Tag Archives: Episode 11

Cultural Interview: Awkward. Creator Lauren Iungerich on “Surprise!” and S3

IungerichPhotoWhen Awkward. closed the first half of the third season earlier this year, it was with the promise of ten more episodes to debut this fall. Around the same time, however, we learned those ten episodes would be the final ones for creator Lauren Iungerich, who left the show to explore other opportunities.

I’ve been covering the show for The A.V. Club since mid-way through its first season, and Iungerich has been kind enough to drop into the comments and engage with viewers on occasion (and has already weighed in on some of the comments on my review of “Surprise!”, tonight’s premiere).

Having spoken to Lauren about the show ahead of its second season here at Cultural Learnings, I got in touch with her this week to get some perspective on “Surprise!” and the final ten episodes as we march toward her “series finale.” Schedules permitting, my goal is to have a few of these conversations throughout the season to get further perspective, likely with a more retrospective interview to follow later in the year.

In the meantime, some Q&A on “Surprise!”, Jenna as—a sort of—anti-hero, and Season 3’s arc as a whole:

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Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space”

“Crawl Space”

September 25th, 2011

This isn’t going to make much sense, but when things get particularly busy it’s the good shows that suffer.

I am aware that this sounds odd, and do lament that I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for the past two weeks when it comes to Breaking Bad, but the reality is that I’m less likely to write about something when it’s delivering on this kind of level. Without screeners, I’m not able to watch things in advance, and my early week schedule is such that any sort of extended breakdown of the episode just isn’t feasible in the way it was during the summer. Even as I write this, I’ve got lesson plans to work on, names to learn (I made promises!), and reading to get a jump on, and so it becomes much easier to just hand you all off to Alan or Noel (whose reviews were posted as soon as the episode concluded) who I am quite certain share my opinion that “Crawl Space” was a pretty great episode of Breaking Bad.

While I remain a strong believer in the value of post-air analysis, I’ll admit there are points where our coverage of “prestige” dramas like Breaking Bad becomes a bit hivemind-y. It’s possible we might focus on different things, or make slightly different observations, or offer different theories for where things go from here. Similarly, we might write more or less, and include more recap or less recap depending on our proclivities on that subject. However, at the end of the day, we’re all basically saying that Breaking Bad’s fourth season has been particularly strong, and that “Crawl Space” benefits from having brought numerous storylines together in a blissful bit of horror as Walt manically laughs while his life falls apart around him, a capper to what was a truly impressive performance from Bryan Cranston.

If I had time, I’d love to explore the inner-workings of this episode more closely, diving into smaller details or analyzing character arcs as compared with earlier seasons, but the problem is that I don’t have time to do it. Really, I don’t have time to do Breaking Bad justice, which is why I haven’t written reviews for the past two weeks and why I don’t have as much to say about “Crawl Space” as I might like to. The great shows are the ones you watch even when you should probably be doing something else, but they’re also the ones that you’re less likely to write about when you know that everyone else is more or less saying the same things.

However, at the risk of being repetitive, here’s a few hundred – okay, it ended up being more like a thousand – more words about the stellar “Crawl Space.”

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Glee – “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”

“The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”

February 6th, 2011

Culturally, the Super Bowl is largely considered a spectacle: it is about the commercials, the pre-game festivities littered with celebrity cameos, and the idea of the entire nation tuning into the same event. Culturally, the game is insignificant: the majority of people who watched the Super Bowl tonight probably had no idea what individual journeys the two teams had taken to get to that point, making the FOX-produced context at the start of the game (featuring the dulcet tones of Sam Elliot) the extent of the narrative they received (especially considering that Troy Aikman and Joe Buck are too incompetent to provide much more information).

However, there was a narrative to be found, and it played out in the game itself. It is the game that drives viewership, more than the ads: an exciting football game keeps people watching, creating the actual story which engages those of us who may not consider ourselves diehard sports fans. It can be a story about underdogs, a story about vindication, or even a simple story of an accused rapist being denied another championship ring: a single football play could become part of any number of narratives, and the thrill of the game was in seeing those stories play out within the larger tale of two teams battling for football supremacy. Down to the final play, in what was a tightly contested game worthy of the hype surrounding the event, it never felt like it was just Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh – that might be what you see on the scoreboard, but the true story was multi-dimensional and the real reason the game was as exciting as it was.

