Tag Archives: Time Capsule

Parks and Recreation – “Time Capsule”

“Time Capsule”

February 3rd, 2011

When pre-air reviews of Parks and Recreation’s third season emerged, Matt Zoller Seitz’s column at Salon stood out for me. This is due not only to its quality, which is top notch as per usual, but also because it focused very specifically on tonight’s episode, “Time Capsule.” At first, I was sort of thrown: having seen them all myself, the first episodes to come to mind were those featuring more character-driven humor and which dealt with ongoing plot developments, and to some degree “Time Machine” felt comparatively…small.

However, Matt’s comments were in my mind when I went back to rewatch the episode, and I think that he’s right on the money. While “The Flu” was perhaps the funniest of the first six episodes of the season, and the premiere had the most going on in terms of ongoing storylines, “Time Capsule” is very much the encapsulation of the series’ general charm. Its conclusion is just incredibly satisfying, a simple statement of what it means to be from Pawnee which resonates more strongly than any single joke. This is still a funny episode, in what continues to be a very funny season, but that it ends on something meaningful instead shows the side of the show that Matt responded to, and which certainly deserves recognition.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Project Runway – “Season Four Finale”

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“Season Four Finale”

Season Four, Episode 14

Airdate: March 5th, 2008

I was watching Definitely, Maybe over the holiday break, a charming film that I quite enjoyed, but it fell into a rather frustrating cliché. Narrating a story to his daughter about the dark ages that were the early 90s, pre-internet and pre-cell phone as it was, he adds that it was also a time without reality television.

I am aware that the vilification of reality television is neither new nor entirely unwarranted, but I remain perplexed that people are still unwilling to differentiate between good reality television and bad reality television. This idea that it is some sort of scourge was, indeed, a potential truth when every network was parading out show after show, but that pattern seems to have largely ended: not only is America’s taste for the genre subsiding, based on recent trends, but what shows have survived have for some reason stood the test of time.

I decided to limit myself to one reality television show for the time capsule (partially as a punishment for the Emmy hosting disaster), and the decision ended up being easy: Survivor has the ratings, The Amazing Race has the Emmys, but Project Runway has a Peabody Award and the distinction of being the show that perhaps surprised me most in 2008. While it was late last year that I discovered it for the first time, since then I’ve watched five seasons (if we count Project Runway Canada) and continue to be impressed.

Yes, the fourth season was far superior to the fifth, and the show is not immune to some of the casting issues that plague most reality series, but by the time the designers get to Bryant Park I care more about fashion than I ever thought possible. More than any other reality show I’ve seen, talent is a deciding factor: while some challenges lead to unfair eliminations based on some wacky expectations, both seasons airing in 2008 ended with winners who felt like they had been on a journey and matured as a designer along the way.

In picking a single episode, it is very easily the show’s fourth season finale, the victorious moment for flamboyant Christian Siriano. The show’s youngest and most cocksure designer, he emerged as a true sensation: talented, entertaining, and full of one-liners and catchphrases. The show’s fifth season largely felt so dreary because everyone, compared to Siriano, felt like an imitation.

But Runway never feels that way, charting its own course in the reality television waters and being all the better off for it. The show is also memorable this year for its off-air wranglings, with Bravo and Lifetime fighting over rights to the series and delaying Season 6. When that is eventually resolved, let’s hope the series stays on the right track.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: House – “Wilson’s Heart”

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“Wilson’s Heart”

Season Four, Episode Sixteen

Airdate: May 18th, 2008

House’s fourth season was a needed shakeup of its formula, and presented some of its strongest comedy ever in its opening reality show-esque hunt for a set of new fellows to play sounding board for House’s eccentricities. But the emerging fellows also brought the introduction of Amber, also known as Cutthroat Bitch and, by season’s end, the emotional lynchpin for one of the most powerful episodes in the series.

While some may prefer the loud and dangerous “House’s Head,” focused more on the doctor’s internal struggle to remember the events of the bus crash through dangerous drugs and procedures, “Wilson’s Heart” is where the storyline truly comes together. Learning that it was Amber on that bus raised the stakes considerably, and while the first part of the finale (“Head”) gains greater meaning with this revelation I nonetheless cared less about House (who was tragically partly responsible) than I did about Wilson, who had to bear the brunt of the consequences of his friend’s actions.

While Season Five’s attempts at pairing House and Cuddy have felt similarly broad as something meaningful to the show’s emotional core, like House’s flashback to his injury in “Three Stories,” this episode felt the most tapped into something bigger than the show’s procedural construct. Robert Sean Leonard is often given too little to do on this show, with the focus being divided as it is, but he is fantastic here as a grieving boyfriend and, eventually, a friend who blames House for her death.

The episode is also a goodbye for Anne Dudek’s “CTB,” who may have been too much a female version of House to be his fellow but was too delightful a character to abandon entirely. While the winning fellows may have “won,” added as series regulars and all, Dudek got the most material by far: she was robbed of an Emmy nomination for some great work in this episode (and others), but her emotional farewell was nonetheless one of the show’s highlights through four seasons.

“Wilson’s Heart” is somewhat tainted by the fact that the show has more or less abandoned its ramifications halfway into its fifth season, but let its inclusion in the Time Capsule serve as a reminder for the writers: this is how you craft a storyline where we care about the characters and their consequences, not through giving a boring bisexual doctor a terminal illness and having her flaunt it for everyone to see. That’s not tragic, it’s just surprisingly boring for such destructive behaviour, and at the end of the day the show needs to tap into what they had with Amber before Thirteen can feel like something we should care about.

