Tag Archives: The Wire

Season Finale: Dexter – “The Getaway”

“The Getaway”

December 13th, 2009

When Dexter started its season, I spent a lengthy post comparing the show to 24, arguing that the show’s initial interest in Dexter as a psychological case study has been all but eradicated by seasons which have turned the show into your basic serial thriller that fails to take into account just how complex the character truly is. The show took two seasons to establish that Dexter is someone who has a code, and who kills those who deserve to be killed, and now it has taken that stock character and turned him into the blood analyst equivalent of Jack Bauer, happening to find himself wrapped up in compelling cases each and every season that speak to Dexter more than something wholly random but often do so in a superficial way. And like 24, these situations can often be quite compelling, but if you stop and think about the real potential in this character and the series you can’t help but feel that all involved could do better.

If we choose to accept that this is all Dexter is going to be, the fourth season has been quite solid, benefitting from a terrific and terrifying performance by John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, also known as the Trinity Killer. And much as 24’s fifth season was one of its strongest due to the amount of time spent crafting Gregory Itzin’s President Logan into a complex antagonist, the show works infinitely better when it takes the time to create a character that can give us chills, and who brings out interesting shades in Dexter’s character. So long as we ignore how convenient it is that Trinity is based in Miami, the consequences (like Jennifer Carpenter’s fine work post-shooting, like more time with Keith Carradine, etc.) are quite engaging, and viewed on their own represent some great dramatic television.

But they’re surrounded by a show that can’t help but call attention to its faults, and how those faults could have been prevented. Harry Morgan, once an integral part of the series’ mythos, has devolved to the point of serving as an exposition tool, a physical representation of Dexter’s self-conscience that the writer aren’t even willing to define as either angel or devil because they’re afraid that question would be too complex to handle. The supporting characters, like Batista and LaGuerta, are given stories that are literally just excuses for them to remain in the cast. Rita and her kids, once a beard for Dexter’s inner emptiness, have become a way for the show to investigate fidelity and suburban life, but never in a way that feels like it goes beyond melodrama.

“The Getaway” takes a lot of these elements and puts them to good use, unearthing Dexter’s bloody past in a way which feels organic and concluding the Trinity arc with the sort of momentum that the show is so very good at developing. And in its conclusion, which is in fact truly game-changing, there contains the DNA for the show to reinvent itself, to send it down a darker and more complex path that harkens back to the show’s first season.

And I’d be a hell of a lot more excited if I thought that was actually going to happen.

Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Dexter

Dexter – “Dirty Harry”

dextertitle

“Dirty Harry”

October 25th, 2009

When “Dirty Harry” begins, the problems start before the episode even does. After the exciting finale to “Dex Takes a Holiday,” which was a strong episode which really connected with the qualities that make the show work and which ended on that cliffhanger of Deb and Lundy bleeding on the pavement, things seemed exciting in a way that the show was struggling with early on.

However, the lengthy “Previously on Dexter” sequence reminded us that the things that made that episode great were an exclusion (of Rita and the kids) and a shock (that won’t be recreated in the next episode), which means that “Dirty Harry” is immediately handicapped. And while there are some stories that seem legitimately compelling, those seem to be at a standstill while the “drama” comes from conflicts that are either entirely uninteresting or which feel like the sort of simple “Dexter meets Suburbia” type stories the show has been dealing with this season.

It proves once and for all that Dexter is a series best watched in extended bursts on DVD, because the hype is going to create expectations that this season isn’t able to live up to.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Dexter

The Good Wife – “Fixed”

goodwifetitle

“Fixed”

October 13th, 2009

The Good Wife is a solid show, and a lot of this has to do with a very solid premise. What works about the show is how versatile it can be, even within each of its various elements. As a legal workplace drama, the show covers an extensive range of potential cases, and because Alicia is a junior associate it means she could end up doing a variety of jobs (like digging through files, or second chairing a bigger case) whether they’re representing the plaintiff or the defendant.

The show is ultimately a procedural, but it’s managed to be quite the chameleon. This week’s episode follows the basic formula, presenting a legal case that dominates the episode while Alicia is similarly burdened by her husband’s indiscretions. However, they’ve done an impressive job of providing variety in both of these departments, to the point that the twists and turns in either storyline are still effective.

