“Early 21st Century Romanticism”
February 10th, 2011
Because of my busy Thursdays, Community has fallen out of the review rotation without falling out of the viewing rotation.
This is, in many ways, unfortunate. I still enjoy the show, and I think the show is doing things that demand critical analysis, but I’ve had to leave it to Todd, Alan, and everyone else taking a look at the show week by week.
This week, though, I had the benefit of a screener, which is why I was sad to see that “Early 21st Century Romanticism” was…well, it was a little on the straightforward side. This is not to say the episode is bad, but rather it is very blatant about what it is trying to accomplish, and I don’t know if that simplicity necessarily worked in all instances. It does, however, raise questions about to what degree this series can claim to feature consistent character development, and whether or not we buy the various character beats which punctuate this Valentine’s Day-themed episode.
“Silly Love Songs”
February 8th, 2011
“I need more than just a song to get my juices flowing.”
There are various reasons why “Silly Love Songs” has been pretty universally praised, and pretty universally considered to be a much better showcase for the show compared to the fairly middling, incredibly uneven Super Bowl episode. There are also various reasons why some of this praise comes in the form of a comparison to “Duets,” which I named one of my Top 10 episodes of television to air last year (and is certainly the best episode of the show’s second season thus far).
Those comparisons are earned, and in some ways “Silly Love Songs” is an even greater accomplishment if not necessarily a superior episode. Like with “Duets,” a simple construct is used to justify various musical numbers and unite the characters under a common theme; however, unlike that episode, the “consequences” of these songs are more broadly drawn, with an excess befitting the Valentine’s Day theme but also stretching the laws of science and delivering some real anvils in the process.
However, Ryan Murphy’s script never feels as though it allows those moments to get out of control, and the episode’s charm wins out even given its occasional lapses. The episode seems inconsistent if you think about it, and the rush to get characters into certain positions is problematically apparent, but I never felt that even if I thought it. “Silly Love Songs” successfully severed the connection between the heart and the head, never losing its steadiness and quite consistently entertaining in a way that the Super Bowl episode only managed at Halftime.
February 11th, 2010
I wrote about Valentine’s Day episodes on Wednesday night, and in the process I argued that I prefer shows which use the holiday to service their existing universe rather than forcing their universe to conform to the holiday. Accordingly, I was legitimately excited about how Parks was going to handle the holiday, because the show has a lot of characters in love, falling in love, or in a position where love is possible but perhaps not materializing as they might have wanted.
“Galentine’s Day” manages to handle those relationships with a subtlety beyond most shows in their second season, building the episode around a romantic story which loses its romance once it enters reality, in the process shedding light on the state of the show’s various relationships. And since, as noted, I’m more invested in these relationships than I had realized, it made for a great episode for a lot of different characters.
February 11th, 2010
There’s a scene early in “Communication Studies” where Jeff is asking Michelle about her Valentine’s Day expectations. What he wants to know is whether he has to change anything to make the day more special, whether there is something he can do (flowers, chocolates, etc.) to better fit her expectations. However, she says she wants things to remain the same, even though we later learn that she would like some small changes (like Jeff being willing to pick up ice cream before Law & Order nights).
In this metaphor, Jeff is the show’s writers, Michelle is the audience, and their relationship is Community. Like Michelle, as an audience member, I don’t want the show to change in any major way to improve upon itself, as I quite like the show it has become, and it certainly doesn’t have to go out of its way to be quite clever with its attention to Valentine’s Day (the Cupid Being was more than enough). However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, even if “Communication Studies” ended up pretty satisfying.
“My Funky Valentine”
“When a Kid Goes Bad”
February 10th, 2010
When a sitcom does a special “holiday” episode, especially in its first season, it’s the ultimate test of the show’s understanding of its character dynamics. For some shows, the show adapts to fit the holiday, while in others the holiday adapts to fit the show: it’s a subtle difference, and both can create entertaining episodes, but I tend to prefer the latter for two key reasons.
The first is that I kind of resent that holidays actually change people. There’s always that sense that holidays are supposed to change people, that in some way the days are “different” than others, but at the core of any real relationship is a bond which should exist whether corporations have decided that people should exchange gifts or eat chocolates on a particular day. So I want a holiday to feel as if it is being filtered through a particular show, rather than that the characters are in some way conforming to the traditions therein.
The second reason is that I find episodes where the show adapts to fit the holiday reinforce the most annoying elements of sitcom structures. Whatever adaptation happens isn’t going to last, and when it’s related to a particular holiday that structure becomes that much more transparent. Yes, every sitcom has episodes where new conflicts arise based on a particular impulse, but when it’s a holiday it feels particularly inorganic.
I make these points as a way to contextualize my (relative) annoyance with tonight’s Modern Family and my enjoyment of tonight’s Cougar Town, despite the fact that it was neither the worst nor best night, respectively, for the two series.
“The Large Hadron Collision”
February 8th, 2010
Generally speaking, I consider myself a “Sheldon’s Advocate.” While the show often suggests that Sheldon is acting selfishly, that his ignorance to social norms is sometimes replaced by a cruel elision of interests other than his own, I tend to give Sheldon the benefit of the doubt, taking his side in those situations because the show so often pits the other characters against him without any logical reason beyond it being funny when they make fun of him.
However, I don’t want it to seem like I believe Sheldon is entirely without fault, or that only episodes which paint Sheldon in a positive light are enjoyable. I thought “The Large Hadron Collision” was a solid episode, one which had Sheldon at his most selfish but seemed like it used that to its advantage, with Sheldon making arguments which hinged on his ignorance to the influence that having a girlfriend would have on Leonard’s decision. It isn’t a complex depiction of the character, perhaps, but it’s a consistent one, and the resolution to the story was clever enough that even without Sheldon having a redemptive moment it felt true to the character.
And in the end, that’s all I ask for, other than a quick death to Bazinga.
March 5th, 2009
I don’t know if the Super Bowl plans or just some weird scheduling resulted in the situation we find ourselves in here, but it’s Valentine’s Day in the world of The Office, which means that the single people are sad, and the couples are feeling particularly smug about their happy futures. And on that note, “Blood Drive” investigates the state of romance in the Office through a very subtle, perhaps too subtle, lens.
With Michael Scott leading the charge for the single people, organizing amongst other things a singles mixer and a support group for bad relationships, and with Phyllis inviting Jim and Pam along on a one-joke lunch double date, there was something about the entire episode that felt really lightweight, which it shouldn’t considering that we left Michael buoyed by hope regarding Holly in the last episode. And yet there’s not even a mention of her letter, and for him to go back to “Woe is me because Holly left” like this doesn’t feel right.
It’s not that I wanted the series to deliver a highly dramatic episode, but this was the first time they’ve confronted a couple of relationship issues (in particular the season’s central love triangle) and it felt like the episode’s subtle approach at times was more of a tease than a real parallel or comparison. I think I liked the episode, especially as it relates to some of the more subtle things, but there was so many notes the show tried to deal with here that you couldn’t help but feel it was missing that one moment of either really effective comedy or emotional resonance, and it never came for me.
Oh, there was lots of innuendo too, by the way.
“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.