Here's that big wrap-up I keep promising. We'll try to dispatch of all of these shows in a paragraph or so.
The Office may have pushed things too far with Michael's behavior at Phyllis' wedding (just generally being a boor), but it nicely reined everything in with the following episode, when Michael was made a fool through little fault of his own by Ryan's business school classmates, then redeemed by how much he liked Pam's fairly awful art. That episode, "Business School," was directed by personal hero and Buffy creator Joss Whedon, and I swear I didn't just like it because he was involved (and, honestly, Jim attempting to have Dwight believe he was a vampire was funny, but just how dumb are we supposed to believe Dwight is anyway?). The show is always at its best when it's blending cringe humor with pathos, and the whole art show scene was shot through with this (right down to the last "Chunky" joke). Somehow, the fact that Pam's art isn't that good makes the character even more lovable and believable -- on most other shows, she would have been an undiscovered genius. But the week before just didn't work as well. It had its highlights (pretty much everything Creed did), but, while I bought that Michael would have been that big of a jerk, it just didn't strike me as accurate that no one would have reacted more violently to him. This is someone's wedding day he's ruining, and most people wouldn't stand for that.
Meanwhile, 30 Rock gets funnier and funnier. Even an episode that isn't as strong as some others can make me laugh uproariously with something like Jack getting drunker and drunker. I really like that the show doesn't even try to do anything touching -- after a full night of comedies shot through with this sort of pathos, it's nice to find one that's just as bitter as the real world can be. While the show is far from perfect (there are a few too many characters that aren't really as sharp as they could be), it finds a lot of stuff that most other shows wouldn't try (its commentary on Liz's "runtiness" was better deployed than when HIMYM tried to do the same thing earlier this season) and makes the most of it. Plus, Alec Baldwin! And Judah Friedlander!
HIMYM wasn't my favorite episode of the show ever, but it gave Neil Patrick Harris a chance to do some truly great physical comedy (his attempts to stand were hilarious), and Ted's excitement over the penny from 1939 was spot-on (the character is never more endearing than when he's being a big-old dork). The show works so well because it gets the little details right (right down, I'm told, to the dresses Lily was excited over getting at 90% off) and because it's interested in bigger things than just the typical tiny sitcom stories. I presume the scene where Ted marries the mother was there to introduce the show's new viewers to the premise of the show, but would Barney really be the best man? Actually, he probably would.
24 continues apace. I'm not sure I have anything to say about the latest two-hour spectacular, other than my general impressedness that a power drill can be used so effectively (between this and Grey's Anatomy, power drills are the heroes of sweeps) to gain information. It's easy to see the twists coming now, six seasons in, but the show still sweeps me along, so I guess that's something (they're going to assassinate another president? I assume this is how they'll redeem the Peter MacNicol character somehow).
Everybody Hates Chris was funny, and I liked the show's acknowledgement that Chris, for all his smarts, doesn't do as well in school as he could be doing. Orlando Jones (and wasn't he a funnyman at one point?) continues his reinvention as a deadly serious actor, and the jokes continue to be winning. I thought this was the strongest episode of the show in a while, so I don't have a lot to say about it.
This catches me up enough that I think we can probably call the vacation catch-up over (even if I never did write about Studio 60). Anything you're waiting to hear about?
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Here's that big wrap-up I keep promising. We'll try to dispatch of all of these shows in a paragraph or so.
Friday, February 16, 2007
After weeks of stalling, including Taylor's head-spinning insecurities, Seth's slothfully droll wisecracking, Ryan's sudden transformation into normal person and Kirsten getting a real plot that she'll never be able to follow up on, we're now staring the last 40-odd minutes of The O.C. in the face. "The Night Moves" initially had me worried, cause it seemed like an awful lot of nothing to be wasting on the penultimate episode, but it actually turned out to be a great little slice of nostalgia.
Schwartz and the gang seemed intent on throwing sideways winks at longtime fans (honestly, who else is watching these days anyway?) throughout this episode. The best of the lot being Seth's rundown of Ryan's punches and girlfriends (I appreciated the Lindsay shoutout most of all--definitely one of my favorite dropped characters). Having Seth and Ryan buddying up was great too, as a lot of this season has been devoted to Seth/Summer and Ryan/Taylor instead, and emphasizing it with the whole Seth donating blood thing was cute. "The Night Moves" was all about partnerships, actually, be it Julie and Kaitlin solidifying their bond, Summer searching for Pancakes (best animal star ever?), Sandy worrying over the injured Kirsten or Taylor's shark of a mother rearing her head (and promptly being shot with a flare gun) before patching things up with the fabulous Miss Townsend.