The show is never going to blow me away, per se, but it’s nonetheless impressed me so far.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under The Good Wife

The Office – “New Boss”

theofficetitle2

“New Boss”

March 19th, 2009

When it was announced that Idris Elba was going to be joining The Office as the new Jan, or Ryan, I was (like most TV critics and fans who have watched The Wire) pretty ecstatic. Stringer Bell was a stunning character study in someone who didn’t have time for games, who was all business even while involved in the illicit drug trade, and had an appreciation for order and structure which would turn Michael Scott’s life upside down. We knew, as Greg Daniels and Co. are fans of the show, that this casting combined with Michael’s relationship with authority had a great deal of potential.

But I’ll admit up front that “New Boss” wasn’t working for me, maybe because I underestimated just how antithetical a Stringer Bell type (and Elba is not branching far from that role here) is to the fundamental purpose of this show. It’s not just that Charles Minor is an interruption of Michael Scott’s normal routine, but the entire office is thrown into a tailspin by his arrival. Rather than have Michael give a large awkward seminar and let Minor watch as it all tumbles to the ground, Minor interrupts him, stops him, and shuts down things before they can transcend to the level of real conflict. The problem he presents is not that he and Michael don’t agree, but rather that he is so unwilling to interact with Michael on the level Michael desires that he is there to keep things from happening as opposed to reacting to them.

And while I think that there is a lot of room to grow within this relationship, and I still remain convinced in its potential, “New Boss” is that introduction where these polar opposites remain too far apart for it to really come together, and where the dramatic elements are here but there isn’t the comedy to back them up.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under The Office

False Pluralism: Emmys go from 5 to 6, but not from Wrong to Right

emmysontrial1

False Pluralism:

From 5 to 6, but not from Wrong to Right

If you’re the kind of person who is reading this article, there are certain hopes you have in life.

They were once personified by Lauren Graham, critics’ darling and star of Gilmore Girls, who went seven seasons without an Emmy nomination. Then, you had The Wire, a low-rated but critically acclaimed HBO series that despite being hailed as the greatest series of all time failed to garner any non-writing nominations. And then there’s Lost, which after winning an Emmy in its first year out faltered due to its genre elements getting in the way of its taut and well-constructed drama, only returning in 2008.

The last decade or so of the Emmys have been defined less by who was winning (dominated as it was by The Sopranos and The West Wing), and more by who wasn’t even getting invited to the dance. In the internet age, this is to be expected: internet chatter is always more focused on the negative than the positive, and when the Emmy system is a complex unknown to most people assumptions are made and grievances are aired. The three above examples, and countless more, will go down in the annals of message boards or blogs as those shows which represented a black spot on the Emmy Awards – and, unfortunately for the Academy, their record is getting spottier every year.

But hope is not gone for a show like Lost, or shows like Battlestar Galactica and Friday Night Lights, for the Academy is making another change to its nomination structure:  they’re taking all Drama and Comedy series and acting categories into six horse races. Once reserved for a tie, the six-way battle is now the standard, and to quote Academy president John Shaffner this move “exemplifies the academy’s awareness of the amount of great television and fine individual work that is seen across the enormous spectrum of the television universe.”

Of course, what Shaffner is really saying is much simpler: “Dear Internet fans, *Insert Favourite Show* now has a better shot at being nominated, aren’t the Emmys relevant again?”

And sorry, Mr. Shaffner, but this wasn’t the only change, and your statement is an inherent contradiction of the OTHER methods taken by the Academy today. While the Emmy system was before extremely complex, (which I try to explain here), they’re going back to the drawing board: gone are the Panels that made up 50% of the final standings, replaced by, in the case of series, nothing but the popular vote of the entire membership and, in the case of acting races, by small, selective sections of the membership.

Which is officially the most egregious example of “one step forward, two steps back” that I’ve ever seen.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards

Fringe – “Bound”

fringetitle3

“Bound”

January 20th, 2009

When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.

But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.

What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.

But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Fringe

The Office – “Duel”

theofficetitle2

“Duel”

January 15th, 2009

There are a lot of things to like about “Duel,” most of them related less to the episode itself (solid but unspectacular) and more to what it does to bring up some great memories from the past and to put to rest a storyline that seemed as if it was going to tear the office dynamic asunder in its resolution.

