Tag Archives: Amber

“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood? I Have No Bloody Clue.

“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood?

April 20th, 2010

When I was watching last week’s episode of NBC’s Parenthood, in particular the scene where Sarah (Lauren Graham) shares a moment over some Faulkner with Mark, her daughter’s English teacher and twelve years her juniour, I was not surprised. The scene plays out exactly as you would have imagined it would play out as soon as the two characters met, sparks flying over shared metaphors and the romance of literature as their love defies social constructions of age and awakens something inside of them. I was ready to write the scene off as the precise opposite of subtlety, falling into every cliche we could have predicted, but then I heard something in the background…and then my jaw dropped.

It was “In These Arms,” a song by the Swell Season; for those who don’t know, the Swell Season is the moniker under which Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are currently recording music following their Oscar-winning success with Once. However, my jaw did not drop out of simple recognition of this very beautiful and haunting song; rather, it dropped because Hansard and Irglova were at one point in time romantically involved, with eighteen years separating them. It was at that point that I came to a very important conclusion: someone, somewhere, on the staff of Parenthood is screwing with me.

It could be the Music Supervisor, as there is plenty of evidence to indicate that whoever is choosing music for this show is in fact still living in 2006, or it could be the performers, some of whom seem to have made it their life’s work to entirely take away my ability to tell when this show is trying to be serious and when it’s trying to be sarcastic. For every time when I think I finally have Parenthood pinned down, when I grasp at some sort of straw that convinces me that this could some day develop into half the series that Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights became, there’s moments which leap off the screen and just beg me to ridicule, abandon or at times even throttle this series.

And I’m sort of loving it.

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Parenthood – “The Big ‘O'”

“The Big ‘O'”

April 6th, 2010

I am well aware that Parenthood is not a perfect show, oscillating between moments of quiet complication and moments of tidy resolution without really earning the latter, but here I am reviewing it despite being a day “late.”

Part of that is due to the show’s ratings success: settling in at a solid demo rating that actually saw the show best both ABC’s highly-promoted V and CBS’ hit The Good Wife (which skews old), all signs point to the show receiving a second season, which means that any time I invest now will help me chart the show’s growth in the future.

However, most of it is due to the fact that as the show goes along, it continues to become more confident: it isn’t necessarily that much more consistent, but its inconsistencies are sort of moving around. Criticizing the show is in many ways like trying to hit a moving target: it isn’t that a single story is causing all of the show’s problems, but rather there’s always one story that just doesn’t quite add up, or which feels like it’s unfolding in a fashion too beholden to the unavoidable clichés the show’s premise creates. But because that’s never the same story, with the same characters, there’s always something new to talk about both good (in that past problem stories manage to pull off something quite subtle) and bad (in that some other stories take a wrong turn).

“The Big ‘O'” is certainly one of the stronger hours of the series, managing two fairly “big” moments in the show’s serialized narrative in a nice subtle fashion while going a tad bit off the rails with some of the other developments – next week, I’m sure, things will switch all over again, but let’s stick to what we’ve got for now.

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Parenthood – “The Situation”

“The Situation”

March 30th, 2010

Fittingly, subtlety isn’t particularly easy to analyze when it comes to television series. While I would never argue that Parenthood’s morals are subtle, as it tends to go for the blindly emotional over the starkly realistic, I still feel like some of what the show is accomplishing could be considered subtle. Even if things eventually get wrapped up in a neat bow that lays out the circumstances at hand, things always tend to start with a small moment that becomes something more, and so the least subtle of conclusions may still come from subtle origins.

“The Situation” works for most of its run time because the characters aren’t necessarily being driven by clear moral foundations; Drew doesn’t start spending time with Adam and Max because his Dad let him down again, Sarah doesn’t strike up a friendship with Amber’s teacher because of some sort of life problem, and Crosby (while directed by others) manages his paternity situation fairly effectively. In the end, the lessons apparent in each story are drawn to the surface through more direct action, and the show gets as sappy as it always does; however, up to that point, there continues to be enough small moments of subtlety for me to stick with the show for the rest of the season.

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Parenthood – “Wassup”

“Wassup”

March 23rd, 2010

I’m curious what Jason Katims and Co. want us to take away from watching Parenthood. There are times, for example, I think it’s a subconscious argument for group parenting, as any one of the Braverman siblings, on their own, seems to be a legitimately terrible parent to the point where calling in a favour from another part of the family is like second nature to them. There are other times, however, where it tries to serve as a reminder to why parents go through the struggle of raising children, able to have those moments of maturity or peaceful sleep in which parents can awkwardly try to be funny or simply stand there creepily watching their child sleep.

I don’t necessarily think that these are two incongruous ideas, but the problem is that I don’t believe the characters on the show are actually benefitting from any of them. Rather than these stories emerging from who these characters are, “Wassup” was dominated by stories that emerge because the writers wanted to talk about them, and the lack of any sort of build-up or history to the events made it seem like the writers wanted to know how Lorelai Gilmore would deal with the “masturbation” question and what would happen if Nate Fisher had a teenage daughter who started dating.

While there are some fine moments in the episode which indicate that the writers know how to make these storylines resonate, there was nothing to make it feel consistent with the show’s trajectory thus far, making its “everyone learned a lesson” conclusion feel more problematic than in weeks past – I’m not giving up on the show, but I think that they need to find a way to merge story and character in a way which feels less like one big cliche.

