I am very curious to see how people respond to FX’s Wilfred, which debuts tonight at 10/9c on FX.
On the one hand, I’m interested in how divisive the show’s premise will be: this is a decidedly weird premise, and the show doesn’t spend any time trying to explain or justify it in tonight’s premiere. “Happiness” begins with Elijah Wood’s Ryan imagining his neighbor’s dog Wilfred as a bipedal, pot-smoking dude in a dog suit – creator/producer Jason Gann, to be specific – and simply moves on from there.
However, on the other hand, I’m wondering what those expecting something truly bizarre are going to think when they discover that Wilfred isn’t as weird as its premise might indicate. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is still a weird show, and all three episodes sent to critics feature moments which play on the premise quite directly. And yet, at the same time, all three episodes boil down to some pretty general themes, and this is at its core the story of a depressed man exploring his identity with the help of a friend. That the friend is imaginary, and that he is actually a dog, is not really the point of it all, which was kind of surprising given that “Guy in a Dog Suit” was pretty much all I knew about the show going in.
While I find Wilfred to be occasionally amusing, and certainly think that the premise holds narrative potential, what I’ve seen so far ends up coasting on the premise without really exploring it to any large degree. Individual setpieces may signal where the show may succeed in the future, and Wood and Gann may be strong anchors around which to build a larger comic world, but this is a surprisingly small show given its larger-than-life premise.
And while that may benefit that show in the end, it has resulted in a bit of a slow start that might engender a mixed reaction.
Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero
August 4th, 2010
To take a page out of Mad Men’s book, “Who is Miles Mendenhall?”
In basic terms, Miles Mendenhall is one of the artists on Bravo’s Work of Art, simultaneously the summer’s most problematic and most fascinating reality series. The series is a total contradiction, emphasizing the value of art by subjecting artists to challenges which seem designed to dilute their work and maximize reality television drama, and yet the resulting pressure placed on artists gives us a front row seat to their creative process which would otherwise be impenetrable (I wrote more about this earlier this summer).
Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that’s a work of art.
Getting Some Feedback: A Top Chef Failure and a Work of Art Worry
July 8th, 2010
I have yet to blog about this year’s season of Top Chef’s seventh season, and I really wish that I wasn’t doing so under these particular circumstances, but “Room Service” was such a failure that I have a few thoughts on where precisely it went wrong (although Scott Tobias has a more complete rundown of the episode at The A.V. Club). The notion of introducing a tournament-style competition in order to send two chefs home isn’t the worst idea, as they’re trying to create competition between the chefs (especially after the hyper-competitive elements last season) and this forces Kenny and Angelo’s rivalry to the forefront and draws further tension from the various chefs. However, the way in which that competition was actually executed failed to actually highlight the weakest chefs, instead punishing good chefs for small mistakes while rewarding weaker chefs for a single quality dish in what was an otherwise disastrous performance.
And while I want to highlight a few problems, one thing I want to focus on specifically is a lack of feedback within the process, which was also central to part of last night’s episode of Work of Art, which I want to discuss briefly as well.
April 12th, 2010
“It’s not having feelings for two people that matters; it’s what you choose to do about them.”
I was very ready to write a very sarcastic opening to this review: the gall of series creator Liz Tigelaar to contend that the love between Baze and Cate, or the love between any of these characters, was unexpected. The show wears its heart on its sleeve, so we knew from the beginning that Cate and Baze shared a connection, and there were more than enough hints towards it being something more than just sexual tension along the way to make this finale all about Team Baze vs. Team Ryan in some circles.
I still think the title is a bit of an oxymoron (in that we went into this finale very much expecting something at least marginally sappy, if not majorly sappy), but “Love Unexpected” ends up working extremely well by avoiding, or more accurately dancing around, the “love triangle” on the surface. The surprise, in many ways, is that the show manages to confirm rather than tear apart its various definitions of love while playing on the tension surrounding cold feet and unspoken attractions. Despite what one would call a thrilling conclusion, one that was most certainly expected, the show uses it to reinforce notions of family, self-empowerment, and tragedy in a scene that is endlessly complicated but which doesn’t feel like it over-complicates the show’s message.
It’s a delicate balance, but “Love Unexpected” manages to find a middle ground between a romantic fairytale and a frank depiction of humans being human, as characters make choices inspired by fantasy but grounded in reality – if this show is robbed of a deserved second season, it had absolutely nothing to do with the show living up to its creative potential.
“Welcome to the War”
March 30th, 2010
I was tweeting earlier this week, in response to some questions from Chris Becker about why we start or stop watching shows, as it relates to what I’d call “Replacement Theory.” For ABC, they are desperately searching for a show to replace their hit Lost, which is still pulling top notch demo numbers that any network would kill for. And so next year, when Lost will be over and ABC won’t have that viewership, they’re looking for a replacement show, something that will pick up those viewers and keep the momentum going.
