October 4th, 2011
You’re going to read a lot of reviews of “Asian F” which reference its problematic elements, and they are all correct. Will and Emma’s storyline, in particular, is one of those instances where a serious subject is treated as dramatic without being treated seriously, with bizarre caricatures (Emma’s parents) mixing with some problematic characterization (with Will offering to fix Emma, basically). While I’m glad the show isn’t created obstacles for the couple on a macro scale, regressing Emma is not particularly productive, and the entire storyline felt like it was happening in a different show entirely.
Of course, this isn’t uncommon for Glee. In fact, “Asian F” as a whole sort of exists in these different shows, simultaneously indulging in introspective looks at particular characters (Mike and Mercedes), large-scale numbers (Brittany’s “Run the World (Girls)” and the group sing of “Fix You”), and even some storyline continuity with the casting of West Side Story. In truth, there is little to no cohesion in these storylines, and their effectiveness is decidedly mixed, and yet I still think “Asian F” is a strong step forward for the show.
At the very least, it indicates that Glee is willing to try things, which is a good thing even if they don’t particularly work.
July 31st, 2011
“Anything we should talk about?”
There was a lot of internet chatter last week about how “Thirty-Eight Snub” was a ‘slow’ episode of Breaking Bad, a complaint that I don’t entirely understand. No, last week’s episode wasn’t as exciting as the premiere, but that was sort of the point: as Walt and Jesse face the post-“Box Cutter” era in their own ways, the gravity of their situation begins to wear them down. For Walt it drives him to purchase a gun and confront Mike, while for Jesse it drives him to make life one giant party so he never has to be alone to let the guilt over Gale’s death wash over him. However ‘slow’ the episode might be, that break was necessary to focus on how these characters are going about their normal lives after what they went through.
Now, I’m more open to arguments that “Open House” is a slow episode, although I would still contend this isn’t a huge problem. It does suffer, though, by uncomfortably extending the themes of last week’s episode another week, expanding the agency of both Marie and Skyler within the ongoing storylines. Some of this ends up feeling a bit same-y, especially with Jesse, but it wasn’t necessarily unnecessary. As an exploration of the show’s female characters, “Open House” continued to build on key ideas that run throughout the series, getting through some important procedure necessary for the show to move on to the next stage of its seasonal development.
Which might, yes, be a little less slow.
The Disc Stands Alone
June 10th, 2011
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.
I’ve been falling behind a bit on my Angel catchup, although it isn’t without reason. After finishing the first disc of Season 3, I found myself confronting three very different episodes that were slightly more distinctive than I might have expected. Some offer standalone stories which gesture towards future developments, some look to focus on our supporting characters and their journey to this point, and some offer a more general thematic consideration as facilitated through a carefully designed monster of the week.
There just wasn’t any sort of hook for me to focus on which would unite “That Vision Thing,” “That Old Gang of Mine,” and “Carpe Noctem,” and the recent heatwave zapped away my energy to dive any further into the series to try to find that thread.
And so, while I would like to offer something more, here’s a fairly basis episode-by-episode rundown of the remainder of Disc 1.
“The Doctor’s Wife”
May 14th, 2011
It isn’t exactly news that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is expressly interested in the poetic: between The Girl Who Waited, The Boy Who Waited, and the tragic love story of the Doctor and River Song, Moffat’s world is filled with characters whose relationships are defined by strong emotional hooks. Even when the show built towards the fifth series’ grand finale, watching as the Doctor is slowly erased from time as he rewinded through the events of the series, it all turned into one big poetic moment where the “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” story began to make so much more sense.
“The Doctor’s Wife,” scripted by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (my relationship to whom I will discuss after the jump, is a truly wonderful outing on a large number of levels, but it’s the poetry of it all that makes it work. There’s a point early on where the Doctor can’t come up with a proper analogy to explain their location “outside of the universe” to Amy and Rory, and that’s very much part of Moffat’s approach: we don’t need to know what it means or how it works, all we need to know is what it means.
Or, rather, all we need to know is that we enjoyed the bloody hell out of it even though we’ve still got a whole lot of questions.
May 1st, 2011
“I wanted to be here when you saw it for the first time.”
In the opening moments of “Winter is Coming,” we saw the Wall for the first time. Directly after the credits rolled, we first set eyes on Winterfell. Shortly thereafter, we visit King’s Landing for a brief moment as Cersei and Jaime discuss the secrets that may have died with Jon Arryn.
These were the first moments that we, as viewers, saw these pivotal locations in this series, but two of these were never formally introduced: Cersei and Jaime rode north to Winterfell soon after that conversation, and we saw only a brief glimpse of The Wall at the conclusion of “The Kingsroad.” Our focus was on Winterfell, and on the parties who set forth from its walls, and on Dany’s struggles across the narrow sea.
In “Lord Snow,” the Wall becomes more than an imposing structure, and King’s Landing becomes more than a geographical entity. The episode opens with Ned riding into King’s Landing and immediately finding himself in a meeting of the Small Council, while we are catapulted into Jon Snow’s first training session with Ser Allister Thorne without any glimpse of his initial arrival. There is no time to rest or become acclimated to their new surroundings, as life in King’s Landing and life at Castle Black hold a new set of challenges which will shape the episodes to follow.
