Tag Archives: Enver Gjokaj

Community – “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”

“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”

March 17th, 2011

Earlier today, Community was renewed for a third season. And during tonight’s episode, critic (and friend of the blog) Jaime Weinman tweeted the following: “maybe now that Community is safe I can enjoy watching it w/o feeling guilty about not loving it.”

While I like the show more than Jaime, I’ll admit that various circumstances have conspired to make me less of a fan than many others. Part of this is a busy Thursday schedule which largely keeps me from writing about the show, which means that it’s often the next day before I get a chance to watch. However, I think it’s also a sense that the show has been somewhat hard to pin down this year, consistently raising questions (like “The Problem of Pierce,” discussed in numerous locales over the past month or so) in a way that I think is very interesting but has threatened to keep me at arm’s length.

In some ways, I had the opposite response as Jaime: was it possible that I was resisting the urge to be more critical of the show because of its uncertain future? Perhaps its renewal would awaken underlying frustrations that had been suppressed in solidarity, revealing that my general appreciation for the show was being challenged by growing concerns over its direction.

It’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t think “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy” is the episode to test the theory. A simple, effective half-hour of television, this week’s episode of Community sticks to the basics and forms a perfect release for those fans no longer fretting about being on the bubble: it’s sharp, it’s charming, and it’s light on Pierce.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Community

Series Finale: Dollhouse – “Epitaph Two: The Return”

“Epitaph Two: The Return”

January 29th, 2010

In the eyes of ardent supporters of Joss Whedon, Dollhouse is a continuation of his legacy: an interest in female protagonists who kick ass, an engagement with complex philosophical issues, a unique sense of humour, and an early cancellation at the hands of the villainous FOX.

However, not to be dismissive of those fans, I have to wonder Dollhouse actually has any sort of legacy of its own. We tend to view the show in terms of Whedon’s past successes, whether favourably or unfavourably, but has the show had time to do anything substantial on its own? As someone who has seen relatively little of Whedon’s work (Buffy and Angel are sitting on my DVD shelf waiting for me to get to them), I have struggled over the past few weeks with the question of what Dollhouse will leave behind for those without extensive knowledge of its creator.

It is a show that struggled to find a way to get to its big ideas in the early going, and that simply didn’t have enough time to live up to their full potential. They wanted to tell a story about the end of the world, but that world was never fully formed; they wanted to depict the tragic fall of some characters, but had to rush others to achieve its full effect. The second season has had moments of brilliance (“Belonging,” in particular), but it has had this pervasive sense that this would all be better if the show had more time, that they were trying to tell too much story to “wrap things up” and in the process missing out on some intriguing parts of this universe.

Heading into “Epitaph Two,” I lacked anything close to excitement: I was curious, there’s no question about that, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat excited for what happens next. Instead, I was anxious to see just how a show that came in like a lamb and rushed its transition to lion plans on saying “bon voyage” to its miniscule but devoted fanbase.

The answer is with an hour of television that introduces too many new concepts too quickly, and which proves incapable of grounding all of them on realistic character motivations. However, in true Dollhouse spirit, there are enough moments of legitimately compelling drama to lift the episode to the point of being satisfying…or, more accurately, as unevenly satisfying as the show has been all along.

And that’s all we can really ask for.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Dollhouse

Dollhouse – “The Hollow Men”

“The Hollow Men”

January 15th, 2010

“This world is for people who can evolve.”

We’re going to be waiting two weeks until Dollhouse concludes its troubled two-season run (although scheduled to finish next week, the cross-network Haiti Telethon is taking over primetime on the 22nd), and it’s going to be interesting to see the kind of anticipation that builds around the show’s series finale. “The Hollow Men” is an engaging hour of television that features a strong performance from Harry Lennix, but there is every sense that this is transition episode and little more: the scale of the “war” is at this point still so small that the episode feels more incidental than perhaps it should.

The show has spent much of its second season implying that events which seem small are going to eventually seem very large, aided by the presence of “Epitaph One” as an image of the world’s future dystopia, but the real trick is trying to actually make those small events seem large in the context of a single episode. The work done in “The Hollow Men” is not inelegant so much as it is hampered by the “rush” towards a conclusion, and at times the episode feels like a “greatest hits” collection of the show’s finest moments as opposed to a culmination of ongoing storylines. The episode spends a lot of time talking about characters as a family, which is a fine idea but which fails to capture the evolution these characters have gone through: while the show’s relatively short run precludes the kind of depth that the final episodes of Lost or Battlestar Galactica brought to the table, there is still a sense that the way Dollhouse made its way towards its finale kept it from having the dramatic impact it perhaps could have.

It does nothing to make me less intrigued about how the show wraps up its run next week, but I definitely am not connecting with the ending as perhaps some others might be.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Dollhouse

The Best of 2009: Performers of the Year

Performers of the Year

December 19th, 2009

I am not capable of working magic, so I shall not attempt to rank every single amazing television performance of the past year and boil them down to only ten selections. It’s an impossible task that the Emmys are incapable of doing correctly even when they have numerous categories in which to highlight particular nominees, so who am I to try to cover all of my bases with just ten names?

