a lot of time plainly stating that John Casey only has one speed: mad. There is no inner calm in John Casey, and while we get one moment of unquestioned humanity in the episode there is, for the most part, not going to be something approaching the emotional side that we get so often from Sarah.

But Adam Baldwin knows how to play mad, and the show knows how to balance an episode like this; while it doesn’t help it rise above the show’s standard this season, the choice to parallel Casey’s past with Ellie’s upcoming wedding and the pressures of in-laws offered a good chance for the storyline to slowly move forward even as Casey faces off against a familiar face from his past (and ours, as far as the TV spy game goes).

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