Tag Archives: 2008

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: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

“Airdate”: July 2008

When my power went out the weekend before Christmas (and, coincidentally, the night I conceived of this project), I was stuck with an about to die laptop and my iPod Touch. While the laptop battery survived two episodes of Gilmore Girls, I was left with only my iPod to last until I was tired enough to fall asleep: thank Bad Horse for Dr. Horrible.

Bound to be an internet sensation thanks to the plethora of Whedonverse fans, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is about as good a TV story as you’ll get this year. Joss Whedon and his brother (along with a crew of darn creative people) conceive of an internet musical while off work, and after the strike is over bring on Whedon favourite Nathan Fillion (as the hilarious Captain Hammer) and downright awesome Neil Patrick Harris (as the titular heroic anti-herp), along with Felicia Day (already familiar to internet content thanks to her work in The Guild, as leading lady Penny), to bring life to their creation.

What emerged was successful on two fronts. From an industry perspective, the three-part series demonstrated the power of new forms of distribution: released to the internet through various methods, Dr. Horrible was free to stream, cheap to buy on ITunes, and eventually made its way to DVD late in 2008. Recently named as one of the American Film Institutes Top TV moments due to its potential as a new business model, I think it’s important to note that Whedon’s involvement perhaps created a more viable platform than would other producers.

But that doesn’t really matter in the end, because Dr. Horrible is just damn entertaining. Yes, it’s a monumental achievement, paves the way, blah blah blah – what matter is that the story of a hapless villain struggling to make his way into the Evil League of Evil and win the love of the woman he does laundry next to is filled with witty dialogue, catchy songs, and some great performances (both comic and dramatic) from Harris, Fillion and Day.

I remain convinced, as I was when it aired, that the conclusion feels somewhat dour even acknowledging Whedon’s penchant for such endings, but this doesn’t change the fact that I await impatiently for all parties involved to have enough free time to give us a worthy sequel. In the meantime, living in a world where there is a musical commentary to an internet-distributed musical is reason enough to celebrate.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: How I Met Your Mother – “The Naked Man”

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“The Naked Man”

Season Four, Episode Nine

Airdate: November 24th, 2008

Of all the shows on this list, How I Met Your Mother may have been one of the toughest selections. It isn’t that the show had too few or even too many great episodes in this calendar year, but rather that the show has a higher standard for greatness than other shows. There is something that elevates this above other sitcoms that is not always tangible, and not always something that appears in the same fashion.

So it’s tough to decide what it more quintessentially HIMYM than something else: some episodes might most embody the show’s commitment to its New York setting, others its manipulation of time, others its quirky catchphrases. Do we value episodes that highlight the awesomeness of Barney Stinson, or are such episodes almost too simple compared to the challenge of making Ted a likeable character? All of this creates a true conundrum, and one that was not easily answered.

The reason that I have chosen “The Naked Man” is not because I am convinced that it is the best episode the show aired this past year, but rather that I believe it to be the most well-rounded. It isn’t an episode about just Barney, or just Ted, or any single character. It ignores the show’s normal structure for a tightly construct A-plot, every character being either victim or perpetrator of the show’s newest lexicon entry. The Naked Man is a strategy employed by a hapless blind date of Robin’s, a decision to strip down on a bad date to see if the victim will say “Screw it” and give in to the power of nakedness.

What works about the episode is that it doesn’t try to be something bigger: yes, Ted is willing to try it because of his relationship troubles post-Stella, and Robin attempts to turn it into a real relationship to appear less pathetic after her own life crisis, but it feels like a bunch of people we like watching (yes, even Ted) trying out something fun, funny, and played with just the right level of reverance with its superhero-esque closing.

And while my mind might be torn between the Mr. Clean and the Burt Reynolds, and between this and many other episodes, I think my heart is perfectly fine with “The Naked Man” making it into the Time Capsule.

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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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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Entourage – “Return to Queens Boulevard”

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“Return to Queens Boulevard”

Season Five, Episode 12

Airdate: November 24th, 2008

I have never gotten more flak as a television critic than when I have the gall to criticize Entourage. It’s a sore spot for me: it’s a show that people keep trying to convince me is just male wish fulfillment, and a show that I keep trying to convince people is in fact a drama about celebrity and its impact on humanity. So when the show leans to the former, and I complain about its inability to live up to its potential, needless to say conflict arises.

