September 20th, 2010
Look, I was pretty harsh on How I Met Your Mother last season, but it was harshness which stemmed from love: I care about these characters, so to see their individual arcs subjected in order to make way for standalone stories which fought against the series’ greatest, if not only, strength (its serialized elements) was unfortunate.
Now, I’m not one of those people who believes that the show needs to spend more time discussing the Mother: in fact, I am more or less completely uninterested in that storyline, other than the fact that it largely allows “wistful romantic Ted” to emerge and I’ve got a soft spot for that particular characterization. Rather, my issue is that I need the character to feel like they’re evolving, that they’re reaching a point in their lives when they are considerably less aimless than when they began. My problem, then, is less that Barney and Robin split up, and more that they split up and went back to fairly reductive versions of their respective characters.
“Big Days” is an intelligent premiere in that it keeps things decidedly simple: other than yet another future milestone that we can start counting down the days until, the episode creates a small scenario which speaks to the series’ past, present and future without feeling too strained. Nothing it does feels particularly monumental, but the episode nonetheless captures the sense of purpose that the show was missing for the bulk of last season.
Which, if it holds, will be a welcome return to form.
“The Beautiful Girls”
September 19th, 2010
Based on its title and a number of the discussions which emerged within the episode, “The Beautiful Girls” feels like a particular gesture towards the women who are often central to the series. And yet, because the episode was so fractured, it doesn’t present itself as a sustained glimpse into any of the female characters central to this story. While Joan, Peggy, Faye, and Sally all face down challenges put before them, all of them end up back where they began: trapped in a loveless marriage, apolitical in a political world, face-to-face with tough choices, and a sad little girl living a life she no longer wants to live.
Regardless of the episode’s argument regarding each character’s struggles, the fact remains that the female characters are the heart of this series, and “The Beautiful Girls” comes together as a sustained statement on their centrality if not a substantial step forward in their individual storylines.
September 9th, 2010
As far as world-building goes, The CW’s Nikita is comfortable remaining in familiar territory: shadowy “government” organizations working under the guise of national security while in fact engaging in nefarious activities was something that Alias and Dollhouse both dealt with pretty extensively. We’ve seen shows about spies before, and nothing Nikita offers in that department is particularly new (especially when you consider that it’s a reboot of a television show which was based on a movie, but since I’ve seen little of either I’m more likely to think in terms of other series).
The difference, I would argue, is where we join this particular story: rather than starting at the beginning, we jump in at a point where our protagonist is on the outside looking in, seeking revenge against those who wronged her rather than experiencing those wrongs herself. It is, as I note, a familiar story (Alias did something remarkably similar), but by joining at this particular point the show skips over the emotional wringer and focuses on the flashier, more dynamic parts of this story. The result, to some degree, is a lack of depth in the show’s characters, as everything we learn is done through exposition or flashback rather than experiencing it in real time; however, simultaneously, joining at this point gives the show a much clearer sense of what kind of structure it will take on for the future, allowing the pilot to function as any good pilot should.
It also means that it had no real chance of being great, but I don’t think anything here indicates that the should couldn’t get there if given the time and a push in the right direction.
September 7th, 2010
In a post about the third season premiere of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter wrote the following:
“It would be very easy for me to repeat what worked in season two — create some internal beef that provided intensity and tension within the club, bring in another big nemesis, throw those two conflicts at each other and watch the blood flow. Yes, I’m sure it would be okay and people would like it. But ultimately, I would be cheating my own creative process and your dedication as well. I’ve learned that devoted fans are very sophisticated viewers. They know when they are being fed leftovers. Yeah, they may eat them for awhile, but eventually, they’ll get bored and leave to feed on something more tasty.”
This explains a great deal about “So,” an episode which lulls you into a false sense of security only to up the ante that much more after last season’s dark and twisted finale. Sons of Anarchy became one of television’s top dramas last year because Sutter is fearless, willing to go to particularly dark places and also willing to allow the story to escalate without concern over running out of story ideas in the future. There was actually enough story in the wake of that finale to sustain the season through the first few episodes: it wouldn’t even be leftovers so much as the rest of dinner, magically still warm despite having been sitting on the plate since last December.
What “So” establishes most clearly is that Sons’ action-packed narrative does not indicate a lack of nuance in its storytelling: as crafty as he is outspoken, Sutter creates the illusion of “moving on” while delivering a knockout blow which moves in an entirely different, yet perfectly complimentary, direction.
And, not surprisingly, I feel neither cheated nor bored: instead, I’m downright exhilarated.
Interview: Talking Huge with Savannah Dooley
September 7th, 2010
If you’re a regular visitor, you know that I spent much of my summer obsessed with ABC Family’s Huge, a show which really surprised me in its premiere and continued to build throughout the summer. After starting as an interesting glimpse into the experience at a summer camp designed to help teenagers lose weight, over time it became a nuanced take on adolescent self-discovery. Without directly subverting summer camp cliches, the mother-daughter development team of Savannah Dooley and Winnie Holzman elevated their simple structure into the summer’s finest drama series.
[For all of my reviews of Huge’s first season, click here.]
