Tag Archives: Episode Five

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Chuck – “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

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“Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

Season Two, Episode Five

Airdate: October 27th, 2008

Entering into its second season, the expectations for Chuck were low. A smart show that never got beyond its initial 13-episode order in its first season thanks to the writers’ strike, its return was unheralded: by NBC, by critics, and by viewers.

But slowly but surely things started to change: critical praise of the season’s first few episodes proved more than warranted, NBC ordered an additional nine episodes before the premiere aired, and a fairly devoted set of fans emerged to herald the show’s quality. While good in its first season, the consensus was clear: it was downright great in its second.

And while there are a number of episodes that I wanted to select here (Not picking something out of the Jill arc feels especially false, and the execution on “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” was perhaps the best of the year), I polled the group over at the NeoGAF thread about the show and their thoughts coincided with my own: while the season has been extremely solid thus far, there is no better example of the show’s sophomore surge than “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer.”

The reason is quite simple: the show, before this point, had never felt so confident. This wasn’t a show treading lightly with its myriad of video game references, or one where the writers room shot down the Zune joke for being too obscure for a mainstream audience. The show had certainly featured its supporting players in key roles before, but even I had no idea how much I wanted to see Jeff let loose to pass out, get lost, and create hilarious stalker videos of co-workers.

While other episodes in the season felt more important to the show’s broader trajectory, and certainly did more to build the show’s characters, “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer” is nonetheless my favourite thus far. It has Sarah in a Nerd Herd uniform for the sex appeal, a “King of Kong”-inspired final sequence for the nerd audience, and nonetheless embodies one of the season’s real breakthroughs: no longer just a means to an end, Chuck here is at the very center of the threat against Los Angeles, and he is very much responsible for its safety while commanding this missiles.

While I believe that anyone not yet on the Chuckwagon should start from the beginning, even if the 1st season isn’t quite as good as the 2nd, I nonetheless might sit them down in a room, pop on this episode, and give them a sense of what they have to look forward to. Other episodes were more emotional, or even funnier, or perhaps even more accomplished, but there was none that better embodied, in my mind, why Chuck is the season’s greatest success story.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Middleman – “The Flying Fish Zombification”

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“The Flying Fish Zombification”

Season One, Episode Five

Airdate: July 14rh, 2008

Of the shows that aired this past summer, there were a number which could have made their way into the time capsule: the second season of Burn Notice was entertaining, In Plain Sight kept my attention most of the time, and I thought that Secret Diary of a Call Girl had one really fascinating story that I just wish they hadn’t rinsed and repeated again and again.

But they all felt like old ideas, well executed but ultimately feeling like a pitch where two other shows are combined with a “meets” in the middle. But you can’t do that with The Middleman, a show which defies all attempts at genre definition or, more importantly, shoe-horning. While its rapid fire dialogue in its pilot brought Gilmore Girls comparisons to the surface, and its almost nostalgic treatment of super villains and threats to humanity hearkens back to older examples, the show set its own course for a show that didn’t fit into any box.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into any demographics either: the show never took off with ABC Family’s targeted young female audience, leaving its future seriously in doubt. But I believe that it needs to be remembered, and as a result place an episode into the Time Capsule to help spread the word.

Picking “The Flying Fish Zombification” isn’t just because of its great name (all of the episodes have those), but rather because I feel like the show’s wit and creativity emerges in both the A and B stories. Wendy (Natalie Morales) being trapped between her normal life and her work as a Middleman is one of the show’s central ideas, but never before was it more entertaining than when Dubby was caught between fighting with The Middleman (Matt Keeslar) to stop zombie-creating fish being used to create an exclamatory soft drink and the genius that is Art Crawl. The former was just plain fun to watch, while the latter gave the show’s fans their battle cry and introduced us to the wonderment that is Noser’s version of “Stump the Band.”

This is a smart and intelligent show that deserves a better fate than a quick and dirty DVD release to recoup costs: even if they have no plans to bring the show back, the creative vision of Javier Grillo-Marxuach deserves a proper sendoff and a DVD that reflects the show’s unique place in 2008’s television landscape.

For now, a spot in the Time Capsule will have to do.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Lost – “The Constant”

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“The Constant”

Season Four, Episode Five

Airdate: February 28th, 2008

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, or watched Lost’s fourth season, that “The Constant” makes it into Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule. The story of Desmond Hume’s altered state, trapped between his time on the island and a period years earlier shortly after his breakup with Penny, the episode is the very definition of what made the fourth season of Lost one of its best.

The reason is found in the episode’s seamless integration of heavy science fiction subjects (radiation-driven time travel) with the show’s most powerful love story. Ever since his flashes began, Desmond has been the character most often directly involved with the science fiction, and on some shows such characters feel like tools, less characters than tools of exposition. But at the same time, Desmond unrequited love with Penny has been one of the show’s most enduring storylines.

The two storylines meet in near perfect harmony in “The Constant.” They each alter one another in the right way: the element of time travel is made more understandable when their relationship is caught in between it, while their relationship, although already compelling, becomes even more remarkable when it is able to transcend both space and time.

