“The Moonshine War”
February 9th, 2011
“You never go outside…you know that.”
There are two reasons I decided to forgo a pre-air review of Justified second season, despite having access to the first three episodes in advance. The first reason is that I legitimately did not have time to watch all three episodes, making writing a comprehensive review of the likes of Sepinwall or Ryan somewhat pointless. The other reason is that I sort of feel as though my coverage of the first season established my opinion about the series, addressing the lingering concerns about the procedural structure and embracing the series’ complex conclusion. Considering that my opinion on those efforts is entirely unchanged based on “The Moonshine War,” to repeat it would be redundant.
Instead, I want to focus my limited time on “The Moonshine War” itself, a compelling premiere which is surprisingly subtle given the explosive finale that was “Bulletville.” While the title implies a war, this is very much an introductory survey, a short but stellar glimpse into another corner of Harlan, Kentucky, and the battle brewing within. It’s a strong foundation for the season’s serialized arc, but despite the somewhat manufactured circumstances it never feels like a blatant new beginning.
It feels like a return to Kentucky, and a return to a world which is as rife for drama as it was at the conclusion of last season. And, frankly, I’m pretty darn excited about it.
Review: Archer Season Two
January 27th, 2011
In December, as the semester wound down, I took the opportunity to catch up on a show that I honestly hadn’t given much thought to when it premiered.
As I am now aware, I really had no excuse to avoid FX’s Archer – which returns for its second season tonight at 10/9c – the first time around. Its cast features numerous people who I enjoy (like Chris Parnell, Judy Greer and Jessica Walter), the spy genre seems like something with plenty of comic potential, and people I usually trust on Twitter, and in the world of television criticism in general, approved of the show.
However, I didn’t watch because it plays into two categories which I am less likely to actively seek out. The first seems particularly strange considering that I was raised on The Simpsons, but animation has not been a part of my more critical relationship with television. I stopped watching The Simpsons at around the same time I started watching everything else under the sun, and since I didn’t have access to Adult Swim or the Cartoon Network it wasn’t as though I was in a position to test emerging shows out at random. I just sort of stepped away from the form, not out of a lack of appreciation so much as a lack of habit. The other reason, meanwhile, is that I don’t tend to lean towards the particularly vulgar – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is low on my catchup list because its brash nature just doesn’t fit my general comic sensibilities, and so Archer’s reputation for being particularly “rude” meant that I did not necessarily rush out to see how it was working.
Perhaps it was that I was in the midst of finishing papers and in need of an outlet for expletives and insensitivity, or maybe I’m just being saltier as I get older, but mainlining the first season of Archer along with the first seven episodes of the second season was a whole lot of fun. While the show may be aiming for offensive in quite a few circumstances, it always seems primarily concerned with being smart – in its second season, in particular, the show manages to maintain a sense of excess despite having become a tighter, more well-oiled machine between seasons.
The result is a show that makes me laugh a great deal, and one which always leaves me wanting more (which is both a blessing and a curse, as always).
A Plea for Pawnee: The Return of Parks and Recreation
January 20th, 2011
Parks and Recreation was my favorite show on television last year.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know this. Despite the series’ absence from NBC’s fall schedule, the series has loomed large in both year-end lists and in week-to-week discussion of every other comedy on television. History will remember Outsourced as the show which bumped Parks and Recreation from the 2010 Fall schedule, if it remembers it at all. Even as Community has put together a string of winning episode and Cougar Town has gained a certain cult following, Parks and Recreation was hanging around like the ghost of DJ Roomba, replacing the endless loop of the Black Eyed Peas with instantaneous access to the sterling second season on Netflix.
However, let’s get real for a moment. You might not be a regular reader of this blog, and you might not have any idea what a “DJ Roomba” even is. You might be one of those people who watched some of the series’ inconsistent episodes early in its short first season and decided that it wasn’t worth your time. It’s also possible that you just never found the show, limiting your NBC Thursday viewing to The Office and whatever happens to air after The Office. And, who knows, you might have no idea what any of this means, and just got here by randomly searching “Black Eyes Peas instantaneous access.”
Whatever category you fall into, however, you really need to watch Parks and Recreation. It is returning to television as part of an extended NBC comedy block, allowing for a certain degree of promotional attention, and it is finally nestled comfortably behind The Office where it should have been all along. And, as if that weren’t enough, the first six episodes of the third season are enormously confident, delivering big laughs while seamlessly transitioning into a new ongoing story arc. There has never been a better time to watch this show, and that’s saying something considering that there is never a bad time to watch this show.
