October 15th, 2009
There has been a lot of talk about a backlash against 30 Rock as of late, with numerous critics taking time out of their schedules to less review the new season and more place it on an axis of television comedy. The question is not so much about whether 30 Rock is funny, but whether it is consistently funny, and whether it is funny in ways that imply long-term development or ways which rely too heavily on quick cutaways and an almost sketch-comedy aesthetic. Whether VanDerWerff or Holmes, Sepinwall or Weinman, everyone seems to agree that 30 Rock is a flawed show capable of occasional genius, and there are certain things that it could do to improve.
In my relatively short time as a TV critic, I’ve spent more of my comedy analyzing time with The Office, a show which features far more nuance than 30 Rock in terms of its characters. On that show, the actions of Michael Scott need to be finely tuned to (in my view) connect with the right level of comedy, or else risk throwing the entire show out of whack. However, with 30 Rock, the show is inherently out of whack which is kind of the point of the whole thing. I don’t shy away from criticizing 30 Rock, nor do I feel that it deserved to steamroll The Office at the Emmys as it did (as the latter show had the better season, in my eyes), but at the same time I don’t feel that criticizing the show is the same as condemning it. 30 Rock, like all shows, isn’t critic-proof (that’s not a thing), but it is a show that manages to make me happy even when it isn’t quite living up to its full potential.
As such, I thought the cheekily titled “Season 4” was largely satisfied with cheeky as opposed to substantive, and that its commitment to that value resulted in an engaging half-hour of television that didn’t reach high enough but nonetheless had me eating out of the palm of its rough-skinned hand. Helped by airing after a less than fully-realized episode of The Office, the start of the fourth season gives almost no indication of what’s to come, but embodied enough of what makes the show work for me to be pretty excited about it anyways. I missed this show, and I’m glad to have it back, flaws and all.
“Wee Small Hours”
October 11th, 2009
“I can’t do this all by myself”
Sally’s teacher, sitting in Don’s car in the middle of the night, says that she is going to read her new class “I Have a Dream” on the first day back to school. However, she also indicates that they already know it: I don’t think she’s insinuating that they’ve heard the speech, but rather that there is something in child-like innocence that embraces the image of a dream and of a better future.
The entirety of “Wee Small Hours” is not about civil rights at all, but it is about characters confronting the demons in their past in an effort to move into the future. For Don Draper, a new relationship begins to mirror an old one, and for Salvatore Romano a long-standing response has suddenly put his career into jeopardy. And then there’s Betty Draper, wide-eyed and naive to the point of childhood, and let applying her innocence less to an understanding of Dr. King and more to a petulant child who wants what she can’t have but then doesn’t want it once she has it.
It’s yet another installment in a compelling but slow-paced series of episodes, ones which feel designed to show these characters searching the depths of their emotions and not quite sticking the landing, so to speak.
September 13th, 2009
“He’s never where you expect him to be.”
When it comes to Mad Men, titles are often a sign of a major theme in an episode, often the only real quality an episode has (with most remaining light on plot in favour of atmosphere or thematic importance). But I don’t think there’s been a title in a while that has seemed so expansive, so all-encompassing. “The Fog” could mean any multitude of things both in terms of what we already know about character relationships and in terms of new develops in the span of the episode, which leaves us critics fumbling to decide just what direction we’re going to take it in.
For me, I think the moment where the title really connected with me was when Don was chatting with his prison guard friend in the Solarium and tells him an anecdote that a nurse told him when Sally was being born. “Your wife’s on the boat, and you’re on the shore.” And while it was never explicitly stated, there’s a fog between those two locations, and Mad Men is essentially a show without a lighthouse. Betty, stranded out on that boat and struggling through a difficult birthing process, comments in her crazed state that Don isn’t where you expect him to be, that once the fog lifts he’s disappeared or gone off somewhere else. While she views this in some ways as an abandonment, for Don it’s about being restless.
Much of “The Fog” is about Don Draper’s own self-awareness or lack thereof, finally admitting to himself that for all of his problems in the past he is the one on solid ground while Betty, and Peggy, and Sally are out on boats struggling to maintain course in the midst of a growing storm. He’s the one who has everything and who can help guide them safely into the years ahead, but the problem is that he is distracted: by women, by his job, and by his own insecurities buried deep beneath the surface. If he is the one in charge of climbing up the lighthouse steps to break through the fog and win the day, the boats are going to crash on the rocks.
August 11th, 2009
“This place is like “The Spine” – it’ll use you up.”
I don’t pretend that Warehouse 13 is a more complicated show than it purports to be: it’s a simple summer procedural, and to expect too much from that is to place expectations on the show that it’s never going to live up to. Thus far, it has done a strong job of developing the universe of the Warehouse slowly but surely, and that’s resulted in some entertaining television if not quite as much serialization as I might want in my procedurals.
However, the above quote is an effort to paint a far darker picture of the events taking place, and in many ways the show balances the more campy/supernatural side of its plot with attempts to emphasize the dangerous, potentially life-ending work being undertaken by the Warehouse employees. In “Burnout,” we got a crash course in both how this should be done and how it shouldn’t, as two different but connected devices create legitimate questions and suspense-free scenarios varying in effectiveness.
August 4th, 2009
Warehouse 13 is a show about some really complex supernatural events, there’s no question about that. However, really, the show wants nothing to actually do with any of them. When a pop song is used to rob banks, the story quickly shifts to the quite humanitarian and kindly reason for the thefts, and the show wants us to empathize with them and let them get off scot free. When the mystery of an evil chair is solved, it’s not due to some evil mastermind plot but rather a crazy scientific explanation and some unfortunate circumstances. Everything needs to right itself in the end, which makes the show’s complexity somewhat quickly resolved by episode’s end.
