“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
November 18th, 2009
In terms of the great comedy battle of 2009, which continues to rage amongst shows both new and old, Modern Family is at a distinct disadvantage: with Parks and Recreation delivering some legitimately great comedy and Community doing a really compelling and confident meta-storyline, the simplicity of this show is a disadvantage in terms of being flashy. There comes a point where the hype surrounding the show creates greater expectations than the storylines themselves can live up to in terms of their premise, requiring viewers to appreciate the strong execution where originality isn’t overtly present.
“Great Expectations” is a solid episode of the show, featuring a number of fun loving gags and a couple of big guest stars, but nothing stands out as particularly stunning as compared to some of the other comedies. In this instance, I think there was enough nuance to each individual story to continue to prove how strong the writers understand these characters, but it nonetheless follows similar patterns to what we’ve seen in the past. I think it’s one of their stronger episodes due to a nice role reversal, but it’s not reaching as high as some of the other comedies are right now.
May 14th, 2009
If there is one blemish on 30 Rock’s solid, if not spectacular, third season that really stands out, it’s the criticism that the show has leaned too heavily on high profile guest stars in order to meet its ratings potential. First and foremost, it was “successful” in its goal: the show was renewed months ago, showing that critical attention and slight viewership growth really can save great comedy. However, the consequences of this was a reputation, that I’ve heard used as a sign of the show’s decline throughout the year.
But I’m with Liz Lemon in the end: it has been quite a year, and while I don’t think 30 Rock won the Thursday Comedy face-off at the end of the year I do think that “Kidney Now!” is a fine argument for the show’s ability to go above and beyond what one would normally expect. Combining two television cliches (the benefit concert and the organ transplant) and sprinkling with the most guest stars the show has ever crammed into it, it reads like one big middle finger to those critics who questioned whether the show could weather the network-pressured invastion of movie stars.
It’s not a fantastic finale, and perhaps lacked the cohesiveness of last year’s “Cooter,” but with a rollicking final song (which you can find more info on at NBC.com) and some fun material for Liz Lemon the episode delivered a nice sendoff for the season.
May 8th, 2009
If there is a single common trait amongst Joss Whedon’s best work, it’s passion. There is this impression that Whedon is pouring his heart into every little scene, and it’s almost always clear when Whedon himself is scripting an episode because it feels particularly purposeful and engaging. And, as a result of this, his passionate legion of fans respond in kind, and a fan favourite series is born. Unfortunately, the same series is probably also doomed to criminally low ratings, so to an extent Whedon has been painted with the brush of “Critical Darling, Ratings Failure.”
But to be honest, halfway through Dollhouse’s inaugural season, I didn’t feel Joss Whedon’s passion for this series: the premise wasn’t being used to its potential, the actors weren’t being allowed to dig into their characters, and in a television arena where patience is not a dependable virtue amongst a mainstream audience Whedon waited six episodes before finally delivering something with a pulse. But out of loyalty to a man whose work I admire and who even admitted last month at PaleyFest that he was going through a creative struggle on his end more than network intereference, myself and the legions of Whedonverse fans patiently waited for the show to break free.
And break free it has: starting with “Man on the Street” and extending into “Spy in the House of Love” and last week’s fantastic “Briar Rose,” the series has not so much reinvited itself as it has discovered the proper perspective on its themes and ideas. Even the episodes not quite as effective have helped to introduce key elements in a way that, rather than seeming like a random “This could be cool, I guess” sort of storyline, feel organic in the season’s momentum. Key mysteries were squared away faster than expected, one key reveal was played so well that being spoiled didn’t even matter, and heading into “Omega” there have been a number of critics who have noted that Dollhouse has quite stealthily become the show they most want saved during this year’s upfronts.
What impresses me about “Omega” is that it doesn’t present a cliffhanger, nor does it fundamentally change our knowledge of the Dollhouse universe (although I thought we should have seen it change on its own a bit more); while it confirms just what happened with Alpha, and makes good on a subtle line from Dominic last week that many astute fans picked up on, the episode is more about paying off some of the ethical questions and dilemmas posed over the last season in such a way as to less justify than explain them. While not perfect, slowing a bit in its conclusion and struggling in sections that required comic timing from Eliza Dushku, it was a finale that nicely summed up why this show is most certainly worth saving, while leaving more than enough questions to lay the groundwork for a second season.