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Season Premiere: Royal Pains – “Spasticity”

“Spasticity”

June 3rd, 2010

If you’re looking for thoughts on the more entertaining of last night’s USA Network premieres, then you’ll want to check out Alan Sepinwall’s review of the fourth season and Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the premiere at The A.V. Club. Ultimately, I’m about in line with Todd on the show: while I still enjoy it, and thought the premiere did some interesting things, I’m finding that I am far less engaged in the series than I once was. While before its scheduling in the summer months seemed like a welcome bit of intellectually-aligned fun, now it just feels like we’re, you know, burnt out on Burn Notice.

But since those gentlemen put such a nice button on the Burn Notice premiere, I wanted to turn my attention to that which came afterwards. If Michael Westen had tied me to a chair and interrogated me for two days, I honestly don’t know if he could have been able to get me to remember what happened at the end of Royal Pains’ first season last summer. I remembered the basic premise of the show, as well as the basic character interactions central to the series, but in terms of an actual plot the closest I could come is “Campbell Scott’s eccentric billionaire has a weird illness that he pulled a Jason Street to try to fix,” which doesn’t exactly constitute a lasting impression considering I relate to it largely through an obscure Friday Night Lights reference.

“Spasticity” is a fine example of both why I plan to keep watching the show and why, in a few months time, I’ll likely forget about everything I watched this summer. While the show has a way of passing the time in a way which I quite admire, it is not what one would call entertaining: there is nothing here to please crowds beyond a compelling guest turn from Kyle Bornheimer and residual love for Arrested Development having fundamentally changed our perception of Henry Winkler, the rest of the series comfortable to sit in a functional but lifeless holding pattern that honestly serves it quite well.

In some ways, I have a certain respect for the show not trying to push itself to be more explicitly engaging, retaining its understated even when it occasionally results in storylines which what one would generally consider “unmemorable.”

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Royal Pains – “Nobody’s Perfect”

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“Nobody’s Perfect”

August 20th, 2009

There’s really two trajectories for USA Network series as they approach the end of their first seasons.

The first is that they find a second gear, discovering another level of their structure where they are able to tell bigger and better stories. Burn Notice, of course, is the quintessential example of this, finding in its season one cliffhanger and then into its second season an entirely new identity that made the best possible use of its characters and setting to deliver some great television.

However, nearly every other USA Network series finds cruise control, that place where they are able to drift along at roughly the same, amiable pace as they began. This doesn’t mean that the shows are boring: I’d place Psych into this category, and I’d argue the show is still pretty fresh despite my refusal to keep watching it (time commitments, is all!). Rather, it means that their sense of identity becomes grounded and simplified in the face of potential expansion, finding a comfortable rhythm with which to become familiar and consistent with viewers.

With its final set of episodes heading into the finale, especially the primary focus of “Nobody’s Perfect,” I think Royal Pains is officially settling into the second category, and I think it’s really the only option. This isn’t a show like Burn Notice that feels like its universe could really expand: the laid back style of the Hampton’s has created a cast of characters who by necessity are not going to present broader threats, and the serialized elements like Hank’s previous firing are handled here almost entirely off-screen and brushed aside (mostly) by the end of the episode.

This is just a simple summer show, and one that has found its stride enough for me to say that it moving into cruise control about now will be enough to keep me watching, if not analyzing week after week.

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Royal Pains – “TB or Not TB”

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“TB or Not TB”

June 25th, 2009

That’s really not the question, Royal Pains.

This won’t be a particularly long review, but I do want to make note that the show is on better footing now that it’s back in chronological order, although it’s still a little bit all over the place with some of its developments. While the show has never seemed to aspire to much beyond its premise, it’s heading into a couple of directions both serialized and procedural that could prove interesting, but won’t quite commit to them enough to make them really stand out.

In the end, though, this one feels like it’s answering some more pressing questions about the show’s format than just the titular Shakespearean medical concern.

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