March 31st, 2014
I want to say upfront that I think the How I Met Your Mother finale was not an abomination. It featured a number of resonant moments, images, and character beats that tapped into what made the series resonate early in its run. When it finally reached the moment the series had been building up to, the chemistry between Josh Radnor and Cristin Miloti was quiet and sweet, and it stands as one of the series’ finer moments. This was a series that set out to tell a non-linear story about love, and delivered a—somewhat—non-linear finale about love, such that no one can claim How I Met Your Mother was a dramatically different show at the end than it was in the beginning.
However, I also want to say that I hated the How I Met Your Mother finale. A lot.
“A Fistful of Paintballs”
May 5th, 2011
“That was a game. This is paintball.”
“A Fistful of Paintballs” is unquestionably a sequel to “Modern Warfare,” but I’d argue that it’s a fundamentally different episode on some level.
It follows the same basic principle from a story perspective: the school’s descent into paintball-related madness brings out some of the pre-existing relationships between the characters, specifically focused on Britta and Jeff’s consummation of their ongoing sexual tension. However, in terms of the actual methodology of the episode, it was a fairly extensive collection of pop culture references which only occasionally connected with the show’s overall mythology.
Now that the show is ending its second season, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is much more interconnected with ongoing storylines, building much of its structure around the season’s central conflict. While I have had my issues with how Pierce has been portrayed this season, believing that the character’s unpleasantness has not been funny enough to justify its omnipresent nature, this episode is much stronger in its use of the power structures within the latest paintball-based warzone to draw out ongoing character relationships.
With a more straightforward pop culture reference point paired with a more complex serialized component, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is the logical maturation of the “Modern Warfare”-template and a strong first half of what feels like a suitably strong finale.
May 25th, 2010
A lot has been written about how The Good Wife is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, presenting itself as a combination of legal procedural and workplace drama on a weekly basis while at its heart remaining a serialized character study. The series’ pilot was one of those skillful bits of television where they presumably lay out all their cards and yet really tell you nothing at all. The clear “structures” of the season were put into place (the competition with Carey, the complications surrounding Peter’s trial, Alicia’s romantic tension with Will, etc.), but it couldn’t tell us that those structures would evolve, and that from their “resolutions” would emerge structures which offer greater complexity.
Ending where the series began, “Running” very purposefully asks us how much has changed since Alicia Florrick stood on stage with her husband one year ago, a cyclical conclusion which for some shows would seem a bit cute (and, admittedly, the ending eventually veers into that territory). However, when you actually consider that question beyond the rote cliffhanger that the episode provides, you realize how much more complex this environment seems, how much it feels like we’ve lived in Alicia Florrick’s shoes and understand the ways in which she’s trapped between different definitions of the series’ title.
And while its ending may be predictable when taken out of that context, I would very much argue that the series’ position heading into its second season is more impressive than even the strong pilot predicted.
“The Lunar Excitation”
May 24th, 2010
“What’s life without whimsy?”
In the age of Ausiello (a dark age if I’ve ever heard of one), there are no more surprises: we’ve known for months that Sheldon would be “getting a love interest” in the form of Mayim Bialik, so any of the sudden shock at the events of “The Lunar Excitation” never really materializes. We’ve had months to think about how the show was going to negotiate Sheldon experiencing something vaguely approaching a romantic connection after having made the argument that the character is “in love with science,” so it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming.
The question for me was just how they would maneuver Sheldon into this situation, and how they would either maneuver him out of it or transition into a new facet of his personality. Ultimately, the final two questions are going to have to wait until next season, but I quite liked “The Lunar Excitation” in terms of how it got Sheldon to the point of being willing to (sort of) put himself out there (quasi-)romantically. It’s not, perhaps, the complex investigation of Sheldon’s social interactions which speaks to his greater neuroses that some part of me desires, but when you consider what this storyline could have become I think we have to consider ourselves lucky: Jim Parsons remains funny, Sheldon’s character is never compromised, and the series resists “duping” Sheldon into becoming a part of the charade.
“The Lunar Excitation” actually does quite well with both of its storylines, delivering a nice parting note for Penny and Leonard which leaves their relationship in a more complicated place than I had imagined heading into the summer. The finale also had a certain energy to it, with the sense of whimsy which was absent in the show during some of its third season episodes restored. It’s a whimsy which bodes well for the fourth season, even if I do have some questions about just how this is all going to play out in September considering the events in the episode.
And frankly, I’m just glad that I’ve got something to chew on with the show, considering its propensity to tie things off in a neat bow.
“The Master Plan”
May 13th, 2010
I hate to keep driving my “Parks: It’s the New Office!” comparisons into the ground, but I want you to think back to the start of The Office’s third season (which, not entirely coincidentally, picks up right after “Casino Night,” which I compared with last week’s “Telethon”). The show took a pretty considerable risk in introducing an entirely new workplace with Jim’s move to the Stamford branch, and the idea of introducing entirely new characters and “disrupting” the show seemed like a huge risk.
