Tag Archives: Season One

Time After Time: The Carrie Diaries’ Creative Complications

CarrieDiariesTitleThe Carrie Diaries: Season One (So Far)

March 18, 2013

CarrieDiariesTCAI hadn’t seen the premiere of The Carrie Diaries before I was in attendance for its panel at this Winter’s TCA Press Tour. It was during my final day at tour, which meant that I had sat through dozens of similar panels, and I had seen producers and stars who were disengaged with the proceedings. Admittedly, “doing press” is not always going to be particularly natural, and so I’m not necessarily judging those who didn’t acquit themselves in the best possible fashion. However, it makes people like The Carrie Diaries‘ Amy B. Harris all the more unique: someone who came to the event not just with something to say, but rather with something to contribute.

I have no relationship to Sex and the City beyond a few stray episodes: I was a bit too young when it premiered to be watching premium cable series on a regular basis, and it never rose to the top of a list of shows to catch up on. And so I approached The Carrie Diaries less as an extension of a franchise (although see Courtney Brannon Donoghue’s recent piece for more on that), and more simply as a coming-of-age story in the CW mould. However, Harris’ comments during that panel very much shaped how I approached the series: she seemed to anticipate the kinds of questions she would be asked, and had come prepared with answers that were confident without seeming infallible. It wasn’t the kind of panel that was laugh-out-loud funny, but rather a panel that instilled confidence in the creative vision of a show I hadn’t yet had the chance to watch.

I watched the first three episodes of The Carrie Diaries on the trip back from Los Angeles, and enjoyed them. I’ve watched the six episodes since then, and I’ve mostly enjoyed those as well. However, as I’ve been following along with Carrie Raisler’s great reviews over at The A.V. Club, I’ve also realized that I’ve yet to find that moment where I feel the show has become everything that panel made it out to be. There have been moments, and storylines, which have reaffirmed the confidence I had after leaving that panel; there have also been moments that have shown a show still finding its footing, still aspiring to something it hasn’t yet achieved.

And yet I’m not sure my confidence has waned, necessarily. Some of this has to do with the fact that I was at the TCA panel, and watched the show within that context, and may be more apt to focus on the parts of the show that speak to that potential. However, additionally, I’ve come to understand The Carrie Diaries‘ first season as less a cohesive statement of what the show wants to be, and more an uneven platform to explore the question of its identity before moving forward with a greater sense of itself, something I want to explore briefly as the season heads into its final four episodes of the season (or the series, should it sadly not be renewed).

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A Gloss of Thrones: Game of Thrones – The Complete First Season [Blu-ray Review]

It is now widely accepted that the way we watch television is a variable – if you’re reading this, chances are that I don’t have to regale you with the myriad ways we can now watch the programming we’ve historically viewed live in primetime, and so I can keep my big “DVRs, Streaming, and Bears, Oh My!” song and dance in my pocket for the time being.

However, I would argue that Game of Thrones represents a specifically complicated television text in this regard. Like all shows, there are questions of how it played on a week-to-week basis compared to how it would play as a marathon, questions that partly inspired the tremendous discourse around television narrative spurred on by Ryan McGee’s essay at The A.V. Club. However, in addition, the variables of consumption around the show are equally divided by the nature of its source material, with perhaps the clearest binary between “reader” and “non-reader” in television history. The result, I would argue, is a complex, diverse audience base who watches the show from different perspectives which make it difficult to generalize regarding what attracts them to a DVD or Blu-ray box set.

However, with Game of Thrones‘ Complete First Season (which I reviewed on Blu-ray), I really think HBO has succeeded in creating a set that has more than a little something for everyone, worth the price of admission for both readers and non-readers alike (along with those who are watching for the first time, for whom this set is a tremendous introduction). The production values are exceptional, the features are fairly plentiful, and the set fits comfortably into the quality aesthetics that both the show itself and the earlier paratexts achieved last year.

And yet, while I can easily recommend this set based on its own merits, there’s still some part of me who was left wanting, if not something more, than perhaps something different.

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“Those Stories Plus…” – Sports Night Season One

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Those Stories Plus…

Sports Night Season One

It’s no secret around these parts that Alan Sepinwall’s criticism is a fairly big influence on both what I do and how I do it, but what I find is his most influential contribution to the television watching community is his summer coverage of various shows. Last summer, I started watching The Wire when I did because of his detailed writeups of first season episodes; yes, I knew the show existed and had even purchased some DVD sets ahead of time, but Alan’s work was the motivating factor that made me commit to the series wholeheartedly. Alan’s devotion and commitment to these shows motivates people to watch TV, to buy TV on DVD, and more importantly to discuss that television within a community of like-minded surveyers of moving image.

