Category Archives: Television

Heroes – “Lizards”

“Lizards”

October 1st, 2007

At the opening of this week’s episode, we gained a structure to this year’s season: A Series of Eight, Isaac Mendez’s unfulfilled prophecy paintings. The first in that series showed Hiro’s father bloodied and dead on the pavement below, and is in Mr. Bennet’s possession. The other seven? He hasn’t seen them, but intends to find them. It looks like we’ve got a Collect-a-thon ahead of us.

Except that, you know, we learn almost nothing about Isaac’s Series of Eight in this episode. The title itself refers to Claire’s biology class, and her inability to keep her mouth shut about regeneration while boy toy West watches on, chatting up Suresh Sr.’s book. I really hate to see Claire get the episode title when her storyline isn’t exactly the most compelling thing the show has going for it: a stolen car? Really? Uncool.

Peter, obviously the most intriguing storyline, spends time tied to a chair and being spongebathed by a young Irish lass. And then he saves her honour with his newfound powers: super strength, his light flash projectiles, and becoming an expert at untying fairly complex knots. Oh, and he doesn’t have a scratch on him, so perhaps the blood may not be his own. Then, whose blood is it? This is an interesting question, but when the show barely even spends any time with him it doesn’t resonate. And especially when he basically becomes a thief for hire.

And there’s the big problem with Heroes right now: each individual episode is only able to string together a series of small-scale storylines, and as a result it never feels like anything really happens in each episode. Whether it is Mohinder’s time with the Haitian, Hiro’s attempts to woo himself a princess, or Parkman’s investigation in New York, or the gruesome attack on Angela Petrelli, nothing seemed to be given any time to matter.

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How I Met Your Mother – “We’re Not From Here”

“We’re Not From Here”

October 1st, 2007

After spending last week on the Wrapup schedule, some wily TV wrangling meant that I was able to watch How I Met Your Mother live on television for the first time ever. Yes, ever. Dare I say that tonight is a legendary occasion?

After last week dealt with the breakup fallout for Robin and Ted, this week finally has a chance to deal with the other parts of the cast, mainly Marshall and Lilly’s newfound marriage. The result is that the show is finally able to return to some of its normal structure…which is either good or bad, I can’t really decide. Actually, on second thought, I don’t think it lived up to the show’s pedigree.

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The State of the Primetime Soap Opera: ‘Desperate’, ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sisters’

The primetime soap opera was heralded as the new and resurgent medium when Desperate Housewives arrived and brought steamy, sudsy television back to the forefront of popular culture. Now, three years later, ABC remains at the forefront of the movement but is not alone: CBS is introducing Cane and Swingtown, attempting to break through on what only ABC has managed to pull off in recent years.

Perhaps attempting to confirm themselves as the destination for primetime soaps without procedural elements or workplace settings, ABC is introducing ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ to the table while ‘Desperate Housewives’ bounces back from a weak couple of seasons and ‘Brothers & Sisters’ takes advantage of late-season momentum.

I am admittedly a sucker for these shows: I might view them with a more critical eye, but I have a penchant for some good family drama. But is it good family drama? And how are the show stacking up this season? Let’s take a gander.

Desperate Housewives – “Now You Know”

I will admit that I stopped watching Desperate Housewives last year, fairly early even. I simply didn’t find the second season interesting enough to justify sticking around during the rather slow start to its third. What has me watching the premiere, then? Mainly the arrival of new characters, new mysteries, and Nathan Fillion. So sue me, I became a Browncoat with Firefly over the summer.

My verdict: Dana Delaney has finally added some spice to the proceedings, the various women of Wysteria Lane are at their best when keeping secrets, and the mystery feels like just the right balance of intrigue and actually interesting material, as opposed to last year’s. It is a creepy dream for a brain-washed girl whose parents are hiding things in a locked room that hides not a chained up male but a hidden past.

It centers on not some secret murder plot or basement dungeon, but a mysterious new neighbour with a past and a future on Wisteria Lane. The drama amongst characters it as much of a retread as before, but it feels fresher as long as some level of change is being promised. And I feel like a new neighbour, and new neighbours to come, might be enough to bring the show back on track.

Brothers & Sisters – “Home Front”

At the end of last season’s finale, the Walker family cleansed themselves with a dip in the pool to signal a new beginning. However, this was really incredibly misleading, as this year’s season premiere showed: in reality, they’re still just as messed up as they were before. Kitty’s neutoric, Kevin’s narcissistic, Sarah’s marriage is a wreck, and the rest of the family are in a state of upheaval.

