Tag Archives: Alias

Fringe – “Stowaway”

“Stowaway”

March 18th, 2011

The conclusion of “Os” was laughable, a fact that I truly hope the writers at Fringe were aware of.

It’s not that this represents some sort of continuity issue: this is a weird enough show that something like this can be easily explained by William Bell’s genius and a newly introduced detail from nearly two seasons ago. Rather, this is an issue of simple silliness: the idea of Anna Torv putting on a deep voice and channeling Leonard Nimoy is just not something that is meant to be taken seriously.

The show has always been willing to mix comedy and drama, with Walter in particular adding a certain degree of silliness to the dynamic, but that feels intrinsically part of the character. By comparison, “Stowaway” does a few concerning things which make this bit of comedy feel less than organic, and which clashes with a compelling and emotionally complex standalone tale.

It isn’t enough to entirely unhinge the episode, each story ultimately fairly effective, but at the end of the day it still feels like something happening outside of the story, something being played with rather than something being dealt with.

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Review: NBC’s Undercovers Can’t Hide from J.J. Abrams’ Reputation

“Pilot”

September 22nd, 2010

In the future, I think J.J. Abrams should operate under a pseudonym (or go undercover, if you prefer the pun).

If it were not for his presence, I think I’d be able to write a review saying that Undercovers (debuting tonight at 8/7c on NBC) is a show with a decent premise, a stylish pilot, and a strong cast; instead, all I want to do is talk about how none of what makes – or perhaps made – Abrams a distinctive voice in television seems to be present. The pilot has no sense of surprise and little sense of mystery, and yet because we associate these things with Abrams it feels like a disappointment even when, objectively speaking, this is an average pilot for an average premise, and Abrams was only a co-creator and co-writer (with Josh Reims).

And yet, we desire – and perhaps even demand – something beyond average, which is why Undercovers fails to resonate beyond its attractiveness.

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Series Premiere: Nikita – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 9th, 2010

As far as world-building goes, The CW’s Nikita is comfortable remaining in familiar territory: shadowy “government” organizations working under the guise of national security while in fact engaging in nefarious activities was something that Alias and Dollhouse both dealt with pretty extensively. We’ve seen shows about spies before, and nothing Nikita offers in that department is particularly new (especially when you consider that it’s a reboot of a television show which was based on a movie, but since I’ve seen little of either I’m more likely to think in terms of other series).

The difference, I would argue, is where we join this particular story: rather than starting at the beginning, we jump in at a point where our protagonist is on the outside looking in, seeking revenge against those who wronged her rather than experiencing those wrongs herself. It is, as I note, a familiar story (Alias did something remarkably similar), but by joining at this particular point the show skips over the emotional wringer and focuses on the flashier, more dynamic parts of this story. The result, to some degree, is a lack of depth in the show’s characters, as everything we learn is done through exposition or flashback rather than experiencing it in real time; however, simultaneously, joining at this point gives the show a much clearer sense of what kind of structure it will take on for the future, allowing the pilot to function as any good pilot should.

It also means that it had no real chance of being great, but I don’t think anything here indicates that the should couldn’t get there if given the time and a push in the right direction.

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Season Finale: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Subway/Chuck vs. The Ring: Part II”

“Chuck vs. the Subway/Chuck vs. the Ring: Part II”

May 24th, 2010

I don’t know if I have that much to say about the Chuck finale, primarily because it isn’t a finale to anything in particular. It’s intelligent for Schwartz and Fedak to draw from the series’ overall premise and mythology to drive this two-part finale, as “Chuck vs. the Subway” and “Chuck vs. the Ring: Part II” are both emotionally satisfying, intelligent hours of television, but it means that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s bringing anything to a close so much as it’s finally addressing long-standing issues.

The plot of the two episodes draws from elements earlier this season, like our discovery that John Casey has a daughter, the return of Brandon Routh’s Daniel Shaw, or the potential damage done by the Intersect for the human psyche, but it also makes the argument that fairly substantial chunks of the season (and, arguably, earlier seasons) were not what we thought they were. The conclusion to the episode, more than ever last year’s cliffhanger, introduces the idea that Chuck was destined to be this way, and that the circumstantial elements of the series have all been part of a broader function and purpose.

This makes this much more of a premiere than a finale, using what little momentum the pacing-challenged third season could muster in order to launch the series on a much more interesting trajectory. The result has me much more excited about a fourth season than I was when it was announced a few weeks ago, although no more appreciative of the third season’s narrative stumbling blocks – so long as next season lives up to the hype, though, I’m willing to forgive them for the year’s struggles.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Final Exam”

“Chuck vs. the Final Exam”

March 22nd, 2010

At its best, Chuck is a show where the stakes of a traditional spy show feel extraordinarily real: the whole point of the premise is that the things that happen in the show’s universe are dangerous and larger than life, but our protagonist is a regular guy who has a computer in his head that makes him a far more important asset than he was born to be. The show’s second season, where it reached the peak of its creative success, captured Chuck Bartowski coming to terms with the idea that being a spy might be what he was meant to be, and that there was the potential for the world of espionage to become “real” in a way he had never imagined.

