March 21st, 2011
There is something hypocritical about the status of Barney Stinson as a character within How I Met Your Mother. On the one hand, he is the character who will change the least: because of his popularity, and because of the broad comedy the character is known for, Barney Stinson will never dramatically alter his behavior. And yet, at the same time, the character is uniquely positioned to engage with more emotional and transformative elements due to Neil Patrick Harris’ dramatic acting ability and the value of having a narcissistic character show signs of selflessness and vulnerability.
Ted Mosby is always on the verge of a dramatic life event, but is never allowed to reach that moment because it would fundamentally change the course of the series. However, because there are assurances that Barney’s essence will not be changed, he’s allowed to do what Ted is not: he’s allowed to meet his father, allowed to confront a potentially life-changing moment on a show which in its sixth season is largely resistant to fundamental change.
The result is a tremendous showcase for Neil Patrick Harris and John Lithgow, achieving an emotional complexity that has been absent from Ted’s story for what seems like a very long time without sacrificing the essence of the character. While there are some who remain frustrated with the lack of momentum on the eponymous story, the show’s sixth season has been quite effective in crafting stories about the other side of the parental coin that have really landed.
Even if they aren’t quite as transformative as Ted’s love life.
“The Mighty and Strong”
January 31st, 2010
Big Love has always dealt with, by design, the trials and tribulations of Bill Henrickson and his extended family, reaching back into the depths of Juniper Creek and into the three houses that sit side-by-side in a Utah suburb. But over time, we’ve come to meet people who are connected to this extended family in different ways than the “family,” people who are part of this world without necessarily being part of Bill’s drama.
“The Mighty and Strong” certainly doesn’t refer to Bill Henrickson, bully, with its title, nor does it refer to his three wives who are all struggling to come to terms with their current situations. Rather, it seems to refer to the people who are on the periphery, the people who are there for these characters when their worlds start to unravel or who are there to offer a critical gaze on the actions being undertaken. They are, in a sense, what we imagine ourselves to be in this world: someone who will cut through the politics, but through the sensationalism, and just treat these people like human beings rather than pieces in a elaborate puzzle.
And, unfortunately, they’re people that the show’s central characters don’t always appreciate as much as they should.
January 24th, 2010
When a show gets into its fourth season, and when that show has in some ways come to the end of its initial storyline, they begin to branch off into new directions that producers will sell as exciting or intriguing and which are…often not.
The problem I think Big Love is running into is that they have chosen to expand its world as opposed to (for the most part) exploring nuances within that world. While the third season was perhaps the most successful yet in terms of turning its attention onto the family and their interactions with one another, this season has that family more scattered than ever before; while it’s opening up new story opportunities that have their moments, it feels as if the show is splintering in a way which doesn’t feel like a metaphor for the family falling apart or anything similar.
Instead, it feels like a show that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, and that is just going with the flow when it should be stopping and considering an alternate route in a few instances. However, with only nine episodes in the season (yes, we’re a third of the way there), they seem reluctant to reconsider, and “Strange Bedfellows” reflects that tension.
Lowering Expectations for Skins Season 3
August 7th, 2009
Earlier this year, British hit Skins returned to television with a third season in a way that few shows have done before. Gone were every single original cast member save some supporting characters and young Effy, whose brother Tony was at the center of the first two seasons. This was quite controversial for those who loved the first two seasons, which at times really were extremely compelling pieces of television in terms of both writing and directing. I think those first two seasons were ultimately a tad inconsistent, but they evolved in such a way as to really endear me to those characters; even when the second season eliminated any sense of Sid’s innocence, and never quite knew how it wanted the rest of the characters to handle Tony’s newfound learning impairments, the show was so stylistically interesting and raw in its depiction of teenage lust and life that it had a fair deal of momentum heading into its third season.
The season debuted on BBC America last night, months after it was originally supposed to air, so viewers on this side of the pond have been able to see a premiere that feels like an attempt to fit these characters into the show’s previous mould: there’s debauchery, there’s sex, there’s the beginnings of a love triangle, and characters are defined based on their individual characteristics but begin to show signs of resisting those definitions. It all seems like the show is moving along the exact same track before.
And it is in this fact, I hate to tell you, that the show falls off the rails, struggling for the entire season to recapture what made the first two seasons engaging while not quite understanding that there are fundamental realities their storylines include which can’t be reconciled by sex or violence. This group of characters is not the same as the group before, containing its own intricacies and its own difficulties, but because the show around them hasn’t fundamentally change there is very little organic about the third season. More than ever, the machinations of a show designed to dull the senses to extreme teenage behaviour come into focus, and those storylines which survive due so by either isolation or in the fact that the show has never quite gone there before.
So consider the post that follows, containing a few light spoilers for Season 3 (and a whole whack of spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2), my public service for the day: I wish I could say otherwise, but if you’re expecting Skins Season 3 to live up to what the first two seasons offered, you’re going to be disappointed.