“Alright Guys, We’re At War!”
March 22nd, 2009
The worst kind of Amazing Race leg are the ones where nothing happens: the good teams are good, the annoying teams are annoying, and everything goes according to plan with the weak teams lagging behind and the strong teams rocketing forward. On the surface, this could seem like one of those episodes, where the leading teams don’t really change and where the outcome is one we could have predicted before the leg began.
But there’s been some subtle changes that have made this a better race to watch, and this leg continued that trend: teams that seemed to fade into the background before are becoming more distinct, while a team that was once impossible to watch has become more charmingly than frustratingly annoying. It’s not that the poverty and chaos of India immediately makes teams more likeable, and there’s a few instances of Ugly Americanism, but something about these teams are making them a really competitive and interesting group to watch.
So, despite nothing major going down, a building leg for the race.
February 18th, 2009
“We’re all convinced sooner or later, Jack.”
There is a point in “316” where Ben tells Jack the story of Thomas the Apostle, a man who is best known for doubting Jesus’ resurrection. What we take from Ben’s explanation is that Thomas was a brave man, who stood up for Jesus during his life and was unwilling to back away from threats against him. And yet, he isn’t known for that: he is known for not believing, for not welcoming Jesus back into this world under circumstances that he couldn’t grasp immediately. While he did eventually believe once he felt Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, that doubt has defined his existence.
In many ways, “316” is a study of Jack Shepherd’s willingness to believe, and whether or not fate and history will remember him as the person who rebuffed John Locke when he first came to Jack off the island or as the person who eventually became a believer and got on Ajira Airways Flight 316 in order to return to the island. The same pattern goes for the rest of the Oceanic Six: are the decisions they made, the sacrifices they take in order to go back to the island, enough to overcome the fact that they ignored Locke when he first came to them? They were all convinced, sooner or later, to return, but where they sit on that timeline could be very important to their futures.
What this week’s episode, scripted by Lost overlords Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, doesn’t do is give us the ability to answer these questions, presenting a labyrinth that is complex not because of some sort of twisted time warp but rather because we are still missing parts, human parts, of this story. While we got to see what brought Jack to the end of this episode, we do not yet understand the context of the letter he receives, or how the rest of the Oceanic Six resolves this conflict. These questions aren’t going to be solved by Mrs. Hawking spouting off techno-babble, but rather an investigation into these characters, their motivations, and the kinds of questions that have formed the foundation of the series since its opening.
Perhaps its fitting, then, that we begin this episode the same way we began the pilot, a close-up of Jack’s eye as he wakes up in a whole new world for the second time.
“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”
November 19th, 2008
With production on the thirteenth episode of its second season completed last week, Pushing Daisies has officially completed all episodes ordered by ABC. This is an alarming fact that hasn’t been lost on fans of the series, and they’re (justifiably) hoping that tonight’s episode brings a solid ratings bump and a chance for a third season (or, even, the order of more episodes for the Spring). As someone who is very much a fan of this series, I count myself amongst them: my fingers are crossed for tomorrow moning. Call it a cliche, but we’re hoping for a little bit of magic.
“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic” is actually a really interesting study for the show, and poses a question to this particular critical eye: is it the fanciful locations and atmospheric qualities that give Pushing Daisies its magical quality, or is it the characters who populate this world who have such pure and human emotions that magic spontaneously erupts when they’re on screen? While Fred Willard’s guest appearance as an illusionist (“The Great Herrmann”) and the world of magic offer some points of interest, the season has had better locations (in particular, the monastery and the circus exploded off the screen in ways that the claustrophobic stage just doesn’t).
Instead, this first episode back from a three week hiatus finds the show leaning on its characters, finding its emotion in their humour (Emerson and Olive) as well as their own tragic pasts (Ned and Chuck’s parent troubles). While there have been some who have called this one of the show’s best episodes yet, I felt somewhat more lukewarm about it. Until it kicks into gear in the third act, where the emotions finally overflow into a very exciting and meaningful conclusion, it was what Pushing Daisies always is: a show that finds magic in procedural mystery, and one that we hope continues to do so for a long time to come.
“It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy”
November 5th, 2008
In our new era of highly serialized television, we have vilified predictability. We want to be shocked, surprised, knocked off our feet by revelations and swept up in complex storylines that twist and turn every which way. However, evidence shows that execution becomes a much larger concern when one gets caught up in walking off the beaten path: look at what has happened to a show like Heroes, one that is so obsessed with being unpredictable that a lack of logic has become, well, predictable.
So when I say that Friday Night Lights’ third season has been preditable, I don’t want you to look at it as something with negative connotations, at least not entirely. See, I won’t argue that predictable can be bad: last week’s episode of Friday Night Lights, even, was predictable to a fault, retreading old storylines that were not all that interesting to begin with. I speak more of the fact that, now almost halfway through the shortened 13-episode season, I don’t feel as if anything has snuck up and surprised me yet.
