Tag Archives: Season 6

A Cultural Comeback: The Return of the Cultural Catchup Project

The Return of the Cultural Catchup Project

May 16th, 2011

On April 9th, 2010, I began an undertaking.

Fifty-seven reviews and over six months later, I had to put that undertaking on hold indefinitely.

There was some part of me who was naive enough to believe that I would be able to continue the Cultural Catchup Project while beginning my PhD, continuing to dig into Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but the truth was that it was never going to happen. While my dedication to the project never wavered, my free time during the year was going to go towards covering television as it airs, engaging in the post-air analysis that continues to draw me to writing criticism. Although I found some time to pull together the final reviews to finish out the series’ fifth and second seasons, respectively, the project went dormant for the better part of six months on November 25th.

Since that point, there have been a number of mostly well-meaning prods in my direction regarding the project, but for the most part the Whedon fans have been patient. It helps, of course, that Noel Murray has been continuing his reviews of the series at The A.V. Club, and that the Whedon fan community remains vibrant and active regardless of my contributions. While I hated to be absent from the discussion, and I very much enjoyed the engagement made possible through those reviews, I ultimately had to decide how I wanted to watch these shows, and the idea of trying to squeeze them into an already hectic schedule just wasn’t an option if I actually wanted to enjoy the experience.

But as the year comes to a close, and as the summer approaches, the season of Cultural Catchup approaches. There are no plans for serious overhauls: I remain vigilant in my efforts to avoid spoilers (although a few have sneaked in here or there, but nothing that I would consider major), I remain committed to doing both shows simultaneously (if only to add a bit of variety to my viewing, now that the crossovers seem to be slowing down), and I remain excited to continue the dialogue we began last year.

While I have no idea how many followers of the CCP last time around are still hanging out around these parts, and I have no way of knowing how many stragglers might return, I’m giving us all a few days to gather ourselves. The Cultural Catchup Project returns on the morning of Wednesday, May 18th with a review of both parts of “Bargaining,” the sixth season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and continues later that very same day with a review of the third season premiere of Angel, “Heartthrob.”

Edit: Both reviews are now live via the links below!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Bargaining”

Angel – “Heartthrob”

From there, things might slow down a bit until the weekend, but after that the adventure picks up where it left off: a summer-long journey as far into the Whedonverse as three and a half months will take us.

I am hopeful that some of you will still be along for the ride, and that there might be some who are joining us for the first time: either way, the Cultural Catchup Project page offers the complete archives for those who want to relive it all again.

The Cultural Catchup Project Archives

In the meantime, spread the word – on Wednesday, the undertaking begins again.

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Doctor Who – “The Doctor’s Wife”

“The Doctor’s Wife”

May 14th, 2011

It isn’t exactly news that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is expressly interested in the poetic: between The Girl Who Waited, The Boy Who Waited, and the tragic love story of the Doctor and River Song, Moffat’s world is filled with characters whose relationships are defined by strong emotional hooks. Even when the show built towards the fifth series’ grand finale, watching as the Doctor is slowly erased from time as he rewinded through the events of the series, it all turned into one big poetic moment where the “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” story began to make so much more sense.

“The Doctor’s Wife,” scripted by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (my relationship to whom I will discuss after the jump, is a truly wonderful outing on a large number of levels, but it’s the poetry of it all that makes it work. There’s a point early on where the Doctor can’t come up with a proper analogy to explain their location “outside of the universe” to Amy and Rory, and that’s very much part of Moffat’s approach: we don’t need to know what it means or how it works, all we need to know is what it means.

Or, rather, all we need to know is that we enjoyed the bloody hell out of it even though we’ve still got a whole lot of questions.

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Doctor Who – “Day of the Moon”

“Day of the Moon”

April 30th, 2011

[Note: while this does not air until a bit later this evening in the U.S., I’m embracing my independence from any one particular country to post my review when it’s finished so that those who watched in the U.K. can discuss it in a more timely fashion. Accordingly, if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t keep reading.]

It’s the time of year when writing about television on the side must take a back seat to writing about television in an academic (and, over at the A.V. Club, “professional”) fashion, and so it’s unfortunate that a weekend filled with paper writing had to collide with “Day of the Moon.”

