“Flesh and Stone”
May 1st, 2010
As I expected after last week’s extremely engaging “The Time of Angels,” philosophizing about the meaning of said episode was sort of impossible: I spent most of my review last week talking about the Weeping Angels and River Song in general (especially since I had just gone back and watched the earlier Moffat entries introducing them), but you could tell that this creepy thrill ride was not just leading to a simple resolution.
“Flesh and Stone” confirms these suspicions, delivering a continuation of last week’s action which communicates a very different sort of message. There are a lot of pretty substantial ideas at play here, and I think I’m probably a bit too new to the Doctor Who universe to grasp their meaning, but the hour managed to integrate them into the story without seeming out of place amidst the simpler pleasures (or terrors) of the Weeping Angels. The contrast between Moffat’s interest in finding fear in the ordinary and the extraordinary circumstances ends up serving the series extremely well, as despite a very forward-reaching focus “Flesh and Stone” remains incredibly engaging television, even when I don’t know what half of it means.
April 12th, 2010
“It’s not having feelings for two people that matters; it’s what you choose to do about them.”
I was very ready to write a very sarcastic opening to this review: the gall of series creator Liz Tigelaar to contend that the love between Baze and Cate, or the love between any of these characters, was unexpected. The show wears its heart on its sleeve, so we knew from the beginning that Cate and Baze shared a connection, and there were more than enough hints towards it being something more than just sexual tension along the way to make this finale all about Team Baze vs. Team Ryan in some circles.
I still think the title is a bit of an oxymoron (in that we went into this finale very much expecting something at least marginally sappy, if not majorly sappy), but “Love Unexpected” ends up working extremely well by avoiding, or more accurately dancing around, the “love triangle” on the surface. The surprise, in many ways, is that the show manages to confirm rather than tear apart its various definitions of love while playing on the tension surrounding cold feet and unspoken attractions. Despite what one would call a thrilling conclusion, one that was most certainly expected, the show uses it to reinforce notions of family, self-empowerment, and tragedy in a scene that is endlessly complicated but which doesn’t feel like it over-complicates the show’s message.
It’s a delicate balance, but “Love Unexpected” manages to find a middle ground between a romantic fairytale and a frank depiction of humans being human, as characters make choices inspired by fantasy but grounded in reality – if this show is robbed of a deserved second season, it had absolutely nothing to do with the show living up to its creative potential.
“Not in My House”
January 13th, 2010
Sometimes, when I write something particularly critical show about a particular show, I wonder if people think I’m difficult to please. Because, while I may be deluding myself, I think I’m actually quite easy to please. I might be very particular about what I want from a show like Modern Family, which I feel isn’t living up to its potential, but that doesn’t mean that when it actually happens I’m just going to find something new to complain about. When a show listens to me like Microsoft listened to all of those annoying people in Windows 7 commercials and does exactly what I tell them to, it’s pretty much enough for me to ignore any other problems and sing from the rafters.
So while I do, yes, have some issues with “Not in My House,” which isn’t as riotous as the show has been in the past, the fact that two of the families interacted in an entirely natural, non-dysfunctional fashion without the show imploding into contrivance demonstrates how this should happen more often. It’s my Windows 7 moment, and it was enough to elevate this far above last week’s episode for me.
Oh, plus it has a Dog Butler. I would NEVER complain about a Dog Butler.
December 2nd, 2009
Over the weekend, I was chatting with a friend about Glee, and inevitably the conversation came to Terri Schuester. I find it’s usually a topic that every Glee viewer has in common: whatever they think about any individual episode, no one seems to actually like this character. And while I feel bad for Jessalyn Gilsig, who got stuck playing someone who nearly everyone hates, I think that from its very conception the character was a failure. In an interview with the L.A. Times (where she charmingly notes how a review of an episode which made an elated mention of her absence in said episode on the same site made her want to crawl back into bed), she notes that the character was conceived as a justification for Will’s flirtations with Emma; Will needed a reason to be straying from his marriage, so Terri needed to be someone who audiences didn’t like.
