February 15th, 2011
There is nothing wrong with Justin Bieber.
Maybe it’s just my Canadian pride, but the kid is inoffensive to the point of being sort of charming. Especially recently, given his playful send-ups of his celebrity on The Daily Show and a bunch of other late night series, I’ve generally liked him, and while I wouldn’t say his music is exactly my taste I will say that it has a certain charm. He’s not a particularly wonderful singer, but that’s not really the point, and so the cultural vitriol surrounding him confounds me at points.
There are, however, plenty of things wrong with the Justin Bieber phenomenon. The problem isn’t Bieber himself, but what he has come to represent, and his cultural ubiquity relative to his actual talent (which is not “insignificant,” but is not exactly befitting his success). And it seems almost impossible to separate the latter from the former, to see the decent kid behind the phenomenon: while Never Say Never as a film might actually do a lot to humanize Bieber, the very idea of a teenager receiving a 3D Concert documentary only fuels the impression that his fame has gotten out of control.
In case you haven’t figured it out, Glee is a lot like Justin Bieber. At some level, there is a basic competence, a potential to be something entertaining: at a more macro-level, however, the Glee phenomenon has become an epic distraction, infringing on our enjoyment of the series on a regular basis.
On some level, “Comeback” should be seen as a return to basics: like episodes like “Duets” or even last week’s “Silly Love Songs,” the Glee club receives a simple theme and is asked to perform numbers relating to them. However, while those episodes felt united in their loose themes, there was no such unity to be found here. The result is a scattershot and problematically ephemeral hour which succeeded only in laying out some basic exposition for where the show will be headed in the weeks ahead.
And that’s not exactly looking like a “Comeback.”
Scene-ic Storytelling in SyFy’s Caprica
March 25th, 2010
I was listening to last week’s episode of the Firewall and Iceberg podcast, where Alan and Dan were explaining how hard it is to pick your favourite episode of a television show. I concur with their evasion of the question at hand, as picking a favourite episode of a serialized television series seems disadvantageous while picking a favourite episode of a comedy is so highly subjective that it’s a bit dangerous, but I have a followup question: could we pick a favourite scene?
I find this, when I think about it, considerably easier. While picking a single episode of The Wire is impossible, picking a favourite scene seems like it’s possible: sure, there’s still too many to choose from (McNuggets, Chess, FuCSI, Co-Op Meeting, etc.), but we’re more comfortable singling out scenes because there’s an expectation that what we select will capture the quality we most admire in the show being discussed without the baggage that comes with an episode of ensemble, serialized drama which goes in various different directions.
There is a lot of power in scenes to tell a story, or to capture a viewer’s attention. The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, both nominated for Best Picture this year, are effectively a series of vignettes which rely on being making both collective and individual impressions, building character by creating unforgettable tension and suspense from various circumstances. And on the comic end of the spectrum, Noel Murray’s fantastic A Very Special Episode series at The A.V. Club turned its attention on The Simpsons’ “22 Short Stories About Springfield” episode this week, and the wealth of comments on the post demonstrate that its collection of short vignettes are perhaps amongst the most quotable and memorable scenes in the series’ run precisely because they are part of an episode which admits to being a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive episode.
I raise this question because I want to talk about SyFy’s Caprica, a show that has thus far been more successful at creating memorable scenes than at creating memorable characters or stories. Ending the first half of its first season with a finale of sorts this evening on SyFy and SPACE, the show has used scenes with deep philosophical meaning and implication in order to create a lasting impression that makes me want to see more even when I don’t have as much of a vested interest in what I see in the rest of each episode. These scenes, at times single-handedly, have made Caprica into a show I admire a great deal, but at the same time they are doing nothing to alleviate concerns that some viewers seem to have about plot and character in the show’s universe.
Some thoughts on why this is, and why I think this sort of “scene-ic storytelling” is good for the show in the long run, after the jump.
“My Old Kentucky Home”
August 30th, 2009
“It’s a mistake to be conspicuously happy.”
