Tag Archives: Gambling

Breaking Bad – “Bullet Points”

“Bullet Points”

August 7th, 2011

“Walter H. White – a man of hidden talents.”

When I reviewed the premiere a few weeks ago, I discussed whether or not the show’s flashback opening rendered the episode a “wee bit too writerly.” Obviously, considering that I used the phrase “wee bit,” I didn’t consider it a serious problem, but it is something that Breaking Bad can engage in on occasion.

“Bullet Points” is filled with writerly moments. It’s an episode in which the show’s characters literally script out their actions, and where elements of performance and theater are put front and center. There is nothing more writerly than meta-storytelling, and Moira Walley-Beckett’s script certainly doesn’t hide the fact that it’s gesturing back to previous seasons in a major way.

It’s also blisteringly funny, suspenseful without necessarily relying on major plot developments, and offers a great deal of insight into how these characters confront their demons: some of them bury them, some of them obsess over them, and all of them are in desperate need of someone to talk to.

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Season Finale: Men of a Certain Age – “Back in the Shit”

“Back in the Shit”

February 22nd, 2010

“The grand essentials of happiness are something to do, something to love, something to hope for.”

I took a couple of stabs at making this introduction into a fairly elaborate discussion of how surprising I find Men of a Certain Age’s quality to be at points, and how glad I am that I sat down to watch the pilot despite being far outside of the show’s demographics, but I realized that I wrote about a lot of that the first time I tackled the show. The message, I hope, was received: this is a damn good show, and one that you should be watching.

But I was drawn into trying to recreate those points because the show continues to surprise me, and more importantly it continues to be really compelling. There is an honesty about this show that makes me like it more and more with each passing episode, and even when the show gets a fairly romantic sendoff (out of fear that this would be the show’s one and only season) it feels imminently satisfying because it leaves at least one of its three protagonists lacking in one of the above “grand essentials of happiness,” and leaves its others with work to do before they truly achieve those goals.

“Back in the Shit” is perhaps not the show’s best episode, rushing to take characters to dark places and rushing just as quickly to bring them a bit more good fortune, but it does so while retaining the subtlety that took the show from a middle-aged male version of Sex and the City (as it was once sold) into an adult drama series with heart, humour and good reasons I want to punch Ray Romano in the kidneys – the grand essentials, if you will.

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Television of a Certain Quality: TNT’s Men of a Certain Age

Television of a Certain Quality: TNT’s Men of a Certain Age

January 3rd, 2010

As we enter a new decade, there is no question that time and age become important questions. On New Year’s, there was a twitter meme of “10 Years Ago,” which is not only prompting us to remember what we were doing at the dawn of Y2K (Hint: not recovering from a massive technological crisis) but also prompting us to compare where we are now to where we were then. And while this might not be a particularly meaningful exercise for me (considering that I was in eighth grade ten years ago, I don’t have too much to compare), the ruminations on age and life trajectory are probably more meaningful for people who were actually living lives (middle school doesn’t count) in the year 2000.

I raise this point not to try to make those older than me feel older, but rather as a nice excuse to finally write something about TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, a show that I had no expectations of enjoying but which has become a nice piece of consistency during this off-time for the bulk of my favourite series. I believe it was James Poniewozik who suggested that Men of a Certain Age is the male equivalent of The Good Wife, a show for which you have very limited expectations but that surprises you with a subtlety and a focus on execution, and I buy that (I’ve blogged about The Good Wife a heck of a lot more than I expected, after all). I expected the show to be something very different than what it is, but I’ve enjoyed its subtle approach to its storylines and its ability to find both humour and tragedy in legitimate and believable places in the lives of its characters.

And while I like James’ comparison, what really sets this show apart is that unlike The Good Wife – which had lowered expectations based primarily on the network and its penchant for procedurals – Men of a Certain Age faces an even more significant challenge: convincing a cynical audience that Ray Romano is capable of taking himself seriously.

While it might not seem fair, the show lives or dies on this question, and that it has felt so dramatically satisfying is a testament to his work here.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Mentalist – “Red Handed”

timecapsulementalist

“Red Handed”

Season One, Episode Six

Airdate: November 11th, 2008

In the doldrums of the Christmas exam period, as new TV wound down, had a choice: catch up on an older show that I have sitting around on DVD or trying to keep culturally relevant by sampling the one new show that is a definitive hit. CBS’ The Mentalist is a long time coming: the network has been searching for a place for Simon Baker ever since it canceled The Guardian after three seasons, and after Smith was a total dud it was time to give Baker another chance in the spotlight.

Mostly, I’m including The Mentalist because of its success: it’s only grown since its premiere, and has the potential to emerge as a Tuesday cornerstone for the network. In a year where very few shows truly broke out, The Mentalist is a true success story.

But it’s also a smart show, in ways that are not always clear and certainly not driving some of the show’s creative input. Bruno Heller, in his first major series work since the end of HBO’s Rome, brings a certain wit to the series: it doesn’t offer anything that other procedurals don’t already offer in spades, but it has proven particularly capable of switching modes from drama to comedy.

A lot of this has to do with Baker’s charm: say what you will about the procedural drama as a medium, or the fact that this show is basically a more serious version of USA’s Psych, but Patrick Jane is an entertaining character to watch. He’s intelligent, his social ticks are less about smugness than they are about impatience (it’s a distinction), and his humanizing back story has been smartly underplayed but maintained in order to eventually pay off.

Picking a single episode is somewhat challenging, because every episode tends to blend into the next. However, if I had to pick one, I think that Jane’s foray into the world of gambling felt like the most fun, and the way the episode worked around it felt quite satisfying. Jane’s ability to gain financially from his efforts are in many ways a root cause of his past indiscretions, so his charity with said winnings adds to the character’s charm.

I am not likely to ever love the show, or watch it live as opposed to in a lull where nothing which needs thinking feels right, but the show may go down as the season’s only true hit: and while I at first was quite cynical about it success in the wake of better shows falling by the wayside, I nonetheless feel like the show remains a well-made procedural drama. And there’s room for one of those in the Time Capsule.

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

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