However, since it was more or less just Todd VanDerWerff and I writing about the show, there wasn’t a whole lot of analysis being done, so I felt a certain obligation to do what I could to dig deeper into the series’ subtexts – as a result, after reaching out to the production, I got in contact with Savannah Dooley, who was kind enough to answer some questions via Email about how the series developed, the ways in which the characters evolved over the course of the season, what awaits the show should ABC Family decide to pick up the back half of Season One, and the latest news on the chances of that pickup in the months ahead, all of which can be found after the break.
“Parents Weekend – Part Two”
August 30th, 2010
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Huge has been my show of the summer: the show embodies the potential for programming aimed at teenagers which doesn’t speak down to its audience, mining the complexities of adolescence instead of exaggerating its most dramatic moments. Staying true to its observational camera angles (reminiscent of Friday Night Lights, soon to be part of the ABC Family…family), the show has allowed characters to develop independent of earth-shattering revelations, just as interested in silence as in outbursts or monologues.
I’ve seen some criticism of the show for being too close to various cliches, a criticism which I don’t think is entirely unfair: there is no question that Huge has hewed fairly close to the traditional expectations of summer camp fiction, and there have been moments (see: “Spirit Quest”) which lost the series’ focus on investigating the life-changing moments, both big and small, which have nothing (and everything) to do with the central mission of Camp Victory. However, when the show was at its best, this focus transcended the tropes it has played with, and the show is certainly flirting with my Top 10 for the year thus far.
The second part of “Parents Weekend,” scripted by series co-creator Savannah Dooley, does nothing to change my love for the show, as the episode perfectly sums up the ways in which the nuances and subtleties of these stories defies the predictability of its log lines; it’s a strong end to a damn strong half a season, and all we can hope now is that ABC Family is as interested to see the other half as we are.
More “Not Boring” Than Usual:
Surprises Elevate the 2010 Primetime Emmys
As a whole, the Emmy Awards live and die on surprise: sure, there’s always favourites, but the idea that “anything can happen” is what keeps us watching a show which so often punishes us for becoming emotionally involved. For every pleasant surprise there has been soul-crushing complacency, and so we watch hoping that something will cut through the pain in order to give us some sense of hope for the legitimacy of these awards.
And while we eventually leave each evening lamenting numerous mistakes, comfortable in our superior knowledge of what is truly great in television in a given year, I don’t want that to obfuscate the moments of transcendence. Sometimes, moments come together that defy our cynical expectations, moments that find the spontaneity in the scripted or make the spontaneous feel as if it was planned all along. And while I remain the jaded critic that I was before the show began, any chance of carrying that attitude through the entirety of the show was diminished at the sight of Jon Hamm booty-dancing towards Betty White, and all but gone by the time Top Chef finally ended The Amazing Race’s reign of terror over Reality Competition program.
It was a night filled with surprises, whether in terms of who was winning the awards (with a huge number of first-time winners) or in terms of emotional moments which resulted from those winners – sure, there were hiccups along the way, and there were still a number of winners which indicated that the Emmys are still stuck in their ways, but there was enough excitement for me to designate these Emmys as “not boring.”
In fact, I’d go so far as to say they were more “not boring” than usual.
Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series
August 29th, 2010
Despite being the biggest awards of the evening, I’ll admit that this is one of my least favourite categories to analyze: yes, this is where things should become even more interesting, but more often than not this is where the complacent power of inertia kicks in worst of all. While a good actor being killed by a bad submission has nuance, and a great submission can truly change the nature of a category, there is a sense with the Series awards that the episodes themselves are more or less irrelevant. If they submit tapes that resemble the series’ cultural influence, then it will be enough to make this a race of hype vs. hype rather than actuall quality.
Of the legitimate competitors for these awards, there is nothing that would cause me to become outraged or anything – while there are certainly some contenders which I would prefer, it’s more a question of which series have the quality to go beyond the hype, and whether or not the voters will actually see through those layers to find the actual most outstanding series on television.
Lead Acting in a Comedy Series
August 25th, 2010
There is nothing particularly progressive about the Lead Acting awards on the comedy side: with Modern Family’s cast choosing to submit in supporting across the board, and with Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison both submitting poorly, the big comedy battle of the year really isn’t relevant here, which means that we’re left with less interesting battles.
Or, more accurately, some less heartening battles: the reality is that these awards are unlikely to go to new faces, with previous winners dominating both fields. I’d like to believe that someone like Amy Poehler or Jim Parsons could walk away with these awards, but only the latter really has a chance, and even then something big, boring, and potentially enraging stands in his way.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
August 22nd, 2010
Ted, the Don Draper-equivalent over at rival agency CGC, is not in Don Draper’s league: he is neither visionary nor genius, and yet by virtue of his insistence that he is a competitor he has been elevated to Don’s level. It’s the ultimate example of self-definition, of putting something out there (in this case, to the New York Times) and then turning it into reality. It doesn’t matter that Jai Alai went with another agency because its owner is delusional, or that Clearasil was a conflict rather than business lost: as it would appear to the outside world, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost two accounts and CGC (under Ted’s leadership) gained both of them.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is filled with various examples of situations where appearance becomes reality, to the point where it even becomes a meta-narrative when the series’ positioning of Betty as a child-like figure becomes rendered in three-dimensions. It’s not the most pleasant or subtle of episodes, but it ends up making some fairly interesting observations regarding Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as an agency, as well as the series’ general approach to simulating the past.