I’m including “Return to Queens Boulevard” in the 2008 Television Time Capsule for a selfish reason, because I think it proves my point. For about 24 minutes, this is an investigation into how celebrity has changed people: how Vince reacts to being jobless and living at home with his mother, and how Eric responds to his own sense of responsibility for Vince’s future. When the two characters have what could be their final blowout, and Vince fires Eric for failing to land him a job, I absolutely refuse to believe that even skeptics don’t feel like this is a moment that has been built up since even the first season.

But after those 24 minutes are over, something goes horribly wrong: everything goes back to normal. Vince has a job, an amazing job with Martin Scorsese even, land in his lap, and all of a sudden their fight is over: that Eric badgered Gus Van Zant enough to get Vince a job was suddenly enough to overcome their differences and reunite them. When Vince showed up in that office, it was a show taking the coward’s way out: at even the sight of a decent character study which could have ramifications for the following season, the show balked.

I am fine with Entourage not taking itself seriously, or fulfilling the male wish to have as much nudity as HBO will allow, but what I can’t stand is the show’s dabbling in more serious (and, for my tastes, more interesting) storylines only to snatch them away. Yes, the show might move into its sixth season and investigate this rift further, but what would have been the harm of letting what was arguably the show’s most intriguing post-Season Two storyline go on for a bit longer?

An improvement over the almost disastrous fourth season which was just unpleasant at the end of the day, the fifth season posed bigger questions and was much more willing to actually offer up some intriguing answers to them. That Doug Ellin and co. would wipe that all away only further proves that the show needs to either solve its bipolarity once and for all or at the very least inform its most ardent fans that people are allowed to have different opinions about the series.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Dexter – “The Damage A Man Can Do”

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“The Damage A Man Can Do”

Season Three, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 16th, 2008

In my review of the show’s third season finale, I tore into Dexter for missed potential, for failing to take advantage of its early season ideas and instead investigating something interesting but not compelling. This isn’t to say that the show’s decision to focus its attention on the relationship between Dexter and Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) was a poor one but rather that it felt like the story never fit the season in a way.

What it did provide, though, was a number of solid episodes that delved into the ramifications of their friendship. “The Damage a Man Can Do” is the most simple of these moments: not wrapped up in the show’s drive towards a conclusion, or in the show’s divided attention at the season’s opening, it answers the question of what could happen if Dexter Morgan had a partner, a friend who helped him with his dark secrets. The episode boils down Dexter’s dark passenger into a shopping list, and a series of disguises and actions that feels wonderfully scientific.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Mentalist – “Red Handed”

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“Red Handed”

Season One, Episode Six

Airdate: November 11th, 2008

In the doldrums of the Christmas exam period, as new TV wound down, had a choice: catch up on an older show that I have sitting around on DVD or trying to keep culturally relevant by sampling the one new show that is a definitive hit. CBS’ The Mentalist is a long time coming: the network has been searching for a place for Simon Baker ever since it canceled The Guardian after three seasons, and after Smith was a total dud it was time to give Baker another chance in the spotlight.

Mostly, I’m including The Mentalist because of its success: it’s only grown since its premiere, and has the potential to emerge as a Tuesday cornerstone for the network. In a year where very few shows truly broke out, The Mentalist is a true success story.

But it’s also a smart show, in ways that are not always clear and certainly not driving some of the show’s creative input. Bruno Heller, in his first major series work since the end of HBO’s Rome, brings a certain wit to the series: it doesn’t offer anything that other procedurals don’t already offer in spades, but it has proven particularly capable of switching modes from drama to comedy.

A lot of this has to do with Baker’s charm: say what you will about the procedural drama as a medium, or the fact that this show is basically a more serious version of USA’s Psych, but Patrick Jane is an entertaining character to watch. He’s intelligent, his social ticks are less about smugness than they are about impatience (it’s a distinction), and his humanizing back story has been smartly underplayed but maintained in order to eventually pay off.

Picking a single episode is somewhat challenging, because every episode tends to blend into the next. However, if I had to pick one, I think that Jane’s foray into the world of gambling felt like the most fun, and the way the episode worked around it felt quite satisfying. Jane’s ability to gain financially from his efforts are in many ways a root cause of his past indiscretions, so his charity with said winnings adds to the character’s charm.

