October 20th, 2009
One of the things which makes any legal show somewhat interesting is when it largely evades the law. At the heart of The Good Wife is less a question of what is legal or moral, but rather what is just. The central premise is such that Alicia is forced to consider whether or not her husband committed a crime, and whether or not that even matters to a broader question of justice. It’s one thing to say whether Peter broke any rules, but it’s another to say whether he was unjust to his family.
And because “Crash” focuses on a story where the goal is to actually avoid the legal system, where the crime being committed is a moving target while the injustice is staring everyone right in the face, it really brings this type of story to the forefront. Mixing that case, which on its own was interesting, with a couple of interesting sidenotes, some more work on the ongoing storyline with Peter, and even some acknowledgement of the tension between Will and Alicia, and you have yet another solid hour for the series.
“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary”
October 19th, 2009
In the cold open to this week’s episode, we get an interesting display of the show’s comic sensibilities. When the scene starts, Wolowitz and Raj are playing a game of Mystic Warlords of Ka’ah, a Magic the Gathering-like card game. The transition of jokes is like a crescendo. We start at the bottom with the audience laughing at a funny card name that wasn’t actually funny, but is funny because “they’re nerds, doing nerdy things!” Then, we find Penny playing the game and not knowing what to do, something that’s a bit more legitimate but still a bit straightforward. And then, we have Sheldon’s eidetic memory ruining the game for everyone by (simply through listening to the game) analyzing what’s left in the deck like a card counter. It’s only then that the humour feels particularly interesting, and that I’m finally really paying attention.
As the cold open, and the remainder of the episode, move on, it’s basically an instance of Sheldon driving the comedy, his eidetic memory rescuing uninteresting storylines revolving around Leonard, Penny and Wolowitz and serving as the foundation for a storyline of his own with Raj and Wil Wheaton. I actually thought the episode did a better job with one setup than I had expected, and not as much as it could have with the other, which made for an interesting if uneven episode that didn’t rile me up but didn’t really impress me either.
“I’m Like Ricky Bobby”
October 18th, 2009
I like to think that this, the fifth episode of The Amazing Race’s fifteenth season, is the reality television equivalent of speed dating. You see, last week, we saw the unfortunate departure of Zev and Justin in the worst of circumstances, the kind of circumstances (a lost passport keeping them from checking into the pit stop) that make you want to stop watching (or, say, dating). And yet, the nature of the my love for The Amazing Race (and people’s desire for personal connection) is such that you can’t abandon it entirely, and you’re left to sort through the remaining options, albeit with a skeptical eye.
As such, “I’m Like Ricky Bobby” is really about a re-evaluation of the remaining teams, avoiding comparing them to the dearly departed Zev and Justin but also not giving them a free pass just because they’re all we have left. In the end, I’d say that they aren’t the worst group of contestants the race has ever seen, and that they are perhaps an even stronger group (if not quite as morbidly entertaining) considering the results of this week’s leg in the United Arab Emirates.
I’m not about to propose to any of them or anything, but I wouldn’t be entirely averse to spending a few minutes chatting with them, and I guess that’s a good enough start to my recovery.
“Advanced Criminal Law”
October 15th, 2009
I am not one of those people who needs every episode of a comedy to establish something new about the show, but early on in its run Community has actually done a pretty good job of expanding its collection of stock characters into something more diverse than I expected. As a result, “Advanced Criminal Law” is a step back not in terms of quality (it’s still a fine episode) but in that it relies on basic stereotypes and offers us combinations that either have already been done or were not given enough time to really click.
And yet, for the most part, I think the episode succeeded in finding humour in each of the storylines, something that should really be the goal of any comedy early on its run. Even if the storylines didn’t feel like they were bringing anything new, the various situations fit into these characters very well, giving us new takes on old dimensions and making me laugh enough to look past the relative simplicity compared with some of the show’s better segments.
