November 30th, 2010
The performance episodes of Glee have been pretty universally strong: both “Sectionals” and “Journey” avoided relying purely on spectacle, delivering episodes which consolidate season-long developments. The first episode confirmed that New Directions could survive without Will and come together as a team, while “Journey” brought both Sue’s relationship with New Directions and Rachel’s relationship to Finn to a triumphant close.
“Special Education” is notable in that it is the first performance episode that doesn’t serve as any sort of ending. With “Sectionals” positioned as the closing hour of the show’s original 13-episode order (and filmed before the show became an established hit), and with “Journey” as the first season finale, there was always a sense of closure. By comparison, “Special Education” isn’t even closing out the first part of the season (the Christmas episode airs next week), which means that the event is going to be considerably less climactic than what we’ve seen before.
While not perfect, I quite like what Brad Falchuk and Paris Barclay did with this hour. A self-reflexive deconstruction of the balance between the individual and the group within the series, the episode lacks subtlety but resists the urge to smooth over its various conflicts. While the show doesn’t quite commit to the character drama to the point where it avoids the cheery group number at episode’s end, I thought it had some legitimately interesting insight into what that balance means to the series. The spirit of the show may not be broken, but there are enough cracks in the armor that “Special Education” successfully delivers spectacle and transition without resolving anything.
Allowing for the Christmas denouement next week.
“The Damage You’ve Done”
October 13th, 2010
When Cougar Town changed (for the better), it could have completely ignored its past: considering that Jules dating younger men was a failure, there was every ability for the show to just pack up and move on.
However, while the show did change its focus to the community developing amongst the characters, “The Damage You’ve Done” actively unearths the show’s past. Jules runs into one of her ex-boy toys, someone who I had completely forgotten existed, and the show returns to an event that I had no recollection of which it could have swept under the rug.
And yet, in some ways it’s Lawrence and Biegel showing off: they’re sticking their tongue out at the skeptics, proving that the community they’ve developed is strong enough to withstand explosive secrets. However, at the same time, the episode is not without its consequences, maintaining the sense of weight that the show has carried even as it has established its casual atmosphere.
Breaking Up is “____” to Do
May 14th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
I watched seven episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season in a single day, and came to an important realization: I didn’t really want to stop.
Yes, this week’s posts have been particularly tough to write because most the episodes have been really strong, and there are some interesting things at play that I know I want to be able to comment on but that I don’t necessarily want to stop in order to comment on.
What I’ve decided to do is take a look at how some of the show’s recurring elements throughout these episodes are handled, as I think it’s the best way to get to each episode without writing about each individually (which just isn’t something I have time for, at least not right now). In the process, I’ll effectively review all seven of them in some capacity, but I’m hoping that the connections between episodes (not necessarily in theme so much as structure or technique) will add some additional value.
The first thing that we need to discuss in the stretch between “Homecoming” and “Gingerbread” is the way the show lays the groundwork for Xander and Willow’s indiscretions and the consequences therein. While Angel and Buffy’s relationship (which I’ll get to when I look at “Amends” in a bit more detail on Sunday) has mythology on its side, Xander/Cordelia and Willow/Oz are both normal teenage relationships, although ones which have their own complications. The show seemed to shut the door on Xander and Willow earlier on, so to reopen it is going to take a bit of work, and this series of episodes does a couple of subtle things in order to create the circumstances where the dissolution of these relationships is both logical and heartbreaking, and shows how attempts to reconcile the relationships are in their own way just as complicated as Angel and Buffy’s struggles with curse and prophecy.
“The Spaghetti Catalyst”
May 3rd, 2010
I was complaining earlier tonight that How I Met Your Mother never properly played out the post-relationship awkwardness for Barney and Robin, so it feels strange to be commending The Big Bang Theory for not trying to elide the consequences of Leonard and Penny’s breakup in the last original episode (which seems like it was forever ago).
However, I shouldn’t be surprised: the show loves awkwardness, especially when it is at the expense of its geeky characters, so of course they’re going to revel in Leonard’s self-pity for a while. However, the show ended their relationship because they were tired of it, so it’s no big surprise that “The Spaghetti Catalyst” isn’t actually an episode about Leonard or Penny. Instead, it becomes a Sheldon episode, giving Jim Parsons some solid material as he finds himself trapped between his best friend and someone who he has put too much effort accommodating into his life for him to stop being friends with her.
