May 6th, 2010
The last time a Greg Daniels-produced series was ending its second season, the series’ star took a crack at writing an episode; the result was Steve Carell’s “Casino Night,” an episode largely comprised of a group of small moments for each character mixed in with some major developments with the two love triangles (Michael/Jan/Carol, and Jim/Pam/Roy) which were ongoing at the time.
“Telethon,” written by Amy Poehler and one of the final episodes of another Greg Daniels-produced show’s second season, is more or less the Parks and Recreation equivalent. You have a lot of small moments for all of the show’s supporting characters, you have movement on the two main relationships currently working their way through the series, and the end result (like “Casino Night”) is a really strong half-hour of television which embodies the series’ strength this year: it’s wonderfully odd, surprisingly sweet, and nicely balancing the line between awkward and hilarious.
“Feel a Whole Lot Better”
May 5th, 2010
In Scrubs’ first season, J.D. and Elliot were two people who should logically be together: they were clearly attracted to one another, they were both young and attractive, and they were the male and female leads on a television comedy series. However, in the span of a forty-minute episodes entitled “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” the two characters decide to embark on a relationship after spending a day in bed having sex and chatting about the future of their relationship. The episode cuts back and forth between their time in bed on that first day and their attempts to make the relationship work in the real world, and at the end (spoiler alert), they realize it was all a mistake, and just as we finally see them part as young lovers on that first day we see them broken apart a few weeks later. It was a really fantastic episode of television in terms of breaking down and psychoanalyzing the show’s decision to not follow through on that pairing, and it was the sort of subtle and effective storytelling that would abandon the show and that relationship until the show’s eighth season.
I was just saying to my friend Colin yesterday that Cougar Town is shaping up into a spiritual successor to Scrubs in certain areas, so it’s fitting that the show would introduce its own play on that episode and its functions with “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” another in a pretty long line of really strong episodes for the show. Playing out the “Will They, Won’t They” outside of the thralls of young love and within the dynamics of two divorcees trying to keep from being lonely for the rest of their lives, the episode plays out the consequences from Jules and Grayson’s hookup last week by having the characters lie to themselves about the dramatic conflict apparent in the story. While the episode skips over some of last week’s subtexts that could have made this even more complicated, they manage to squeeze in a lot of story which transforms last week’s hookup into something definitive.
And thus the transformation from “What the hell is this” to “the new Scrubs” continues.
May 4th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
Every good drama series boils down to character development, and I started my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season talking about how Joss Whedon was willing to create clear consequences from the end of the first season within Buffy as a character. This wasn’t a show that was going to forget where it came from, where the events of the past were going to simple fade away. As we’ve discussed, there are occasionally episodes which offer a palette cleanser, a way to sort of wind down from particularly important episodes, but the show neither forgets nor forgives.
“Becoming,” the show’s two-part second season finale, is ultimately evidence of the importance of character to the show, but it’s an episode which feels like it’s doing a lot more heavy lifting than we’re used to. This is not to say that the show isn’t building on what has been done in the past, or that any of the character development in the episode feels unearned in any way, but the introduction of flashbacks and the ability for magic to undo substantial character development are nonetheless kinks in the series’ structure. It doesn’t revolutionize the show, but it very clearly reminds us that the rules can change at any moment, and that characters are sometimes slaves to fate or magical intervention in ways which threaten their happiness, their health, and their proper development as human beings.
It’s a non-linear, unpredictable sort of character development which offers a nice conclusion to a non-linear, unpredictable sort of season.
“The Art of Discourse”
April 29th, 2010
Episodes of Community have been airing out of order for a while, so once I heard a moment in “The Art of Discourse” where Vaughn was mentioned I presumed that it wasn’t in chronological order. Turns out, contrary to the original review written under this false assumption (it was Annie and not Britta that it made mention of, it was in fact in order: however, my confusion still makes me wonder about whether it really matters where this episode was placed
Regardless of whether it was out of order, the episode works: there were some funny moments, and while the episode seemed like it gave into the show’s gimmicks a bit more heavily than others there remained a clear sense of purpose and character within the story. My confusion was likely the result of some strange “early group dynamic” material about why precisely characters like Shirley and Pierce are part of this group; placed at this late point in the season, it seemed a little bit unnecessary, and while the episode ends up being funny enough to survive it doesn’t quite feel as evolved as some of the more recent material.
Or maybe I’m just bitter at myself for writing the review under false assumptions and now having to rewrite it to look like less of an idiot – sorry, “the Art of Discourse,” if you bear the brunt of my frustration.
“At World’s End”
June 15th, 2009
To signal the end of the world, there are various signs of the apocalypse, things which let you know that doom is imminent. To signal the end of a season of Greek, though, you know that Casey and Cappie are about to become intertwined, Rusty will face some sort of crisis, and some sort of major fraternity/sorority event will take place.
However, what always impresses me about Greek is how the various parts all come together in such a way that feels far more organic than it has any right to, and with greater meaning than one would expect the show to aspire to. Sure, the episode had its comic subplot (Rusty and Dale’s altered purity pledge), but for the most part it tackles the fates of the siblings Cartwright with just the right amount of interconnectivity, and with perhaps the show’s most focused lens yet in terms of sidelining supporting players.
