Tag Archives: Critics

Lost the Morning After: Going “Across the Sea” with Critics

Going “Across the Sea” with Critics

May 12th, 2010

Writing about Lost on a weekly basis has been consistently challenging this year not in terms of having anything to talk about but rather in terms of tempering one’s response. We all know that the show is close to reaching its conclusion, so we’re all thinking in the back of our minds that the success of the sixth season’s episodes may well depend on where things end up. We can evaluate how much we enjoyed the episode, and how it connects with the show’s characters, but we can’t really evaluate where it fits into the big picture.

However, an episode like “Across the Sea” desperately wants us to think about the big picture, and I think the reaction to the episode is a reflection of the repressed theorizing regarding the finale that people have been building up inside. “Ab Aeterno” provided a release, a chance to consider the island’s past, but we’ve spent the rest of the season withholding our opinion about the Flash Sideways story until we see where it’s going, just as we’ve spent the last six seasons withholding final judgment on the island mysteries.

It makes perfect sense why outright Lost skeptics would respond to this episode in such a divisive fashion, as they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to tear apart the show’s science fiction and this episode gave them plenty of lines rife for parody. However, even the most patient of fans have reached the point where they can’t keep withholding their opinions, and “Across the Sea” has everyone expressing their concerns about whether this is all going to come together and whether this was how the show should be spending its time.

And perhaps the point of it all was to bring our skepticism to the surface, to force us as viewers (or as critics) to put our cards on the table and take a stance regarding the season and the series thus far. “Across the Sea” seems designed to provoke viewers, but perhaps it does so because it knows that it’s better audiences ask these questions (or angrily revolt against the series) now rather than after the finale. Perhaps it’s all a fiendish trick to place us on one side or another heading into the finale whether we have a choice in the matter or not, revealing which of us are men (or women) of science (desiring a more concrete explanation for events) and which of us are men (or women) of faith, who even through a somewhat ridiculous metaphor are still believers of what Lindelof and Cuse are trying to accomplish here.

Either way, the showdown is already beginning, and the crosstalk between critics is as interesting as it’s ever been, so I’m going to at least consider “Across the Sea” a success in that regard as I try to capture some of that discussion (although don’t pretend I capture the depth of each individual review with these comments, and do click through).

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Lost, The Morning After: Critical Responses to “Ab Aeterno”

Critical Responses to “Ab Aeterno”

March 24th, 2010

While I remain content with my review of “Ab Aeterno” from last night, I think that this is definitely one of those episodes that warrants a second look based on the kinds of responses I’ve seen to the episode online. While being able to write about the episode in advance of its U.S. airing due to Canadian simulcasting conflicts is wonderful, and will last for another week at least, it means that I’m writing about the episode in a relative bubble, and there’s enough hyper-intelligent people watching this show that things will emerge which complement or contradict my own thoughts.

Considering the depth of mythology material presented by “Ab Aeterno,” and the fact that some people are throwing around comparisons with Season Four’s “The Constant,” there’s plenty of discussions surrounding the episode, so I want to highlight some of those reviews while, admittedly, using them to make some points that have come to me since watching the response last night.

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Assessing through Assessments: NBC Thursday Comedy Roundup

Assessing through Assessments: NBC Comedies

March 14th, 2010

I don’t have a whole lot to say this week about the Thursday night comedies that’s particularly new, since I’m a few days behind, but I’ve rarely let that stop me before. However, rather than prattling on about all four shows, I figured I’d highlight some passages from other reviews of the episodes; this is an intriguing time for all four comedies from a critical perspective, so there’s some diverse thoughts floating around that I relate with to varying degrees.

And so, in a longer form than I had initially intended, I’ll highlight some of those great reviews and offer my own thoughts on “Basic Genealogy,” “The Possum,” “St. Patrick’s Day,” and “Future Husband.”

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Glee Season 1.5: Three Questions Producers Need to Answer

Season 1.5: Three Questions Producers Need to Answer

December 10th, 2009

When we watch a television show as viewers or as critics, we want to believe that our opinions matter. This is not to suggest that we desire to control a particular story, by pushing it in one direction or another, but rather that how people respond to a show is capable of giving the producers some idea of how their show could reach either its widest audience or (for us critics, at least) its fullest comic and dramatic potential.

And yet, for Glee, the voices of fans and critics have seemed to fall upon deaf ears, as some of the common concerns (about the over-produced musical numbers, about the inconsistency between episodes) have remained staples of the show throughout the season. Now, again, this isn’t inherently a problem (it’s their show, they can do with it what they want), but it is important to acknowledge that this was not about ignorance: rather, the show finished filming over a month before the show started in earnest in September. It was produced in a bubble, the writers learning as they went along with only the reviews and reaction towards the pilot to guide them (and, even then, they had produced quite a few episodes before it aired in May).

As a result, when Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan head back to work in early January to start production on the back nine for the show’s first season (which I’m choosing to dub Season 1.5 as opposed to “Volume 2” or something silly like that), they will have with them the internet’s collective response to the show’s first thirteen episodes. And, for me, the big question now is quite simple: what the heck are they going to do with it?

