Saturday, April 26, 2008

BSG Saturdays, Season Four, Ep. 4, "Escape Velocity"

“Escape Velocity” is probably one of those episodes that most of the diehard Battlestar fans will hate because it’s a little strange, the feel of it is rather hazy and, well, not a lot actually HAPPENS in it. It’s very definitely one of those episodes that exists solely to set up future episodes and to create plot points and/or red herrings that will keep those following the storyline guessing as the series plays out. The episode also focuses on the weird mysticism that has always permeated the series, and it deals with the painful birthing pangs of monotheism. In some ways, it feels like more of a thinkpiece than an episode of a very plot-driven series. I really liked it, all things considered, but if you hated it, I don’t blame you. It kind of drifts about like a fever dream or a vision rather than just getting to the point already, though it builds to a memorable montage, filled with portent. And now that I troll the TWOP boards to read fan reactions, I see that most everyone else was on its wavelength too, so, once again, my fandom radar is way off.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

"If I'm such a bad dad, why are we all dancing?": Thursday night TV

We just realized we have a couple of Ugly Bettys from BEFORE the strike (thanks, TiVO!), so we'll catch up with that show over the weekend, hopefully, and see if I'm still the only critic in America to prefer season two to season one. In the meantime, look below the jump for thoughts on the NBC comedies and the return of Lost.

So, Earl's out of the coma now right? Because I kinda zoned out there and paid attention to just about everything else in my apartment instead of that episode of My Name Is Earl. It's not that it was bad, per se, just that I find that I don't terribly care about the show anymore. Jamie Weinman had a great post about how the show kind of never lived up to its promise because it was always going too ironic, but I'd go one step farther and say that the show's tone shifts have always been a bit awkward because the show doesn't want you to take it seriously until it does, and when it does, it never really prepares you to do so. I liked the second season of the show a lot, but the third season has left something to be desired. Some of the stuff in prison was all right, but everything since Earl got out (even before the strike) has been more miss than hit.

Scrubs, meanwhile, is a show that used to be able to do those tonal shifts and has had trouble in recent seasons. This episode, however, was probably the best of this problematic seventh season, and it did manage to pull off the tonal shifts very well, mostly because Bob Kelso is a character we know and love and his forced retirement has been a well-handled storyline, played out mostly in the background until these last couple of episodes. Ken Jenkins has always been one of the more underrated parts of the Scrubs ensemble, and it was wonderful to see Kelso's wry smile as he drove away from Sacred Heart for good (though I suspect this was planned when only a handful of episodes remained, and now they'll have to shoehorn him into a whole new season -- Libby speculates they'll toss him on the hospital board somehow).

The dinner party episode and the chair model episode were probably more emotionally consistent, but tonight's episode of The Office made me laugh more than either of those episodes. I think the problem with these episodes is that they feel a little rushed, now that the series only has a handful of episodes to cram big bundles of plot into. That said, the new pace is a little thrilling, just because of how unusual it is for the show. The plots where Jim ends up being Michael Jr. are always darkly funny (I especially loved Toby's desperation in that plotline), and it was good to have Ryan back and see just how desperate his life has become since he was promoted to corporate. This show's really firing on all cylinders recently, and I'm glad they found the form they had a few seasons ago.

And then there's 30 Rock, which was one of their funniest episodes of the season, if only because the elaborate Amadeus riff (of all things) was so perfectly timed and executed. I don't have a lot to say about this one except to say that I enjoyed it a lot, and it was the perfect capper to a string of comedies (I love this new schedule they've got going -- it makes a lot more sense than 30 Rock following Earl).

Finally, tonight's Lost was another great example of why I continue to be endlessly devoted to the show. There was some dumb stuff (the seemingly endless parade of extras that died under the gun fire from the soldiers and the dumb "I know Morse code!" reversal), but everything in the episode that focused on Ben (which was. . .about 90% of it) was pure pulp awesomeness. The scene where the monster swooped into camp and took out the soldiers, crackling with lightning all around Ben as he knelt over the body of his dead daughter, weeping? Simply terrific, and the sort of bold, cinematic storytelling this show can pull off when it's confident that it doesn't constantly need to catch up viewers who just might be tuning in. I daresay that being forced to squeeze eight episodes into five or six is going to make the show even better -- or at least less open to in-the-moment scrutiny. This was, for better or worse, Michael Emerson's Emmy tape, and it could very well win him the prize. Emerson's an incredibly versatile performer, and his work in the scene where he realized that, yes, he was going to lose his daughter was a masterful run through a huge number of emotions. Meanwhile, the filmmaking in the episode was as strong as the series has ever been, particularly the hazy, shady last scene, where Ben threatened Widmore in his own bedroom, shot elegantly in shadow, and the terrific gun battles with the soldiers. It was dumb to play the "IS CLAIRE DEAD" beat and then have her survive an EXPLODING HOUSE, but Emilie de Ravin is shore purty, so I'll allow it.

