Tag Archives: Season One

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Sons of Anarchy – “The Pull”

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“The Pull”

Season One, Episode Eight

Airdate: October 22nd, 2008

Of the fall shows that emerged from the 2008 season, FX’s Sons of Anarchy is the one you know the least about, and the one that you should have been watching (I too was behind on the show, and caught up during December). Labeled as the spiritual successor to The Shield, the show introduces us to a world we don’t understand and a code they claim is anarchy and yet is maintained through a strict set of rules and guidelines.

When the show truly took off is, not coincidentally, the point at which it threw the rules out the window and embraced a side of itself which was entirely unburdened. “The Pull” may not be the single best episode of the show’s first season, that title perhaps belonging to the season finale which Alan Sepinwall pegged as one of the best episodes of the year, but it was the one that made me a believer.
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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Fringe – “The Equation”

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“The Equation”

Season One, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 18th, 2008

In some ways, I think that Lost is not going to do J.J. Abrams any favours.

Sure, having his name attached to the show got him a great deal of critical acclaim, and his new status as a household name has allowed him to reap considerable career advancement considering this summer’s upcoming release of his Star Trek reboot. But Lost has long ceased being Abrams’ show, and his calling card has never quite been the highly mythological science fiction that that show has become.

I’ve written a lot about Fringe, primarily because there was a lot of misconceptions going in and a lot of misconceptions as it aired. This show isn’t Lost, having more in common with Abrams’ work on Alias than anything on his more recent series. The show has been dangerously procedural, largely devoid of a deep bench of interesting characters, and oftentimes feeling as if its mythology is more contrivance than intrigue. So for those who were expecting a highly serialized, character driven, mythologically interesting drama series ala Lost…well, you’re somewhat out of luck.

But for those who had their expectations in line, I believe that Fringe has delivered a very solid start to the season: towards the end of the ten episodes which aired this Fall, the show picked up both its episodic and long-term content to an honestly quite thrilling conclusion. The pieces began to fit together, and what once felt like part of a broad and shadowy conspiracy now felt like a real honest to goodness plan.

And for me, that starts with “The Equation,” a taut thriller of an episode that was extremely atmospheric: a series of disappearances, all very sudden and all with victims who were some type of genius in their chosen field, are linked together to an equation, the solution to which remains unknown. Placing a young musical genius at the heart of the story, we discover two things.

First, we discover that Michael Giacchino, who had been phoning it in for the preceding episodes in the series, is still capable of writing haunting and moving music, as the central composition of the equation is the perfect melody for the episode.

Second, we realize that what Abrams has achieved with Fringe is his attempt at taking what he learned from Alias, in particular the attempt to add procedural elements to the show to appeal to new viewers, and put it to good use. Knowing now that vagueness is not something which can stand on its own as dramatic development, the season uses it instead to allow us to discover the truth as our characters do.

Yes, the show’s characters need work, and yes they need to diversify their solutions more, but I don’t think the time capsule needs to hear about all of that junk: “The Equation” is serialized procedural at its finest, and reminds us of how much potential this show really has as it heads into the rest of its first season.

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

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Season Finale: Skins – “Everyone”

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“Everyone”

Season Two Finale

This summer, I stopped in to review the first two episodes of Skins, a British series which aired this Fall on BBC America. And then, promptly, I completely abandoned the series – it was not out of lack of interest, but there was something about the show that didn’t particularly make it “appointment viewing.” If I had to put a finger on what it was, it was that the show’s artistic side (unique to the genre) only occasionally felt like it was elevating this material to something beyond the teen cliche. The weird interrelationship between a really interesting visual and cinematic aesthetic and somewhat less interesting long-run storylines kept me from writing about Skins week by week, but when I did eventually finish the first season I had to appreciate it; while the overall arcs never really caught fire, individual episodes (organized to focus on a specific character) were quite strong, and going into its second season the show had a lot of questions to answer.

BBC America finishes airing the show’s first two seasons tonight, and I have to admit that the second season was perhaps better than the first. I have some issues with some of the individual characters not quite getting enough attention (Anwar, although Dev Patel may have been busy preparing for a certain likely Oscar nominated film I reviewed yesterday), getting the wrong kind of attention (Michelle, who just never clicked in either season really), or feeling like the attention they’re given doesn’t really offer us a proper sendoff (Cassie and Syd, in particular). Considering that the show is switching out its characters in favour of an Effy-led ensemble for the third season, the second season finale has a lot to handle, at least related to fixing these types of problems.

But what buoys the season is that it also does a lot of things right. In Chris and Maxxie it finds its characters most concerned for the future, both of whom don’t find it in the traditional school system due to either dreaming bigger (the West End for Maxxie) or getting expelled (Chris’ excursion into the world of real estate). Similarly, the show chooses Jal as the emotional center, the character who has always been perhaps the most logical and as a result both legitimizes Chris and eventually offers the finale’s most pivotal grounding force. And although getting hit by a bus seems a horrible fate for Tony, it in fact creates a far less obnoxious and more human Tony once he comes to terms with his memory loss and develops into someone far more comfortable in this world.