September 28th, 2010
I will admit to loving a good ironic title, and I’d argue that “Taking Control” somewhat misrepresents the state of The Good Wife heading into its second season.
I’ve seen a lot of divergent thoughts on the premiere: some seems to think the show is still in fine form, while others felt that it was “off” in some way. I’ll admit to being slightly in the second camp, albeit with a better sense of how, and more importantly why, the show feels this way. While I do think there are a few creative missteps here, I think the general function of the premiere was a good way to enter into the season (if not necessarily conducive to a particularly strong premiere).
“They Don’t Call the The Amazing Race For Nothin’!”
September 26th, 2010
Earlier this month, CBS gave away what I would technically consider a spoiler: they released a video of two contestants completing a Roadblock which was fairly clearly taking place towards the end of the first leg. Being generally spoiler-phobic, I resisted the video for a few hours, but then everyone and their mother were talking about it.
And when I finally watched it, I discovered why.
YouTube – The Watermelon Heard Around the World
I chose this version of the video with the highest number of viewers: while CBS’ own upload has 650,000, the copy posted has over two and a half million views. People have been watching this video for weeks, and it seems to have actually created some legitimate excitement around the season. I don’t think that the video is enough of a spoiler to ruin the episode (my usual spoiler-hating self didn’t really emerge), but I do think that it creates a very different sort of viewing experience than what we’re used to.
As a result, I want to ask (and perhaps answer) some questions about the strategy at play, which ended up helping the series to one of its most memorable premieres in quite some time.
September 23rd, 2010
Earlier this year, I wrote about what I called “procedural pacing,” wherein FX’s Justified gradually became more serialized throughout its first season: by starting with a more procedural format, and then having that format be interrupted and taken over by a serialized story line as the season wore on, the show established and then shattered its status quo. As a result, when the story eventually turned over in its entirety to Raylon Givens’ battle against the Crowder family, it felt “earned”: instead of seeming like an attempt to create false stakes, we had seen every step in this process, allowing the storyline to feel wholly organic and, more importantly, wholly satisfying.
I don’t think I entirely realized this before, but Fringe very much follows the same principle. It could have, at any point in its first two seasons, indulged in its science fiction premise to the degree we see in “Olivia”: we’ve known about the alternate universe since the first season finale, after all, so what was stopping them from introducing Fauxlivia at that point in the story? Fringe has had the potential for a serialized science fiction series since its pilot, and many have often criticized the series for not doing episodes like “Olivia,” a rollicking yet thought-provoking premiere, more often.
And yet, “Olivia” works as well as it does precisely because it is disrupting a status quo the series has established quite well over the past few seasons; much as Justified’s serialized elements had greater meaning due to the nuanced buildup, the slow development of the alternate universe and its role within this larger story has allowed the various dualities and conflicts the series is creating to have meaning which would have been lost had it been introduced at an earlier date.
September 23rd, 2010
As discussed earlier this week, I’ll be covering The Office at The A.V. Club this season, and my thoughts on the season premiere, “Nepotism,” are now up.
The Office – “Nepotism” [The A.V. Club]
…I went into “Nepotism” more curious than expectant: this season is going to be fascinating whether it falls apart or whether it rises to the occasion, and as a critic either option works for me. It would certainly be convenient if the premiere were to answer this question definitively, but the show is clearly not interested in offering a clear path to Carell’s exit. Instead, the episode is like a restaurant sign reassuring customers that they are still open for business during construction: change may be coming, but the series’ commitment to outlandish comedy and charming characters remains.
And, for at least tonight’s premiere, it’s even in pretty solid form.
If you want to find my previous Office reviews here at Cultural Learnings, click here.
“All Mixed Up”
September 22nd, 2010
I am officially to the point where I am done “defending” Cougar Town: I refuse to accept that anyone who has recently watched the series could think it is anything but honest, earnest and hilarious, and so I’m just going to pretend that there are no naysayers out there. While many turn to Modern Family for their television comfort food on Wednesdays, for me Cougar Town manages to hit the same emotional notes while abandoning neither the honesty nor the snark.
There is nothing complex about “All Mixed Up,” largely relying on the strong interpersonal dynamics that developed over the course of last season, but the episode says something about those dynamics in light of recent changes. It successfully makes the argument that while their relationships will sustain them through any number of challenges in life, it will not be able to make it so that those challenges don’t exist. This is a starkly honest show (as I note above), and this allows them to say something tangible and real about their characters without introducing false conflict.
In other words, things aren’t “All Mixed Up” at all.