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Saturday Night Live (September 29th, 2007): Lebron James and Kanye West

Through the joys of YouTube, but perhaps not for long, I’ve been able to get a glimpse at what Saturday Night Live brought to the table in their season premiere. The episode always presents the show’s biggest challenge, in that the quality of the season to come will be judged based on this hour and a half. This year, it will be judged based on three qualities: its cultural relevance, its musical guest and, of course, its Digital Short.

Kanye West

Champion/Everything I Am

Stronger/The Good Life

Skit: Kanye West the Awards Crybaby

Ummm…why didn’t Kanye West host the show? Based on this clip, he is infinitely funnier than Lebron James. I’m guessing it was probably a time commitment issue, which kind of sucks, but Kanye West is a funny, funny guy. And the performances are good…the freestyle is a little bit off, as I prefer the actual lyrics of Everything I Am, but what can you do? In other news: “Give a black man…give a SHORT black man a chance” from the skit is pretty well hilarious.

Pop Culture Sendoff 

SNL does High School Musical [YouTube Link]

Ummm…this is not funny. It’s clear that Andy Samberg is being treated like the star of SNL now, but James is rather unfortunately unable to embrace the skit’s real comedy. It’s a rather lazy High School Musical parody that, even with a strong performance from Samberg, never feels like biting satire. In other words, Mad TV could have done this sketch. That’s not a compliment.

The Digital Short 

SNL Digital Short: “Iran f. Adam Levine” [Youtube Link]

A sendoff of Mahmoud, the lovable president of Iran, this digital short is something that many of them have not been: genuinely well-produced and going for a fairly subtle form of comedy. The song is actually fairly catchy, especially with Levine doing the chorus, and the piano riff is apparently from Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th.

And the skit is funny! Mahmoud is performed wonderfully by Fred Armisen, the Jame Gyllenhal cameo is great, and it’s just a very enjoyable piece of comedy. I don’t expect a viral sensation, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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One Week Later: Hey! Nielsen Reflections

Okay, so this is jumping the gun on the week part a little, but the television week has essentially come to a close as of today. With it comes the end of a hectic and exciting public beta launch of Hey! Nielsen, where Television, Movies, Internet Sites and Celebrities are lauded, criticized and given a rating defining their popularity. It has been a week of growing pains, “spamming,” and a whole host of issues (good and bad) rising to the surface.

First, I want to thank the crew behind Hey! Nielsen for being quick to answer queries, easy to relate to, and willing to engage their audience. The future of the site hinges on a combination of our feedback and your willingness to accept it, and I have been wholly impressed on this front, as has been reflective of the coverage here at Cultural Learnings.

Cultural Learnings’ Hey! Nielsen Coverage

That being said, I want to address some of the issues that have popped up. And no, this isn’t me complaining about the lack of love for Cultural Learnings’ own entry: I’d like to thank everyone who has voted or commented, I really appreciate it. However, Rich over at Copywrite Ink. has written a very insightful piece about the problems the site is currently facing, and I want to refer to and expand on his argument:

“It took less than a day for fans to see what Hey! Nielsen really is — a social network that asks “users” (a word that is well past its prime) to pile into the school gymnasium and have a shouting match. Those with the biggest lungs win. And those with the most outrageous comments get the most attention.”

The distinction I want to make here is that what Rich says here is an accurate description of the way Hey! Nielsen is currently operating…but this is not how it has been designed. I think that the problems Hey! Nielsen is currently facing are due to the fundamental difference between how they imagined the system being used and how it is actually being used.

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Season Premiere: The Office – “Fun Run”

“Fun Run”

September 27th, 2007

I would like to make two observations about this highly anticipated fourth season premiere of The Office. First, I would argue that “fun” is not a proper descriptor for the episode’s events: while certainly with its funny moments, it felt overlong and tired compared to some of the show’s more engaging and classic episodes. The second is that despite this fact, millions of viewers are likely to be so satisfied by the “Jam” (Or PB&J as Kevin calls them) developments that none of that will matter.

I’m far too cynical to avoid pointing out the episode’s issues, but can we talk about how adorable Pam and Jim were in this episode? Whether it’s their secret glances, their secret rendezvous or their secret estate-sale browsing, their secret affair was the part of the episode that felt most fresh and, importantly, interesting. I care about these two people, as irrational as that may be, and I liked that the show used its documentary format to slowly reveal the relationship through the hour.

But there were other story threads I was interested in following following the show’s third season premiere. I wanted to see how newly unemployed and psychotic Jan changed Michael’s life, and how newly promoted Ryan would play a role in the affairs of The Office. I was also curious to see how Karen’s reaction to Jim’s post-New York singlehood would affect the show’s core relationships. However, this hour barely touched on these issues, focusing instead on hijinx and another key relationship.

