Category Archives: Television

Short Form Reviews: Plain Sight, Call Girl, Dance

Short Form Reviews

June 26th, 2008

Considering that a majority of my television watching has been spent finishing up one HBO show (Six Feet Under) and digging into another in earnest (The Wire), all in conjunction with regular TV viewing and some repeat viewings of some of the season’s best episodes (I’ll be getting to that maybe next week), some shows are either sitting on the DVR for longer and longer periods of time or, in some cases, just not grabbing my attention enough to warrant a blog post. So, we have short form reviews.

What’s there to say? Like my relationship with most USA Network shows, I enjoy my 42 minutes with these characters but never seem to really rush to watch them as soon as they air. I was the same way with both Monk and Psych before they got kicked from my rotation, and I might end up in the same position with this show. I enjoy Mary McCormack, and there’s some decent action/comedy hybrid stuff going on, but both of the most recent episodes (“Never the Bride” and “Trojan Horst”) have done little to make this must see TV.

I’d argue that both episodes had their issues – “Bride” was a bit too tacky in terms of the getup that Mary let her sister put her in, but otherwise featured a good mix of the series’ witness protection drama. “Horst,” which aired on Sunday, was stronger in action and tension, but literally stopped cold every time the storyline jumped to the mother/sister characters. There’s just literally nothing interesting about them, and I’d hate to think the show isn’t aware of it. I saw a comment over at Alan Sepinwall’s blog that the show had better be leading up to these two getting put in Witness Protection, and that’s right on: unless they’re part of Mary’s life, they serve no tangible purpose in the series’ narrative.

But if the show irons that out, it enters USA’s stable of watchable dramas – I’m more excited for Burn Notice’s return, let’s put it that way.

Having now been able to go through all eight episodes sent to critics, I’ll have to say that I have no interest whatsoever in continuing to discuss this Showtime series, even if I had interest in finishing the short season’s run. Yes, the show remains charming due to Billie Piper’s continued on-screen radiance, but each episode deals with such a small amount of plot or situation that it never amounts to anything. With only three “regular” characters (If we’re even willing to define her agent as a character), the show is such a small universe that its pacing does little to help me feel connected to anything beyond a very attractive female lead.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008-2009 Network Upfronts Analysis

Last year, Cultural Learnings produced a lot of hits (And perhaps a few new readers) during its coverage of the Network Upfronts, a process wherein each network reveals the shows that will make it onto their Fall or Winter schedules the following year. There were a lot of surprises last year: Jericho’s cancellation and subsequent campaign couldn’t have been predicted, and as a whole there were a lot of shows on the bubble that squeaked through.

This year, we can’t say the same thing: a network like ABC announced most of its pickups a while ago, and is leaving little room for new shows, while NBC announced a version of its schedule a month ago so we already know its lineup (Or what it looked like in April). For anyone following the trades, there’s few surprises to be found in these announcements, so now the real drama will be how your Fall viewing schedule will emerge. And whether Moonlight, the show that has been dominating at sites like Hey! Nielsen, will be able to avoid becoming another Jericho (And if it does, in all seriousness, has CBS not learned their lesson?).

So, at Cultural Learnings I plan to focus on analysis of how the schedules align, and how each network has adapted or not adapted post-strike to accommodate last year’s freshman offerings and this year’s foreign imports (A certain trend). Below, you’ll find a nice combination of helpful links and, eventually, links to our Upfronts coverage.

Cultural Learnings’ 2008-2009 Upfronts Analysis

NBC – Analysis from April (Open Letter, Office Spinoff, Timed-Friday Night Lights)

  • We can expect Jimmy Fallon to be confirmed to be taking over for Conan (Already confirmed, in fact), along with potentially more information on the elusive Office spinoff and on some of the neetwork’s new series.

