Tag Archives: Episode

Modern Family – “Fears”

“Fears”

March 4th, 2010

I understand sitcom formulas: I know why they exist, I know why they can sometimes be very funny, and I understand why there are quite a few viewers who are in love with them. And while I’m on the record as amongst those who are not quite on the Modern Family bandwagon, I respect a lot of what the show is doing, and do not begrudge it for being formulaic to varying degrees each week.

If I’m being honest, “Fears” was one of the best episodes the show has done in its most limiting formula, the separation of the three families into distinct stories. The theme was consistent, the comedy was varied, and the show perhaps came the closest yet to earning its saccharine conclusion. None of the stories fell too far into comic farce to feel like they were shoehorned into the corny conclusion, and while every story was on the edge of tipping into that land of love and caring that makes me want to throw up, they mostly stayed within something funny and sweet without going too far.

And yes, that’s the most convoluted way of saying “this was a pretty good episode of Modern Family” you’re likely to find.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: House – “Wilson’s Heart”

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“Wilson’s Heart”

Season Four, Episode Sixteen

Airdate: May 18th, 2008

House’s fourth season was a needed shakeup of its formula, and presented some of its strongest comedy ever in its opening reality show-esque hunt for a set of new fellows to play sounding board for House’s eccentricities. But the emerging fellows also brought the introduction of Amber, also known as Cutthroat Bitch and, by season’s end, the emotional lynchpin for one of the most powerful episodes in the series.

While some may prefer the loud and dangerous “House’s Head,” focused more on the doctor’s internal struggle to remember the events of the bus crash through dangerous drugs and procedures, “Wilson’s Heart” is where the storyline truly comes together. Learning that it was Amber on that bus raised the stakes considerably, and while the first part of the finale (“Head”) gains greater meaning with this revelation I nonetheless cared less about House (who was tragically partly responsible) than I did about Wilson, who had to bear the brunt of the consequences of his friend’s actions.

While Season Five’s attempts at pairing House and Cuddy have felt similarly broad as something meaningful to the show’s emotional core, like House’s flashback to his injury in “Three Stories,” this episode felt the most tapped into something bigger than the show’s procedural construct. Robert Sean Leonard is often given too little to do on this show, with the focus being divided as it is, but he is fantastic here as a grieving boyfriend and, eventually, a friend who blames House for her death.

The episode is also a goodbye for Anne Dudek’s “CTB,” who may have been too much a female version of House to be his fellow but was too delightful a character to abandon entirely. While the winning fellows may have “won,” added as series regulars and all, Dudek got the most material by far: she was robbed of an Emmy nomination for some great work in this episode (and others), but her emotional farewell was nonetheless one of the show’s highlights through four seasons.

“Wilson’s Heart” is somewhat tainted by the fact that the show has more or less abandoned its ramifications halfway into its fifth season, but let its inclusion in the Time Capsule serve as a reminder for the writers: this is how you craft a storyline where we care about the characters and their consequences, not through giving a boring bisexual doctor a terminal illness and having her flaunt it for everyone to see. That’s not tragic, it’s just surprisingly boring for such destructive behaviour, and at the end of the day the show needs to tap into what they had with Amber before Thirteen can feel like something we should care about.

Let’s hope they listen.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Office – “Weight Loss”

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“Weight Loss”

Season Five, Episode One

Airdate: September 25th, 2008

If I had a time machine as opposed to a time capsule, I would go back in time and keep Amy Ryan from being nominated for that Oscar.

Don’t get me wrong: she was stunning in Gone Baby Gone, a film I watched for the first time recently and enjoyed a great deal, and she deserved that nomination and maybe even a win for her performance. But it made her an actress in demand, someone who could guarantee herself juicy supporting roles for years to come.

It also meant that Holly Flax, introduced in the great fourth season finale “Goodbye, Toby,” would eventually be leaving Dunder Mifflin. With her laidback style and willingness to ham it up with Michael, Holly was the best addition that the cast had seen perhaps since day one. Not only was Ryan quite hilarious in terms of her comic timing (the woman can do anything), but Holly as a character did something even more important: she humanized Michael Scott.

This was no more evident than in “Weight Loss,” what I believe to be the best hour-long episode the series has ever done. Using a unique structure that follows the office’s attempt to lose weight over an entire summer, the episode never plays out a single joke for too long, letting the episode tell itself in short stories and build naturally to its conclusion.

In the process, we get numerous highlights: Holly and Michael’s rap (which will forever go down as one of the most surreal, and hilarious, scenes of this show), Holly’s believe that Kevin is mentally challenged finally exploding, and…well, a lot of things involved with Holly. The show developed her and Michael’s relationship all within one episode: their moments of awkwardness, their moments of jealousy, and eventually that moment when it’s clear that they are both big dorks and made for each other.

The wonder of “Weight Loss” is that its compartmentalization works wonders on every storyline: Dwight and Angela’s trysts become even more hurtful towards Andy as they take place over an extended period, and what could have been (and eventually kind of did after the premiere) a contrived separation of Jim and Pam was helped by the illusion of time. When the time came for Jim’s surprise rest stop proposal, the episode felt more like a journey than the show ever has.

And while the season has had some strong one-off episodes (the end of the fourth season had quite a few that could easily have taken this spot), I feel as if this is the kind of Office I want them to move forward with: human, hilarious and worthy of the 2008 television time capsule.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: How I Met Your Mother – “The Naked Man”

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“The Naked Man”

Season Four, Episode Nine

Airdate: November 24th, 2008

Of all the shows on this list, How I Met Your Mother may have been one of the toughest selections. It isn’t that the show had too few or even too many great episodes in this calendar year, but rather that the show has a higher standard for greatness than other shows. There is something that elevates this above other sitcoms that is not always tangible, and not always something that appears in the same fashion.

