“There is Another Sky”
February 26th, 2010
Early last week, I posted some thoughts which had been percolating for a while about SyFy’s Caprica, in particular how some people just can’t seem to get over the fact that it’s connected to Battlestar Galactica and judge it based on its own merits. And while I didn’t get to this week’s episode, “There is Another Sky” when it aired on Friday, I did notice that I wasn’t the only one with this point of view: both Todd and James came out with much the same perspective after this week’s entry, which indicated that the show’s roll continued into its fifth episode.
“There is Another Sky” is probably not the best episode of the show thus far, but I would argue it may be the most significant. You see, while I wrote last week about how the show shouldn’t be judged solely on its connections to the world of Battlestar Galactica, this week painted a picture (and visited a world) which offers a serious expansion of the Caprican landscape that blows this series wide open and yet simultaneously narrows in on what we know will happen in the future thanks to our BSG knowledge.
And by managing to juggle these two roles so successfully, Caprica remains on a rather exciting journey, whether you know the destination or not.
February 23rd, 2010
“I guess we weren’t looking for it…”
When Lost adds new elements to its world, acts of expansion that have been quite common early in the show’s sixth season, there’s always a question of why we’ve never seen it before. Why did they wait so long, for example, for us to meet Benjamin Linus, and why did we never learn about the Man in Black until the fifth season finale? They’re questions that have some merit, certainly, but which perhaps miss the point: the reality is that sometimes things sneak up on you, and things that have existed for centuries are only able to be found when you know where to look (and sometimes Michael Emerson blows away the producers and becomes part of the show’s expansion).
“Lighthouse” is a cross-reality investigation of this idea, of what people are able to “see” with the right information and how those viewpoints change those characters. For some, their perspective is clouded by an infection taking over their mind and body, while for others their perspective is clouded by a life filled with self-doubt and personal struggle. And while we’ve yet to be given the proper coordinates to full interested what the show’s flash-sideways structure represents, it continues to offer a unique perspective on who these characters could have been, which remains a compelling counterpoint to the characters they are and – perhaps more importantly – the characters they are destined, or not destined, to be.
“Chuck vs. First Class”
January 25th, 2009
One of the things that Chuck has always been good at is effectively telling the same stories without actually, you know, telling the same stories.
The show has always been about a hapless spy who oscillates between, to quote Daniel Shaw, “Bond and a Jerry Lewis Movie,” and whether or not Chuck is capable of handling himself has always been a point of tension. And yet after slightly more than two seasons, I still enjoy that dynamic, and feel as if the show has maintained the charm of Chuck’s incompetence without feeling as if he has made no progress. While Chuck has grown progressively more competent with time, including with his recent developments made possibly via the Intersect 2.0, his response has more or less been the same, and it’s allowed the character to grow without fundamentally changing.
So when “Chuck vs. First Class” starts with Shaw announcing that Chuck would be going on his first solo mission, I had to wonder whether the show was interested in upending the balance of these efforts, and whether Chuck’s success (since we knew he’d be successful) would lead to a newfound self-confidence or even cockiness.
However, the episode manages to offer a series of events that are absolutely familiar and yet which surround emotions and responses that reflect a growing emotional complexity in Chuck that shows maturity without taking away what makes the show work so well.
January 20th, 2010
Airing out of order, “Rewind” is either trying to complete the trains, planes and automobiles trifecta for Christopher Chance’s various missions or trying to simply put the show’s best foot forward in its second episode out of the gate behind American Idol. I’d be worried if it was the former as the show can only go so far when Chance is trapped on a moving mode of transportation with no chance of escape, but I think the latter is their primary goal here.
And it works really well, because the hour is certainly an improvement over the already solid pilot. Not only does “Rewind” feature one of the most extensive uses of in media res storytelling I’ve seen in television for a while, but it also taps into both the potential comedy and the potential mythology present in the series. It is a ludicrous hour of television from a physic perspective, but in terms of delivering action and suspense while maintaining a light-hearted sense of humour and revealing some deeper shades of Christopher Chance and the work he does the episode is quite successful.
December 22nd, 2009
As Scrubs continues into its ninth season, one can’t help but feel as if the greatest mystery is why said season needs to exist.