“The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” was not multi-dimensional, or at least it didn’t want us to believe it was. There were brief moments of honesty, but every one was followed with broad moralizing. There were smaller stories, but every one was overshadowed by an aggressive straw man the likes of which we have never seen. There was spectacle, but beneath that spectacle was a fundamental lack of logical plot progression, filled with specious reasoning that was only called into question by the characters we were meant to despise.

Perhaps most importantly, though, “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” never felt spontaneous or thrilling: at every turn, it veered towards the predictable, finding precious few moments to truly become something that would capture the spirit (rather than the basic form) of the game it followed. While far from the worst episode the show has produced, it had the unfortunate distinction of having the most problematic lead-in: not because football and Glee are incompatible, but because the Super Bowl was thrilling in a way that Glee only dreams it could be.

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Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

December 9th, 2010

As if Community weren’t meta enough, my immediate response to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” was a desire to sit Dan Harmon down in a study room and journey into his mind in search of the meaning of Community.

I say this not because the episode undermined or threatened pre-existing notions of the series, but after the episode I wasn’t sure if what I’d seen was the very embodiment of the series’ general approach to comedy or something completely unique. Because it looked decidedly unique, I first leaned towards the latter category, but then it was put into context with the sense of generic parody that Daniel T. Walters wrote about this week, and even Abed’s general trend of seeing the world through pop culture that friend of the blog Cory Barker wrote about on his publicly-available term paper.

The episode was lovingly crafted, comically inspired, and willing to delve into some darker emotional territory, but I ended up feeling that this ended up in a liminal space between what Community wants to be and what I often fear it will become. It was sort of like I was Ebenezer Scrooge, and the episode manifested as ghosts of Community Past, Present and Future all at once.

And I don’t know whether to be extremely excited or mildly concerned.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Mermaid Theory”

“The Mermaid Theory”

December 6th, 2010

“The Mermaid Theory” is interesting in two ways. And since they’re not particularly substantial ways, I’m just going to cut the introduction off here and we can get into the meat of it.

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Mad Men – “Chinese Wall”

“Chinese Wall”

October 3rd, 2010

“I thought in the end you wouldn’t want to throw it away.”

The balance between business and personal affairs forms one of the central tensions of Mad Men, but the show’s characters all approach the issue from different perspectives. For some, it takes the form of large-scale conflicts, such as Peggy’s pregnancy back in season; for others, it takes the form of family conflict, such as Pete’s relationship with his father-in-law; for yet more, it takes the form of the simple fact that a dinner out is interrupted by a colleague who stops by with news about the business.

For Don Draper, however, it has always been an elaborate balancing act: desperate to keep his true personal affairs out of his business, he created the ideal life for a businessman: wife, two and a half kids, house in the suburbs, etc. And yet that was never Don’s personal life, not really: if anything, Don’s lack of identity meant that he had no true personal life, and what he had was lost when Ann Draper passed away earlier this season.

The tragedy of “Chinese Wall” is not the loss of Lucky Strike hitting the fan, or the departure of the client who brought Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce its greatest honour. Instead, the greatest tragedy is that Don’s search for a personal life has become indistinguishable from his business one. While I would argue that “Chinese Wall” is almost as consistently themed as last week’s “Hands and Knees,” what sets it apart is that it is a theme that has been central from the very beginning, and in the “last days of Rome” it becomes more important than ever before.

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United States of Tara – “To Have and To Hold”

“To Have and To Hold”

May 31st, 2010

“Is every single thing just lurking beneath the surface?”

United States of Tara isn’t a mystery show, per se, but there is a central search for answers at its core which we seem to be returning to once a season. After reaching out to her college rapist in an effort to discover the truth behind her condition only to discover that it went far deeper than that particular trauma, Tara stepped away from trying to find the source of her problems and instead tried to medicate and try to continue living life without that knowledge. However, as the second season has progressed, it’s clear that her condition is creating more strain in her life now than ever before, and through the help of a new alter (Shoshannah) and whatever it is that the Hubbard house brings out in her.

I recently caught up with the past three episodes of Tara (the end of the season turned out to be too busy to get to it live), and I’m on record as suggesting that Tara’s second season is perhaps the most confident on TV this year outside of Parks and Recreation and perhaps Sons of Anarchy. “To Have and to Hold” is another strong episode which speaks to both the mysteries of Tara’s past (which I think we have enough information to sort out, if not entirely comprehend) and the damage of Tara’s present, emphasizing the long-term ramifications of the former while reminding us that the gravity of the latter has yet to be determined.

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