January 17th, 2011
Response to “Bad News,” HIMYM’s last original episode, was decidedly mixed. What struck me most was the way the episode-ending reveal that Marshall’s father had passed away became so problematic despite the fact that this is the kind of show which should be capable of handling such delicate matters. I’ll certainly agree with those who felt that there was some potential incongruity between the playful nature of the countdown and the eventual reveal, requiring a sudden gear shift which made the episode considerably divisive.
However, while the series is no so heavily serialized that we need reserve judgment on an individual episode until seeing how it carries over into the next, I would say that “Last Words” is in a position to sort of payoff the buildup offered in “Bad News.” The result, I feel, is an infallible merging of the comic and dramatic elements mashed together two weeks ago – with more time to establish the balance, Bays and Thomas emphasize the way in which well-drawn, longstanding characters offer great potential to take even a fairly rote storyline to a truly emotional place through some sharp writing and some stellar performances.
And that’s the sort of self-actualization the show was missing last season.
November 8th, 2010
Always ostensibly interested in the passage of time, “Natural History” has How I Met Your Mother very purposefully digging into both past and future. In fact, the season as a whole is structured around the passage of time: the Arcadian was once a beautiful building, and yet it stands in the way of urban progress and has decayed to the point of ill repute.
Here, through a trip to the Museum of Natural History, that storyline is merged somewhat awkwardly, but ultimately effectively, with two more storylines that deal with memories of the past and their relevance in the present day. It’s one of those rare episodes which in and of itself doesn’t necessarily resonate, but the way in which it consolidates the entirety of the season is a really sharp pivot heading into the remainder of the season.
“One in Every Family”
September 27th, 2010
“Everything’s always a blur.”
Lying in bed, the newly married Lindsay Allen observes to her husband that her life is sort of like drowning: when he’s away (with his other wife), she feels like she’s drowning, and when he returns it’s like a sudden breath of air.
This scene does little to elevate Lone Star’s gender representations, as effectively Lindsay is arguing that she is lost without her man; however, while I will get to those questions in a moment, I want to focus on the way Lindsay’s description describes Lone Star in and of itself. The show feels sort of like a blur, really: while the show has a fairly leisurely pace, the threat of a reveal remains at every corner, creating just enough instability for an episode like “One in Every Family” to feel meaningful even when it doesn’t have any huge or groundbreaking scenes.
The show continues to paint in fairly broad strokes on some levels, but its second episode quite successfully expands on the nuance within its various worlds: the show still remains fairly centered on James Wolk’s Robert Allen, but the show around him has been effectively given additional depth which would indicate that this show is about more than its premise.
Emphasizing potential, of course, that is unlikely to see the light of the fall season.
September 27th, 2010
Barney Stinson is a very broad character, but Neil Patrick Harris has always specialized at emphasizing his vulnerability. Mind you, this vulnerability always disappears, but the series’ emphasis on serialization has allowed for Barney’s arc to avoid feeling too reductive. Yes, he resets every once in a while, but “Cleaning House” quite clearly identifies that there remains a sense of progress in the character.
While the episode wasn’t particularly fantastic, it felt more emotionally honest than the incredulous nature of the story would indicate on the surface. As someone who appreciates this level of emotional complexity, I like what the episode does for the overall narrative and for Barney as a character, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change the character in future episodes.
March 30th, 2010
Fittingly, subtlety isn’t particularly easy to analyze when it comes to television series. While I would never argue that Parenthood’s morals are subtle, as it tends to go for the blindly emotional over the starkly realistic, I still feel like some of what the show is accomplishing could be considered subtle. Even if things eventually get wrapped up in a neat bow that lays out the circumstances at hand, things always tend to start with a small moment that becomes something more, and so the least subtle of conclusions may still come from subtle origins.
“The Situation” works for most of its run time because the characters aren’t necessarily being driven by clear moral foundations; Drew doesn’t start spending time with Adam and Max because his Dad let him down again, Sarah doesn’t strike up a friendship with Amber’s teacher because of some sort of life problem, and Crosby (while directed by others) manages his paternity situation fairly effectively. In the end, the lessons apparent in each story are drawn to the surface through more direct action, and the show gets as sappy as it always does; however, up to that point, there continues to be enough small moments of subtlety for me to stick with the show for the rest of the season.
February 23rd, 2010
“I guess we weren’t looking for it…”
When Lost adds new elements to its world, acts of expansion that have been quite common early in the show’s sixth season, there’s always a question of why we’ve never seen it before. Why did they wait so long, for example, for us to meet Benjamin Linus, and why did we never learn about the Man in Black until the fifth season finale? They’re questions that have some merit, certainly, but which perhaps miss the point: the reality is that sometimes things sneak up on you, and things that have existed for centuries are only able to be found when you know where to look (and sometimes Michael Emerson blows away the producers and becomes part of the show’s expansion).
“Lighthouse” is a cross-reality investigation of this idea, of what people are able to “see” with the right information and how those viewpoints change those characters. For some, their perspective is clouded by an infection taking over their mind and body, while for others their perspective is clouded by a life filled with self-doubt and personal struggle. And while we’ve yet to be given the proper coordinates to full interested what the show’s flash-sideways structure represents, it continues to offer a unique perspective on who these characters could have been, which remains a compelling counterpoint to the characters they are and – perhaps more importantly – the characters they are destined, or not destined, to be.
