Tag Archives: Episode One

Season Premiere: Burn Notice – “Friends and Family”

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“Friends and Family”

June 4th, 2009

“Danger isn’t always Obvious”

This is not a new edict for Michael Weston, or Burn Notice in general: since the beginning of the show, Michael’s greatest tip for the audience as told through his narration is to be able to spot danger before it happens, reading a situation in a way that few others can. He made his living being able to spot and avoid dangerous situations, and he has used those skills in his post-blacklist existence to find success in new areas of his life.

But moving into the show’s third season, danger is more unpredictable than ever before on the broad, serialized level the show has gradually built into its procedural frame. In the first season, Michael knew that he had been burned by someone in particular but was largely acclimating to his new existence and only occasionally interacting with the danger they represented. In the second season, Michael began to better understand that danger, even infiltrating it by using their interactions through Carla and others against them, and while they never became less dangerous he at least understood how they, as operatives similar to himself, might operate.

But now, as we open the season with Michael swimming five miles in suit pants, we discover an environment where even the observational technique of Michael Weston can’t really comprehend the dangers that could befall him on an individual mission. The show’s structure remains mostly unchanged, but more than ever before they are capable of (as we see in the premiere) spiraling into a far more dangerous situation than Michael first realized. Adhering to the old adage, the devil you know is often better than the devil which could take a multitude of forms ranging in danger and, more importantly, ranging in their approaches.

The result is “Friends and Family,” a setup for another great season, one presents another explosive and rewarding variable to the show’s already winning formula, and one which highlights some of the show’s best elements.

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Series Premiere: Royal Pains – “Royal Pains”

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“Royal Pains”

June 4th, 2009

You know, pilots are kind of a pain.

They’re a necessary evil: they exist in order to give us an understanding of how a show is going to work, which is an important thing to sell a network and potential viewers on before they commit to ordering, or watching, more episodes. But the result is often that a lot of character and plot development that should be given time to unfold naturally is checked off at a blistering pace. It’s possible to make a great pilot, but those people are both few and far between and definitely not working behind the scenes at USA Network’s Royal Pains.

As a critic, it’s hard to really confront a pilot as obnoxiously contrived as this one, because you run into a problem: considering that it’s our role to judge a show based on its potential, and considering that the contrivances are more pilot shorthand than inherent to the show’s formula, you can’t spend too much time complaining about something that is par for the course. And while Burn Notice has given us some fairly high expectations about what a USA Network “procedural” is capable of being, this show does not appear to have similar aspirations, and it’s not really fair to judge it as if it does.

So taking into account its contrivances, and its ham-fisted parallels, and its tendency to rush its way through storylines that should probably be given a bit more time, Royal Pains managed to do enough to convince me that as a piece of escapist summer entertainment the show might not be such a pain after all.

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Chuck Me Mondays: Season One, Episode One – “Chuck vs. The Intersect”

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Chuck Me Mondays:

“Chuck vs. The Intersect”

[As any fan of Chuck knows, the good folks at Chucktv.net have organized a scenario whereby everyone, all at the same time (Mondays at 9pm, it seems), watches the entirety of Chuck’s first two seasons between now and the show’s return later this year. It’s a great way to keep the hype alive (Twitter hash tag #ChuckMeMondays shows it all!), introduce new people to the show, and just revisit a really fun series. For me, I’ve blogged about many of the episodes already: in those instances, I’m going to link to my original review and then offer some retrospective thoughts based on having seen the first two seasons. In instances where I haven’t reviewed the episode (like next week’s “Chuck vs. the Helicopter”) I’ll try to offer a bit more of a substantial review. Anyways, onto our first edition!]

Chuck’s pilot was something that really excited me upon first viewing: having been able to see the episode ahead of its premiere, I was quick to offer my thoughts to my (much smaller than the present) readership in terms of how much I was looking forward to the series.