While there may be some disagreement about whether or not the show’s finale delivered on the season’s promise, I don’t feel as if anyone could argue that its most emotional moment called back not to Jack and Kate’s flashforward but rather this episode’s pivotal moment, the phone call that will go down as one of the show’s most powerful sequences.

YouTube: The Phone Call

And, as a result, “The Constant” shall enter the Time Capsule as a sign that Lost has continued to evolve: always a science fiction show driven by its characters, those two parts of its identity had never been in such stunning partnership before this episode. As we prepare for the show’s fifth season (which starts January 21st on ABC), I have perhaps an unreasonable confidence that this is the benchmark towards which Lindelof and Cuse will again strive.

Let’s hope I’m right.

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30 Rock – “Reunion”

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“Reunion”

December 4th, 2008

I do not know where to start with tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. “Reunion” was one of those situations where it was everything we should want it to be: no big name guest stars (although Janel Moloney counts for West Wing fanatics), numerous hilarious throwaway jokes, a situation bound to create awkward situations for Liz Lemon (and who doesn’t like awkward Liz Lemon?), and a chance for Jack Donaghy to both get drunk AND take on someone else’s identity. What could possibly go wrong?

To be honest, I don’t know if anything really went wrong, but my enthusiasm wavered throughout this one. There were definitely some moments of genius, and I thought the episode picked up a bit at the end, but it felt like a shotgun approach to the show’s comedy. While there might not have been any big guest stars, I thought the episode had much the same problem that we’ve seen all season: humour that feels like it’s trying too hard without any real sense of subtlety, and an emphasis on creating humour more than allowing it to develop organically.

None of this condemns the show by any means, but it just felt like Liz and Jack going to her high school reunion could have been perfectly funny and 30 Rock-esque without going in all of these directions. And while I know that doesn’t really do certain parts of the episode justice, it just kind of underwhelmed for me.

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The Office – “Employee Transfer”

“Employee Transfer”

October 30th, 2008

Remember last week? I was a bit underwhelmed by “Crime Aid,” feeling that it felt a bit too much like the show forcing a situation compared to the previous two episodes, but in retrospect (and another viewing) I felt like I was a bit harsh: it was still a very funny episode with a nice running subplot.

However, I feel a bit safer in acknowledging that “Employee Transfer” was by far the season’s weakest episode, all cold open and no comic follow-through, where we said goodbye to our favourite new employee of Dunder-Mifflin while, quite honestly, not doing much else in the process. While another decent subplot, Andy and Dwight battling it out over Angela through Beets and Cornell, was at least bringing some humour, it felt derivative of what we’ve seen the show do before.

This is not to say that Employee Transfer was a bad episode, but rather that it kind of takes the wind out of the show’s sails: we’re losing the season’s MVP, we have very little sense of the show’s overall direction, and it was an episode that never quite gathered a cohesive comic vision.

In short, I think I’ve got it right this time: this is the weakest episode of what has been an otherwise fantastic opening to the season.

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Pushing Daisies – “Dim Sum Lose Some”

“Dim Sum Lose Some”

October 29th, 2008

If there is a new mantra on Pushing Daisies, it seems quite simple: leave no character behind.

Excluding the Aunts, who have been absent for quite some time now likely in an effort to save money and focus the show on other issues, we’re seeing a lot more interaction between our four main characters. Ever since Olive’s last stand at the monastery, especially, the four have been intertwined into the mysteries in a way that the first season only really accomplished once, in “Bitches.” Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Simone, one of the four wives of the polygamist dog breeder returns in this episode to a similar dynamic, and a similarly strong episode.

Although the episode deals a bit with Ned’s past, and Emerson gets almost all of the great one-liners, it really is a group effort: when the episode evolves into an almost “Chuck”-like espionage scenario at the Dim Sum restaurant, the entire cast comes together in a comic scenario that just clicks. I wouldn’t contend that this is amongst the show’s best episodes, but it’s a definite sign that the creative resurgence that began the season is still going strong.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

“Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”

October 27th, 2008

With some shows, enjoyment is just enough.

Chuck is in a unique position this season, already given a full season order even while its ratings are struggling. That NBC was willing to shell out a back nine for a show based on quality alone does, indeed, say something about its rather dire pilot situation, but more importantly it says something about the show’s quality: in the early part of this season, Chuck is perhaps the most “on” series of all.

So while I haven’t been dissecting each individual episode like I have been with Mad Men, know that I’ve been spending the past few weeks enjoying the wonderful world of Chuck Bartowski. With “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer,” it’s a much smaller world than we’re even used to: it takes place almost exclusively in the Buy More (Outside of one particularly stimulating excursion), it features no fancy new identities, and has nothing cluse to what you might call stuntcasting.

However, it has everything else: it has tension between Chuck’s two lives, it has some great integration of the Buy More crew, it has the emphasis on Sarah being placed into attractive costumes and shown in slow motion, and ends with moments of meaningful (and awesome) moments of character achievement. I don’t know what kind of frequency Chuck is operating on this year, but “Tom Sawyer” is as good a choice as any.

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