The result is a season, and a finale, that feels like the show was better organized to take advantage of its artistic side, embracing its almost dream-like state more often and with greater success. This isn’t to say that the finale is perfect, or that I think we’re ready to say goodbye to these characters, but I think it does indicate that the show and its formula has plenty of life and could work well transitioning into new characters.

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Fringe – “Safe”

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“Safe”

December 2nd, 2008

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago wherein I talked about the gradual serialization that was causing some viewers of one of the season’s successful demo hits; Fringe may be from J.J. Abrams, but it was taking a lot longer to feel like it was capable of rising to the scale of the shows we most often associate with Abrams (Alias, Lost). I argued at the time that this was part of the appeal, that it was designed (as will be Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse) to appeal to two different sectors of viewers.

Well, I’d tend to argue that between last week’s solid “The Dreamscape” and the quite eventful and entertaining “The Safe,” Fringe has officially entered into the next phase of its serialization. Picking up, really, where “The Equation” left off, this episode felt like vintage Alias. It put together pieces that we didn’t know were pieces, brought various recurring characters into one central location, and revealed that our charisma-less heroine is more central to the series’ biggest questions than we realized.

What we got, finally, is an episode that felt meaningful: where the science was being used not to terrorize but to disrupt, and where both our characters and the conspiracy took on new roles that will lead to a better series once the show returns in January.

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The Return of Jericho: Reruns, The CW, and the Audacity of Hope

jerichoad.jpgTonight, Jericho returns.

A year and a half ago, this was a revelation. Today, it feels quite different, an odd and unexpected consolation prize for fans who worked so hard to get the show back on the air. Tens of thousands of pounds of peanuts were enough the get the show a second season, but not enough to convince CBS that it should run consistent reruns of the series in every available setting. In other words, the renewal came with a caveat: the fans, who provided such a great grassroots campaign, were responsible for pulling their weight to grow the show’s audience.

But now, in an ironic turn of events, Jericho returns in an unexpected capacity as the lead-off for The CW’s new Sunday nights. After the Media Right Capital deal, which saw the production company program its own lineup to enormously middling results, fell through, The CW had a lot of options of what to program in the slot. Repeats of their struggling comedies could help their audience, the MGM movies are cheap and always decent counter-programming, but then came the kicker: Jericho reruns, starting from episode one of the first season, at 7/6c every Sunday into the foreseeable future.

For fans, this is a sign of hope: a sign that there is an off-chance of the fanbase growing, of the show pulling a Family Guy and making its way back onto the schedule. And while I remain skeptical that this is in the cards, and feel that The CW (And Viacom) have more subtle motives with this particular move, one cannot remain pessimistic in the presence of the fans who changed network television’s definition of cancelled with a whack of peanuts and sheer determination.

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Fringe – “The Equation”

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“The Equation”

November 18th, 2008

In a burst of inspiration over the weekend, I wrote a piece about the sort of transitional state of Fringe, a procedural series that people expect to offer heavily serialized content; it appears to have various states of being, and the confusion between them has kept me (to this point) from really becoming a fan of the show. Yes, there have been high points (“The Observer” has got to be on everyone’s list), but the uneven nature of the show’s opening episodes have made falling in love with Fringe a problematic scenario.

No longer, however – “The Equation” was maybe the show’s best episode yet, one which felt less contrived (if not entirely organic) and infinitely more personal than most of what we’ve seen so far. Much as “The Observer” delved deeper into Walter and Peter’s personal lives in search of an answer to a question about the Pattern and how it operates, “The Equation” takes Walter back to his time at St. Claire’s Hospital and it send us on a creepy and atmospheric journey into a quest to solve the end of an unsolvable equation.

Yes, the show still feels a bit like a low stakes Alias at points, but this episode combined some of the most interesting qualities of Alias’ mythology while focusing on the dramatic pathos of the right character at the right time. I’m not quite ready to see it as a trend, perhaps, but I was enraptured and hooked on tonight’s episode and, well, might just now call myself a fan.

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Fringe – “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”

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“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”

November 11th, 2008

I don’t think that anyone could actually be addicted to Fringe at this point, to be honest: while Abrams’ last show, Lost, became this massive sensation, there is nothing sensational about Fringe, as evidenced by this week’s episode, the first new one in three weeks. This is not to say that this episode is bad – on the contrary, it was actually one of the more memorable episodes for a few characters – but rather that it feels as if it is operating at a near glacial pace.

The episode is one of the most expansive: when Fringe science pops up on the FBI’s doorstep, solving this individual mystery unlocks the secret to something much bigger, opening up this world to new scientific terror cells organized as “ZFT.” Really, this is nothing new for a procedural: you take what you’ve been doing all along, solving crazy scientific mysteries like this week’s pirahna plant organism eating away the FBI agent’s insides, and suddenly make solving them about more than an individual life and more about driving our heroes to search out new questions, new answers.

