March 25th, 2011
The greatest test of a critic’s demeanor towards a particular program is how they respond to its renewal.
When Fringe was picked up on Thursday, there were two primary responses among critics. The first was excitement: many had written off Fringe after it was banished to Fridays by a network with a reputation for injustices related to science fiction programming, and so an early renewal (rather than a tense upfront decision) was a revelation.
If I’m being honest, though, my response was more on the side of cynical. My first thought was what would need to change to justify the renewal, and what kind of story/casting changes might be necessary in order to facilitate this renewal. I think part of this is just my inner pragmatist, wanting to be realistic about the obvious compromises that will need to be made as Fringe shifts from a show Fox wants at a 2.0 to a show Fox will renew at a 1.5. However, I can’t lie and suggest that my cynicism is not partially the result of some trepidation regarding the show’s more recent story developments.
“Bloodline” seems an ideal episode to air directly after the renewal, given that this is the kind of episode that the show might no longer be able to do. While I think it might be premature to suggest that a cash-strapped fourth season will result in the end of Over There’s role within the series’ overarching storyline, I think it is fairly safe to claim that spending a quarter of the season in an entirely different world populated by different characters may be lost.
And I hope they don’t think that plot can make up for the loss of atmosphere.
“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”
March 17th, 2011
Earlier today, Community was renewed for a third season. And during tonight’s episode, critic (and friend of the blog) Jaime Weinman tweeted the following: “maybe now that Community is safe I can enjoy watching it w/o feeling guilty about not loving it.”
While I like the show more than Jaime, I’ll admit that various circumstances have conspired to make me less of a fan than many others. Part of this is a busy Thursday schedule which largely keeps me from writing about the show, which means that it’s often the next day before I get a chance to watch. However, I think it’s also a sense that the show has been somewhat hard to pin down this year, consistently raising questions (like “The Problem of Pierce,” discussed in numerous locales over the past month or so) in a way that I think is very interesting but has threatened to keep me at arm’s length.
In some ways, I had the opposite response as Jaime: was it possible that I was resisting the urge to be more critical of the show because of its uncertain future? Perhaps its renewal would awaken underlying frustrations that had been suppressed in solidarity, revealing that my general appreciation for the show was being challenged by growing concerns over its direction.
It’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t think “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” is the episode to test the theory. A simple, effective half-hour of television, this week’s episode of Community sticks to the basics and forms a perfect release for those fans no longer fretting about being on the bubble: it’s sharp, it’s charming, and it’s light on Pierce.
February 15th, 2011
There is nothing wrong with Justin Bieber.
Maybe it’s just my Canadian pride, but the kid is inoffensive to the point of being sort of charming. Especially recently, given his playful send-ups of his celebrity on The Daily Show and a bunch of other late night series, I’ve generally liked him, and while I wouldn’t say his music is exactly my taste I will say that it has a certain charm. He’s not a particularly wonderful singer, but that’s not really the point, and so the cultural vitriol surrounding him confounds me at points.
There are, however, plenty of things wrong with the Justin Bieber phenomenon. The problem isn’t Bieber himself, but what he has come to represent, and his cultural ubiquity relative to his actual talent (which is not “insignificant,” but is not exactly befitting his success). And it seems almost impossible to separate the latter from the former, to see the decent kid behind the phenomenon: while Never Say Never as a film might actually do a lot to humanize Bieber, the very idea of a teenager receiving a 3D Concert documentary only fuels the impression that his fame has gotten out of control.
In case you haven’t figured it out, Glee is a lot like Justin Bieber. At some level, there is a basic competence, a potential to be something entertaining: at a more macro-level, however, the Glee phenomenon has become an epic distraction, infringing on our enjoyment of the series on a regular basis.
On some level, “Comeback” should be seen as a return to basics: like episodes like “Duets” or even last week’s “Silly Love Songs,” the Glee club receives a simple theme and is asked to perform numbers relating to them. However, while those episodes felt united in their loose themes, there was no such unity to be found here. The result is a scattershot and problematically ephemeral hour which succeeded only in laying out some basic exposition for where the show will be headed in the weeks ahead.
And that’s not exactly looking like a “Comeback.”