November 22nd, 2009
There is no question that I have been highly critical of Dexter this season, which isn’t to suggest that I wasn’t also critical of season two (where the conclusion fizzled) or season three (where things felt as if they wrapped up too neatly): this is a show that I have always felt struggled in the balance between the parts and the whole, and this has been especially clear this season. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the story surrounding the Trinity Killer, and Michael C. Hall is delivering as compelling a performance as ever, I’ve found myself watching episodes out of obligation more than interest, and fastforwarding through anything not involving Trinity, Dexter, or Deb.
If we follow that strategy, “Hungry Man” contains perhaps the best connection yet between Dexter and Trinity, offering glimpses of two theoretically similar Thanksgiving dinners that in reality tell two very different story or, more problematically for Dexter, two very different stages of the same tale. The problem is that this isn’t actually a new theme, having effectively been the purpose of the Trinity story since we meant “Arthur,” and despite some really fantastic execution throughout it (like seasons before it) feels a bit too on the nose, thematically.
However, when you have a show that likes to meander about as it does and (in my opinion) waste our time with storylines that are irrelevant until the show decides to deliver a bombshell like at the end of this episode, I’ll take compelling contrivance over mundane mind games any day.
“Introduction to Film”
October 1st, 2009
I feel a little bit awkward writing a review of “Introduction to Film,” as if I should be out impulsively making out with someone or climbing a tree or telling 10 people I love them. The week’s class, considered a bird course and a chance at an easy grade, is all about “carpe diem,” with a professor straight out of Dead Poet’s Society and the kind of class that seems like the ideal fit for this cast of characters in that it is in fact that most awkward fit imaginable.
It’s an episode that, like the class in question, lulls us into a false sense of awareness, making us believe the episode is about one thing when in fact it’s about something else entirely. It does it in a really subtle way, like a sneeze that just keeps threatening to arrive but doesn’t, as the show demonstrates a mastery over the sneeze that one did not expect.
All in all, it’s a simultaneously funny and kind of heartbreaking episode that continues to show some really great tones to the show’s brand of humour.
“Reversals of Fortune”
September 14th, 2009
There is no question, whatsoever, that Gossip Girl is a flawed show which only on occasion finds its true potential. That potential is most often bottled when we get the opportunity to see Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf together, trading barbs and turning what is often a depressing melodrama that fails to capture the potential of this concept. By so isolating the show’s universe in a small collection of characters (many of whom I, you know, don’t like), the show has become less about teenagers and their wily ways and more about these individual characters repeating the same cycles over and over again. For Chuck and Blair, this has weakened their appeal: for Dan and Serena, it’s eliminated it altogether.
So why do I keep watching? I think part of me wants to be able to say that I’ve still got a less than critically fascinating series on my schedule, but at least some part of me wants to see how the show handles itself as the teen soap of its generation. There is something about Gossip Girl’s bizarre dichotomy between cultural awareness and actual ratings/quality which says something about this generation of television viewers, and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are not slouches behind the scenes.
“Reversals of Fortune” does what every Gossip Girl premiere does, playing off of the uncertainty of what happened in the past summer and the kind of mistakes and ill fortunes that the characters find themselves in as a new year begins. It’s the same formula the show has used numerous times before, but it also still works, in particular this time around as the show resists turning Dan and Serena to the forefront and lets Blair and Chuck’s relationship keep its spark by playing with expectations.
It’s not high drama, but it’s the right kind of premiere for the series.
August 27th, 2009
If you were quite a hawk-eyed reader of the blog, you might have seen a few weeks ago that I was convinced Royal Pains was ending its first season when Burn Notice ended the first half of its third, with a relationship-driven cliffhanger regarding the pairing of Hank and Jill. I was mistaken, of course – the show kept going, and this past Thursday it came to its finale and delivered something a little bit different. And “Wonderland” was a finale, of sorts, but one that is really strangely placed in terms of why I kept watching Royal Pains all summer.
It’s the show that really “broke out” in USA’s biggest summer ever, but the reasons it remained engaging for me as a viewer really has nothing to do with the show’s characters, at least for the most part. While some of these shows work due to the quality of their ensemble, the characters have felt ancillary to the premise and the aesthetic elements of the series. The show’s Hamptons setting is intriguing in the potential for us to meet recurring clients, and to embrace a world where the very rich and the very poor tend to interact on a regular basis – it opens up the potential for unique cases not seen on other medical shows, while in a breezy enough location to keep things from getting too serious.
However, this was a finale that went back to very basic procedural diagnosis drama, and that returned to the core relationship between the show’s regular characters which…well, I don’t want to be mean, but I don’t particularly care. I don’t dislike Hank, and I find Divya’s life quite interesting, but both Evan and Jill have been criminally underwritten, and the episode’s efforts to put roadblocks between their relationships is actually fundamentally false in terms of building suspense for a second season. The show has a stable of recurring players who I’ve grown quite accustomed to, and to put them into danger or to build suspense around them would actually feel final.
Instead, we’re putting roadblocks between characters who aren’t going anywhere, and whose divisions will be temporary before the show enters into its same comfortable rhythm next season.