In truth, I could probably handle writing about an episode like next week’s, where the show returns to its isolated adventures with only subtle nods towards a larger serialized storyline. I could evaluate the appeal of the situation (which next week features Downton Abbey’s own Hugh Bonneville, I believe), consider the ongoing character dynamics between the Doctor and his companions, and then be merrily on my way.

With “Day on the Moon,” I could actually be here for a day. It’s a compelling episode, filled with enough good ideas to carry three episodes of a lesser show, but it also ends up with enough loose ends that actually going through and analyzing them in a satisfactory fashion would be impossible given my current time crunch.

But, I do want to make a few points about the episode, given that I am sure there will be oodles of speculation to be done over the course of the season regarding what we saw here and given the fact that I very much enjoyed it.

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Season Premiere: Doctor Who – “The Impossible Astronaut”

“The Impossible Astronaut”

April 23rd, 2011

“Human beings – I thought I’d never get done saving you.”

As Doctor Who enters its sixth “series” (which I refer to as season above to avoid confusion with similarly titled posts on the blog), I find myself an an interesting crossroads.

As a viewer, “The Eleventh Hour” was my first experience with the start of a series (if not my first experience, as I watched the relevant Moffat-oeuvre episodes beforehand), and that episode served a very clear introductory function for Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. It was also a contained episode, extending beyond the traditional running time to complete a single story alongside the introductions of both a new Doctor and a new companion.

By comparison, “The Impossible Astronaut” finds Matt Smith’s Doctor well-established, and despite the “official” addition of a second companion there is not much groundwork to be laid with either Amy or Rory given their importance to the previous series. It is also the first part of a two-part premiere, meaning that its full meaning has not yet been fully understood, and its role in shaping the remainder of the series remains fairly abstract.

When I suggest I find myself at a crossroads, it is because “The Impossible Astronaut” is a test of sorts for those of us who are new to the Who, so to speak. With the introductions out of the way, Steven Moffat has wholly embraced the series’ atemporality and put together a premiere which finds poetry in tragedy and tragedy in just about everything, breaking rules that we didn’t know existed and inventing rules that we can’t be sure exist. It renders viewers like me, those of us who only recently jumped on the bandwagon, not unlike the Doctor’s companions, forced to place our trust in Moffat’s vision while the questions pile up and the speculation overflows.

It says a great deal about the success of the fifth series that I barely blinked at “The Impossible Astronaut,” slipping easily into the giddy theorizing that this show can inspire and fully embracing my deep appreciation for something that I only started watching a year ago.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Legendaddy”

“Legendaddy”

March 21st, 2011

There is something hypocritical about the status of Barney Stinson as a character within How I Met Your Mother. On the one hand, he is the character who will change the least: because of his popularity, and because of the broad comedy the character is known for, Barney Stinson will never dramatically alter his behavior. And yet, at the same time, the character is uniquely positioned to engage with more emotional and transformative elements due to Neil Patrick Harris’ dramatic acting ability and the value of having a narcissistic character show signs of selflessness and vulnerability.

Ted Mosby is always on the verge of a dramatic life event, but is never allowed to reach that moment because it would fundamentally change the course of the series. However, because there are assurances that Barney’s essence will not be changed, he’s allowed to do what Ted is not: he’s allowed to meet his father, allowed to confront a potentially life-changing moment on a show which in its sixth season is largely resistant to fundamental change.

The result is a tremendous showcase for Neil Patrick Harris and John Lithgow, achieving an emotional complexity that has been absent from Ted’s story for what seems like a very long time without sacrificing the essence of the character. While there are some who remain frustrated with the lack of momentum on the eponymous story, the show’s sixth season has been quite effective in crafting stories about the other side of the parental coin that have really landed.

Even if they aren’t quite as transformative as Ted’s love life.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Last Words”

“Last Words”

January 17th, 2011

Response to “Bad News,” HIMYM’s last original episode, was decidedly mixed. What struck me most was the way the episode-ending reveal that Marshall’s father had passed away became so problematic despite the fact that this is the kind of show which should be capable of handling such delicate matters. I’ll certainly agree with those who felt that there was some potential incongruity between the playful nature of the countdown and the eventual reveal, requiring a sudden gear shift which made the episode considerably divisive.

