Fighting the War
July 31st, 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.
At first glance, “The Shroud of Rahmon” was a fairly unimportant episode: caught between “Darla” and “The Trial,” it seems strange to offer a standalone tale of Gunn’s cousin getting in over his head, featuring a mysterious shroud which brings out the worst in those in its presence. It’s not the worst story in the world, tying in with Elisabeth Rohm’s Kate, but it seems like a distraction from the fact that Darla is somewhere out there, and I don’t need to see someone sing karaoke to know that the series’ destiny very clearly awaits her return.
However, as the series embraces its destiny in the episodes which follow, we see that the Shroud was a bit of foreshadowing, a sort of preview of what we were about to see. While Angel’s previous high point to date, the Faith crossover, was in some ways dependent on our connection to Buffy and the arcs which started on that series, the run of “The Trial,” “Reunion” and “Redefinition” feels as if it wholly belongs to this series, even with a number of familiar faces in the mix.
This is largely because these episodes are not about Darla, or Drusilla, or about Wolfram & Hart – rather, they are first and foremost about Angel, about who he has become and what precisely he believes he can do. It is not that these other characters lack nuance, or that their stories stop progressing, but rather that their actions all work to force us to reconsider Angel’s heroism. What was once brave becomes reckless, and what was once heroic can very quickly become inhumane – Angel makes decisions which would to an outside observer make one believe that Angelus had in fact returned, but we see enough to know that his soul is perfectly intact.
It is simply the soul of a soldier, is all.
“The Last Recruit”
April 20th, 2010
“You could find yourself in a situation that’s…irreversible.”
From what we can gather, the Man in Black is a man of promises: while he has a certain power of persuasion in general, his greatest tool appears to be his ability to offer the thing that people want most. He offered Claire knowledge about her son’s whereabouts, and promised that he would help her find him, and he promised Sayid that he would reunite him with Nadia so long as he joined his side. In both cases, the characters had clear goals, and in both cases their predisposition to accepting such promises (the darkness within them) pushes them into the realm of the psychotic and dangerous.
But “The Last Recruit” asks us to reevaluate these characters, or more accurately asks us to reconsider whether their situation is truly irreversible. While Sawyer is right to be wary of Sayid and Claire due to their allegiance with Locke, other characters have the ability to promise them something more, or to force them to fully consider the nature of what the Man in Black is promising and the complications therein. On a show marked by the overwhelming power of fate, this week’s episode demonstrated a lot of characters charting a new path for themselves just as soon as it seemed everyone was in the same place for the first time in ages, with most choosing to chart their own path amidst the unclear motivations which define the island’s politics.
It becomes an instance where short-term convergence leads to long-term, and ideological, dispersion, just as the Sideways storyline begins to bring the whole gang back together again in a way which seems just uncanny enough to overcome a somewhat problematic short-term focus.
January 6th, 2010
I think a lot of people have chosen to judge Cougar Town entirely based on Courteney Cox’s performance as Jules, which was perhaps fair early in the season – the show was about Jules dating younger men, which was a premise with very little room for growth for both the show and Jules as a character. And yet, something has happened over time that has evolved the show into something very different, a show with a fairly deep ensemble that isn’t afraid of mixing them up to create different pairings.
In other words, Cougar Town has become a show about a community, a group of characters who are capable of interacting with one another in social situations without things seeming chaotic or dramatic. While Grayson was once an antagonistic neighbour, he has become a reluctant participant in more age-appropriate social interactions, and while Bobby was once a deadbeat ex-husband he’s become someone who Jules cares about despite his use of a fish tank as a boat toilet. Ellie and Laurie were once actively antagonistic of one another, but they’ve now come to unite as Jules’ friends even if they maintain a six-foot distance between them when she’s not around.
And while some could argue that this is contrived, it’s given the show a sense of effortlessness with its story lines: it doesn’t feel like a stretch for new characters to interact with one another, and even if it makes for a definitively “small world” it’s one that has been effective both at delivering some strong comedy and, perhaps more importantly, accommodating guest stars like Scott Foley and Lisa Kudrow without feeling as if the show is changing in the process.
Cougar Town is simply a place I want to visit now, and I’m really enjoying what Bill Lawrence and company are offering.
Survivor Samoa Finale: There’s Something About Russell
December 20th, 2009
When Survivor started its nineteenth season, there was a man named Russell. Pot-bellied and stubborn, Russell emerged as if pre-fabricated to play the role of villain in Mark Burnett’s game. He came in with no desire to make friends, and started emptying out canteens and burning socks. It was the most aggressive villain edit the show had ever seen, which meant one of two things to me: either Russell was going to be leaving very quickly (hence the show maximizing his villainy time) or else there was more to Russell’s game than this villainy would seem to indicate.
