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Season Premiere: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World”

“The New World”

July 8th, 2011

It’s a familiar story by now: like a large number of other critics, Torchwood was pretty far off my radar until Children of Earth (which I reviewed here), the show’s third series/season that took the critical world by storm. In fact, I saw Children of Earth before I started watching Doctor Who, so it also stood as my first engagement with Russell T. Davies and the somewhat spirited debate that surrounds his televisual output.

Miracle Day, the subtitle for the show’s fourth series/season (although I guess season might be more apt given that it is aired in the U.S. ahead of its U.K. premiere), comes with a great deal more baggage. While I believe Children of Earth would stand on its own merit, I do think that the element of surprise was part of its appeal two years ago. Not many shows suddenly make a dramatic leap in quality in their third season, and the unique miniseries structure (five parts airing over five days) made for a real sense of “Event” programming that stood out in the crowd. It wasn’t just that Children of Earth was good, it was that it seemed perfectly designed to make a real statement, a statement that creates definite expectations for Miracle Day.

In truth, those expectations are sort of unfair for two reasons. The first is that the show is returning to a weekly format, and a ten-episode format, which means that the pacing of the show will be dramatically different – this isn’t going to come out of the gates with the same swagger, which will likely dampen its impact. The second, meanwhile, is just a matter of hype: thanks to the increased attention created by Starz’s involvement in the production and critical appreciation of Children of Earth, this project has been on the North American cultural radar. Going into tonight’s premiere, I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen, meaning that “edge of your seat” was transformed into a much more passive viewing experience.

This is not to say that “The New World” isn’t good television, or that the show is heading in a weak direction, but there’s just nothing here to really make us sit up and take notice – instead, we’re meant to sit back and enjoy the ride, which does reveal some of the procedural mechanisms that get Miracle Day off and running…or, more accurately, jogging. However, at the same time, there are some questions related to the production of the miniseries that are somewhat intriguing in their deployment here, which is what I want to discuss in relation to tonight’s premiere.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”

“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”

April 26th, 2010

“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” is not an episode about “Chuck and Sarah.” It is an episode about Chuck, and Sarah, and their independent personalities; the argument the show makes is not that they should be together (although it does sort of implictly make this argument through its quality), but rather that they each independently want to be with the other, and that this is a conclusion which they have come to as human beings rather than as much-shipped television characters on a network series.

I’m not one of those people who particularly cares about “Chuck and Sarah,” but I am one of those people who cares about Chuck, and Sarah, and their own journeys through this crazy life they’re living. In an episode which has a lot of fun moments which play into the lengthy period of romantic tension which led to this inevitable conclusion, there are also a lot of fun moments which are just the result of how much chemistry that Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski have independent of a relationship, and how great the show’s stunt team is at making a low budget show look like an action film when it comes time to throw down.

The show can never be exclusively “about” Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, but so long as the show’s investigation of its potential results in episodes like this one which are damn entertaining entirely independent of the shipper mentality, I’d say that this little six-episode mini-season could be quite the ride.

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FlashForward – “Black Swan”

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“Black Swan”

October 15th, 2009

All I can hear is the clock ticking.

Yeah, well, all I can hear is the crickets, FlashForward.

“Black Swan” is yet another example of the ways in which FlashForward seems fundamentally unwilling to engage with its most interesting elements and choosing, instead, to continue to ponderously engage with small-scale stories that feel like note cards on a bulletin board rather than something that’s part of a mosaic.

What’s interesting is that, if the show had ignored the notions of global conspiracy and the worldwide destruction, I actually think this would be an interesting hour of television. If the show had ignored the chaos of the pilot, and had instead had everyone experience a vision of their future without any time passing, then “Black Swan” would be an interesting investigation into a patient whose flash forward is inexplicable, or a young babysitter who wonders how she can atone for a sin she has yet to commit. Those questions are on their own a decent structure for an almost procedural series, a world like our own but where alternate futures dominate everyday conversation.

The problem with the show hasn’t been sold as anything close to that, but rather as a show rife with conspiracy theories and exciting serialized elements. And in an episode like this one, we understand the show’s central dilemma: when the show spends time with the mundane, we’re left wondering what’s going on with the big picture, but when they do spend time with the big picture we wonder why we were spending time with the mundane at all. And as long as both sides of the show’s storylines have some pretty serious execution problems, I don’t know how long the dichotomy is going to hold.

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