November 26th, 2008
I was one of the few who, really, wasn’t jumping up and down over last week’s episode of Pushing Daisies. While the episode was, no question, a strong investigation into Ned’s character and the show’s central questions, it all felt a bit heavy to me. And while I’m not saying that the show shouldn’t be allowed to enter into that territory, when I’m up to my neck in deadlines part of me would rather an episode of Pushing Daisies that feels more indulgent than self-indulgent, if that makes any sense.
This week, by comparison, falls on the other side of the spectrum; some, and quite justifiably, are likely to find that the story of a Robin Hood-dunnit seems inconsequential compared to last week’s episode, and that it felt especially marginalized when there was quite a large amount of development in relation to the arrival of Dwight Dixon (especially in terms of fallout from his discovery of Chuck’s empty grave in last week’s episode).
For me, however, I thought that it was what Pushing Daisies is: a crime procedural glossed up with charm out the wazoo and a sureness of character which allows them to balance recurring storylines with a deft hand that most standard procedures aren’t capable of. So, while this episode certainly felt more forced than last week’s, that it still charmed the pants off me is perhaps the greater accomplishment. And I won’t tell a lie: when I’m scrambling to write my 20-page research paper on Performance in the transition from Aestheticism to Decadence in 19th Century Literature, I much preferred this lighter concoction than I did last week’s overload.
“Keeping Up Appearances”
November 12th, 2008
One of the concerns I’ve had with the most recent set of episodes in Friday Night Lights’ third season is that the behind-the-scenes planning is becoming fairly transparent: it feels like things are happening that are in fact predictable, and in some cases feel less like organic character development and more like pieces being moved on a chess board. Last week, though, everything moved in the right direction: even if it was predictable, it felt totally in character, and like the proper culmination to the storylines set up over this season and last season, for that matter.
What doesn’t work in “Keeping Up Appearances,” however, is that none of it felt natural: every storyline had an element to it that felt artificial. Whether it was in order to rush Jason Street to a happy ending, or introduce a potential character for a reboot-driven fourth season, or push Tim Riggins into college, everything felt dialed in on that purpose. And in an episode all about selling (house, people, football, etc.), I feel like the show was all too willing to show us, their audience, that they had a (somewhat) shameless agenda on the table.
November 13th, 2008
When episodes like “Business Trip” end up being solid entries into a season, it’s not really because of anything they do in an isolated fashion. This is an episode that is all about whether or not the rest of the season has properly built to this moment where we take a bird’s eye view into a thus far untapped side of an office relationship, and where a trip to Winnipeg brings out Michael’s frustration with the decision to send his beloved Holly away.
These are not hilarious topics – Michael’s storyline, in fact, was played almost entirely off screen and was for the most part dominated by sadness. But the episode nonetheless whips along at a solid pace, using this business trip not as a chance to make fun of Canada (there’s much less Canadian-specific humour than one might expect) but rather to bring out those residual feelings that emerge when one is isolated away from their life with people they don’t normally associate with.
The result is an episode that has most of its action and “drama” take place offscreen, allowing the comedy to flow at a unique pace that, for me, worked very well.
November 11th, 2008
When David Shore and Co. decided to make the rather odd decision to “fire” the three fellows who worked for Dr. Gregory House at the end of the show’s third season while still employing them as cast regulars, I think we all asked ourselves a question: how, precisely, do they plan on balancing new fellows with the old ones who are off in various corners of the hospital.
And while they pushed Foreman back into the diagnosis group fairly quickly, this has remained a problem, especially as it relates to developing the characters of Chase and Cameron, and the new fellows for that matter. There have been some rumblings about House beginning to fall into the medical procedural trap, designing cases which are “on the nose” for individual cast members as a shorthand version of character development. And for Chase and Cameron, who have had almost zero “showcases” since leaving House’s team, this episode has been a long time coming.
“The Itch,” at the end of the day, is an episode that walked a fine line between organic investigation into the lives of these characters and a convenient episode that dealt with how we scratch that itch, whether through imaginary mosquitoes, coveting every single drawer in your apartment, or giving in to your agoraphobia. What we learn most of all is that some things never change: House will always be manipulative but emotionally stunted, Cameron will always be woefully incapable of self-rationalizing, and Chase will always be a character without, well, a character.
But even if it wasn’t a life-changing return to our former cottages, I’d say it was enjoyable enough.
“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”
November 11th, 2008
I don’t think that anyone could actually be addicted to Fringe at this point, to be honest: while Abrams’ last show, Lost, became this massive sensation, there is nothing sensational about Fringe, as evidenced by this week’s episode, the first new one in three weeks. This is not to say that this episode is bad – on the contrary, it was actually one of the more memorable episodes for a few characters – but rather that it feels as if it is operating at a near glacial pace.