It’s not that “Our Mysteries” or any other episode of the season thus far is terrible, but rather that what we’re seeing lacks any sort of emotional punch beyond a desperate play at some sort of nostalgia. And unfortunately, that was already the focus of the show’s creative resurgence in its eighth season, which I found myself absent-mindedly revisiting over the weekend. There, the show used a new crop of interns in order to raise questions of maturity and “moving on” in the characters we knew and loved, which was a good strategy for transitioning a character like J.D. from buffoon to father/husband.
However, the problem with the ninth season thus far is that it seems to want to go beyond that, to actually build these med students into characters, and yet the only parts of their stories which are really connected on an emotional level (Scrubs’ strong suit) have more to do with the returning characters than Lucy, Cole, or Drew.
And what that is, precisely, is still a mystery to me.
“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.
December 2nd, 2009
The last time someone died on Friday Night Lights, the show took what is unanimously considered its largest misstep. This time around, the show has delivered perhaps one of its most effective episodes yet.
This is, of course, not to suggest that anyone is surprised that the death of a potential rapist is in any way comparable to the scenario we see in “The Son,” but it demonstrates that death is still an enormously powerful thing within this show’s universe despite Landry’s murderous ways. The show has always been about the way its characters respond to the adversity of crisis or in some instances the adversity bestowed upon them by the simple reality of their lives, and here grief becomes a necessary component of that universe.
And since Sepinwall, Poniewozik and Phipps already posted detailed thoughts about the episode, and because critics have been hyping it for a few weeks now and thus everyone know it’s pretty great, what will follow will be less than comprehensive but nonetheless extensive, as I do have some quasi-complaints (scandal) about shortcuts this particular story takes.
November 7th, 2009
There was one question on everyone’s mind when it comes to Taylor Swift’s hosting stint on Saturday Night Live: Kanye. It’s really the only thing of any note, and to be honest it’s probably the only reason that she was asked to host in the first place. There is no question that Swift is charming, and that her confidence behind the microphone is beyond her years, but she isn’t a comedienne. While she is the kind of musical artist who could easily be integrated into a single skit (or even two), she’s not the kind of artist who could go beyond the typical list of hosting gigs (playing a celebrity with vague resemblance, playing herself, etc.).
So, as such, what works about this week’s episode is when the show plays to Swift’s strengths, placing her behind a microphone or in settings which don’t have the pressure of live comedy. When the show asks her to do much more, the stilted cue card reading rears its head, and you realize that beneath the glossy exterior she really is a teenage girl with a beautiful voice but without acting training.
Which isn’t a huge problem if the show around her is even the least bit funny, but that’s asking a bit much of SNL these days.
October 25th, 2009
When “Dirty Harry” begins, the problems start before the episode even does. After the exciting finale to “Dex Takes a Holiday,” which was a strong episode which really connected with the qualities that make the show work and which ended on that cliffhanger of Deb and Lundy bleeding on the pavement, things seemed exciting in a way that the show was struggling with early on.
However, the lengthy “Previously on Dexter” sequence reminded us that the things that made that episode great were an exclusion (of Rita and the kids) and a shock (that won’t be recreated in the next episode), which means that “Dirty Harry” is immediately handicapped. And while there are some stories that seem legitimately compelling, those seem to be at a standstill while the “drama” comes from conflicts that are either entirely uninteresting or which feel like the sort of simple “Dexter meets Suburbia” type stories the show has been dealing with this season.
It proves once and for all that Dexter is a series best watched in extended bursts on DVD, because the hype is going to create expectations that this season isn’t able to live up to.
October 21st, 2009
Modern Family has thus far proven itself to be an extremely well-executed sitcom, but one that isn’t really doing anything particularly innovative. Its pilot established a really fun integrated family setting, with three separate families having their own idiosyncrasies and then exploding into all-out chaos when they come together. Episodes like last week’s indicated that the show is strong enough to be able to bring in a guest star and not have it disrupt the show’s rhythms.
However, “Coal Digger” is the kind of episode that demonstrates one of the show’s key problems, in that the elements that make the show stand out (like Ty Burrell’s hilarious Phil, or Eric Stonestreet’s loveable Cam) are being used in the same fashion each and every week to the point of growing repetitive. It isn’t that the episode doesn’t try anything new, placing Gloria and Claire at each other’s throats over both recent and long-standing issues, but rather that the way the episode is structured feels too rote at this stage, and the characters that usually elevate that material are beginning to feel not so much tired as perhaps a bit overexposed.
I’m not suggesting that the show is falling apart of anything, but after a week where it really branched out into something new for it to return to the same old structure feels a bit out of place.