August 9th, 2010
After last week’s journey into slightly hokey territory, Huge returns to its roots with an episode that brings weight back to the forefront with the all-important weigh-in.
However, there’s a reason that it isn’t called “Weigh-in”: while “Poker Face” does return to each camper’s anxiety over their weight, it is more interested in how they respond than about how much weight they lost. Even with something this monumental, the show is still more about those small moments where campers confront the challenges which face them every day rather than those big moments where they stand on a scale.
August 2nd, 2010
Thus far, Huge has largely (oy, that was unintentional) stuck to a pretty simple formula: take a basic summer camp activity, and then explore how it would impact ongoing character relationships and identity struggles amongst Camp Victory’s overweight campers. In fact, part of what has made the series so successful is that it resists highly melodramatic scenarios, choosing instead to highlight how normal camp life is integrated into a larger narrative of life itself.
“Spirit Quest” is ostensibly a continuation of this trend, although I think it’s a more problematic example than the past couple of episodes. There is something about spirit quests which invites skepticism, which needs to be handled carefully in order to preserve each character’s individual perspective; however, there is also the temptation to have the campers to actually experience something approaching a spirit vision, which threatens to take the series into hokey territory that it would be better off resisting.
In the end, there are many parts of “Spirit Quest” which end up sitting comfortable in the middle ground, but there are a few moments where they push themselves to the edges of the story and do a slight disservice to a few of their characters.
July 26th, 2010
In Huge’s pilot, Becca explains to Will that everyone at Camp Victory is on an level playing field, which was very quickly proven to be a lie as cliques emerged and conflicts arose. However, over time, I think the show has successfully shown how there is a certain equality amongst the campers, as Trent and Ian bond over music or as Will and Amber successfully travel in different circles without forming some sort of Mean Girls-esque feud. While the playing field may not be level, it is also constantly changing, shifting with each week’s event: Becca can be elevated by her role in the LARPing, or where Ian shines on talent night. With everyone facing similar circumstances in one part of their life, their differences become just like any other summer camp, which the series has treated with a very careful hand which is commendable.
However, “Movie Night” addresses head on the fact that there nonetheless exists certain imbalances, both within the series’ narrative (with George and Amber’s “dangerous” romance) and within the series’ structure (in Dorothy’s story arc intersecting with her campers). While one can chalk up the success or failure of some romances to teenage insecurities and misunderstandings, others have barriers which are more substantial, both in terms of how the show avoids falling into cliches and how the writers strike a balance between keeping Dorothy central without turning her life into its own bit of teenage romance.
And if you’re thinking that the perfect way to strike this balance is to introduce a Twilight parody, then you’re embracing how far Huge is willing to push the limits of its own success, here to its benefit.
July 19th, 2010
Summer camp is a very small world, and a television show set at a summer camp is even smaller. If someone tells a lie, chances are that lie will come to haunt them, and if someone is keeping a secret there’s a good chance that it will bubble under the surface until emerging. Huge is a show about vulnerability, about how these campers struggle to open themselves up to the potential for change while not opening themselves up to the point where they feel like their lives are on display, and secrets and lies are one of the ways in which they shield themselves from ridicule, reprimand, or simple exposure.
“Talent Night” doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to how talent shows force their participants to face their fears, but Winnie Holzman very successfully owns this particular trope, delivering two empowering moments which are in some ways polar opposites but share one important trait: neither moment is played as universal experience. For every moment of collective reflection there is one subsection of the camp which has a different interpretation, or who is busy dealing with a different crisis at the time, and “Talent Night” does a very good job of bringing those stories together without forcing them to the same conclusions.
“Live Action Role Play”
July 12th, 2010
“I was myself…sort of.”
It says a lot about the current trajectory of Huge that “Live Action Role Play” is both the most “ABC Family-esque” episode of the series thus far as well as the episode which I think shows the most signs of future growth. After last week’s fairly heavy glimpse into those letters we can’t write, and those anxieties which overcome us without some form of an outlet to express them, this week’s focus on LARPing has considerably less subtlety, playing the exact notes regarding identity and performance which speak to the heart of the show’s central message that you’d expect from such a story.
However, what surprised me about the episode was how this storyline stretched our current definitions of these characters, continuing to develop and complicate existing character relationships while creating some new ones which successfully expand the series’ perspective. Where the show seems to resist notions of what I’d consider to be teen drama formula is how successfully characters move from the periphery to the margins, and how a character introduced in one context can quite successfully float into another – this isn’t to say that the show is radically reinventing itself each week, but rather that it seems comfortable with documenting the flow of life at Camp Victory rather than the moments of dramatic or comic interest within that environment.
This doesn’t mean the show is successful across the board at this stage, but it means that it collects more than enough goodwill over the course of an episode for its occasional cliches to feel earned, and often puts those cliches to good use.
April 28th, 2010
The Good Wife is a lot like Fringe.
This likely seems like an odd statement, but both are shows which despite fairly substantial serialized elements largely present themselves as procedurals. Both shows are also at their best, when telling procedural stories, when those stories feel in some way distinct: like Fringe, the characters are usually interesting enough that a more mundane trial can largely be carried by the show, but The Good Wife (and Fringe) are both capable of twisty, complex narratives that embody the shows’ particular universes as different as they might be.