The purpose of this list, rather than trying to represent every great performance, is to highlight those that had an impact on me, and to some degree to highlight those which might not be represented elsewhere on the list in terms of particular episodes or the series themselves (and since I limited it to one performer per show, in some instances I refused to make a decision and chose to represent them elsewhere). In some cases, this means singling out the one part of an ensemble that I enjoyed, and in others it means singling out obvious candidates because there may not have been room for their shows on other lists (although I could just be messing with your heads, who knows?).

Now, in selecting this list, I had two basic rules:

  • If they won an Emmy or some other major award, chances are I didn’t include them.
  • If I didn’t see it (e.g. Breaking Bad), I can’t award them for it.

The second rule is there for an obvious reason, but the first is a bit more complex. I know that someone like Toni Colette gave a great performance in United States of Tara this year, no doubt, but I also know that she already got an Emmy for it – I don’t really need to tell you she gave a great performance, and I am more likely to give her spot to someone who hasn’t won an Emmy, or who should have won an Emmy, or who might some day win an Emmy. This isn’t to say I’m avoiding all buzzworthy individuals, but rather to suggest that I tried to avoid the usual suspects (so, no Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, for example).

So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Top 10 Performers of the Year (in alphabetical order, by the way).

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Best of 2009

Dollhouse – “The Public Eye” / “The Left Hand”

“The Public Eye” / “The Left Hand”

December 4th, 2009

“Everybody’s got a past – it’s the future [viewers] care about.”

Writing about Dollhouse is like riding a bike – the show has never suffered from a lack of ideas, making even its weaker episodes (once it got ahold of its identity) fascinating to discuss. However, there’s something inherently unsatisfying, in theory, about getting back onto that bicycle when you know that you’re about to run out of road, and in a very short period of time this bike is going to be absolutely worthless to you. So much of what I do here at Cultural Learnings is about contextualizing episodes in the past, present and future of any particular series, and in the world of Dollhouse that future has become a swift cancellation which could come as soon as early next week should the ratings from tonight’s two-hour block of episodes be so disastrous that FOX is willing to risk the wrath of fans as opposed to the wrath of advertisers and replace the show with reruns.

And yet, there is something about where this show finds itself mid-way through its second season that I find far more compelling than I should. I know this show is going to end, and yet there is something about the show’s view of the future that has turned its futility into an asset of sorts. It’s almost as if we’ve already reached the end of the road, but instead of a sheer drop the show is offering a lengthy kill on which we can simply coast down the hill with our hands off the handlebars feeling the wind in our face and taking those last moments to think about what was, what is, and what will (or would) be. It’s almost as if cancellation has freed Dollhouse from certain expectations, and what we get from this point forward is about what we take from the material rather than what the material necessarily says in and of itself.

As such, “The Public Eye” and “The Left Hand” are both really great hours of television not only because they’re well-executed in terms of basic plot and character, but also because through the wonders of a DVD bonus feature we as an audience are perfectly situated to understand the ramifications of what is going on here at levels that go beyond the immediate to a future that we might never be able to see but that we are able to vividly imagine in ways that allow the show to survive beyond the certainty of its fate.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Dollhouse

Why I Wouldn’t Save Dollhouse from Cancellation

dollhousetitle

Why I Wouldn’t Save Dollhouse from Cancellation

November 11th, 2009

Today, the news came that many expected. Already shelved for November Sweeps in favour of reruns, and with FOX having confirmed that it would be burning off six episodes on Fridays in December, the chances of Dollhouse living to see a third season were always slim. And, to no one’s surprise, the show was officially cancelled today, according to the Hollywood Reporter, thus ending a strange journey for Joss Whedon’s newest series.

And while I will always be a fan of elements of this particular series, and I will miss having it as part of my weekly lineup, I will not be making any effort to try to save the series from its fate. It is not out of a lack of love for the show and what it accomplished, but rather an acknowledgement that it accomplished more than it might have, and that for all that FOX will be getting flack for this decision it was given chances that very few other shows would have received. The show always felt like an experiment, constantly being tinkered with to find the right gear for Whedon’s vision and FOX’s view of the show to become one and the same, and like any good experiment there are some tangible results that can now be put to work by Whedon, the network, and the show’s viewers. Amongst those results:

1) Some great television. Say what you will about some of the show’s weaker episodes, but “Man on the Street,” “Spy in the House of Love,” “Omega,” and “Belonging” were great hours of television independent of the show’s struggles, and some other episodes (like both “Echoes” and “Needs”) managed to take premises that could be either gimmicky or potentially overwrought and showed how this cast and crew could make intelligent, philosophical, funny and sometimes brilliant television. And the unique narrative experiment known as “Epitaph One” will be confounding people for years, further contributing to the show’s legacy of sorts.

2) Being introduced to two really great acting talents. Enver Gjokaj and Dichen Lachman were playing second fiddle to Eliza Dushku in the show’s premise, but they stole nearly every episode they were featured in. On a show that values the ability to be a chameleon, these two managed to slip into the skin of entirely different characters for either extended periods (like Lachman as Priya) or in short scenes (like Gjokaj becoming Reed Diamond’s Dominic) in a way that made them a weekly highlight. While I’m sad they’ll no longer be playing these characters, I know these two will land on their feet, and I’m sure casting directors took notice of their work. The greatest compliment I can pay them is that I learned how to spell their names, which says how often I sang their praises.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Dollhouse