“Chuck vs. the Anniversary”
September 20th, 2010
I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review, but I think this might be the last weekly Chuck review for quite some time here at Cultural Learnings.
This is not so much a reflection of the relative quality of “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” as it is a reflection of what kind of show Chuck has become over the past season. When I posted my review of NBC’s Chase earlier today, someone commented that Chuck similarly lacks character and consequence: they were joking, of course, but the latter point (consequence) stuck with me heading into tonight’s premiere.
This is still a show I enjoy, and a show I plan on continuing to watch, but I think Chuck has reached the stage where it no longer interests me critically. The season seems like it is onto a solid start, but it is a start which takes absolutely no risks, taking some potentially interesting new ideas and quickly absorbing them into the show’s existing structures.
And as pleasant as that is, I think it might be the point at which weekly reviews no longer feel like a good use of my time.
“Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh”
May 8th, 2009
Outside of some belated thoughts on the series’ pilot, I haven’t spent much time blogging Starz’s Party Down – things have been pretty busy during a majority of its run, and I ended up falling a bit behind before catching up a few weeks ago. Plus, the critics received the entire season ahead of time, so Alan Sepinwall (in particular) has been posting highly detailed reviews every week that, combined with the series’ remarkable consistency, have made my own desire to write about the show fairly minimal.
But “Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh” was just so damn genius that I had to put in my two cents about the ways in which it was emblematic of the best qualities of the season’s strongest new comedy (sorry, Better Off Ted). The show follows a pretty basic formula, taking its cast of characters and placing them into a new ridiculous setting each week. This, in and of itself, makes the series feel particular fresh: because it doesn’t follow the traditional sitcom model of focusing on a single place or particular atmosphere, the show is able to vary its storytelling and its focus from episode to episode, and the characters are able to have a broad range of experiences without the show feeling too gimmicky.
What really makes an episode like this one work, though, is the way in which setting and character interact. The setting was perhaps the series’ most outlandish, a Russian mafia “celebration” of a mobster’s acquital for murder, with a ridiculous guest performance by Steven Weber that still has me laughing. However, the reason the episode was so strong is how much this appealed to the side of these characters that they’re forced to hold back while working as cater waiters: by tapping into their desire to be celebrities, or their highly active imaginations, everyone but Ron were able to at least partially enter into that part of their lives that being a cater waiter was supposed to make impossible, and out of fear for his own life Ron has to let it happen.
There are very few comedies on television were the most fundamentally ridiculous of scenarios can actually say more about characters than something inherently dramatic, and Party Down can certainly enter that club with this gem.
“She’s a Little Scared of Stick…”
March 15th, 2009
I spent a great deal of this, the fifth leg of The Amazing Race’s fourteenth season, wishing that last week’s blind U-Turn hadn’t happened, or that Kris and Amanda had been able to make it past the Detour in time to keep it from affecting them. While I understand that it’s part of the game, this race is weaker without them: a team that were likeable, fun to watch and competitive is the kind of team you want to have while you get rid of the weaker teams who are, well, not those things. Kris and Amanda may have been a threat to the competitive spirit of other teams, but they were much better from my own perspective – selfish, I know.
This week did little to assuage my concerns that we’re dealing with a slightly less interesting race as a result, although I’ll admit that this remains one of the most genuinely inoffensive group of racers in a long time. While there are a few teams who are legitimately struggling, it seems less as if they are just really bad at this race but rather that their skills lie in certain areas that don’t happen to come into effect when the teams are trapped in the depths of Siberia. We’re getting to the point where frontrunners are quite clear, and where the people who struggle are becoming more clearly identified, but there exists no one team that I would U-Turn if I was running this race with them.
But, of course, I’m not in race mode, so perhaps my rationality would go out the window when the time came.