“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”
June 1st, 2013
When I attended the Television Critics’ Association Winter Press Tour in January, BBC America presented a panel for Orphan Black, a new drama series originating from Canada (where it airs on Space). It was an interesting panel to attend, because none of the critics in the room had no opportunity to watch it: while we were shown a quick trailer to help give us context, most of the questions were actually asking for more information as opposed to specific responses to the series. What we saw looked interesting, and the panel was enjoyable, but it was an exploratory exercise in a space where greater context is necessary to achieve any real insight.
Reading back over the transcript of that panel, and revisiting this fun interview Will Harris did with the three stars in attendance, I couldn’t help but smile. In retrospect, there are plenty of hints there about the show Orphan Black would become: a fearless, balls to the wall science fiction pleasure that’s smart as hell. Co-creator Graeme Manson was asked about the possibility of flashbacks, to which he responded “Yeah, actually, none at all. We really, really like a story that’s like a runaway train that keeps you on the edge of your seat and has you not sure whether the story is going to take a hard left or a hard right.” Tatiana Maslany was asked about the challenge of playing multiple roles, and explained “Yeah, it’s a challenge, the different arcs. You know, there’s so many arcs to it. So it’s a bit of a mind — I keep wanting to say the wrong word.”
The wrong word is the right word in this case: Orphan Black is a mindfuck, and ends its first season with another segment in the runaway train first season, one that becomes four climaxes in one by the time it reaches its conclusion.
Review: Dan for Mayor Season Two
June 5th, 2011
As CTV’s Dan for Mayor – one of my Top 10 shows of 2010, if you non-Canadians remember – returns for its second season, things have changed.
It isn’t just that the eponymous Dan has now officially become mayor of the fictional Wessex, Ontario. The first season was built around that campaign, with all of the show’s characters eventually taking some sort of role in its success. Now, with Dan having taken on the office of Mayor, the challenge facing the show’s writers was how to keep their favorite characters around.
Their solution is more functional than elegant, and it raises a number of interesting questions related to seriality in situation comedies. Treating the first season as a prologue of sorts, tonight’s premiere (airing at 7:30 ET on CTV) wastes no time finding ways to re-establish spaces in which these characters can interact on a regular basis. It’s a transparent re-ordering of the series, one that makes the premiere a bit jarring, but it also transitions the show into something simpler, and more sustainable, than what came before.
And, thankfully, it still manages to be plenty charming in the process.
The Muddled Memory-Making of the 2011 Grammys
February 13th, 2011
Tonight, the Grammy Awards opened with an extended retrospective. As a collection of contemporary female vocalists paid tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, it established that this was a night to reflect on Grammy history. It was a narrative picked up by Miranda Lambert’s performance of “The House That Built Me” later in the show, which she dedicated to those performers who came before (and who appeared on the screens behind her in a nostalgia-tinged multimedia component), and cemented with a “rare performance” from Barbra Streisand and Mick Jagger’s first ever Grammy performance.
However, earlier in the show, Lady Gaga took to the stage to perform her brand new single, “Born this Way.” Although one could claim that this too is a bit of history, given that the song borrows liberally from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” the song premiered only last week. In another performance, a trio of young performers (Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, and B.O.B.) were introduced by Ryan Seacrest as being the next generation of Grammy legends, albeit in a performance which had a definite tinge of nostalgia given Bruno Mars’ black-and-white, Jackson Five throwback performance of “Grenade.”
It’s no secret that the Grammys have long ago stopped being an “awards show,” having transitioned into a concert event so blatantly that everyone noticed (if you’ll forgive me the inversion of a classic Simpsons line). However, during tonight’s show (and especially given the few hours I spent half watching the non-televised portion of the awards online), I realized the degree to which this shift has seemingly been designed to disguise the fact that the Grammys, more than any other awards show, utterly fails at capturing the last year in its respective medium.
And how, despite some unquestionable success at making the show “memorable,” it sort of confounds the notion of memory altogether.
From Artifact to Aimlessness: HIMYM’s “Glitter”
November 18th, 2010
I had originally wanted to have this up the day after “Glitter” aired, but I realized that this would be disadvantageous.
Things that are posted immediately after an episode feel like reviews, and I really don’t want to review “Glitter.” It was a pleasant episode of the series, an often silly bit of comedy that I do not consider an affront to my sensibilities or anything. And so, I do not want this sort of in depth analysis into my frustration with the episode to read like a condemnation of the direction the show has taken Robin Sparkles – this is more a consideration of what has happened, and why it moves away from the character’s origin, than any sort of critical evaluation of this strategy (many, after all, seemed to really enjoy it).