I'm sure the series finale is going to have some sort of big event to keep everything suitably memorable, but I'm also hoping that they keep everything basically the same as it was when the dust settled here. All the characters have reached good places and don't feel at all ridiculous anymore, and with the destruction of the Cohen house (beautifully played by everyone in that final scene, particularly Gallagher) there's impetus for everyone to leave Newport. Me, I'm rooting for the Cohens to move back to the Bronx (spinoff, anyone?), and for Julie and Kaitlin to rove across the country solving mysteries (Frank I could live without).
Anyway. ONE EPISODE TO GO. See you next week.
Two episodes into this ferryboat thing and I'm a mixture of pleasantly surprised and a little disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised to see (Emmy nominee) Kyle Chandler at the end of the episode. I'm disappointed at the hype that this story event was going to be epic, when it's turned out to be really rather ordinary. The disaster scene itself turned out to be basically a big parking lot with a few shots of a CGIed boat in the background. While it was probably more realistic to have the interns focusing more on patients than dodging flying debris, I don't turn to Grey's Anatomy for realism. Keeping focus on the characters is not a problem, but they should have maybe included a little more action. Even though "Drowning on Dry Land" included Izzie doing impromptu drill surgery on a man's skull and Meredith sinking into the ocean (were there weights in her shoes or something? She sure went down fast!) it still never quite picked up the pace, just like last week.
Justin Chambers was my pick for star of the show tonight. His character feels a lot less messed around than the other interns, but he's still grown nonetheless and Karev was very stoic and sweet in his dealings with Addison and the relatives of the survivors. Up until they found Meredith, definitely the most arresting plot, and Alex never even left the hospital. Interesting that they're setting up a connection between him and face-crushed Jane Doe, though--especially as they've already kicked off his relationship with Addison. Two female companions after almost a year of nothing for the dude? It's high time, I guess, especially now that all the other interns are coupled (it doesn't look like Izzie will be abandoning the memory Denny anytime soon).
The "main-character-as-patient" storyline is always repeatedly rolled out on any hospital show (hell, Grey's has done it about half a dozen times already) but they still did Meredith exactly right. Derek's morose frustration at being unable to help her (with Mark comforting him being a particularly nice touch), George's pessimism in the face of another tragedy striking someone near to him, Cristina's precognitive worry that Meredith was going to steal her engagement thunder somehow--it was all gold. Except for Izzie's speech, which I don't think Heigl quite had the chops to sell (although it was otherwise a strong performance from her). Bringing up her disapproval of George's speed-marriage was risky: Izzie has been far too sanctimonious towards her BFF recently, especially when she immediately dismissed him bringing up Denny's name a little while back. She can dish it out, but boy if she can't take it! Anyway, it just struck a specifically sour note in what should have just been broad-strokes drama stuff.
As for Meredith flatlining and waking up in limbo, or the afterlife, or whatever, I get what Sepinwall's saying about The Sopranos and St. Elsewhere, but it all seems fair enough to me, seeing as St. Elsewhere was like 20 years ago and The Sopranos is not TV (it's HBO!). Plus I'm sure they're gonna have fun with it. And, um, hello? Kyle Chandler? Maybe he'll drop tons of FNL references in the next episode, and it'll add five million viewers. Given that the numbers for "Drowning On Dry Land" were the highest the show has ever recorded (outside of the Superbowl), I'm thinking glass-half-full here.
Sorry that I'm still behind. Expect NBC comedy ruminations (and 24 too) sometime over the weekend. I mean, I can't go without talking about 30 Rock, can I? Hopefully, I'll get around to a big wrap-up sometime on Saturday.
In the meantime, let us sing the praises of Jayma Mays.
