February 10th, 2011
Perfect Couples is, ironically enough, rife with terrible couplings, or at the very least dichotomous components. The theme song, from Carl Newman of The New Pornographers, is catchy to the point that I want it for a ring tone; the opening credits, meanwhile, are a hideous mess. I am legitimately a “fan” of Kyle Bornheimer, while Olivia Munn is quickly becoming a form of kryptonite. The show is all over the map, and thus each episode becomes about parts rather than the whole; however, since the show actually wants it to be about the whole in the way it links the three couples together, there’s an inherent tension there that makes watching, and liking, the show quite difficult.
And yet I sort of like enough of it to be on board. “Perfect Jealousy” isn’t brilliant, and parts of its broad humor don’t work, but I wonder if this might be as close as we can get to balance in the force.
June 3rd, 2010
If you’re looking for thoughts on the more entertaining of last night’s USA Network premieres, then you’ll want to check out Alan Sepinwall’s review of the fourth season and Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the premiere at The A.V. Club. Ultimately, I’m about in line with Todd on the show: while I still enjoy it, and thought the premiere did some interesting things, I’m finding that I am far less engaged in the series than I once was. While before its scheduling in the summer months seemed like a welcome bit of intellectually-aligned fun, now it just feels like we’re, you know, burnt out on Burn Notice.
But since those gentlemen put such a nice button on the Burn Notice premiere, I wanted to turn my attention to that which came afterwards. If Michael Westen had tied me to a chair and interrogated me for two days, I honestly don’t know if he could have been able to get me to remember what happened at the end of Royal Pains’ first season last summer. I remembered the basic premise of the show, as well as the basic character interactions central to the series, but in terms of an actual plot the closest I could come is “Campbell Scott’s eccentric billionaire has a weird illness that he pulled a Jason Street to try to fix,” which doesn’t exactly constitute a lasting impression considering I relate to it largely through an obscure Friday Night Lights reference.
“Spasticity” is a fine example of both why I plan to keep watching the show and why, in a few months time, I’ll likely forget about everything I watched this summer. While the show has a way of passing the time in a way which I quite admire, it is not what one would call entertaining: there is nothing here to please crowds beyond a compelling guest turn from Kyle Bornheimer and residual love for Arrested Development having fundamentally changed our perception of Henry Winkler, the rest of the series comfortable to sit in a functional but lifeless holding pattern that honestly serves it quite well.
In some ways, I have a certain respect for the show not trying to push itself to be more explicitly engaging, retaining its understated even when it occasionally results in storylines which what one would generally consider “unmemorable.”
“Chuck vs. the Final Exam”
March 22nd, 2010
At its best, Chuck is a show where the stakes of a traditional spy show feel extraordinarily real: the whole point of the premise is that the things that happen in the show’s universe are dangerous and larger than life, but our protagonist is a regular guy who has a computer in his head that makes him a far more important asset than he was born to be. The show’s second season, where it reached the peak of its creative success, captured Chuck Bartowski coming to terms with the idea that being a spy might be what he was meant to be, and that there was the potential for the world of espionage to become “real” in a way he had never imagined.
But something went wrong at the start of the third season, to the point where I would argue that the show has diverged from the “real” not only in terms of believability (which isn’t new, considering the suspension of disbelief necessary in many of the spy stories) but also in terms of character. And while some would point to the Intersect 2.0 as a dehumanizing factor or the forced separation of Chuck and Sarah against the wishes of die-hard fans as reasons that the show is becoming less grounded, I would argue that it is something more substantial than that.
“Chuck vs. the Final Exam” is supposed to feel as if the stakes are higher than ever, even arguing that if Chuck fails this series of tests he will return to his normal life. However, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are higher than ever – things felt much more real, much more life-changing, when Chuck was reconciling family and country, when he was fighting for something beyond getting to be a “real spy.” The problem with this episode, and much of the third season, is that the struggle between who Chuck is and who Chuck is on the path to becoming has been said instead of shown, implied rather than demonstrated. And so rather than the show confidently or subtly introducing this tension, the show has thrown out the “real” Chuck and moved quickly and efficiently towards something that, while interesting, just isn’t as engaging.
It’s a move that would be necessary to cram this story into thirteen episodes, which may well be the root of my frustration with the show’s current trajectory.
“The Importance of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”
January 12th, 2010
It might just be that we’re reaching the home stretch of Better Off Ted’s rushed second season, or that news this morning that ABC isn’t officially cancelling the show just yet has provided a false sense of hope, but tonight was the first set of episodes where I rarely felt myself comparing the show to its finest moments, or feeling like the show was missing opportunities. I don’t think it’s because “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road” were perfect episodes, but they had a nice rhythm to them that didn’t create dead zones which could make them feel complacent, and they dealt with concepts (word play and one-upmanship) that the show has always gotten some great mileage out of.
In fact, if you were going to levy a single criticism of the double-header, you could perhaps argue that the episodes were almost too similar to one another, placing Ted as the moral centre amidst an environment more willing to engage with the low road. However, the show never places too much of each story on Ted and Ted alone, which allows the comedy around him to remain the star, and on that front the episodes offer enough diversity and hilarity to come out a winning pair.