Tag Archives: Mark Sheppard

Season Premiere: Doctor Who – “The Impossible Astronaut”

“The Impossible Astronaut”

April 23rd, 2011

“Human beings – I thought I’d never get done saving you.”

As Doctor Who enters its sixth “series” (which I refer to as season above to avoid confusion with similarly titled posts on the blog), I find myself an an interesting crossroads.

As a viewer, “The Eleventh Hour” was my first experience with the start of a series (if not my first experience, as I watched the relevant Moffat-oeuvre episodes beforehand), and that episode served a very clear introductory function for Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. It was also a contained episode, extending beyond the traditional running time to complete a single story alongside the introductions of both a new Doctor and a new companion.

By comparison, “The Impossible Astronaut” finds Matt Smith’s Doctor well-established, and despite the “official” addition of a second companion there is not much groundwork to be laid with either Amy or Rory given their importance to the previous series. It is also the first part of a two-part premiere, meaning that its full meaning has not yet been fully understood, and its role in shaping the remainder of the series remains fairly abstract.

When I suggest I find myself at a crossroads, it is because “The Impossible Astronaut” is a test of sorts for those of us who are new to the Who, so to speak. With the introductions out of the way, Steven Moffat has wholly embraced the series’ atemporality and put together a premiere which finds poetry in tragedy and tragedy in just about everything, breaking rules that we didn’t know existed and inventing rules that we can’t be sure exist. It renders viewers like me, those of us who only recently jumped on the bandwagon, not unlike the Doctor’s companions, forced to place our trust in Moffat’s vision while the questions pile up and the speculation overflows.

It says a great deal about the success of the fifth series that I barely blinked at “The Impossible Astronaut,” slipping easily into the giddy theorizing that this show can inspire and fully embracing my deep appreciation for something that I only started watching a year ago.

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Series Premiere: White Collar – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

October 23rd, 2009

There has been much talk of late about whether or not NBC, in crafting a new strategy that actually creates programming that people are interested in watching, will be looking to their corporate sibling USA in order to discover the elusive secrets. The cable channel has been on a roll of late, with successful procedurals like Monk and Psych have been joined by Burn Notice and Royal Pains. Their shows vary in quality (I much like Burn Notice, but became burnt out on Monk and Psych – jury’s still out on the summer’s Royal Pains), but their success has become a foregone conclusion in the same way that the failure of NBC shows has become the status quo.

White Collar is the latest show to join this stable, and at first glance it is also one of their best. Borrowing heavily from Catch Me if You Can and Burn Notice, the show eschews explosions in favour of a more sly sort of series. Rather than following someone applying professional skills in an amateur setting (Michael Westen, in a nutshell), the show is the story of someone who has made a living working against the system but now finds himself of value to the very man who put him in jail.

What results is a show that some could argue simply checks off the boxes for how a USA procedural should operate, but one which does it with a sense of style that makes it pretty tough to resist.

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Warehouse 13 – “Breakdown”

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“Breakdown”

September 8th, 2009

It may seem weird to a few days out be blogging about a show that’s pretty unheralded in terms of critical analysis, but there were some observations I wanted to make that wouldn’t quite fit into a Twitter comment and so here we are discussing “Breakdown,” what’s really the last “minor” episode of Warehouse 13 before the Michael Hogan guest spot next week and the finale the week after.

One of the things that I’ve discussed about Warehouse 13 is a rather annoying trope wherein the people attempting to solve the mystery (so to speak) end up getting personally tied up in it. Take, for example, a while ago when the life-draining Spine of Saracen latched itself onto Pete as they attempted to solve its various properties. I liked the story itself, bringing in past agents and kind of offering a sense of the self-sacrifice which can be involved in the job, but by placing Pete at the center of the conflict it meant there was only one conclusion: we know Pete is going to be fine, so the threat of his death is a false one. If it were on someone else (say, the female former Warehouse agent), there’s some semblance of uncertainty, and a chance for the show to head into some darker territory.

But the last couple of weeks have demonstrated that there is value to this kind of structure so long as it is handled in the proper fashion. Last week’s “Homicidal Prison” was an example of the show dealing with a couple of lingering story beats (Myka’s boyfriend dying in Dallas and Pete ignoring his second sight (of sorts) and not warning his father against going to that fire) in the midst of a fairly interesting story. It wasn’t that we ever thought Pete or Myka were going to kill themselves, but rather that we needed to see them face off with those struggles. In that context, placing them in the center of everything worked, and the episode felt stronger because of it.

In “Breakdown,” meanwhile, Pete and Myka are once again at the mercy of various artifacts, but in a way that didn’t feel like a forced ramping up of tension, and that captured the fun and enjoyable side of the show without necessarily foregoing the more suspenseful moments. It wasn’t the deepest episode of the show yet, but it showed the kind of potential behind having the show’s leads front and center in the battle between free will and artifacts, and that the producers know what they’re doing heading into the finale.

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Series Finale: Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part Two”

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“Daybreak Part Two”

Series Finale – March 20th, 2009

“Ever since we found out who…what we are…”

When the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries first began, there were two main questions: who are these people who are leading humanity forward after this devastating tragedy, and what is the nature of the Cylons who caused that devastation? It was part of that central binary the show put forward, humans vs. Cylons, but from the very beginning these are not two separate questions. In the character of Boomer, this balance between who/what was inherently questioned, as those who straddled the line between human and Cylon were forced to confront these types of questions. When the Final Four Cylons were revealed, they all fell on different sides: Tyrol accepted “what” begrudgingly in the quotation above, Tory downright embraced it, while Tigh refused to abandon “who” and continued to emphasize his personal identity.

At this point, we as viewers are all people straddling this line between “who” and “what” in the shadow of “Daybreak,” a series finale which struggles less from pressure within the show itself and more from the external pressure of fan expectation. The problem is that we, as fans, grapple with similar problems: are we concerned, moving into the finale, about who these characters are and what journey they have taken, or are we too caught up in the “plot holes” or the questions to which we demand answers? It’s not a new binary amongst viewers: for ages people have been complaining about episodes for having too few explosions, or for being too slow, or for not doing enough to advance the show’s complicated plot structure. Whereas for most of those episodes, I’ve noticed strong character development, effective mood building, and an almost cathartic sense of pacing that is part of what makes the series more than just science fiction.

“Daybreak” is an episode that, more than answering which side of this binary people should fall on, should destroy it altogether. This isn’t about plot, or character, but the intersection of these ideas. In the show’s fourth season, amidst some admittedly complicated and on occasion bungled storylines, one thing that has remained consistent is the idea that the definitions of human and Cylon are melding together. Much as Edward James Olmos argued against race being used as a cultural determinant during the United Nations panel earlier in the week, we should be beyond the point of considering these people purely along the lines of human vs. Cylon, just as we should be beyond the point of considering the show in terms of plot vs. character.

So, let there be no red line drawn down the deck: with this epic, sprawling, action-filled and philosophically-driven finale, Ronald D. Moore has accomplished what he set out to do. He manages to meld together the cheeky with the solemn, the profound with the surreal, the whimsical with the emotional, in a way that gives you that sense that destiny is not a four-letter word, that plot and character are neither slave to the other, and that whatever this show accomplished it will go down in a fashion befitting of one of television’s most effective pieces of programming, period, independent of its science fiction heritage.

So say, if not us all, then at least this particular believer.

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