September 27th, 2010
Barney Stinson is a very broad character, but Neil Patrick Harris has always specialized at emphasizing his vulnerability. Mind you, this vulnerability always disappears, but the series’ emphasis on serialization has allowed for Barney’s arc to avoid feeling too reductive. Yes, he resets every once in a while, but “Cleaning House” quite clearly identifies that there remains a sense of progress in the character.
While the episode wasn’t particularly fantastic, it felt more emotionally honest than the incredulous nature of the story would indicate on the surface. As someone who appreciates this level of emotional complexity, I like what the episode does for the overall narrative and for Barney as a character, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change the character in future episodes.
September 20th, 2010
Look, I was pretty harsh on How I Met Your Mother last season, but it was harshness which stemmed from love: I care about these characters, so to see their individual arcs subjected in order to make way for standalone stories which fought against the series’ greatest, if not only, strength (its serialized elements) was unfortunate.
Now, I’m not one of those people who believes that the show needs to spend more time discussing the Mother: in fact, I am more or less completely uninterested in that storyline, other than the fact that it largely allows “wistful romantic Ted” to emerge and I’ve got a soft spot for that particular characterization. Rather, my issue is that I need the character to feel like they’re evolving, that they’re reaching a point in their lives when they are considerably less aimless than when they began. My problem, then, is less that Barney and Robin split up, and more that they split up and went back to fairly reductive versions of their respective characters.
“Big Days” is an intelligent premiere in that it keeps things decidedly simple: other than yet another future milestone that we can start counting down the days until, the episode creates a small scenario which speaks to the series’ past, present and future without feeling too strained. Nothing it does feels particularly monumental, but the episode nonetheless captures the sense of purpose that the show was missing for the bulk of last season.
Which, if it holds, will be a welcome return to form.
Reflections on Reviewing Lost
May 22nd, 2010
There are a lot of articles floating around the internet right now about Lost’s legacy (including a great one from my brother), but I don’t necessarily know if I’m prepared to contribute to them.
This comes from the fact that I’ve already written about nearly every facet of this series. Because of my recent “Television, The Aughts & I” series, I’ve written extensively about how Lost was part of my initial initiation into the world of being a television obsessive. Due to the complaints piling up even before this past season began, I already wrote my lengthy diatribe against those who believe that Lost “owes” something to its fans. Since we were also already in a list-making mood before Season Six, I’ve done my list of key episodes as well. And not only has the mysterious nature of Season 6 kept the series’ conclusion almost entirely unpredictable, but reviewing every episode along the way means that I’ve already analyzed much of the season’s narrative in great detail.
However, I feel like I’m letting the haters win if I don’t write something “broad” ahead of the finale: I’ve been arguing for weeks that the people who believe that a finale could fundamentally change their opinion of the series are a bit nuts, so to avoid writing about the series’ legacy (definitively speaking) until after the finale would be conceding defeat on that particular argument.
So, taking all of this into account, I figure the best way to write about Lost is to write about the experience of writing about Lost, which feels especially timely considering the attack on Lost criticism in Mike Hale’s New York Times piece I responded to on Thursday. I am not paid to write about Lost, nor are paid critics necessarily required to write as much about the show as they do. If we ask why myself or my fellow critics write about the show with such passion, the answer would be part reflection on the show itself, part reflection on the fan culture surrounding the show, and part reflection on the ways in which television criticism has evolved over the past six years.
Critics write about Lost for reasons beyond its popularity, just as bloggers write about Lost for reasons beyond blog stats, and their reasons offer an interesting glimpse into Lost’s legacy and an explanation for why so many of us will be burning the midnight oil long into Monday morning and still writing about the show in the months ahead.
In Defence of “Exposé”
May 21st, 2010
As we come to the end of Lost’s run, people like to write lists: most of these lists will feature “Favourite” characters, episodes or scenes over the past six seasons, but there’s a chance that many of them will focus on the “Worst” of the same. I don’t know if I’m really up for making lists of my own (especially since I put together my own list of important episodes before Season 6 began), but I do want to say one thing:
If I see “Exposé” on a single “Worst Episode” list [like this one, which is even more despicable since it uses “Pointless”], I am going to be incredibly angry.
I may not have loved the episode initially (my “review” from three years ago is a little all over the map), so I can’t say I’ve always held this belief, but over time I have become part of the minority who feel that “Exposé” was an intriguing episode which successfully made lemons out of lemonade. While there are bad episodes of Lost (see: “Stranger in a Strange Land”) which in their failures elucidate some of the show’s growing pains at various points within its narrative, “Exposé” is precisely the opposite: it is a confident hour of television, entirely sure of its function of bringing to a close an intriguing, if failed, experiment in the series’ narrative in a meaningful and memorable fashion.
As Lost has continued, and we’ve learned more about the island and the central themes to the series, I’ve become convinced that there is no way anyone could argue that “Exposé” is not a pivotal episode in the series’ development. Whether you choose to view it as hidden foreshadowing or (more likely) as successful retroactive storytelling, the episode captures in a single episode the complex morality plays which have been unfolding for six seasons, crafting a compelling standalone narrative that we can now see as a microcosm for the series’ larger conflicts.
In other words, I’m tired of the haters, and I’m here to tell you why.
May 20th, 2010
Last week’s episode of The Office was absolutely, unfathomably terrible: it embodied the absolute worst characterization of Michael Scott (as a purposefully ignorant jerk with no self-awareness or human decency) until the very end, where it tried to claim that a moment of quiet reflection finally forced Michael into realizing what we, and the rest of the show’s characters, had known for the entire episode. It was a bizarre decision because it only frustrates me more: if Michael is inherently a decent human being, why are they forcing viewers to sit through twenty minutes of the character acting like a complete jerk when it’s not nearly as funny as they think it is?
