“At World’s End”
June 15th, 2009
To signal the end of the world, there are various signs of the apocalypse, things which let you know that doom is imminent. To signal the end of a season of Greek, though, you know that Casey and Cappie are about to become intertwined, Rusty will face some sort of crisis, and some sort of major fraternity/sorority event will take place.
However, what always impresses me about Greek is how the various parts all come together in such a way that feels far more organic than it has any right to, and with greater meaning than one would expect the show to aspire to. Sure, the episode had its comic subplot (Rusty and Dale’s altered purity pledge), but for the most part it tackles the fates of the siblings Cartwright with just the right amount of interconnectivity, and with perhaps the show’s most focused lens yet in terms of sidelining supporting players.
Combined with tying up a few loose ends, “At World’s End” isn’t the end for this show by a long shot, but it takes the episode’s theme and runs with it to the point of really encapsulating where these characters sit within the world of Cyprus-Rhodes university. And although there aren’t too many “critics” covering the show on a regular basis, it also proves how a combination of cultural relevance and self-awareness have made this without question the strongest teen-focused dramedy on the air.
“Isn’t it Bromantic?”
June 1st, 2009
I had planned to blog about this week’s episode of Greek on Monday when it aired, but as it turned out I had already written thoughts on both Chuck and Conan O’Brien’s first Tonight Show, and I didn’t want to create an overload of sorts. But then, as I moved into the next few days, I had no other material to blog about, but just never got back to this week’s episode.
To be honest, I kind of liked “Isn’t it Bro-mantic?” on a number of levels, primarily because it catered to my own opinion of these characters quite slavishly. By placing Casey at the depths of patheticness, the show portrayed as being the revolving third wheel of doom, which I totally see as a dominant character trait for her when she’s not coupled off with someone. I’d normally think this is annoying, but since the show so willingly paints a picture of Casey as selfish and close-minded in the face of the situation, it’s actually quite realistic and honest.
Don’t have a whole lot to say about the episode, but figured I’d drop a few thoughts after the jump.
“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception”
May 22nd, 2009
There’s an argument to be made that Party Down is the season’s strongest new comedy, and it’s one that has become progressively easier to make as the season continues. Not to disparage Better Off Ted (which is good but not particularly revolutionary), or The United States of Tara (which was a drama before it was a comedy, realistically speaking), but this out of nowhere Starz series from Rob Thomas and John Enbom simply presented the most complete comedy to debut. A strong ensemble cast is supported by a series of constantly changing party scenarios, ranging from the ridiculous to the personal, where recognizable actors show up as guest stars to complicate the lives of the characters involved; it doesn’t sound too complicated when you really think about it, but it’s essentially an absurdist procedural dark comedy series, and one that has been remarkably consistent.
“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception” is a strong way to end such a consistent season, if not the show’s best episode: like many other comedies, the show is often as its most effective when dealing with heavier dramatic material but at the same time can lose something of its essence. The presence of Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) helps to elevate the finale from a comic level, and Jennifer Coolidge’s continuing guest stint in place of Jane Lynch brings something fun to the table, but this episode is far less about the scenario than it is about the characters. While the series has often ignored the reality of catering in order to allow the characters to mingle about and face little to no actual work, here the whole point is that there is real work: this is the real world, and if you can’t take the heat get out of the barn.
And by the end of the episode, everyone but Henry sort of does.
“Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh”
May 8th, 2009
Outside of some belated thoughts on the series’ pilot, I haven’t spent much time blogging Starz’s Party Down – things have been pretty busy during a majority of its run, and I ended up falling a bit behind before catching up a few weeks ago. Plus, the critics received the entire season ahead of time, so Alan Sepinwall (in particular) has been posting highly detailed reviews every week that, combined with the series’ remarkable consistency, have made my own desire to write about the show fairly minimal.
But “Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh” was just so damn genius that I had to put in my two cents about the ways in which it was emblematic of the best qualities of the season’s strongest new comedy (sorry, Better Off Ted). The show follows a pretty basic formula, taking its cast of characters and placing them into a new ridiculous setting each week. This, in and of itself, makes the series feel particular fresh: because it doesn’t follow the traditional sitcom model of focusing on a single place or particular atmosphere, the show is able to vary its storytelling and its focus from episode to episode, and the characters are able to have a broad range of experiences without the show feeling too gimmicky.
What really makes an episode like this one work, though, is the way in which setting and character interact. The setting was perhaps the series’ most outlandish, a Russian mafia “celebration” of a mobster’s acquital for murder, with a ridiculous guest performance by Steven Weber that still has me laughing. However, the reason the episode was so strong is how much this appealed to the side of these characters that they’re forced to hold back while working as cater waiters: by tapping into their desire to be celebrities, or their highly active imaginations, everyone but Ron were able to at least partially enter into that part of their lives that being a cater waiter was supposed to make impossible, and out of fear for his own life Ron has to let it happen.
There are very few comedies on television were the most fundamentally ridiculous of scenarios can actually say more about characters than something inherently dramatic, and Party Down can certainly enter that club with this gem.
“Chuck vs. the Ring”
April 27th, 2009
“Go with your heart, buddy – our brains only screw things up.”
In considering “Chuck vs. the Ring,” a title with two very different meanings, I think it’s important that we acknowledge just how amazing the accomplishment of the Chuck staff is when it comes to pulling off some of the most expansive material for a dramedy of this nature.
