Tag Archives: Season Five

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Wire – “Complete Series”

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“Complete Series”

Release Date: December 9th, 2008

Yes, I know this is cheating, but I have my reasons for refusing to choose only one episode of The Wire’s fifth season to include within this set. Yes, only the show’s fifth season aired this year, but on a personal level I got to experience all five seasons of fantastic dramatic television in the past calendar year. Since this is my Television Time Capsule, and because the Complete Series boxset is both readily available and surprisingly compact, the entire series makes it into the Time Capsule.

When the season started airing, I posted to a message board about whether it would be possible for me to jump in without watching the previous four seasons. Almost immediately, I received the resounding response of an empathic no; jumping in at the end was entirely misguided. It was the first time I had seen such a passionate response about it, but over time I was able to discover many more such responses, and eventually the reason why.

Considering the three-hour long podcast, and the rather lengthy piece I wrote in conjunction with it, I won’t say much more on the show’s merits. What I will say is that its fifth season deserves it spot here just as much as the previous four, not quite as perfect but nonetheless one of the finest specimens of television which aired during the period.

One thing I will add is that I understand the frustrations with the fifth season’s newspaper storylines: while the political world was given a slow introduction in Seasons three and four that allowed it to integrate into this world, and the education system had a clear enough relationship with what we’d seen before it, the media had been surprisingly absent at every other stage of the series. It felt like the most “left field” argument, and many of the connections to the main narrative felt coincidental as opposed to consequential. I don’t think it was an irreparable concern, but it helped contribute to a sort of paradox of getting our final moments with these characters, at least partially, through a lens more unfamiliar to the series than the ones previous introduced.

So while saying goodbye to the show was no doubt difficult, it was kind of nice to be able to say Hello to it in the same year: the balance helps elevate the series’ impact on my year in television, and hopefully the years of many more people to come.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Office – “Weight Loss”

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“Weight Loss”

Season Five, Episode One

Airdate: September 25th, 2008

If I had a time machine as opposed to a time capsule, I would go back in time and keep Amy Ryan from being nominated for that Oscar.

Don’t get me wrong: she was stunning in Gone Baby Gone, a film I watched for the first time recently and enjoyed a great deal, and she deserved that nomination and maybe even a win for her performance. But it made her an actress in demand, someone who could guarantee herself juicy supporting roles for years to come.

It also meant that Holly Flax, introduced in the great fourth season finale “Goodbye, Toby,” would eventually be leaving Dunder Mifflin. With her laidback style and willingness to ham it up with Michael, Holly was the best addition that the cast had seen perhaps since day one. Not only was Ryan quite hilarious in terms of her comic timing (the woman can do anything), but Holly as a character did something even more important: she humanized Michael Scott.

This was no more evident than in “Weight Loss,” what I believe to be the best hour-long episode the series has ever done. Using a unique structure that follows the office’s attempt to lose weight over an entire summer, the episode never plays out a single joke for too long, letting the episode tell itself in short stories and build naturally to its conclusion.

In the process, we get numerous highlights: Holly and Michael’s rap (which will forever go down as one of the most surreal, and hilarious, scenes of this show), Holly’s believe that Kevin is mentally challenged finally exploding, and…well, a lot of things involved with Holly. The show developed her and Michael’s relationship all within one episode: their moments of awkwardness, their moments of jealousy, and eventually that moment when it’s clear that they are both big dorks and made for each other.

The wonder of “Weight Loss” is that its compartmentalization works wonders on every storyline: Dwight and Angela’s trysts become even more hurtful towards Andy as they take place over an extended period, and what could have been (and eventually kind of did after the premiere) a contrived separation of Jim and Pam was helped by the illusion of time. When the time came for Jim’s surprise rest stop proposal, the episode felt more like a journey than the show ever has.

And while the season has had some strong one-off episodes (the end of the fourth season had quite a few that could easily have taken this spot), I feel as if this is the kind of Office I want them to move forward with: human, hilarious and worthy of the 2008 television time capsule.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Entourage – “Return to Queens Boulevard”

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“Return to Queens Boulevard”

Season Five, Episode 12

Airdate: November 24th, 2008

I have never gotten more flak as a television critic than when I have the gall to criticize Entourage. It’s a sore spot for me: it’s a show that people keep trying to convince me is just male wish fulfillment, and a show that I keep trying to convince people is in fact a drama about celebrity and its impact on humanity. So when the show leans to the former, and I complain about its inability to live up to its potential, needless to say conflict arises.

I’m including “Return to Queens Boulevard” in the 2008 Television Time Capsule for a selfish reason, because I think it proves my point. For about 24 minutes, this is an investigation into how celebrity has changed people: how Vince reacts to being jobless and living at home with his mother, and how Eric responds to his own sense of responsibility for Vince’s future. When the two characters have what could be their final blowout, and Vince fires Eric for failing to land him a job, I absolutely refuse to believe that even skeptics don’t feel like this is a moment that has been built up since even the first season.

But after those 24 minutes are over, something goes horribly wrong: everything goes back to normal. Vince has a job, an amazing job with Martin Scorsese even, land in his lap, and all of a sudden their fight is over: that Eric badgered Gus Van Zant enough to get Vince a job was suddenly enough to overcome their differences and reunite them. When Vince showed up in that office, it was a show taking the coward’s way out: at even the sight of a decent character study which could have ramifications for the following season, the show balked.

