February 22nd, 2010
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that something actually happened on Life Unexpected tonight.
Sure, the plot of “Truth Unrevealed” was just a delayed payoff from the pilot, so there wasn’t actually anything revealing – fitting, considering the title – about the episode, but it was the first story that felt like it went beyond the awkwardness surrounding Lux’s arrival in order to answer the question of “what next?” Yes, it didn’t particularly take the story very far in that direction, and it threw out a number of anvils on its way to its conclusion, but that conclusion feels like something that is actually going to change the trajectory of these characters, rather than just a rumination on a particular facet of having being a parent foisted on you.
And that is, if not particularly subtle, at least more revealing and more significant than some of the season’s early episodes.
“Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack!”
January 14th, 2010
When you double up two episodes of 30 Rock, you get a really skewed perception of the series. In some ways, the two hours offers that many more memorable lines, so if you are judging purely based on the sheer volume of laughs chances are that two is, in fact, going to be better than one. However, at the same time, there are two separate episodes which could go wrong at a story level, and the show is not as consistent as it has been at its finest over its four seasons. (You also get the show’s lowest ratings in a very long time, since the show was running without a lead-in from The Office).
The actual content of “Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack” offered a particularly intriguing double dose of comedy, as the character of Liz Lemon went through what seemed like a sudden sexual transformation while normally overtly sexual Tracy Jordan went through a personal transformation in light of his newly conceived daughter. Both episodes were actually quite consistently funny, and the double dose managed to actually feel more strange for Liz than it did for the usually one-dimensional Jenna, creating a sort of fun bizarro world as opposed to a problematic hour of comedy.
“Our Stuff Gets Real”
January 12th, 2010
I think we might owe Zach Braff an apology, or a qualified one at least.
A lot of us placed the blame of Scrubs’ struggles on the return of obnoxious J.D. in the earlygoing, leading some of us to suggest the show would have been far better off without him, but what we learn in “Our Stuff Gets Real” is that the problem was not so much the presence of J.D. and more the absence of Elliot. The writers’ mistake was not so much having J.D. return but rather taking away the element which grounded him to reality (his pregnant wife): in the context of that relationship, both J.D. and Elliot are able to remain helplessly neurotic without becoming insufferable, and there’s something there which is both poignant and meaningful (if, of course, not nearly as poignant or meaningful as what they left on in Season 8).
The rest of the episode is similarly on point, delivering another strong installment not only based on the return of the most original cast members yet but also by demonstrating some keen awareness of its new characters and their place within both the original cast and the show’s new dynamics. It wasn’t perfect, but the problems seemed dialed down and the positive seemed dialed in, and that’s the right place for the show to be.
“The Importance of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”
January 12th, 2010
It might just be that we’re reaching the home stretch of Better Off Ted’s rushed second season, or that news this morning that ABC isn’t officially cancelling the show just yet has provided a false sense of hope, but tonight was the first set of episodes where I rarely felt myself comparing the show to its finest moments, or feeling like the show was missing opportunities. I don’t think it’s because “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road” were perfect episodes, but they had a nice rhythm to them that didn’t create dead zones which could make them feel complacent, and they dealt with concepts (word play and one-upmanship) that the show has always gotten some great mileage out of.
In fact, if you were going to levy a single criticism of the double-header, you could perhaps argue that the episodes were almost too similar to one another, placing Ted as the moral centre amidst an environment more willing to engage with the low road. However, the show never places too much of each story on Ted and Ted alone, which allows the comedy around him to remain the star, and on that front the episodes offer enough diversity and hilarity to come out a winning pair.
“Here Comes My Girl”
November 25th, 2009
Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, which when deployed in television does one of three things. The first is to emphasize the cohesiveness of a particular group of characters who work seamlessly when brought into the same setting. The second is to emphasize the sheer chaos that results from the show’s personalities coming together, to either comic or dramatic purposes. The third, meanwhile, is to demonstrate that the show is a convoluted mess where bringing the characters together is a futile exercise that will fail to provide interesting television.
What’s helpful for ABC’s 9pm comedies is that both of them have built their identity around the idea of family, to the point where bringing the gang together is like second nature to the two shows. Cougar Town has really started to charm me as of late, and “Here Comes My Girl” is yet another fine episode that brings together this group of individuals into a family of sorts that’s just an enormous amount of fun to watch bounce off of each other. And “Fizbo” is perhaps my favourite Modern Family episode yet, taking advantage of the chaos at the heart of this family and bringing things to a satisfying (and also sort of sweet) conclusion.
It made for a really comforting hour of television comedy, which is what the timeslot has been providing (on average) all season.
“The Vengeance Formulation”
November 23rd, 2009
Last week, the show chose to split its story between something that works (Sheldon and Penny) and something that doesn’t (Leonard, Wolowitz and Raj on their own), resulting in an episode that was a mixed bag (although perhaps a bit better than I gave it credit for, as my distaste for the latter perhaps overshadowed the strength of the former).
This week, however, the show returns to more of an ensemble structure, and while nothing reaches the heights of adhesive ducks it’s a solid episode as a whole because it manages a reasonably emotional Wolowitz storyline with a cheap but not ineffective Sheldon storyline. There was every chance for these two elements to go off the rails (based on both the show’s tradition of misusing Wolowitz and the presence of Kripke), so the fact that they stayed moderately in orbit makes this a victory, if not exactly an overwhelming success.