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Season Finale: House – “Both Sides Now”

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“Both Sides Now”

May 11th, 2009

You will notice that this is only one of a handful of times that I’ve blogged about House all season. The reasons for that are really quite simple: the show has done very little to compel me to watch it, yet alone write about it, and the longer the season wears on the more weary I become of some of its formula. I wrote about the biggest moment of the season, Kutner’s suicide, but even then it was in an admittedly negative tone: the show is so averse to change, House always being House and the formula always being the same, that any chance to fundamentally change the series always feels like a missed opportunity once you’re a few episodes out.

But the show loves doing season finales, as demonstrated in “Both Sides Now” where we make a ‘shocking’ discovery about the events in last week’s penultimate episode, which featured the long-anticipated (by some) House/Cuddy hookup and more of the return of Anne Dudek as Amber. I love Anne Dudek, and I enjoy the tension between House and Cuddy, but the episode didn’t really do much for me in the end, outside of providing Hugh Laurie with his Emmy reel.

Hopefully, the Emmy voters don’t see the finale which, although containing perhaps the most interesting “case” of the season, felt like more manipulation for the sake of manipulation.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: House – “Wilson’s Heart”

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“Wilson’s Heart”

Season Four, Episode Sixteen

Airdate: May 18th, 2008

House’s fourth season was a needed shakeup of its formula, and presented some of its strongest comedy ever in its opening reality show-esque hunt for a set of new fellows to play sounding board for House’s eccentricities. But the emerging fellows also brought the introduction of Amber, also known as Cutthroat Bitch and, by season’s end, the emotional lynchpin for one of the most powerful episodes in the series.

While some may prefer the loud and dangerous “House’s Head,” focused more on the doctor’s internal struggle to remember the events of the bus crash through dangerous drugs and procedures, “Wilson’s Heart” is where the storyline truly comes together. Learning that it was Amber on that bus raised the stakes considerably, and while the first part of the finale (“Head”) gains greater meaning with this revelation I nonetheless cared less about House (who was tragically partly responsible) than I did about Wilson, who had to bear the brunt of the consequences of his friend’s actions.

While Season Five’s attempts at pairing House and Cuddy have felt similarly broad as something meaningful to the show’s emotional core, like House’s flashback to his injury in “Three Stories,” this episode felt the most tapped into something bigger than the show’s procedural construct. Robert Sean Leonard is often given too little to do on this show, with the focus being divided as it is, but he is fantastic here as a grieving boyfriend and, eventually, a friend who blames House for her death.

The episode is also a goodbye for Anne Dudek’s “CTB,” who may have been too much a female version of House to be his fellow but was too delightful a character to abandon entirely. While the winning fellows may have “won,” added as series regulars and all, Dudek got the most material by far: she was robbed of an Emmy nomination for some great work in this episode (and others), but her emotional farewell was nonetheless one of the show’s highlights through four seasons.

“Wilson’s Heart” is somewhat tainted by the fact that the show has more or less abandoned its ramifications halfway into its fifth season, but let its inclusion in the Time Capsule serve as a reminder for the writers: this is how you craft a storyline where we care about the characters and their consequences, not through giving a boring bisexual doctor a terminal illness and having her flaunt it for everyone to see. That’s not tragic, it’s just surprisingly boring for such destructive behaviour, and at the end of the day the show needs to tap into what they had with Amber before Thirteen can feel like something we should care about.

Let’s hope they listen.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Season Premiere: House – “Dying Changes Everything”

“Dying Changes Everything”

September 16th, 2008

Well, thanks for the obviousness lesson, House. Or, more appropriately, everyone other than House.

After perhaps the most emotionally powerful episodes in the show’s history ending the show’s fourth season, it was easy to romanticize the world of House: we’re supposed to be paying attention to Wilson’s grief process and 13’s reaction to news that her lifespan has been cut in half by Huntington’s disease, but nothing about the season finale really dealt with the show’s other problems. “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart” were two episodes that stand alone as an emotional highpoint, but their fallout is somewhat less groundbreaking.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the show’s choice to investigate reactions to mortality, and there is nothing wrong with House working hard to keep Wilson from leaving the hospital after Amber’s death, but the rest of the episode kind of struggles dealing with the rest of the series. Whereas the finale demonstrated an intense connection between case and character, here the case is quite literally just a pawn in House’s game and, at worst, just a bland cliche to the same degree as Wilson’s desire for a clean start. And the show does nothing to help deal with the imbalance between characters, spending so much time with mortality that it’s continuing to let some of them die off, figuratively speaking.

So while dying is supposed to change everything, it doesn’t appear to change House much at all; while this means that the show is still entertaining, it’s taking its time to get to the point where it can improve on last season’s problems.

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Season Finale – House – “Wilson’s Heart”

“Wilson’s Heart”

May 19th, 2008

Last week, I thought House was style over substance for 55 minutes before, in the final moments, it transcended into something more interesting – suddenly, a rather pointless and indulgent episode took an intensely personal turn, and “Wilson’s Heart” had a lot more dramatic resonance by default. Placing Amber in danger is actually an incredibly smart move, mainly because we really don’t know what will happen.

Anne Dudek has been enough of a revelation as Cutthroat Bitch that keeping her in the cast could be a theoretical option, or at least keeping her alive long enough for her to appear as a recurring character. At the same time, this episode in particular did a great job of escalating tension to the point where Amber’s death could fundamentally change these characters enough to justify the whole selection process that resulted in three new cast members in the first place.

The result is a finale far less interesting or eventful as last week’s finale, but a hell of a lot more tension-filled, and with a lot more dramatic interest – I didn’t really care about House’s head games last week, but this is the most that I’ve cared about a patient on the show in forever. And in a procedural show that is too often self-centered on House, it was great to see a final hour that barely even dealt with his head in favour of Wilson, 13, and more people who really needed their time in the sun.

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