November 30th, 2010
The performance episodes of Glee have been pretty universally strong: both “Sectionals” and “Journey” avoided relying purely on spectacle, delivering episodes which consolidate season-long developments. The first episode confirmed that New Directions could survive without Will and come together as a team, while “Journey” brought both Sue’s relationship with New Directions and Rachel’s relationship to Finn to a triumphant close.
“Special Education” is notable in that it is the first performance episode that doesn’t serve as any sort of ending. With “Sectionals” positioned as the closing hour of the show’s original 13-episode order (and filmed before the show became an established hit), and with “Journey” as the first season finale, there was always a sense of closure. By comparison, “Special Education” isn’t even closing out the first part of the season (the Christmas episode airs next week), which means that the event is going to be considerably less climactic than what we’ve seen before.
While not perfect, I quite like what Brad Falchuk and Paris Barclay did with this hour. A self-reflexive deconstruction of the balance between the individual and the group within the series, the episode lacks subtlety but resists the urge to smooth over its various conflicts. While the show doesn’t quite commit to the character drama to the point where it avoids the cheery group number at episode’s end, I thought it had some legitimately interesting insight into what that balance means to the series. The spirit of the show may not be broken, but there are enough cracks in the armor that “Special Education” successfully delivers spectacle and transition without resolving anything.
Allowing for the Christmas denouement next week.
“The Rocky Horror Glee Show”
October 26th, 2010
The test of an episode so heavily based around a specific musical property is how it is integrated into the series as a whole. While Rocky Horror superfans are likely to judge the episode based on its relationship to the musical, I’m more interested in the musical’s relationship to the characters. I watched the movie for the first time over the weekend, and while the music is obviously the main reasons for this crossover it’s also easy to see how various characters could fit into particular roles. Finn and Rachel are a logical Brad and Janet, Sam might as well be Rocky 2.0, and the other roles all have enough meaning and interest that whoever fits into them could gain a new level of interest as a result (especially if the show is interested in the musical’s more subversive qualities).
At a few points, I think “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” succeeds in this area, albeit with some missteps. By admitting that the musical is inappropriate for this setting (small town Ohio), both through the actual storyline and how a variety of characters respond to the material, the show doesn’t pretend that it is entirely natural for these two properties to come together. In those moments, the episode is fairly grounded, problematizing the staging of the musical in ways which have potential to speak to the show’s characters.
The problem is that the central reason this connection is being made is the part of the show that simply doesn’t work, something that was entirely absent two weeks ago where the show was at its best in a long while. By grounding the musical in Will and Emma’s relationship, and in Sue’s efforts to destroy the Glee club, the small character moments are ultimately complicated and often undermined by the sense that tying this into one of the series’ weakest ongoing storylines takes leaps in logic that limits the potential impact of the musical’s presence in the episode.
“Breach of Faith”
June 25th, 2010
This review doesn’t really exist to talk that much about the Burn Notice-y “Breach of Faith” (for a review of the episode, check out Alan or Todd) so much as it exists to talk about the season as a whole. I realized after watching this episode that I haven’t actually written about the show yet this season, an oversight which I shall now rectify.
…I like it, I guess?
What, that isn’t enough for you? Okay fine: some more detailed thoughts on the season’s arc after the jump.
“Chuck vs. the Fake Name”
March 1st, 2010
Reviewing Chuck isn’t quite as fun anymore.
That pains me to write, in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the show right now which has made the past few episodes seem particularly difficult to sit down and discuss. I’d love to say that it’s just residual effects of the Chuckpocalypse, so that I could blame that particular group of fans for my struggles, but I don’t think that’s all it is.
There is something about the show that’s missing right now, something that has little to do with Chuck/Hannah or Sarah/Shaw or any of the relationship drama that some seem so concerned about. And I don’t even think my problem has to do with character consistency, like the complaints that Chuck and Sarah are acting differently than they have in the past. I think the show has earned our patience on the former front, and in terms of the latter I think that it’s unrealistic to believe that these characters wouldn’t occasionally bottle up their feelings in a way that’s destructive in the long term but easier in the short term.
Rather, I think my problem has to do with the fact that this season has fingerprints all over it, too purposefully designed to drive the show to a particular point instead of allowing it to get there on its own. “Chuck vs. the Fake Name” has some nice comic moments, and sells its emotional side fairly well, but it’s one of many episodes this season that end up a bit anvil-like in terms of explaining the season’s central themes, while proving too subtle when it comes to actually justifying those themes from a plot or character point of view.
January 28th, 2010
Noel Kirkpatrick put together a post on “formula TV” over at Monsters of TV yesterday, and in highlighting Burn Notice he points out the following:
…each episode will also find Michael trying to get back into the CIA (originally to find out who burned him and why), often near the end of the episode or throughout the episode while trying to help the Client of the Week.