“Boom” eventually succeeds due to some interesting serialized elements and some nice work around the edges, but the central case feels like something pulled out of an episode of Law & Order. This isn’t a slight on Law & Order so much as a sign of The Good Wife’s limitations: this show isn’t as capable of “solving” a case in the way that show is, and the case eventually becomes a burden which interrupts, rather than complicates, the show’s other drama.
“The Power of Madonna”
April 20th, 2010
Glee, as a series, requires the audience to believe in the power of positivity on a regular basis: regardless of the problems that face New Directions as they chart their new directions, there is a sense of hope and perseverance which lifts them from their somewhat sad existence in rural Ohio towards stardom in whatever form it may arrive. The series’ shameless positivity is one of its most distinctive qualities, an outlook which keeps the show from seeming too critical of its characters and their differences, and while I have some concerns with how that positivity is occasionally used to sort of gloss over its investigations of diversity I think it’s part of the show that should ultimately be celebrated.
However, if I have come to believe in the power of Glee’s positivity, I don’t necessarily think I feel the same about the power of Madonna, or “The Power of Madonna” as an episode of the show entirely predicated on the idea that the ubiquitous singer is somehow a stand-in for all of the values the show represents. Beneath the mountains of hype surrounding this particular episode, you realize that just about everything is taken for granted in an effort to bow down at the altar of Madge: characters rush into decisions for the sake of lyrical connection, allegiances change for the sake of demonstrating the power of Madonna’s message, and not once does a single character other than men behaving driven by sexism actually stop and question whether or not we’re willing to buy the outright idol worship on display in the episode.
Taken as individual scenes, the use of Madonna’s music indicates the quality of her contribution to popular music over the past quarter century; taken as an entire episode where none of those sequences were given the necessary development to create anything even close to real character development, “The Power of Madonna” both reveals Glee’s most fundamental problems and indicates that the show has every intention of pretending those problems don’t exist simply because they know that it will scream “You Must Love Me.”
And, well…I guess I’m “Frozen.” [Okay, seriously, that’s it for Madonna song title puns, the rest of the review will be pun-free. I’m “Sorry” about-DAMNIT.]
April 6th, 2010
It is possible that I’m running out of ways to discuss the quiet confidence of The Good Wife, which has become one of network television’s most consistently entertaining drama series, but let me run this one by you.
“Doubt” is in many ways a concept episode: it takes us into the jury room to witness the post-trial deliberations of 12 men and women, then weaves its way back through the case in a vaguely chronological order that has us guessing at certain bits and pieces of information before they truly arrive.
However, maybe it’s just me, but it didn’t feel like a concept episode. This is not a show defined by its bells and whistles, neither within its premise (which focuses solely on character) or in its general approach to legal proceedings (where each case is handled separately). The show doesn’t do anything to call attention to an “extra-special episode,” but rather drops us into the jury room just as they dropped us into the clerks creating an impromptu court room a few episodes ago.
By balancing the novelty of this shift in format with an episode that relies just as much on serialized character development as it does on the narrative structure, “Doubt” continues a fairly lengthy streak of episodes that demonstrate the sheer potential in this series and its cast.
October 14th, 2009
“An environment of constant irrational terror”
Andy Dehnart (who can be found on Twitter at RealityBlurred) posted a piece of commentary at MSNBC yesterday that, earlier today, exploded into a lively twitter discussion amongst critics. His argument is that the show relies on stereotypes when it could be developing character, and that it needs to eliminate some of its more one-dimensional characters (like Sandy) and provide more depth to its central Glee club members. What’s interesting is that I don’t think there’s anyone who is going to argue with this point, especially if we apply it to Terri and her fake pregnancy. The strangest thing about Glee, from critics’ perspectives, is that most people tend to agree that it has its share of problems, especially when it comes to the adult characters on the show. The difference comes in how people rationalize those criticisms and weigh them with the show’s undeniable charm, and its quick-witted one-liners that most people tend to enjoy.
“Throwdown” is yet another dividing point, an episode that highlights the show’s best character (Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester) and as a result features a lot of great one-liners and some solid musical numbers. However, as someone who tends to lean more critically on the show than others, it’s an episode that shows you that Dehnart’s complaints aren’t the show’s only problem. Yes, its adult characters are one-dimensional, but the show’s plotting is just as problematic: storylines seem to happen to characters as opposed to because of characters, and the result is that the Glee club itself is trapped in the middle of wars and plots (the environment of constant irrational terror, in other words) that may be entertaining in the short term but are doing nothing to foster long term development.
Linda Holmes from NPR made the note that it’s impossible for Glee to hit the mark every week, as the mark is tiny and specific. I’d argue that the show is hitting that mark enough to keep me watching, but I’d also argue that it is more consistently missing it where it counts (narrative, character development) than where it’s most popular (the musical numbers, the one-liners). And while that’s a pattern for cult success, it’s not a pattern for dramatic or comic fulfillment.