I’m aware they aren’t forcing us to do anything, but when you’ve been watching a show for six years you have a certain attachment to it. And while I may have despised “The Chump,” at least I had some sort of emotional response to it. By comparison, “Whistleblower” was listless to the point of boredom, failing to feel the least bit conclusive and struggling to make anything out of what has been a complete mess of a season from a narrative perspective. None of what happened in the episode felt like it came from anything that we care about, or anything that was even developed adequately in early episodes.
And just like last week, a single moment at episode’s end is meant to make us feel like this unengaging exercise was all worth it; I’m not falling for it, and I may just be to the point where I’m falling out of even an abusive relationship with the series.
Critics Ponder “What They Died For”
May 19th, 2010
Trapped between perhaps the most divisive episode in the show’s history and a sprawling two and a half hour finale shrouded in mystery, “What They Died For” is a bit tough to “criticize.” Generally speaking, the episode was dramatically strong and effective at providing momentum heading into the finale, but with no guarantees that the payoff will live up to our expectations there is this sense of uncertainty which means that this weeks reviews from critics are sort of hedging their bets.
Normally, you might claim this is in some way counterproductive, but it means that critics are focused on making connections to past episodes and offering their own takes on how the developments in this episode apply to larger ideas within Lost as a whole. It makes for another strong week of Lost criticism, as the setup work done in “What They Died For” is mirrored by critics setting up their own perspectives on the series as we head into Sunday’s finale.
So, let’s take a journey around the internet to see what the critics are saying, shall we?
“What They Died For”
May 18, 2010
“I think you’re mistaking coincidence for fate.”
[For more analysis of this week’s penultimate episode of Lost, check out my roundup of Critics’ commentary from across the web.]
Earlier today, TV scholar Jason Mittell wrote a rather fantastic analysis of the variety of different types of questions floating around as Lost comes to an end, nicely capturing the ways in which categorizing the questions helps us outline our own “priorities.” Say what you will about “Across the Sea” (as I, or the critics, did), but it has certainly forced Lost’s active audience to consider which questions matter most at this late stage in the series – rather than forcing us to see things a certain way, the episode forced us to see things of our own choosing, things which help form our personal view of the series heading into its conclusion.
When the episode was labeled as “divisive,” it’s easy to presume that the division lies between those who liked it and those who hated it, but the divisions go much deeper than that. The discussion of the episode brought to light how each individual viewer (rather than “groups” of viewers who we bundle into particular categories) has viewed the series thus far, and in doing so led them to the variety of questions which Mittell classifies; rather than eliding these sorts of big questions or attempting to lead viewers in a certain direction, Lindelof and Cuse sat their audience down by the fire and told them that they had a choice to see this show in whichever way they wanted to going into these final episodes, and they have been more than willing to take the criticism and praise found in the questions that viewers have been asking in the past week.
I make this point because “What They Died For” is all about human agency, about how and why we make choices and what it is that pushes us to do things which may seem morally reprehensible or potentially dangerous. The episode is an important connecting point between the show’s two realities, emphasizing the ways in which choices – and the trust implicit or explicit to those choices – shape both the show and its characters on the island and within the newly introduced sideways stories. By putting to rest any doubts about the position of free will within the series, one can’t help but feel that the show is also empowering its audience to enjoy the same type of agency as we head into the finale, picking up on the spirit (if not necessarily the content) of last week’s divisive episode.
And I, speaking entirely personally, think it worked really well, but I think we’re to the point where saying this objectively may be going against the point of it all.
Going “Across the Sea” with Critics
May 12th, 2010
Writing about Lost on a weekly basis has been consistently challenging this year not in terms of having anything to talk about but rather in terms of tempering one’s response. We all know that the show is close to reaching its conclusion, so we’re all thinking in the back of our minds that the success of the sixth season’s episodes may well depend on where things end up. We can evaluate how much we enjoyed the episode, and how it connects with the show’s characters, but we can’t really evaluate where it fits into the big picture.
However, an episode like “Across the Sea” desperately wants us to think about the big picture, and I think the reaction to the episode is a reflection of the repressed theorizing regarding the finale that people have been building up inside. “Ab Aeterno” provided a release, a chance to consider the island’s past, but we’ve spent the rest of the season withholding our opinion about the Flash Sideways story until we see where it’s going, just as we’ve spent the last six seasons withholding final judgment on the island mysteries.
It makes perfect sense why outright Lost skeptics would respond to this episode in such a divisive fashion, as they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to tear apart the show’s science fiction and this episode gave them plenty of lines rife for parody. However, even the most patient of fans have reached the point where they can’t keep withholding their opinions, and “Across the Sea” has everyone expressing their concerns about whether this is all going to come together and whether this was how the show should be spending its time.
And perhaps the point of it all was to bring our skepticism to the surface, to force us as viewers (or as critics) to put our cards on the table and take a stance regarding the season and the series thus far. “Across the Sea” seems designed to provoke viewers, but perhaps it does so because it knows that it’s better audiences ask these questions (or angrily revolt against the series) now rather than after the finale. Perhaps it’s all a fiendish trick to place us on one side or another heading into the finale whether we have a choice in the matter or not, revealing which of us are men (or women) of science (desiring a more concrete explanation for events) and which of us are men (or women) of faith, who even through a somewhat ridiculous metaphor are still believers of what Lindelof and Cuse are trying to accomplish here.
Either way, the showdown is already beginning, and the crosstalk between critics is as interesting as it’s ever been, so I’m going to at least consider “Across the Sea” a success in that regard as I try to capture some of that discussion (although don’t pretend I capture the depth of each individual review with these comments, and do click through).