But the show has, honestly, been extremely slow with answers: we might only be 7 episodes in, but things like character dynamics and organizational terror-like cells are the types of things that might have been useful earlier. There were questions early about whether or not the show could last very long, but they insisted they had a plan: is there plan, however, just to move really slowly in opening up this world? This wasn’t a bad episode in execution or in design, but there was a point where Broyles was ranting about Olivia being stubborn in wanting to control what can’t be controlled, contained what can’t be contained that stuck with me. It felt like Abrams was telling me not to ask questions, not to want more out of this show.

And while I’m willing to be patient, I do think that the eponymous Mr. Jones has some potential, and forgive me for hoping that we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

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Privileged – “All About Defining Yourself”

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“All About Defining Yourself”

November 4th, 2008

I always hate to be too literal with titles that have some meaning within my review, but checking back in with The CW’s Privileged on this particular episode title is quite fortunate. This is a show that, from its pilot, defined itself very carefully, establishing some fairly standard forms of drama that would play out in the episodes that followed. You had your plucky heroine who’s in over her head with a strict boss, two out of control teenagers, a best friend who is in love with her, a sexy neighbour who flirts with her, a sister she hates, a drunk father she resents, and a runaway mother who she has written out of her life. Let the melodramatic hijinx commence!

In the hands of Rita Mimoun, I think that those of us who have been watching Privileged have seen many of these things play out in ways that are more charming than cliched, a fact that has elevated the series in our eyes. It’s considered to be, at this point, the one freshman show that critics and discerning viewers are really getting behind (Pushing Daisies being the sophomore series getting the same treatment), and that is very much about its strongly defined sense of identity that has been formed over its opening episodes.

But, as of late it feels as if the show is burning through its storylines a bit too quickly: we’ve met Megan’s troublesome sister, introduced her reformed father, had her clash with the two teenagers, and pitted her neuroses against her boss on numerous occasions (plus, Sharon Lawrence has recently been cast in an extended guest arc as, you guessed it, Megan’s mother). With a lot of the show’s built-in drama being expended so quickly, one feels like the show is going to fall into a trap of either repetition or, similar to shows like Gilmore Girls and The O.C., having to keep introducing new characters and stimuli while repeating the same patterns.

So, I entered “All About Defining Yourself” with this concerned pointof view, and I left it with two general sentiments: that I still don’t know if the show has enough of a foundation to head down that path, and that I think we owe it some more time to get there.

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Fringe – “The Ghost Network”

“The Ghost Network”

September 23rd, 2008

After last week’s review of Fringe was viewed as quite harsh, I want to clarify one thing: I don’t dislike Fringe. I think that the series is struggling to find its own identity, dealing with a struggle to both represent a procedural drama regarding paranormal activity outside of the norm and some type of mythologically-driven science fiction epic on the scale of Lost.

The biggest problem with the series is that the second half of that is impossible (it will never be that type of show), whereas the first part is what the entire series hinges on. The show can pile up on Massive Dynamic or The Pattern all it darn well pleases, but if its characters and its storylines don’t operate weekly in a way that feels like something different from every other crime procedural on television. Last week’s episode felt like Criminal Minds with crazy science, which isn’t something I want to watch every week.

But this week represents a marked improvement: sure, there was still some rather silly exposition, and it was often handled by too smart by half Peter (Joshua Jackson), and the mystery so cleanly bringing things back to Walter’s research is going to get old quickly, but this is a sharper hour: the “Ghost Network” has broad implications for the Pattern, the show is starting to ask the right questions about Massive Dynamic, and Peter’s slow build into something resembling a character half as interesting as his father is something that the show will need to accomplish to remain strong.

And yet, the real reason that “The Ghost Network” is perhaps Fringe’s best episode yet is simple: it is an episode that feels fun, that is willing to balance out melodrama with levity, and that feels like a show I could actually enjoy without having to accept a thesis that presumes that nobody ever smiles except for the crazy scientist who doesn’t know any better.

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Privileged – “All About Honesty”

“All About Honesty”

September 16th, 2008

Since it’s the theme of the episode, I guess I should open with a little bit of honesty: I really quite like this show.

There’s nothing special about Privileged’s various parts: JoAnna Garcia is strong but not perfect in the lead role, the two daughters are total (well-played) stereotypes and the conflict between them and Megan quite simplistic, the love triangle between Megan and her two suitors is about as much of a cliche as you could imagine, and the family drama is like every other family drama you could imagine.

But the sum of these parts is what makes the show stand out: none of the elements feel like traditional exploitative soap opera storylines, but rather actual investigations into family, sisterhood, friendship, and the idea of attempting to confront all of them while deciding what to do with your future. It has a lead character who isn’t just a slightly less narcissistic member of the elite, but an outsider with a unique connection to this universe. This episode’s issues of trust and honesty don’t just feel like a frame narrative out of any sort of playbook, but actual important topics for someone in her position.

And this type of connection means that Privileged is doing something its lead-in (90210) isn’t: it’s trying to be something new. And, you know, good.

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