Pilot Preview: NBC’s Chuck [August 2007]

The O.C. remained a credible formula for Josh Schwartz because he balanced the oversexed teenage promiscuousness with witty and sarcastic banter, and those two parts stayed relatively intact following its demise. And so, like the sensible and smart man he is, Schwartz took the oversexed teenage promiscuousness and channeled it into “Gossip Girl” for The CW, and took the witty and sarcastic banner and found a home for it on NBC.

The resulting show is Chuck (Premiering on Monday, September 24th at 8pm on NBC), an action-thriller comedy series that places Schwartz’s sharp dialogue into a setting more acceptable for the Seth-like viewers the show is trying to reel in. The result is a series that is sharp, funny, and certainly one of the most potential-filled pilots of the 2007 Fall Season.

I think I leaned a bit too heavily on The O.C. comparisons, as the show certainly evolved beyond its geek appeal, but the point stands that the pilot emphasizes the way the show uses its witty banter for good and not evil, and never falls so far down one of its many outlets (comedy, drama, romance, etc.) to create an unbalanced pilot.

But having reread that piece, and rewatched the episode in question, I do have some additional thoughts on the pilot that I wouldn’t have been able to have with no idea of what was in store. Now, there will be some light spoilers here, but I’ll try to keep most of them in a “Plot” section at the very end of the main portion of the post.

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Season Premiere: The Amazing Race Season 14 – “Episode One: Switzerland”

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“Don’t Let a Cheese Hit Me”

February 15th, 2009

While we just ended the last season of The Amazing Race a few months ago, a lot has changed over the short break between seasons. The editing has changed, the maps have become Google sponsored, the font is different, and they even went and remixed the show’s classic theme song to give it a driving rhythm for some reason. Combine with a shinier opening title, and some shinier graphics, and you have a very different kind of Amazing Race.

Okay, that’s a lie: the game is actually pretty much the same, here in an actually even more frantic and challenging version that tests people’s abilities to travel via three modes of transportation plus complete two tasks that test both psychological and physical strength. There’s just a lot of room for people to make mistakes here, and while the episode actually felt oddly impersonal and detached for a few reasons that I’ll get into, the transfer of the drama from the airport decisions to the actual completion of the tasks gives us a better sense of what kind of racers, as opposed to just people, the teams will become.

And I like the group of people: there is some humour, there are some people who clearly are on an adrenaline rush the second they start the race, and there’s enough differences in strategy and personality that one can see themselves watching these people race around the world without wanting to throw things at their television. So for all of the changes (both cosmetic and, in one case, actually kind of offputting), this is really the same race in the end: a frantic, often heartwarming, always exciting, trip around the world.

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Season Premiere: Project Runway Canada Season Two – “Episode One”

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“Fashion is a Battlefield”

January 27th, 2009

[If you’re looking to view the episode online, you can do so at Global’s website, but only if you’re in Canada. If you’re outside of Canada, well, be patient!]

My first experience with any sort of Project Runway was, for a brief moment, stumbling upon an episode of Slice’s Project Runway Canada wherein they were making dresses out of umbrellas. I only watched for a few minutes, but it looked intriguing enough. Eventually, I decided on a few recommendations that I should give the show a try, and I ended up going through three seasons of the U.S. edition during the first half of last year. The show is simply a strong reality competition series: there’s a reason it won a Peabody, after all.

But Project Runway Canada, which I went back to and completed as I was waiting for new episodes of the fourth U.S. season to begin, was in itself an entertaining project. Done on a fairly small network but featuring high production values, there were even things about this particular import that I preferred to the original version. It has a supermodel host (Iman, Mrs. David Bowie), it has a mentor who is respected in fashion circles and quite affable (Brian Bailey), and it has judges that, while not particularly famous, still have those kinds of quirks that make them the right people to be judging these contestants. The show at no point felt like a low-rate ripoff of the original, for one, but more than that had its own identity that kept me engaged until, eventually, Biddell walked away the winner.