But something went wrong at the start of the third season, to the point where I would argue that the show has diverged from the “real” not only in terms of believability (which isn’t new, considering the suspension of disbelief necessary in many of the spy stories) but also in terms of character. And while some would point to the Intersect 2.0 as a dehumanizing factor or the forced separation of Chuck and Sarah against the wishes of die-hard fans as reasons that the show is becoming less grounded, I would argue that it is something more substantial than that.

“Chuck vs. the Final Exam” is supposed to feel as if the stakes are higher than ever, even arguing that if Chuck fails this series of tests he will return to his normal life. However, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are higher than ever – things felt much more real, much more life-changing, when Chuck was reconciling family and country, when he was fighting for something beyond getting to be a “real spy.” The problem with this episode, and much of the third season, is that the struggle between who Chuck is and who Chuck is on the path to becoming has been said instead of shown, implied rather than demonstrated. And so rather than the show confidently or subtly introducing this tension, the show has thrown out the “real” Chuck and moved quickly and efficiently towards something that, while interesting, just isn’t as engaging.

It’s a move that would be necessary to cram this story into thirteen episodes, which may well be the root of my frustration with the show’s current trajectory.

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Television, the Aughts & I – Part One – “Beginnings”

“Beginnings”

December 13th, 2009

[This is Part One in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

Memory is inherently selective, and yet we have almost no control over the selection process. We’d love to be able to, say, remember incredibly important facts or theories for the sake of writing exams as opposed to having a steel trap when it comes to song lyrics, and random details about family trips are useless if you can’t remember the names of your second cousins, but it just isn’t possible. We want to be able to control memory, to think we can choose what we remember, but in reality it’s entirely out of our hands.

So I have to wonder what it means that before 2001, I don’t remember watching television.

This is not to suggest I was entirely ambivalent towards the medium, as I weekly sat down to watch The Simpsons and surely watched an occasional episode of the big shows of the 90s (or whatever was on TBS in syndication when I got home from school each day). However, there was no sense that The Simpsons were more than an anomaly, and more importantly there was no show I followed religiously. My television tastes were devoid of plot and substance, a fact which didn’t bother me at the time but now makes me wonder what I was missing. Of course, I was 14 when this decade began, so missing out on some shows that started when I was a pre-teen isn’t exactly the world’s greatest crime. However, that this medium, which has become so important in my life, was at one point unmemorable seems like some sort of cosmic mistake. But in the end memory’s selection process captures those things which felt like they had an important influence on some part of your life, and for me that simply did not happen with television…before 2001.

However, it did happen afterwards, signalling a shift in both how my memory operates and how I watch and write about television. I want to focus on the first three shows of the decade that I have distinct memories of watching, and in particular on how well those initial memories have survived the following years (which were not, in fact, entirely kind to these particular series). And while I may have turned on these series to varying degrees as they became inconsistent or went in unsatisfying directions, no amount of criticism can wipe away the memories of watching them for the first time – memories that might not exist before 2001, but most certainly exist for the years which follow.

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Season Premiere: Fringe – “A New Day in the Old Town”

fringetitle3

“A New Day in the Old Town”

September 17th, 2009

From the very beginning, I’ve said that Fringe is a cross between Alias and The X-Files, two shows that were pretty similar to begin with. While The X-Files leaned more towards the blatantly supernatural, both shows dealt with elements of prophecy which linked investigators with the events transpiring, and each dealt with the impact of bureaucracy on such investigations. So when J.J. Abrams created Fringe, in some ways it was an example of a creator taking an element of one of his earlier shows and simply expanding it into a new arena. There is not a huge leap between Rambaldi and the Pattern, and at various point in Fringe’s first season you could see Abrams (along with Orci, Kurtzman, etc.) tweaking the formula in an effort to avoid what happened to Alias, where serialized storytelling overran any chance of the show maintaining a procedural structure.

But at the end of the first season, Fringe truly came into its own. Once the show started more carefully considering the impact of the pattern and really indulging in its serialized side of things, the show picked up a new head of steam. Early complaints about Anna Torv’s performance mostly melted away, and the show should some skill in how it handled the conclusion of Mark Valley’s time on the show and eventually how it introduced the fairly huge development of an alternate universe. By linking said alternate universe both to Peter’s sense of identity and to Walter’s damaged mental state, and by placing the mystery of William Bell directly within it, it became part of the fabric of the show as opposed to tearing it all apart. When we panned out and discovered the Twin Towers still standing in said universe, it was a shocking moment that showed a series very much in control of its own destiny, and not just a collection of leftover ideas from Alias or The X-Files.

And to be honest, I think “A New Day in the Old Town” is probably a far better episode than I’m about to give it credit for, as its ‘big twist’ fundamentally took me out of the episode and right back into feeling as if this is Alias: Part Two for Abrams, in some respects. While parts of the episode really felt like the show that I came to really enjoy at the end of last season, there were other parts which were designed to capture new viewers and to trick unsuspecting viewers into feeling sad, or concerned, or anything else. It’s a trap that is often considered necessary for procedurals (which Fringe technically is), but by delaying the resolution to last season’s cliffhanger and providing a simulation of conflict it felt as if the episode was all about that big twist at the end…and when that was Abrams blatantly ripping himself off, I guess I’m just not as excited about this episode as I expected myself to be back in May.

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