December 14, 2009 · 8:00 am
“Coming of Age”
December 14th, 2009
[This is Part Two in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]
I don’t intend to go into too much biographical detail in these pieces, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that I made the transition from teenager to adult in the past decade (which, yes, makes me fairly young as far as television critics go). As a result, shows that appealed to this period of my life (like, for example, the aforementioned Gilmore Girls transitioning from high school to university around when I was doing the same) often connected with me over shows that, well, didn’t.
However, when I sat down to craft these pieces and lumped these three shows together, the idea that they are important because they chronicle the lives of high school and college students (the two most dominant identifiers in my life over the past decade) proves to be an overly simplistic one. In fact, the more complex (and more meaningful) connective thread between them is the emotional center that parents (or the lack of parents) provide to each series. And while Freud would likely argue this is some unearthed family anxiety (which, since my parents will probably at least read the opening spiel of a few of these pieces, is fundamentally untrue), I think it’s more proof that shows about the most fitful and tempestuous times in our lives require something stable, something almost unfailing, to ground them in an emotional reality.
And that those of us who watch them want to see, simultaneously, a reflection of ourselves, a mirror universe in which we are quite the opposite, and some element of truth which cuts through those expectations to either break our hearts or convince us that there really is hope for the geeks, hope for the private dicks, and hope for the underdogs.
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December 10, 2008 · 5:49 am
“Oh Brother, Where Bart Thou?”
December 8th, 2008
I watched some solid television on Monday: I caught up with Dexter (a solid penultimate episode, but I’ll have some thoughts on the season as a whole after the finale), enjoyed the night’s episode of Chuck (an entertaining if highly improbable outing), and caught up with a bit more of FX’s Sons of Anarchy (I’d suggest checking it out). But, admittedly, I haven’t been limiting my television to more serialized outings: I also took some time to get through the last two discs of The O.C.: Season Two. And, ultimately, this means that despite all of that high caliber television I’ve watched over the past few days, it’s Gossip Girl that sent me to my laptop at 5am.
For those who don’t remember the final episodes from the second season of Josh Schwartz’s other show about elite, rich white people, they featured the tragic (if somewhat bittersweet) death of the show’s patriarch. What followed was an emotional rollercoaster of sorts, the various individuals most affected by his death spiraling into something approximating either utter despair (Kirsten’s alcoholism) or an odd sense of freedom (Julie reconnecting with a returned Jimmy). And while I found both of these developments to be either overplayed and out of character (See: alcoholism), or idealistically portrayed to contrast the season ending gunfire (See: Julie/Jimmy), I nonetheless felt that the death of Caleb Nickel was a death that resonated.
And while some could argue that it is unfair of me to draw this comparison, I would argue quite the opposite: this episode of Gossip Girl followed this pattern to such a degree that anyone with a strong recollection of that series of events can’t help but make the same observations. The problem with the death of Bart Bass, confirmed seconds into the episode if not by last week’s cliffhanger, is twofold: that there are only two people on this show who we really care enough about to sit through their reactions, and Bart Bass was so insignificant and poorly developed that we don’t care about his death enough to make this all matter.
So while Stephanie Savage did what she could to make this seem like a pivotal moment in the show’s trajectory, it was like shining a bright light on the show’s inability to demonstrate anything beyond poor attempts to shock the audience.
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Filed under Gossip Girl
Tagged as Bart Bass, Blair, Chuck, Cyrus, Dan, Entertainment, Episode 13, Funeral, Josh Schwartz, Oh Brother Where Bart Thou?, Season 2, Serena, Stephanie Savage, Television, The CW, The O.C.
October 6, 2008 · 10:01 pm
“Chuck Versus The Seduction”
October 6th, 2008
As mentioned last week for the show’s second season premiere, Chuck is just “on” right now. If there is anything that gave the show some problems in the first season, it was managing to handle all of the different elements of the series: the numerous settings (Buy More, Home, Missions), the various supporting characters, and worse of all the weekly storylines and the recurring plots, both romantic and unromantic.
With “Chuck Versus the Seduction” it becomes clear that the premiere was no fluke: flawlessly introducing a case that dredges up Chuck and Sarah’s relationship as well as the continued growth of Chuck as an actual agent as opposed to just an asset. Even though the show goes so far as to throw around the L-word as it relates to our central relationship, it still feels like a show that is letting things move organically. When a show can trot out John Larroquette and Melinda Clarke in the same episode and still not feel like it’s trying to hard, you have a show that is playing with the right themes at the right time.
In other words, the show is more or less seducing the audience in the same nature as the four-prong attack: as long as it doesn’t become a bastard, the show is on a very strong trajectory.
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Filed under Chuck
Tagged as Chuck Versus the Seduction, Entertainment, Episode Two, John Larroquette, Melinda Clarke, My Favorite Year, NBC, Season Two, Television, The O.C., Yvonne Strahovski, Zachary Levi
September 9, 2008 · 12:36 pm
“Never Been Marcused”
September 8th, 2008
Late last week, as anyone following my Twitter feed may have found out, I received in the mail a recent impulse purchase. The Complete Series box set of The O.C. was waiting for me at the post office, and with it came a lot of memories and, ultimately, a sudden impulse that resulted in finishing off the show’s first season, and starting the second, over the weekend.