After the break, I’ll offer my thoughts on where I feel their focus should lie, and why it doesn’t all line up with my own selfish desires for the series going forward.

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Screw Dramedy: How We Distinguish Between Comic and Dramatic Television

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Screw Dramedy:

How We Distinguish Between Comic and Dramatic Television

November 6th, 2009

Mirror, mirror, on the wall – which television “comedy” is the least comic of them all?

There’s been some great back and forth on Twitter as of late surrounding the rankings of the best comedies currently on television, which is something that always brings out some controversial opinions. While I offered a very tentative ranking done without any sort of indepth scientific analysis on Twitter, I’m resistant to posting a more detailed list (like Jace at Televisionary, for example): I feel like there’s so many different categories of comedies on the air (long-running favourites which are very familiar, series which have improved so greatly that the relativity is almost blinding, and shows that are new and just finding themselves) that to rank them feels false.

However, I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that how we as critics (and viewers in general) individually define comedy is somewhat different from how the networks might define comedy. Genre definition in television is always a little bit slippery, especially when the oft-labeled “dramedy” exists, as has been demonstrated yearly at the Emmys when shows that walk the fine line are slotted into either category seemingly at random. Gilmore Girls is perhaps the most famous example, where Lauren Graham was submitting dramatic performances in a comedy category that perhaps fit the show in general but seemed to be out of place with the show’s highlights. The issue was never resolved (it was never nominated for Emmys outside of craft categories, despite the amazing work of Kelly Bishop/Graham), and right now there is perhaps more than ever before the sense that comedy and drama just aren’t clear divisions.

I was discussing the return of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie (returning alongside United States of Tara on March 22nd) with Maureen Ryan, and in particular I noted that I actively refuse to call Nurse Jackie a comedy. Mo, however, correctly noted that disqualifying Nurse Jackie calls into question a whole lot of cable “comedies,” and that this is a can of worms she (quite logically) doesn’t want to open.

I, apparently, like worms, so let’s dig into just why I refuse to accept certain shows as “comedy” in good conscience (and how my refusal is indicative of the role personal opinion plays in such classifications).

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Glee – “Throwdown”

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“Takedown”

October 14th, 2009

“An environment of constant irrational terror”

Andy Dehnart (who can be found on Twitter at RealityBlurred) posted a piece of commentary at MSNBC yesterday that, earlier today, exploded into a lively twitter discussion amongst critics. His argument is that the show relies on stereotypes when it could be developing character, and that it needs to eliminate some of its more one-dimensional characters (like Sandy) and provide more depth to its central Glee club members. What’s interesting is that I don’t think there’s anyone who is going to argue with this point, especially if we apply it to Terri and her fake pregnancy. The strangest thing about Glee, from critics’ perspectives, is that most people tend to agree that it has its share of problems, especially when it comes to the adult characters on the show. The difference comes in how people rationalize those criticisms and weigh them with the show’s undeniable charm, and its quick-witted one-liners that most people tend to enjoy.

“Throwdown” is yet another dividing point, an episode that highlights the show’s best character (Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester) and as a result features a lot of great one-liners and some solid musical numbers. However, as someone who tends to lean more critically on the show than others, it’s an episode that shows you that Dehnart’s complaints aren’t the show’s only problem. Yes, its adult characters are one-dimensional, but the show’s plotting is just as problematic: storylines seem to happen to characters as opposed to because of characters, and the result is that the Glee club itself is trapped in the middle of wars and plots (the environment of constant irrational terror, in other words) that may be entertaining in the short term but are doing nothing to foster long term development.

Linda Holmes from NPR made the note that it’s impossible for Glee to hit the mark every week, as the mark is tiny and specific. I’d argue that the show is hitting that mark enough to keep me watching, but I’d also argue that it is more consistently missing it where it counts (narrative, character development) than where it’s most popular (the musical numbers, the one-liners). And while that’s a pattern for cult success, it’s not a pattern for dramatic or comic fulfillment.

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Save Chuck: A Movement with a Message

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Save Chuck: A Movement with a Message

April 25th, 2009

As some of you may know, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind that was the Save Jericho campaign, where fans went nuts and sent nuts, bringing their canceled show back from the dead. Since that show’s success, there have been numerous campaigns to save other shows, and to be honest I haven’t really got behind any of them. I got behind Jericho because it was a true grassroots movement, an example of the power of the internet, of fans, and of expanding the definition of success from traditional ratings measurements; to be honest, the show never really captured me, but the fact that it captured others so strongly was something worth fighting for.

But I can honestly say that this is the first time that I am entering, albeit late thanks to my vacation, a fan campaign primarily because I love the show involved. Chuck was an engaging series last year, but this year it has elevated itself to an entirely new level: this is not the most intelligent show on television, or the funniest, or the most dramatic, but its ability to combine all of these elements into a single package has created a series that myself and hopefully many, many others view as worthy of our time and energy. Saving Chuck is not just some sort of experiment, but something that is necessary for my faith in NBC as a network, and network television as a medium for high-calibre entertainment, to remain intact.

