Tag Archives: Season 1

Season Finale: Orphan Black – “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

OrphanBlackTitle

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

June 1st, 2013

When I attended the Television Critics’ Association Winter Press Tour in January, BBC America presented a panel for Orphan Black, a new drama series originating from Canada (where it airs on Space). It was an interesting panel to attend, because none of the critics in the room had no opportunity to watch it: while we were shown a quick trailer to help give us context, most of the questions were actually asking for more information as opposed to specific responses to the series. What we saw looked interesting, and the panel was enjoyable, but it was an exploratory exercise in a space where greater context is necessary to achieve any real insight.

Reading back over the transcript of that panel, and revisiting this fun interview Will Harris did with the three stars in attendance, I couldn’t help but smile. In retrospect, there are plenty of hints there about the show Orphan Black would become: a fearless, balls to the wall science fiction pleasure that’s smart as hell. Co-creator Graeme Manson was asked about the possibility of flashbacks, to which he responded “Yeah, actually, none at all. We really, really like a story that’s like a runaway train that keeps you on the edge of your seat and has you not sure whether the story is going to take a hard left or a hard right.” Tatiana Maslany was asked about the challenge of playing multiple roles, and explained “Yeah, it’s a challenge, the different arcs. You know, there’s so many arcs to it. So it’s a bit of a mind — I keep wanting to say the wrong word.”

The wrong word is the right word in this case: Orphan Black is a mindfuck, and ends its first season with another segment in the runaway train first season, one that becomes four climaxes in one by the time it reaches its conclusion.

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Bunheads – “Inherit the Wind [And the Fast-Talkin’ Style]”

“Inherit the Wind”

June 25th, 2012

I haven’t weighed in on Bunheads in any official capacity to this point, although I’ve been watching it and largely enjoying it. The pilot left unanswered questions, and the two episodes since then (“For Fanny” and this week’s “Inherit the Wind”) have done a pretty good job of answering them.

On some level, that covers my basic evaluation of the show, but tonight’s episode raised two points for me about the viability of the show’s future. One has to do with Sutton Foster, who is tasked with a lot of heavy-lifting as the audience’s surrogate into this small town, and the other has to do with the style of dialogue that she and the rest of the cast have to deal with. As much as I largely enjoyed “Inherit the Wind,” and liked some of its larger moves toward stability, I think there’s still something about the show that doesn’t sit right without outright sitting wrong – and, apropos of tonight’s episode title, it’s partly something the show inherited.

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Nickel and Dimed: Two Cents on HBO’s The Newsroom [Review]

“We Just Decided To”

June 24th, 2012

I saw all of the tweets about The Newsroom leading up to its debut. I saw them build with excitement around its beginnings, and then I saw them increase in volume while splintering off into numerous factions in the months leading up to its premiere. With some shows, screeners go out and very little is said about them within the critical community, with any chatter confined to backchannels. With The Newsroom, though, the conversation couldn’t help but spill out into public, and it became almost a rite of passage for critics to announce their opinion of the show so as to line up into certain camps.

This isn’t abnormal, precisely: whenever critics write a review, they are stating their opinion and implicitly entering into a particular group of critics who felt a particular way about a particular series. However, everything about the critical discourse around The Newsroom has been explicit, at least following it on Twitter: this is partly because of the show itself (which is divisive), and partly because of creator Aaron Sorkin (who has a divisive history), and partly because of the show’s would-be relationship to the sociopolitical. Without suggesting that Aaron Sorkin has actually made a television show that will change the news media and those who bear witness to it (which he has not, just so we’re entirely clear), the fact that he wants to renders critical evaluations into sociopolitical evaluations for some, with the rejection or acceptance of Sorkin’s worldview becoming a reflection of the critic’s own.

I don’t believe this to be true, of course, and have not read into—or read, actually—any of those critics’ reviews. When I realized that I would be going into The Newsroom tonight with the rest of the viewing public, I chose not to read the various intelligent, well-reasoned, divisive reviews of the series in advance; I knew I was going to watch it, and Twitter had already told me that the show is a case of “Your Mileage May Vary,” and part of me wanted to escape the discourse of Sorkin, and the media, and worldviews in favor of a more simple question.

Is The Newsroom an effective television pilot? A recent Facebook thread featuringprofessors/grad students discussing potential pilots to screen for students in a Television class got me thinking about this. On one level, you want to show students something great, something that grabs their attention and potentially sends them off to watch the rest of the series: we had a number of students do this with Friday Night Lights this past semester, for example. However, you could also show them a failed pilot (like David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman, which I know the folks at the Good TVeets Con recently watched) and ask them where they think it went wrong.

While both strategies have merit, and are probably easier ways to communicate how pilots are intended to work, part of me wants to show them The Newsroom, which manages to succeed and fail in the same moments. Everything that works about The Newsroom is also everything that doesn’t, as Sorkin’s powerful use of momentum means we never have time to stop and connect to something more than a feeling that may not last as long as the show might like. I am aware that too much ink has probably been spent on the show already, and I’m likely repeating things many others have said, but I can’t deny that answering even this simply question left me plenty to say about The Newsroom.