Actually, let us now sing the praises of the entire Ugly Betty cast. Next to The Office, this may be the best utilized big cast on network TV. Everybody has their role to play, and they're all encouraged to play around with those parts. America Ferrera is the center of this ensemble, but a group that seemed to have a few weak links when the show began has quickly grown into something almost peerless. I like the show so much not because of the plotting (which can be a little out-of-control) but because the actors are given such fun characters to inhabit and then make the most of inhabiting them. The show's still a pretty loosey-goosey twist on the good old soap opera (with a heavy dose of zaniness to make the medicine go down), but the cast sells it.
What's more, every new addition to the cast, whether major or minor, has integrated as effortlessly as the original cast members have found their characters. Even though they've only been on for a handful of episodes, it's hard to imagine the show without Christopher Gorham's Henry or Rebecca Romijn's Alexis. And the stunt-casting also works. Lucy Liu's not an actress I often like, but the show brought out the best in her, as it did in the oft-bland Jerry O'Connell. Hell, the show even makes the most of Judith Light, an actress a lot of productions have no idea what to do with.
And then there's Jayma Mays. Obviously, the "old girlfriend from back home that comes to foul everything up at the last opportune time" plot isn't exactly a new one, but Betty's such a curiously retro show in plotting regards from time to time that it fits in with the overall tone. And it helps that Mays is the perfect actress to counter Fererra's sweet dorkiness (Mays is even sweeter and occasionally even dorkier). I know it seems that every other blog post here is about Jayma Mays nowadays, but I hope that she and Fererra film some buddy cop movies over the summer hiatus.
I don't have a lot bad to say about Ugly Betty at this point in time. It's hit one of those strides that a show that's confident in what it is and what it has to say tends to hit in its first few seasons (How I Met Your Mother is another show in one of these strides right now). I don't know that it's great television, but it's incredibly good television, and it's nice to have something that's like nothing else out there.
And, I mean, where are you going to get Wolfenstein jokes at 8 p.m. on a Thursday?
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I sort of imagine that the Lost writers room is a lot like that Intro to Philosophy class you took freshman year of college. You know -- the one with all of the kids who wanted to have deep discussions in high school and then figured they could in college and "Philosophy" was the place to do that? And in the back of the room was a football player who needed three credits of humanities to graduate finally?
Anyway, when you were in that class, everyone would have lots of deep discussions (provided it was a smaller class and not one of those ginormous ones) about things that seemed really deep at the time but later proved to not be all that deep after all. But, hey, you had some good times, some laughs, some interesting talks that were gateway drugs for heavier theories of the universe. Lost often seems to engage issues in this "Intro to Philosophy" manner. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing (that's the kind of show it is). Its "depth," such as it were, is deceptive because it drops a lot of big names and big ideas and expects that namechecking to be mistaken for intelligence (and, honestly, when you compare this to just about any other show on basic network TV, it comes up as the winner in the brains department -- just look at it compared to Heroes or even 24). To that end, characters are named after philosophers and whole hours are structured around questions like "faith vs. science" or "fate vs. free will" in manners that don't really engage these conundrums.
That said, this latest episode, "Flashes Before Your Eyes," really DID engage the fate vs. free will question in an interesting way. That's not to say that it moved past that Intro to Philosophy way of looking at the question. But it did find a fascinating way to dramatize the question, mostly because it centered around a little-known character (Desmond) and one of the show's more bizarre elements of late (his seeming precognitive powers). The whole episode seemingly occurred in flashback, but that device, for once, seemed to be important, because it gradually became obvious that this wasn't a traditional flashback. This was, as Rosemary said after having the mousse, really happening.
The whole thing had the feel of a good Twilight Zone episode (and, indeed, I'm pretty sure that someone who had never seen this series before could watch this episode and follow the vast majority of it), and it set up one of those "only in genre fiction" conflicts that so make me love the pulp nature of the show: If you knew someone was going to die, how long would you keep preventing that death before letting it happen? And, what's more, this finally gives Charlie, a character who's had nothing to do since his first flashback early in season one (one of the show's worst hours), something to play, even if it is wandering around the beach, looking out for things that will fall on his head.
A few words about Fionnula Flanagan before wrapping this up. I've liked her for a while now, but she always seems to get cast as a maternal type. As the menacingly strange woman (who seems similarly unmoored in time) here and as the brittle housekeeper with a secret in the movie The Others, Flanagan has shown that she has a gift for the ever-so-slightly horrific. It's not that I don't like her as a stereotypical mother (she was fine on Brotherhood); I just think her true gifts lie down the path of being a more frightening figure.