However, with FlashForward having bottomed out on Thursday nights, V is the last great hope and ABC knows it: they’re airing it after Lost, they heavily promoted its return (including during nearly every second of tonight’s episode of Lost), and they’re doing everything in their power to sell this show as the future of science fiction at ABC. But, for every advantage there is a disadvantage: no show has ever done well after Lost, that heavy promotion pissed off many Lost viewers angry that it was obscuring the screen, and the network has failed to launch a single science fiction series other than Lost successfully, proving that perhaps science fiction doesn’t actually have a place at the network.
Or perhaps the problem is just that “Replacement Theory” requires a certain degree of separation: V might pale in comparison to Lost now, but perhaps judged on its own merits the show could prove a refuge to fans in the post-Lost era. “Welcome to the War” is unable to live down the problems which plagued the series in its opening four episodes, but Scott Rosenbaum does an admirable job of reminding us that this premise is actually compelling and that there is the potential for its characters to become more interesting as time goes on.
We’re just not quite there yet.
March 29th, 2010
Mark it on your calendars, ladies and gentlemen: today is the day when Life Unexpected finally stopped showing its basic premise in its “Previously on Life Unexpected” clip package.
It’s a momentous occasion, really, a sign that the show might be ready to grow beyond that premise to become something which goes beyond its initial dramatic potential. This is not to say that that initial potential has resulted in a weak television series, as I’ve found the show to be a fun and effective piece of drama thus far in its first season. The problem, though, is that we knew that from the beginning: the show has showed signs of wanting to evolve, but it’s always sort of reverted back to the same drama over and over again to its detriment.
“Storm Weathered” does not signal an entirely new show, and the show somewhat returns to the status quo of showcestual tensions which threaten to explode at any moment, but it does signal that we are at least at the point where the drama is no longer contingent on the pilot, and that the show has the opportunity (if still not the willingness) to move on.
February 22nd, 2010
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that something actually happened on Life Unexpected tonight.
Sure, the plot of “Truth Unrevealed” was just a delayed payoff from the pilot, so there wasn’t actually anything revealing – fitting, considering the title – about the episode, but it was the first story that felt like it went beyond the awkwardness surrounding Lux’s arrival in order to answer the question of “what next?” Yes, it didn’t particularly take the story very far in that direction, and it threw out a number of anvils on its way to its conclusion, but that conclusion feels like something that is actually going to change the trajectory of these characters, rather than just a rumination on a particular facet of having being a parent foisted on you.
And that is, if not particularly subtle, at least more revealing and more significant than some of the season’s early episodes.
January 25th, 2010
Alan Sepinwall has a good review of this week’s second episode of Life Unexpected where he discusses the curse that is the never-ending pilot, where a network puts pressure on a show to restate/revisit its premise in early episodes in order to hook in new viewers (like, for instance, those who tuned in tonight when they found out the CBS comedies were in repeats). He points out that, at TCA, Liz Tigelaar argued this actually made sense for this show, as a situation this complicated would actually be quite unstable, and it would be unrealistic for it not to in some way repeat the initial tension we saw in week one.
I think she’s right, but I think that “Home Inspected” also manages to find a couple of intelligent shortcuts to navigate its way through the challenges of this process. I wouldn’t argue that the episode is perfect, or that some of those shortcuts aren’t a bit overstated/melodramatic, but the episode manages to maintain the show’s pilot momentum even in its redundancy, which is something any show in its position should strive for.
“The Troubles of SYTYCD Season 6”
December 15th, 2009
When FOX announced that So You Think You Can Dance would be returning mere weeks after its fifth season concluded for a fall season, designed to help bridge the programming gap that always plagues the network before American Idol arrives in January, I was moderately excited. At the end of a season, a show like SYTYCD is at the height of its excitement, and the idea of that excitement returning sooner than you expected seems a great one…at the time.
And then you realize that the Fall is not the same as the Summer, and more importantly that Season Six is not the same as Season Five. Nigel Lythgoe was in the unfortunate position wherein the show was changing seasons at the same time as they made a number of changes to the show’s formula (both aesthetic and organizational) which have severely weakened the series’ appeal. So just as I found myself feeling like I didn’t have time to follow along with these dancers and their journey, the show was giving me even more reasons to disengage, even more reasons to feel as if the show was losing its appeal.
It’s a perfect storm of problems that have made Season Six the unquestionable black sheep of the So You Think You Can Dance legacy, and righting the ship in Season Seven is going to be an interesting task in discerning which problems were caused by the change in season and which were mistakes irregardless of the colour of the leaves.