The first half of this episode is more or less an episode in its own right, one laden with numerous jokes, an amazing appearance by Jeffster, and what feels like a climax in and of itself. What is interesting is that, by the end of the episode, that storyline felt miles away, overshadowed by an amazingly epic conclusion that potentially changed everything. However, simultaneously, it was highly memorable and containing some of the best jokes in the episode. But when those elements would have felt overbearing, such as during that epic conclusion, they faded effortlessly into the background, never feeling separate but also never feeling like they were fighting in the same space.
It’s such an amazing balancing act, and when everyone in the cast is on fire, and when the writing is off the charts, and when Jeffster soundtracks an entire sequence with “Mr. Roboto,” it’s an example of how Chuck may not aim as high as some of the stronger dramas on television, or embrace absurdity as much as some of the biggest comedies, but in doing what it does I don’t feel there is a single other show that is this capable of executing this level of brilliance.
Forget about save Chuck – let’s praise Chuck for a while, and think with our hearts instead of our brains.
“Chuck vs. the Dream Job”
April 6th, 2009
Chuck Bartowski really only wants one thing in life: to get the intersect out of his head. However, at the same time, there are things that he needs in his life that always take precedence, his relationship with his sister being one of them. The show has always played it fast and loose as it relates to the way in which Chuck’s life as a CIA asset interacts with his domestic sphere, but in this episode there is little to no Buy More, and we find instead the convergence between Chuck’s most pressing desire and his most constant duty.
The way “Chuck vs. the Dream Job” handles this is, for the most part, predictably solid: this is not a revolutionary hour for the series, both in how the episode was plotted and the level to which anyone with half a brain called its “big reveal” as soon as Orion came on the scene. However, the show deserves a lot of credit for turning the predictable into the effective, and for doing a bangup job with casting as expected: both Scott Bakula, late of NBC’s Quantum Leap, and Chevy Chase provide that ideal combination of levity and potential menace to their respective characters.
It’s also another sign that Zachary Levi perhaps deserves more credit than he gets for his role on the show – that he is able to switch from comic pratfalls to realistic romantic drama to this week’s quite nuanced self-discovery demonstrates that the show’s star is far from a one-trick pony. And while I love the show’s comedy, and appreciate its romance, I often like it best when it finds itself in the family dynamics, the drama built less on drawn out tension and more on the idea that this character was someone before he was the intersect, before his life was a TV show; and it’s that sense that convinces me above all else that a TV show should be his future as well.
“Chuck vs. the Beefcake”
March 2nd, 2009
Two weeks ago, I spent a great deal of my review discussing what I feel is Chuck’s achilles heel, the relationship between Chuck and Sarah. I want to clarify that I am not against their pairing: Levy and Strahovski have great chemistry, both actors can bring great dramatic material to the table, and the show is often at its best when it is delving into their relationship. No, the problem is not the characters themselves, but rather the show’s lack of movement in terms of their relationship.
It’s becoming a cliche, in other words, and this episode was ultimately no different: just as Bryce interrupted their relationship by returning to the scene, and just as Jill’s return earlier in the season turned the tables on Sarah, here we saw an MI-6 agent weasel his way into their lives and offer a more accomplished, more suave and potentially more realistic pairing for Sarah Walker. There will come a point where they are going to have to actually fundamentally change their relationship in order to keep things interesting.
But I spent enough time two weeks ago complaining about this, and the end of this week’s episode seems to indicate that some changes are on the way. While I remain wary, I also have to be honest: the show has so much working for it right now that even episodes that feel like they’re relying too heavily on one of the show’s elements end up coming out, if viewed in isolation of recurring trends, pretty solid.
And this is no exception.
“Chuck vs. the Best Friend”
February 23rd, 2009
Utilizing every one of its regular cast members other than Big Mike, “Chuck vs. the Best Friend” is the kind of episode that demonstrates the show’s confidence within its second season. It connects all of Chuck’s various world in numerous different ways, allowing for the Buy More storyline to intersect with Awesome and Ellie while Chuck’s spy storyline intersects with Morgan and Anna’s on and off relationship that is currently in the decidedly off position.
And although the episode doesn’t deal with the show’s ongoing mythology, or introduce a new dynamic into Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, this is an example of a show that knows its identity and knows it well. To be fair the episode, it actually did some of the show’s best Chuck and Morgan material to date, and at a certain point you start to realize that even their mostly perfunctory bromance can be milked for some considerable drama in scenarios like this one.
If a show is going to have a “Flash of the Week,” it needs to do one of two things: make it stand out from an action/suspense point of view or connect it to the show’s characters. What Chuck has decided to do this season is show up every other show by doing both at the same time. It’s made for some darn great television.
“Chuck vs. Santa Claus”
December 15th, 2008
When someone thinks of what a good Christmas episode should be, “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” will meet many of these criteria. It has plenty of jokes within the holiday spirit, characters dressed up in seasonal garb, generous samplings of Christmas-themed music, and the absolutely genius decision to have Reginald VelJohnson reprise his role as “Big Al” from Die Hard to go with the episode’s Christmas-themed hostage situation. In these moments this episode felt like what we all expected: one of the most funny and enjoyable shows on television delivering a note of holiday cheer.
But what we got was less an example of a good Christmas episode than it was a demonstration of Chuck’s ability to balance the emotional with the hilarious, the dramatic with the comic, and the danger with the laughter. When things seemed to be wrapping up too neatly at the halfway point of the episode, it became clear this was about something more: it was about learning how far people were willing to go to protect those they loved, and continued a long streak of fantastic dramatic work from both Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.
It’s another fantastic episode, if not quite the one we expected, from a show that put together quite a great opening to the season.