Combined with tying up a few loose ends, “At World’s End” isn’t the end for this show by a long shot, but it takes the episode’s theme and runs with it to the point of really encapsulating where these characters sit within the world of Cyprus-Rhodes university. And although there aren’t too many “critics” covering the show on a regular basis, it also proves how a combination of cultural relevance and self-awareness have made this without question the strongest teen-focused dramedy on the air.
May 14th, 2009
If there is one blemish on 30 Rock’s solid, if not spectacular, third season that really stands out, it’s the criticism that the show has leaned too heavily on high profile guest stars in order to meet its ratings potential. First and foremost, it was “successful” in its goal: the show was renewed months ago, showing that critical attention and slight viewership growth really can save great comedy. However, the consequences of this was a reputation, that I’ve heard used as a sign of the show’s decline throughout the year.
But I’m with Liz Lemon in the end: it has been quite a year, and while I don’t think 30 Rock won the Thursday Comedy face-off at the end of the year I do think that “Kidney Now!” is a fine argument for the show’s ability to go above and beyond what one would normally expect. Combining two television cliches (the benefit concert and the organ transplant) and sprinkling with the most guest stars the show has ever crammed into it, it reads like one big middle finger to those critics who questioned whether the show could weather the network-pressured invastion of movie stars.
It’s not a fantastic finale, and perhaps lacked the cohesiveness of last year’s “Cooter,” but with a rollicking final song (which you can find more info on at NBC.com) and some fun material for Liz Lemon the episode delivered a nice sendoff for the season.
“The Classified Materials Turbulence”
May 4th, 2009
I’ve been writing about sitcoms as part of my thesis work, and in doing so I’ve had to define the traditional sitcom in its more basic terms for an academic audience that won’t have quite my obsession with television. So I figured now would be another time to stop by with my new friends at The Big Bang Theory, a series that fits into the mold of actually being able to just “stop by” so to speak. I haven’t yet started catching up on the series, so I’ve still got thirty odd episode episodes to dig into.
This one, admittedly, didn’t do much for me outside of the elements that I find most engaging in the series; it’s clear to me that I’m going to have to spend a number of episodes wishing that the show is spending more time with Sheldon than Leonard, and that I’m going to expect more out of some of the storylines than the show is willing to offer.
“Right Place Right Time”
May 4th, 2009
[Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the Episode Tags if you don’t want to have the episode spoiled! – MM]
When it comes to the combination of comedy and mythology on How I Met Your Mother, the show has always operated on a tight rope of sorts as it relates to the identity of the eponymous mother. The reason for this is not that the mystery isn’t interesting (it is the very premise of the show, of course), but rather that the character at the center of the drama is the show’s least funny, often least interesting, and at times most frustrating. Ted Mosby is really only tolerable when he’s being sweet and romantic, and even then he’s rarely funny in those scenarios. He’s better when he is taking a supporting role, not so much the center of the drama than he is an observer who just happens to be our “lead” character.
What “Right Place Right Time” does is position itself as an episode about Ted but really spend almost all of its time with the characters that are more capable of being funny. Utilizing a traditionally unique structure (at what point does it become its own cliche? I remain unsure), the show lets Bob Saget take us through how a series of random and ridiculous events force Ted to end up at the right place at the right time where, holding the epic yellow umbrella we’ve seen in previous episodes, when a woman taps him on the shoulder.
I like this approach because it minimizes being repetitive with Ted’s various destiny speeches, but the show at this point is running a serious risk with its mythology. What happens in this episode appears to actually answer the titular question, but I don’t think it does: there is more than enough wiggle room for them to pull the rug out from under us yet again. Considering who ends up tapping him on the shoulder, I’ll be happy when I’m vindicated and they pull out the “Just kidding!” next week, but the more the show does this the less we’ll be able to trust them, and the mythology will only be getting in the way of the comedy.
And that’s the last thing the show needs.
“Chuck vs. the Ring”
April 27th, 2009
“Go with your heart, buddy – our brains only screw things up.”
In considering “Chuck vs. the Ring,” a title with two very different meanings, I think it’s important that we acknowledge just how amazing the accomplishment of the Chuck staff is when it comes to pulling off some of the most expansive material for a dramedy of this nature.
The first half of this episode is more or less an episode in its own right, one laden with numerous jokes, an amazing appearance by Jeffster, and what feels like a climax in and of itself. What is interesting is that, by the end of the episode, that storyline felt miles away, overshadowed by an amazingly epic conclusion that potentially changed everything. However, simultaneously, it was highly memorable and containing some of the best jokes in the episode. But when those elements would have felt overbearing, such as during that epic conclusion, they faded effortlessly into the background, never feeling separate but also never feeling like they were fighting in the same space.
It’s such an amazing balancing act, and when everyone in the cast is on fire, and when the writing is off the charts, and when Jeffster soundtracks an entire sequence with “Mr. Roboto,” it’s an example of how Chuck may not aim as high as some of the stronger dramas on television, or embrace absurdity as much as some of the biggest comedies, but in doing what it does I don’t feel there is a single other show that is this capable of executing this level of brilliance.
Forget about save Chuck – let’s praise Chuck for a while, and think with our hearts instead of our brains.