January 31st, 2010
Last week, I stressed the need for there to be something approaching textual analysis of the U.S. Skins, given that the hype has threatened to overwhelm the show itself. However, that made a lot of sense for “Tea” – that episode, caught up in questions of how the show was being adapted for American audiences, highlighted intriguing intertextuality between the two series. When it comes to “Chris,” though, I can’t help but struggle to find anything substantial to say: it’s a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original episode, to the point where analyzing it at length feels redundant considering my familiarity with the UK series.
What I will say is that while “Chris” is far from perfect, suffering in much the same way as the rest of the series when direct comparisons to the UK series are made, it still works. It still serves that function of taking a character who had little nuance and giving them nuance, still convinces us that this is a show driven by character despite the sense that it has been defined by controversy. The show is starting with a handicap, but it can honestly only get better from here.
Although, there were a few changes along the way which gave me pause.
September 20th, 2010
Look, I was pretty harsh on How I Met Your Mother last season, but it was harshness which stemmed from love: I care about these characters, so to see their individual arcs subjected in order to make way for standalone stories which fought against the series’ greatest, if not only, strength (its serialized elements) was unfortunate.
Now, I’m not one of those people who believes that the show needs to spend more time discussing the Mother: in fact, I am more or less completely uninterested in that storyline, other than the fact that it largely allows “wistful romantic Ted” to emerge and I’ve got a soft spot for that particular characterization. Rather, my issue is that I need the character to feel like they’re evolving, that they’re reaching a point in their lives when they are considerably less aimless than when they began. My problem, then, is less that Barney and Robin split up, and more that they split up and went back to fairly reductive versions of their respective characters.
“Big Days” is an intelligent premiere in that it keeps things decidedly simple: other than yet another future milestone that we can start counting down the days until, the episode creates a small scenario which speaks to the series’ past, present and future without feeling too strained. Nothing it does feels particularly monumental, but the episode nonetheless captures the sense of purpose that the show was missing for the bulk of last season.
Which, if it holds, will be a welcome return to form.
May 24th, 2010
How I Met Your Mother has always been a show about ideas: the central premise of the show is more complex and philosophical than your traditional sitcom, leaning on themes of fate and narrative which are not necessarily what one would call common comedy fare. However, it was also a show where things happened within the thematic realm, where characters felt like they were making decisions and potentially heading “off course” from our expectations.
In its fifth season, HIMYM has lost that dynamism, as seen in a finale where nothing that happens feels of any consequence. “Doppelgangers” has a plot, and some “big” things happen in the series’ realm, but none of it feels organic or noteworthy. Instead, the episode feels like a rumination on the idea of controlling your own fate which just happens to relate to things characters happen to be experiencing at this point in time.
And while I still value that part of the series’ identity, and still appreciate these characters, the heart of the series has been notably absent in what I would easily call the show’s weakest season, and unfortunately “Doppelgangers” does nothing to change this even while providing one of the emotional moments we’ve been anticipating since early in the series’ run.
“Robots vs. Wrestlers”
May 10th, 2010
With its timey-wimey narrative, How I Met Your Mother usually tends to join traditions and ongoing storylines at a point somewhere along the road rather than at the very beginning. So when “Robots vs. Wrestlers” starts talking about the eponymous event being a tradition, it seems premature, but that’s part of the episode’s conceit: the very idea of it is too awesome not to become a tradition, and that’s something that Barney (especially) is concerned with as the group discusses their different trajectories in the wake of Robin trying things out with Don.
I like a lot of what the episode is trying to accomplish, showing each character enough of a potential life without this group to make them both understand their desire to have a life of their own and how important their friends are, so I think this is ultimately a good step for the series. I do think, though, that there were a couple of points in the episode which seemed underdeveloped, like the focus was spread out so much in the episode that details were overlooked that kept it from becoming an outright classic.
March 4th, 2010
I don’t have a whole lot to say about “The Delivery” on its own, to be honest with you: as I am not one of those who have turned on Jim and Pam, or someone who feels that their relationship has anything to do with the show’s creative downturn this season (after all: they were all but married last season and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc was pure gold), I was charmed by the birth of young Cecilia Marie Halpert, which was heartwarming and emotional and all of those things.
I’m with Alan Sepinwall in that the episode sort of lost all of its momentum in the latter half, and rather than repeat his thoughts (all of which I agree with) I thought I’d consider the scheduling ramifications here. As I was discussing with Jaime Weinman on Twitter, I think the interesting thing here is the “Part 2” is unquestionably the weaker episode, but in what position is it the least weak? The Office is a show with a fairly impatient fanbase, and I think that “Part 2” likely played better as a weak second-half here than it would have next week, a slight blight on an otherwise well-executed storyline rather than another weak episode in an average season.