However, while the series is no so heavily serialized that we need reserve judgment on an individual episode until seeing how it carries over into the next, I would say that “Last Words” is in a position to sort of payoff the buildup offered in “Bad News.” The result, I feel, is an infallible merging of the comic and dramatic elements mashed together two weeks ago – with more time to establish the balance, Bays and Thomas emphasize the way in which well-drawn, longstanding characters offer great potential to take even a fairly rote storyline to a truly emotional place through some sharp writing and some stellar performances.

And that’s the sort of self-actualization the show was missing last season.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Bad News”

“Bad News”

January 3rd, 2011

How I Met Your Mother is willing to make sacrifices.

In its balance of a long-running serial narrative and episodic storylines, the show is always looking for ways to balance one with the other: sometimes heavy mythology means slightly weaker standalone work, and sometimes a lack of mythology creates a lack of meaning to a particular story. Often, the mythology is emphasized to evoke pathos, and yet in the process the series has sort of fallen into certain patterns: the show can still hit Ted’s romantic notes well, for example, but it’s hit them enough times that the novelty may well have worn off.

In “Bad News,” we have an example of sacrificing coherent storytelling for the sake of slowly revealing an ongoing gimmick which, once fully comprehended by the audience, becomes the driving force behind a moment which was legitimately affecting. In doing so, the writers all but admitted that “Bad News” wasn’t going to be an all-time classic, but that seemed a conscious decision which allowed for that final moment to hit as hard as they wanted it to hit.

It was manipulative, to the point of damaging the structural integrity of the episode, but that final moment was perhaps worth that sacrifice.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Mermaid Theory”

“The Mermaid Theory”

December 6th, 2010

“The Mermaid Theory” is interesting in two ways. And since they’re not particularly substantial ways, I’m just going to cut the introduction off here and we can get into the meat of it.

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From Artifact to Aimlessness: Robin Sparkles in HIMYM’s “Glitter”

From Artifact to Aimlessness: HIMYM’s “Glitter”

November 18th, 2010

I had originally wanted to have this up the day after “Glitter” aired, but I realized that this would be disadvantageous.

Things that are posted immediately after an episode feel like reviews, and I really don’t want to review “Glitter.” It was a pleasant episode of the series, an often silly bit of comedy that I do not consider an affront to my sensibilities or anything. And so, I do not want this sort of in depth analysis into my frustration with the episode to read like a condemnation of the direction the show has taken Robin Sparkles – this is more a consideration of what has happened, and why it moves away from the character’s origin, than any sort of critical evaluation of this strategy (many, after all, seemed to really enjoy it).

What I want to look as is why some people (myself included) felt this was more than a case of diminishing returns. I was underwhelmed by this episode, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t funny. Rather, it was because the elements of satire and parody which defined Robin Sparkles first introduction were entirely absent, both in terms of the kind of humor the episode focused on (the unintended sexual connotation of nearly every comment) and the way in which the character was deployed.

And, as someone who has already written six thousand words on the series’ construction of Canada through Robin’s past, it’s only natural that I’ve got more to say on the issue after this half-hour.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Subway Wars”

“Subway Wars”

October 11th, 2010

This is precisely the kind of episode which is particularly dangerous for a show in How I Met Your Mother’s position. “Subway Wars” feels like a gimmick from the very beginning, and the show is at a point where it risks seeming unsubstantial. Back in the second season, something like “Subway Wars” might have seemed novel, but in the context of a sixth season it seems almost a bit desperate.

That being said, I think “Subway Wars” ends up working because it quite successfully ties the race towards Woody Allen into a personal journey for each of its characters. By grounding the journey in Robin’s belief that New York is turning on her, and Marshall and Lily’s struggles to conceive, the episode manages to make broad subject matter transition into legitimate character stories without too much difficulty.

It isn’t quite as well-oiled as it may have been four seasons ago, but I think that the risk ended up enough reward to make “Subway Wars” a solid entry.

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