Tag Archives: Jason Ritter

Review: NBC’s The Event an Exercise in Zeitgeist-Chasing Self-Indulgence

Review: NBC’s The Event

September 19th, 2010

What is the function of mystery?

You might feel that this is a particularly silly question, but I think that television producers are beginning to misinterpret just what makes mysteries a key component of television drama. Yes, the most basic definition of mystery is uncertainty, so there is a certain value to keeping your audience guessing throughout your narrative. However, mystery is about more than guesswork and confusion; it is about suspenseful situations, and about the way each individual character responds to their uncertainty. In other words, a good mystery isn’t an elaborate conspiracy unfolding in fractured narratives designed to obscure the truth; rather, a good mystery is one which the viewer experiences as opposed to one which has been explicitly created for their consumption, one where the characters and the audience share the same feelings of suspense or uncertainty as the series continues.

This is all a fancy way of saying that NBC’s The Eventwhich debuts at 9/8c on Monday, September 20th – is a show which tries so hard to be mysterious that it loses track of basic principles of storytelling: with a chronology designed to confuse, and with characterization that ranges from vague to non-existent, there is nothing for the viewer to latch onto but the elephant-sized mystery in the room. And yet by organizing the pilot as a series of neon signs with flashing arrows pointing towards the mystery, the manipulations necessary to create said mystery become readily apparent, and render The Event an exercise of zeitgeist-chasing self-indulgence.

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Season Finale: Parenthood – “Lost and Found”

“Lost and Found”

May 25th, 2010

When Parenthood began a few months ago, what struck me about the series was how it felt unbalanced. There were some parts of the show I really enjoyed, but there were other parts of the show that simply weren’t working. It’s not that I expected it to be perfectly balanced, as the late recasting necessitated by Maura Tierney’s cancer meant that the entire tone of the show shifted in an instant, but the combination of the series’ sappy scenes of the family spending time with one another felt at odds with the somewhat incongruous elements of the ensemble. Those scenes made it feel like the show was pretending it was something it wasn’t, that this family unit was actually cohesive despite conflict which seemed to exist within the scripts (and to some degree the casting) more than in the characters themselves.

I understood from the beginning that this show, like Modern Family, is about the family unit and its complexities, but while Modern Family leaned comfortably on broad stereotypes to immediately jump into the series’ structure Parenthood didn’t have the same luxury. Sure, we could look to Lorelai Gilmore to understand Sarah, working mother isn’t exactly rocket science, and newly discovered son has some forebears, but we had to spend time with these characters in order to understand how they are responding to these situations. Modern Family gets to reset itself each week, but Parenthood’s characters need to grow into these situations, which means we need to understand what’s changing and how it’s evolving in more of a nuanced fashion.

Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights was about community, which meant that the show was “setup” from the very beginning: the show’s pilot clearly defined Dillon, Texas as a place where high school football is king, and the show was then able to go further into investigating how the series’ characters relate to that central theme so honestly portrayed in the first episode. With Parenthood, however, Katims is dealing with something far more variable, as every family is different and the impact of the series is dependent on our knowledge of how this family works or compares with our own. Throughout the first season, the show has done some fine work defining each individual family, showing us Adam and Kristina confronting Max’s autism or Crosby connecting with his son in a way he had never imagined. Sure, Sarah is still Lorelai by a different name in many ways, and Julia still remains the series’ weak link, but we now understand these different families to the point that we can see the ways in which they’d come together, their differences now points of difference more than points of incongruity.

“Lost and Found,” scripted by Katims, asks the same question that I was asking after the pilot: is this, in fact, a show about one happy family? I compared the show to Brothers & Sisters when it first aired, but that show very clearly prioritizes the sibling relationship over the individual families within it. Parenthood has yet to make its final decision, and each wing of the family faces that balance between “your” family and “the” family in the finale – and while there’s another one of those sappy scenes at the end, one of those wings is missing, and one of them remains pieced together with some ukelele and some emotional duct tape.

And there’s a realism to that which Katims really nicely captures in a finale that seems a fitting end to the season and creates a strong foundation for the show to hit the ground running in the fall so long as no Swedish lifeguards or serial rapists come out of the woodwork.

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“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood? I Have No Bloody Clue.

“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood?

April 20th, 2010

When I was watching last week’s episode of NBC’s Parenthood, in particular the scene where Sarah (Lauren Graham) shares a moment over some Faulkner with Mark, her daughter’s English teacher and twelve years her juniour, I was not surprised. The scene plays out exactly as you would have imagined it would play out as soon as the two characters met, sparks flying over shared metaphors and the romance of literature as their love defies social constructions of age and awakens something inside of them. I was ready to write the scene off as the precise opposite of subtlety, falling into every cliche we could have predicted, but then I heard something in the background…and then my jaw dropped.

It was “In These Arms,” a song by the Swell Season; for those who don’t know, the Swell Season is the moniker under which Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are currently recording music following their Oscar-winning success with Once. However, my jaw did not drop out of simple recognition of this very beautiful and haunting song; rather, it dropped because Hansard and Irglova were at one point in time romantically involved, with eighteen years separating them. It was at that point that I came to a very important conclusion: someone, somewhere, on the staff of Parenthood is screwing with me.

It could be the Music Supervisor, as there is plenty of evidence to indicate that whoever is choosing music for this show is in fact still living in 2006, or it could be the performers, some of whom seem to have made it their life’s work to entirely take away my ability to tell when this show is trying to be serious and when it’s trying to be sarcastic. For every time when I think I finally have Parenthood pinned down, when I grasp at some sort of straw that convinces me that this could some day develop into half the series that Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights became, there’s moments which leap off the screen and just beg me to ridicule, abandon or at times even throttle this series.

And I’m sort of loving it.

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Parenthood – “The Big ‘O'”

“The Big ‘O'”

April 6th, 2010

I am well aware that Parenthood is not a perfect show, oscillating between moments of quiet complication and moments of tidy resolution without really earning the latter, but here I am reviewing it despite being a day “late.”

Part of that is due to the show’s ratings success: settling in at a solid demo rating that actually saw the show best both ABC’s highly-promoted V and CBS’ hit The Good Wife (which skews old), all signs point to the show receiving a second season, which means that any time I invest now will help me chart the show’s growth in the future.

However, most of it is due to the fact that as the show goes along, it continues to become more confident: it isn’t necessarily that much more consistent, but its inconsistencies are sort of moving around. Criticizing the show is in many ways like trying to hit a moving target: it isn’t that a single story is causing all of the show’s problems, but rather there’s always one story that just doesn’t quite add up, or which feels like it’s unfolding in a fashion too beholden to the unavoidable clichés the show’s premise creates. But because that’s never the same story, with the same characters, there’s always something new to talk about both good (in that past problem stories manage to pull off something quite subtle) and bad (in that some other stories take a wrong turn).

“The Big ‘O'” is certainly one of the stronger hours of the series, managing two fairly “big” moments in the show’s serialized narrative in a nice subtle fashion while going a tad bit off the rails with some of the other developments – next week, I’m sure, things will switch all over again, but let’s stick to what we’ve got for now.

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Parenthood – “The Situation”

“The Situation”

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.

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