I honestly was largely pleased with this episode. I've always been a Lost apologist, but I feel a lot better off about apologizing for it after last week's episode and this one. They have something of the joyful adventure tale with a dollop of pseudo-seriousness that made the first season so fun while also advancing the storyline. On Lost, the characters are often chess pieces, yes, but they're chess pieces in one wild game that I find incredibly entertaining. Lost aspires to so much that it falls short often (and it's all the more disappointing when it does), but when it hits its mark (as it did last night), there's little that can compare to it on network TV.
One of the things I've liked about Friday Night Lights from the first is that it can use just about any competition as a way to play to the "big game" that seems as though it should be situated at episode's end. Now, just about every other episode has a REAL big game, but others have substituted wheelchair rugby games and dance competitions and the like. While the second of the two Friday Night Lights I watched tonight (the one that aired Wednesday) finished on a playoff game (and one that ended in a huge brawl of all things), the one that aired a week before that climaxed with the Powder Puff football game, starting with the playoff game instead. The real drama that week was with the girls, and the show knew how to tweak that subtly.
That said, these two episodes raised and then backed away from the racial issues that the movie neatly sidestepped. The book, of course, that both works are ostensibly based on (though the film took considerable liberties with reality and the series abandons it entirely) featured lengthy digressions about the racial makeup of the Permian team, but the movie was forced to relegate this material to a few deleted scenes on the DVD. The series stood a unique chance to talk about race in a very real way, in a way that, say, The Wire might, but it didn't engage the issue as fully as it might have. After an assistant coach said several things that could have been construed as racist (and, indeed, seemed to be), Smash and some of the other black players were not going to play. Of course, at the 11th hour, they did, and then the assistant coach saved Smash from an arrest after the brawl (making all well, I guess). Now, this was a lot more subtle than some series would have been about racism (on other series, the coach would have been spewing the N-word or its equivalent left and right), but it was still a little too on-the-nose. What's more, the scene where Tami gathered all of the students to talk about racism and their reactions to it had its heart in the right place, but came off almost too much like an Afterschool Special. "Isn't racism awful?" it seemed to ask. "It can spring up anywhere!"
But while that was a big part of both episodes, it didn't irreparably harm either. In the earlier episode, the Powder Puff game offered up some comedy and a realistic resolution to the silly Matt and Julie drama (solidified this week when he asked her to be his girlfriend and she was happy to say yes). Kyle Chandler's performance is one of the best on TV right now, but his work is almost better when he's just the strong center that everyone else revolves around. The episodes where he has very little coaching to do can be among the show's best. While that wasn't true of the Powder Puff hour, the stuff with him trying to help his daughter be a great quarterback was pretty great. He and his wife's concern over their daughter's friendship with Tyra also rang true, even if Julie's sudden friendship with Tyra was a bit odd. And, hey, more Landry is always a good thing, especially as he's been rather lacking in screentime recently.
The episode this week wasn't quite as successful at evading these problems -- what was that jail subplot about again? -- but it was still solid television. Not a complete misfire so much as a mixed bag. Then again, the good stuff was so good that I'm hard pressed to remember what, exactly, I didn't like about it. But it's that way with all good shows, isn't it?
Weird point -- if this is taking place in the fall of 2006 (as it seems to be), how would Landry even know to be concerned about blood diamonds? Much less call them that? The trailer for that movie wasn't ubiquitous or anything, was it?
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The episode I (and, I suspect, most GG fans) was expecting last week instead came yesterday, and "Farewell, My Pet" was a nicely understated piece of work, an effective epitaph to the Lorelai/Chris marriage that avoided the histrionics I had feared.
As an episode en totale, it wasn't exactly the most exciting Gilmore Girls has ever been. Aside from Lorelai and Chris' two showdowns (the first somewhat heated, the second rather muted) there was Michel in mourning for his deceased chow puppy, Sookie slowly coaxing Lorelai to a realization about her unresolved feelings towards Luke, and Rory flirting with her new TA and instantly confessing it to Logan, in that adorable way lovers do. Probably the funniest moment of the episode came with Zach's horror at having to perform "My Heart Will Go On" at the canine funeral, but other than that it was a pretty quiet affair.