Roger Sterling is a man trying to find happiness, but discovering that no one particularly wants to share in it. His daughter and his wife, as we saw last week, want nothing to do with the new woman, and here the employees of Sterling Cooper view their swanky country club soiree as a work obligation more than a chance to celebrate. There’s a fantastic moment during the party where Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy take to the dance floor and show off some admittedly very impressive moves. However, watch Pete’s face: while Trudie is getting into the music, enjoying herself, Pete spends the entire time smiling and glancing at Roger to see if he’s impressing him, to see if he’s got his attention. All social events have a sense of obligation, but this particular one feels more than all others like an event where people do as Pete desires and start handing out business cards.
“My Old Kentucky Home” is very much about the ways in which happiness is a negotiation, a struggle between individual desires (and therefore personal happiness) and the desires and hopes of everyone else around you. For Roger Sterling, his new marriage pits him against the world, having broken the cardinal rule of not romanticizing or idealizing one’s affairs. For Joan Holloway, her knowledge of the world and the customs of society place her at odds with the role her husband believes she should play. For Peggy Olsen, her own self-awareness of her position and her ability to navigate the complex world of a male-dominated business are questioned by those who have seen it all before and who know that it’s not that easy.
And for Don and Betty Draper, happiness is an act, a coverup for hidden desires and hidden secrets which can never be revealed so long as they continue to play charades. In this quasi-musical of an episode, we discover the consequences of being conspicuously happy, but also the consequences of avoiding happiness and finding one’s self just as lost as you would be if you were at odds with society’s expectation.
May 7th, 2009
About halfway through “Cafe Disco,” I admittedly wasn’t amused: here we are a week out from the half-hour finale (which is a move away from the one-hour finales we have been getting for the past few seasons), and the show is spending its time on the most throwaway of episodes. Not only that, but it appears as if the episode is going to be my least favourite kind of episode, where it boils down to Michael being incompetent, Pam and Jim having their dreams crushed, and Dwight and Michael both being so irresponsible that they’re unwilling to give someone proper medical attention.
In the end, though, I was really charmed by the episode, even if it was limited by its lack of scale: the episode never devolved into demeaning Michael, or Dwight being incompetent, or Jim and Pam losing their will to love. Rather, the episode was pretty much like one big stretching exercise for the cast, a chance for them to let loose on the dance floor before having to film the, likely, emotional and powerful finale. I had a lot of fun with the back end of the episode, and much as the epoynmous coffee shop/dance club got off to a slow start but was eventually a hit with everyone involved, I ended up liking this one.
“Season Finale: Results”
August 7th, 2008
After one of the most well-structured pieces of fan service I’ve seen in a reality finale, emphasizing reliving past dances, seasons and even careers for its judges, it’s come down to this.
Could Twitch emerge from a few Bottom Three placements to win the day? Can Courtney overcome her technical deficiency with her charm and determination? Is Katee’s technicall brilliance a hindrance or a benefit with voters? And will Joshua’s feel good story and versatility win over America?
The votes are in, and it’s hard to argue with the decision.
August 6th, 2008
I haven’t blogged about what I deemed the summer’s guilty pleasure all those weeks ago, thus riling up a sizable segment of the show’s fanbase who viewed the term was disaffectionate. Well, needless to say, it was not intended as such – sitting around and watching So You Think You Can Dance has become a weekly ritual, first with some friends and then eventually with my parents as I’ve been spending a few weeks visiting at home.
It’s a show that you grow into more than perhaps any other reality program – there is a combination of personal achievement and massive variety that is unparalleled, and the limited audience involvement in selecting candidates keeps the dead weight out. This is a show where people are brought on for talent: not for how they play to the audience, not for their condescending attitude, but for their ability to dance.
And that means that, even with some surprises along the way, you get a finale of four strong dancers who offer up a great deal of entertainment and where all of the intense nepotism and laudatory comments usually dominating finales seems justified and deserved. I won’t pretend to know everything about dancing, but I have been watching enough to know where things might shake down for the impending final results.