Tag Archives: Serialization

Midseason Finale: Doctor Who – “A Good Man Goes to War”

“A Good Man Goes to War”

June 11th, 2011

My choice not to review “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” is partly due to the awkwardness created by BBC America making the idiotic decision to take a one-week hiatus over Memorial Day Weekend, but I’ve also got to be honest: I didn’t think they were very good.

I saw a Twitter conversation go by, I think involving Jeremy Mongeau, and it really captured what I think the problem was. He made the argument, if memory serves me correctly, that serialization has actually damaged the show through the first half of the sixth series: everything has been so caught up in laying groundwork for future events or setting up the seasonal arc that it doesn’t really have time to breathe (or, if you’re “The Curse of the Black Spot,” was kind of just too dull to stand out).

Even if we argue that the serial elements have remained intriguing (which I would), and even if “The Doctor’s Wife” was a really compelling standalone that spoke to overarching themes in a strong fashion (which it was), “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” were like a narrative fetchquest. The Doctor needed to learn more about the flesh, and therefore traveled to where it first originated in order to better understand it, and a story had to be created around that particular event. It just seemed like Matthew Graham’s script never quite managed to make the characters compelling enough, implying a sense of depth instead of actually showing it to us.

Did the two-parter lay some important groundwork for explaining the Doctor’s “death” back in the premiere? Absolutely. And did it quite effectively transition into the reveal that Amy has been flesh since the beginning of the season? Yes. But it becomes a two-hour exhibit in exposition when “A Good Man Goes to War” begins, a too-long detour in a season that seemed to lose its momentum. Mind you, Steven Moffat regains that momentum in about three minutes and forty seconds, give or take a minute or two, and “A Good Man Goes to War” is a stellar effort that benefits from having some truly substantial exposition to relay.

It also tells a compelling story to go along with it, one that we can be certain will resonate both in the fall and beyond.

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A Comic Transition Plan: Season Two of CTV’s Dan for Mayor

Review: Dan for Mayor Season Two

June 5th, 2011

As CTV’s Dan for Mayorone of my Top 10 shows of 2010, if you non-Canadians remember – returns for its second season, things have changed.

It isn’t just that the eponymous Dan has now officially become mayor of the fictional Wessex, Ontario. The first season was built around that campaign, with all of the show’s characters eventually taking some sort of role in its success. Now, with Dan having taken on the office of Mayor, the challenge facing the show’s writers was how to keep their favorite characters around.

Their solution is more functional than elegant, and it raises a number of interesting questions related to seriality in situation comedies. Treating the first season as a prologue of sorts, tonight’s premiere (airing at 7:30 ET on CTV) wastes no time finding ways to re-establish spaces in which these characters can interact on a regular basis. It’s a transparent re-ordering of the series, one that makes the premiere a bit jarring, but it also transitions the show into something simpler, and more sustainable, than what came before.

And, thankfully, it still manages to be plenty charming in the process.

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “Heart” (The Good Wife)

“Heart”

Aired: March 16th, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

As odd as it sounds, I think the focus on The Good Wife’s complexity is often an oversimplification.

I appreciate that the series engages in ongoing serial narratives, and that it serves as a character/workplace drama along with its legal procedural elements; I love moments when these two worlds collide, like when Alicia finds herself hearing conversations about her husband on FBI tapes she’s investigating for another case. The interplay of these various spheres is a key part of the series’ success, and certainly what sets it apart from the majority of network procedurals.

However, The Good Wife would not be half as successful as it is without the ability to tell compelling procedural stories within that framework; while the show can sustain episodes without the structure of a weekly case, that it chooses not to places immense pressure on those cases to deliver. Sometimes they are fairly generic, but other times they feature compelling judges (like Ana Gasteyer’s “in your opinion”) or compelling attorneys (both Mamie Gummer and Michael J. Fox made an impact in this area) which elevate the episodes regardless of serialization.

“Heart” stands out for me out of the series’ output this year because it holds considerable meaning without overindulging in serialization. The way we’re dropped into the chaos of the emergency trial, and the way Martha Plimpton entirely steals the show with her newborn baby, are what I remember most strongly from the episode: the case was scrappy and distinctive, makeshift and yet emotionally resonant, and the writing was strong throughout. However, in reality, the episode was hugely important to the central love triangle between Alicia/Will/Peter, and even marked a key turning point for Peter’s campaign (which has become a cornerstone of the second season).

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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 Pacific – “Part Nine”

“Part Nine”

May 9th, 2010

Serialized television is more or less defined by consequences: while all television series feature actions and reactions, what defines a series as serialized is when those actions have consequences which extend into the following episodes. We’re meant to remember what happened in the past because it will affect what happens in the future, and the show revels in the ironies or tragedies which result from these remembrances.

The Pacific is effectively a meditation on the serialization of life, or the ways in which war erases one’s memory of anything but the drudgery these soldiers experienced in battles like Iwo Jima or Okinawa; we remember that Eugene Sledge started out as an innocent child because we’ve seen his story in a serialized form, but Sledge himself has forgotten his former self in ways that human beings are not supposed to. At the same time, though, “Part Nine” plays out like a terrifying series of actions and consequences, trapping these characters within an environment where one small mistake leads to a chain reaction of events that leaves men dead and dying.

The only way you can cope, perhaps, is to forget about what came before, to ignore the decisions that brought you to this point and focus solely on the nature of survival. However, as much as you might want to shut off the man you were before as you fight your way through a battlefield more terrible than you can imagine, you can’t help but remain haunted by who you used to be, and “Part Nine” presents a horrifying image of that futility which stands as a series highlight.

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Procedural Pacing: Why Justified’s Non-Serial Episodes are…you know…Justified

Procedural Pacing: FX’s Justified

April 8th, 2010

Over the past few days, there have been a number of pieces being written about FX’s future, as the network recently announced that they were moving away from their “edgy” persona in favour of something more akin to USA Network’s brand identity (Jaime Weinman has a great piece on the subject). It isn’t that the network will look no different than USA or TNT, but rather that they’re looking to be a slightly edgier version of those networks as opposed to the cable equivalent of HBO. The mantra may remain the same, in other words, but the point of comparison is shifting so as to take advantage of the current marketplace (where USA is tremendously successful and FX is doing just alright).

And I feel as if the ratings “drop” for FX’s newest series, Justified, has somehow gotten caught up in this particular announcement; James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter’s TheLiveFeed posits that the show’s dropping ratings are the result of the fact that the series began with a pilot and promotion (the latter of which is a fair point, and one that I can’t entirely fairly judge being north of the border) that looked like a serialized series more akin to the channel’s past but has over the next few episodes become more “procedural,” a term that Hibberd uses as if it were a four-letter word for those expecting something “serious.”

I haven’t written about Justified yet, but I’m quite enjoying the show, and more importantly I’m finding the show to be enjoyable entirely independent of whether or not it is delving into highly serialized storylines on a regular basis. In fact, I’d argue that it is integral to the show’s long-term future that they spend time giving us a sense of what Raylan Givens does for a living and how those stories may normally develop. Just because an episode uses “procedural” storytelling does not make it a procedural, nor does that preclude the series from becoming more serialized in the future. So long as the procedural stories the show chooses to tell are interesting, and so long as the stories seem designed to reveal more about characters and about the show’s universe, then the atmosphere and character development gained are well worth the lack of “serialized” material.

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