So that's a night of television. And now I'm realizing that there was an episode where Betty became manic and insane because of magic perfume or something? What?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Um. . .something about fur trapping.": Some things I've been watching

Man, I don't know about you, but it's just great to have Alan Thicke back on our TV screens, doncha think?

Thoughts on various things I've been watching after the jump.

How I Met Your Mother wasn't as great as it can be, and, like Slapsgiving, it paled in comparison to Slap Bet (the episode that spawned the plot at the center of the episode), but it was still a solid episode, and the closing "twist" was one I've been waiting for for a while (and I liked the way they eased into that pairing). As always, the best stuff in the episode was just the gang hanging out and coining new words (I did like how "revertigo" never caught on) and reminiscing. James VanderBeek was surprisingly willing to go for the comedy and to be portrayed as a gigantic super putz, even if his accent left. . .something to be desired.

So, hey, how about this season of South Park? It's not bad, exactly, but I've been catching up on SouthParkStudios.com, and I'm surprised at just how meh the show has become. It's not bad, and it has great moments in every episode (I was fond of Cartman and Butters having to hold hands in the episode that aired tonight), but overall, it's just starting to feel a little been-there, done-that. It's reached that point at roughly the same point The Simpsons did, and while I think the show will probably be defended by fans for longer (simply because its outrageous nature demands greater fealty for some reason), even the political satire is lacking in snap. The Britney episode was pretty good (the creators always do well with the pitfalls of fame), but the writers strike episode, despite having some funny lines, made fun of Family Guy for its random references, then filled a whole act with. . .references to YouTube acts that were strictly of the "Hey! I've heard of that!" variety. What's more, the political satire, which used to seem sort of daring for mocking both sides, now just seems tired BECAUSE it doesn't take a side. This is not to say the show SHOULD take a side, but the times are so polarized and so stark, that being too cool for school just doesn't seem that cool anymore.

I know a lot of people didn't like that 30 Rock because of Tim Conway or somesuch, but I laughed a lot at it, even if Conway was shoved off to the side in an irrelevant subplot. The Dennis and Liz pairing was one of the things that really convinced me the show was finding its way during those weird times in the early part of season one, and I hope the Beeper King comes back for more at some point. Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan have a strange energy when they work together, and I'm glad the show isn't trying to overplay that, as well. The show isn't quite to the point that it was at in that wonderful string of episodes from before the strike, but this week, I was really glad to have it back.

Hey, Scrubs, do more episodes like that. Kelso is one of your best, most under-used characters, and I'd rather see stories about him than stories where you push J.D. and Elliot together, especially when you're going to be doing another season and will have lots more episodes to push those two together. One of the things that I'm resisting is that the pushage of those two has been so sudden, especially when it seemed pretty definitely over between them back in season three. If you built it organically, I might go along for the ride.

Libby insists that wasn't a new Bones, but that episode highlighted everything I do and don't like about the show. The banter and character interaction was pretty terrific, while the mystery itself was a little yawn-worthy. Still, I just wanted to share that watching cheerleaders in blue lipstick in HD is a little disconcerting. I probably won't sleep for months.

Having finally caught up with the rest of the world, I have to admit I'm really impressed by John Adams. There's stuff in it that doesn't work, but Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are always terrific, and the show manages to make the Revolutionary War era new and relevant, and it doesn't make the history stultifying. I'd rather that Benjamin Franklin not talk like Poor Richard's Almanack, and I do think the show has too much of a tendency to underline some things that don't need underlining, but most of the time it's really terrific. It's well worth a DVD purchase if you have some time.

Finally, I quite liked that episode of The Office. It took a second time through it to really unpack all of its pleasures, but it was sweetly funny while still being emotionally resonant. The Jim/Pam impending engagement makes me wince, but I trust them to find a way to make it funny and interesting. I've always wanted to see a show take its central couple from flirty to dating to engaged to married, but something about this doesn't feel earned yet -- I'm guessing it has something to do with the strike break and not really anything to do with the show's actual attempts to portray the relationship.

So what are you watching? And what should I be watching?

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