Which is good, considering they could have played Lorelai and Chris' marriage breakdown by pushing it in the other direction, just escalating their fight (over Chris' abandonment of everyone at Richard's bedside) until breaking point was reached. Instead they let Chris air his legitimate grievances as well as display his immaturity, and they let Lorelai admit that she was in the wrong for locking up her feelings about Luke rather than confronting them. The writing here was fine but it was, unsurprisingly, Lauren Graham's performance that sold the whole thing, a totally believable mixture of vulnerability, betrayal and stoicism. She's basically what's keeping the show somewhat on track during this muddled seventh season.
I say that not because I have a problem with Rory or Bledel's performance in particular, but it's not hard to see that the younger Gilmore has suffered more with the Palladinos' departure. She's always been a tougher character to write for, and while her relationship with Logan has developed nicely, they don't have a whole lot for her to do except be cute or pout. The Tucker Colbertson (can this show ever give someone a normal name?) character looked fine, but his entrance was hardly as dazzling as Jess, Marty, or Logan's--he seemed more like bland a nice-guy academic, good-looking but sans personality. I'm sure he'll play a role in Rory/Logan's relationship in the latter half of the season (Rory confessing her mild flirtation to Logan was cute, and smart, because couples keeping secrets is a storyline we don't need to see again on this show) but right now I'm pretty unconvinced.
Not much else to say, except I guess I'll miss Chris, but not that much. I think the idea behind this whole arc was to finally give him his shot at Lorelai, but in retrospect it seems a little unfair--to marry them so quickly after she breaks up with Luke was pretty much a sure sign they would never last. I'm sure things are now going to progress slowly, but surely, towards the inevitable conclusion fans have been waiting for. Whether the show sticks around for another year (really, I can't see how that would benefit anything) will decide how big this conclusion is, I guess.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I've returned to my domicile, TiVos filled to bursting. I had hoped to watch one or two things while on vacation, but the best I did was watching half of How I Met Your Mother and three-quarters of Studio 60. I guess this means it was a good vacation, but you guys will have to have South Dakota Lite for another day.
I promise new things tomorrow night as I gradually clean out the TiVos.
Considering this show's title, this has to be about the least exciting episode with an exclamation mark in it EVER. "Run!"--where to exactly? Mostly it seemed like a couple of yawnsome caper plots stapled to Claire's non-confrontation of daddy Nathan.
That non-confrontation was pretty good, too. I wasn't really in the market for a big screamy showdown (although one is clearly brewing between Claire and her adopted father), or for Nathan to up and whisk Claire away (although she does need to book out of Texas soon). So, I think they played the whole thing rather nicely. Pasdar and Panettiere are two of the show's more talented performers, so playing their scenes for quiet emotion rather than for melodrama was a fine move. Nonetheless, as I said, I think Claire is in dire need of a change of scenery. Unlike other fairly immobile characters (like Matt, Simone, Isaac), Claire has never felt like a deadweight on the show, mostly because HRG has always been floating around her. Still I'll be happy if we never see Zach again, so it's time for Claire to move on out of Odessa and get more involved in the central (read: New York) storylines.
Of course, I'd like to see basically everyone getting involved in the central storylines instead of these bizarre satellite adventures. I am especially bored of Vegas as a setting, and it was sad to see Hiro languish there in one of his silliest episodes yet. I get that Linderman is connected, and he's sort of the DHARMA Initiative of this show, but yawn! The problem is, of course, that Hiro has been depowered. Which wasn't actually a terrible idea, because his powers are so big that they can be almost too convenient to write for, but the depowering shouldn't have lasted more than a couple episodes. Personally, I'm worried for recurring characters I like during sweeps, and if Ando meets his maker because Missi Pyle managed to punch Hiro in the face, I won't be happy.
Matt vs. Jessica was a neater idea, in that it involved Matt a little bit (he even used his powers pretty well!) and it was action-packed enough to not be totally boring, but it was still two of my least favorite characters on the show dominating much of the plot, and with little actual relevance to the overall story arc. I really want to like Matt--I like Greg Grunberg a lot, and his power isn't too lame--but he's been so hampered this whole season, and it's been truly frustrating to behold. Ali Larter has vaguely improved from the ultimate depth of lameness to sort of passable, but I'm not into Jessica the assassin. In fact, considering the off-screen carnage we've seen her wreak, I have trouble believing something like Matt handcuffing her and getting away with it. Exactly how superhuman is she supposed to be? Still, I guess she got on my nerves a little less this week, so I can handle it if they start to move merging Niki/Jessica together sometime soon.
