Tag Archives: Pregnancy

Glee – “Wheels”

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“Wheels”

November 11th, 2009

There’s a moment in “Wheels” where we fear the worst of Sue Sylvester, testing our ability to see past what we expect her character to do (something offensive and mean-spirited) to what she could potentially do (something transformative). And, in some ways, “Wheels” is very much the same sort of proposition. Ever since I learned ahead of time that “Wheels” was written by Ryan Murphy (as the writers appear to be cycling the scripts between the three of them), I have been fearful of when his worst habits (like his penchant for Terri and the more outlandish storylines) would emerge.

So, I spent most of the episode waiting for the episode to take some sort of turn, to go from being charming and funny and resonant to become outlandish and overbearing. I kept thinking that any scene which felt the least bit emotional would suddenly become undercut by something mean or cruel, and that this was all some sort of Sue Sylvester-like trick.

However, it appears that Murphy has been inspired by his fellow writers, because “Wheels” works in ways that Murphy’s previous episodes simply have not. The episode isn’t perfect, trying to do a few too many things at once, but each and every one of those elements manage to connect at som level. It is an episode that more than any other thus far feels as if it works because of, rather than in spite of, the show’s recurring storylines.

This isn’t to say that everything’s rosy, but it is to say that “Wheels” was certainly a watermark for Murphy’s work on the series, and easily the most starkly dramatic hour yet.

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Glee – “Mash-Up”

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“Mash-Up”

October 21st, 2009

Commenting on last week’s episode, Chris Becker noted that Glee has its share of problems, and one of them is (on occasion) actually calling attention to its own problems. By signalling out the minorities within Glee club, the show drew attention to the fact that it has largely ignored issues of diversity, so Sue’s strategy turned out more disturbing than funny. When you have a show that can be hot or cold like Glee can, and that tends to go in as many directions as Glee does, this is almost inevitable, but I would argue there’s a way to avoid it.

Ian Brennan, one of the show’s three creators and who was credited with the Chenoweth-infused “The Rhodes Not Taken,” uses this episode to actually call to our attention some of the show’s problems and actually treats them as problems. Folding them all under the theme of the mash-up, used here not as a drug-infused sideshow but a meditation on the process of bringing two people together in a potentially artificial process, Brennan depicts consequences in a way that the show often avoids, and continues to probe questions of high school popularity while not shying away from the darker side of teenage existence.

It may not be as eventful as “Preggers,” and its musical elements risked over-using Matthew Morrison, but by bringing all of its elements under one key theme that spoke to issues that have been plaguing the series for a while “Mash-Up” is perhaps the most complete episode of the show yet, struggling to balance its various elements only when it had a point to make about the trouble of balancing those elements.

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Glee – “Throwdown”

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“Takedown”

October 14th, 2009

“An environment of constant irrational terror”

Andy Dehnart (who can be found on Twitter at RealityBlurred) posted a piece of commentary at MSNBC yesterday that, earlier today, exploded into a lively twitter discussion amongst critics. His argument is that the show relies on stereotypes when it could be developing character, and that it needs to eliminate some of its more one-dimensional characters (like Sandy) and provide more depth to its central Glee club members. What’s interesting is that I don’t think there’s anyone who is going to argue with this point, especially if we apply it to Terri and her fake pregnancy. The strangest thing about Glee, from critics’ perspectives, is that most people tend to agree that it has its share of problems, especially when it comes to the adult characters on the show. The difference comes in how people rationalize those criticisms and weigh them with the show’s undeniable charm, and its quick-witted one-liners that most people tend to enjoy.

“Throwdown” is yet another dividing point, an episode that highlights the show’s best character (Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester) and as a result features a lot of great one-liners and some solid musical numbers. However, as someone who tends to lean more critically on the show than others, it’s an episode that shows you that Dehnart’s complaints aren’t the show’s only problem. Yes, its adult characters are one-dimensional, but the show’s plotting is just as problematic: storylines seem to happen to characters as opposed to because of characters, and the result is that the Glee club itself is trapped in the middle of wars and plots (the environment of constant irrational terror, in other words) that may be entertaining in the short term but are doing nothing to foster long term development.

Linda Holmes from NPR made the note that it’s impossible for Glee to hit the mark every week, as the mark is tiny and specific. I’d argue that the show is hitting that mark enough to keep me watching, but I’d also argue that it is more consistently missing it where it counts (narrative, character development) than where it’s most popular (the musical numbers, the one-liners). And while that’s a pattern for cult success, it’s not a pattern for dramatic or comic fulfillment.

