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Mid Season Finale: Huge – “Parents Weekend – Part Two”

“Parents Weekend – Part Two”

August 30th, 2010

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Huge has been my show of the summer: the show embodies the potential for programming aimed at teenagers which doesn’t speak down to its audience, mining the complexities of adolescence instead of exaggerating its most dramatic moments. Staying true to its observational camera angles (reminiscent of Friday Night Lights, soon to be part of the ABC Family…family), the show has allowed characters to develop independent of earth-shattering revelations, just as interested in silence as in outbursts or monologues.

I’ve seen some criticism of the show for being too close to various cliches, a criticism which I don’t think is entirely unfair: there is no question that Huge has hewed fairly close to the traditional expectations of summer camp fiction, and there have been moments (see: “Spirit Quest”) which lost the series’ focus on investigating the life-changing moments, both big and small, which have nothing (and everything) to do with the central mission of Camp Victory. However, when the show was at its best, this focus transcended the tropes it has played with, and the show is certainly flirting with my Top 10 for the year thus far.

The second part of “Parents Weekend,” scripted by series co-creator Savannah Dooley, does nothing to change my love for the show, as the episode perfectly sums up the ways in which the nuances and subtleties of these stories defies the predictability of its log lines; it’s a strong end to a damn strong half a season, and all we can hope now is that ABC Family is as interested to see the other half as we are.

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Huge – “Talent Night”

“Talent Night”

July 19th, 2010

Summer camp is a very small world, and a television show set at a summer camp is even smaller. If someone tells a lie, chances are that lie will come to haunt them, and if someone is keeping a secret there’s a good chance that it will bubble under the surface until emerging. Huge is a show about vulnerability, about how these campers struggle to open themselves up to the potential for change while not opening themselves up to the point where they feel like their lives are on display, and secrets and lies are one of the ways in which they shield themselves from ridicule, reprimand, or simple exposure.

“Talent Night” doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to how talent shows force their participants to face their fears, but Winnie Holzman very successfully owns this particular trope, delivering two empowering moments which are in some ways polar opposites but share one important trait: neither moment is played as universal experience. For every moment of collective reflection there is one subsection of the camp which has a different interpretation, or who is busy dealing with a different crisis at the time, and “Talent Night” does a very good job of bringing those stories together without forcing them to the same conclusions.

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Breaking Bad – “Half Measures”

“Half Measures”

June 6th, 2010

“You are not a murderer – you’re not, and I’m not. It’s as simple as that.”

If I had been drinking something when Walt said the above line, I’m pretty sure I would have done a spit take.

This reaction comes for two different reasons. The first is the idea that Walt is not a murderer, which seems patently false when you consider the numerous people he’s killed (whether it’s not saving Jane or the two men who he killed as a result of the meth lab explosion in the pilot). However, that’s part of Walt’s character, his ability to convince himself that it doesn’t make you a murderer if you kill them for the right reasons, just as it doesn’t make you a criminal if you’re doing it for your family. And so I can understand that this is part of Walt’s self-delusion, and so my spit take is perhaps unwarranted.

However, even if we accept that Walt believes that his past actions do not define him as a murderer, his argument that it is “as simple as that” is laughable to the point of a solid guffaw. Breaking Bad is many things, but simple is not one of them, and while Walt has his delusions he should know by now that things are never quite that simple. It’s one thing to try to justify your behaviour through rationalization, and it is quite another to try to convince yourself that your world of meth cooking, money laundering, revenge seeking and turf wars is in any way simple, or that anyone is capable of maintaining a simple life when you’re caught up in that world.

And yet, in some ways I think “Half Measures” proved my guffaws to be misguided: while Walt’s first claim may remain laughable, his latter claim may not be so farfetched, his desire for simplicity ultimately futile and yet the only way he can think to respond to the complexity of his current situation. The result is a blunt, even simple, action with enormously complex consequences for Walt, Jesse, and the series’ narrative, the exact kind of bold move which has elevated the show to the upper echelon of television drama.

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Cougar Town – “Everything Man”

“Everything Man”

March 31st, 2010

I feel as if “Everything Man” was written as some sort of ridiculous joke, fitting for the night before April Fool’s Day. My point is not that the episode wasn’t funny, but it seemed like the writer drew three things out of a hat and had to turn them into an episode, or perhaps it was the result if an improv session; they asked for a location and got bathroom, they requested an object and got talking toilet, and they asked for an occupation and got photographer.

