March 16th, 2010
There are only so many ways that we can talk about the “Flash Sideways” structure of Lost’s sixth season before we discover its deeper meaning, only so many ways that we can pass judgment while technically reserving judgment.
However, I will contend that those who suggest that the structure is meaningless without a sense of the big picture are overstating things: yes, episodes like “Recon” might become more interesting with a rewatch once the pieces start to come together, but the structure is capable of being interesting in its own right. Like the original flashbacks, the segments are more dependent on individual characters than the show has been in a long time, and so we love episodes featuring Locke and Ben while we become frustrated with episodes featuring Kate and whatever other character we don’t tend to like very much.
I’ll be curious to see how people respond to “Recon,” a Sawyer episode that threatens to rewrite the character’s fairly popular transformation during the “LaFleur” story last year. Part of what made Kate’s flash so problematic was that it felt regressive: it’s one thing to hearken back to an earlier structure that focuses more on these characters, but it’s another to show them more or less exactly as we’d seen them before. Some even argued that Sayid’s flash had the same problem, in that it didn’t show us anything new, or really change our perception of the character.
Personally, I think that we can take a lack of change as a fairly substantial clue to the deeper meanings at play here, but what makes “Recon” work is that the changes we’ve witnessed on the island feel as if they have heavily influenced the James Ford we meet in the flash sideways. The changes between this Sawyer and the one we saw in the first season are not dissimilar from the changes between the Sawyer who crashed on Oceanic Flight 815 and the Sawyer who was known as Lafleur, and it’s the sort of change that says more through simple character drama than any plot-based exposition could ever accomplish. The scenes are as much a reminder as they are a reveal, and while that might not currently seem fitting for a final season I think it’s all going to work out in the long run (or the long con, if you prefer).
“Chuck vs. the Fake Name”
March 1st, 2010
Reviewing Chuck isn’t quite as fun anymore.
That pains me to write, in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the show right now which has made the past few episodes seem particularly difficult to sit down and discuss. I’d love to say that it’s just residual effects of the Chuckpocalypse, so that I could blame that particular group of fans for my struggles, but I don’t think that’s all it is.
There is something about the show that’s missing right now, something that has little to do with Chuck/Hannah or Sarah/Shaw or any of the relationship drama that some seem so concerned about. And I don’t even think my problem has to do with character consistency, like the complaints that Chuck and Sarah are acting differently than they have in the past. I think the show has earned our patience on the former front, and in terms of the latter I think that it’s unrealistic to believe that these characters wouldn’t occasionally bottle up their feelings in a way that’s destructive in the long term but easier in the short term.
Rather, I think my problem has to do with the fact that this season has fingerprints all over it, too purposefully designed to drive the show to a particular point instead of allowing it to get there on its own. “Chuck vs. the Fake Name” has some nice comic moments, and sells its emotional side fairly well, but it’s one of many episodes this season that end up a bit anvil-like in terms of explaining the season’s central themes, while proving too subtle when it comes to actually justifying those themes from a plot or character point of view.
January 19th, 2010
Through the magic of Twitter, I’ve known for a few weeks that critics have been fine with how White Collar resolved its midseason cliffhanger, which I…well, let’s just say that I wasn’t buying what they were selling. So, going into “Hard Sell,” I knew that I wasn’t going to be writing an extended treatise on the show’s incongruous plot twist tarnishing what goodwill it had.
However, although I was able to put away that particular hat, “Hard Sell” remains, well, a hard sell for me. While they may negotiate the cliffhanger in a way that doesn’t damage the integrity of the show, it also does absolutely nothing to make the show more interesting. There’s some vague potential on the margins here that makes me wish this were an entirely different show, but as it is all this mid-season premiere demonstrates is that no matter the crazy ideas the show might introduce, it’s always going to revert back to a pretty blasé procedural with some charismatic leads.
January 6th, 2010
Friday Night Lights is a show that, despite various dips in quality, has not fundamentally changed since its first season. It has always been a show about the people in a football-crazy town, revealing both the problems which complicate their lives and the people (and the sport) that helps them keep grounded.
The show’s problem has been those moments (primarily isolated in the second season, but cropping up in the first season as well) where it feels as if the problems are the only thing that’s working about the show. The second season didn’t just struggle because a character murdered someone, but rather because the show simultaneously retreated from the football culture that was its heart: I don’t believe the murder would have ever been a good idea regardless, but it could have been handled much more efficiently if it had been folded into the community rather than remaining a distraction.
