October 1st, 2008
Sometimes a show isn’t profound, or fascinating, or deep. Sometimes, a show’s originality and charm are what elevate it to the level of being one of the most anticipated returns of the fall season, not a cliffhanger or any sort of buzzworthy (I know, I know) story element.
Pushing Daisies is one of these shows. I’ve always found it tough to blog about Pushing Daisies on any sort of extremely critical perspective: it’s a show that people either love or hate, and falling so strongly on the love side of things I can’t help but be more giddy with excitement than brimming with allegorical readings. If Pushing Daisies offers a cranky Emerson Cod, spastic Olive Snook, optimistic Chuck, awkward Ned, wacky Aunts Lily and Vivian, and more of Digby (Television’s best canine co-star) than I could ask for, I’m not going to be complaining anytime soon.
“Bzzzzzzzzz!” (With exactly nine Zs, I checked) is more of the same: not quite the revolution that Chuck’s second season premiere was for that show’s trajectory, it’s an episode that smartly places the focus on the central premise of the series while allowing the opportunity for almost all of its characters to have their various little moments. Settling in from the end of season drama that we were left with, Pushing Daisies remains what it was before: a comfy, cozy and whimsical universe to escape to for an hour each week.
“Chuck Versus The First Date”
September 29th, 2008
When the TV critics started receiving their screeners for the first three episodes of Chuck’s first season, there was a lot of very positive things being said about the show really flourishing in its sophomore episodes. When the first six episodes were watched by NBC, they saw enough growth to give the show its Back Nine before it even aired an episode. And when the first episode streamed on Hulu.com, iTunes and Amazon a week ago, reviews were simple: this is a show that knows where it’s going.
For those of us who followed it last year, this news is that much more welcome. This was a show that everyone kind of appreciated, whether it was Adam Baldwin’s angry John Casey, the charm of Zachary Levi’s Chuck Bartowski, or the beauty of Yvonne Strakhowski’s Sarah. The problem was that it felt like we were appreciating parts and not the whole: while there were building blocks that really clicked on an individual level, trying to find a balance between the spy antics, the interpersonal team dynamics between Chuck/Sarah/Casey, Chuck’s relationship with his family, and the antics of the Buy More employees was something that couldn’t be done in only twelve episodes of a strike-shortened season.
But Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak went back to the drawing board over the lengthy break, and they’ve come back with a bang: even with an “imposing” guest star, the need for heavy exposition to welcome back (or welcome in) viewers, and a lot of emotional baggage from last season, Chuck is at its finest for its premiere – if it can continue on this trend, this is (as many have called it) the show to watch in the coming season.
“Bees Are Much Calmer Than All This!”
September 28th, 2008
I probably wrote something very similar to this last season, but the best Amazing Race premieres are quite simple: they feature no objectionable individuals, they feature interesting tasks, and give us a good introduction to the teams without feeling like we’re spending more time watching them fulfill their stereotypes than watching them enjoy the chaos that is The Amazing Race. Invariably, though, this is what happens: every thing people do becomes about their cliche: when the separated couple bickers, it’s about his cheating. When the pair of Comic Book Geeks figure out a way to solve a challenge, it’s about their unique intuitive thinking skills. And when someone is particularly objectionable, what reality producer isn’t going to put them front and center?
So, since it’s the only thing we can really judge, this group of competitors feels like one that could be fun to watch beyond its cliches. The first episode follows the usual pattern: the flights, the bunching, the elimination that feels slightly undeserved if perhaps a bit welcome. But whether it’s Superbad, our villains less objectionable than most, or the suprisingly level-headed nature of the young siblings Nick and Starr, the stereotypes feel like they are less blatant, that these people aren’t just mugging for the sake of being on reality television. Yes, Terence and Sarah are perhaps as objectionable a team as the race has seen this early on, but let’s focus on the broad strokes, shall we?
And the broad strokes are as enjoyable as ever.
September 9th, 2008
One of the fascinating things about Fringe is that, at its core, it is many things we normally associate with lesser television series. It’s blindly derivative of The X-Files, is a procedural in an era where the term is a dirty word, and J.J. Abrams’ creative influence feels like a simplified version of Alias. Combine with a rather outrageous sense of psuedoscience that takes some time to get into, and there’s plenty of reasons why Fringe could have been a disappointment.
But it’s not: from the opening scene, Fringe raises a central question that begs an answer, a scientific mystery that is caught up in something very large and, most importantly, something very real. I don’t mean real in the sense that this exists within our own universe, but that it is not some conspiracy trapped within pure shadows: yes, there is definite mystery, but the actual structure of the series represents a clear and, at least generally speaking, easy to follow setup in which these questions can be answered.
While this does mean that the show will not be quite the action-based and serialized rollercoaster that Lost or Alias were on occasion, it more importantly allows the show to focus on other things. In particular, there is some very strong character work throughout the episode, with strong performances and good scripting creating both interpersonal relationships and personal motivations that drive the action forward. While the result is a pilot that lacks the same punch as Abrams’ previous projects, it might actually be a better pilot at foregoing a few twists and turns (not that the ones in the episode are poor) in favour of building a sustainable foundation for the future.
Plus: that dude’s jaw totally just melted off.