“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”
November 23rd, 2009
I’ve been having a back and forth with other critics over the past few weeks about the current state of How I Met Your Mother, as there’s a general consensus that the show got rid of Barney and Robin before its comic potential had been fulfilled but a disagreement over whether this is all part of a broader plan. And, on Friday, co-creator Carter Bays did an interview with Michael Ausiello that managed to do absolutely nothing to settle this argument. On the one hand, Bays noted that this could just be one part of a larger journey between the two characters, which seems encouraging. However, on the other hand, he also said the following:
“None of us wanted to see Barney wearing a sweater-vest and going to bed-and-breakfasts,” says Bays, adding that it makes sense the relationship would “flame out fast” given that “neither of them, at their core, really wanted to be tied down.” Bays also believes that, deep down, viewers prefer single Barney to attached Barney. “It’s one of those things where you can give people what they think they want, or what they really want.”
It’s one thing that Bays is remaining coy about their future, but for him to have internalized what I feel is a close-minded and limiting audience reaction to the character is highly problematic for me. The show didn’t give Barney a chance to adapt Single Barney into Attached Barney so to judge so quickly is so short-sighted that it is either a misquote or a sign that my faith in Bays/Thomas is lower than it’s ever been.
And while “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” seems built to regain my trust and sympathy by tapping into the show’s most slaptastic mythologies and by actually giving Lily and Marshall a story of their own, it does nothing to deal with my overall concerns about Barney as a character (proving a wash in this area) and disappoints by feeling like a strange mash-up of sentimental and comic that feels far less organic than the original “Slapsgiving.
Accordingly, How I Met Your Mother remains “on notice,” even during this holiday season.
November 22nd, 2009
There is no question that I have been highly critical of Dexter this season, which isn’t to suggest that I wasn’t also critical of season two (where the conclusion fizzled) or season three (where things felt as if they wrapped up too neatly): this is a show that I have always felt struggled in the balance between the parts and the whole, and this has been especially clear this season. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the story surrounding the Trinity Killer, and Michael C. Hall is delivering as compelling a performance as ever, I’ve found myself watching episodes out of obligation more than interest, and fastforwarding through anything not involving Trinity, Dexter, or Deb.
If we follow that strategy, “Hungry Man” contains perhaps the best connection yet between Dexter and Trinity, offering glimpses of two theoretically similar Thanksgiving dinners that in reality tell two very different story or, more problematically for Dexter, two very different stages of the same tale. The problem is that this isn’t actually a new theme, having effectively been the purpose of the Trinity story since we meant “Arthur,” and despite some really fantastic execution throughout it (like seasons before it) feels a bit too on the nose, thematically.
However, when you have a show that likes to meander about as it does and (in my opinion) waste our time with storylines that are irrelevant until the show decides to deliver a bombshell like at the end of this episode, I’ll take compelling contrivance over mundane mind games any day.
“We’re Not Working with Anybody, Ever, Anymore!”
November 22nd, 2009
When we get this close to the end of The Amazing Race, the show’s interest in its characters begins to shift. At certain points, the show allows the racers to appear as comrades, laughing together and competing against the race itself more against each other. However, by the time you get to the final four teams, the show wants every chance to pit the teams against one another in a fight to get to the end, trying to breed the sort of competitive fire that you want to see at this stage in the game.
And while most of the google hits from last week’s post seemed to indicate that the biggest piece of news from the leg was crotch censorship, the real story was the way the producers turned Dan and Flight Time’s altercation into a sign that, from this point forward, things are personal. In reality, the clip was only really edited this way (Big Easy clarified, as they did at the start of this leg, that they had no personal vendetta), but what it does signal is that all bets are officially off.
And this week, as the teams head to the Czech Republic, we realize that this season these teams are perfectly built in order to enter into this competitive stage. There is no team in this race that is what one would call a “feel good” team, and the result is that we’re effectively watching to see how well these teams are able to embrace this competitive spirit. And while this might not fit into a narrative of personal achievement or self-realization, it does fit into what makes these final legs of the race suspenseful: all of these teams are both ultimately capable of being competitive (athletic and strong-minded), but they also tend to create an enormous amount of drama in the process.
As someone who likes this competitive side of the race, I’m pleased by this, but I can see how someone looking for more of a fan favourite finish to the race may be disappointed.
“A River Runs Through It…It Being Egypt”
November 17th, 2009
Ever since I stopped receiving screeners for Being Erica, I’ve been falling off from covering the show. It isn’t that I haven’t been watching, but with a busy life and a busy TV schedule I haven’t been getting to episodes with any sort of timeliness.
But the show has continued to be quite engaging, although in some ways it has reneged on some of its potential. The show has done a lot of work to expand its identity in order to introduce some new dynamics between characters, but for the most part the show hasn’t really delved into them. In recent weeks the show has thrown Erica into the future, and in the process has created a scenario where the show itself is in some ways an enormous therapy session.
But rather than complicate the show’s basic premise, it’s effectively been folded into the already existing construct that the show is as much a therapy session for Erica’s present than it is a therapy session for the past. The show’s storylines present complicated moral and ethical scenarios that it wants to play for both comedy and drama, and it is avoiding the supernatural storylines on a broad level to be able to follow those goals. “A River Runs Through It…” continues a storyline (Kai and Sam’s relationship) that is really frakked up when you really think about it, but it doesn’t really want to talk about the metaphysical ramifications so much as it does the personal ones. And, so long as it keeps telling strong stories within this structure, that’s fine, but I do sort of want the show to look beyond interpersonal relations to the overall premise being peddled here.