While the fourth season started as an homage to Season Three, with Matt Saracen’s farewell arc echoing Smash and Street’s exits, it has quickly evolved into an extended test of whether the show better understands the mistakes it has made in the past. The show has never been beyond having people make mistakes, and delaying the consequences of those mistakes, but the show is stepping into familiar stories, and not in a good way. “Toilet Bowl” is filled with red flags, characters taking actions that come from a somewhat logical place but which for the sake of narrative expediency are coming faster than they probably should.
It’s adding up to a show that I’m not quite as excited as watching, even if (relative to the second season) there are more reminders of the show and the community that elevate that drama to another level.
“Secret Santa” x 2
December 10th, 2009
It’s not often that two episodes airing back to back have the same title, so it’s a convenient excuse to blog 30 Rock and The Office together tonight.
Christmas is a holiday that has always been a highlight for The Office (“Christmas Party” is one of its finest hour-long episodes), but to be honest I’ve found that 30 Rock is kind of really bad at it. I don’t know what it is, but Christmas seems to be a holiday that just doesn’t work for the show, primarily because its wackiness doesn’t have that sense of heart that The Office taps into during this, the most magical time of the year.
So, accordingly, the best parts of both episodes entitled “Secret Santa” are those which feel like they’re bringing everyone together in celebration of the season’s message of hope and togetherness, and the worst parts of both episodes are those where that spirit is either ignored or crushed beneath a smothering of unpleasantness.
November 18th, 2009
In terms of the great comedy battle of 2009, which continues to rage amongst shows both new and old, Modern Family is at a distinct disadvantage: with Parks and Recreation delivering some legitimately great comedy and Community doing a really compelling and confident meta-storyline, the simplicity of this show is a disadvantage in terms of being flashy. There comes a point where the hype surrounding the show creates greater expectations than the storylines themselves can live up to in terms of their premise, requiring viewers to appreciate the strong execution where originality isn’t overtly present.
“Great Expectations” is a solid episode of the show, featuring a number of fun loving gags and a couple of big guest stars, but nothing stands out as particularly stunning as compared to some of the other comedies. In this instance, I think there was enough nuance to each individual story to continue to prove how strong the writers understand these characters, but it nonetheless follows similar patterns to what we’ve seen in the past. I think it’s one of their stronger episodes due to a nice role reversal, but it’s not reaching as high as some of the other comedies are right now.
November 17th, 2009
The Good Wife has earned the rather ominous title of being the most unexpected critical “success” of the new season, maintaining the positive response to its pilot and growing into a confident, sophisticated mix of procedural law constructs and some intriguing serialized character dynamics. The show isn’t extraordinary, but in a year where the biggest new drama series (like ABC’s FlashForward and V) are still searching for an identity the simple elegance of The Good Wife is legitimately refreshing.
However, the show’s consistency has been its undoing in one area, as the show’s persistence in crafting connections between Alicia and the cases she tries has begun to wear thin. Last week’s episode was actually really compelling, smartly introducing a new character for Alicia to interact with (the non-lawyer) and introducing a case that had both ramifications in the law firm (being the partner’s daughter) and that involved the unique questions of orthodoxy. However, the show used the marital strife which resulted from the case in order to make Alicia an ideal lawyer not because she is particularly skilled, but rather because she knows what her clients are going through.
There’s nothing wrong with this, and perhaps some could argue it actually helps solidify her character, but as long as she is defined by her past the show feels as if it has less forward momentum than it should. An episode like “Unprepared” works because of how legitimately central Peter Florrick’s trial is to the events in the episode, but in his absence the show relies heavily on those aspects of her life. At some point, Peter Florrick is going to come home, or be sent away for a long time: at that point, what does The Good Wife become?
It’s a question that’s been bugging me, even while I’ve found The Good Wife to be consistently enjoyable.
November 16th, 2009
Last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother proved enormously divisive, despite the fact that for the most part most critics read the episode itself in much the same way. For example, Todd VanDerWerff and I both liked elements of the episode, but our overall impressions of the episode were fundamentally different. He chose to believe that the writers still have more in store for Robin and Barney, the episode representing just a bump in the road, whereas I chose to assume the worst and believe that the writers had truly bungled the conclusion of this relationship that still had a lot of mileage in it.
In the end, Todd convinced me that I was perhaps being too hasty to judge where the show was going, but forgive me if “The Playbook” doesn’t somewhat prove my point. If the writers dumped Robin and Barney’s relationship so quickly because they were that desperate to be able to tell stories where Barney gets to be his usual, philandering self, then it feels like the sort of regressive move that I thought the show was above. This episode could have worked within the context of their relationship had the show been willing to do so (I’ll explain how after the jump), but the end of the episode confirms that Barney has reverted to a one-dimensional caricature and Robin is already moving on.
And while the show is certainly more clever than your average sitcom, that sort of character regression is the sort of thing that I call out other shows for – as such, this is another disappointing episode for me.