So it’s tough to decide what it more quintessentially HIMYM than something else: some episodes might most embody the show’s commitment to its New York setting, others its manipulation of time, others its quirky catchphrases. Do we value episodes that highlight the awesomeness of Barney Stinson, or are such episodes almost too simple compared to the challenge of making Ted a likeable character? All of this creates a true conundrum, and one that was not easily answered.

The reason that I have chosen “The Naked Man” is not because I am convinced that it is the best episode the show aired this past year, but rather that I believe it to be the most well-rounded. It isn’t an episode about just Barney, or just Ted, or any single character. It ignores the show’s normal structure for a tightly construct A-plot, every character being either victim or perpetrator of the show’s newest lexicon entry. The Naked Man is a strategy employed by a hapless blind date of Robin’s, a decision to strip down on a bad date to see if the victim will say “Screw it” and give in to the power of nakedness.

What works about the episode is that it doesn’t try to be something bigger: yes, Ted is willing to try it because of his relationship troubles post-Stella, and Robin attempts to turn it into a real relationship to appear less pathetic after her own life crisis, but it feels like a bunch of people we like watching (yes, even Ted) trying out something fun, funny, and played with just the right level of reverance with its superhero-esque closing.

And while my mind might be torn between the Mr. Clean and the Burt Reynolds, and between this and many other episodes, I think my heart is perfectly fine with “The Naked Man” making it into the Time Capsule.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Entourage – “Return to Queens Boulevard”

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“Return to Queens Boulevard”

Season Five, Episode 12

Airdate: November 24th, 2008

I have never gotten more flak as a television critic than when I have the gall to criticize Entourage. It’s a sore spot for me: it’s a show that people keep trying to convince me is just male wish fulfillment, and a show that I keep trying to convince people is in fact a drama about celebrity and its impact on humanity. So when the show leans to the former, and I complain about its inability to live up to its potential, needless to say conflict arises.

I’m including “Return to Queens Boulevard” in the 2008 Television Time Capsule for a selfish reason, because I think it proves my point. For about 24 minutes, this is an investigation into how celebrity has changed people: how Vince reacts to being jobless and living at home with his mother, and how Eric responds to his own sense of responsibility for Vince’s future. When the two characters have what could be their final blowout, and Vince fires Eric for failing to land him a job, I absolutely refuse to believe that even skeptics don’t feel like this is a moment that has been built up since even the first season.

But after those 24 minutes are over, something goes horribly wrong: everything goes back to normal. Vince has a job, an amazing job with Martin Scorsese even, land in his lap, and all of a sudden their fight is over: that Eric badgered Gus Van Zant enough to get Vince a job was suddenly enough to overcome their differences and reunite them. When Vince showed up in that office, it was a show taking the coward’s way out: at even the sight of a decent character study which could have ramifications for the following season, the show balked.

I am fine with Entourage not taking itself seriously, or fulfilling the male wish to have as much nudity as HBO will allow, but what I can’t stand is the show’s dabbling in more serious (and, for my tastes, more interesting) storylines only to snatch them away. Yes, the show might move into its sixth season and investigate this rift further, but what would have been the harm of letting what was arguably the show’s most intriguing post-Season Two storyline go on for a bit longer?

An improvement over the almost disastrous fourth season which was just unpleasant at the end of the day, the fifth season posed bigger questions and was much more willing to actually offer up some intriguing answers to them. That Doug Ellin and co. would wipe that all away only further proves that the show needs to either solve its bipolarity once and for all or at the very least inform its most ardent fans that people are allowed to have different opinions about the series.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Dexter – “The Damage A Man Can Do”

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“The Damage A Man Can Do”

Season Three, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 16th, 2008

In my review of the show’s third season finale, I tore into Dexter for missed potential, for failing to take advantage of its early season ideas and instead investigating something interesting but not compelling. This isn’t to say that the show’s decision to focus its attention on the relationship between Dexter and Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) was a poor one but rather that it felt like the story never fit the season in a way.

What it did provide, though, was a number of solid episodes that delved into the ramifications of their friendship. “The Damage a Man Can Do” is the most simple of these moments: not wrapped up in the show’s drive towards a conclusion, or in the show’s divided attention at the season’s opening, it answers the question of what could happen if Dexter Morgan had a partner, a friend who helped him with his dark secrets. The episode boils down Dexter’s dark passenger into a shopping list, and a series of disguises and actions that feels wonderfully scientific.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Battlestar Galactica – “Revelations”

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“Revelations”

Season Four, Episode 10

Airdate: June 13th, 2008

When Battlestar Galactica ended its third season, it had left two primary questions for the fourth and final season to answer: who is the final Cylon, and when will humanity reach Earth. By the end of “Revelations,” it had answered one of these questions, but it had more importantly done what the season had been somewhat slow to do: to take the third season’s cliffhanger and elevate it to the show’s grandest scale.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the fourth season was a failure in this regard, but the reveal of four of the final five Cylon models was always going to remain small until the entire fleet knew their identities. While episodes like “The Ties that Bind” show the ramifications of this not-at-all simple fact on certain individuals, and the entire season dealt with the internal psychological turmoil (or discovery), it never felt like the season could really take off until more people were aware of their identities.

And in “Revelations,” this became true: as the show ramped up the interest in discovering the final Cylon model, resurrecting D’Anna and bringing the question of Otherness between humanity and Cylons into greater focus by bringing the two sides into a tenuous alliance, it seemed like the ideal time to throw all caution and secrecy to the wind and reveal their identities to the entirety of the fleet.

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