I thought the episode had the signs of something that never quite fit together, trying to force too much action into that enormously large bathroom  and never quite bringing together the separate storylines, but the show was having so much fun with its individual parts that I can’t really hold it against them. While some shows try to pretend that they’re more cohesive than they really are, Cougar Town knows when it’s forcing things, and that self-awareness goes a long way to keeping an episode like “Everything Man” moving; the impressive thing, really, is that it ends up a fairly nuanced investigation of the show’s romantic tension by the end of the half hour.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Of Course”

“Of Course”

March 8th, 2010

When How I Met Your Mother threw in the towel on Robin and Barney’s relationship earlier this season, I was angry.

The reasons I was so frustrated were, just to be clear, not simple. I was not just a “shipper” of the couple or someone who thought they should stay together forever, someone who responds negatively because the show doesn’t go in the direction I want it to. Rather, I was also annoyed that it felt like the show was abandoning a story which had untapped potential in order to return to its status quo, shallow Barney stories where he turns into a complete womanizer. I prefer Barney when he shows some sense of humanity, some shred of awareness of his own actions, and his relationship with Robin felt like it had the potential to bring that out more often.

For their relationship to end – according to interviews with the creators at the time – just so that the show could return to a more one-dimensional version of Barney’s character felt like it ignored the show’s emotional complexities, and it has in some ways tarnished the entire season for me. While Barney’s womanizing is still funny, it has seemed spiteful and at times even hurtful as the season has continued without giving the breakup time to settle in. Instead of laughing at Barney’s antics, I found myself focusing on Robin, and how she must be feeling to know that Barney is moving on so quickly. In some ways, it bothered me that the show was moving on so quickly, that it was so willing to turn its back on comic and dramatic potential for the sake of returning to something familiar that, let’s be honest, won’t remain fresh forever even with Neil Patrick Harris at his Emmy-nominated, should be Emmy-winning, best.

“Of Course” is effectively the show’s apology, where they admit that there were unseen consequences to Barney’s quick return to his normal self, and where they admit that there was unresolved tensions surrounding their breakup. So, as one of the most vocal critics of the way in which the pair were broken up and certainly the critic most unable to look past it as the season wore on, the question becomes whether this retconning was enough to convince me that the show made the right decision.

The answer to that question is “No,” even though “Of Course” is a damn fine episode of television.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Girls vs. Suits”

“Girls vs. Suits”

January 11th, 2010

I picked up the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother on DVD over the holidays, and I watched a few episodes over the course of the break. I came to realize that there are a number of highlights in the season, but that many of them hinge on a story element that has since that point been entirely wasted. Episodes kept pointing towards Barney coming to terms with his playboy identity in order to confront his feelings with Robin, and those episodes are painful for me: they’re a sign of the storyline that the show cut loose before I felt it should have been cut loose, and before it had been given time to develop into something that could have become a meaningful part of this universe.

If we view “Girls vs. Suits,” scripted by co-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas as the show’s 100th episode, as a celebration of what they consider the show’s two most enduring elements, we find that the mythology surrounding the Mother and the audacity surrounding Barney Stinson are the show’s constants. But considering my frustration over Barney’s regression from his relationship with Robin, and considering how the story surrounding the Mother has been dragged out to the point where it has ceased being about Ted and become more about the show itself, this isn’t what my ideal 100th episode of the show would look like.

And yet, I found “Girls vs. Suits” managed to crack my cynical exterior with one of its storylines, although the other (although eventful and charming at points) simultaneously confirmed that it may have to be in desperate need of some reinvention to ensure it can “make it work” in the future.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Vengeance Formulation”

“The Vengeance Formulation”

November 23rd, 2009

Last week, the show chose to split its story between something that works (Sheldon and Penny) and something that doesn’t (Leonard, Wolowitz and Raj on their own), resulting in an episode that was a mixed bag (although perhaps a bit better than I gave it credit for, as my distaste for the latter perhaps overshadowed the strength of the former).

This week, however, the show returns to more of an ensemble structure, and while nothing reaches the heights of adhesive ducks it’s a solid episode as a whole because it manages a reasonably emotional Wolowitz storyline with a cheap but not ineffective Sheldon storyline. There was every chance for these two elements to go off the rails (based on both the show’s tradition of misusing Wolowitz and the presence of Kripke), so the fact that they stayed moderately in orbit makes this a victory, if not exactly an overwhelming success.

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