“Go Big or Go Home”
January 20th, 2011
According to Leslie Knope, the job of the Parks department of Pawnee is to “make this town fun for the people who live here.” Of course, considering that the Pawnee government was shut down at the conclusion of the series’ second season, this is a more difficult job than it used to be – there’s only one program, and the rest of the department is in “maintenance mode.”
Leslie Knope does not do maintenance. She needs a project, somewhere to channel her earnest energy towards the betterment of her town. Leslie needs a pit to fill, a gazebo to save, or a Freddy Spaghetti concert to rescue from a government collapse. She didn’t marry two gay penguins because she wanted to make a statement, she did it because it would be cute, and because it could be something fun. What the second season of Parks and Recreation established so wonderfully was why Leslie Knope does the things she does, and that it all boils down to making Pawnee a great place to live is what makes her so likeable.
Alan Sepinwall has already written about how the storyline introduced in “Go Big or Go Home” served as a metaphor for the season as a whole, with the Parks department on hiatus much like the show itself, so I want to focus more on how this episode is structured to make this show fun for the people who watch it. Even while being “burdened” with the set up for the Harvest Festival arc, and reestablishing the series’ balance following the arrival of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, “Go Big or Go Home” is unabashedly fun in a way that signals a truly great series that continues to swing the hardest.
November 8th, 2010
To check in on a show you haven’t watched for a while is always a bit disarming, but being as media saturated as I am sort of softens the blow. I think the last time I watched House regularly was early in its fifth season, since then tuning in for special episodes (like “Broken” and “Wilson”) where the internet suggested it would be worth my time. However, because I spent so much of my time surrounded by people who do keep watching the show, I get bits and pieces: I wasn’t shocked to see Thirteen missing, for example, and I was thankfully prepared for the alarming sight of Cuddy pressing her lips against House’s lips (I think they call it kissing? It was icky).
And yet, the whole point of House is that we’re supposed to be able to jump right in, especially in an instance like “Office Politics” where a new character (and subsequently a slightly new dynamic) is being introduced. Amber Tamblyn’s arrival as Masters, who effectively replaces Thirteen since Olivia Wilde is off becoming a movie star, is not the seismic shift that perhaps the show needs to enter back onto my radar full time, but the episode has just enough dynamism to feel like an event for those of us who appreciate Tamblyn and like to imagine a world where House remains a relevant television program.
Of course, at the same time, the sheer similarity of the formula means that stepping back out is just as easy as one might imagine.
April 13th, 2010
I considering myself an appreciator of Glee, one of the few “deconstruction-focused” critics who has been writing about the show in a dedicated fashion (some weeks, it’s just Todd and I), but I don’t like that being a “fan” has become an all-or-nothing proposal. I can like the show while admitting that it has some pretty considerable flaws, but it seems like FOX’s promotional blitz has very clearly divided those who are chugging the kool-aid and those who are sipping it politely and discussing the sugar to water ratio, and as someone who falls in the latter category I can already sense that this is becoming one of those shows where any sort of indepth, negative review is going to be attacked for “missing the point of the show” and the like from some – but not, of course, all – viewers of the show.
This is unfortunate because I think how Glee tries to accomplish its goals is actually far more interesting than the goals themselves, as the balance between music and dialogue, or comedy and drama, or fantasy and reality all create some very intriguing problems that Ryan Murphy and Co. have to deal with on a weekly basis. That the show isn’t always successful shouldn’t be a surprise considering the volatile elements it chooses to take on each week, and the idea that its can-do spirit or its exuberance can account for its occasional missteps is the sort of romantic notion that only works in the show’s universe, not in ours.
“Hell-O” is a strong season premiere not because of the hype, or because of the musical numbers that the show chooses, but because those musical numbers are very well focused, the introduction of new characters is well-handled, and the thematic parallels are useful enough that the contrivances necessary to create them are forgivable. After a closure-heavy conclusion that wrapped things up too neatly, the show manages to complicate things quite effectively as it prepares for what appears to be a lengthy run – forgive me if I don’t let the show run around the hurdles every week.
“Here Comes My Girl”
November 25th, 2009
Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, which when deployed in television does one of three things. The first is to emphasize the cohesiveness of a particular group of characters who work seamlessly when brought into the same setting. The second is to emphasize the sheer chaos that results from the show’s personalities coming together, to either comic or dramatic purposes. The third, meanwhile, is to demonstrate that the show is a convoluted mess where bringing the characters together is a futile exercise that will fail to provide interesting television.
What’s helpful for ABC’s 9pm comedies is that both of them have built their identity around the idea of family, to the point where bringing the gang together is like second nature to the two shows. Cougar Town has really started to charm me as of late, and “Here Comes My Girl” is yet another fine episode that brings together this group of individuals into a family of sorts that’s just an enormous amount of fun to watch bounce off of each other. And “Fizbo” is perhaps my favourite Modern Family episode yet, taking advantage of the chaos at the heart of this family and bringing things to a satisfying (and also sort of sweet) conclusion.
It made for a really comforting hour of television comedy, which is what the timeslot has been providing (on average) all season.
“Doris is Dead; Are We Rich or Are We Poor?”
August 8th, 2009
When it comes to shows like Hung (and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie), I’ve begun to fall behind on my blogging – in fact, since the show’s pilot, this is the first time I’ve even written about Hung. I’ve likely dropped a few notes on Twitter, but at the end of the day there has been something about this show that has kept me from writing about it.
Part of it is that the two critics I respect the most, Alan Sepinwall and Todd VanDerWerff, are both reviewing the show on a regular basis – in most instances I like to add my own voice to the chorus, but when I’ve found myself quite busy I tend to only rush to get a review out if I have something to say that feels distinct and not just a general “here’s what happened, here’s how it fits into the show’s formula” post. They are both doing that and more each week, so if I don’t feel particularly inclined to post I’m far less likely to.
And that’s been the problem with Hung, really – I’ve never watched an episode that’s made me absolutely want to sit down and blog about it, which isn’t to say that I haven’t been enjoying the show. Rather, it seems like it took a while to really find itself, and to find the kind of storylines that felt less like Ray and the show searching out their identity and more like the show questioning both Ray and our own preconceptions about the premise. And while I think there were some solid episodes over the past few weeks, “Doris is Dead…” really hits home in terms of presenting a legitimately compelling (if expedient) scenario wherein Ray’s new employment is complicated in a way that feels both dangerous and complex.
Beginning with Jemma’s arrival last week, played for Comedy as Ray was forced to repeat the same experience over and over again, we got that scenario, and here we saw the show delve into equal parts sports cliche and complex sexual relationships in an effort to further emphasize just how problematic this new role could become for all involved.