January 3rd, 2011
How I Met Your Mother is willing to make sacrifices.
In its balance of a long-running serial narrative and episodic storylines, the show is always looking for ways to balance one with the other: sometimes heavy mythology means slightly weaker standalone work, and sometimes a lack of mythology creates a lack of meaning to a particular story. Often, the mythology is emphasized to evoke pathos, and yet in the process the series has sort of fallen into certain patterns: the show can still hit Ted’s romantic notes well, for example, but it’s hit them enough times that the novelty may well have worn off.
In “Bad News,” we have an example of sacrificing coherent storytelling for the sake of slowly revealing an ongoing gimmick which, once fully comprehended by the audience, becomes the driving force behind a moment which was legitimately affecting. In doing so, the writers all but admitted that “Bad News” wasn’t going to be an all-time classic, but that seemed a conscious decision which allowed for that final moment to hit as hard as they wanted it to hit.
It was manipulative, to the point of damaging the structural integrity of the episode, but that final moment was perhaps worth that sacrifice.
When One Door Closes…
June 29th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.
The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.
Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.
“The Public Eye” / “The Left Hand”
December 4th, 2009
“Everybody’s got a past – it’s the future [viewers] care about.”
Writing about Dollhouse is like riding a bike – the show has never suffered from a lack of ideas, making even its weaker episodes (once it got ahold of its identity) fascinating to discuss. However, there’s something inherently unsatisfying, in theory, about getting back onto that bicycle when you know that you’re about to run out of road, and in a very short period of time this bike is going to be absolutely worthless to you. So much of what I do here at Cultural Learnings is about contextualizing episodes in the past, present and future of any particular series, and in the world of Dollhouse that future has become a swift cancellation which could come as soon as early next week should the ratings from tonight’s two-hour block of episodes be so disastrous that FOX is willing to risk the wrath of fans as opposed to the wrath of advertisers and replace the show with reruns.
And yet, there is something about where this show finds itself mid-way through its second season that I find far more compelling than I should. I know this show is going to end, and yet there is something about the show’s view of the future that has turned its futility into an asset of sorts. It’s almost as if we’ve already reached the end of the road, but instead of a sheer drop the show is offering a lengthy kill on which we can simply coast down the hill with our hands off the handlebars feeling the wind in our face and taking those last moments to think about what was, what is, and what will (or would) be. It’s almost as if cancellation has freed Dollhouse from certain expectations, and what we get from this point forward is about what we take from the material rather than what the material necessarily says in and of itself.
As such, “The Public Eye” and “The Left Hand” are both really great hours of television not only because they’re well-executed in terms of basic plot and character, but also because through the wonders of a DVD bonus feature we as an audience are perfectly situated to understand the ramifications of what is going on here at levels that go beyond the immediate to a future that we might never be able to see but that we are able to vividly imagine in ways that allow the show to survive beyond the certainty of its fate.
September 25th, 2009
“I am all of them, but none of them is me.”
I never thought I’d be writing this post.
No one gave Dollhouse a chance of succeeding when its first season debuted to pretty abysmal numbers at midseason, and when it showed little signs of life on the ratings board when it concluded. It was a show that never found an audience, on a network that had done Joss Whedon wrong before with Firefly, setting everyone up for the inevitable letter writing campaigns when the show was canceled. Not only that, but to some degree people weren’t convinced the show deserved a second chance: it only late in the season discovered anything close to an identity, and even then some believed the show would be let down by some miscasting or the battle between procedural and serial proving too much for the show to handle.
So when the show got a second season against every oddsmaker, it was kind of surreal. On the one hand, as someone who liked what the show did at the end of the season, I was excited to see that Joss Whedon and Co. would have an entire summer to figure things out and put themselves in a position to really deliver some great television. However, on the other hand, I wondered if the end of the season was just a fluke, and that its premise and its star were just never meant to carry this show forward.
And then I saw “Epitaph One.” And then, in that moment, I realized that the premise was not going to be the problem, and that the show’s real challenge was how it will get from Point A (its rather auspicious start) to Point B (a science fiction thematic goldmine). “Vows,” of course, doesn’t entirely answer that question, but what it does indicate is that the ramifications from the end of last season haven’t ended, and that this is still a show capable of delivering an hour of television which treats this subject matter with the right balance of philosophical investigation and narrative procession. It is not a perfect premiere, by any means, but it confirms what I think we were all hoping when we heard the show got a second season: the growing pains are over, and a new life has truly begun for Dollhouse.