Finally, there was Ethan Cohn (who was Glen on Gilmore Girls, woo!) as dork Magneto and Sylar practicing more surgery on him, although really we've still not seen him use any powers aside from telekinesis to date. Mastering magnetism would be very useful, but the man seems less interested in the powers themselves and more in the chase, in eating up all the heroes out there. Does he have any kind of destroy-the-world pretensions? I have a feeling he may not be the ultimate villain, or may be only one of them, as Radiation Man is clearly going to play a key role. I guess we're supposed to feel suspense about Mohinder's fate at his hands, but really, who's gonna cry if he gets brain-whacked, which he won't? Maybe Mohinder will display off a really crazy power in defending himself against Sylar and make himself interesting, but I'm guessing...no.
All in all, meh, but I didn't fall asleep watching it, as my friend apparently did with yesterday's 24 double-bill. Which I haven't seen yet. So, go Heroes! I guess?
Monday, February 12, 2007
I never recapped the Thursday sweeps maelstrom for various reasons (basically, I was monstrously busy), but I'll do a really quick survey now. I liked Grey's Anatomy okay, but I've been watching ER for 13 years and I know how a disaster episode is done. Which is why last year, the Superbowl bomb episode struck me so well, because it was fresh and character-driven and really seemed to plant a flag for Grey's own take on the medical drama. "Walk on Water" was less stunning, preferring to try and bowl us over with a sense of CHAOS (the ferryboat disaster idea is good, but they could have made it even crazier) which didn't really take. Also, the cliffhanger was kinda lame, and the individual stories (Izzie with the guy under the car, Alex with the girl under the pylon) had some nice acting but weren't nearly epic enough to really sell it as a pivotal episode to me. I'm being overly harsh, cause I did enjoy the whole thing nonetheless and I bet the second part will be more action-packed. Plus, Richard dyeing his hair was funny. Also, they foreshadowed that Addison would be made Chief (if that's still happening), which I think is a sterling idea, although I'm still pushing for Sloane personally.
Ugly Betty was very nice and took this new crazy arc in exactly the direction I wanted it to. All this looming dread about Wilhelmina taking over the magazine always reeked of 'never-gonna-happen', but the whole transition from Alexis hatin' on her brother to compromising with him was smooth, and Betty's involvement at the bumper cars was sweet. Alexis could be a really galvanizing character if they keep playing this right. I just want them to relax on the mysteries and step up the workplace comedy. I bet Amanda becomes Alexis' new assistant. Or, even better, the Ugly Amanda that Becki Newton played the other week!
Brothers and Sisters had a really nice Valentine's Day episode yesterday, about the fourth in a row from this show that I've heartily enjoyed. I never would have predicted that this would become my guilty pleasure of the year, but damn if it hasn't! Even the male characters are getting some depth, although Ron Rifkin still seems a little lost in most of his scenes. Also, the Emily VanCamp news (she's joining the show as a regular, as Holly's secret daughter Rebecca) is just golden. I can't wait to see her work on the show. Rob Lowe, another late addition, is also doing a really great job. What's wonderful is that the show has realized not to take itself so seriously anymore, and that means the family antics, while often implausible, always work.
I'll link to Todd's House Next Door BSG recap here, although I assume he will post a bitesize bit of it later in full. Myself, I thought it was a weak episode, symptomatic of how all over the place the bottle eps have been this season. I'm not a huge fan of Helo, though (he's never really been much to me outside of a stoic moral champion, which doesn't really fascinate me), but if you're giving the guy a standalone episode, you could make the material a little less obvious!
Finally, if anyone's still watching The O.C., it was basically another stall episode with a great conclusion. Well, my head was in my hands, anyway. I would say I'm going to miss it, but I don't think I am--it actually seems like it's going out at exactly the right time.
Tomorrow, I'll bring you Heroes, 24 and How I Met Your Mother, with perhaps a hint of Studio 60 bashing if I can find the time. Peace!