February 20, 2011 · 8:43 pm
Back to the (Reality) Future: The Amazing Race and Survivor
February 20th, 2011
Watching the Survivor: Redemption Island premiere, I listened to Jeff Probst with a certain degree of skepticism. His argument was that Rob and Russell both had their own form of unfinished business, having played the game multiple times without ever having won. However, really, their presence is not about their story – they are there because Survivor needed a hook, and pitting two of its most infamous players against one another. While I think Russell probably believes that he is there to prove something, I think that Rob is just there to have fun, which for me makes him much more enjoyable to watch.
The fact is that seeing reality contestants try to “prove” something holds very little value for me. I appreciate a good reality storyline, and I think that every great reality show needs a great narrative or three in order to sustain itself. What is always difficult about all-star driven seasons, like both Redemption Island and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is the way in which the narrative is defined for us: in the latter case, the teams are all introduced based on the reason they lost, and the season becomes more about them moving past that initial defeat than anything else.
I know my Amazing Race history, and so I remember almost all of these teams (like many others, Amanda and Kris were too short-lived and too generic to make an impression, but I did remember them eventually). There are also many stories here that I am inherently attached to: Zev and Justin’s early exit thanks to a lost passport and Mel and Mike’s charming father/son dynamic were two narratives that ended too early, and that I was excited to see more of. On the other hand, the idea of seeing more of Margie and Luke is somewhat terrifying, given the fairly odious behavior which characterized their more tense moments back in Season 14.
The difference between Redemption Island and Unfinished Business is simple: while the former has the ability to create new narratives early on, both based on the minimal all-star presence and the structure of the game, the latter is not built for the same type of instant narrative. This does not make it a failure, as the opening episode is filled with spectacle designed to highlight the switch to filming in HD, but it does mean that the season’s real value won’t be certain until we get a bit deeper into the race and see if any new narratives might be able to emerge.
Although there is evidence to suggest that the show is well aware that you can’t coast your way to the finals with just Unfinished Business.
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Filed under Survivor, The Amazing Race
Tagged as Analysis, Australia, Flight Time and Big Easy, Francesca, Globetrotters, Head Down and Hold On, Jeff Probst, Jet and Cord, Kris and Amanda, Kristina, Margie and Luke, Narrative, Phil Keoghan, Philip, Premiere, Reality TV, Redemption Island, Review, Roadblock, Rob, Russell, Sharks, Survivor: Redemption Island, Television, TV, Unfinished Business, Zev and Justin
November 28, 2010 · 12:17 pm
Cultural Catchup-Lite: Parenthood, Doctor Who, Community
November 28th, 2010
While I had quite a bit of grading to do over this holiday weekend, my lack of family commitments (being Canadian, and all) meant that the holiday was also a chance to catch up on various things related more to the blog.
First, I’ve finally created a link to my Master’s thesis, which has been “available” via PDF for a while now on Acadia’s library website. Perhaps I just wanted to create some distance between the project and my new endeavor south of the border, but I have been remiss in adding the link to the “About” page. In short form, the thesis is an investigation of national identity in fictional representations of the Canadian small town, with chapters on Canadian television series Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. You can find the Abstract for the thesis on this page, while you can directly download the PDF here. Also, if you’re new and never visit my “About” page, my undergrad thesis on medieval Romance and Battlestar Galactica is available here if you are so inclined.
Second, I got to some of my viewing backlog, which means I’ve got some brief thoughts about some of those series. While you’ve already read my thoughts on the conclusion of Angel’s second season, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the second season of Parenthood, Doctor Who’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the third and fourth episodes of The Walking Dead, as well as the first season of FX’s Archer.
I also asked my Twitter followers what else they might want to hear more about, and so will dutifully comment on Community (although in less detail, for the sake of my productivity); I’ll be saving thoughts on Fringe’s third season (which has been really good, and structurally fascinating) and Terriers’ first season for later (and by later I mean Wednesday in the case of Terriers, as I’ve seen the finale and will be writing about it and the season at that time).
Similarly, I will probably keep the Walking Dead thoughts for a brief review of tonight’s episode (which I have not seen yet), and might wait to review Archer S1 when the DVD hits on December 28th (I was watching on Netflix); however, thoughts on Parenthood, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and Community after the jump.
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Filed under Community, Doctor Who, Parenthood
Tagged as Abed, Analysis, Autism, Canadian Identity, Catchup, Community, Corner Gas, Crosby, David Tennant, Kristina, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Madame de Pompadour, NBC, Season 2, Steven Moffat, Television, The Girl in the Fireplace, Thesis, TV
May 26, 2010 · 2:12 am
“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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Filed under Parenthood
Tagged as Amber, Analysis, Baseball, Craig T. Nelson, Crosby, Dax Shepard, Drew, Episode 13, Erika Christensen, Family, Friday Night Lights, Haddie, Jabbar, Jasmine, Jason Katims, Jason Ritter, Julia, Kristina, Lauren Graham, Lost and Found, NBC, Peter Krause, Review, Sarah, Season 1, Steve, Timm, Ukelele
April 28, 2010 · 2:55 am
“Perchance to Dream”
April 27th, 2010
Last week, Parenthood was given a second season, and I was pleased: yes, I have at times voiced my intense frustration with some of the show’s tonal inconsistencies, but in doing so I admit that they seem like a show working itself out more than a show which has no chance of ever reconciling its various parts. Rather, it’s a show that very clearly doesn’t want to know what it is yet, a show which wants to embrace the slack that we cut freshman series by trying out as many things as possible. The result is occasionally a show that makes me want to tear my hair out, but it’s also occasionally a show that really resonates emotionally, and there has always been moments which make you think that maybe these crazy Bravermans might just make it after all.
“Perchance to Dream,” easily the most consistent episode of the show thus far, feels perfectly timed to make me excited to see where this show goes in its second season. The show has, to this point, felt like one where the characters are sort of adrift in a sea of uncertainty, as changes and challenges to their family force them to react and respond accordingly. However, this week’s episode dials down the drama and creates “slice of life” scenarios which the show plays for some humour but ultimately uses to draw out some meaningful character moments that feel like they’re building towards something more than a saccharine conclusion. It finally feels like we’re seeing something out of Act Two rather than Act One, and showing characters capable of being self-aware and who share relationships with other characters which don’t have clear hierarchies that lead to formulaic storylines.
Dare we dream that Parenthood might some day become the dramatic powerhouse that is Jason Katims’ other show, Friday Night Lights? Well, no, but I do think we’re to the point where the idea doesn’t seem like a hilariously improbable notion.
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Filed under Parenthood
Tagged as Adam Braverman, Amber, Bra, College, Dance, Dax Shepard, Drama, Drew, E.T., Episode 9, Erika Christensen, Friday Night Lights, Haddie, Jabbar, Jasmine, Jason Katims, Julia, Kristina, Max, Monica Potter, NBC, Perchance to Dream, Peter Krause, Sarah, Season 1, Sydney, Television, TV
April 8, 2010 · 1:20 am
“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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Filed under Parenthood
Tagged as Amber, Asperger's, Braverman, Camille, Crosby, Episode 6, Erika Christensen, Friday Night Lights, Jabbar, Jason Katims, Jason Ritter, Joel, Kristina, Lauren Graham, Max, Minka Kelly, Monica Potter, Mr. Cyr, NBC, Peter Krause, Racquel, Ratings, Sarah, Season 1, The Big "O", Zeke