“You’ve Got Yale!”
January 19th, 2009
After starting the season seemingly boosted by summer buzz and showing positive growth, Gossip Girl has been on a ratings and creative slide for quite some time. It is not so much that the show was great to begin with, but rather that it was showing an odd sort of complacency: rather than trading a period of angst and contrivance (mostly surrounding young Jenny) the show rights itself by introducing a mysterious son given up for adoption and by insisting that its central relationship is worth testing even when I, as a viewer, am convinced that it was dead a long time ago. “You’ve got Yale!,” despite its usual movie title-pun charm, feels like the show just doesn’t get it: whatever fun we might get from Blair going back on the warpath can’t possibly overcome the idea we’re supposed to care as much about Dan and Serena as Gossip Girl’s readers.
The funny thing is that House is in many ways going through the same problem: for weeks, the show has been focusing on Thirteen as a central source of drama and interest in a series that has always been most interesting when focused on its eponymous doctor. While it is ostensibly an ensemble, the show is really about House, and while the show’s tendency to have patients who reflect their doctor’s problems can on occasion be frustrating I was just kind of glad to finally have a patient who is about House instead. What “Painless” does wrong, though, is feel as if it needs to pile on the drama: House’s pain is enough reason for the show to stop and consider his illness, compounding that with more drama for Thirteen and Cuddy’s complete and total breakdown seems both false and overkill.
Neither show is going off the rails enough for me to be disinterested, but I remain skeptical about whether they know what they are doing isn’t working.
What was most frustrating about “You’ve Got Yale!” was that it continued two unfortunate traditions: introducing potential love interests with the subtlety of an anvil and having Dan and Serena’s relationship split by the most unimportant of things when the real problems don’t seem to even faze them. They were fine continuing their relationship when they learned they had (have, really) a half brother, and when their parents were dating, but yet the very idea of Serena feeling conflicted and not knowing what to do when she realizes that she doesn’t want to go to Yale drives Dan to ignore her phone calls and hit on the new Shakespeare teacher. And seriously, did it need to be Shakespeare, the most pretentious if valuable of English topics, that would appeal so much to Dan’s academic standing so much more than Serena’s high-profile celebrity? It not only repeats Dan’s previous behaviour of ignoring Serena as opposed to talking with her, which broke them up in the first place, but it’s just so damn cyclical: first Serena is sidelined by a wayward and boring love interest, and now Rachel is doing the same for Dan in the same listless fashion.
The episode wasn’t awful as a whole, but it felt like storylines were delving into melodrama in the wrong ways: it’s good that Chuck has left his angsty period, but was the attempted rape really all that necessary? I didn’t feel like it was required for the storyline to connect, and would it be so bad for Lily and Chuck to reconcile over their takedown of the caricature that is Jack Bass as opposed to over his heroics saving her from his own uncle? I’m also not sure that we’ve seen the last of the rather one-note Jack, considering he and Blair apparently had a fling over New Year’s. Speaking of Blair, she was maybe the one bright spot in the episode: while I don’t want the show being so willing to switch between compassionate Blair and bitchy Blair, I enjoy the latter quite a bit and the idea of seeing her unleashed on Dan’s new love interest is at the very least something to look forward to.
As for House, “Painless” had the one storyline that clicked, but wasn’t given much time. I loved the realization House comes to about how it was that his pipe was broken, how it was his necessity of hanging onto the pipe while getting into the tub to help ease his pain which led to the disconnect. There is something starkly human about that, which is why it makes sense that he would bribe the contractor to lie on the insurance form. House isn’t worried about the money, he doesn’t want to have to go on record as acknowledging the condition he is in. He wants to be right, to have control over the management of his illness, and I think that’s a really interesting piece of psychology for our favourite doctor. And while I thought the patient was pretty much uninteresting on the whole, seeing someone who turned to suicide to deal with their pain was, at the very least, a reminder to people who only casually watch the show that House has not yet gone that far in his journey for a pain-free existence.
But the rest of the episode fell flat: Cuddy falling apart at the seams with a baby seemed a little bit false, primarily because we only really got to see it through other people’s eyes. The episode was trying to be about too many things, so Cuddy’s incompetence felt exaggerated for the sake of dramatic effect as opposed to drawn out through real moments of realization. I’m intrigued to see where they go with this plan of having Cameron take over Cuddy’s job (for which she is qualified because she doesn’t take House’s B.S. and…because she’s good at paper work?), but not enough for it to cram into this episode. The same goes for Foreteen – I am intrigued about how Foreman will use his knowledge that Thirteen isn’t actually going to get better, and with the already existing ethical dilemmas of him making her happy so she would date him, but I’m still skeeved out over their pairing and feel we got too much of it here. One of the reasons the patient didn’t work this week was that they were never a real person: they were a parallel for House, a metaphor for Cuddy giving in before she goes crazy, and even an underdeveloped subplot for Kutner and Taub to make them seem like they still matter.
Say what you will about the Writer’s Strike, but for some shows it made them come back with a renewed sense of purpose and after a chance to collectively breathe and reconsider what they had done before. Sure, it failed miserably for some shows, but I feel like both of these shows need that chance, and yet they’re so successful and depended upon by their networks that it feels like no one is going to rein them in.
- GG: I enjoyed Eric’s enthusiasm over the Opera, especially once we learned that he was doing so over a more childish show than the one Rufus was attending; he’s still a kid, and I’m glad the show is addressing this.
- GG: The episode raised a lot of questions of how it will handle a third season – will they all end up at the same school? Or will they all end up in New York in order to maintain the show’s manhattan reputaiton? I’m sure the books handled college in a way, but did it do so with a changing of the guard at Constance as well? I’m curious.
- GG: Speaking of GG, love the idea that Blair was up late before Yale day watching Gilmore Girls episodes (For those not in the know, Rory on that show went to Yale). I also love that Blair scoffs that she is a better candidate than Rory was. What I don’t enjoy as much: the a bit too tacky and “hip” choice of text message acceptance notices.
- House: Wilson seems wasted delivering a gigantic yellow duckling, doesn’t he?