It’s been a long time since that finale, and Project Runway Canada has made it to the bigtime with a primetime slot on National network Global. The parts are more or less still the same, but the location has been altered (the show moves from Toronto to the nation’s capital in Ottawa), and the new contestants have not yet really emerged with any sort of identities. The show had some lucky casting last time around, and while the jury is still out on that the things that made the show stand out for me remain: this is a no nonsense, straightforward, well-produced and entertaining piece of reality competition programming, Canada or no Canada.

And apparently, it’s also a show that was designed to break people both mentally and physically, as fashion really is a battlefield in the show’s first episode.

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Season Premiere: Damages – “I Lied, Too”

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“I Lied, Too”

January 7th, 2009

Damages is one of the few shows that, despite airing during the period when I began this blog, I have never honestly blogged about the show. The reason is simple: I wasn’t really doing episodic reviews back when the show first emerged, and it took me a few months to get to the final episodes of the season after losing interest in where the show was headed.

More accurately, I lost interest in the fact that the show had no idea where it was headed. The first season of Damages, for me, had two fundamental problems. First and foremost, I felt like the show was constantly battling the fact that its ostensible lead, Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, was far less interesting than her mentor, the fantastic Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. And secondly, it seemed like the show at its midpoint abandoned the nuances of that relationship for contrived, red herring storylines that never felt like they added up to anything substantial.

For this reason, the verdict on Damages Season Two remains out – the show knows how to start a season, and they know how to end one, but it’s going to be the middle section that causes them the most trouble. But what “The Lies We Tell” gets right has me hopeful that they are at least aware of his to solve their first problem: I never particularly engaged with Byrne in the first season, but here she is up to the challenge to portray a character who is exponentially more interesting.

With one of the most impressive supporting casts on a cable drama at the moment, the show has even opportunity to turn this strong start into a strong season: let’s just hope that there aren’t any contrived stalkers in the show’s future.

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Season Premiere: Scrubs – “My Jerks” and “My Last Words”

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“My Jerks” and “My Last Words”

January 6th, 2008

When I heard that Scrubs was given an eighth season, I was frustrated: this is a show that has been proclaimed dead more times than I can count, and was quite actually creatively dead at a certain point in its seventh season. But if I had to give you a single reason why I fail to find much enthusiasm for the ABC premiere of Scrubs, it’s simple: fatigue.

It’s one thing to say that I grew tired, through particularly rough sixth and seventh seasons, of the show’s inconsistency of tone, allowing a pervading wackiness to overwhelm the heart that drove the show forward; that’s pretty understandable, and even partially acknowledged by Bill Lawrence and Co. behind the scenes. But I also found myself growing tired of the course correction: just as the initial problems were becoming too common, the solutions were becoming their own internal cliches, and the show’s structure was beginning to wear thin. I was ready to say goodbye to Scrubs as a show not because of its fixable struggles, but because whatever show it tried to be in spite of those problems wasn’t really holding my attention either.

What “My Jerks” and “My Last Words,” the first two episodes of the series to air on ABC following the show’s off-season move from NBC, represent for me is a test: to what degree can the show, now hyper-aware of fan desire to return to the tone of the first few seasons to the point of a meta-commentary during the credits of the first episode, rely on its old formulas without wearing thin the nostalgia of those watching the show. If you are someone who has always held out hope for Scrubs to get back on track, I can see how this episode could provide substantial hope for the future; similarly, for viewers tuning in after a long hiatus or for the first time, they will stand out as solid comedy episodes which balance slapstick and sentiment like few other shows can.

But as someone who was ready to call Scrubs a dead horse and send it off into the sunset, I’m not sure how long my nostalgia will be able to hold out; I was charmed and entertained by these episodes, but they felt alarmingly rote. They’re enough to get the show out of the television dog house, but are they really enough to reinvigorate the emotional connection some once had with the show?

As if to answer my question, Dr. Cox and J.D. discuss how they’re tired doing the same thing over and over again, a bit of foreshadowing to potentially spin the series off without its major stars but also a shrewd commentary on the show’s paradox: the network might be new and the energy might be higher than it’s been for a long time, but what’s old is all that’s new again.

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