What I want to look as is why some people (myself included) felt this was more than a case of diminishing returns. I was underwhelmed by this episode, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t funny. Rather, it was because the elements of satire and parody which defined Robin Sparkles first introduction were entirely absent, both in terms of the kind of humor the episode focused on (the unintended sexual connotation of nearly every comment) and the way in which the character was deployed.
And, as someone who has already written six thousand words on the series’ construction of Canada through Robin’s past, it’s only natural that I’ve got more to say on the issue after this half-hour.
Misdirected Scorn: Why 18 to Life Deserves Parole
August 3rd, 2010
I am not surprised to learn that critics, as a whole, are not jumping on the bandwagon for 18 to Life, the Canadian comedy which was recently purchased by The CW to fill out part of its summer schedule and which debuts with two back-to-back episodes at 9/8c. I watched and more or less enjoyed the show’s first season when it aired on CBC, but I did it without much emotional attachment, and certainly without any critical analysis (which is why reviews never materialized beyond the pilot). I appreciate some of the series’ choices, and am intrigued by the show it developed into, but it is unquestionably a simple pleasure rather than a complex reinvention of television comedy.
However, I was a surprised to see how many critics have been stuck on the series’ premise, and disappointed to see how many critics are unable to get past the stereotype of Canadian television and summer television as lesser entities in expressing their dislike of the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read pre-air reviews of a series which I’ve seen in its entirety, but most of the series’ reviews ignore the show itself and instead focus on attacking either its origins, its scheduling, or the apparent offensiveness of its premise – while I understand that these are all part of the series’ impact, that these critics have not bothered to watch closely enough to see the kind of show which 18 to Life is becoming seems a disservice to a show which is just trying to be an old-fashioned traditional sitcom.
Which doesn’t make it brilliant, but does make it something that doesn’t deserve this level of scorn.
The Atemporality of The Pillars of the Earth and its Impact on Game of Thrones
July 23rd, 2010
I have never read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, but I have a feeling that it would be a very different experience than this Miniseries.
I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight, even if it may read as one for fans of the book: I can’t know whether or not the miniseries, co-developed by Canada’s The Movie Network and American cable’s Starz, bastardizes Follett’s epic tome, but I do know that the story has been given a linear form which I can’t imagine exists in the original novel. Of course, considering the talent in front of the camera – with Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFayden, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Pill, Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinsent in prominent roles – the miniseries is watchable, and has moments which hint to a greater depth which the series’ pace simply can’t indulge as often as one might like, but in the end one can’t help but feel that this is a miniseries produced by individuals who have too little faith in television as a medium for telling complex stories, choosing to boil down a narrative which would have likely been more engaging had it been left in its original form.
I think this is partially the result of the limitations (or the supposed limitations) of a plot-driven miniseries like this one, but it raises concerns about another upcoming adaptation, HBO’s Game of Thrones, which on paper would face similar problems. That being said, I think that the approach being taken with Game of Thrones is set to face the challenges of adapting this material, while I feel like Pillars of Earth cuts its losses at an early stage and fails to take off as a result.
“The Return of Wheel-o”
June 28th, 2010
While it may not be the best comedy on television, I’d argue that Dan for Mayor makes a strong case for being one of the most confident. While some shows spend their first seasons in a state of becoming, the series seemed to spring fully formed from the minds of Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White – the initial premise had potential which played out throughout the season, and from the beginning it was intertwined with the interpersonal relationships which make the series more than a clever premise. The notion of a lowly bartender running for Mayor as a way to impress his ex-girlfriend offers plenty of potential for humour, but the series has evolved into something much more than that: “The Return of Wheel-o” reflects a season which didn’t shy away from plot development, constantly changing the stakes of the race to the point where the finale gives Dan everything he wanted only to twist once more.
And yet, for a show which refused to rely on stability to tell its stories, Dan for Mayor has been remarkably consistent. It’s an extraordinarily clever show, but it never felt like it became too clever for its own good, its material always working in tandem with its cast in order to present a far more cohesive world than seems possible when presenting three different campaigns along with a number of personal lives. It never seemed like the show struggled under the weight of this challenge, capable from the beginning of managing both political satire and character development without breaking a sweat, and so I figure I should spend some time discussing what was a really enjoyable season of television.
Which, you know, 99% of you haven’t seen.