I don’t necessarily think that the episode was amazingly funny, with some sharp gags in the A-story somewhat undermined by a really quite uninteresting B-story, but what it did was establish a great deal of continuity and a deft hand for the show’s overall trajectory. Letting the love triangle between Andy, Dwight and Angela explode seemed like a really big risk to take, but with a little bit of finesse it has reached its worthwhile, if perhaps a bit overdue, conclusion.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under The Office

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Wire – “Complete Series”

timecapsulewire

“Complete Series”

Release Date: December 9th, 2008

Yes, I know this is cheating, but I have my reasons for refusing to choose only one episode of The Wire’s fifth season to include within this set. Yes, only the show’s fifth season aired this year, but on a personal level I got to experience all five seasons of fantastic dramatic television in the past calendar year. Since this is my Television Time Capsule, and because the Complete Series boxset is both readily available and surprisingly compact, the entire series makes it into the Time Capsule.

When the season started airing, I posted to a message board about whether it would be possible for me to jump in without watching the previous four seasons. Almost immediately, I received the resounding response of an empathic no; jumping in at the end was entirely misguided. It was the first time I had seen such a passionate response about it, but over time I was able to discover many more such responses, and eventually the reason why.

Considering the three-hour long podcast, and the rather lengthy piece I wrote in conjunction with it, I won’t say much more on the show’s merits. What I will say is that its fifth season deserves it spot here just as much as the previous four, not quite as perfect but nonetheless one of the finest specimens of television which aired during the period.

One thing I will add is that I understand the frustrations with the fifth season’s newspaper storylines: while the political world was given a slow introduction in Seasons three and four that allowed it to integrate into this world, and the education system had a clear enough relationship with what we’d seen before it, the media had been surprisingly absent at every other stage of the series. It felt like the most “left field” argument, and many of the connections to the main narrative felt coincidental as opposed to consequential. I don’t think it was an irreparable concern, but it helped contribute to a sort of paradox of getting our final moments with these characters, at least partially, through a lens more unfamiliar to the series than the ones previous introduced.

So while saying goodbye to the show was no doubt difficult, it was kind of nice to be able to say Hello to it in the same year: the balance helps elevate the series’ impact on my year in television, and hopefully the years of many more people to come.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

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

1 Comment

Filed under 2008 Television Time Capsule

Catharsis: Thoughts and Ruminations on HBO’s The Wire

wirelogo

Thoughts and Ruminations on HBO’s The Wire

December 8th, 2008

I doubt that anyone has ever really thought about it, but I’ve been living in a state of shame since, earlier this summer, I reviewed the first two episodes of The Wire, Season One, and made the follow proclamation:

“I figured that the more people talk about what is (thus far, and by all accounts) a fantastic series the better for my readers, readers everywhere, and maybe even the show’s long-shot Emmy chances.”

That post, and a post comparing the show to The Dark Knight, were the only two times I’ve talked about The Wire on this blog. Now, this isn’t that uncommon in terms of other shows I’ve caught up on: I got through four and a half seasons of Six Feet Under without talking about it (no, I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe next summer), and until the third season started I didn’t fill you all in last summer when I caught up on How I Met Your Mother. Due to both the speed at which I burn through these episodes, and the relative age of the material, it doesn’t seem like something that is entirely necessary.

But the difference with The Wire is that it wasn’t a normal catchup session – stretched out over a number of months, experiencing The Wire for the first time was something that still hasn’t left me. While I’ve almost forgotten I’ve seen most of Six Feet Under, I can’t help but wax philosophical about The Wire at every opportunity. Those of us who have seen the series, admittedly, must sound like a broken record, but there’s a certain creed of sorts: in any discussion raising the question about television shows to recommend, or television shows that have made an impact, or television shows that deserved more awards attention, or sometimes even just television in general, The Wire is going to be our go-to suggestion.

Tonight at 9pm EST, I will be joining Dave, Devindra and Adam of the /Filmcast for a live indepth discussion of The Wire, which will be the first time that I have truly entered into a dialogue about this amazing series. [To listen in to the live podcast, click here at 9pm] Considering this I felt like, even if I don’t have the substantial back catalogue I wish I had and that could have pulled you as readers into this universe sooner, I could at least offer some brief thoughts as I (if not through watching it) revisit the Shakespearean journey that is David Simon and Ed Burns’ The Wire.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under The Wire

Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmys LiveBlog

I’m foregoing the Jimmy Kimmel-style opening hour that ABC is airing (Edit: Or I was, until a particular moment), or any of the red carpet deals, in favour of digging into some of the actual awards themselves. I wrote my predictions late this week, and had planned to write up more of a general preview, but time got away from me.