And yet, “Lord Snow” is perhaps the most narratively uninteresting episode of the first six, almost like a second pilot where no story truly finds its footing. While the political organization of King’s Landing is sketched out, and the reality of being a brother of the Night’s Watch is well-established, the actual payoff for these events are left for the subsequent installments. Returning to this episode after having seen that which follows, I found myself appreciating what it accomplished without necessarily finding it satisfying, the first episode where the narrative feels limiting rather limited.
February 3rd, 2011
When pre-air reviews of Parks and Recreation’s third season emerged, Matt Zoller Seitz’s column at Salon stood out for me. This is due not only to its quality, which is top notch as per usual, but also because it focused very specifically on tonight’s episode, “Time Capsule.” At first, I was sort of thrown: having seen them all myself, the first episodes to come to mind were those featuring more character-driven humor and which dealt with ongoing plot developments, and to some degree “Time Machine” felt comparatively…small.
However, Matt’s comments were in my mind when I went back to rewatch the episode, and I think that he’s right on the money. While “The Flu” was perhaps the funniest of the first six episodes of the season, and the premiere had the most going on in terms of ongoing storylines, “Time Capsule” is very much the encapsulation of the series’ general charm. Its conclusion is just incredibly satisfying, a simple statement of what it means to be from Pawnee which resonates more strongly than any single joke. This is still a funny episode, in what continues to be a very funny season, but that it ends on something meaningful instead shows the side of the show that Matt responded to, and which certainly deserves recognition.
January 31st, 2010
Last week, I stressed the need for there to be something approaching textual analysis of the U.S. Skins, given that the hype has threatened to overwhelm the show itself. However, that made a lot of sense for “Tea” – that episode, caught up in questions of how the show was being adapted for American audiences, highlighted intriguing intertextuality between the two series. When it comes to “Chris,” though, I can’t help but struggle to find anything substantial to say: it’s a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original episode, to the point where analyzing it at length feels redundant considering my familiarity with the UK series.
What I will say is that while “Chris” is far from perfect, suffering in much the same way as the rest of the series when direct comparisons to the UK series are made, it still works. It still serves that function of taking a character who had little nuance and giving them nuance, still convinces us that this is a show driven by character despite the sense that it has been defined by controversy. The show is starting with a handicap, but it can honestly only get better from here.
Although, there were a few changes along the way which gave me pause.
“Makin’ Some Noise”
October 6th, 2010
There’s an interesting duality to Cougar Town: the series is more consistently driven by change than any other television sitcom, and yet at the same time it feels the least vulnerable to the effects of those changes. “Makin’ Some Noise” is about how Jules and Travis each deal with a major change (Travis going to college), and yet it never seems as if those changes will be insurmountable or even that challenging.
Instead, the episode manages to create the sense of real change while also emphasizing that nothing is going to actually tear about this particular cul-de-sac. It’s the best of both worlds, delivering the sense of familiarity we expect from sitcoms without abandoning the real emotions of Travis’ move and its effects on his relationship with his mother (and her relationship with Grayson).
October 5th, 2010
If you ever needed proof of a higher power, take the fact that “Grilled Cheesus” more or less works.
While problematic in a number of areas, there is an emotional core to this spirituality-themed episode which manages to ground what seems like a really terrible idea in theory. While the show has handled some bigger issues quite effectively, like Kurt’s sexuality, it has also botched numerous issues, like (at times) Kurt’s sexuality. For every moment of emotional honesty, there are situations (like Burt’s big speech admonishing Finn) which seem to undermine those moments; while inconsistency is problematic in almost any series, here those inconsistencies often write over previous developments of character, theme, and universe.
“Grilled Cheesus” does nothing to solve the series’ problems of consistency as a whole, wildly different from everything else this season, but by grounding a difficult subject with the series’ most proven recurring storyline Brad Falchuk has created a stand-alone take on religion that only rarely offends my sensibilities.
And that, my friends, is some sort of miracle.
Don’t Forget About…FX’s Terriers
September 22nd, 2010
I’ll have some thoughts on Undercovers, NBC’s spy drama from J.J. Abrams, later today, but I want to offer a brief programming announcement first. Earlier this month, FX was kind enough to send along the first five episodes of Terriers, Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin’s private eye drama series which debuted two weeks ago. I watched the episode over a two day period, or so, and I was impressed: the show is smart, funny, and has an ease about it which allows its stars (Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James) to shine.
However, to some degree the viewing public didn’t see it the same way: there were some disappointed-sounding remarks following the pilot, and the show dropped precipitously for its second airing (and that was before the complete fall season kicked in). It’s unfortunate timing, the return of network television, in that “Change Partners” (tonight’s episode) is unquestionably Terriers’ best effort yet. It is the moment where things started to shift when going through the screeners, and the pivot upon which the following two episodes expand. Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) and Shawn Doyle (Big Love) guest star in the episode, and it’s here that the series enters into some darker territory, and the sense of “danger” goes from situational to environmental (if that makes any sense).
While the show may not become heavily serialized in “Change Partners,” the episode lays the foundation for those elements to arrive in the subsequent episodes. It is an episode which raises the moral stakes, raising the series’ profile along with it. While I know that you’re tempted to check out Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell in The Defenders, I really hope that those who watched the first couple of episodes and felt the show could do better will give this episode a chance. It’s simply some really great television, and I’d hate to see it get lost amidst the chaos and madness in which we’re all currently engrossed.
10/9c. FX. Tonight. Watch it.