“The Great Escape”
June 1st, 2011
Given that I already offered a general opinion that “The Great Escape” is a tremendous return for the show’s second season, I don’t expect to say a great deal about the episode itself.
However, I feel that this episode more than any other captures the sort of “coming of age” theme that I highlighted in my pre-air review, creating a set of circumstances in which all of the characters prepare themselves to make an important life change before suddenly realizing that the moment has passed.
It’s oddly one of the most overtly thematic episodes that this subtle show has ever done, but its broad moments are triggered by such subtle observations that it never betrays what makes the series so compelling.
“Love is a Battlefield”
April 17th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
“When I said you could slay vampires and have a social life, I didn’t mean at the same time.”
Early in a first season, the goal of any television series is to get viewers interested in the stories unfolding. This sounds really simple at first, but there’s a lot of different ways this goal is achieved: some shows simply keep retelling the same basic story in an effort to draw in new viewers as the season moves forward, while other shows try to tell as many different types of stories as possible in order to convince viewers that unpredictable and expansive are two very important adjectives in judging a new series.
However, what I’m finding really interesting about Buffy is that it seems to be both patient and impatient, willing to spend time on what one would consider “throwaway” episodes in “Witch” and “Teacher’s Pet” but then shifting gears entirely by diving head first into the complexities of the Angel mythos with two of the following episodes (“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” and “Angel”). Rather than these two episodes each feeling like an individual component of the series’ premise being revealed, “Never Kill a Boy…” and “Angel” are really like a two-parter (divided by “The Pack,” which was pretty nondescript and “standalone”): the first establishes the challenges of living a double life, while the second extends that particular theme to a more interesting and thematically complex place.
It’s a place that I know is the starting point for a fairly major component in the rest of the series, but I admit to being a little bit distracted by how its meaning has been altered by new points of reference that have emerged in the thirteen years since the episodes aired.
“Back in the Shit”
February 22nd, 2010
“The grand essentials of happiness are something to do, something to love, something to hope for.”
I took a couple of stabs at making this introduction into a fairly elaborate discussion of how surprising I find Men of a Certain Age’s quality to be at points, and how glad I am that I sat down to watch the pilot despite being far outside of the show’s demographics, but I realized that I wrote about a lot of that the first time I tackled the show. The message, I hope, was received: this is a damn good show, and one that you should be watching.
But I was drawn into trying to recreate those points because the show continues to surprise me, and more importantly it continues to be really compelling. There is an honesty about this show that makes me like it more and more with each passing episode, and even when the show gets a fairly romantic sendoff (out of fear that this would be the show’s one and only season) it feels imminently satisfying because it leaves at least one of its three protagonists lacking in one of the above “grand essentials of happiness,” and leaves its others with work to do before they truly achieve those goals.
“Back in the Shit” is perhaps not the show’s best episode, rushing to take characters to dark places and rushing just as quickly to bring them a bit more good fortune, but it does so while retaining the subtlety that took the show from a middle-aged male version of Sex and the City (as it was once sold) into an adult drama series with heart, humour and good reasons I want to punch Ray Romano in the kidneys – the grand essentials, if you will.
Television of a Certain Quality: TNT’s Men of a Certain Age
January 3rd, 2010
As we enter a new decade, there is no question that time and age become important questions. On New Year’s, there was a twitter meme of “10 Years Ago,” which is not only prompting us to remember what we were doing at the dawn of Y2K (Hint: not recovering from a massive technological crisis) but also prompting us to compare where we are now to where we were then. And while this might not be a particularly meaningful exercise for me (considering that I was in eighth grade ten years ago, I don’t have too much to compare), the ruminations on age and life trajectory are probably more meaningful for people who were actually living lives (middle school doesn’t count) in the year 2000.
I raise this point not to try to make those older than me feel older, but rather as a nice excuse to finally write something about TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, a show that I had no expectations of enjoying but which has become a nice piece of consistency during this off-time for the bulk of my favourite series. I believe it was James Poniewozik who suggested that Men of a Certain Age is the male equivalent of The Good Wife, a show for which you have very limited expectations but that surprises you with a subtlety and a focus on execution, and I buy that (I’ve blogged about The Good Wife a heck of a lot more than I expected, after all). I expected the show to be something very different than what it is, but I’ve enjoyed its subtle approach to its storylines and its ability to find both humour and tragedy in legitimate and believable places in the lives of its characters.
And while I like James’ comparison, what really sets this show apart is that unlike The Good Wife – which had lowered expectations based primarily on the network and its penchant for procedurals – Men of a Certain Age faces an even more significant challenge: convincing a cynical audience that Ray Romano is capable of taking himself seriously.
While it might not seem fair, the show lives or dies on this question, and that it has felt so dramatically satisfying is a testament to his work here.