“A Dark Road”
January 21st, 2010
Did you remember what happened last year on Burn Notice? Because I didn’t. Luckily, the show offered a nice bit of catchup to remind us about the end of the Strickler arc, and even more importantly the show jumps onto its next story point with vigor so that what happened before is a nice bit of shading as opposed to something we have to remember.
“A Dark Road” is a really compelling hour of television in a lot of ways, but it’s also a lot of fun: the show is at its best when we’re just sort of hanging out in this universe, and I thought that this was a really enjoyable re-entry into that world with both a strong episodic story and some nice hints at the newest initially unseen antagonist to enter Michael Westen’s life, plus the best material that Sharon Gless has been given all season.
“Flip of the Coin”
November 14th, 2009
Now four weeks into its run, White Collar is about where it was in its pilot: a solid entry in USA’s lineup. The show has yet to really transcend to the point where I would say it’s really growing into something new, or where it’s establishing a more complex identity, which isn’t problematic so much as it is perhaps a sign of the show being unwilling to go to that stage so quickly.
There are some growing pains, however, in terms of how the episode wants its stories to work and how they’re actually capable of working. “Flip of the Coin” has a couple of nice set pieces in it, along with some high quality guest stars to help bolster the episode, but it struggles to make all of that come together. There are some scenes where Neal’s suave nature feels perfectly at home in the context of these investigations, and other sequences where the believability is stripped away for the sake of convenience.
Still, there’s a lot of enjoyment within this episode, to the point where some of the shortcuts are ultimately overcome by one development in particular that could help the show going forward.
“Book of Hours”
November 6th, 2009
I don’t have a whole lot to say about White Collar at this point, but I think it’s important to continue to acknowledge that the show is proving an engaging Friday night distraction of sorts. There’s nothing complicated about its narrative structure, and more than any other USA show it has isolated its mythology to the opening/closing of each episode, but the show has remained entertaining despite not offering anything distinctly new and thus demonstrates its solid execution.
What I want to focus on briefly is less what makes “Book of Hours” particularly compelling, as it was largely a stock hour of USA Procedural content, and more the elements of this episode that are helping (independent of the pilot) to unexpectedly offer a few interesting shades to this universe.
October 23rd, 2009
There has been much talk of late about whether or not NBC, in crafting a new strategy that actually creates programming that people are interested in watching, will be looking to their corporate sibling USA in order to discover the elusive secrets. The cable channel has been on a roll of late, with successful procedurals like Monk and Psych have been joined by Burn Notice and Royal Pains. Their shows vary in quality (I much like Burn Notice, but became burnt out on Monk and Psych – jury’s still out on the summer’s Royal Pains), but their success has become a foregone conclusion in the same way that the failure of NBC shows has become the status quo.
White Collar is the latest show to join this stable, and at first glance it is also one of their best. Borrowing heavily from Catch Me if You Can and Burn Notice, the show eschews explosions in favour of a more sly sort of series. Rather than following someone applying professional skills in an amateur setting (Michael Westen, in a nutshell), the show is the story of someone who has made a living working against the system but now finds himself of value to the very man who put him in jail.
What results is a show that some could argue simply checks off the boxes for how a USA procedural should operate, but one which does it with a sense of style that makes it pretty tough to resist.
August 27th, 2009
If you were quite a hawk-eyed reader of the blog, you might have seen a few weeks ago that I was convinced Royal Pains was ending its first season when Burn Notice ended the first half of its third, with a relationship-driven cliffhanger regarding the pairing of Hank and Jill. I was mistaken, of course – the show kept going, and this past Thursday it came to its finale and delivered something a little bit different. And “Wonderland” was a finale, of sorts, but one that is really strangely placed in terms of why I kept watching Royal Pains all summer.
It’s the show that really “broke out” in USA’s biggest summer ever, but the reasons it remained engaging for me as a viewer really has nothing to do with the show’s characters, at least for the most part. While some of these shows work due to the quality of their ensemble, the characters have felt ancillary to the premise and the aesthetic elements of the series. The show’s Hamptons setting is intriguing in the potential for us to meet recurring clients, and to embrace a world where the very rich and the very poor tend to interact on a regular basis – it opens up the potential for unique cases not seen on other medical shows, while in a breezy enough location to keep things from getting too serious.
However, this was a finale that went back to very basic procedural diagnosis drama, and that returned to the core relationship between the show’s regular characters which…well, I don’t want to be mean, but I don’t particularly care. I don’t dislike Hank, and I find Divya’s life quite interesting, but both Evan and Jill have been criminally underwritten, and the episode’s efforts to put roadblocks between their relationships is actually fundamentally false in terms of building suspense for a second season. The show has a stable of recurring players who I’ve grown quite accustomed to, and to put them into danger or to build suspense around them would actually feel final.
Instead, we’re putting roadblocks between characters who aren’t going anywhere, and whose divisions will be temporary before the show enters into its same comfortable rhythm next season.
August 20th, 2009
There’s really two trajectories for USA Network series as they approach the end of their first seasons.
The first is that they find a second gear, discovering another level of their structure where they are able to tell bigger and better stories. Burn Notice, of course, is the quintessential example of this, finding in its season one cliffhanger and then into its second season an entirely new identity that made the best possible use of its characters and setting to deliver some great television.
However, nearly every other USA Network series finds cruise control, that place where they are able to drift along at roughly the same, amiable pace as they began. This doesn’t mean that the shows are boring: I’d place Psych into this category, and I’d argue the show is still pretty fresh despite my refusal to keep watching it (time commitments, is all!). Rather, it means that their sense of identity becomes grounded and simplified in the face of potential expansion, finding a comfortable rhythm with which to become familiar and consistent with viewers.
With its final set of episodes heading into the finale, especially the primary focus of “Nobody’s Perfect,” I think Royal Pains is officially settling into the second category, and I think it’s really the only option. This isn’t a show like Burn Notice that feels like its universe could really expand: the laid back style of the Hampton’s has created a cast of characters who by necessity are not going to present broader threats, and the serialized elements like Hank’s previous firing are handled here almost entirely off-screen and brushed aside (mostly) by the end of the episode.
This is just a simple summer show, and one that has found its stride enough for me to say that it moving into cruise control about now will be enough to keep me watching, if not analyzing week after week.
“It’s Like Jamais Vu All Over Again”
August 6th, 2009
Alan Sepinwall has often talked about how, with TBS’ My Boys, the season finale cliffhangers are almost always of a nature where he as a critic doesn’t actually care about them. TBS asks critics not to talk about the result of the latest love triangle, or such trifling things, whereas Alan (and myself) watch the show for the sense of camaraderie, the sharp dialogue, etc.
I feel very much the same way about Royal Pains, a show that in its first half season has made quite a ratings splash but has failed to really connect with me on an individual level. It isn’t that the show is by any means bad, but rather that there is nothing standing out for me. I was going to start this review by complaining that they, like My Boys, chose one of the least interesting parts of the show on which to hang their hat when it came time to focus on a “Cliffhanger” (loose definition, I assure you), but then I realized something: I don’t know if there’s actually an interesting part.
I don’t think that’s a condemnation of the show, but it is the kind of thing which keeps an episode like “It’s Like Jamais Vu All Over Again” from feeling all that, well, interesting. It’s not that the case itself is that poorly drawn, or that the various interpersonal elements weren’t up to par. Instead, it is simply an example of a show where the focus seems to be on the element of the show, the love triangles and the like, that really does absolutely nothing for me, leaving me to wonder if the rest of the show will ever remain as in focus as I’d like it to.
Only time, and the new few weeks, will tell.