I am fine with Entourage not taking itself seriously, or fulfilling the male wish to have as much nudity as HBO will allow, but what I can’t stand is the show’s dabbling in more serious (and, for my tastes, more interesting) storylines only to snatch them away. Yes, the show might move into its sixth season and investigate this rift further, but what would have been the harm of letting what was arguably the show’s most intriguing post-Season Two storyline go on for a bit longer?

An improvement over the almost disastrous fourth season which was just unpleasant at the end of the day, the fifth season posed bigger questions and was much more willing to actually offer up some intriguing answers to them. That Doug Ellin and co. would wipe that all away only further proves that the show needs to either solve its bipolarity once and for all or at the very least inform its most ardent fans that people are allowed to have different opinions about the series.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The Office – “Surplus”

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“Surplus”

December 4th, 2008

Last season, an episode like “Surplus” would have felt like a godsend at this stage of the season. After getting bogged down in hour-long episodes with no direction, something so driven by office politics and Michael’s inability to make a decision would feel like a breath of fresh air.

Instead, it felt a little bit too slight. While the charm was there, and it was a nice showcase for Jenna Fischer’s Pam in particular, I think I was missing something to set the episode apart. While the central storyline had its charms, the B-Story felt more like a predictable distraction, and I’d rather have eschewed the plot entire in favour of a more complete reaction to the crisis of Copier vs. Chairs.

But, nonetheless, I consider it a good sign for the show: a show that has a problem with excess needs one of these every now and then, an episode that is almost entirely fat-free and plentiful in, if not stuffed with, comedy.

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Season Finale: Entourage – “Return to Queens Boulevard”

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“Return to Queens Boulevard”

November 24th, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, I despised the fourth season of Entourage. It was, to my mind, a show with the absolute worst sense of direction: nowhere. They finished the movie, an admittedly really intriguing little exercise for the show, and then just sat around while it slowly (and mostly in the background in the hands of the incompetent Billy Walsh) imploded to the point of them getting booed out of Cannes. While one could argue the season had a plot, it certainly never properly developed it into character development.

By comparison, the fifth season started with Vince lounging in a secluded beach in Mexico, struggling with Medellin’s failure and not looking to get back in the game. What we saw over the season was a slow build, allowing us to see Eric’s career begin to expand (to the writers of Vince’s movie and to young comic Charlie) while Vince bounces into a picture that was doomed to failure from the beginning. Where we found them in the finale was on a different kind of holiday: no longer simply an escape from a depressive reality, Queens was the equivalent of giving up and going home to regroup. This was not, in other words, a vacation.

So, why did it end like one? One of the most frustration things about Entourage is how much Vince’s life feels inconsequential, that it seems as if this is one enormous vacation where everything will work out in the end based on wish fulfillment and purely illogical events, and that was never more clear than here. We entered the episode with one crisis, Vince’s lack of a job and his tainted name in Hollywood, and midway through there was even (in a stark comparison with the fourth season) a personal, character driven event. And yet, by the end, we’re wholly crisis free.

And that’s the last place Entourage needs to be.

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The Office – “Frame Toby”

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“Frame Toby”

November 20th, 2008

Michael Scott is not a heartless man – he may hate Toby with every fibre of his being, and he may act as if his return is in fact a 911 emergency, but this does not mean that Michael is a terrible person. Under the circumstances, it makes perfect sense that Toby (Paul Lieberstein) returning would make Michael upset: he didn’t know he was there for a week because he refuses to go into the annex because “that’s where Holly worked,” and his most hated person replacing the person he loved would be highly problematic for anyone, yet alone someone as devoid of stability as Michael.

What works about “Frame Toby” (Michael’s initial reaction to his return, Dwight’s contribution to the eponymous effort, the conclusion of that particular story arc) works fine, but it felt like there was a bigger story here. The last time Michael was this adversarial with a co-worked was in “Goodbye, Stanley,” an episode where Michael finally came to his senses at episode’s end and he and Stanley actually talked out their differences. One of those scenes here could have gone a long way to formalizing Michael’s Holly issues, but the episode never goes there; instead, it spends a bit too much time on Pam’s non-triumphant return to the office, and never quite feels like a cohesive episode or something that adds to the existing mythology of this epic feud.

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House – “Emancipation”

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“Emancipation”

November 18th, 2008

A week after throwing the show’s structure for a loop by reintroducing Chase and Cameron to the central narrative, House is at the kind of place where the show never really was last season. It’s a sort of unstable normalcy, where everything on the surface is the same but underneath there is clearly unrest amongst the team. There’s drama building everywhere, and it’s the kind of drama that will eventually explode in some fashion.

It’s a lot of moving parts, so I wonder how long they can make it last. “Emancipation” largely only works because of Omar Epps giving Foreman a very real sense of tarnished pride, a character who tried making it on his own last season only to find that he’s too much like House for his own good but now finds himself unable to get himself out from his shadow. While the fragmented nature of the episode was problematic in a few ways, the dual cases gave Foreman his biggest showcase of the season to date, more Chase and Cameron than we’ve received on average, some Wilson and House interaction, and even some new ripples appearing in the world of the three newer cast members.

No individual part of the episode really got to stand out beyond Foreman, but it all felt like positive momentum at this stage in the game.

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