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Spring Premiere: V – “Welcome to the War”

“Welcome to the War”

March 30th, 2010

I was tweeting earlier this week, in response to some questions from Chris Becker about why we start or stop watching shows, as it relates to what I’d call “Replacement Theory.” For ABC, they are desperately searching for a show to replace their hit Lost, which is still pulling top notch demo numbers that any network would kill for. And so next year, when Lost will be over and ABC won’t have that viewership, they’re looking for a replacement show, something that will pick up those viewers and keep the momentum going.

However, with FlashForward having bottomed out on Thursday nights, V is the last great hope and ABC knows it: they’re airing it after Lost, they heavily promoted its return (including during nearly every second of tonight’s episode of Lost), and they’re doing everything in their power to sell this show as the future of science fiction at ABC. But, for every advantage there is a disadvantage: no show has ever done well after Lost, that heavy promotion pissed off many Lost viewers angry that it was obscuring the screen, and the network has failed to launch a single science fiction series other than Lost successfully, proving that perhaps science fiction doesn’t actually have a place at the network.

Or perhaps the problem is just that “Replacement Theory” requires a certain degree of separation: V might pale in comparison to Lost now, but perhaps judged on its own merits the show could prove a refuge to fans in the post-Lost era. “Welcome to the War” is unable to live down the problems which plagued the series in its opening four episodes, but Scott Rosenbaum does an admirable job of reminding us that this premise is actually compelling and that there is the potential for its characters to become more interesting as time goes on.

We’re just not quite there yet.

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Fall Finale: V – “It’s Only the Beginning”

“It’s Only the Beginning”

November 24th, 2009

“Is this the real life / is this just fantasy … open your eyes / look up to the skies and see”

In addressing the fall finale of ABC’s science fiction series V, I quote Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for two reasons. The first is an excuse to link to the gleeful and wondrous Muppets version of the song released to YouTube today (if you need a better justification, let’s go with corporate synergy). The second is that the opening lines of this classic song feel like they capture the basic condition of most of V’s characters when these spaceships descended upon them. The very nature of science fiction that is roughly set in our own world is the question of whether the supernatural elements are “for real” in the sense that they should be trusted, which is perhaps what V has been missing since it debuted a mere three weeks ago. For a show about a race of aliens descending on humanity, the show has jettisoned the period of reflection in favour of drawing a line in the sand between skeptics who form a resistance against them and believers who freely choose to walk among them.

The logic behind the relative speed at which this has been accomplished is found within “It’s Only the Beginning,” which lives up to its cheeky title by confirming that, yes, this four-episode premiere event of sorts hasn’t actually managed to accomplish much of anything. In the show’s haste to define the characters quickly in order to bring in enough plot to tide people over until March (when the show is most likely to return), they forgot to show these characters struggling to come to terms with the Vs and the promises they offer to the world, and as such this finale has nothing to fall back on. The plot twists we see are intriguing (as the premise has not been the show’s biggest problem) if we care about the characters, but by separating the interesting individuals from the interesting stories (outside of Morena Baccarin’s Anna) the show has never tapped into the binary between these two cultures and the potential that lies within this premise.

Accordingly, it’s a good thing for the show’s creative future that it is only the beginning, although whether the series’ ratings future will be able to survive a rocky start is yet to be determined.

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V – “A Bright New Day”

“A Bright New Day”

November 17th, 2009

In its first four episodes, V has one of the toughest tasks in network television: it needs to both create a sense of momentum (in order to continue to engage viewers) and also leave viewers wanting more (so that they’ll come back when the show returns in March to finish its first season). What’s been clear thus far for the series is that it is sort of trapped between the two tasks, unwilling to blow its metaphorical load but also unwilling to slow things down to fully pull out the most interesting elements of the show’s mythology. It’s led to a methodical but unfocused start to the series, and unfortunately one which hasn’t yet pulled me in to the degree that it seems to want to.

The problem with “A Bright New Day” isn’t that it is doing anything particularly wrong with this premise, but rather that it feels entirely inorganic when introducing any sort of new developments. There is nothing elegant about this show, and while it (unlike FlashForward) has done well to keep its stories more inherently related to the plot of the series it has done nothing to make some of those inherently relevant stories entertaining (although parts of this episode are on the right path). The show is so desperate to show us certain things, and to have certain characters be in certain situations, that it doesn’t really care how it accomplishes it.

And while a more cheesy, 80s inspired series with some flair could easily get away with this, a show that purports to take itself seriously is going to run into a narrative brick wall, hiatus or no hiatus.

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V – “There is No Normal Anymore”

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“There is No Normal Anymore”

November 10th, 2009

“You still don’t understand humanity.”

And neither does this show.

After a fairly solid pilot that did a good job of making this premise seem like it could be a good one for a television series if not actually demonstrating much in the way of examples of that potential, “There is No Normal Anymore” is the sort of failure that these types of genre shows (including FlashForward) tend to fall into. What goes wrong is nothing to do with the show’s premise and more to do with the fact that the writers seem unwilling to fully embrace that premise from the get go. There are interesting elements in these stories, but as a whole the writing and for that matter the performances just aren’t living up to that interest.

The episode tries to play up a sense of paranoia, but by ignoring the macro level paranoia in favour of the micro level paranoia the show becomes far less interesting than its premise. And, unfortunately for the show, nothing in the writing or in the episode’s forward momentum has me thinking this will change at any time in the near future.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Stinsons”

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“The Stinsons”

March 2nd, 2009

Listen to any fan of How I Met Your Mother talk about why they think other people should watch the show and, chances are, they are likely going to eventually say something along the lines of “this is not a traditional sitcom.” This is something that causes some people some doubts: the show has a multi-camera format and utilizes a laugh track, looking and sounding like any traditional sitcom they’ve ever seen.

Astute fans, though, will point out the show often evolves beyond its sitcom qualities through the use of things like the manipulation of time, copious amounts of flashbacks, and even the general conceit of this all being one big memory told by Future Ted. The show has a lot of tricks up its sleeve that, often, leave it looking nothing like a sitcom at all. There are other times, though, where these elements aren’t as present, and where anyone spotchecking the series for the first time might leave thinking that this is a funny, but not particularly original, sitcom.

“The Stinsons” is an episode that, if I had to put it into one of these categories based on its basic concept, would be in the latter classification. This is the very definition of a situational comedy: after Barney leaves the bar suspiciously, the rest of the gang follow him to the suburbs where they discover a secret about his life that could forever change the course of their lives…or, more accurately, the course of the following twenty minutes.

But what this extremely odd, but extremely entertaining, half hour does is prove that HIMYM isn’t just capable of fundamentally altering the sitcom DNA to make itself standout: in the development of Barney Stinson as a character, and through Bays/Thomas’ great grasp of the sitcom conventions, they are subversive just in delivering this scenario in the most dysfunctional but hilarious fashion. That the episode actually ends up boiling things down, even in its lunacy, to an important point of character realization is testament to the show’s strength: being awesome.

And that’s the Stinson family motto, after all.

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