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Series Premiere – Bionic Woman – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 26th, 2007

I’ve been in possession of the original pilot for Bionic Woman for quite some time, but I decided against watching it. With recasting and fine tuning being considerable (Deaf sister turns to decidedly not deaf sister), and talks of producer issues, the series is perhaps the second most troubled of the fall season (Next to CBS’ Moonlight). It is perhaps surprising, then, that I found the pilot to be about as good of an introduction to this series as I could expect.

There were certainly problems: some dialogue issues reared their ugly head, specifically the feminist rhetoric coming from a seven year old (Feminist rhetoric? Fine. From someone who would never actually say that? Not fine), and there were certainly certain characters that…well, never became characters. However, the pilot’s focus was not in making us like or dislike these characters, but rather that we could get caught up in this world.

Now, mind you, this is a flawed way of going about things: a general apathy towards a show’s characters is generally a barrier to enjoying the series as a whole. This is why a lot of the pilot’s goodwill comes via Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck, whose presence immediately elevates Bionic Woman amongst die hard fans of that series (myself included). More importantly, however, is that Sarah Corvus is a character who has history, motive and gravitas; these are traits we are missing for our titular heroine, portrayed by Michelle Ryan.

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Tuesday Night Wrapup: Reaper and Ratings Report

Tuesday Night Wrapup

September 26th, 2007

Reaper – “Pilot”

What: The reworked pilot to The CW’s new comedy series directed by Kevin Smith. The reworking applies only to those scenes featuring Andy, the love interest, who was recast (Details here).

Highlights: The show remains funny, Ray Wise remains fantastic as Satan, and I didn’t necessarily hate Missy Peregrym.

Lowlights: Peregrym, however, is rather boring and does nothing to improve the series over Nikki Reed, and the reshot scenes were too obvious thanks to Bret Harrison’s stubble.

Tuesday Ratings Report

What: The Fast National Nielsen Ratings for the second night of TV’s new season from PIFeedback.

The Winners: House and Dancing with the Stars stole the show with stunning demo and viewer performances, with House combining with a strong Bones (In the demo, anyways) to win the demo for FOX. Law & Order: SVU also performed well, dominating its timeslot in the demo. CBS’ NCIS and The Unit kept up last year’s numbers.

The New Shows: Reaper earned similar numbers to Veronica Mars’ performance last year, but actually grew out of Beauty and the Geek and might get a reprieve because of it. CBS’ Cane, meanwhile, performed well in terms of viewers but couldn’t match last year’s short-lived Smith in the demo which could hurt it in the long run.

The Losers: Beauty & the Geek and The Biggest Loser struggled against new competition, and Boston Legal couldn’t retain much of its Dancing with the Stars lead-in.

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Season Premiere: House – “Alone”

“Alone”

September 25th, 2007

House is a series that is always good at two things: finales and premieres. As a procedural drama, the rest of the time is spent meandering through repetitive and predictable medical cases, but it is at these moments of ending and beginning that House becomes a well-written and engaging character drama. After a finale that left everything in upheaval, “Alone” fast-forwards only two weeks as House tries to set out on his lonesome to prove that he doesn’t need a team.

Mind you, the series hinges on House’s interactions with his “Cottages,” so we know that this isn’t going to last long. This particular episode, however, benefited from the lack of added weight: it was, for the first time in a long time, House being House. Whether it was interactions with Wilson, Cuddy or Dr. Buffer (A Janitor turned Fellow), House was at his Tuesday best tonight. And, even if it didn’t answer all of our questions, I’d say that you can call this case a success.

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Gossip Girl – “The Wild Brunch”

“The Wild Brunch”

September 25th, 2007

Truth be told, I missed the first fifteen minutes of Gossip Girl’s second episode. And yet, I feel entirely able to provide my opinion of tonight’s sophomore episode of the drama series, which is not a good sign. Suffering from a case of the post-pilot doldrums, “The Wild Brunch” was not quite as wild as we could be expecting, although the brunch was supposedly excellent.

[Edit: I have since watched the opening minutes (Which was not 15, the episode was extremely short), but I was impressed by what we saw of Dan/Jenny’s simpler life and the entire post-date wave sequence. It was charming, although the lack of charm in the rest of the episode is still an issue stepping forward. Amber over at The Gall of It All has her own snarky observations, including ones on fashion which I clearly can’t speak to.]

The problem with the episode is that there wasn’t any real advancement of the characters within the story. Jenny remained a young girl trying to break into the it crowd, Dan remained a smitten male unable to fit in with Serena’s friends, and the Blair/Serena war remained as one-dimensional as it was last week. It was everything you could assume would happen after last week’s premiere without any element of surprise.

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