But do we really need to be surprised when a show is operating at such a high level? While the various events of this week’s episode have been long foreshadowed by the show’s trajectory, the payoff was exactly what we were looking for; the fact that I “called” the character of J.D. McCoy during his silence of early episodes does not mean I didn’t enjoy seeing it, and the sheer inevitability of the episode’s romantic climax was handled with such grace that it’s yet another powerful emotional moment for a season that’s had more than a few.
The real surprise for Friday Night Lights these days is that it isn’t trying to surprise us, and yet here I am sucked in more than ever; I just hope that, considering the show’s past attempts to surprise us with homicide, they’re content with dramatically satisfying predictability and don’t feel the need to shake the boat too much.
November 6th, 2008
My complaint about The Office recently was that it felt inorganic: that between the concerns over Pam and Jim’s future, and the sad departure of Amy Ryan, and the battle between Dwight and Andy feeling like something we’ve dealt with too often in the past, last week’s episode just felt “off.” This week, things are less momentous but, to be honest, more consistent with what I come to expect from the show.
And on all of the fronts involved, we just got a more full-featured storyline: while removing the focus from Michael is rough when Holly brought such a great new dynamic to his character, we got to see Jim and Pam move to the center of the narrative even while entirely apart. The episode’s gimmick seemed like it could be quite lame, but it was used in a couple of charming ways and proved a potent device for the conclusion. Combine with some smart use of Michael and Kelly Kapoor, and you have an episode that just felt more natural to me, even with a bug in its ear.
“Please Hold While I Singe My Skull”
November 2nd, 2008
Returning from the grave we hoped he had stayed in, tonight’s sixth leg of The Amazing Race saw the return of obnoxious, demanding, and in many ways downright unreasonable Terence. In a season where villains are luckily in short supply, it is very clear that he is the one exception, his bullying of Sarah reaching some new lows tonight.
And I don’t think he’s an awful human being by any stretch of the imagination: I just think that these two are in a new relationship, have very different personalities, and are discovering that this race is not meant for his demeanor in particular. As he fights to get Sarah to do exactly what he wants at a well-planned roadblock, at no point do we get the desired moment of self-realization: instead, he only shuts up when Sarah asks him to, and only for a few moments.
It’s a relationship that is being tested to the limits by this race, and even if it makes me cross my fingers for them to be absent from the finale it does demonstrate that the human qualities of this race are still in full effect.
“Life’s a Drag”
August 20th, 2008
You know, I’m starting to wonder if there’s some sort of psychological condition which takes the most obvious pieces of logic and totally twists them the second you enter the Parsons work room. I’m not saying that the intensive Project Runway schedule (where they’re constantly working, constantly not getting enough sleep, etc.) is not in some way going to be detrimental to their state of mind, but when they’re ignoring even the most obvious ways to succeed in the contest I do have to wonder what exactly is in the water.
When Project Runway gives you a drag competition, you do one of two things: you either go full-out into that fantasy drag outfit you’ve secretly always wanted to make or you adapt parts of your own aesthetic into a drag concept in order to show the best of both worlds. The former gets you into the Top 3, a fact shown as Korto, Terri and Joe all just throw caution to the wind in creating “fabulous” garments that their models seem to adore. And the middle of the pack all create dresses that seem like they are that mediation, of their own ideas with the ideas of drag, in a way that deems them inoffensive while competent enough to understand how this show works.
But the Bottom Three perplex me, and they’ve done it a lot this season: two of them, in particular, just don’t seem to understand that this isn’t just an opportunity to prove you have taste, or to prove you know how to cut out pieces of fabric and attach them to other pieces of fabric in a seemingly random pattern. Instead, this is an opportunity to prove that you’re capable of listening to a single word of the challenge put before you.
And when they can’t do that, why are they even still there?
July 14th, 2008
Yes, I am aware that I am nearly a week late writing this review, and as a result it will be fairly short. However, I want to note for the sake of posterity that I continue to be enjoying this season of The Mole. Yes, the ratings are extremely low, and based on comments at the recent TCA Press Tour the show won’t be returning to the air in the future. However, the season we’re getting has been one where the central mystery has stayed intact while the tasks have remained interesting.
I really enjoyed both tasks in the last episode, particularly the vineyard challenge wherein there were plenty of chances for both sabotage and just outright failure. It was great to see the challenge take on so many levels: how Nicole seemed to be slow in answering puzzles, how Craig only actually really solved one of them, how Paul messed up a few of his radio calls, how Mark had a great chance to NOT look like The Mole playing double duty while on the treadmill, etc. Yes, it was a bit of a cheap way to inflate the pot (Although Mark being on the treadmill for that long is very impressive), but it allowed us to focus less on the bickering (Although there was plenty) and more on the strategies.