However, while these new characters (Andy and Karen, in particular) were brought into the picture to help emphasize the division within the show, the Stamford branch was comically consistent with the show as a whole. While it was a different environment, and their arrival in Scranton later in the season created plenty of conflicts, we accepted the characters because they fit in with what the show was trying to accomplish on the whole.
What Parks and Recreation did tonight, however, was perhaps even more impressive: they managed to not only humanize a character who is introduced as a point of conflict, but they managed to completely integrate a fairly big star into an existing comedy ensemble with remarkable proficiency. The credit at the start of “The Master Plan” may have jokingly read as “Introducing Rob Lowe,” but both the show and Lowe do such an amazing job of introducing these new characters into this existing group that any sense of conflict within the series’ actual narrative is non-existent, and we’re left to enjoy a pretty fantastic ramping up of both new and existing storylines without seeming distracted or chaotic.
Basically, I’m deep in the pot at this point, so if you’re at all not feeling the love I suggest you leave now before I lose all objectivity.
“English as a Second Language”
May 13th, 2010
A week after Community’s most “epic” episode yet, it’s a bit jarring to return to a low-key episode about Spanish class and study groups. However, after a bit of a re-entry period, “English as a Second Language” nicely falls into a rhythm that fits with the show at the end of its first season. The central premise of the show means that they might not be in Spanish class next year, which raises some logical questions about how the show will work if they’re not all in the same class with an excuse to see one another every day.
Frankly, I think Community could have gotten away with keeping them in Spanish class forever and just not caring, but the show isn’t going to settle for that sort of laziness. Instead, they throw the entire group into chaos over the pending changes, and eventually come to a conclusion which speaks to the ways in which the group dynamic is changing and (more importantly) a glimpse at what the show will look like in the future.
April 29th, 2010
In my piece for Jive TV this week, I took a brief look at what Steve Carell potentially leaving The Office means for the series. Ultimately, I think that the show could evolve creatively to fill his absence, but the question is whether anyone would keep watching. The show is suffering from some pretty serious backlash as of late, and Carell’s departure might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a large number of unhappy viewers.
However, when I voiced some displeasure with “Body Language,” which I despised, on Twitter, Alisa Perrin rightfully called me out on it: I’m still watching the show, so how bad can it really be? Ultimately, I would make the argument that the reasons “Body Language” almost entirely failed have more to do with problems the show has had since the very beginning and happened to be the focus of this particular episode, but it has to be said that many of the people who complain the most about the show are the same ones who might never stop watching. Is it such a habit that people will never give up on it, sticking around to play the “Viewer who cried Jumping Shark” for a few more seasons?
As a critic and as a viewer, I keep watching because there are parts of this show that I really enjoy, and that are occasionally not quite as buried beneath as much humourless material was they were here.
“The Monopolar Expedition”
May 11th, 2009
Okay, so, admittedly I don’t actually watch The Big Bang Theory recently, but this is the second episode I’ve stopped in on after really enjoying their PaleyFest panel, and it’s the second episode where I feel like there’s something missing. That something, believe it or not, is an ounce of ingenuity in the series’ broader storylines: these characters stand out on their own, and when doing things that only they would do, but this episode was such a bland sitcom episode at its very core that I don’t really think that it ever elevated itself beyond cute.
This, of course, isn’t a cardinal sin: there’s plenty of room on television for a cute sitcom that, when it’s at its best, can actually be quite funny. But what bothers me about Big Bang Theory is that it often feels like one show is trapped within the other, that characters are being held hostage by a show that doesn’t allow them to branch out of their accepted roles to be actually liked, appreciated, or understood outside of “very special episodes” that only happen ever so often.
The result is a finale that lacked that special something that made it distinct from, well, any other episode of the series, but that went through the motions of a sitcom finale so blandly that I couldn’t help but feel bored by, if not the jokes themselves, then the plot unfolding.
“As Fast as She Can”
May 11th, 2009
After “Right Place Right Time” was sold as a rather ‘epic’ episode in the grand scheme of things, evoking the titular story while providing one of those stories that separates itself amongst the various characters, “As Fast As She Can” was perhaps necessarily slower and less eventful. While it doesn’t directly connect the dots as to how these events relate to Ted’s discovery of the future mother of his children, it does provide events that feel like they put Ted into a particular location where those events could take place.
I just wish that it could have been a stronger episode overall: whereas last week was ostensibly about Ted but realistically more about Robin, Marshall and Barney, this week’s episode was primarily Ted and more Ted, and that’s problematic. I don’t mean to rag on poor Josh Radnor, who really wasn’t bad in thise episode in terms of acting like a total tool, but the character just isn’t that funny, and since we’ve already established Stella (Sarah Chalke) as a black hole of comedy it meant that the drama and the comedy were isolated within the episode.
So while I’m still excited for the finale, this didn’t do anything to build any momentum and, in actuality, probably slowed things down a bit too much.