ABC – Full Fall Schedule Analysis

  • New Shows: Life on Mars, various reality shows, Scrubs, The Goode Family
  • Returning Shows: Eli Stone, Boston Legal, Private Practice, Dirty Sexy Money, Pushing Daisies, etc.
  • Canceled Shows: October Road, Men in Trees, Miss/Guided, Cavemen, Carpoolers

The CW – Full Fall Schedule Analysis

  • New Shows: 90210, Surviving the Filthy Rich, Stylista
  • Returning Shows: Reaper, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Supernatural, etc.
  • Canceled Shows: Girlfriends, Aliens in America, Life is Wild, WWE Smackdown, Beauty & the Geek

CBS – Coming Wednesday May 14th

  • Moonlight has officially been canceled (Read Full Story)
  • Moonlight is a huge cult favourite, but could be gone in favour of Les Moonves’ personal choices. This would result in another campaign, this time with more than peanuts to deal with.

FOX – Coming Thursday May 15th

  • FOX’s pickups are pretty clear, with most returning shows confirmed and big budget shows from Abrams and Whedon already announced. Scheduling is the only real drama.

Links to Other Coverage

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Deeply Superficial: Why NBC is the Prettiest Network on Television

[Due to a lot of commitments I’m a little late getting involved, but there’s still time for everyone to go back and enjoy South Dakota Dark’s Deeply Superficial Blog-a-Thon. I might be jumping in at the end, here, but many others have been busy throughout the week, so check out Todd’s index posts for all the details. In the meantime, here is my own contribution.]

NBC: Television’s Prettiest Network

If there is something to be said about Peacocks, it’s that their beauty is pretty much their only defining quality. It’s not as if a peacock does anything interesting outside of being attractive to look at – they don’t seem to have a personality or a story, but rather a lot of pretty feathers.

Now, I won’t say that this is true of the entirety of NBC’s television lineup, of which there are some shows I greatly enjoy (See: The Office, 30 Rock). However, they also have a bunch of shows where people are ridiculously attractive, beyond any sense of reason even. It makes NBC’s series flashy in a way that is honestly disarming – if people were this attractive in my life, I’d probably want people filming it at all times…although I’d probably detract from the process.

[Note: The following are the Top Five Prettiest Shows on NBC, ranked by a combination of level of superficial attractiveness and the level of guilt I would have if they ranked above #3 on any list I ever create. As a result, the most superficially pretty series might not be #1, because it would destroy my soul.]

5. ER

It is no coincidence that George Clooney emerged from within the world of NBC’s central medical drama, a rife location where enormously pretty doctors work in order to save the lives of famous guest stars. What I always enjoy in my brief forays into the world of ER is when they try to depict one of their characters in a gritty scenario, hiding their beauty in order to emphasize the dire situation at hand. However, let’s give credit where credit is due: the people on ER look closer to real-life doctors than say the enormously pretty Grey’s Anatomy cast.

Sidenote: STAMOS!!!

4. Heroes

When Heroes began, its two biggest heartthrobs were Ali Larter, the duplicitous Niki/Jessica, and Milo Ventimiglia, who portrayed the all-powerful Peter Petrelli. And, while I think that Peter has certainly had his moments, it is no coincidence that the series’ two prettiest individuals have become some of its most redundant and frustrating from a storyline perspective. Mainly Niki. Ugh.

Hayden Panettiere, who portrays the young cheerleader Claire, is perhaps the next down the line, and her storyline has been a frustrating fluctuation between great (See: Company Man) and awful (See: Most of the 2nd Season). I don’t really know how her prettiness relates, exactly, but I’m sure there’d be an equation if I had time to really delve into it. On the whole, Heroes is an attractive series, but attractiveness isn’t exactly a sign of an enjoyable character.

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Review – ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

The Apprentice was presumed dead until the threat of a Writers’ strike resulted in its return to NBC’s schedule with a twist: celebrities. It’s a twist which few American competition shows have really used in the past, although it is far more popular worldwide. It’s a last stretch towards relevance on the part of Donald Trump, and its quality is really not the question.