Let’s hope they listen.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles – “What He Beheld”

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“What He Beheld”

Season One, Episode Nine

Airdate: March 3rd, 2008

In the show’s second season, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles emerged as something quite surprising: a competent science fiction drama with a sense of character and a growing identity. So picking an episode to include in the Time Capsule to reflect this feels like it should come from the second half of the year.

But I kept going back to “What He Beheld,” the first season finale that convinced me the show was going to be capable of being something more than just an attempt to capture the franchise’s storylines in a serial dramatic setting.

The series has since gone on to delve into deep psychological issues, both of the humans within the story and the Terminators who coexist with them. But the sequence, set to Johnny Cash, of the various police officers being thrown aside by Cromartie was the one that showed me the show was aiming higher: what could have felt like an attempt at shocking the audience with violence was played entirely artistically. There was no sense that the show was exploiting their deaths, but capturing them in the most artful of ways: we see the pool’s stillness just as a body tears it apart. The apartment building setting isn’t designed for eye candy but the sharp contrast of the mundane living arrangement meeting with the trauma of the action involved.

The show’s second season has built on this development: it was one scene to begin with, but each subsequent episode has built on it. Yes, the show still has its down periods, and every now and then I think that its vague storyline could use some clarity, but Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is everything Heroes wants to be:  a smart, sophisticated piece of science fiction that might not be Battlestar Galactica but certainly feels like the kind of show that, given time, could prove a worthwhile journey.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The 2008 Presidential Election

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The 2008 Presidential Election

Airdate: Every. Single. Day.

It’s a staple of almost all end of year television pieces attempting to recap 2008, but in many ways I resisted placing the 2008 presidential election that (spoiler alert) saw Barack Obama ascend to the Presidency. It isn’t that I don’t think the event was historical or monumental, but rather that part of my believes that television reaches its greatest potential as an episodic medium and that the election’s impact on that has been tangential at best.

But over time, and after reading the various lists which place the election prominently, I started to realize that television is about the medium as much as it is the message. It was the media through which the world of American politics entered into public consciousness that made it so meaningful to the past year. Yes, some of these were pure novelty, like the awful and pointless attempt to channel Star Wars and introduce holograms to the CNN newsroom, but others resonated at something that fundamentally changed the way we looked at politics through television.

One of them is technological but in a more meaningful fashion: once quite rightly eclipsed by the internet as the best way to track election results, John King’s magic map revolutionized the way we monetize broadcast television (or, for those who don’t get the 30 Rock joke, made it far easier to see what data actually meant). His ability to zoom in and out seemed like a novelty, but he was able to compare stats at the click of a button, and move county to county in races that (while they were not eventually as close as they could have been) were changing with each minute.

The year also saw, though, the return of Saturday Night Live to the world of political satire and the realm of public consciousness. After Jon Stewart took over as the voice of a nation of discontented youth over the Bush administration, the rise of Sarah Palin and the talent of Tina Fey coincided in a perfect comic storm: Fey’s impression took the nation by storm, and a creatively uneven show was suddenly a household name again.

The result was that this election felt like an event that reading about wasn’t enough: perhaps it was Obama’s presence, or Palin’s incompetence becoming even more apparent when filmed (the camera adds pounds, not brain cells), but there was something about this election that demanded the medium of television to tell its story. While I was content to read about the recent Parliamentary crisis which gripped Canada, I felt like I needed to watch Barack Obama take to that Chicago stage and address the nation.

And while I may not share my brother’s enthusiasm for politics, I have to admit that in this instance their intersection with my favourite cultural medium was certainly something to marvel at, and ultimately memorialize in the 2008 Television Time Capsule.

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

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“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.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Recount (HBO)

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Made for Television Movie

Airdate: May 25th, 2008

While many of the selections in the 2008 TV Time Capsule deserve Emmy attention in their future, this is one selection that has already made its way to Emmy glory. I watched Recount over the summer, and much like Generation Kill it follows a highly political event in America’s history, taking us behind the scenes of the 2000 Federal Recount which decided whether George Bush or Al Gore would become President of the United States.

As with Generation Kill, we know the ending already: this doesn’t, however, make the film any less powerful. With great turns from Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Denis Leary, and especially Laura Dern as Catherine Harris, the film manages to elide the candidates themselves while maintaining all of the momentum of those final moments. By focusing on the minutia, the lawyers and the campaign staff and the people who handled the various recounts, the film revels in not the result of the film (the cancellation of the recount and the victory of George W. Bush) but how that result was felt by the people who fought on both sides.

The film shouldn’t have been the success it was: written by Danny Strong, best known for his stints on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls as an actor and not a writer, and directed by Jay Roach, best known for his directorial work with Mike Myers, it didn’t feel like it had the kind of prestige you often see from these HBO “Special Events.” But its quality, and its eventual Emmy win, are a testament to the work of both men, rising to the challenge; you could tell this was an intensely personal project for all involved, a fact which took a potentially clichéd piece of political opportunism in the buildup to the ’08 election and turned it into a darn great television movie.

Like Generation Kill, the film poses questions about what might have been, but there is more distance here: yes, Bush’s presidency has played a largely detrimental role over these eight years, but as we head towards his final days as President there is an end in sight. The film never feels like propaganda, but Recount is nonetheless the kind of sort of statement that democracy needs: it presents people committed to the process in a way that nearly changed history, and if that inspired anyone to the polls in November then the film deserves its place in the Time Capsule that much more.

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

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