Last week’s “Claudia,” a compelling tale of Artie’s past encounters with a young scientist and his sister coming back into his life, was another example of this: in the episode, Claudia and Artie manage to bring her brother back from some sort of between world existence, the same age as he was 12 years previous and ready to re-enter the world. The show never stops to question the implications of this, and this week they even shipped him off to Switzerland to work as if the 12 years was just a bunch of facts he needs to learn and Springsteen records to catch up on. The show doesn’t feel the need to stop and consider any of this, and that’s something that really stands out for me.
I’m not suggesting that the storylines should be less complex or more realistic, thus justifying this approach a bit more, but rather that they need to be careful about what kind of shortcuts they pull to achieve their goals. “Elements” is an episode where the mythical meets the realistic, Native American creation mashing up with an epic battle between high-powered businessmen, but in attempting to resolve the storyline there’s a few missing pieces, links that rob the storyline of any real impact in an effort to cleanly move onto the next week without asking the difficult questions.
July 21st, 2009
In choosing to blog about Warehouse 13 of the past few nights’ television lineups, I don’t want you to think I prefer it to any of them: I quite liked the third episode of Hung, preferred the second episode of Entourage’s sixth season to the premiere, thought last night’s Weeds and Nurse Jackie were decent and laughed a whole lot at tonight’s Better Off Ted. However, none of those things were particularly surprising, and Warehouse 13 is a show still trying to find its legs and thus somewhat more unique in terms of analysis.
While I thought “Resonance” was a really winning turn for the series, “Magnetism” starts to show some holes in the show’s premise. It’s clear why they aired episodes out of order in order to be able to go with the dramatic and compelling story of the world’s most powerful pop song as opposed to, say, an episode about a piece of furniture. In the same vein as the show’s pilot, which dragged in its mystery, this week’s episode has them searching for what’s causing some strange behaviour, a trope that is only as interesting as the behaviour itself considering that the object will remain a MacGuffin.
In the end, I thought “Magnetism” was ultimately quite charming, integrating enough humour into the storyline itself to overcome its seriousness. There’s a serious contrast going on with this show, where some rather broad (but entertaining) comedy emerges in storylines that are actually quite serious in their ramifications. The action demonstrated that the show could become tedious in its procedural plotting, especially if they repeat themselves too often, but the comedy and the relationship between characters was really strong, and inspired me to actually kind of like the episode despite some of my concerns over its tone.
It shows that the show continues to win the war, regardless of the battle at hand, which is a pretty good endorsement at this stage in its run.
“Pilot” and “Resonance”
July 7th & July 14th, 2009
I fell asleep watching the Warehouse 13 pilot.
It’s a true story. I was there, trying to get through it, but I was exhausted from being up early and the pilot wasn’t really engaging me on any level. It wasn’t that it was bad, or that it actually put me to sleep (I consciously paused it before conking out moments later), but the fact remains that there was something about Warehouse 13 that wasn’t really connecting with me.
However, upon finishing the Pilot last night, and digging into “Resonance” this afternoon, I can say quite emphatically that the show is more than capable of keeping me awake. No, it’s not a replacement for Battlestar Galactica by any means, but it doesn’t try to be. What it represents is Reaper with less comedy, Fringe without the mythology, and every crime procedural you’ve ever seen with a sense of whimsy that’s often sorely lacking on those shows. It has no grandiose ideas about its position in the television world: what it delivers is what it sets out to achieve, a light-hearted but nonetheless resonant piece of dramedic television.
And in the middle of summer, when television often feels like a wasteland, a weekly trip into the depths of Warehouse 13 is something I’m already looking forward to, if not particularly obsessing over.
April 26th, 2009
While its Thursday night comedy counterpart The Office has been delving into a long-term storyline over my hiatus, which has made not blogging about it a little bit more problematic, 30 Rock has been in a very different sort of place. This isn’t to say that the show isn’t achieving its goals: this is two solid episodes in a row now, so one can’t say the show is necessarily coasting.
In fact, I’d argue that “The Ones” was really on the ball in terms of both its light comedy (which is almost always strong) and its resolution and continuation of some storylines and characters who have been hit and miss. I was less than kind in my analysis of the Elisa storyline, but some time in Puerto Rico seems to have done both the character and the writers well, as the zany but grounded conclusion felt like the ideal sendoff. Combine with the second straight good use of Jenna, a fun little Tracy diversion, and Liz as Jack’s bro? And this was an episode chock full of strong dynamics.
“Goodbye, My Friend”
March 5th, 2009
Holy flashback, Harry Henderson.
There’s a whole lot of familiarity in “Goodbye, My Friend,” an episode that cribs quite liberally from last season’s “Succession” and this season’s premiere, and it’s not all bad. I liked both of those episodes, and after spending a lot of time on relationships we get a far more individual-driven hour that pairs off some characters that we’ve never seen together while even reintroducing some characters back into the fold however briefly (Hi, Josh! Bye, Josh!).
The episode didn’t really break any ground in Liz Lemon’s fight for a child, but I can’t resist sad and pathetic Liz; similarly, I don’t think that Frank’s brief foray into respectable life is going to change his character, but I just can’t resist Jack Donaghy on a mission to rescue someone from their sad middle class existence. Combine with a Jenna/Tracy subplot that might as well have been ripped out of the show’s second season, and you have either a sure sign that the show is fundamentally bankrupt, or a sick sense that Tina Fey knows the show can rip off itself and still entertain us, just like Harry and the Hendersons ripped off Shane.
Well, Tina, you got me – I had a lot of fun with this one, self-plaigarism be damned.