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Season (Series?) Finale: Party Down – “Constance Carmell Wedding”

“Constance Carmell Wedding”

June 25th, 2010

In some ways, there could never be a perfect finale for Starz’ Party Down. The show is about people confronting the fact that they might be living their finale, that working for a catering company may be the highest rung they will climb in southern California, and so “endings” are inherently unnatural. Instead, the characters are in a constant state of waiting to become, working hard or hardly working towards the end goal of achieving great success in their chosen field. And so while this may well end up the series finale (due to Starz reinventing itself as a genre network under new management and the middling ratings for the series) of Party Down, it is an episode about failed beginnings more than endings.

While very funny and quite poignant in a number of areas, “Constance Carmell Wedding” suffers a bit under the weight of those final moments, unsure of who would be returning for the following season or if there would even be a following season. Constance’s return is most welcome, and the focus on career goals is well met, but there’s a point where a half-hour comedy just can’t carry the weight of beginnings, endings, reunions, unions and everything else in between.

However, let’s not pretend this means I won’t miss the show should it truly be done, or that I didn’t find the second season to be particularly strong: while it may not have all come together perfectly, it was a confident second season which built on the first season’s success without abandoning its winning formula, and I sincerely hope that the show gets a reprieve if only to see what a third season would look like for these character I’ve come to admire.

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Season Premiere: Party Down – “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party”

“Jackal Onassis Backstage Party”

April 23rd, 2010

“It’s no picnic being the boss, huh?”

When we write about Party Down, we tend to focus on the premise over the characters. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re all preparing for the fact that the show might lose many of its characters if it gets a third season, so there’s a vested interest in emphasizing its revolving locations and the general focus on struggling actors/writers/show business folk working to support their dreams over Henry or Casey. While we’re attached to the characters, who were certainly one of the most important parts of the hugely enjoyable first season, it’s the diverse engagements that really set the show apart, and which have formed the basis for its most enjoyable episodes.

“Jackal Onassis Backstage Party” reminds us that these characters are very funny, but it also reminds us that the show isn’t used to handling quite this much character. While the dynamics of the first season cast took some time to develop, they eventually formed into something truly fantastic; however, it was rare that the show seemed like it was really spending a lot of time introducing, or renintroducing, or “changing” character dynamics. The second season premiere has to go through a lot of exposition, which keeps the humour from rising to the level achieved last season, but the central premise remains strong, and the changing dynamics work in the show’s favour at the end of the day.

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Season Premiere: House – “Broken”

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“Broken”

September 21st, 2009

“You’re not God.”

There was a lot of response to “Broken,” as there is to many House premieres and finales. House, like many other shows which on a week-to-week basis only seem to dabble in serialized storylines, likes to pile on the sudden tension in the late and early parts of each season. It’s the time of year where Amber dies in a tragic accident, or when House begins hallucinating due to his use of Vicodin, or when House gets shot and goes into a dream-like state and regains some use of his leg. In all instances, the show presents us with a simple question: what if Dr. House changed? What if, after losing Amber or having his leg fixed or firing all of his fellows or the suicide of one of his fellows or (in the Season 5 finale) being institutionalized, he grows up in a way that changes his dynamic with the people around him and how he does his job?

Every year, however, the same thing happens: he and Wilson reconcile, he convinces himself his leg isn’t better, he hires new fellows and everything effectively goes back to normal. House is, ultimately, like every other procedural in that there are parts of its identity which cannot change as fundamentally as the finales want us to believe, the premieres always designed as a first step to righting the character’s universe. This is something that I’ve complained about in the past, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with it.

“Broken” is certainly, at the very least, the most impressive effort yet to make House’s re-entry into his world both believable and not without consequence. Taking the form of “House: The Movie,” ditching the entire cast save a cameo from Robert Sean Leonard in favour of a collection of doctors, patients and visitors from Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, the two-hour episode takes the time to go through every stage of House’s process. It allows us to see his usual behaviour, conniving and manipulative, and then to deconstruct it in a way which never feels preachy, and which in the end reveals a character who remains acerbic and charming but who does seem a lot closer to what one might consider happy.

And while only time will tell how far these changes go, I’m not really concerned: long-term change or no, this was an extremely compelling two hours of television.

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