It also means that this summer, as Alan turns his attention to three different projects (The Wire Season 2, Band of Brothers and Sports Night), many wallets are somewhat lighter, including my own: while I have already seen The Wire’s second season, his other two projects served as the right motivation to keep catching up on shows or miniseries that I missed in the days before my television addiction. It is as a result that I now own a copy of Band of Brothers and the complete series of Sport Night; I’d blame Alan for my dwindling bank account, but then I’d have to lie and say that they weren’t worth every penny.

Sports Night, which aired on ABC from 1998-2000, is something that I’ve always known about, but to be honest I really didn’t know much about its origin, or its format, or really anything to really recommend the series beyond its pedigree. Serving as the training ground for The West Wing for writer Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme, the show covers the behind the scenes goings-on at a cable news show (ala SportsCenter), and relies heavily on the dynamic of its cast, led by the show’s two anchors (Josh Charles and Peter Krause) and the show’s executive producer (Felicity Huffman).

I’m not going to go episode by episode, or really even offer any sort of constructive thoughts about the show’s storylines – it’s a damn good show, one that I suggest everyone watch, but there’s more important things to discuss. For now (I’m only done the first season), I want to talk about what works, what doesn’t, and how I’m absolutely fascinated that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fell apart like it did when Sorkin had these lessons to fall back on.

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Series Premiere: Royal Pains – “Royal Pains”

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“Royal Pains”

June 4th, 2009

You know, pilots are kind of a pain.

They’re a necessary evil: they exist in order to give us an understanding of how a show is going to work, which is an important thing to sell a network and potential viewers on before they commit to ordering, or watching, more episodes. But the result is often that a lot of character and plot development that should be given time to unfold naturally is checked off at a blistering pace. It’s possible to make a great pilot, but those people are both few and far between and definitely not working behind the scenes at USA Network’s Royal Pains.

As a critic, it’s hard to really confront a pilot as obnoxiously contrived as this one, because you run into a problem: considering that it’s our role to judge a show based on its potential, and considering that the contrivances are more pilot shorthand than inherent to the show’s formula, you can’t spend too much time complaining about something that is par for the course. And while Burn Notice has given us some fairly high expectations about what a USA Network “procedural” is capable of being, this show does not appear to have similar aspirations, and it’s not really fair to judge it as if it does.

So taking into account its contrivances, and its ham-fisted parallels, and its tendency to rush its way through storylines that should probably be given a bit more time, Royal Pains managed to do enough to convince me that as a piece of escapist summer entertainment the show might not be such a pain after all.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin” (The End of Season One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin”

Season One, Episode Twelve

[A note before we move on: friend of the blog Todd VanDerWerff is going through the show from a different perspective than I am, having already seen it, and is recapping the show for The A.V. Club. You can check out his thoughts on the first three episodes there – I am sure they are far more entertaining than my own.]

Just as I expected, there was a moment in Season One of Deadwood where my ability to successfully stop after each episode to blog about it, or to find enough time after watching a disc to sufficiently try to summarize where things were going to that point, pretty much disappeared. This isn’t a sign that I have become disinterested in the show, or even necessarily that I was so engrossed that I couldn’t take the time to stop. Rather, it was a combination from some “real world” commitments and the fact that this show may have some of the most unique pacing I’ve seen in a drama of this nature.

Admittedly, I’m used to watching The Wire in terms of my epic ensemble HBO shows go, and as such I got used to a single plotline denoting a season, and that plotline representing the plot that you could sort of follow your way through. In the process, you learn things about each character, the process serving as the main impetus while the characters react as seems necessary, often times to tragic or at the very least suspenseful results.

But what I’m learning watching “Sold Under Sin” is that Deadwood operates differently: yes, each season represents more one large storyline than any small selection of storylines contributing to a whole, but what sets Deadwood apart is that there isn’t really a plot to speak of. While the show’s finale shows the outside world infiltrating this lawless camp more than it has before, the show has been clear from the beginning that this was an inevitability, rather than anything we would find surprising or that would bring forth surprising behaviour from these characters.