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Glee – “The Rhodes Not Taken”

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“The Rhodes Not Taken”

September 30th, 2009

I want you to imagine an episode of television programming which features the following: a guest appearance from Kristin Chenoweth, a battle between Kristin Chenoweth and Lea Michele on a song from Cabaret, a duet arrangement of Heart’s “Alone” featuring Kristin Chenoweth, Kristin Chenoweth in full on rodeo mode during a Glee Club performance, and a full cast rendition of a really great Queen song.

And then I want you to imagine me, someone who enjoys every single one of these things, not enjoying the episode at hand. Crazy, no?

Well, unfortunately, that’s how I feel about “The Rhodes Not Taken,” an episode that suffers from a rapid-fire plot development and misplaced emotional emphasis. While I loved Chenoweth’s performance in the episode, and all of the musical elements, it suffered from the fact that every bit of realistic character development was saved for a character who isn’t actually in the show at all. By placing so much of the episode’s impact on the temporary replacement for Rachel as opposed to Rachel herself, her bizarre indecision is never framed as anything close to character development, left to feel like sheer plot contrivance.

It’s an episode that wants to be like “Preggers,” but in perhaps a cruel twist of fate the genius of Kristin Chenoweth only sets them back in the grand scheme of things.

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Glee – “Preggers”

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“Preggers”

September 23rd, 2009

“I don’t want to be a Lima Loser the rest of my life”

On Sue’s Corner, Sue Sylvester tells it like it is. She’s bold enough to take a pro-littering stance, brave enough to say “Yes We Cane,” and ballsy enough to ask the homeless how that homelessness thing is working out for them. In Lima, Ohio, Sue Sylvester is a big deal with her two mentions in USA Today and her satellite interviews (that’s lingo, for interviews done by satellite), but without her national championships she is nothing. The studio boss tells her, flat out, that if she doesn’t remain a champion outside of this small little town she is no longer going to be telling the town how Sue sees it.

Because, without her success as the head coach of the Cheerios, Sue is nothing. She and Sandy, her new compatriot, are both teachers who don’t quite know how to deal with teenagers, and if not for her success Sue’s blackmail would be a desperate stab at power rather than a reminder of her existing control. She’s a big fish in a small pond, a fact which remains dependent on her continued success and perhaps one more mention in USA Today.

“Preggers” is an episode about the fact that the teenagers at the core of the show do not yet know what kind of fish they will be, and being stuck in this small town is doing very little to inspire them to greatness. Everyone has a different story, but to some degree your place of residence can just as easily make you (as it does for Sue, whose success breaks expectation and thus deems her a champion worthy of a public opinion segment) as break you. It’s the kind of place where Kurt is too scared to tell his father a truth he probably already knows, and where a sudden pregnancy is defined less by immediate consequences than long term ramifications. If these people are going to avoid being Lima Losers, they’re going to have to find a way to avoid the same kind of pitfalls (and, since this is technically a comedy, pratfalls) which await them.

And while part of Glee’s DNA implies a certain degree of fantasy, football players breaking into a dance sequence without getting a delay of game penalty for example, another part of it knows that life is not a game, and that musical numbers or no musical numbers high school is very, very rule. And, with an episode that seems to embrace this dichotomy rather than exploiting it for sudden shifts of tone designed to shock the viewer, Glee again returns to what made its premise so darn compelling in the first place.

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Season Premiere: How I Met Your Mother – “Definitions”

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“Definitions”

September 21st, 2009

How I Met Your Mother (How-Eye-Meh-Ett-Yo-Err-Mah-thur) Noun.

1. CBS Comedy Series.

2. Probably the most “anticipated” comedy return of the fall season for this particular critic.

While The Office might be more consistent, and 30 Rock might be more uproarious, I think that I find myself most honestly excited about How I Met Your Mother, a show that just a few years ago I didn’t even watch on a regular basis. I think it’s because while The Office thrives on awkward comedy, and 30 Rock plays the absurdist angle, HIMYM tends to operate most often by either charming us as viewers (something The Office can do but which 30 Rock rarely attempts) or by introducing some really interesting intermingling between serialization and concept episodes of unquestionable quality.

So heading into its fifth season, more successful than one could have imagined two years ago, How I Met Your Mother finds itself closer than ever (we presume) to the identity of the Mother, and finally pulling the trigger on a long-gestating relationship (Barney and Robin). This means that, quite similar to the Office’s premiere, “Definitions” is more about defining (Yeah, I went there) how the show is going to handle Ted’s new job and Barney and Robin’s relationship rather than surprising us with anything even remotely considering a twist.

