April 20th, 2010
I don’t have anything particularly important to say about last night’s episode of Justified, but since I didn’t talk about last week’s episode (featuring the introduction of Raylan’s father and aunt/stepmother), I figure it never hurts to stop by and say that I continue to dig the series, and continue to not quite “get” the response that the show is too “procedural” or some other word for “less interesting than highly serialized drama series.” [See: my piece a couple of weeks ago]
Jamie Weinman has often gotten after me (and others) that there are certain shows where using the word procedural seems ill-advised: he argues that the term refers to the procedure of solving a crime (or a medical mystery), and that for shows which are “standalone” but don’t take that form it isn’t an accurate description. I’ve always understood his point, but it’s hard to resist that binary of procedural and serialized when it comes to the current television landscape.
However, “The Collection” (and to some degree last week’s “The Lord of War and Thunder”) demonstrates that while you could argue that Justified is more “standalone” than FX’s previous serialized stories, it is very difficult to argue that it is more procedural. While there are cases to be solved on the series, the episodes do not end when those cases come to their conclusions – they continue on to ponder something larger, considering the events of the episode on a scale larger than the procedure of the U.S. Marshall service and developing a more complicated series than early doubters imagined.
March 18th, 2010
My lack of knowledge about the Community College system is something that Community takes advantage of quite often: I don’t know if they’re being accurate, but it’s clear that the show isn’t concerned about it. The show wanted to do an episode about “blowoff” classes, and it wanted one of those stories to be about a sailing class being held in a parking lot, so who are we to stop it?
At this point, the cast is gelling enough that just about any story is going to work so long as it doesn’t force the characters too far into a particular mould. “Beginner Pottery” isn’t one of the show’s best efforts from a conceptual standpoint, but its stories are full of either some fun running gags or some strong one-liners that make this a really enjoyable half-hour of television.
“Chuck vs. The Suburbs”
February 16th, 2009
“We can’t go back there – it was just a cover.”
There has always been a certain question of how, precisely, Chuck is going to be able to manage to draw out the relationship between its eponymous hero and his handler/cover girlfriend Sarah. The “will they/won’t they” of the scenario could get old quickly, something that nobody really wants to see happen when Levy and Strahovski actually have a lot of chemistry and the episodes that focus on the intricacies of their relationship, like “Chuck vs. The Suburbs” are amongst the show’s most resonant.
The episode is a sign, though, that there is going to come a point where we can’t keep getting the same memo over and over again. While bringing Chuck and Sarah to the brink of a real relationship before tearing it away from them might have worked the first time around, or even the second, we’re getting to the point where it doesn’t really have the same impact. Changing their cover from “dating” to “married” and placing them in the confines of a happy suburbia with a golden retriever and a whole bunch of photoshopped photos of a happy couple is a pretty good setup for this part of the series’ identity, but I feel as if things are beginning to wear somewhat thin.
And yet, this is all in theory: in theory this episode shouldn’t work, its central theme of “we can’t return to something that wasn’t real” being something that the show has dealt with numerous times, but in practice Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring so much pathos to these scenes that it feels like the honeymoon is still ongoing long after the post-wedding bliss should have ended. And that’s a testament to the show’s quality, even if I feel they’re tempting fate at this point in the show’s run.
The Anti-Cult of Personality:
The Controlled Chaos of United States of Tara
When it was first announced, there was one word that could best described United States of Tara, the new Showtime comedy starring Toni Colette: quirky. Not only was it about a woman who has multiple personality disorder, and as a result becomes various different people depending on the situation, but it comes from Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning but divisive writer whose work has been attacked for being too precious, too desperate to be bizarre that she was losing sight of what is realistic.
But in my opinion the skepticism about this was was unfounded: yes, the concept is quirky, and Cody’s dialogue is present albeit in a less obvious form than the earlier scenes in Juno, but there is a real sense of control here. The family at the show’s center is not a quirky family so much as it is a normal one who is forced to maintain that normality by controlling their reactions to the matriarchal struggles of our protagonist. The appearance of the various alters, whether it’s male vietnam war veteran Buck, teenaged T., or the 50s housewife Alice, is not a sudden shock to this family but rather something they have learned to deal with. Each of the alters have their own benefits and downsides within their family dynamic, and the point is not that this is a crazy or quirky show but rather that these people have to try to maintain normal lives in the face of those struggles.
There is a danger here that the show will become all about these wacky alters, and the craziness they represent, but the show isn’t fixated on them so much as it is on Tara, her life, and the reasons these alters emerge. It’s not a concept that would work if it was entirely let loose, or with a lead actress who isn’t able to pull off four separate characters, but through the strong setup and some great work from Toni Colette it’s hard not to be drawn into the United States of Tara.
“Chuck vs. The Fat Lady”
November 17th, 2008
One of the things that Chuck has done so well in its second season is the integration of all three parts of Chuck’s life, specifically how the Buy More and Friends/Family storylines have integrated (mostly) seamlessly into the cases that dominate the rest of Chuck’s time. “Chuck vs. The Fat Lady,” in many ways, is the toughest test of this yet: reintroducing Fulcrum in a big way, the show is given the task of personalizing a group that has remained very vague and poorly defined since the show’s first episode.
But, proving once again that it’s absolutely on the right path this season, the show demonstrates with a deft hand how it is able to personalize that which could seem impersonal, and familiarize storylines which could have felt even more diversionary. Capture under the theme of surveillance, the episode provides ample pleasures on every level: charactertization, eye candy, plot development and John Casey demonstrating his ability to hit a High C with only his pristine voice.
And that’s just fantastic stuff, there.
“Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”
October 27th, 2008
With some shows, enjoyment is just enough.
Chuck is in a unique position this season, already given a full season order even while its ratings are struggling. That NBC was willing to shell out a back nine for a show based on quality alone does, indeed, say something about its rather dire pilot situation, but more importantly it says something about the show’s quality: in the early part of this season, Chuck is perhaps the most “on” series of all.
So while I haven’t been dissecting each individual episode like I have been with Mad Men, know that I’ve been spending the past few weeks enjoying the wonderful world of Chuck Bartowski. With “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer,” it’s a much smaller world than we’re even used to: it takes place almost exclusively in the Buy More (Outside of one particularly stimulating excursion), it features no fancy new identities, and has nothing cluse to what you might call stuntcasting.
However, it has everything else: it has tension between Chuck’s two lives, it has some great integration of the Buy More crew, it has the emphasis on Sarah being placed into attractive costumes and shown in slow motion, and ends with moments of meaningful (and awesome) moments of character achievement. I don’t know what kind of frequency Chuck is operating on this year, but “Tom Sawyer” is as good a choice as any.