However, what I think Ryan Murphy and the rest of the show’s writers didn’t quite understand was how the show was going to be sold and what kinds of stories would dominate the early going. The show was never going to feel natural being about Will Schuester, to the point that those episodes that did focus heavily on his character (see: “Acafellas”) flopped primarily because the show’s core audience (and most of its mainstream buzz) were there for the less dramatic elements of the series (the music, the one-liners, etc.) or for the younger characters who were connected to the music/jokes but still capable of being expanded dramatically. The show had so many identities that a storyline which might have worked if this was an intense character drama like Mad Men had no chance of ever connecting with audiences, to the point where the character and the storyline were dragging down the rest of the show around it.
What makes “Mattress” work as an hour of television is that the show surrounding that storyline has matured to the point where Ryan Murphy has a handle of who these characters are and how they are able to wake up every morning with a smile on their face. For someone like Rachel, it’s knowing that she’s doing everything in her power to be a star, and for someone like Terri it’s knowing that she is doing everything she can to keep her husband from leaving her. By separating the means from the end, the show is able to take Terri and turn her into a character that is still inherently unlikeable without being so inherently unlikeable that she serves as a blight on its sense of momentum.
It’s not the best hour the show has ever done, but like “Wheels” before it the episode represents a clear sense that Ryan Murphy is back in control of this series just in time for it to head on hiatus.
November 1st, 2009
There’s been an ongoing debate amongst Mad Men viewers about how the show should ideally be handling the intersection of its fictional characters and the historical events that happen around them during the 1960s. Some have argued that the uncontrollable impact of history is almost too powerful for the show, overwhelming its characters and distracting from the more interesting elements of the show, but others have indicated that the cultural upheaval is integral to understanding how these characters are acting and how this decade is changing them. If I had to place myself within these two camps, I’d probably place myself into the latter, although admittedly I take the point of the former group in regards to the third season’s penultimate episode.
Harmed both by our prior knowledge of the episode’s central tragedy, young Margaret Sterling’s wedding falling the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and by a lack of a connection between that tragedy and the character motivations on display, “The Grown-Ups” works perhaps too well to capture the chaos that surrounded these November days. Rather than the chaos disrupting a clear sense of order, it came amidst a false sense of stability that crumbled suddenly, yes, but not as subtly as it needed to. This isn’t to suggest that the episode was a failure, or that it didn’t offer a stark depiction of these tragic days, but the combination of an oft-dramatized moment in history and a lack of character actions that felt distinctly of this show’s universe ended up making this one a bit less exciting than perhaps it seemed in theory.
After a week away in New York, which was really exciting, I came back to a pretty huge backlog. While I might not end up reviewing any individual shows beyond Mad Men (which went up earlier tonight), I do want to be able to comment on the comedy of the past week or so. Drama might be a bit more intimidating (was two episodes behind with both House and Sons of Anarchy), but we’ll see if we get to that in the days ahead (Reality won’t be there at all: Top Chef was predictable, Runway was boring, Survivor was expendable, and Amazing Race was a week ago and similarly uneventful).
For now, thoughts on (deep breath) The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle and Greek (phew!).
October 1st, 2009
After last week’s co-manager reveal, we knew this was the next logical step. Michael doesn’t deal well sharing power, and Jim has never actually been in power and when he has been it’s been a pretty big disaster. So, when this episode begins, we find Michael and Jim in a power struggle that shows no signs of ending easily, and which confirms what we knew about both men.
That’s not a terrible plan for an episode, but it’s problematically reductive and didn’t end up bringing anything new to these characters. While it comes to some sort of conclusion, it doesn’t feel as if it really proves anything, and the comedy throughout the episode was too scattershot for me to really claim that the largely transitional episode was as well-executed as it could have been.
At least it was a great Oscar episode, right?
September 25th, 2009
“I am all of them, but none of them is me.”
I never thought I’d be writing this post.