Russell proved inherently divisive in those early weeks: some people hated him, and felt as if he was ruining the season with his heartless ways. But something changed in the game that made Russell seem less villainous. His tribe, Foa Foa, started getting clobbered in challenges, which meant that Russell’s victims were becoming victims of the game itself. And so Russell didn’t have to be a villain anymore, just watching as his tribe lost every challenge and revelling in his ability to manipulate his tribe into voting how he wanted them to vote. And suddenly instead of someone who was operating against the game (burning socks, disrupting daily life), Russell was simply a puppetmaster enjoying as the rest of his tribe stopped thinking for themselves.
And then the game became Russell’s, to the point where behaviour that before felt obnoxious (like finding the immunity idol without a clue) suddenly became genius, and where his manipulations went from an unnecessary force in the game to a brilliant strategic advantage that took the four remaining Foa Foa members from a severe disadvantage to standing as four members of the final five heading into the show’s finale. And somewhere along the way, the game went from being Russell’s to ruin to being Russell’s to win, and in many ways this finale has come down less to who wins and more to whether or not that person is Russell.
That’s the joy of Survivor, really: if you had told me that at the beginning of the season, I never would have believed you.
2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog
September 20th, 2009
For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.
I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.
However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.
So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.
7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.
7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.
8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.
“I Trust You but I Trust Me More”
May 17th, 2009
In my time writing here at Cultural Learnings, I’ve blogged through five seasons of Survivor, although there’s a pattern: I might start out with a few posts on specific episodes, or really commit myself to getting to it on a weekly basis, but without fail it falls off my critical radar. I don’t stop watching the show: although episodes are often spoiled for me, I still quite consistently dig into the week’s episode to see what the show will serve up next. It isn’t that I expect there to be something different, but rather there’s a combination of nostalgia (for a show that is highly familiar for me) and curiosity (to see the ways the show is trying to stay fresh in an environment where most other reality shows of the same era have perished).
This season has, for the most part, lacked major drama: other than Coach, one of the most ridiculous players in quite some time, the characters have been fairly under the radar. Outside of the one exception, people have been pretty pleasant to watch, and early season discussion of an Exile Island alliance seemed like it was going to be a potential dealmaker later in the season. Things got more interesting when the Jalapao Three began to work their way into an unlikely position of power in the season’s back half, but it happened so effortlessly that I was more baffled by Timbira’s lack of intelligence than I was entertained by the turn of events.
Survivor, as a show, is all about big moments or little quirks: either there’s a big personality that makes every moment they’re around like a powder keg waiting to explode, which Coach provided to an extent, or it’s just challenges and tribal council, and posturing for those in between. This makes a finale like this one, which cuts down a lot of the meat in the middle and gets right to the point until the final tribal council. Luckily for Mark Burnett and company, in the vein of some previous finales, there’s plenty of drama to rush through to keep things interesting: while the Jalapao Three have managed to stay strong thus far, it wasn’t based on thier own strategic genius, and with the only remaining Timbira member less incompotent than her predecessors it becomes clear that Three’s Company.
And with that comes the unraveling, which always makes for an engaging finale if not, perhaps, the clean ending the Jalapao Three imagined for themselves.
December 4th, 2008
I do not know where to start with tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. “Reunion” was one of those situations where it was everything we should want it to be: no big name guest stars (although Janel Moloney counts for West Wing fanatics), numerous hilarious throwaway jokes, a situation bound to create awkward situations for Liz Lemon (and who doesn’t like awkward Liz Lemon?), and a chance for Jack Donaghy to both get drunk AND take on someone else’s identity. What could possibly go wrong?
To be honest, I don’t know if anything really went wrong, but my enthusiasm wavered throughout this one. There were definitely some moments of genius, and I thought the episode picked up a bit at the end, but it felt like a shotgun approach to the show’s comedy. While there might not have been any big guest stars, I thought the episode had much the same problem that we’ve seen all season: humour that feels like it’s trying too hard without any real sense of subtlety, and an emphasis on creating humour more than allowing it to develop organically.
None of this condemns the show by any means, but it just felt like Liz and Jack going to her high school reunion could have been perfectly funny and 30 Rock-esque without going in all of these directions. And while I know that doesn’t really do certain parts of the episode justice, it just kind of underwhelmed for me.