Cultural Learnings won’t be spending any considerable time on the series (We’ll pick up Survivor again before considering it), but I couldn’t ignore the potential hilarity which could follow from its premiere. I haven’t been able to get my snark on in a while, so I thought this might be a return to form of sorts.

Except that…it really isn’t. See, here’s the thing: Celebrity Apprentice is really no different than the normal Apprentice, except that the self-congratulatory mugging and parade of celebrities have become the focus. Trump introduced how he invited people who were commodities, but in reality he is really just attempting to save his own fading commodity.

The result is a series where Trump is the ultimate philanthropist and where the name of the game is celebrities arguing and bickering but ultimately coming together for the little people. And rather than being humorous, it’s just kind of bland – a few are objectionable enough to transcend into humor, but most are genuinely in this for good reason and it’s just sad to see them sit through this tripe.

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Cultural Catchup – Dramas – October 19th

[Okay, so here’s the deal: I almost finished this post, and decided to wait for more shows…and then just got more busy. This covers most of the show until mid-week, I will hopefully get to the rest soonish]

Dexter – “An Inconvenient Lie”

I haven’t talked about Dexter’s second season much at Cultural Learnings for a variety of different reasons: well, actually, just one. The problem is that I watched the first two hours of the season back in July, and it was only on Sunday that the third installment aired. With Dexter’s ocean graveyard uncovered, the stakes are extremely high…but, unfortunately, I had to wait a really long time.

It is that much more impressive, then, that I was sucked right back in again. There is simply something compelling about Michael C. Hall’s performance that keeps you from being disconnected. Watching Dexter struggle to lie to the world while faced with the unearthing of his past performances while perfecting a new role as a drug addict, the parallel is less than subtle…but it is powerful, and brings forth the principle of the Dark Passenger more clearly than the show’s first season.

The episode hit many high points: Deb’s continued inability to get over Rudy trying to kill her remains important, and Dexter’s downright unsettling discussion with his FBI headhunter were two of them. Also: “You were right about the ample cargo room” was one of those one-liners that Michael C. Hall has too much fun with. The episode balanced messages of lying and Dexter’s own issues of personal introspection in regards to both Rita and the morality of his killings. It’s my first real Dexter in a while, and it reminded me why I became so infatuated with this show last year.

Gossip Girl – “Dare Devil”

Perhaps trying to prove its potential for an entire season, Gossip Girl came to bat with a full-featured and quality hour of television. “Dare Devil” dumps Nate and Chuck and focuses on situations with real drama: Dan and Serena’s first date, Jenny’s insistence on joining Blair’s social circle, Erik’s imprisonment at the Ostroff Centre, and the parental tango between Rufus and Darla.

Much like some of the best episodes of The O.C., this one managed to weave various separate threads together into a web of truth and dare, dive bar hopping, impromptu dinner dates and a jailbreak of sorts. Despite starting as separate storylines, these four parts became one by episode’s end, and I think that the result was a satisfying hour of television.

I’m frustrated with the speed at which Dan and Serena entered into makeout mode, but was surprised that the parents’ storyline gained some level of actual depth with the further introduction of Dan’s mother into the mix. Erik and Jenny remain rather adorable entries into the CW canon, and Blair’s catty side is certainly more entertaining than her rather meek appearance last week. On the whole, the show continues to sustain its basic level of quality, which is a positive sign.

Heroes – “The Kindness of Strangers”

This week’s episode of Heroes was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t quite get back on track. The core storyline is in better shape, but the dialogue and the overall pacing still need more work. This week’s episode at least gives us a worthwhile cliffhanger, but Tim Kring’s general plotting is still fairly lacklustre.

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Cultural Catchup – Comedies – October 16th

[Oy vey. So much TV, so little time. This will be part one of a two-part series at this point, so we’ll start the comedies and move onto the dramas tomorrow (I’ll be covering Gossip Girl and Pushing Daisies this evening, barring unforeseen circumstances).]