December 9th, 2009
“Winning could make everything good for a while.”
I do not understand the rules of the Sectional Show Choir competition, nor do I know exactly what comes after it in New Directions’ journey. Glee is a show that despite being about what seems like a shockingly bureaucratic existence (with sponsorship disqualifications and everything) wants absolutely nothing to do with that complexity, and as such “Sectionals” boils down to the above: if they win, things will be better.
But what Glee has been doing all season is hiding inherently sombre stories beneath the shiny gloss of over-produced musical numbers. Rachel Berry soars every time she takes the stage, but beneath that surface she has no friends and feels like that’s never going to change. Quinn gets up to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and yet her pregnancy is a source of constant anxiety as she knows how much Finn will be hurt when he, eventually, figures out the truth. And Will Schuester used Glee as a distraction from a marriage in tatters, dancing and mashing up songs when he should have been communicating and patching up his relationship with Terri (and, you know, touching her stomach and discovering her lie earlier).
I’ve accepted, at this point, that Glee’s delayed reaction to some of its early problems (including its somewhat mean-spirited comedy and the aforementioned fake baby storyline) is inherently part of its characters’ journeys – the show is awkward because teenagers are awkward, and it’s inconsistent because high school is inherently impulsive and volatile. And while I am far from suggesting that the show has been perfect this season, I at least feel like the journey it has taken with these characters is consistent with its investigation of what happens when the world of show choir intertwines with a collection of diverse personalities for the sake of both comedy and drama.
As such, “Sectionals” works as a finale precisely because it has no romantic notions about what “Sectionals” is: this is not a simple celebration of musical talent, nor a simple culmination of any one character’s journey. It’s a neon band-aid that makes a wound look a whole lot prettier, capable of healing those wounds but also capable of being ripped off and leaving scars that no neon band-aid will ever be able to fix. It’s an hour of television that highlights life’s futility while celebrating its transcendence, never once suggesting that one will ever cancel out the other.
And it’s a rather fantastic end to what has been a fascinating (if not quite consistently amazing) first thirteen episodes for the show they call Glee.
November 25th, 2009
Last week, I had an extensive Twitter conversation with Jace Lacob about Glee, and the argument boiled down to the question of whether or not the show’s characters were one-dimensional. And what was interesting is that Jace and I don’t disagree: the show’s characters are, on occasion, blindly one-dimensional. However, I argued that the show is still in its infancy, and that considering its identity crisis it’s actually doing a decent job of slowly sketching out its characters.
However, I do think that one of the show’s problems is its decision to have characters waver between substantial character development and broad archetypes week by week. While a show like Friday Night Lights, with a similar ensemble cast of characters that often move in and out of the show’s narrative, is dealing with fairly grounded and realistic characters, Glee is slowly humanizing caricatures. And as a result, you have a character like Artie fluctuating from a handicapped student struggling to relate to his classmates to a random background character in a wheelchair, which feels false. Rather than the character development compounding over time, changing the way the show’s dynamics operate, the exact opposite is happening: while individual episodes give Kurt or Quinn or Puck storylines that expand on their identity, outside of the main serialized storyline (Finn and Quinn’s baby) they revert back to their original modes.
It creates a sense that, for a show which is at its best when characters are being developed and explored in a concentrated fashion, the plots of the show itself don’t actually seem to be changing in kind, and the show reverts back to a farcical comedy more often than not. At the heart of “Hairography” is the fairly simple premise that beneath the distractions we create for ourselves is a sense of our true identity, as various characters test out potential distractions only to find that their heart takes them in a different direction.
However, Glee is a show that is all about distractions, and while this individual episode may have peeled everything back to show the supposed true colours of the various characters the show is never going to stop delivering show-stopping musical numbers or interjecting random musical sequences into largely unrelated scenes. The result is an episode that, rather than representing a legitimate step forward for the series, only draws attention to some of its long-term, cumulative limitations: it can tug at the heartstrings and build character when it wants to, but this is never going to start being a show about twelve kids singing on stools.
Especially not with a fake pregnancy storyline hanging over it.