“The Rhodes Not Taken”
September 30th, 2009
I want you to imagine an episode of television programming which features the following: a guest appearance from Kristin Chenoweth, a battle between Kristin Chenoweth and Lea Michele on a song from Cabaret, a duet arrangement of Heart’s “Alone” featuring Kristin Chenoweth, Kristin Chenoweth in full on rodeo mode during a Glee Club performance, and a full cast rendition of a really great Queen song.
And then I want you to imagine me, someone who enjoys every single one of these things, not enjoying the episode at hand. Crazy, no?
Well, unfortunately, that’s how I feel about “The Rhodes Not Taken,” an episode that suffers from a rapid-fire plot development and misplaced emotional emphasis. While I loved Chenoweth’s performance in the episode, and all of the musical elements, it suffered from the fact that every bit of realistic character development was saved for a character who isn’t actually in the show at all. By placing so much of the episode’s impact on the temporary replacement for Rachel as opposed to Rachel herself, her bizarre indecision is never framed as anything close to character development, left to feel like sheer plot contrivance.
It’s an episode that wants to be like “Preggers,” but in perhaps a cruel twist of fate the genius of Kristin Chenoweth only sets them back in the grand scheme of things.
Trust in Reality TV: A Four-Letter Word?
A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup
[Since I find blogging about shows like Top Chef, Project Runway and Survivor: Samoa individually somewhat inconvenient, but often nonetheless have things to say about them, I figure we’d lump the three mid-week reality shows together in what we shall now refer to as Cultural Learnings’ Reality Roundup. Enjoy!]
Trust is perhaps the central tenet of reality television.
I don’t mean so much within the game itself, although clearly in a game like Survivor (whose 19th season, Survivor: Samoa, started this week) there is an element of trust between individual players. Rather, I speak of the trust relationship between the show and the viewer. Viewers hope that they can trust the judges on Top Chef and Project Runway to make the right decisions, and they hope they can trust the losing Survivor tribe to vote out the person who is making the new season nigh on unwatchable.
It is a highly tenuous sense of trust, of course: half of the dramatic value of reality television is having that trust violated, and the growing frustration as villains or talentless individuals remain while others go home instead. And, of course, that trust is forever complicated by the existence of editors, learning that the trust you want to experience is being manipulated at every turn.
So, what I find fascinating about this week’s trio of reality shows is that in each instance we are reminded of this trust relationship, and that the “worst Survivor villain of all time” is in fact perhaps the most trustworthy reality character (from a viewer/series perspective) the show has ever seen.
September 13th, 2009
“He’s never where you expect him to be.”
When it comes to Mad Men, titles are often a sign of a major theme in an episode, often the only real quality an episode has (with most remaining light on plot in favour of atmosphere or thematic importance). But I don’t think there’s been a title in a while that has seemed so expansive, so all-encompassing. “The Fog” could mean any multitude of things both in terms of what we already know about character relationships and in terms of new develops in the span of the episode, which leaves us critics fumbling to decide just what direction we’re going to take it in.
For me, I think the moment where the title really connected with me was when Don was chatting with his prison guard friend in the Solarium and tells him an anecdote that a nurse told him when Sally was being born. “Your wife’s on the boat, and you’re on the shore.” And while it was never explicitly stated, there’s a fog between those two locations, and Mad Men is essentially a show without a lighthouse. Betty, stranded out on that boat and struggling through a difficult birthing process, comments in her crazed state that Don isn’t where you expect him to be, that once the fog lifts he’s disappeared or gone off somewhere else. While she views this in some ways as an abandonment, for Don it’s about being restless.
Much of “The Fog” is about Don Draper’s own self-awareness or lack thereof, finally admitting to himself that for all of his problems in the past he is the one on solid ground while Betty, and Peggy, and Sally are out on boats struggling to maintain course in the midst of a growing storm. He’s the one who has everything and who can help guide them safely into the years ahead, but the problem is that he is distracted: by women, by his job, and by his own insecurities buried deep beneath the surface. If he is the one in charge of climbing up the lighthouse steps to break through the fog and win the day, the boats are going to crash on the rocks.