I am not likely to ever love the show, or watch it live as opposed to in a lull where nothing which needs thinking feels right, but the show may go down as the season’s only true hit: and while I at first was quite cynical about it success in the wake of better shows falling by the wayside, I nonetheless feel like the show remains a well-made procedural drama. And there’s room for one of those in the Time Capsule.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Middleman – “The Flying Fish Zombification”

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“The Flying Fish Zombification”

Season One, Episode Five

Airdate: July 14rh, 2008

Of the shows that aired this past summer, there were a number which could have made their way into the time capsule: the second season of Burn Notice was entertaining, In Plain Sight kept my attention most of the time, and I thought that Secret Diary of a Call Girl had one really fascinating story that I just wish they hadn’t rinsed and repeated again and again.

But they all felt like old ideas, well executed but ultimately feeling like a pitch where two other shows are combined with a “meets” in the middle. But you can’t do that with The Middleman, a show which defies all attempts at genre definition or, more importantly, shoe-horning. While its rapid fire dialogue in its pilot brought Gilmore Girls comparisons to the surface, and its almost nostalgic treatment of super villains and threats to humanity hearkens back to older examples, the show set its own course for a show that didn’t fit into any box.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into any demographics either: the show never took off with ABC Family’s targeted young female audience, leaving its future seriously in doubt. But I believe that it needs to be remembered, and as a result place an episode into the Time Capsule to help spread the word.

Picking “The Flying Fish Zombification” isn’t just because of its great name (all of the episodes have those), but rather because I feel like the show’s wit and creativity emerges in both the A and B stories. Wendy (Natalie Morales) being trapped between her normal life and her work as a Middleman is one of the show’s central ideas, but never before was it more entertaining than when Dubby was caught between fighting with The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) to stop zombie-creating fish being used to create an exclamatory soft drink and the genius that is Art Crawl. The former was just plain fun to watch, while the latter gave the show’s fans their battle cry and introduced us to the wonderment that is Noser’s version of “Stump the Band.”

This is a smart and intelligent show that deserves a better fate than a quick and dirty DVD release to recoup costs: even if they have no plans to bring the show back, the creative vision of Javier Grillo-Marxuach deserves a proper sendoff and a DVD that reflects the show’s unique place in 2008’s television landscape.

For now, a spot in the Time Capsule will have to do.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Fringe – “The Equation”

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“The Equation”

Season One, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 18th, 2008

In some ways, I think that Lost is not going to do J.J. Abrams any favours.

Sure, having his name attached to the show got him a great deal of critical acclaim, and his new status as a household name has allowed him to reap considerable career advancement considering this summer’s upcoming release of his Star Trek reboot. But Lost has long ceased being Abrams’ show, and his calling card has never quite been the highly mythological science fiction that that show has become.

I’ve written a lot about Fringe, primarily because there was a lot of misconceptions going in and a lot of misconceptions as it aired. This show isn’t Lost, having more in common with Abrams’ work on Alias than anything on his more recent series. The show has been dangerously procedural, largely devoid of a deep bench of interesting characters, and oftentimes feeling as if its mythology is more contrivance than intrigue. So for those who were expecting a highly serialized, character driven, mythologically interesting drama series ala Lost…well, you’re somewhat out of luck.

But for those who had their expectations in line, I believe that Fringe has delivered a very solid start to the season: towards the end of the ten episodes which aired this Fall, the show picked up both its episodic and long-term content to an honestly quite thrilling conclusion. The pieces began to fit together, and what once felt like part of a broad and shadowy conspiracy now felt like a real honest to goodness plan.

And for me, that starts with “The Equation,” a taut thriller of an episode that was extremely atmospheric: a series of disappearances, all very sudden and all with victims who were some type of genius in their chosen field, are linked together to an equation, the solution to which remains unknown. Placing a young musical genius at the heart of the story, we discover two things.

First, we discover that Michael Giacchino, who had been phoning it in for the preceding episodes in the series, is still capable of writing haunting and moving music, as the central composition of the equation is the perfect melody for the episode.

Second, we realize that what Abrams has achieved with Fringe is his attempt at taking what he learned from Alias, in particular the attempt to add procedural elements to the show to appeal to new viewers, and put it to good use. Knowing now that vagueness is not something which can stand on its own as dramatic development, the season uses it instead to allow us to discover the truth as our characters do.

Yes, the show’s characters need work, and yes they need to diversify their solutions more, but I don’t think the time capsule needs to hear about all of that junk: “The Equation” is serialized procedural at its finest, and reminds us of how much potential this show really has as it heads into the rest of its first season.

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