On some level, this would be a complaint about another show: I can’t think of a single characters whose path has fundamentally surprised me, or gone in a different direction than I expected, and the show has relied almost entirely on nuance and performance in terms of its characters fulfilling predetermined destiny more than charting their own path. The show’s plot, meanwhile, has moved so slowly that a majority of its more explosive conflicts are left entirely absent from the finale, left smoldering while smaller and more recent conflicts prove the most dramatic in the episode. If we were to judge this finale based on these qualifiers, expecting dramatic shifts in character or plot resolution, “Sold Under Sin” is an abject failure.

But, just to be clear, this isn’t a show that should be judged on those qualities: those acting nuances are just plain compelling, the performances coming alive in this episode as in every episode right in line with Milch’s particular brand of dialogue, and the smoldering embers of conflict in the town are so full of potential that it was all I could do, even finishing the finale as the sun rose, to keep from popping in the first disc of Season Two.

And isn’t that the right way to judge a show, especially one which has clearly not yet begun (and considering its cancellation might not end) its journey?

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Chuck Me Mondays: Season One, Episode One – “Chuck vs. The Intersect”

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Chuck Me Mondays:

“Chuck vs. The Intersect”

[As any fan of Chuck knows, the good folks at Chucktv.net have organized a scenario whereby everyone, all at the same time (Mondays at 9pm, it seems), watches the entirety of Chuck’s first two seasons between now and the show’s return later this year. It’s a great way to keep the hype alive (Twitter hash tag #ChuckMeMondays shows it all!), introduce new people to the show, and just revisit a really fun series. For me, I’ve blogged about many of the episodes already: in those instances, I’m going to link to my original review and then offer some retrospective thoughts based on having seen the first two seasons. In instances where I haven’t reviewed the episode (like next week’s “Chuck vs. the Helicopter”) I’ll try to offer a bit more of a substantial review. Anyways, onto our first edition!]

Chuck’s pilot was something that really excited me upon first viewing: having been able to see the episode ahead of its premiere, I was quick to offer my thoughts to my (much smaller than the present) readership in terms of how much I was looking forward to the series.

Pilot Preview: NBC’s Chuck [August 2007]

The O.C. remained a credible formula for Josh Schwartz because he balanced the oversexed teenage promiscuousness with witty and sarcastic banter, and those two parts stayed relatively intact following its demise. And so, like the sensible and smart man he is, Schwartz took the oversexed teenage promiscuousness and channeled it into “Gossip Girl” for The CW, and took the witty and sarcastic banner and found a home for it on NBC.

The resulting show is Chuck (Premiering on Monday, September 24th at 8pm on NBC), an action-thriller comedy series that places Schwartz’s sharp dialogue into a setting more acceptable for the Seth-like viewers the show is trying to reel in. The result is a series that is sharp, funny, and certainly one of the most potential-filled pilots of the 2007 Fall Season.

I think I leaned a bit too heavily on The O.C. comparisons, as the show certainly evolved beyond its geek appeal, but the point stands that the pilot emphasizes the way the show uses its witty banter for good and not evil, and never falls so far down one of its many outlets (comedy, drama, romance, etc.) to create an unbalanced pilot.

But having reread that piece, and rewatched the episode in question, I do have some additional thoughts on the pilot that I wouldn’t have been able to have with no idea of what was in store. Now, there will be some light spoilers here, but I’ll try to keep most of them in a “Plot” section at the very end of the main portion of the post.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Reconnoitering the Rim” and “Here was a Man” (Season One, Episodes Three & Four)

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“Reconnoitering the Rim” and “Here was a Man”

Season One, Episodes Three & Four

I didn’t really intend for this feature to be quite this dominant on the blog when I started it: I know that some readers don’t watch Deadwood, or have already seen Deadwood and don’t really care if I’m watching it, but with very little new television combined with a little bit of downtime ahead of some intense thesis editing, I’m burning through Deadwood at a fairly brisk pace (I swear that when I wrote this it wasn’t intended as a pun). I had expected this to happen, to be honest, but I also expected that like last summer (when I tore through The Wire similarly quickly, if not more quickly) I would be so obsessed with moving on that I wouldn’t take the time to sit down and write something about it.

However, perhaps because part of me regrets not writing more about The Wire, or perhaps because Deadwood is its own monster in terms of its plotting and is proving increasingly captivating, here I am: I’m likely to do two episodes at a time from here on out, and still maintain the ability to cut off a few episodes if I feel like I don’t have anything new to add, but considering the show’s pacing as well as the lack of a moment of “lost time” it definitely feels like a show that is always going to be showing you something important, whether it seems like it at first or not.

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