The episode is one of the most expansive: when Fringe science pops up on the FBI’s doorstep, solving this individual mystery unlocks the secret to something much bigger, opening up this world to new scientific terror cells organized as “ZFT.” Really, this is nothing new for a procedural: you take what you’ve been doing all along, solving crazy scientific mysteries like this week’s pirahna plant organism eating away the FBI agent’s insides, and suddenly make solving them about more than an individual life and more about driving our heroes to search out new questions, new answers.
But the show has, honestly, been extremely slow with answers: we might only be 7 episodes in, but things like character dynamics and organizational terror-like cells are the types of things that might have been useful earlier. There were questions early about whether or not the show could last very long, but they insisted they had a plan: is there plan, however, just to move really slowly in opening up this world? This wasn’t a bad episode in execution or in design, but there was a point where Broyles was ranting about Olivia being stubborn in wanting to control what can’t be controlled, contained what can’t be contained that stuck with me. It felt like Abrams was telling me not to ask questions, not to want more out of this show.
And while I’m willing to be patient, I do think that the eponymous Mr. Jones has some potential, and forgive me for hoping that we’ll see it sooner rather than later.
“Not a Father’s Day”
November 10th, 2008
If there was a checklist of HIMYM tropes, this episode tried to tick off every single one of them. You had a new Barney-ism (“The Cheerleader Effect”), a new egotistical celebration of bachelorhood from Barney (the titular “Not a Father’s Day”), Ted and Robin clashing over the value of having children, and our characters facing more realities of being 30+.
It isn’t breaking any new ground, no, but it’s a solid piece of comedy that feels distinctly HIMYM, instead of feeling distinctly like a traditional sitcom as it can sometimes do. There’s a certain pace that “Not a Father’s Day” keeps, helped mostly by Alyson Hannigan’s ability to play drunk with such wonderful abandon and Cobie Smulders being let loose as Robin to a degree that was almost too over the top, which really keeps things moving here: even though this was really a setup episode for two major plot shifts (one involving the living situation at the apartment, the other a life-changing decision for Marshall and Lily), it was a mighty fine concoction while it went down.
“Chuck vs. The Ex”
November 10th, 2008
If I was going to make one complaint about Chuck’s 99% sublime second season, it would be that we haven’t spent enough time on Chuck himself – sure, he had his crisis in the premiere, but the show has dealt mainly with his relationship with Sarah as opposed to really letting Zachary Levi cut loose in this role. While he is perhaps the most unsung hero of the show, Levi continually gives Chuck a certain humanity that makes this show work, quite simply – without him, I’m not sure it would be the show it has been so far this season.
As far as episodes go overall, this one was a bit slower and more open-ended than our last few, the multi-episode arc element meaning that we get only part of a broader story (plus, this week’s Buy More storyline was one of the weaker ones in a good season for the store). But the return of Jill, Chuck’s ex-girlfriend from Stamford who broke his heart by running off to Bryce Larking so soon after their breakup, is the kind of thing that lets Levi demonstrate that he is the heart of this show, an element that can often be forgotten when we’re running at the kind of breakneck speed this season has been maintaining.
And that’s what turns what could have felt like a slow, exposition-driven introduction to a new character into something so successful: sure, it’s a bit slower plot wise than anything we’ve seen lately, but the episode was so chock full of double entendres, stylish one-liners and hilarious iPhone photos that any loss of momentum is entirely negated. This is a show that can stop, detour, or hit any multitude of speed bumps, and something will be there to pick up the slack, what little of it there is.
“My Nose is On Fire”
November 9th, 2008
I’ve heard a few people noting that there has been a disconnect this year between viewers and the racers who are running around the world this season on The Amazing Race. And I think it’s not wrong: I’m enjoying it, and the challenges have been good, but there’s been a few barriers to entry so to speak.
And this episode was very aware of that, because its real stars were the various locals who dominated the proceedings. Whether it was the guy at the sewing machine who pushes people away and gives thumbs down, or the festival revelers who threw paint and water at the racers during the roadblock, or the genius that was the Pit Stop Greeter running back to water the grounds as soon as he has said hello to the team in question.
It makes for an episode that actually featured some really interesting gameplay shifts and the continued proof that, eventually, poor racing is going to catch up with you. That’s a solid lesson for the show, and it’s been a season where, with five teams left, the teams who are performing the worst are the ones who are going home.
So if it isn’t lighting a fire, so to speak, I’d argue that the show is right within its wheelhouse nonetheless.
July 21st, 2008
This week’s episode of The Mole was all about what people couldn’t do: they couldn’t help themselves from sabotaging the first challenge, they couldn’t possibly sabotage the challenge where contestants could potentially see their loved ones, and one contestant in particular just couldn’t throw the quiz even when they wanted to.
It was exactly what you want from this part of the competition – signs that all of our contestants are struggling to deal with the mental fatigue the game presents while, at the same time, having to stay on their game to discover the Mole’s identity. We got a really important glimpse into this, as we saw the various different (supposed) strategies that all players except for Craig and Paul were using. The question of their strategies, in particular Craig’s, will be very interesting to see in the weeks ahead.