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Smash – “The Callback”

“The Callback”

February 13th, 2012

As is evidenced by the limited output here at Cultural Learnings, I don’t have a lot of free time right now, which is why I’ve been prioritizing watching television (an exercise that I find particularly useful in teaching contemporary television) over writing about television (which, while still something I enjoy, often ends up taking up time that I simply don’t have). As a result, I didn’t review the pilot of NBC’s Smash beyond my initial thoughts after watching the episode on iTunes ahead of its airdate.

However, as Noel Murray has quite rightfully pointed out in his review of tonight’s second episode, “The Callback,” I wasn’t exactly quiet about the show last week. I’m not sure what exactly had me so punch on Monday evening as I watched the pilot for the second time, but I think Noel is right to suggest that I was being “provocative” in my attempts to boil down Smash to its most basic qualities. One of my Twitter followers actually called me on being evaluative so early on, but I did clarify that I didn’t see my tweets as evaluative: the show is still finding itself, which means I’m willing to give it time to grow.

That being said, there is something about the Smash pilot that seemed markedly prescriptive, clearly delineating how we were to feel about the onscreen action despite the inherently subjective nature of musical theatre (and performance in general). While I agree with Noel that parts of “The Callback improved on the exclusivity of the pilot’s narrative, grounding the dueling narratives of Ivy and Karen in more concrete performance styles, the show is still operating with a baseline: while it might be open to your opinion on which of the two performers is better, you need to accept that both of them are world class talents. It’s a notion that I’m still struggling with, and a notion that reflects the problems of narrowly defining and serializing a circumstance that would be considerably more complex (if less immediately marketable) in reality.

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2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Shameless and Strike Back

Showtime’s Shameless

Aired: January to March

With Shameless starting its second season next weekend, and with my parents recently gaining access to an expansive OnDemand archive featuring the series, I’ve taken the past week or so to introduce them to the “deranged” – my mother’s word –Gallagher family.

It’s not often that I rewatch dramatic series in this fashion, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I managed it. I didn’t write about Shameless more than a handful of times when the first season aired earlier this year, but rewatching the show has made me wish I had, both because I find myself really enjoying the show (more than my review of the finale would suggest) and because I think writing about it would have helped me confront my frustration with one half of the series.

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Cultural Checkup: MTV’s Awkward.

Cultural Checkup: MTV’s Awkward.

August 17th, 2011

In my head, MTV’s Awkward. has become this season’s equivalent of ABC Family’s Huge (which I covered last summer), although the two shows aren’t really that similar.

I mean, both are shows on teen-oriented networks that transcend their base demographics through strong execution and great casting, and both are shows that take potentially rote situations (summer camp and high school) and delve beneath the surface to show a different side of life as a teenager, and both find ways to involve an older generation without it seeming forced, but…well, when I put it that way, they sound pretty similar after all. Huh.

I think my resistance to my brain’s correlation between the two series is that while Huge subverted teen television stereotypes by embracing narrative complexity and featuring the kind of people (not characters) that you don’t normally see in these types of shows, Awkward. is more or less that type of show at the end of the day. While Huge was, at least in my mind, transcendent of its genre, Awkward. isn’t trying to be so bold: instead, it’s focusing on telling the kind of stories you expect to see, featuring characters you’ve likely seen before, just in a way that feels fresher than one might expect.

It’s a stealthier enterprise: while I felt pretty confident that people who gave Huge a chance would immediately see that it was going to defy their expectations (and encourage anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it to go buy the DVD – only 5 left in stock at Amazon, so they better be gone by the end of the day – and thank me later), I’m less convinced that Awkward. will be able to win over the skeptics. As much as I like the show, and as much as I appreciate what Lauren Iungerich is aiming for, and as happy as I am that the show is getting a second season, at the end of the day it’s a pretty basic sitcom about a teenage girl with teenage girl problems.

It’s also a helluva lot of fun, and probably the most enjoyable new show of the summer.

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Cultural Checkup: USA’s Suits and White Collar

Cultural Checkup: Suits and White Collar

August 12th, 2011

Although I’ve stopped watching Burn Notice, and ceased my bizarre commitment to the dull Royal Pains this summer, and didn’t bother with Covert Affairs’ second season, and didn’t even bother with Necessary Roughness (which I thought looked terrible), I remain really quite interested with USA as a network. With White Collar, they have a show that I think hits a lot of interesting buttons, and with Suits you have a show that seems to be aiming for the same goal. They’re shows that I like a great deal in particular moments, and that are in two very different stages of development.

However, as I drop in on both shows this week, I’ll admit that I find them a bit frustrating. While Suits has a lot of potential, its youthfulness shows signs of uncertainty in regards to questions of genre and narrative, problems that White Collar continues to carry even as it clearly leads the network’s offerings in terms of quality. I know that the general approach to USA programming is not quite this hyper-critical, but I’ve stored up a few too many things to say about the two shows, so I figured the Cultural Checkup was a good way to get through them.

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