The result, eventually, is a return to the pre-relationship status quo, an eventuality that I’m okay with in the end but which I thought required one shortcut too many at the expense of the character who made the episode so watchable.
“The Wheaton Recurrence”
April 12th, 2010
There are two things that the Big Bang Theory isn’t particularly good at, and they include handling serious dramatic situations within its comic tone and the integration of guest stars beyond their initial appearance. The show has always shied away from any sort of realistic emotional tensions in favour of a cheap joke, and characters like Christine Baranski’s Dr. Hofstadter were novel upon their first appearance and felt like a big ol’ sitcom cliche in their next.
“The Wheaton Recurrence” does little to change either of these facts, even if one could argue that there was positive momentum on the emotions front. There’s a difference, ultimately, between actually dealing with emotions and featuring emotions in a major storyline: while this episode forces Penny and Leonard to consider the state of their relationship, it’s something the show should have done a long time ago, and something that we should have seen some evidence of in earlier episodes. Nothing about their revelations feels particularly natural, and the lack of either a rising action or a proper denouement makes any sort of “event” in the episode seems like a wasted opportunity.
Which, I guess, is preferable to a waste of time.
“The Importance of Being Erica”
December 8th, 2009
Going into its second season, Being Erica was a show about one person. But, with a slight expansion of its universe, the show had the potential to become about people beyond Erica, for her journey to become less about her own problems and more life’s problems. The show’s therapy conceit, driving characters to revisit their past in order to offer perspective on their lives, isn’t something that is isolated to one character, and in some ways Erica revisiting her greatest regret (her brother’s death) meant that the show would need to find its emotional core elsewhere. Erin Karpluk will always be very charming, and the show’s structure is a nice procedural element to drive the show forward, but Erica no longer had a “purpose” all season, and at times it felt as if the season was actively ignoring the expansion of its universe (which I found really intriguing) in favour of telling stories that, well, didn’t matter.
The season’s solution to this problem was to introduce Kai, a futuristic barista with a deep secret, and to spend two episodes delving into Dr. Tom. And while the latter resulted in a real tonal shift for the show that worked to its advantage, Kai didn’t work in the beginning like the show wants to believe it did at the end. Sebastian Pigott is a decent actor and a solid singer, able to pull off the role in a way that makes us invested in Kai’s journey, but the show was never consistent on what that journey meant. The show never let us see Kai’s journey through a perspective other than Erica’s, never allowed us to relate to him in a way that makes his story stand separate from his relationship with Erica. And yet, until the end, Erica never felt logically connected to Kai beyond their shared therapy strategies, and the story just never clicked in the way it could have.
“The Importance of Being Erica” is a strong finale that wants to pretend that the show figured all of this out, and that the season worked in a way that led to Erica’s emotional and career realizations. That’s stretching too far, but it’s another sign that even in its occasional problems there is a very good show that occasionally comes to the surface here (and that, if the show learned its lessons, could dominate in the third season).
November 16th, 2009
Last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother proved enormously divisive, despite the fact that for the most part most critics read the episode itself in much the same way. For example, Todd VanDerWerff and I both liked elements of the episode, but our overall impressions of the episode were fundamentally different. He chose to believe that the writers still have more in store for Robin and Barney, the episode representing just a bump in the road, whereas I chose to assume the worst and believe that the writers had truly bungled the conclusion of this relationship that still had a lot of mileage in it.
In the end, Todd convinced me that I was perhaps being too hasty to judge where the show was going, but forgive me if “The Playbook” doesn’t somewhat prove my point. If the writers dumped Robin and Barney’s relationship so quickly because they were that desperate to be able to tell stories where Barney gets to be his usual, philandering self, then it feels like the sort of regressive move that I thought the show was above. This episode could have worked within the context of their relationship had the show been willing to do so (I’ll explain how after the jump), but the end of the episode confirms that Barney has reverted to a one-dimensional caricature and Robin is already moving on.
And while the show is certainly more clever than your average sitcom, that sort of character regression is the sort of thing that I call out other shows for – as such, this is another disappointing episode for me.