No one gave Dollhouse a chance of succeeding when its first season debuted to pretty abysmal numbers at midseason, and when it showed little signs of life on the ratings board when it concluded. It was a show that never found an audience, on a network that had done Joss Whedon wrong before with Firefly, setting everyone up for the inevitable letter writing campaigns when the show was canceled. Not only that, but to some degree people weren’t convinced the show deserved a second chance: it only late in the season discovered anything close to an identity, and even then some believed the show would be let down by some miscasting or the battle between procedural and serial proving too much for the show to handle.
So when the show got a second season against every oddsmaker, it was kind of surreal. On the one hand, as someone who liked what the show did at the end of the season, I was excited to see that Joss Whedon and Co. would have an entire summer to figure things out and put themselves in a position to really deliver some great television. However, on the other hand, I wondered if the end of the season was just a fluke, and that its premise and its star were just never meant to carry this show forward.
And then I saw “Epitaph One.” And then, in that moment, I realized that the premise was not going to be the problem, and that the show’s real challenge was how it will get from Point A (its rather auspicious start) to Point B (a science fiction thematic goldmine). “Vows,” of course, doesn’t entirely answer that question, but what it does indicate is that the ramifications from the end of last season haven’t ended, and that this is still a show capable of delivering an hour of television which treats this subject matter with the right balance of philosophical investigation and narrative procession. It is not a perfect premiere, by any means, but it confirms what I think we were all hoping when we heard the show got a second season: the growing pains are over, and a new life has truly begun for Dollhouse.
September 24th, 2009
If last week’s episode of The Office, “Gossip,” was all about clearing the air from the season finale (having Pam’s pregnancy revealed to The Office), then “The Meeting” was similarly simple. The episode primarily exists to create a situation that will be used for comedy in future episodes, so by definition this would make it a dreaded “setup” episode. For drama series, these are considered to be a blight on a series, something where “nothing happens” and where it feels as if the show is going through the motions to get to something good instead of just going there already.
But with comedies, there is an expectation that through sideplots and through the right execution, setup can feel like a normal episode of the show even as it quite blatantly moves some pieces into position for what is about to come next. The payoff of “The Meeting” is all in its final scene, when you realize the ramifications of the big decision in terms of returning the show to its roots (to some degree), so up until that point it’s all about whether or not the narrative is funny and entertaining enough for us to look past the machination in order to enjoy ourselves.
“The Meeting” has some struggles in terms of how it handles Michael and Jim’s negotiation of sorts, mostly driven by a choice of perspective which both provides more comedy and less enjoyment, but overall the episode remains funny due to a sharp subplot and the same qualities that make the show pretty funny on a regular basis. One can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a step down from “Gossip”‘s sheer simplicity, but it’s a solid episode that really does set things up quite nicely.
August 10th, 2009
Ah, the false finale.
In many ways, “Perro Insano” operates as a finale would, giving every character a climactic moment or climactic decision and leaving them hanging as we move on in a new direction. In the events of this episode, there are moments of resolution, moments wherein you are seeing an entire season’s of storylines reach a particular apex. The problem, of course, is that this is a false conclusion: while Celia may appear to have reached that deluxe apartment in the sky, and Nancy has finally convinced the man she loves to marry her, one can’t help but believe that things can only go downhill from here. And, unfortunately for Nancy and Co., there’s still two episodes for that destruction to take place.
It’s an awkward point for Weeds, really, because we as an audience are conditioned to the point of numbness to these types of events, and for every bit of false resolution we’re given we can’t help but resist, pushing back as if in defiance of Jenji Kohan and her writing staff. It creates an odd bit of tension that I think the show wants to thrive in, but here there’s been too little definition in the supporting storylines, and too much sensationalism in the major ones, for it to feel like an example of the audience being manipulated rather than the storylines being contrived. It’s a difference between consistency and repetition, in a way, and I think the show is falling at least slightly too much on the latter point.
But not so much so as to discount the show’s overall quality too greatly.