How I Met Your Mother – “Little Boys”

There were some funny moments, sure, but the show’s focus is falling apart. The end of last season was a fantastic series of episodes because it was focused on Marshall and Lily’s wedding with Ted and Robin’s relationship taking a backseat. What happened at the end of last season was that Marshall and Lily became that “married couple” who no longer had any real comic potential…and Ted and Robin became the focus.

Ted has had some decent episodes (“Lucky Penny” was an example), but there is something about Ted that just doesn’t make for good comedy. The show has tried various perspectives: We went into Ted’s office for a span, and the result was mediocre comedy. Right now, Ted and Robin are both single and dating, and it just…isn’t entertaining. There’s some great jokes, and the structure of this week’s episode was interesting, but it just isn’t memorable.

I’m almost expecting them to throw Robin into the workplace any day now.

Samantha Who? – “Pilot”

The final new comedy of the fall season, Samantha Who? debuted to some solid numbers last night…and I’ll admit that I enjoyed it quite a lot. There are some fantastic elements to Samantha Who? that keep things interesting: a fantastic cast is first and foremost, with pretty well every performer nailing their respective character.

The comedy itself isn’t all that interesting, but the structure of the pilot had a lot of potential. There was some nice reveals of her “fake” best friend and her boy issues, and the mysterious hit and run driver is certainly of concern. As a pilot, it was well constructed to introduce us to these characters, as an Amnesiac makes a great tabula rosa upon which to write.

The concern, obviously, is that they’ve played out their amnesia jokes and that the rest of the series won’t be able to live up to this pilot structure. I enjoy the characters, from Jean Smart’s fantastic mother to Barry Watson’s awkward and short-haired boyfriend, but she can only learn so many things about herself each week before this gets extremely old. Will she get amnesia again? Will another character get amnesia? Where can this go, exactly?

Chuck – “Chuck vs. The Wookiee”

I will concur with the general sentiment on this episode: it just wasn’t as good as last week. It was still engaging, but it had some issues with balancing comedy and drama. In other words, it wasn’t quite funny enough, and the drama didn’t quite play as well as it could.

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The Sophomore Test: ‘Chuck’, ‘Reaper’, ‘Dirty Sexy Money’

Think making a television pilot is hard? Pfft, a pilot is nothing. A pilot has an astronomical budget, a lengthy shooting schedule, and a certain level of freedom not seen within an episodic structure. The real test of a series’ quality, then, is the second episode. It’s the one that gives a better indication of a showrunner’s ability to wrangle their initial pilot concept into an affordable and still entertaining series.

So, let’s see how three of the year’s series (None of which I’ve spent considerable time discussing) held up this week not just in terms of ratings, but in terms of quality.


What I liked about Chuck’s pilot was its geeky sensibility and slick production values. There has been a lot of talk about Chuck lacking content below that surface, that it rides by on production and concept alone without any depth. And do you know what? I think that these people are correct. And, well, I don’t really care.

The series will only fail at this point if it takes itself too seriously. At this point, the comedy and the drama are almost at odds, fighting it out for the focus of the series. I want the show to be able to embrace its light-hearted side just a little bit more, finding a balance that works for it.

I think the second episode did an admirable job of keeping the series’ geeky elements from becoming too cliched (It was impossible to do so entirely) while keeping things (relatively) balanced. My concern, however, is that they will keep trying to find spy-related storylines and be unwilling to let Chuck’s personal life dominate. This isn’t Alias, the comic setup is good enough to support more personal developments.

The verdict: Good, but not great. It didn’t expand to anything the least bit revolutionary, but it has comic and dramatic potential to be tapped.


In the first non-Kevin Smith episode, I honestly felt like there wasn’t a huge tonal shift in Reaper’s second episode. I think that this is, on the one hand, a good thing: after all, I liked the pilot. On the other hand, I think that the similarity had much less to do with a continued sense of quality, and more a sense of deja vu.

Yes, Reaper stayed fairly consistent in its second week, but with that came both its good and its bad. On the good side, Ray Wise stayed sharp as the devil, and Bret Harrison continues to define scrutable in the lead role. But, unlike Chuck, which had a fairly energetic pilot, Reaper’s was occasionally a bit slow and expositional.