And while this is ostensibly true, it’s important to note that not all such efforts are built to the same standards: Carla was a distraction which forced Michael to multi-task, while the police detective at the start of the season was a nuisance that forced Michael to be more cautious. And while I thought Carla felt as if she created character-driven drama, in that Michael was distracted and perhaps too focused on returning to his position within the CIA (the same goes for Strickler, to some extent), Moon Bloodgood’s detective was just a barrier who made the show less interesting, a muzzle that kept Michael Westen from being Michael Westen.
It’s too early to judge Gilroy yet, but “Friendly Fire” is the ideal demonstration of how fun Burn Notice’s formula can be: a compelling story is made more explosive and more enjoyable by the presence of an external figure who is looking for a good show. And while it might not be as psychologically complex, it presents no barrier to the show being its fun, high-energy self, which makes it a story with quite a bit of potential.
“A River Runs Through It…It Being Egypt”
November 17th, 2009
Ever since I stopped receiving screeners for Being Erica, I’ve been falling off from covering the show. It isn’t that I haven’t been watching, but with a busy life and a busy TV schedule I haven’t been getting to episodes with any sort of timeliness.
But the show has continued to be quite engaging, although in some ways it has reneged on some of its potential. The show has done a lot of work to expand its identity in order to introduce some new dynamics between characters, but for the most part the show hasn’t really delved into them. In recent weeks the show has thrown Erica into the future, and in the process has created a scenario where the show itself is in some ways an enormous therapy session.
But rather than complicate the show’s basic premise, it’s effectively been folded into the already existing construct that the show is as much a therapy session for Erica’s present than it is a therapy session for the past. The show’s storylines present complicated moral and ethical scenarios that it wants to play for both comedy and drama, and it is avoiding the supernatural storylines on a broad level to be able to follow those goals. “A River Runs Through It…” continues a storyline (Kai and Sam’s relationship) that is really frakked up when you really think about it, but it doesn’t really want to talk about the metaphysical ramifications so much as it does the personal ones. And, so long as it keeps telling strong stories within this structure, that’s fine, but I do sort of want the show to look beyond interpersonal relations to the overall premise being peddled here.
October 6th, 2009
I’m in New York at the moment (my Twitter account likely reflects this), but I had a chance to catch this week’s Being Erica before I left. It’s, again, a return to the first season’s structure, hesitating to “open up” the show’s universe as much as the season premiere seemed to indicate. However, at the same time, the episode also reminds us that Judith as a character still exists, a problem with a show that deals with sending a character back to her past when some of the people in her life weren’t actually involved.
So, in many ways, the reason that Judith and her newborn haven’t been around Erica are quite similar to why they haven’t been on the show thus far this season, and “Mama Mia” does well justifying her absence and adding a few more shades to their relationship. The episode had a few hiccups, but it followed one of my favourite patterns for the show so it’s ultimately another enjoyable hour for the show.
“Long Way Back”
August 6th, 2009
One of the downsides of USA Network’s season structure is that show operate in the form of shortened half-seasons, and that their quintissential summer series Burn Notice only airs half of its season during the summer. As a result, last night’s summer finale of Burn Notice feels slightly bittersweet, like saying goodbye just as the season was really picking up steam (which isn’t to say it really struggled early, but just the nature of momentum).
“Long Way Back” is an episode that is very blatant in its thematic content, picking up where we left off last week as Fiona prepares to head back to Ireland and in the process unlocks a firestorm of pent-up aggression in a certain collection of bloodthirsty hooligans, a new emotion or two for Michael, and a nice collection of events for us as viewers. In the end, the episode goes about where you’d expect it to, but in the vein of previous finales there are more than enough complications present for us to question the stability of the entire series by episode’s end.
June 25th, 2009
While a strong second season and great episodes like “End Run” last week have created raised expectations for Burn Notice, the show remains a formulaic procedural at some level. The show is not formulaic in a negative way, necessarily, but it has its patterns and uses them to varying degrees of effectiveness. As it happens, the past season or so has been particularly strong, but the show is by no means blowing our collective mind week in and week out. So, when I say that “Fearless Leader” was a pretty typical episode of Burn Notice, this is to say both that it was enjoyable but also that it did nothing to really make me stand up and take notice.
The problem, however, is that to some degree it should have been one of those episodes, at least the way it was situated within the season-opening storyline with Moon Bloodgood’s Detective Paxson. Presented as a new obstacle for Michael now that law enforcement is no longer being kept off his back by the people who burned him, the police interest in him has seemed a legitimate threat even if there have been times where Bloodgood popping up at the beginning and end of each episode has felt shallow. It left me waiting for the episode where Michael’s mission would intersect directly with our newly arrived detective, thinking that would justify her presence as more than just a symbolic sign of Michael’s newly precarious position.
It’s ultimately this expectation, not some notion of every episode being like “End Run,” that makes me disappointed in this one, as Paxson remained a pretty uninteresting character and, more importantly, the story that ends up closing this chapter in the show’s run was not particularly connected to her or elevated in any way by her presence. The result is that it makes the show seem lazier and simpler than it really is, and it makes an otherwise solid episode into a bit of a letdown: as Michael says, you always need to have a plan, and it seems like the show’s plan was a little shortsighted.