But, done in typical HIMYM style with plenty of flair and a whole lot of laughs, one can’t really complain about the execution, although the evasion of definition and expectation is certainly a theme.

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Season Premiere: The Office – “Gossip”

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“Gossip”

September 17th, 2009

When The Office premiered last year, it was with an hour-long episode which broke a number of rules in terms of pacing and everything else. That was an episode that was about establishing a relationship between Michael and Holly, and about emphasizing the impact of Michael and Pam’s time apart on their relationship. When the latter story came to a climactic moment at the end of the episode, it felt wholly earned, and really made the episode stand out as likely the show’s best premiere to date.

“Gossip” is not interested in doing any of that, really. If “Weight Loss” was a complex game of parkour designed to get from Point A to Point B in the most inventive and complex fashion (with its various time periods and the weigh-ins to provide a sense of progression over the summer months), then this year’s premiere is a far simpler equation. The episode’s Point A is Jim and Pam keeping her pregnancy a secret, and the Point B is the office finding out about said pregnancy, and Paul Lieberstein’s goal as a writer is to get there in a strong twenty-one minute segment of comedy.

And by keeping things simple, the show creates an engaging and funny premiere, one which doesn’t aim for the heights of last year nor does it really need to. By drawing comedy out of a very simple but well executed concept that plays to Michael Scott’s strengths as a character (and thus faults as a human being), we get a story that takes a common workplace element (gossip, clearly) and lets it loose in a group of characters we know and love.

It isn’t rocket science, and that’s what makes it work so well: this isn’t a show that needs bells and whistles, or one-hour premieres, to make me laugh. And while I might like The Office best when Michael is given a bit more credit, the episode walked that fine line with great success for a wholly satisfying (if not mind-blowing) premiere.

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Mad Men – “The Fog”

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“The Fog”

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.

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Mad Men – “My Old Kentucky Home”

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“My Old Kentucky Home”

August 30th, 2009

“It’s a mistake to be conspicuously happy.”

Roger Sterling is a man trying to find happiness, but discovering that no one particularly wants to share in it. His daughter and his wife, as we saw last week, want nothing to do with the new woman, and here the employees of Sterling Cooper view their swanky country club soiree as a work obligation more than a chance to celebrate. There’s a fantastic moment during the party where Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy take to the dance floor and show off some admittedly very impressive moves. However, watch Pete’s face: while Trudie is getting into the music, enjoying herself, Pete spends the entire time smiling and glancing at Roger to see if he’s impressing him, to see if he’s got his attention. All social events have a sense of obligation, but this particular one feels more than all others like an event where people do as Pete desires and start handing out business cards.

“My Old Kentucky Home” is very much about the ways in which happiness is a negotiation, a struggle between individual desires (and therefore personal happiness) and the desires and hopes of everyone else around you. For Roger Sterling, his new marriage pits him against the world, having broken the cardinal rule of not romanticizing or idealizing one’s affairs. For Joan Holloway, her knowledge of the world and the customs of society place her at odds with the role her husband believes she should play. For Peggy Olsen, her own self-awareness of her position and her ability to navigate the complex world of a male-dominated business are questioned by those who have seen it all before and who know that it’s not that easy.

And for Don and Betty Draper, happiness is an act, a coverup for hidden desires and hidden secrets which can never be revealed so long as they continue to play charades. In this quasi-musical of an episode, we discover the consequences of being conspicuously happy, but also the consequences of avoiding happiness and finding one’s self just as lost as you would be if you were at odds with society’s expectation.

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Weeds – “A Modest Proposal”

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“A Modest Proposal”

July 13th, 2009

Weeds is often a show that tends to drag things out, so I think there were more than a few collective jaw drops at the sight of a “Six Months Later” chyron early in “A Modest Proposal.” It isn’t that last week’s episode, which was quite good in its depiction of Nancy deciding for the tenuous safety of Esteban over Andy’s promise of safety, didn’t lend itself to skipping over the less interesting months of Nancy’s pregnancy, but rather that the show has never made this leap before and to do so seemed quite sudden.

In the end, it’s one of those decisions that allows them to skip ahead to where you could tell the storylines were going rather than having to build there gradually. It’s a narratological shortcut, and for a show that often tends to drag along I’d argue it’s probably a smart idea. I have some concerns over how things don’t appear to have actually changed, and how in some instances the eventuality of storylines were not nearly as interesting as the buildup would have been, but the show is in a better position to be more interesting with the current setting.

It’s added a healthy level of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings at the end of the day, and no one is really going to argue with that development.

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