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6 Reasons You Need to Watch ‘Pushing Daisies’

I want to make something very clear: Pushing Daisies is not the greatest television show of all time. It is certainly not perfect, containing a few flaws that are somewhat concerning even. However, the reason for the critical and internet buzz surrounding the series is simple: out of this year’s crop of new shows, Pushing Daisies is the only one that approaches a level of imagination and potential worth talking about.

The story of Ned is simple: he can bring things back to life with his touch. Unfortunately, if he touches them again, they die for good. And, if they stay alive for more than one minute, someone else has to die in their place. He uses this ability to solve crimes, but one day finds a more pressing reason: resurrecting his long lost love. The scenario that follows is charming, engaging, and by far the best pilot of the year (Cultural Learnings’ Review).

I know that there might even be a level of critical backlash against the show for how much time critics spend talking about it, so in deciding the reasons to watch the series I am going to ignore the standard critical lauds in favour of some of the show’s simpler and more relative aspects. These are the six reasons why, tonight at 8pm on ABC, you should seat your butts in front of your television and be transported into the land of Pushing Daisies.

6. Digby/Orbit the Dog

I’m a sucker for a golden retriever under normal circumstances, but Digby (Stunningly portrayed by Orbit the Dog) is another breed altogether. Resurrected by Ned when he first discovered his powers to bring people back to life, he is only ever petted with a hand on a stick and by those around him. Rescued from tragedy, has he not reemerged into a torturous life? This complex character is by far a highlight of the pilot.

5. Mmmm…Pie…

There’s a reason that the show’s premiere features the overly cute title of “Pie-lette”; it’s because of the near food pornography present within the series. If you have a taste for pastry, the show is sure to delight your senses with its three-plum and rhubarb delights. They might be Ned’s obsession, but pies are visual and sensual delights: we need Smell-o-vision. And I don’t even LIKE pie.

4. Emerson/Ned: Buddy Comedy at its Finest

The young pie maker removed from the real world and the cynical private eye who wants to take advantage of him: Ned and Emerson are a team worth watching, and a team with a great deal of potential. Much like Bryan Fuller’s Dead Like Me, the relationship between these twisted crime-solvers is a great presentation of human interaction.

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House – “The Right Stuff”

“The Right Stuff”

October 2nd, 2007

Although the episode might not be labeled as such, I would argue that tonight’s House was really the second part of a two-part opener. After last week established House’s issues regarding bringing in a new team, this week gave us plenty of the House we like while also providing some important revelations. This would make last week a prologue (Although one I was vastly entertained by), and this week finally gets back to the meat of the issue.

And it really did: we learned what happened with Chase and Cameron, we were introduced to the new prospective fellows, and we got to see a new level of House’s unethical behaviour. For all the details, continue on to a diagnostic on the episode.

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Gossip Girl – “Poison Ivy”

“Poison Ivy”

October 2nd, 2007

Ivy Week, as presented by Gossip Girl, is the time when plans about the future take center stage. This is not an uncommon theme in teen dramas: heck, High School Musical was a post-secondary anxiety film at its core. However, for Gossip Girl, it’s a wakeup call from the joys of living the high life when interviews and socials essentially define their future…and they all have extremely preset futures ahead of them despite the turmoil in their lives.

Dan is dreaming of Dartmouth, hoping for his scholarship in lieu of actual funds. Nate, meanwhile, has a father pushing him to Dartmouth while he dreams of heading out West. As they compete for an ushership (I don’t know what this means), we start to gain a better understanding of Dan’s place in this world, and what little clout the Humphrey name has in this world.

However, it also allowed the two to actually share some common ground for a change, and allow for Dan to be somewhat less of an outcast. This is a positive development, and finally brings new pairings of characters outside of the rather rigid pairings we were earlier provided. The more the show extends its characters and has them interact with other people, the more three-dimensional they become.

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