July 24th, 2009
As an experiment, I don’t really know how we’re supposed to qualify Children of Earth as a piece of television. Are we supposed to be judging it as if it were a season of Torchwood? If so, I can’t really offer an opinion on that subject, as my lack of experience with the show previously would make me an unfair judge. At the same time, is it really fair to consider the miniseries as a standalone piece of entertainment when it hinged so much on both past character associations and future ramifications? While I’m ready to sing its praises from that perspective, certainly entering into the upper echelon of television that I’ve seen this year, that probably doesn’t cover the entirety of the show’s success.
As such, all I can really do is say this: while “Day Four” struggled from moving too quickly, and “Day Five” inevitably struggled with the same pacing issues necessitated by the five-episode cycle, Torchwood: Children of Earth is nonetheless ending in a way that so few shows are able to. In this final part, emotional beats range from the disturbing to the tragic, the triumphant to the tragic, the climactic to the tragic, and…did I mention tragic? The series is all about that underlying element of tragedy, an unescapable sense that whatever is about to happen in these interactions with the 4-5-6 is just another drop in the water when it comes to society’s failings – “Day Four” evoked the idea that these children had already been failed by the government, so their use as bargaining chips with the 4-5-6 was just an extreme extension of that. It’s a horrifying and chilling notion, and one that the final episode of the miniseries drives home in a number of key tragedies.
Let’s just put it this way: if this is a happy ending, Russell T. Davies is truly (as Alan Sepinwall once noted) a bastard, although one who’s crafted a brilliantly compelling series of television.
“No Man is an Island”
July 9th, 2009
Due to some thesis commitments, I’ve actually found myself doing something really strange: not only have I had no time to blog about television, but I’ve even found myself falling behind on watching it. Sure, I’ve gone through three seasons of Top Chef is about nine days, but watching new television just hasn’t been part of the game plan, which meant I just watched 10 Things I Hate About You, haven’t gotten to Warehouse 13, and was a day late getting to this week’s episodes of Burn Notice and Royal Pains.
And trust me, I’m as shocked as you are that the one show that shakes me out of my hiatus is Royal Pains, a show that two weeks earlier (before the show took a break for the holiday) had convinced me it was willing to settle for light and charming as opposed to something more substantial. However, “No Man is an Island” shocked me by emerging as a really compelling piece of television which did a lot of small things to bring to the surface intriguing characters dynamics, medical scenarios which start as one thing and evolve as medicine often can, plus a very Burn Notice/MacGyver piece of medicine from Dr. Hank.
It was the kind of episode that legitimately makes me think that these characters could eventually become their own less interesting but nonetheless entertaining versions of Michael, Sam and Fiona, a scenario I wouldn’t have predicted when the show started and that makes me more intrigued to see where the show goes from here.
July 6th, 2009
As a medical drama airing on a network where 12-13 episode seasons are the norm, Nurse Jackie is in a very weird little position. On the one hand, like all medical dramas, there is a sense that its ongoing storyline isn’t necessarily going to change or evolve in each episode, and its procedural setting will result in storylines that only appear for a single week. On the other hand, as a show with a shortened season, there is an expectation that things will move with a bit more purpose, and that “filler” won’t be as necessary.
To an extent, I would argue that “Daffodil” is the most basic episode yet, one that features a couple of new pairings for the show and offers an interesting parallel but doesn’t seem to do anything with it. This is the first time we’ve seen a night shift episode, and yet it didn’t feel like a particularly novel setup, and the show’s balance of comedy and drama is more than a bit out of whack right now.
It was an entertaining half hour, driven by Jackie’s personal dilemma and some well-drafted characters, but it seemed just a bit too random and, ultimately, basic for me to suggest that it did enough to advance things forward or show us something new.