What I want to discuss is how the campaign is operating, and how there are three keys to its success that have given it a real chance of succeeding: I write this, two days before the show’s season finale, without the intention of placing a (Series?) in that post title, or even considering that possibility, and I honestly feel as if this goes beyond wishful thinking. Based on every piece of evidence before us, the campaign to Save Chuck has all of the momentum to overcome the obstacles facing it and send a message to NBC and all other networks that we’re not ready to let a great show go so easily.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – The Critical Response to “Daybreak”

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The Critical Response to “Daybreak”

March 21st, 2009

[I always write my reviews without reading what other critics have written, not because I don’t respect their opinions (precisely the opposite) but rather because I feel as if I have nothing to add once I finish reading them on occasion, and I want to feel motivated to write and produce blog material. And while I may have gone with the “volume” approach with the Series Finale, this doesn’t mean that other critics haven’t been able to far better focus on some of the issues I really wanted to emphasize myself. So, let’s take a trip through the critical response to the finale as we start our Long Goodbye.]

Critics love Battlestar Galactica, and those that don’t do feel kind of bad about it. This is one of those “events” in the world of television criticism, where it becomes the dominating topic of discussion within critical fields, and while there is a mostly positive buzz surrounding the finale this doesn’t mean that there isn’t some disagreement. So let’s, below the fold so as to not spoil anyone, start sorting through the reviews for some things they made me reconsider, and some things that I want to question.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Introduction

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Introduction

March 23rd, 2009

I have written a lot about Battlestar Galactica over the past two years of this blog. One of my very first posts, in fact, was about how Battlestar Galactica was more or less taking over my life, leading me to see parallels in literature, in every day life, and expecting in some way that it would slowly meld with my own life. And, on Friday night, it pretty well did: after watching the finale, I shut myself into my room and turned out an epic, sprawling and rather indulgent review that was part catharsis and part exorcism. It was not, however, a goodbye.

I don’t think I’ll ever say “goodbye” to the show, what with the DVDs I could watch, or the academic papers I might eventually write, but at the same time I felt after writing that review that I need some more time, and some more posts, to really come to terms with this ending. And so, throughout the week I’ll be posting a myriad of thoughts on the show, whether it’s some links to the views of other critics, or an extended analysis of Season Four’s narrative structure, or potentially even something I’ve been resisting for a while but may have found its ideal time frame in the wake of the finale. I’m also considering the rather insane task of confronting the issue of the finale’s religious elements, but perhaps I’ll come to my senses before wading into that particular conflict.

Regardless, it’s one last chance to get some of this off my chest before I know I’ll have to put it on the backburner in favour of academic pursuits.

Monday:

The Critical Response to “Daybreak” – A collection of various critical analyses of the finale, with some of my own insight sprinkled in for good measure.

Tuesday:

Finale Discussion – A two-hour discussion of the series finale done with Devindra Hardawar and Meredith Woerner, recorded as a special edition of the /Filmcast, is now available for download at the above link.

Wednesday:

The Trouble with Twenty – As ironic as it sounds, an analysis of how the problems of feeling like the season needed more time could have been solved by shortening its season to tighten the show’s narrative.

Thursday:

The Real Higher Power – With all this talk of God and religion, let’s realize who really holds the most control in the BSG universe: Bear McCreary, composer of the Gods, controls our emotions and reactions more than any writer, producer, or higher power ever could.

Friday:

Romancing the Cylon, Revisited – My obsession with BSG is perhaps best represented by my undergraduate thesis about the series’ connection with Medieval Romance, so what better way to finish this cathartic week than spreading it to the world?

[Come back daily for another dose of The Long Goodbye.]

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Forgive My Ambivalence: ‘90210’ and Network Screeners

During the summer months, it’s hard to get excited about television. Now, I don’t mean to say that I’m not enjoying the summer runs of shows like The Middleman, Burn Notice, Mad Men or Generation Kill – it’s the opposite actually, as I’ve enjoyed them immensely. The issue, however, is that this great medium we call television is just less interesting up until about this late August period.

And so, Cultural Learnings has been all about the reviews and not so much with grand statements evaluating the state of television as a whole; and while my more established colleagues (Read: actual TV critics) usually receive screeners that help them handicap the year ahead, my lack of such screeners means that I rely on their coverage in order to design my own. This year, of course, this is proving difficult: some shows are barely finishing their pilots, and the result is a lack of coverage of what Fall will truly have to offer.

I’ve dealt with this screener question before, arguing last year that the networks should do more to get pilots out to people other than TV critics in an effort to rustle up support and build a fan base that can support the show through tough times. So, the recent news that The CW is not sending out screener DVDs of its ‘90210’ reboot should be something that has me up in arms, ready to pounce on their ignorance of the power of these screeners to get people interested about their show.

But, at least for now, I can’t really say that I care either way – and that kind of ambivalence is, for the networks, probably their best case scenario heading into this pilot season.

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