I mention this because there’s always a lot of talk when any teen dramas are premiering, or airing, about how they compare with The O.C., now considered the seminal comparison point for any teen soap opera of this generation. Having just completed what it considered the show’s crowning achievement (its first season), I can confirm that it lives up to this title: while the central, most soap operatic moments are perhaps worse for wear compared to my recollection, the ancillary elements (The Parents, the less traditional romance of Seth and Summer, the humour and quippiness) are so strong that it’s hard not to hold other shows up to that standard.
And I spend so much time talking about this standard because “Never Been Marcused” was cribbed almost entirely from The O.C.’s own transition from summer to fall. I won’t attempt to accuse Stephanie Savage from plagiarizing herself, but I will say that she certainly has taken the lessons learned there to heart. The comparison is not a negative one: while obviously different in tone, the events we see here are smart in the same way The O.C. was smart, creating various entanglements that have dramatic potential for the future.
The real difference is that Gossip Girl is a show about scandal, a show where these events will be less introspective than they are fodder for our narrator and her incessant appetite for these types of affairs. This isn’t to say that it’s a lesser show by default, but it means that it’s shooting for another audience: one that includes me, definitely, but not one was diverse and inclusive as perhaps Schwartz’s original series to which this episode owes much of its plotting.
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June 11, 2008 · 2:30 pm
I was reading an interview with Josh Schwartz that Alan Sepinwall did around the time of The O.C.’s series finale, and I stumbled across this answer to a question regarding a potential spinoff for the series:
[Alan: ]Whatever happened to the Kaitlin spin-off where she was in boarding school?
I was about 17 episodes into the first season, and I was asked to go up into Rupert Murdoch’s boardroom. Rupert wasn’t there but all the head honchos at Fox were there, and I was asked, with a fair amount of pressure, to do another show. I was shown a schedule where, if I did this, “The O.C.” would remain on Wednesdays at 9 and the new show would be on Tuesdays at 9 after “Idol.” Who wouldn’t want to do that? It wasn’t wise of me to do that, I had plenty to learn about the TV business, but I said, “Okay, I don’t want it to be a spin-off.” I was worried about cannibalizing the show too soon, and spin-offs usually fail. Everyone signed off on that fact, I went off and worked on a pilot called “Athens.” It was a big honor, it was going to keep “The O.C” behind “American Idol.” Then I turned in the script and everyone said, “So how do we turn it into a spin-off?” It became a protracted battle not to make it a spin-off. Then I arrived at the upfronts to announce the new show and they said “The O.C.” was moving to Thursdays, that was a perfect storm of its own. When it felt that was the only version of the pilot that was going to move forward was one I didn’t believe in, I said, maybe as a compromise, we’d have discussions about a Kaitlin boarding school drama, and then Gail Berman went to Paramount, and those discussions ended.
How fitting, then, that I looked at this so recently, as now we’ve got the exact same situation with almost eerie comparisons to this earlier one. As it completes its first season, Gossip Girl is now being spun-off by its producers (Schwartz included, one presumes) as another hit series of books by the author of Gossip Girl is being optioned. And, interestingly, “The It Girl” series surrounds the character of Jenny Humphrey falling off the wagon at Constance Billard and being sent off to board school just as Kaitlin had once been destined under the scenario Schwartz described.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
Humphrey is a self-esteem challenged outsider who struggles to fit in. In the books, a series of public embarrassments (such as appearing in a teen magazine wearing next to nothing) results in Humphrey having to either repeat ninth grade or find a new school. She elects to enter a boarding school and reinvents herself as a popular girl. Her story is told in a series of six “Gossip” spinoff novels called “The It Girl.”
I don’t think it is so simple, however, to spin-off this character- Kaitlin was a nothing in The O.C.’s first season, and Jenny was anything but in Gossip Girl’s first frame. There are things about her character that are integral to Gossip Girl and might not be as expendable, and with no confirmed reports of them using Jenny’s character in the spinoff I’d have to think that they’ll figure this out as well.
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November 12, 2007 · 10:40 pm
“Chuck Versus the Truth”
November 12th, 2007
In deciding which of the early evening shows to watch this fine Monday evening, I chose Chuck for a few important reasons. First off, I have found the show to have been quite enjoyable thus far this season. And, this evening saw two guest appearances from alumnus from two shows that heavily influence the series. As a result, with Rachel Bilson (Late of The O.C.) and Kevin Weisman (Late of Alias) on board, Chuck was the night’s most intriguing option.
The result was an episode that, once again, did a great job of connecting the plot-of-the-week to the recurring storylines and Chuck’s personal life. However, as much as a I found Rachel Bilson as enchanting as ever, an end of episode event left a sour taste in my mouth. The episode did a lot of good for Chuck’s character, but it also took the show’s premise a small step backwards by foregrounding an element that they’ll never live up to.
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