In truth, there’s isn’t much to say that I didn’t say when the nominees were announced: it’s an awards show that offers the most opportunity for legitimate winners accepted by both viewers and critics that the Emmys have seen in recent years. At the same time, it also has every opportunity to remove all relevance the Emmys could ever have. This is the double edged sword of having more progressive nominees: the fall from grace is only going to be harder.

For example, the Best Actor in a Drama Series category is like a ticking time bomb: Hugh Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Gabriel Byrne all stand as strong candidates from well-liked shows, but James Spader (Three-time winner in the category) sits waiting to wipe out any sort of optimism we may have about the rest of the awards. Even those of us who watch the Emmy Awards with great interest are going to be shaken by such a decision: as the night goes on, we are going to have many of these moments, beacons of hope either raised up or snuffed out.

So, follow along as we go on this epic rollercoaster ride, this wondrous journey through a year in television as a bunch of (likely) out of touch or (hopefully) intelligent saw it.

7:30pm: I was informed by my brother that Tracy Morgan was going to be part of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening Barbara Walters mock-fest, and I’m darn glad I turned in considering that it features a baseball-bat wielding Morgan attacking the set of How I Met Your Mother in order to enact revenge against nominee Neil Patrick Harris.

7:33pm: Okay, so this has definitely more comic value than expected: notification process goes from Ben Stein, to Brad Garrett, to Nich “Buttercup” Lachey, to William Shatner, to Rachael Ray, to Kobe Bryant, to Jon Hamm, to Martin Short, to Nastia Liukin, to THE HOFF, to Regis and Kelly, to Tina Fey. Purple Monkey Dishwasher style. And then she dances. And she owns a Macbook like mine. This makes me happier than it should.

7:42pm: Selma Hayek was on Ugly Betty? Her whole self? I don’t remember…most…parts of that.

7:49pm: Is anyone aware of a Canadian network who is actually doing a pre-show? I realized at a certain point that I didn’t care enough to find one – instead, relocating to the basic cable TV and catching the end of the newly Steven Weber-infused Without a Trace.

7:56pm: We’re getting close – Tom O’Neil over at The Envelope has the order of events, so we’re starting off with Oprah! And then Supporting Comedy Actor (go NPH).

7:58pm: Honestly, how many crime procedurals did storylines with nearly murdered leads? CTV is having a field day sensationalizing Without a Trace and CSI: Miami.

8:00pm: And here’s our opening, complete with the various memorable TV quotes being quoted by various industry types. There’s too many to note: ends on Spader and Shatner.

8:01pm: Man, am I ever glad to see the normal stage again: Oprah, meanwhile, saunters out to welcome us to the show reminding us that nothing else speaks to us like television. That was a really, really bad line about the book buying, though – we get it, you own our souls.

8:04pm: And now it’s our cavalcade of hosts, with Probst going tie-less, and Heidi Klumn wearing a suit. It’s really, really attractive. Meanwhile, Howie talks over everyone, Seacrest is his schmaltzy self, and Heidi Klum kind of looks like she is terrified to be there amongst these people. Mandel breaks out the political jokes, and they keep saying it isn’t a bit, but Bergeron and Klum are just standing there. It’s just strange. This whole five hosts thing seems…unfortunate. “The odds have improved considerable,” though, is sharp.

8:07pm: And Shatner for the save.

8:08pm: Okay, that being said, I will have to say that Heidi Klum is muchbetter in the dress. And now for our first award: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both nominees later in the show and one of them enormously pregnant, to present Supporting Comedy Actor. This comedy bit is too simple by half, but they love it. Nominees: NPH, Rainn Wilson, Cryer, Piven, Dillon. This is, sadly, Piven’t to lose.

8:10pm: The graphics feature really cheap little picture photoshop work, and it must be said: NPH definitely had the best little clip. And the Emmy goes to…Jeremy Piven? Ugh, I’m getting bored out of my mind with this, Emmy Voters. Please, for the love of all things good, stop giving this man awards.

8:11pm: Jeremy Piven gets mad points for making fun of the opening, though, but still – completely deserved, but utterly pointless and growingly frustrating win. I hate being so frustrated with a win that in a bubble makes so much sense, but the history says otherwise.

8:15pm: I’m hoping that a Jeremy Piven vs. The Hosts feud goes on all evening, but I don’t think Probst or Klum could handle it. Okay, actually, from her appearance on HIMYM Klum could handle it.

8:16pm: “LIVEEEE!…it’s like a nervous tick.” Oh Bergeron, you’re so much better than your show. In other news: they’re going to let Bergeron and Seacrest handle most of this type of stuff, I hope.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards