Seriously, I think this blog, as well as changing Heat magazine policy on shameful circles, has somehow punched way above its weight class (like, way way way way above), and affected the Emmy voting. Here is a rundown of the horror:
Two weeks ago, I said of Michael Emerson in The Shape Of Things To Come, (pictorially represented here by co-stars Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Dae Kim, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Emerson):
[T]he best performance of the year. Screw it, the decade. Michael Emerson’s command of the screen is already frightening, and this most shocking of episodes featured his greatest moment yet, a near-wordless breakdown followed by terrifying revenge as our anti-hero chooses to unleash unworldy terror upon his nemesis, even at the cost of losing his hold on the thing he holds most dear. There were countless other superb moments in this episode, but that was the most impressive five minutes of the year.
And the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series goes to… Zeljko Ivanek in Damages! I’ve not seen the show, so I can’t say what he is like on it. However, he is a terrific actor, impressing me hugely in The Pillowman opposite Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum a few years back. Nevertheless, NOOOOOOOOOOO! I hope you’re happy now, Jacob!
A few months ago, I said of House’s Head co-director Greg Yaitanes (pictorially represented here by House actress Olivia Wilde, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Yaitanes):
[W]hile I liked the whole finale overall, the first part was, sadly, overdirected to the point of obnoxiousness by Greg Yaitanes (who I have railed against before). If ever there was a TV director who is determined to get noticed enough to win a film career, it’s him, filling the episode with annoying Sonnenfeld-esque close-ups, flashy lighting, and Cuddy stripping. Here is a picture of her post-strip. [ETA: See original post for boring picture if you really need to see House and Cuddy looking bored.] I’m not going to contribute to the uncomfortable memory of poor Lisa Edelstein having to dress like a schoolgirl and rub her butt on a pole. [ETA: And I'm still not going to. It was unedifying.]
And the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series goes to…Greg Yaitanes for House’s Head! As I said before, I’m perplexed as to why co-director Katie Jacobs got no mention, but there might be some info out there I don’t know about. Still, at least he didn’t win for his hilarious work on Heroes, and House’s Head did feature some good work.
Earlier this year I said of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (pictorially represented here by Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Weiner):
After the first episode we had learned that during the 60s, men were sexist pigs, women were oppressed and treated as chattel, homosexuals were closeted, white Americans were racist, and everyone was drinking and smoking way too much and ignoring the health risks. It was enlightening! And then the next six or so episodes did very little to move beyond these points.
And the Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series goes to…Matthew Weiner and his script for Mad Men pilot Smoke Gets In Your Eyes! As I’ve said since, the show has grown on me, and I don’t feel so frustrated by its insistence on drawing attention to its period detail as I did at first, but even so, that pilot was awfully obvious, and season closer The Wheel, which Weiner also wrote (with Robin Veith), was much stronger.
A loooooooong time ago, I said of Pushing Daisies director Barry Sonnenfeld (pictorially represented here by Pushing Daisies actor Lee Pace, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Sonnenfeld):
His work on the Coen’s early movies blew me away when I was younger, and he did strong work with Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally and Misery. Then he became a director with an extremely limited bag of tricks ripped off from his time on Raising Arizona, mostly involving dollying into something to express emphasis, fish-eye lenses, lots of attention-seeking POV, and pointless overhead shots…In a 42 minute long show, he had at least 34 emphasis dollies, 11 overhead shots, and POV every five minutes (yes, I actually counted). It blighted the show to such an extent that I even forgot to be annoyed by the cloying narration. I may have enjoyed some of Tim Burton’s early work, and I might have even liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which were stylistically very similar to Pushing Daisies, but that knowing fairy-tale style gets old real quick, and the show was utterly hamstrung by it.
And the Emmy for Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series goes to…Barry Sonnenfeld for Pie-lette! As Noel Murray said on The AV Club, “it’s kind of interesting that Sonnenfeld was all-but fired for going over budget and getting too ambitious with the show”. Consider this a validation of his over-spending and reliance on a limited set of ideas. Thanks, Emmys! Luckily, as I have said many a time, once he stepped away from the director’s chair, things improved immensely.
Director Paul Feig and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky delivered a masterpiece of sphincter-tightening discomfort that not only showed up the original BBC series (which I would have thought was an impossibility), but also anything that fraud Mike Leigh has done. It was the kind of format-busting experiment that proves that, when given enough legroom by the suits at the network, mainstream TV can transcend expectations and deliver devastating and uncompromising storytelling.
And the Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series goes to…Tina Fey for the 30 Rock episode Cooter (pictorially represented here by herself, because of Reason X)!
Oh, I can’t hate on Tina Fey for winning that one, as she is just literally absolutely factually the utter Queen of the mystical land of Shiznit, but even so, that wasn’t the best episode of the season. Great fun, but not quite there (though I did love all of the Matthew Broderick stuff; some of my favourite satire of the year).
It’s all a bunch of gratuitous carping up in this bitch! That’s not good. Ignore it all. Though I had my own preferences in these categories, the winners all pleased me in some way or other. It’s not like there are any really egregious choices there, and even if I felt really negatively towards something (such as the work of Sonnenfeld and Weiner), it was often setting in stone a template for something that I grew to like very much. Congratulations to everyone who won, for reals. And yes yes, I did find a red carpet picture of Matthew Weiner (seen here with John Slattery).
If you think I’m going to get as many hits by covering this blog with pictures of Matthew Weiner, talented fellow though he is, instead of pictures of Christina Hendricks, then you are smoking the drugs. I’m all about the hits, people.
Though it might seem perverse to be assessing the bests and worsts of a TV year when the new TV year is very much upon us (The Shield started last week, and Fox’s big new hope, Fringe, starts tomorrow), weirdly enough we’re actually doing this earlier than last year. It’s hard to know where to put the cut-off dates, but now seems the right time to get on with this. There are going to be some omissions, such as Mad Men (we didn’t think the first season had anything strong enough for inclusion, and the second season, though improved, is not yet over) and The Shield (we’re a couple of seasons behind, but catching up fast). Also missing are mentions of Terminator: The Sarah Conicles (© Masticator and Masticatrix) and The Middleman, two shows I think I will end up loving but have not seen enough of to be sure (and believe me, the first fifteen minutes of the third episode of Middleman was so funny it almost got into the list anyway). I will also include a couple of two-parters, because they were just too perfect to be separated, and will regrettably be going over a lot of stuff I’ve covered before, but what can I say? When I’m enthusiastic about something, I have no off-switch.
Best episodes of the season:
10. Pushing Daisies – Sniff It Good
For a few weeks there, I was in two minds about sticking with Pushing Daisies. Maybe I would have been more forgiving of it if it hadn’t been treated like God’s own TV show by most critics before it had even aired, a blanket pre-judgement that grated because no one seemed willing to admit that for everything that was right with the show, there was something very wrong. At least, that’s how it was at first. As the season progressed, it became clear that the critical consensus was swinging away from blanket praise to complaints that the tone was too sickly, and just to be contrary, we began to fall in love with it. As the show became more bittersweet (in counterpoint to the colours and romance) it blossomed, and this episode represented the high watermark. Not only did it introduce Paul Reuben’s olfactory expert, it ended on a heartstopping rendition of Morning Has Broken by Ellen Greene playing over a hallucinatory animation sequence that still makes me choke up whenever I think about it.
9. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – Goodbye and Good Luck
Coming after the two best seasons of this long-running show, the eighth was a disappointment, though one littered with the odd classic moment. This episode, chronicling the final case of CSI Sara Sidle, was the season highlight by a long chalk. Directed by star helmer Kenneth Fink (also responsible for the excellent finale, which detailed the last moments of CSI Warrick Brown), it featured the return of Sara’s arch-enemy, the bad seed Hannah West, and brought their antagonism to a surprising and moving conclusion, just in time for Sara to leave the team in an attempt to save her damaged soul. Visually impressive (as I mentioned at the time), emotionally draining, and beautifully judged, it was the total opposite of the empty gore-fest that non-fans assume CSI to be. Even when not operating at maximum efficiency, surely this is one of the most underrated shows on TV right now.
8. Doctor Who – Forest of the Dead
The general consensus is that no matter how shaky Doctor Who can be, at least Steven Moffat will pop up at some point and save the day. So it was with the River Song two-parter, which was lauded pretty much before it aired. Another truism is that heightened anticipation will often lead to disappointment, and the first part, Silence in the Library, featured so many of the tricks Moffat had already used that this felt less than fresh, even with a spirited performance from Alex Kingston. Luckily for Nu-Whovians everywhere, the second part, Forest of the Dead, was a heartbreaking triumph. Though still reusing elements from previous Moffat scripts (especially The Doctor Dances), the emotional surge in the last five minutes dispelled any misgivings, mixing uplift and tragedy with enough enthusiasm that pointing out its flaws feels like mean-spirited carping.
7. Journeyman – Emily/Blowback
Journeyman was the little show that couldn’t, no matter how much we had hoped it would. Damned as nothing more than a Quantum Leap rip-off, it struggled to attract the Heroes audience at exactly the moment that the Heroes audience decided it didn’t want to watch an entire episode through, let alone hang around to see what was on afterwards, even if that meant missing out on something bold, complex, and thought-provoking. By this point in the show’s run we had realised something special was happening, and this two-parter, exploring the disastrous consequences of Dan Vassar’s actions, and the limitations of his power, was a perfect example of its uncompromising storytelling. With our temporally-challenged protagonist’s liberal good intentions responsible for attracting the attention of a serial killer (played with sleazy menace by Raphael Sbarge), he is forced to contemplate the unthinkable in order to save his family. Kevin McKidd acted the hell out of that moral quandary, Juan Carlos Coto and Kevin Falls wrote the shit out of it, and all across the internet, people finally woke up to the brilliance of this show. Sadly, it was too late to save it from cancellation.
6. Battlestar Galactica – The Hub
Bouncing back from a sorely disappointing third season, Battlestar Galactica picked up a bit but was still not firing on all cylinders. While the plot seemed to be moving pieces into place with some actual honest-to-God events, of all things, many episodes were still tainted by unconvincing histrionics, variable performances, dreary subplots, and clumsy narrative conceits. The Hub featured none of these. With super-total-ace writer Jane Espenson focusing on Laura Roslin (one of the show’s most compelling characters), all of the swish pyrotechnics and gung-ho action paled next to the season’s most dramatic moment; Baltar’s delirious confession of his role in the Caprican genocide, and Roslin’s almost homicidal response. That Mary McDonnell is not the recipient of every award going for her pitch-perfect reaction is a crying shame. And then, to top it off, she tells Bill Adama she loves him. This is the show I once loved. Where the hell has it been?
5. The Venture Brothers – Tears of a Sea Cow
After a long wait, The Venture Brothers returned with a greater emphasis on continuity and drama, to such an extent that my enormous anticipation soon withered into confusion and annoyance. While Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were still providing the gags, something seemed amiss. By the time we reached Dr. Quymn: Medicine Woman, the repeated focus on a depressed Monarch, the creepy Sgt. Hatred, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s efforts to cheer her husband up had robbed the show of so much of its energy that even that episode, which featured none of those characters, was still not hitting the bullseye. Luckily, Tears of a Sea Cow marked a huge return to form. With Dr. Venture and Brock Samson missing in action for the majority of the episode, the focus shifts to Hank, Dean, and Dermot on one side, and The Monarch’s defiance of the Guild of Calamitous Intent on the other, and as they all accidentally come into conflict of the most half-hearted kind, the show got its mojo back.
Nothing much happens for 22 minutes, but the details are perfect. 21′s immortality misunderstanding, H.E.L.Per’s incessant drumbeat (running joke of the year), The Monarch’s psychosexual obsession with Dr. Venture coming into full bloom; just those three moments would qualify it for the list, but the episode was filled to the brim with comedic gems. In the last few episodes of this reinvigorated season we were treated to the sight of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde in a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen spoof, the return of Colonel Gentleman and his manboobs, the introduction of super-robot Ventronic, and a shocking two-part finale that featured death and retirement horror. Arguably, those moments were funnier or more dramatic, but Tears of a Sea Cow wins out for bringing the show back on track.
4. Friday Night Lights – Let’s Get It On
As with many of these mini-posts, I’ve already gone on about this exemplary episode at length, so forgive me for going over old ground, but though this season didn’t reach the heights of the first, it was by no means the disappointment that many felt it to be. The worrying plot threads were handled well, the stupid plot threads didn’t hang around long, and the performances were as classy as ever. Though the series had many high points, including Riggins’ speech to his former team-mates, Santiago’s first game, and Tami’s sister arriving to drive Coach insane, this episode featured the highest quota of genius moments, with special praise for Street’s plunge from a boat and subsequent “baptism”, and the sweet and funny Y Tu Mama Tambien scene at the end of the episode. No other show on TV treats adolescent confusion and pain with such seriousness of purpose, or respect for its characters and audience. Everyone who doesn’t watch it is missing out on an incredible experience. Seriously.
3. The Office – Dinner Party
The Deposition, the episode that preceded this one, was excruciating enough, showing the relationship between Michael and Jan to be riven with distrust, mutual loathing, and flashes of inappropriate aggression, yet held together by desperation and fear of loneliness. The Dinner Party, set almost entirely in Michael and Jan’s house, made The Deposition look like a traditional two-camera and laugh-track sitcom from the 70s. The vicious sniping between Michael and Jan was terrifying in its ruthlessness, made all the worse for happening in front of Jim, Pam, Andy and Angela (and, later, Dwight and his babysitter, played with deadpan skill by the wonderful Beth Grant). Director Paul Feig and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky delivered a masterpiece of sphincter-tightening discomfort that not only showed up the original BBC series (which I would have thought was an impossibility), but also anything that fraud Mike Leigh has done. It was the kind of format-busting experiment that proves that, when given enough legroom by the suits at the network, mainstream TV can transcend expectations and deliver devastating and uncompromising storytelling. And yes, I’m aware I’m saying that about a comedy.
2. House M.D. – House’s Head / Wilson’s Heart
Again, I’ve hyper-praised these two episodes, but allow me to indulge myself once again. As with the Journeyman two-parter, it’s impossible to separate these two episodes, even though this time there is a distinct quality difference between the two. While the second half, with the team attempting to save the life of Amber the Cutthroat Bitch, was measured and quiet, the first part, with hallucinations and bus crashes, was big and flashy. It was a superb episode, but mostly despite the attention-seeking efforts of director Greg Yaitanes. That he has been nominated for an Emmy while Katie Jacobs, director of the second episode, was overlooked, is regrettable (on edit: turns out IMDb lists her as co-director on the first episode, but she gets no attention from the Emmy judges). Nevertheless, this season finale represented House at its best. Coming at the end of the most entertaining and thought-provoking season yet, it was the perfect capper, the best episode in the history of the show, and proved the doubters wrong; there is still life in that controversial static formula, especially when used by a showrunning team as bold as this one.
1. Lost – The Shape Of Things To Come
I have spent the months since the season four finale of my favourite show trying to decide which episode was the one I loved the most. Was it The Constant, which used the baffling premise of the show to create a love story that defied time and mortality? Or was it that amazing last episode, filled with more action and surprise than anything other show screened all year? Or was it the one that made me even more long-winded than usual? Just a week ago, I finally came to the conclusion that it had to be this episode, featuring time-travelling, cold-blooded murder, the triumphant return of Cerberus the Smoke Monster, and the best performance of the year. Screw it, the decade. Michael Emerson’s command of the screen is already frightening, and this most shocking of episodes featured his greatest moment yet, a near-wordless breakdown followed by terrifying revenge as our anti-hero chooses to unleash unworldy terror upon his nemesis, even at the cost of losing his hold on the thing he holds most dear. There were countless other superb moments in this episode, but that was the most impressive five minutes of the year. Forgive my hyperbolism, but no other work of art or popular culture has moved and amazed me more than that “simple” bit of acting. I am simply in awe of the man, and the entire Lost team for ignoring the critics and getting us to this point at the deliberate pace they have. If the rest of the payoffs are even a fraction as powerful as those featured in this episode, it will all have been worth it.
Coming up! The ten worst episodes of the year (hint: one of the shows included rhymes with Fuck. Another one rhymes with Norchwood). I might even get into some other stuff. Let’s see how this week goes.
Battlestar Galactica has returned with a mixture of very good drama, dreary character soliloquies, and appalling dialogue, most of which is delivered by Dean Stockwell’s Cylon character Cavil, not to mention introducing the most interesting sub-plot yet (a Cylon civil war involving mass robo-genocide), and practically ignoring it in favour of lots of scenes of Cally shouting at Tyrol and Starbuck being super-grumpy. Not the most appealing of televisual prospects (though thank God she’s separated from Apollo so we don’t get week after week of them bickering).
Still, so far it’s been better than season three, though not as good as the earlier seasons. Canyon has pretty much given up on it, and I don’t blame her really, though I find myself in the odd position of giving a lot of its weaknesses a break now that I know there is an end in sight, hoping that what seems to be boring time-wasting is actually pertinent, in much the same way that a lot of Lost doubters have started to give the show a chance to prove itself. More on all of that later (again, if I can find the time and energy), but first, this week’s episode (which ended very strongly and ruthlessly) featured a very dull moment between boring Starbuck and her boring husband/ex-husband, Lee Anders the Cylon, which involved The Hott Angry Sexx. We didn’t see that, of course, but we got some futuristic potty-mouth from Starbuck that totally wrecked the scene.
I’m not fan of space-swears in sci-fi, though I totally understand why it is there. I don’t expect BSG (or any other show) to turn into Deadwood-On-Mars, but inventing new swearwords often falls flat. I was fond of the authorised profanity in Judge Dredd (the comics), but hearing Sylvester Stallone say “Drokk!” in the movie brought home how stupid the idea is. Red Dwarf may fit on my list of Least Favourite Shows for lots of different reasons, but high up is the attempt to make, “Smeg” work as an obscenity. The only thing obscene about Smeg is that their pretty fridges are way too expensive for me to buy. Other than that, it sounds stupid. Perhaps not as bad as that, BSG famously features the fake swear, “Frak!”, standing in for fuck.
To be honest the only show I can think of that got around the problem was Firefly with its Cantonese exclamations, though they often translated into words and phrases as innocuous as, “bullcrap,” “You fink,” and “The explosive diarrhea of an elephant.” The difference is that in Cantonese it sounded cool. Frak does not sound anything like as cool. It’s more like the fake swears you used to get on TV in profanity-thons like Midnight Run or Goodfellas, all “Melonfarmer” and “Freaking”. In fact it makes me cringe just thinking about frak, except when Dwight Schrute says it on The Office. Then it’s perfect.
Until now the word has only appeared sporadically; the odd “frakking” or “frak me” popping up here or there, but this week Starbuck popped out a rare (and regrettable) “You dumb motherfrakker”, which wrecked the scene, before grabbing Anders, pressing him against a wall, and then giving into her urges (as many characters appeared to this week). Very sexxy. And how did she seduce her secretly-Cylon hubbie? By breathlessly saying:
I don’t wanna fight, Sam. I wanna frak. You don’t get it, do you? I’m not the same girl you married. All I wanna do right now is frak, really frak like it’s the end of the world and nothing else matters. So come on, Sam. Make me feel something. I dare you.
Cue vigorous offscreen frakking. I already had trouble handling that stupid fake word, and this sent me over the edge. Instead of making BSG seem edgy by slipping semi-profanities past the censors, it makes this sophisticated and intelligent show sound like a comedy. It doesn’t even have any consistency. Is this the only profanity of the future? Apparently not. They say crap pretty often. So why haven’t they gone all out and futurised all of the swears? As the dialogue in that scene got more and more ridiculous, I imagined Starbuck demanding buttsecks with the order, “Frak me in my promper with your big hott shmazzmer.” It would have been no more ridiculous than what we actually got.
Don’t believe me? Consider this memorable scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, written by former liberal David Mamet, directed for the screen by James Foley, and performed by Al Pacino (with an assist from Canyon’s acting hero, Jude Ciccolella).
Now here’s the BSG version.
You stupid frakking cump. Williamson! I’m talking to you snathead! You just cost me 6,000 cubits. 6,000 cubits, and one Viper. That’s right. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it…promperhole? You frakking snat! Where did you learn your trade, you stupid frakking cump?! You idiot! Whoever told you that you could work with men?! Oh, I’m gonna have your job, snathead. I’m going to Admiral Adama. I’m going to Roslin! I don’t care whose nephew you are…who you know…whose shmazzmer you’re sucking on, you’re going out! I’ll tell you something else, I hope it was you who ripped off the joint, maybe I can tell our friends something that will help them to prove you’re a skinjob. Any man who works here lives by his wits… What you are hired to do, is to help us. Does that seem clear to you? To HELP us. Not to FRAK US UP! To help men who are going out there to earn a living, you fairy. You company man. You want to know the first rule you’d learn if you’d ever spent a day in your life? You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is. You frakking child.
I don’t know. Perhaps in the final episode the use of the made-up word will be justified. Upon finding Earth, the final Cylon (who will obviously be Zach Adama, we have decided), might say “fuck”, and the humans will immediately adopt it. After he’s shown off his signed copy of John Wesley Harding, of course.
As has been noted everywhere on the TV-watching net, the WGA called for a strike this week, but even though it’s only now begun, it’s been looming for so long now that the shows we’re watching now were made in full knowledge of the eventual disruption. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is not looking forward to week after week of ineptly written filler, as CSI and Ugly Betty showed. We’re big fans of both shows here at Shades of Caruso, but they were at their very worst.
Ugly Betty was especially bad, a rare mis-step for a show that is so often sheer joy to watch. From the frustratingly busy plotting (the on-again-off-again Henry and Betty love affair crammed in months of annoying back and forth into one episode, creating an apathy in us that otherwise would have only been a problem next year) to the truly obnoxious Wicked promotions (there is no way we’re going to see that crapfest now!), it was full of clunking failed moments. Only Marc and Wilhemina worked well this week, with the former treating the awesome Cliff horribly and the latter binge-eating. Of course, what starts out light turns sad by the end, and the scene with Marc being shunned by both his boyfriend and boss was heartbreaking. Every week it’s obvious that the decision to change Marc from mere comedy relief to proper 3-D character was a brilliant one, and Michael Urie was great throughout (as was a hilarious Vanessa Williams). So why am I placing a picture of America Ferrera here? Because her “Hero Worship” joke was adorable, of course.
Almost as bad was an ill-judged comedic CSI, involving the accidental death of a horror movie siren and the subsequent disastrously managed cover-up, though at least there wasn’t about twenty references to Wicked in it. There are always going to be jokey episodes of CSI, and we grin and bear them. Not so much because they aren’t very good, but mostly because the coating of wacky “comedy music” obscures everything. Gil’s little moues and expressions of annoyance are infinitely more amusing in the regular episodes than they are with comedy horns playing in the background, and if only the showrunners realised that, we could enjoy the experience more. This time around the only real enjoyment to be derived from the episode was watching new character Ronnie Lake (Jessica Lucas) play through and subvert horror movie conventions.
For the first thirty minutes those conventions were explained for the nuns in the audience in boring detail, including a bizarre scene showing lab tech Liz Vassey proudly show off her own appearance in a slasher movie. That paid off with a finale featuring Ronnie being similarly terrorised, for “real”. I issue a Dwight-Schrute-style demerit for the early comment on how low-cut tops are de rigeur for distressed horror damsels, included just so Jessica Lucas could run around exposing a Pushing-Daisies-esque cleavage for most of the episode. Gratuitous boobage is sometimes just gratuitous boobage, no matter how hard you try to legitimise it. In fact, the attempts at being post-modern made it seem creepier than it should. However, I take back that demerit because for the first time Ronnie was shown to be competent and level-headed in a crisis, which bodes well for future appearances. It also called back to the death of Holly Griggs from the first episode, and that tension was played on nicely. Sadly, there were too many annoying sub-characters in it for the episode to work properly.
Reaper was not anywhere near as bad as that, and offered much entertainment, especially with Ray Wise griping about Halloween holidays and Donovon Stinson as uptight boss Ted. It’s a horrible show cliche to have a tyrannical humourless boss, and this season we’ve already had one in Chuck and in Heroes (though thankfully Noah Bennett opened up a can of horn-rimmed whup-ass on him). Thankfully, Stinson has turned out to be Reaper’s secret weapon, slowly stealing scenes without drawing too much attention to himself. This week he flourished, with an excellent Captain Jack Sparrow costume followed by an eye-watering King Leonidas, complete with cape flourish.
Each week we love him a little more, especially the pissy conversations between him and Tyler Labine. That said, the problems with Reaper were never about the cast. Other than the wasted Missy Peregrym (who can still improve. I’m sure of it!), everyone is lovable and amusing. However, this week I realised what has been niggling at me about it for the last few weeks; it’s got a bad case of Futurama syndrome. I love that damn show, and was despondent when it got cancelled before its time (though of course I’m thrilled that it’s being disinterred as we speak), but way too often the show had a hilarious twelve minutes followed by a laugh-free second act that undid the good will generated in the first. To this day I cannot understand why this happens. Sadly, Reaper looks to be doing that as well. By the time of the final fifteen minutes, any energy generated at the start dissipates, and the episode grinds to a halt not long afterward. Perhaps we’re seeing some unpolished scripts going to air, in which case it’s rectifiable, but it’s been going on for a couple of weeks now, and it’s starting to annoy. I’m sure things will improve though. Ray Wise’s Grin of the Week give us confidence. It’s so reassuring!
So, do I still think Reaper is the best new show of the season? Until this week, no question. However, with my diagnosis hanging in the air, Pushing Daisies, aka Cleavage and Corpses, rushed right in and knocked me on my fat ass. This week was amazing. It still does a lot of things I dislike, and the narration rhymed badly this week (in a terrible Poe-style that grated terribly), but the arcs are moving faster than we ever expected, and the jokes came thick and fast, and the little details took on a life of their own (the candy-coloured morgue, which I’d not noticed before, made me chuckle). It was a huge triumph. Remember I said a few weeks ago that I might end up loving it eventually? If this week is anything to go by, it’ll be sooner rather than later. Even the effects sequences made us laugh out loud, they were so endearingly awful. Best of all, Emerson’s declaration of love to his shovel. Emerson + Shovel 4evah IDST!
While Pushing Daisies is moving faster than we thought it would (with plotlines such as Chuck and Olive’s antipathy towards each other paying off much earlier than we thought), Heroes has only just gotten around to introducing the big threat on the horizon. And yes, it’s a not very good special effect of New York deserted because of rampant superhuman disease! Okay, people are complaining that it’s a lot like last year’s exploding man plot, but this is a superhero tale, and New York is always in danger in Marvel comics. Asgard hovering over the city, Magneto destroying most of it after going insane, Hulk going on the rampage, the Civil War creating lots of off-panel destruction; this is just the way of things.
Okay, so in Marvel comics this stuff gets retconned very quickly (especially the Magneto thing, which apparently got swept up and ignored about two weeks later. Those New Yorkers sure are resilient). Heroes will doubtlessly not get to that point. Maybe there will be an anti-climatic fight scene in the quietest plaza in the city! The alternative (germy armageddon) would cause all sorts of logistical trouble, not least the amount of dreadful green screen work that will have to be done. Yes, the location budget of the show is still non-existent, so Peter and his Hoirhissshh girlfriend were ineptly pasted into a shot that made them look grey, shadowless, and strangely ill-proportioned, like they were humans standing in Hobbit New York. Unfortunately, whereas Pushing Daisies had the worst effects of the week in a funny way, Heroes‘ effects were less terrible but devoid of intentional comedy value. Please save the world so we don’t have to see that again! ::sigh:: It was so not good, again, but one thing worked really well. Noah Bennett is a hardcore murderous badass! And we should never forget it.
House was also a teeny bit off, but only because it did something it’s not done before; invented a new affliction for the purposes of dramatising a conflict between the characters. Previously the show will exaggerate symptoms for dramatic effect (for more information check out the thoroughly excellent Polite Dissent), or rely on the old faithfuls of lupus, vasculitis, or respiratory failure, but this went an extra step, introducing someone (played by Robbie Krieger impersonator Frank Whaley) suffering from Giovannini’s Mirror Syndrome. According to the now super-dishonest show, sufferers have a lack of personality or inner life due to some other illness getting in the way, leading them to cast about for a replacement personality. This means they will mirror the people they interact with, something supergenius House used to uncover Whaley’s history (if you missed it, it involved getting infected during contact with cow shit) by becoming Whaley and setting up a feedback loop of Mirror Syndrome. Or something. Well, it made a kind of twisted sense on the show, and it let House flatten his high hair at last.
If all Giovannini’s sufferers did was mimic the other persons body language, it wouldn’t be so bad, but the writers thought it would be okay to make this illness equivalent to telepathy. Whaley’s character saw into people with such piercing insight he practically became them, which may have allowed for some very amusing moments, but pushed credibility too far. Perhaps if they’d called it Zelig’s Syndrome I might have appreciated it more. It’s a shame, because otherwise the show remained on top form, with the triumphant return of Foreman.
Canyon may not be a fan of any of the Cottages, but I always had a soft spot for Foreman. Now back at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital after a disastrous stint in New York, he’s exhibiting House-Hole Syndrome, which causes the victim to be an insufferable prick with the brain of a diagnostic computer from Star Trek. Omar Epps did a good job of making Foreman seem a little awkward with his pissiness, but I say embrace it. The show is doing very well with more Cottages, and the original team are much more fun being nasty now, so let Foreman go all out to be a jerk. Goshdarnit, if only I could get the writers to hear me. Maybe I should be handing out leaflets showing our URL to those guys and gals on the picket lines.
30 Rock was missing this week, causing immense sadness, but to make up for it The Office was directed by Joss Whedon, which is always a reason to celebrate. He did a great job again (his previous episode, with the bat, was one of season three’s highlights), with the bold choice to stage the big comedy setpiece off camera, with Michael and Dwight infiltrating another branch of Dunder Mifflin and communicating to Jim via walkie-talkie. The entire episode was similarly funny, but all I can remember of it days later is Dwight’s terrifying obsession with blinding any guard he comes into contact with. Sad that a lot of the cast wasn’t featured though, especially Kelly (Mindy Kaling did write the episode, though, and was predictably superb) and Creed (because Creed is an essential component of classic Office, of course).
Guess it’s time to admit something; we’ve fallen far behind with some shows, which will probably turn out to be a good thing when the strike starts to affect the amount of shows on (either I catch up with them or just go ahead and buy those Wire box sets I’ve been promising myself for so long). Right now we’re behind on Journeyman, Chuck, Mad Men, Dexter, and Dirty Sexy Money, which I just couldn’t face (though I will). Why should I be making an effort on shows that obviously haven’t grabbed me enough to compel me to watch them immediately? Because we both once thought Tell Me You Choo-Choo-Choose Me was risible, and now we’re beyond hooked (well okay, Canyon less so). This post is a couple of days late, and as a result we’ve watched the ninth episode as well, and both of them have continued the upward quality trend that has surprised the heck out of us. Sitting through the tedious and annoying first half of the season has really paid off. Of course, I’m not saying that Dirty Sexy Money or Bionical Woman will suddenly improve enough to justify the current risible status, which would surely be a task even Hercules would baulk at, but you never know.
As with Pushing Daisies, it still suffers from a lot of the stylistic touches that annoyed us at the beginning, though we realise the showrunners can’t just drastically change course on these things in mid flow. At its worst, though, it retains that obnoxious self-satisfaction that makes me hate so much independent cinema. We’re never getting away from that. Plus, now that Palek and Carolyn have moved out of their Icy Palace of Lovelessness there are no more cameos by the Predator living outside. I miss Petey the Predator (yes, in earlier episodes I was bored enough to add a bunch of sci-fi references to make it all go faster).
What it has done, though, is spend so much time adding layers of complexity to the characters that the dreary, lightly sketched stereotypes of the first few episodes now live and breathe. Just like they are real people in therapy, we begin to see all of the problems they had at the start of the season are the product of experiences in the past or fears in the present, and this filling in the blanks has been going on quietly while many viewers would focus on the many many many shots of Michelle Borth’s boobs and Ian Somerhalder’s balls. All of the miserable whining from weeks ago now seems like cleverly layered set ups for end-season fireworks, and we got some this week.
When I say fireworks I don’t mean actual big drama, but the small events we got, in the context of the character’s lives, were enormous. Dave and Katy having second thoughts about their marriage, Jamie realising she’s going to be a slutty lush just like her odious, toxic friend Mason, and biggest of all, Palek having a panic attack and dumping Carolyn during therapy. All of these things seem like the meat and bones of a soap opera, but that stuff happens so often and for so little reason it doesn’t have any effect. With Tell Me You Were Secretly Awesome All Along, we’ve been waiting so long and spent so much time with them all that it was significantly more dramatic. The final scene with Carolyn going from epic shrew to heartbroken dumpee was riveting. Similarly, Dave and Katy’s growing realisation that there might be something unfixable in their marriage was difficult to watch. They’re both so adorable, but perhaps those crazy kids just can’t work it out. ((((Dave and Katy))))
All that said, will another season really work? I’d like to keep watching, but I’m not sure what else can happen here without the show becoming a straight soap. Keith Phipps on the AV Club hinted that next season will focus on different relationships, and that would work, I guess, but I’d miss these guys, even after all of the complaining I’ve done. Maybe the focus will fall on Sherry Stringfield, Kate Towne, and Jeremy London’s characters (and their prominent genitals), all of whom have been hanging around in the periphery. If that were the case, this season’s main characters would still be around to show us tantalising glimpses of the fallout from the season finale, though probably significantly less naughty body parts. I’m not kidding about the body parts. I’ve seen enough of Boone’s heaving buttocks for this and the next seven lifetimes.
One character I definitely hope comes back is Rosalind Chao as Carolyn’s boss. What a badass bitch! She is so awesome. I always liked her on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so seeing her still getting work (for a little while as the principal in The O.C.) is always a good thing, but in this show we only got about three minutes of her over the last three episodes. But what a great three minutes. The catty exchanges between her and Carolyn were horrifying to behold, especially the first one, with Carolyn asking for a promotion and being denied. All of this is done with enormous tension between them, but still maintaining a veneer of professionalism, until Carolyn gets to the door and mutters, “Fucking bitch,” to which Chao responds, “I heard that.” GAH! It made both of us cringe for an hour, mostly because we have paranoid fear about making horrible gaffes at work. This week Carolyn quit by refusing to do any work and then walking out during a meeting, which was a pleasingly insane thing for her to have done, but I’m amazed she hadn’t been fired already. Or sent for counseling. She’s obviously having a nervous breakdown.
However, as great as that was, and as funny as Pushing Daisies turned out to be, highlight of our week was a barnstorming Friday Night Lights, confidently pushing aside previous concerns and criticisms like William “The Refrigerator” Perry used to knock down running backs in the 80s. Without any effort, it ran our emotions up and down for 45 minutes, a perfect example of what TV should be.
Coach and Tami’s marital problems provided a light A-plot, but in the background there was hardship for almost everyone. Matt telling Julie he doesn’t want her back was as satisfying as Tyra telling Landry she was repulsed by him was horrifying, but the masterstroke was having both of those things happen at the same time, i.e. during the aftermath of their football triumph. The shot of them walking back into the diner, surrounded by cheering fans, with heartbreak sketched on their faces, was one of the most resonant moments of the entire series. Everyone involved gave 110%, acting-wise. Erm, did I just succumb to the temptation to resort to a sporting cliche in an FNL review? Oh teh noes!
Even more entertaining was goody-two shoes Lila in Mexico, nagging at Street and Riggins during their intervention to try to stop their injured friend have shark DNA pumped into his spine. The plot seemed to have annoyed fans for being too unbelievable, but it always seemed reasonable to me, knowing it would pay off well (look at that for faith in a showrunning team). And pay off it did, with Street hurling himself into the ocean and sinking to the bottom while his friends panic. I’m not totally sure what his motivation was, and the look on his face as he floated near the sea floor was ambiguous, but that uncertainty powered the scene and made you genuinely believe one of the main characters was about to die.
His “rebirth” was subsequently all the more moving, but the best moment came during the final Jules et Jim scene, with Lila foolishly getting drunk and being rather less Christian than usual, woozily dancing with both men, kissing on them both with some considerably lusty abandon, and then guiltily saying, “I gotta go pray.” Even in the face of Emerson’s shovel love and Dwight’s desperate blinding pleas, this was the line of the week.
If I have any criticism with it, it’s a very small one, but hopefully something that will be rectified soon. Smash was one of my favourite characters in the first season, but so far this year he’s had very little to do other than be a jerk to Matt, which is nothing new. He had actually grown a bit as the first season went on, and I’d hoped that could continue. There was some good stuff between him and Matt (and an especially good scene having some of Coach’s chili), but he’s being underused, though that might just be because the show is loaded with plot right now and there’s not really any room for anything else yet.
Next week, the return of 30 Rock with an appearance by Al Gore, if TV Guide is to be believed (yay!), Bionical Woman (retch), and probably many more rushed scripts that will be filled with empty dialogue, clumsy exposition, and continuity-shaking errors. Join us! [/Alan Partridge]
From the case-log of FBI Special Agent Will Graham:
So, Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers president J. Nicholas Counter (far left), I see that you have spent the weekend calling out the Writers Guild of America instead of trying to reach an agreement. It’s not your fault, right? They walked out even though you asked the negotiations to continue. Negotiations you would quite happily see continue on and on without resolution just so programmes and films could continue to get made. A cynical man might think that you appear to have no intention of using this as an opportunity to put right one of the oldest injustices in the TV and movie industry. But hey, I guess that makes sense. After all, as you have said:
Instead of working toward solutions that would give the industry the flexibility it needs to meet today’s business challenges, the WGA leadership continues to pursue numerous unreasonable proposals that would result in astronomical and unjustified increases in our costs, further restrict our ability to produce, promote and market TV series and films, and prohibit us from experimenting with programming and business models in New Media.
Sure. Flexibility. Because the last thing you want to have stop you from creating new ways to push product is to have to pay anyone other than yourselves and your stockholders. I remember you were all for flexibility last time this happened, when writers expressed concern about the way royalites from VHS and laserdisc sales were agreed, which then blew up in their faces and continues to do so. I’m sure your heart bleeds for the TV writers who see shows that they worked on packaged in those lovely high-selling boxsets and the royalties from them amount to so little.
But who cares about that, right? You have your friends and peers telling you you’re doing the right thing. Writers earn, on average, $200000 a year, so they’re fine, right? Even though it’s not a guaranteed wage, and they might have to depend on the residuals in the future. That’s not important. After all, your union-hating friends in the GOP think writers are whiny assholes too, don’t they? Don’t they?!?! And they cannot imagine people supporting them, because seriously, who would support a bunch of people getting screwed over when they could side with a bunch of empty, talentless suits?
“Sometimes I have to break the news to clients that the only people who care passionately about their grievances are themselves,” says Eric Dezenhall, once part of the Reagan White House communications office and now a crisis manager. “Before you launch what is in part a PR war, you have to evaluate whether your grievance resonates with people outside of your self-interested clique.”
Yeah, self-interested clique. Irresponsible. Meanies who won’t roll over. That’s what you think of someone trying to get a fair shake of the stick. That’s the snobbish attitude you have, in your platinum-plated tower, eating pheasant and picking your teeth clean with ivory toothpicks. This is why shows I love are turning to crap right before my eyes. This is why I have to wait extra months for new episodes of a certain island-based sci-fi show and the latest adventures of Mr. Jackson Bauer esq. after I’ve already had to wait too damn long. This is why Office regulars Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak and Paul Lieberstein may have to cross a union line to fulfil their jobs as actors and producers even though they support the strike. Not because the writers are unreasonable, but because you are.
You’re wrong!!! And everyone out there with even a minimal understanding of economics or even the slightest hint of empathy for people being screwed by the monolith of heartless Big Business will understand that. Can you understand? Can you?!!! CAN YOU, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH!!!!!!
Maybe I should put this into perspective, you son of a bitch! While you right fatuous, mean-spirited insults about unreasonable strikers, and allow your website to be filled with FAQs that portray writers as scum, real writers, creative people who are able to see the world in a way you could not possibly understand, can go out there and deal with the subject like this:
That’s a human being reacting there, not a walking tickertape of stock market news.
[In background, voice heard asking if Graham is alright]
Yeah honey, everything’s going to be alright. Everything’s going to be just fine.
::Cue “Heartbeat” by Red 7::
Boy, was a lot of this week TV miserable. I’m not saying it was all bad (though of course some of it was), but in the fourth week, shows either went for pathos or started to introduce darker themes. Perhaps this is something writing teams know about; three weeks of establishing the status quo, then in the fourth week, set up the big problems and season arcs.
The Office was darker than ever, to the point that it overshadowed the obvious comic highlights (the hilarious conference-room discussion about the difference between whoever and whomever that gave everyone a chance to shine, the visit to Shrute Farms). Nathan Rabin wrote an excellent review of it that hit on a lot of the good points of the show, especially the heartbreaking moment between Jim and Dwight. Having Jim and Pam become his protectors and semi-friends is perfect (Dwight probably did more to bring them together than they realise, just by being the subject of their mockery), as was his post-talk acception/rejection in the office. As for Michael’s depression, the show crossed the line between humour and horror, and then edged back again. Just.
I respect the showrunners for doing that, but while watching the show, I just felt horrible. Nice that they’re acknowledging the currently miserable lower-middle-class job situation, though. I get the feeling they’ve all been reading Joshua Ferris’ excellent novel, And Then We Came To The End, which is the tragic comedy to The Office‘s funny tragedy (or are they the other way around?). There has already been a plot about redundancy with the branch shutdown arc, but while that hung over the first couple of seasons like a dark cloud, there was no way the showrunners could go through with it without ending the show. This is a more viable way to address the uncertainty of the US job market and the stagnating economy, and again it shows how ambitious the show is. A simple sitcom about office politics this is not, but then if you watch the show you already know that.
Ugly Betty also dropped the Sword of Damocles on a relationship that appears to have been doomed from the start. Though the episode featured many hilarious moments (my favourite being Amanda’s declaration, “You were all at Studio 54 that night and I will find that Tweetie Bird if I have to search all of your asses!”), Henry finally found out that he was indeed the father of Charlie’s baby, which surely finishes that arc off, or at least deals the fatal blow. The final scene, with Henry and Betty trying to come to terms with this news, hit hard, possibly because it was coming off the back of Justin’s descent into inept machismo, and Wilhemina’s plotting to destroy Mode.
Man, writing that out makes it seem like a bunch of frothiness, but in fact it was a real downer. The events might seem trivial, but the tone of the show darkened considerably. We were not left with the usual post-Betty glow. This is not a criticism. It was still great stuff, and Oh My God! Victor Garber! +100000 points for finding a role for the long-missed Spy-Daddy.
Speaking of post-Alias TV, to a certain extent Chuck tried to get in on the miserablism with a subplot about Sarah grieving for her dead boyfriend as well as bemoaning her lost identity and spyness, but it’s not really a smart enough show to make it work (yet; it could still improve, after all). Yvonne Strahovski is possibly a better actress than it seems here; it’s not like she’s got good enough material to work with. Nevertheless, for the first time she was asked to do more than just kick women in the face while wearing a short skirt (though that did happen as well), and the moment fell flat, not because she’s not up to it, but because the show is asking us to care about a relationship between a hott female spy and an absent, dead, hott male spy partner. He’s not onscreen, and was only in the show for a couple of minutes in the first episode (mostly as a stuntman) and yet he looms over both Sarah and Chuck in a way that falls flat because we have no memory of him the way they do.
As a result, we don’t care that he upset Chuck, and we don’t care that Sarah still loves him. It’s asking us to care what the dead spy did, but to the audience he’s just that free-running guy who was nothing more than a very agile inciting incident. Perhaps the nerds in the audience can remember back to similar experiences of jock humiliation from their college days, and perhaps the female members of the audience can relate to Sarah because their boyfriend was similarly killed for trying to email secrets to someone outside the government, but that’s at a remove. The show is trying to run before it can walk. It’s a light, slightly entertaining spy show. It’s not drama. Maybe eventually, but not now. Again it made me pine for Alias, which did that stuff amazingly well, but it also made me pine for the first season of The O.C., because that also did pretty much everything right (for a while, at least). This is just landing with a dull thud every week. Thank God NBC have commissioned Bionical Woman as well. That saves it from the ignominy of being the season’s worst new show. I’ll get to that pile of crap later.
Sorry to keep comparing Chuck to Reaper, but they are vying for the same nerd audience, and while Chuck feels like the major label release by a band who have already had a critically lauded number one album on a smaller label, only to fall foul of sophomore slump, Reaper is the ambitious debut of a plucky indie band. Well, an indie band while making their first couple of singles who get signed up to release their album on a subsidiary of a different major label, like when Warner made that Sub-Pop-emulating mini-label that included Mudhoney on its roster for a while. Gah! You know what I mean!
Anyway, Reaper was, again, very entertaining, though signs of Andi becoming the show’s weak link are starting to show. What is her purpose again, other than to be the object of desire? They need to give her something to do other than be cute and unattainable. Missy Peregrym was nowhere near as dull as this when she was on Heroes. We need to see some of that fire again. Oh, and finally making The Devil more than just a trickster, and hinting at more depth to the central premise by introducing the battle between him and Sam over the contract? Excellent. Heart Ray Wise! How easy it is for that adorable smile to go very very bad.
CSI may not have had the melancholy air of the other shows, but with episode four there were set-ups for the season arc. At least I assume they were. CSI has been the classic example of how one-off procedural shows can still exist and work brilliantly in a long-form world that has seen many story-of-the-week shows deemed obsolete. Every week a new case is introduced, and at the end the case is solved (most of the time). Last season, however, saw the show bring in the excellent Miniature Killer arc, which popped in and out of the procedural, often to devastating effect (as I’ve said before, Monster in the Box might be the single best episode of CSI ever). This season, the producers have hinted that there would be something similar introduced, but if this episode is anything to go by, it won’t be a single criminal, but an ongoing case against a water-processing plant. I hope other fans are as excited about that as I am. It would be Erin Brockovich with less biker beards!
At least I hope that’s where they are going with this. The episode was filled with some really crappy deductive work by our heroes, for the first time in CSI history. They were investigating the death of a boy suffering from gynecomastia working at a water treatment plant hanging around with a scientist investigating large quantities of hermaphroditic fish swimming in a local lake, a death that could just as easily have been suicide as murder? The team don’t spot the connection straight away, and instead chase disgruntled co-workers for most of the episode. It was odd to see our heroes be inept for the first time ever. If this is the season arc, it at least explains why the show slowed down so much, and had so much exposition. If it’s set-up, then it was ponderous, but I understand. If not, then it was just a disappointing episode. Featuring an ugly and yet somewhat charming hat.
To a certain extent, that is. It also featured some great material. CSI: Miami is notoriously stupid, featuring either stock plots or outrageous melodrama in the place of actual crime scene analysis. The original show, thankfully, is proud to have science as its main focus, and this episode featured a lot of it. What with the water treatment plant investigation, Hodges pioneering a new technique and vowing to write a paper about it, and Gil’s ongoing investigation into worldwide bee population decrease (something that only hit the mainstream media a couple of weeks ago), it’s plain that the show is not shying away from giving scientists their due. Read enough paranoid books and features on Dawkins and his atheist cohorts, and you fear that science and rationalism is on the outs. CSI made me feel safe that somewhere in the mainstream, a rational outlook is still treated as beneficial. It’s also edumacational; don’t pull bee stings out of your skin as it releases the venom. You should scrape them out instead.
Best of all this week was the totally out-of-the-blue marriage proposal scene, with Gil (hilariously wearing his old woman hat over the top of his bee mask) just dropping the question into normal conversation. Often in story-of-the-week shows, the characters are merely redundant exposition devices, but this show manages to tease out tiny bits of information about its cast of characters in the most subtle ways. We know they have a backstory only because we pay attention to the details. It’s very rare that an episode will focus on their personal lives; Catherine’s family being the only recurring instance of plots based around her, but they’re almost always fascinating, especially when her sadly-deceased dad Sam Braun is involved. Instead we get little windows into their lives, like the endearing revelation that Greg is writing a book on Las Vegas history. In CSI: Miami, if a character has a life outside their work, it usually involves sex or relationships. In the original and best, it involves little character details like that. Man, this show really does feature some of my favourite character writing.
The Gil-Sara romance is a case-in-point. They’ve been dating for ages, and now they’re getting married. While other shows would make a big deal about it, here it happened in the middle of the episode without any warning or fanfare. It made it all the more touching, and cheered us both up considerably, after the misery of the other shows. Shame she’s only in the show for a little while longer. It does not bode well for their future.
Beyond the sadness and the arc establishment, this week also saw Dirty Sexy Money finally not totally suck. It was by no means a triumph (God no), and Canyon couldn’t even brave it (I think she was wise to; I’m only sticking with it out of stubbornness), but while the plots are unoriginal (school bullying, marital strife, affairs, jealousy), at least the dialogue had improved massively since last week. I know I’m being partisan and forgiving because of the connection to an old favourite, especially as the episode had two writers credited and not just one, but when Veronica Mars ace Diane Ruggiero’s name appeared in the credits, hope sprang up. I was rewarded with two good scenes. The main one had Donald Sutherland acting the paint off the walls as he confronts the duplicitous Jill Clayburgh. Finally some life! Shame that the increase in emotional truth came at the expense of revelation. Instead of Clayburgh revealing which of the Darling children was fathered by Peter Krause’s dad, we got an exchange that went something like:
Sutherland: Will you tell me?
Clayburgh: I will tell you!
Sutherland: Will you?
Clayburgh: Yes, I will!
Sutherland: Really? Because I really want to know!
[Cut to commercial]
I get that not immediately revealing who is lacking Donald Sutherland’s DNA is a way of creating tension in the family, and leaves the room open for a big revelation later in the series, but it just sounded laboured and mechanical. Also good was Zoe McClellan (whose boobs made a startling return in several scenes) confronting Natalie Zea over her previous relationship with Krause.
As far as I’m concerned, the only interesting plot is between Nick and his wife, and the threat of his work and past coming between them. Again, it’s nothing new, but the Darlings are odious enough to give the marriage plot some heft. It would be horrible for their relationship to be broken up by such a bunch of poorly written, illogical caricatures. Plus, it’s much more intriguing than the endless and record-breakingly tedious rivalry between Samaire Armstrong and Seth Gabel’s girlfriend. I’m so uninterested I can’t be bothered to Google the name of the actress. Sorry, miscellaneous actress. I’m sure you’re a lovely person but life is short. Blame the show writers and your life-sappingly dull character, okay?
Seriously, this shit has been going on for three episodes and each week it feels like ten minutes of footage has been accidentally edited in from another show. This show is run by Craig Wright? Who worked on Lost and Six Feet Under? How is this kind of glaring mistake possible? Showrunners! It’s killing the show! Drop it now! You just got a week reprieve by adding a shout-out to Explosions in the Sky and hiring Erick Avari (this week playing an Italian. Or a British spy. I wasn’t paying much attention). Don’t blow this tiny bit of goodwill now.
Also very much improved was Pushing Daisies, which was not just tolerable (see above), but actively entertaining. A lot of the flaws are still there and are obviously never going to go away, and dear God, someone tell the showrunners that they don’t have to end their episodes with scenes as showy and silly as that ineptly staged sword fight, but my own personal bugbear (that damnable Sonnenfeld) was absent for much of the episode. While there was still the relentless dollying and repetitive compositions, a lot of the show was simply shot and worked very well. Amazing how distracting it is when a director is shouting, “This is one of my signature shots, bitches! I won’t stop until Sonnenfeldian is in the dictionary!!!”
Everything that has almost been working (notably the tone and a lot of the humour) finally came off once the distracting frippery went down a notch, and as a result I could relax and enjoy (Canyon is yet to be convinced, I think). Also great was the resolution of some plots much earlier than expected. Chuck knows about the deadly ramifications of her resurrection, and Olive and her Cleavage of Mass Distraction (seriously, the camera won’t stop staring) suspects something is up with Chuck’s appearance at the Pie-Hole. I thought that stuff would come up later, once more one-off mysteries were solved, but we’re rattling through plot options at a faster pace that expected. This either means there is more to the central premise and Ned’s powers than expected, or they’re going to have O.C. Syndrome, with all of their good ideas burnt out after one season. Fingers crossed it’s the former.
I’m afraid to say that while pretty much every show we watched this week shook up their game after a start-of-season warm-up, Bionical Woman remains the low point of the TV week. There are new writers coming in, and NBC are obviously committed to the show, but will they bother to make it good and popular instead of lazy and popular-enough-to-get-by? I’ll stick with it in case it does suddenly improve in quality, like, a thousand-fold, but until then we’re forced to put up with writing, acting and directing that would have shamed the silly 70s original. Though at least this version did feature Jaime kicking the homophobe across the room a couple of times.
That was kinda fun. Apologies for linking to the AV Club again, but Sean O’Neal skewers everything that is wrong with the show much more succinctly than I can. The only interesting thing brought up by this episode was the curious moment where the brat sister sleeps through a car alarm outside. The pilot originally featured Mae “AnnHog from Arrested Development” Whitman as Jaime’s deaf sister, but it was changed after testing badly (dammit!). Does this scene hint that her sister is going deaf? It would make sense after the comments about the possibility of congenital disease in the Summers family tree last week. Perhaps the showrunners had an arc about deafness and bionical implants in mind. That would be interesting. Other than that, only counting Katee Sackhoff’s use of the following expression is keeping us diverted during the show.
As for the other shows this week, Friday Night Lights is still the highlight, even with the horrid muder plotline, but that has been subsumed, at least for now. 30 Rock was not as good as last week, but that is no criticism, considering how good that episode was. The funniest moment of the week came during The Peter Serafinowicz Show, but I’ll leave that for Canyon to talk about. Also on BBC was the new series of Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection, featuring everyone’s favourite baby-faced cooking savant, which I had been looking forward to. Just to be really annoying, our Sky+ box decided to delete it after it had recorded. If anyone reading this has a Sky+ box, I strongly suggest you renew the warranty after a year. These damnable things fall apart quickly.
Angered by this, we decided to give the BBC’s much vaunted iPlayer a try, seeing as how it allows you to watch certain shows up to a week after they have aired. It’s supposed to be easy to use, but it took forever to install the player (for a long time we couldn’t as there were “technical difficulties” on their end), and when we finally had, and had downloaded the episode (which took ages), it played for about 4 minutes and then offered up a series of randomly selected freeze-frames with a voice over. Okay, we have a crappy laptop that sometimes freezes up when we’re using Winamp, but yesterday it was working fine. Only iPlayer malfunctioned. So I don’t get to see the damn show. If the BBC is going to have to show more repeats now, can it hurry up? I’m sick of missing stuff.
Other shows we didn’t watch but will eventually; Dexter, Journeyman (apparently saved from cancellation for a little while), Viva Laughlin (the worst show ever made, from what I’ve heard. Can’t wait!), and Mad Men. We’re very behind on that, and will get around to catching up, especially as the season finale appears to have blown everyone’s mind. It didn’t appeal to us much early on (we get that things were different back then, so please stop showing lots and lots and lots of smoking), but we’re willing to give it another try. It may have improved. Tell Me You Have Suddenly Started To Love Me is a case in point. The show format did not appeal to us at all, but slowly we’ve come to look forward to it every week. Not much has changed, but with enough care and attention to character growth and gentle, Lost-paced revelation, it has snagged us. That’s not to say it’s amazing, but we’ve still turned a corner on it, and if anyone asks for a recommendation we will give it (though stressing how long it takes to grab the imagination). That said, what did they do to Ronny Cox?
My heart sank a little when I saw him. He looks like a 900-year old hobo! Let’s hope it’s his character and not something more serious. Here is where I would put a sad-faced emoticon, if I were so inclined.
Writing enormous TV posts like this make me feel like Tolstoy, if Tolstoy was obsessed with blogging about how crap Bionic Woman is? Playing Guitar Hero II has taken over our lives to such an extent that we’re only now finishing up last week’s TV, but still I soldier on. I’d drop some of these shows in order to have some room to do other things, but if the rumours about poor old Journeyman are true, our viewing list might already be about to shrink anyway.
Perhaps I should start with the good news; 30 Rock‘s very funny pilot was eclipsed by the magnificent second episode, a half hour so packed with jokes that it left us happily confused and breathless after just a few minutes. Tracy, Liz and Jack were all back to their best after an uncertain start, and Kenneth the Page was on fire, especially trying to seduce Tracy’s wife. Best of all was the return of Will Arnett, now in the closet thanks to his involvement with the Church of Practicology, the religion invented by Stan Lee. Sorry, the alien king living inside Stan Lee. If Arnett was a recurring character, and NBC could stop trying to hawk t-shirts featuring jokes that haven’t been featured on the show by the time the ad appears at the bottom of the screen, this would be the best show ever made. As it is, even taking that into account, it was the highlight of the week by a mile.
That’s not to say there wasn’t other good stuff out there. CSI, House, Ugly Betty, and Friday Night Lights were all at their best, or close to it. Sadly, many of the new shows are going horribly wrong, to the extent that we’re beginning to think we were sold some horrible lemons. Whereas my doubts about the last couple of new seasons have quickly been allayed by the range of new shows, my hopes for this season have been dashed horribly. Of course, I’m aware that it’s early days for everything, and there is always room for improvement.
For example, Chuck was certainly better than it has been (and Reaper was less so, making me wonder if there is some kind of seesaw of quality thing going on, in which case please stop it, shows), but Dirty Sexy Money and Bionical Woman were stultifying. The former is off Canyon’s watch list, and the latter is almost off mine. They soiled almost everything else we watched just by being watched on the same machine.
Dirty Sexy Money, in particular, is just horrible. No longer shall I call it Dirty Stupid Monkey, as it doesn’t deserve an affectionate nickname. So many things were wrong with the latest episode that I don’t even know where to begin. The stupid bouncy-bouncy music that keeps popping up throughout, skewing the tone towards comic even when Peter Krause and Donald Sutherland (the only good thing about it) are discussing murder and betrayal; the stupid promotional considerations (I get that Bulgari sponsored this week’s show, but forcing the mention into the show by having Billy Baldwin’s big speech be conducted in a Bulgari shop was just stupid); Krause’s bemused reactions to all of the “wacky” “shenanigans” of this “off-the-wall family”. Canyon pointed out that she’s so glad to see a happy Krause after being miserable, tortured Nate Fisher for five seasons of Six Feet Under, and she has a very good point, but this relentless chirpiness has begun to grate faster than John Krasinski’s smirks at the camera in The Office. Actually, four seasons in and that still doesn’t annoy me.
Krause’s “OMG you sure are a freak” eye-rolling would be justified if anything in the show was actually outrageous, but for a show about a larger-than-life influential family dominating New York and being obsessively watched by the media, they’re all pretty dull people, and their arcs so far are narcoleptic (Jeremy is in a relationship with someone his sister doesn’t like! That’s the definition of dramatic magic). Only Billy Baldwin’s love affair with a transexual works, and that’s because it’s actually very sweet and not played for forced laughs, even though he himself is. Actually, everyone is, except for Peter Krause, Zoe McClellan, Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh, who are so far removed from the monotonous and unamusing silliness polluting the rest of the show that they might as well be in a different programme.
Even worse than some of the casting (Natalie Zea, Seth Gabel, and Samaire Armstrong are all dreadful and annoying), is the lack of imagination on every level. The AV Club are blogging relentlessly about the new season, and whether story-of-the-week storytelling (Reaper, Chuck) has any place on TV now that we’ve been blessed with a newfound confidence in the commercial viability of long-form storytelling (Lost, The Wire). Dirty Sexy Money seems to be getting a break from them simply because it is built to work well as long-form, with multiple story possibilities thrown up by the large and controversial Darling dynasty, their internal and external rivalries, and the murder of Krause’s father. And Samaire Armstrong’s piss-poor approximation of the Paris Hilton it’s okay to love. If you find selfish vacuity amusing or endearing, that is.
That’s all well and good, but if the storytelling is bad, who cares how many story possibilities there are. The direction is flat and unoriginal; a scene early on in the third episode where Krause interrogates the younger Darlings about a sex tape and we see a montage of them appearing in front of him with “wacky” responses was embarrassing, tired, and poorly choreographed. The dialogue is even worse. When it’s not doling out pointless exposition (the first scene repeating everything that was in the Previously On just three seconds earlier was the worst), it deals almost exclusively in cliches. Here are some choice examples:
Patrick: What part of “no” do you not understand?
Nick: We just assumed.
Patrick: Well, there it is, Nick. You assume, you make an ass out of you and me.
Juliet: (to Jeremy, on the phone) I’ve left, like, three messages!
Jeremy: (tied to a bed) Sorry, I’ve been kinda tied up.
Patrick: How many people get life right?
Nick: I don’t know. But I do know, tomorrow’s another day, another opportunity, another chance.
Patrick: I like that! (adds empty cliches to speech)
These are the jokes (and the morals), folks. How can empty, first-draft dreck like that get on air any more? We’ve been spoiled by The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood, and now expect the same care and detail in all dialogue on TV. Okay, those are HBO shows, and this is network, but if Lost and Veronica Mars and Friday Night Lights and Ugly Betty (at its best) and especially House can pull off dialogue of such a high-calibre, then so can DSM. It certainly needs it, because it has nothing else to offer. Nothing. It is truly dire. I even started wishing for John From StinkyNasty to come back, simply because even at its worst it could still sound so great and different (Ed O’Neill’s scenes in particular could be lots of fun). DSM represents a retrograde step for The New TV, and must be stopped. Or improved drastically. Getting rid of the “Rebecca Colfax, Darling family publicist” running joke would be a good start. 30 Rock did it properly with Emily Mortimer’s “I’m Phoebe, you might not remember me, we met in the gallery, I’m engaged to Jack, I have avian bone syndrome” joke.
I’m torn as to whether it was worse than Bionical Woman, which plumbed new depths this week. Worst moments included the girly dance bonding scene between Jaime and her brat sister (shown above, ringed by Sarah Corvus’ evil optical interface), Miguel Ferrer trying to hide behind his desk so everyone forgets he’s in the show, hacking internal circuitry by thinking hard, plot illogicalities like Sarah teaching Jaime how to do said hacking after they’ve been tracked several times instead of before, risible sub-plots about babysitting designed to give Jaime someone to fight in the “Insert fight scene here” slot towards the end of the show, and many many many many many more moments. And oh, God, if you thought the dialogue above was bad, check these pearls out:
Ruth: (to Jonas after he fools a lie detector) We’ve gotta find a way to teach this. How do you do it, anyway?
Jonas: I’ve been married. [Zing!]
Sarah: (appearing in a dream sequence for some reason) We’re the only two people with sub-retinal charged coupling devices implanted in our optic nerves, but our human brain still filters out things it doesn’t want to see. Don’t let it. See everything. (cue mini-montage of Jaime looking around)
Jonas: I want her under lockdown now. I want this entire organisation on full alert. I want Corvus found and brought in, dead if necessary.
Nameless goon: (fondles gun suggestively) Roger that.
Jonas: I want her streaming optical interface tracked permanently, I don’t wanna make a move unless we know when, where and why.
Jonas: (to Jamie) If Sarah Corvus wants something, she’ll pretty much tear through a wall to get it. Just make sure that wall isn’t you. (Cut to montage of Sarah working out by punching a wall to pieces with her bionical fists)
Jaime: (during another training montage) I guess I’m not used to thinking of myself as artificially intelligent.
Jae: That’s not what I said. I said part of your programming includes artificial intelligence. The ability to learn. And more important, to unlearn. (Hey Ponytail Variant Yoda, guess what; people do that without chips in their brain! You’ve been in your underground bunker for too long, dude.)
Mysterious Homophobe from Grey’s Anatomy: (during yet another goddamn training montage) You think Sarah Corvus is gonna bring gloves to a fight. No, something tells me she’s gonna leave her little pads at home. What we need to find out is the animal. Now we all know that if your training is worth a damn, by now I should be able to take this crowbar and be able to swing it as hard and fast as humanly possible and not get within an inch of you. That’s right, boys and girls. I’m about to get analogue on your ass. So whaddaya say, Summers. You ready to find the animal?
Jaime: Bring it on, bitch.
::Mysterious Homophobe swings crowbar exactly as hard as he promised to not ten seconds ago, just missing Jaime as she dodges::
Jaime: Are you insane?!??!?!?!
It’s not just the appalling dialogue. The best thing I can say about Michelle Ryan is that her accent is absolutely flawless. I’ve completely forgotten she’s English, and she seems to have forgotten her time here too. Wasn’t she supposed to be really good in EastEnders? I remember her being not that brilliant in Jekyll, but then she was often onscreen with The Nesbitt in full ham-chewing mode and most actors would disappear into the wallpaper around that display. As for Katee Sackhoff’s totally abstract performance as an evil (or is she??!?!) bionical woman, she’s entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. When the best thing about your show is the worst thing about another show (I’m no fan of Starbuck), you’re in trouble. Her eye-rolling, quietLOUDquiet linereadings, and gurning have been fun, though.
As I said earlier, new shows have a choice to make; “worthy” long-form, “unworthy” plot-of-the-week, or a mixture of the two. Bionical Woman is ineptly trying the latter. There are subplots about her health and genetic make-up (there was talk of her grandmother having something wrong with her), and Mark Sheppard as a bad guy (Thomas Kretschmann was in the pilot, but he’s vanished now). While that burbles on uninterestingly in the background, we have Jaime punching various un-named men for MacGuffin reasons, and it’s not very diverting. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s not quite Torchwood-bad yet, but it’s flirting with those depths.
The other two new nerd shows, Chuck and Reaper, are taking the plot-of-the-week template even further. The latter only hints at bigger arcs, such as the death of Andi’s father. That might not even be an arc. So far the show seems happy to stay in a formula for the time being, and while it would be nice if the show had greater ambitions than just filling an hour every week, at least it does it with style and humour. Plus, the cast gelled in the pilot, and are getting better every week. Everyone gets the material, from the cast to the producers to the directors and writers. It may not be Buffy-quality, and I strongly doubt it ever will be, but it did something the first season of Buffy did that ensured it had a future beyond plot-of-the-week episodes; it set a tone, and it followed it through. Having a template that you can work from immediately is half the battle, so I’m still hopeful, even though this week was less fun than previous weeks. Anyway, it still has this smile, so it gets a pass.
Other shows introduced this season have been slower to establish a tone and a template, and if Bionical Woman is the worst offender, Chuck is also guilty. It’s had a rough ride so far, but this week’s episode was the best yet (and just in the nick of time, at least as far as we’re concerned). The cast are starting to work out, and the writers are figuring out how to write specifically for them. It even has a little title sequence now, which is nice. Adam Baldwin still shines out, but Zachary Levy is becoming more likeable week by week. I think I even laughed once. Possibly at a bad guy getting hit in the face with a microwave oven. Because my Inner Child is large and in charge.
However, it still bugged me. Again the show put all of the pieces in place for laughs and thrills, but still kept missing the sweet spot over and over again. There was the odd moment where it worked like a charm instead of just hinting that it might work like a charm somewhere down the line, but it tickled at my annoyance synapses anyway. Only later did I realise what it was; it made me miss Alias. If you’re going to have a new spy show on TV, you have to be better than the first two seasons of Alias. Chuck is not that good. I mentioned this to Canyon and she pointed out that Chuck is lighter in tone than Alias, and she’s right, I’m being a bit unfair. So perhaps I shouldn’t compare it to that. I’ll compare it to a lighter spy show; Chuck has to be better than the hilarious and supercool first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And again it fails the test. If it becomes its own thing, it could work out really well, but having two spy factions at war with each other, and an ostensibly foxy lady in a short skirt kicking people repeatedly, you’re inviting comparisons to a recently screened and superior show that you just can’t live up to. Sorry, Chuck.
More long-form drama happened in Heroes, which is playing the long game to such an extent that it feels like nothing will ever be resolved. This is the criticism that is levelled at Lost all the time, but Lost is about the anticipation and the wait and the slow reveal, so complaining about that is like complaining that chocolate tastes too chocolatey. Heroes, on the other hand, is revealing even less, and at a slower pace, and to make things worse, in the place of revelation is a series of ridiculous plot mechanics that, so far, are not at all interesting. The third episode was the best so far this season, but that’s not saying much. The Hoirish plot is still risible, but at least Peter got to telekinetically move a truck around. That was fun. As was Claire’s Richard-Donner-Supermanesque flight with the obviously superevil flying student guy.
Plus, it’s always good to see Zachary Quinto, even without powers, and the nerd in me delighted in the miniature appearance by Nichelle Nichols (who, in my mind’s eye, will forever be dancing half-naked in the moonlight, thanks to Star Trek V. Thanks for that, Shatner!). The cliffhanger with the Eighth Painting was great too, but as Canyon said, if they kill off Noah, that’s game over for good. The show needs him badly.
Everything else did its thing, and did it well. The Office was mostly hilarious, though still too long and still flirting with over-the-top plots. Michael kidnapping a pizza delivery boy was perhaps a bit too far, but as he was just acting out his anger at that snotty little asshole Ryan, it made some sense. CSI continues to dazzle, this week featuring a guest-starring role for Harold Perrineau, which made me even more eager to see him return to Lost in February. Speaking of Lost, Tell Me You Masturbate Behind Locked Doors During Our Special Half Hour features not just Sonya “Penny Widmore” Walger, but also the newly enskeeved Ian Somerhalder, who does not look good as a hipster douche. Please, someone shave him/ban him from acting.
Now all we need is for Maggie Grace to show up as a love interest and this show jumps 15 levels of awesomeness (to level -18 on the Awesome Scale). Not because I like her, or liked Boone and Shannon. Just, you know, I miss Lost. ::cries::
Actually, we’re beginning to enjoy Tell Me The Title Of The Show Again a bit more. It’s not that it has changed at all. It’s still the same ponderous, self-important, humourless show it started out as, and character development is measured in millimetres-per-episode, but the mood and pace has started to win us over. Yes, it commits all the worst crimes of bad independent cinema, and thinks that the route to dramatic relevance is nothing more than discussing “real” relationship issues in a “real” way, with “real” body parts on display (not counting the plastic dick employed in the first episode), but we’re very very very slowly coming to derive some pleasure from it that doesn’t involve making fun of it. Some of the bolder choices (the long scenes in the therapy room) are great, and making almost all of the characters unsympathetic is working out much better than expected. Best of all, Carolyn has finally given up on getting pregnant, therefore cutting down on her addiction to peeing on pregnancy tests and having unwatchable flameouts, which means Widmore Laboratories stock is gonna plummet. [/obscure Lost joke]
Another non-network show, Dexter, had its best episode last week, but it doesn’t matter much. We’re watching just out of obligation now, and if it wasn’t for Michael C. Hall and the odd good scene with Julie Benz (now suddenly sticking up for the memory of her evil ex-husband, improbably enough), we’d have dumped it long ago. I’ll get into it in more detail some other time, but the main reason we hate it is the ever-present narration, which is either face-slappingly obvious, cliche-ridden, or just badly written. We get that we need to see into the thoughts of Dexter, a character whose onscreen persona is a lie, but the narration often fails so badly that unintentional hilarity is the outcome instead of the blackly comic and piercing look into the heart of darkness that the show strives for. We stuck with it for a while, but one week he said:
Dexter Morgan: I’m not the monster he wants me to be. So I’m neither man nor beast. I’m something new entirely. With my own set of rules. I’m Dexter.
Show instantly broken. The anvilliciousness of it all kills any mood or suspense. It happens at least once a week, and provides a guilty pleasure for us:
Dexter Morgan: My sister doesn’t understand me. It’s easy for her to laugh and joke with her partners, easy for her to grin from one side of her mouth while eating various types of burrito. I can mimic the laughter, but the thing inside me that makes me laugh is broken. There’s no doctor that can fix my laughing chip. It stays that way. I don’t laugh. I just watch. I’m Dexter.
Dexter Morgan: Again I get stiffed by the guy who fixed my car. $400 for an oil change? It’s criminal. So criminal, perhaps I could feed my hunger by visiting some justice on him. But no. Harry’s code prevents me. That’s not the way he taught me. I have to leave this guy alone, hope that some other serial killer comes along and chops him up real good and… Oh. Where was I? Getting confused here. Oh, now I remember. I’m Dexter.
Dexter Morgan: I see people go about their days, eating food. I can’t eat food the way they do. I’m empty inside. No stomach. So I can’t eat. I mean… Hold on. Sorry. No stomach? I’m talking metaphorically here. Of course I can eat food. I’m Dexter.
Thankfully, this week saw the possibility of a workaround; Dexter communing with his dead nemesis, Rudy the Ice-Truck Killer.
Even though Christian Camargo creeped us out, it was good to see him possibly returning in a dream capacity to reduce the reliance on the voiceovers. It’s also nice to revisit Six Feet Under‘s trick of talking to the dead as a way to dramatise a character’s inner life. Sadly, in the final scenes, Dexter lays his past to rest, and so next week I assume we’re back to square one. Shame. At least Dexter is now in some peril, with his stash of body parts discovered and the loathsome Doakes on his trail, so perhaps the show will become a little more driven, but the supporting cast continue to let the team down. We’re nowhere near giving up on it (especially now Keith Carradine is around as a profiler making life tough for Dexter), but it would be nice if it learned from its mistakes a little faster.
We’re hoping House is also learning from its mistakes (such as leering at Cuddy, which is what House and Wilson are doing above, the perverts). The first three episodes of season four have been superb, with our anti-hero bouncing off his new retinue to hilarious effect. Of course, with each episode he whittles the size of his team down, so soon we’re going to be left with (best case scenario) three new Cottages, or (worst case scenario) the old Cottages, back from exile and newly snotty. In a perfect world we’d keep the large staff. House’s major flaw is the immovable and repetitive format, with most of the better episodes playing with that formula as much as the showrunners can. They’ve written themselves into a metaphorical corner, and the only thing keeping the show from falling into unwatchable irrelevance is this struggle to keep inventing subtle ways to fool the viewer that things are changing. Come on! [/Gob Bluth] Instead of doing that, just go all out. Keep the big staff for a bit longer, and when that starts to pall, change it again. We’ve still got the procedural investigative work, but with more room for humour. That’s when the show works best. Having this new team around has been a real treat, but waiting for the inevitable retcon is frustrating. Damn, loving House is as annoying as it must be to love House himself.
I nearly forgot; Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe was mostly superserious but essential viewing, partly because his excoriating perspective on the news coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance was magnificent and rightly furious, but also because it featured a short film by Adam Curtis. His stock tricks were there: superb montage editing; excellent soundtrack choices (tracks from The Fog and Fight Club), sly humour. Sadly, the worst criticism of him is that he simplifies complex issues too much, and five minutes explaining why TV journalism has gone wrong over the past 30 years was just not enough. Still, a little Adam Curtis is better than no Adam Curtis at all, so it was brilliant anyway. If you’ve not seen his work before, go to these sites to see Century of the Self, and The Power of Nightmares. His other masterwork, The Trap, is available if you dig deep enough. They’re the three most important documentaries you’ll ever see.
Friday Night Lights has rebounded from the first episode’s terrible plot mistake with some style, though to be honest the best thing I can say about it is that the showrunners are doing the best they can with a large hole in the hull of their ship. It still remains a marvel, though, with the best acting on TV right now. Jesse Plemons and Adrianne Palicki are performing miracles with their silly plot; the final scene horrified and thrilled us in equal measure. Kyle Chandler is the Archduke of Deadpan, and should never be out of work ever again, if there’s any justice, and Brad Leland got big laughs, drunkenly making a fool of himself in front of the whole town. Best of all, Connie Britton’s Tami is suffering from post-natal depression, and spends the whole episode on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She is utterly convincing, but it’s painful to see. Where is her Emmy? Where? Someone give her an Emmy! Or Golden Globe! Do I have to actually construct a Caruso Award and send it to her agent? I’ll do it! I’ve got some glue, and this house is filled with stuff I can mount on a piece of wood. My Wonder Girl action figure? Would that do?
I can’t end this post with such a sad image. Ugly Betty is juggling its own formula, cleverly introducing another love interest for Betty before her old love interest leaves the scene. While cutesy Christopher Gorham waits on the sidelines, polar-opposite Freddy Rodriguez is wooing her by, well, being generally obnoxious and rude. He’d piss us off, but we’re fans of his work on (this again?) Six Feet Under, so he gets a break for now, but they might be better off dialling down the nastiness just a little. No matter. Even if that goes wrong, we’ll still have Michael Urie and Becki Newton as Marc and Amanda. I luffs them almost as much as they luff themselves.
Due to foreseen circumstances (i.e. birthday celebrations) we didn’t get to watch much of this weeks TV until Saturday night, since when we have plowed through every show of the week. I tell you, watching that much TV in such a short space of time is a really bad idea, and we ended up suffering from opinion overload. What’s worse, that block of TV featured the season premieres of the second seasons of our two favourite new shows of the previous year, namely Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock. Would they continue their winning streak, or would they fall apart horribly, perhaps with some really ill-advised murder plotline? As well as those worry-fests, there was lots of second episodes, some good, some bad, some just disappointing.
I’ll get the quick stuff out of the way before going into enormous detail about why I didn’t think Pushing Daisies had anywhere near as good a pilot as Reaper, which may take a while, and will contain the phrase, “Ban Sonnenfeld!” The pilot of Dirty Stupid Monkey was promising enough , but episode two was a hellish 45 minutes of non-jokes telegraphed by wacky and intrusive musical stings, obnoxious characters, and pointless over-editing. If we had a sin-bin for shows that are on their last legs, this would be in it, even though it’s early days and we really do like to be as fair as we can. It was significantly less interesting than the pilot, and the only point we could make about it by the end was that Zoe McClellan, who plays Krause’s wife Lisa George, has the most photographed boobs of the week, and that includes Sonya “Pregnant me up!” Walger’s prominent and mostly-naked embonpoint in Tell Me You Something Something. We counted about a dozen close-ups of McClellan’s chestonics, none of which served any purpose. Much like the show itself. Improve, stupid show! And soon!
Also, minus points to Chuck. Apologies to the Chuck fan that frequents this blog (you know who you are, dude), but this show is on notice too. For God’s sake, it has Adam Baldwin and a severely under-used Tony Todd! It should kick at least a little ass, but it has no recognisable point. The jokes are almost there, but the action is sorely lacking. The final five minutes were especially bad, with a poorly shot and ineptly looped helicopter landing scene that reminded me of the camcorder spoof scene in the first episode of The Day Today.
I gather the third episode sets the format in stone, and perhaps that will be enough to give it a reprieve, but it needs to conjure up some really memorable moments (so far the only thing that has stood out for me is the free-running stuff, but that goes without saying), as well as generate some chemistry between any of the actors. Everyone is helped by Baldwin’s presence, because he’s a class act, but otherwise no one seems capable of breathing life into the project. Contrast that with Reaper, coming off the second excellent episode. The cast works so well together (and with such witty material) I can only imagine the Chuck staff are eating their livers in frustration. Let’s hope they can save it. Perhaps they should cast Ray Wise. I could stand to see two shows a week with this grin all over it.
Again, everything in Reaper was great, and I see Kevin Smith is still present; he’s listed as consultant. A lot of people are saying they were a little disappointed with the second episode, but I thought it almost as strong as the pilot. I guess it helps that I find Tyler Labine hilarious.
Another show suffering from terrible doldrums is Heroes, with another weak episode full of bland exposition, illogicality, and general inept silliness. I’m sure billions of word-bullets have been fired at the internet about Hiro’s boring Japanese adventures, and the Hoirish Ghangsterrrs (a subplot so moronic I think I’m dreaming whenever it comes on), and Noah working in retail (with Chuck and Reaper already covering this territory, I can’t help but feel that some executives think dramatising the service economy is what the people have been crying out for. Hey, executives? No no no no no!). I’ll just say this, and then move on; showrunners, for a long time there we thought you had an awesome concrete storytelling plan, but the finale ruined that. Our trust in you has been badly damaged, and this season needs to make up ground, and quickly. By this we don’t mean turning Maya and Thingy into the plague threat of the season. 24 has already cycled through nuclear and plague threats. Do something new. Please start surprising us again, or you go on notice too. Oh, and stop making Peter do this face.
I had hoped we’d seen the last of his weird Duh face. It’s not a good look for him, and you can’t write that out like you did those horrendous bangs. Also wrongheaded was Bionical Woman, which is setting a format in stone early (too early; it’s been awfully rushed so far), by having Jaime join up with Miguel Ferrer’s shady organisation. This week featured the TV week’s worst line, as Ferrer blackmails Jaime into joining up by saying, “Those legs, that arm, that ear and that eye all belong to me and they cost $50m dollars.” Whoever wrote that gets a cookie.
The horror has been well documented here, but there was also an egregious mistake I can’t believe they let go, and by that I don’t mean hiring the homophobe from Grey’s Anatomy. The plot centres around a nerve gas attack on a town called Paradise (hence the episode title; Paradise Lost. Because Jaime’s easy life has been lost, you see? LOST!). Jaime joins up with SORBMF (Shady Organisation Run By Miguel Ferrer), and undergoes three days of hardcore montage training, before overhearing that Paradise has been attacked. She volunteers, she goes there with Grumpy SORBMF Operative #2, and they find a girl who had been in a basement overnight and thus, improbably, survived the gas. So, the attack happened the day before. So why is it that at the start of the show, before Jaime is drafted into SORBMF, she is in a bar with a TV saying that Paradise has been quarantined? That happens three or four days before she gets there. Either I’m missing something there, or that is a shocking continuity error. Okay, plus points to the show for hiring Friday Night Lights‘ Kevin “Herc” Rankin as a tech nerd, but otherwise, BIG FAT BLEH!
Two shows surprised me this week. The latest installment of Tell Me You Love Me Even Though I Won’t Have Sex/Babies/Relationships With You was just as humourless and earnest and one-note as the rest of the season, but at last we get to see the some of the characters reveal their inner thoughts in some detail, instead of just making gestures. For weeks now David has been refusing to have sex with his wife Katie, as well as being bitchy about her attending therapy, all the while gurning his way into Guptahood. This week he redeemed himself in a long therapy scene where he and Katie threw little bombs of discontent at each other. It was a strong scene, certainly the most interesting thing that’s happened so far, and well acted by Ally Walker and Tim DeKay. We also found out that Palek the Vulcan Inseminatron has been having second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts about impregnating his wife Carolyn, whose desperate need for a baby went beyond mere mom pangs and into psychotic screechy territory, ripping towel dispensers off walls and haranguing Palek at work. The DavidGupta is dead. Long live the CarolynGupta. My God, woman, if you want a baby so badly, there’s someone we know who might be able to help you out.
Also surprisingly okay was Journeyman. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but Canyon and I had fun trying to figure out the ramifications of his powers. Having his wife start to believe him was a great touch, and if they could start to introducing the other characters into his circle of trust, there could be some interesting stories to tell. It helps that Kevin McKidd plays our hero, Dan Vassar. As Canyon said over the weekend, Dan is a very sensitive character, obviously empathic and eager to help his retro charges, and yet McKidd was cast, with his cauliflower face and heavy build. The disconnect between his look and his character is very appealing. It’s not the best show around at the moment, but it’s the show I enjoyed most from NBC’s Monday Night Nerdery line-up, and I would like to see it survive the chop, though I doubt that will happen.
We also enjoyed the second episode of House, with our anti-hero testing out several new Cottage candidates, including Kal Penn, Olivia Wilde, Anne Dudek, and best of all, Carmen Argenziano as a fake doctor who impresses House enough to get hired as an assistant. The Office was good too, though please let the hour-longs end soon. The pilot was mostly superb, but the second episode really overstayed its welcome. Creed was perfect, as always, but Michael got a little wearing by the end. Consider this a tiny criticism; the show was still vastly entertaining.
Funniest moment of the week (for me at least) was Peter Serafinowicz as robotic daytime chatshow host Michael-6 from his new sketch show. It has been established that we are big fans of the man behind That Voice, and were looking forward to his first shot at the spotlight. Mostly it was great, with only a couple of sketches falling short (Clone House! We get it! Please stop now!), but my god, Michael-6 rendered me useless, wheezing and coughing, totally dumbstruck by the brilliance of it. The moment he went on a rampage, throttling audience members and spitting milk like Ian Holm in Alien, was one of the highlights of the week. More please.
Also great was CSI, even though it signalled the beginning of the end of Jorja Fox’s run on the show. Turns out the contract wrangles that almost got her and George Eads thrown off the show years ago finally bit her in the ass, though she doesn’t sound too upset about it. It’s a shame, as we’ve liked Sara (we like everyone on the show, and were delighted to see Wallace “Hodges” Langham finally included in this week’s credits), even though her arms are unusually long.
The rest of the episode was fun enough, with the only other big surprise being Warwick’s divorce (signposted with traditional CSI: Classic economy with nothing more than a line about divorce being a bitch). Best of all, it ends with a wonderful scene showing the assembled cast members racing around on a go-kart track with Sara watching from the sidelines. Touching and funny, and all done with elegance and liveliness (as a bonus, Nick calls Gil “Ricky Bobby”. YES!). The quality of this show is outstanding, and no one notices because it’s a popular procedural and therefore cannot be considered good TV. Screw that. It’s great, and it features awesome hats. Eat that, snobbish critics.
30 Rock returned, and as The AV Club pointed out, it was slightly off, but nonetheless featured some big laughs and some obnoxious Bee Movie plugs (hopefully the movie will be good enough to retroactively forgive it for making 30 Rock seem like an advert). Odd that the show went for the fat suit gag, just like Ugly Betty the previous week; hopefully that gets dropped soon, because it just isn’t that funny. No matter. Everything else was great, especially the countries that only rich people know about, Jack’s agonised reaction to the mention of Lost being on another network, and his summer schedule of terrible reality shows, including MILF Island.
Friday Night Lights also returned with a second season at once desperately needed (more TV of this outrageous quality is always welcome) and totally superfluous (the first season was a perfect gem that didn’t really need any expansion). I will quickly touch on the deeply troubling Tyra/Landry plot (I’ll try not to spoil all you lucky folk who have yet to see the show), because really, this has got to get a LOT better before it totally ruins everything.
FNL fans everywhere are freaking out about this plot, which worked well as a one off thing in the first season (I gushed about it here), but now threatens to destroy one of the show’s best characters (Canyon is working on a Standing in the Shadows for Landry that hopefully won’t be rendered defunct by this horrible twist). Alan Sepinwall, in his excellent blog What Alan’s Watching, says that things do not get better, and interviews Jason Katims, whose responses to the criticism are kind of obnoxious, but there is one good thing that can come out of it. If the absolutely awesome Jesse Plemons gets a career-making showreel out of this plot development, at least we’ll have that. His performance (and that of Adrianne Palicki as Tyra) was excellent. As was everything else in the first episode. And hey, Chris Mulkey is the new Panthers coach. What with Ray Wise on Reaper and Miguel Ferrer in The Woman Who Is Bionical, this season is like a big shiny present to all of us Twin Peaks fans.
Of course, the big premiere of the week was Pushing Daisies, by Wonderfalls/Dead Like Me creator (and Heroes staffer) Bryan Fuller, and the weight of the world was on its shoulders. Lauded by critics since its appearance at ShoWest, it has been praised as the sole repository of originality in an otherwise dull new season, and the next big thing (if the audience can swallow it). Being cynical, I was wary, but the pilot did make me laugh quite a bit, and the cast were very likeable, especially Chi McBride as Emerson Cod (and hey, a small role for Repo Man actor Sy Richardson!).
However, I’ve got big problems with it. Firstly, original? Torchwood featured a Resurrection Glove that brought corpses back to life for 30 seconds (or a minute; I was staving off overwhelming ennui every time I watched the show, so I could be wrong).
In that, it was also used to find out who killed the person being resurrected. I can imagine that’s the logical way to go once you come up with the concept of a Resurrection Glove/Pie-Maker, but still, it’s a bit too close for comfort. Canyon pointed out that Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies did rip off Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass almost completely during the Doctor Who season two finale, so he can’t really complain about plagiarism. Tru Calling creator Jon Harmon Feldman could, though.
Secondly, Barry Sonnenfeld was once a magnificent Director of Photography. His work on the Coen’s early movies blew me away when I was younger, and he did strong work with Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally and Misery. Then he became a director with an extremely limited bag of tricks ripped off from his time on Raising Arizona, mostly involving dollying into something to express emphasis, fish-eye lenses, lots of attention-seeking POV, and pointless overhead shots. I greatly enjoyed Men in Black (mostly due to Ed Solomon’s co-scripting and the excellent chemistry between the leads) and Get Shorty (where Sonnenfeld reined in some of the excess, though sadly not all), but everything else he has done is average-to-horrible. His TV adaptation of Ben Edlund’s awesome The Tick was rendered almost unwatchable with his heightened reality shtick, and sadly he’s brought even more of that to the table with Pushing Daisies.
In a 42 minute long show, he had at least 34 emphasis dollies, 11 overhead shots, and POV every five minutes (yes, I actually counted). It blighted the show to such an extent that I even forgot to be annoyed by the cloying narration. I may have enjoyed some of Tim Burton’s early work, and I might have even liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which were stylistically very similar to Pushing Daisies, but that knowing fairy-tale style gets old real quick, and the show was utterly hamstrung by it.
By comparison, the over-directing in Ugly Betty annoys me not a jot. In fact, I think it’s one of the best directed shows on TV, even though it too is garish and overdone and often very silly. Perhaps it works because the tricks are used with a lot more restraint, occasionally settling down to just let the scene breathe for a few minutes. Plus, the show might not be the acme of bitchery that it thinks it is, but some of the saltiness of the show does keep the sugariness at bay. Each week there is a battle between the two tones, and it almost always maintains a happy equilibrium. (This week was excellent too, with Vanessa Williams rocking the house down. She wuz robbed at the Emmys!)
I will admit, the love story between Chuck and Ned charmed me, and the final scene with them holding their own hands whilst looking at each other made me cry a little, but only when Sonnenfeld hands over the megaphone (reportedly midway through the third episode) will I relax and assess the show without a red mist of rage descending every time the camera whooshes towards someone wearing an expression of surprise.
Oh, and third strike against the show; if Ned’s touch can kill Chuck, can the directors please ensure they keep the two of them as far apart as possible? Whenever they’re onscreen together I’m stupidly terrified Ned will trip over something and accidentally kill her. The scene where they smashed the monkey sculptures together almost gave me a heart attack. This might prove to be the one thing that ruins the show for me altogether; the fear that a mistake will kill her. I know it won’t (the show wouldn’t survive it, after all), but I was agitated for a long section of the first episode. Reaper‘s pilot was a much more relaxing and enjoyable first hour, and Kevin Smith, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are to be commended. They win a Caruso award for Best New Show! It means nothing, but they’ve won it! Yay showrunners! Keep it up!
As Canyon said, we watched a potentially synapse-damaging amount of TV, with only a bit of it actually amounting to anything. Old reliables House and CSI provided the highlights, along with The Office and Ugly Betty. The latter was in a particularly strong position after a storming season finale which packed in more plot than the entire season of Tell Me You Tolerate Me, Preferably In A Passive-Aggressive Stylee. The season 2 premiere opened with a telenovela parody that shouldn’t have worked but did, and then some. I do hate parodies like this, especially lazy-ass martial arts spoofs, with the heeeelarryus dubbing and crash zooms (exempt from this criticism is the Fistful of Yen spoof in Kentucky Fried Movie, which cracks me up). Spoofing telenovelas is even easier, but as it’s a nod to the origins of the show, and featured Christopher Gorham, Jayma Mays and America Ferrera being so silly, I was won over.
The rest of the episode played out as the traditional season premiere exposition-a-thon, with the only real surprise being my reaction to Hilda’s heartbreak (i.e. I cried). Not that this is a criticism; it was pacy and funny as always, so it gets a thumbs-up, even though Becki Newton’s fat suit was terrible. Doesn’t matter. She was great, as was Judith Light, who is practically a series regular now. Here’s hoping, as she is Queen Snarky.
Even better was The Office, with two episodes screened back to back. The big event was the Jim/Pam reveal, which John Krasinski spoiled a while back by saying the producers were hoping to explore their relationship. Whatever. I like the characters but I’m much less invested in that arc than I am in everything else, especially Michael and Jan’s dysfunctional couple, and the possible breakdown of Dwight/Angela. Regarding the original series, Tim/Dawn was the thing I liked most about it, but then as fantastic as that show was, it didn’t have the rich cast of characters that The US Office now has (and no Creed-analogue, which automatically makes it inferior), so now I’m kind of spoiled for choice. Jam/Pim/PB&J just don’t matter as much any more.
It wasn’t all good, though. One of the dismaying trends of the new season is the lack of originality in the new shows. There’s nothing as odd as Lost, as potentially controversial as Dexter, or even as promising as Studio 60 (hate it though I do, it seemed to be the show to beat this time last year). What we do have is Moonlight (Angel meets Forever Knight), Reaper (Ghost Rider/Brimstone meets Clerks), Chuck (Alias meets Clerks), Bionic Woman (a reimagining of a spin-off), Journeyman (Quantum Leap meets Early Edition), and Dirty Stupid Monkey (Arrested Development with a lot less laughs). Even much-touted Pushing Daisies is possibly extracted from Tru Calling and a Torchwood plot device, horribly enough. Even so, it still sounds like the most interesting of the pilots.
Speaking of those shows, we also saw Journeyman, and it seems like the showrunners took the bits of Quantum Leap that worked (honourable man travels through time to save people), added the stuff that the format wouldn’t allow (a personal life for the protagonist plus a history of substance abuse, an arc involving his former lover), and then took away the quirky stuff that made the previous show so watchable (Al, Ziggy, the odd bit of cross-dressing). It’s pretty bland stuff, though kudos for hiring Kevin McKidd, who looks like the freak-birthed lovechild of Daniel Craig and Paul Bettany.
He’s a more interesting actor than your usual episodic low-brow sci-fi show would get. The first episode hinted that there would be some explanation of what is happening to our hero (Quantum Leap’s explanation was, famously, “It wuz God wot done it.”), and it seems the paradoxically chronoriffic effects of his travels will affect things around him, but we’ll see how bold the writers are. In a few weeks he could just be pootling around teaching John Lennon the lyrics to Imagine, at which point we will stop watching. With extreme prejudice!
Which might happen sooner rather than later with Bionical Woman, which was aaaaaawful. Perhaps it will get better; NBC are changing the showrunners like Magic – The Gathering cards, desperate to keep the momentum of the show going, but it needs to make a lot more changes before becoming a watchable show. Though I hate to kick a Brit when she’s down, Michelle Ryan is insufficiently bionic as Jaime Summers, though she’s not helped by the ridonkulous running effects and horrifically bad wirework. Even worse, her character is whininess incarnate. Her nanotech pioneer boyfriend saves her life by pumping her full of nanodoohickeys he calls Anthrocites, which rebuild her limbs. Does she thank him? No, she does not! She goes off on him about it and accuses him of ruining her life. At least you have a life to have ruined, you ingrate! Later on it turns out they also put warriortech chips in her superbrain (she has an enormous IQ, and thus works in a bar, making rocket fuel out of Triple Sec, obviously). At that point, her anger is justified. Before that? Get over yourself, girl. You ain’t all that and a bag of nanobots.
The rest of the cast made very little impression. Miguel Ferrer growls menacingly (poor bastard), Jamie’s sister is a little punk Gupta-in-waiting, numerous other actors point their faces at the camera or each other and look concerned, and the excellent Mark “Badger from Firefly” Sheppard wears some dreadful old age makeup and plays the big bad, as far as we can tell. As for Katee Sackhoff, who is getting the only good reviews in the show, she drools over Ryan in a viewer-panderingly bi-tri way, and wears the worst lipstick ever. I wish I had a screencap right now. This comparison pic will show an approximation of the horror.
Of these new shows, only one made a real impression. Dirty Stupid Monkey might have been tonally confused (was it equal to Ugly Betty in terms of camp absurdity? Was it actually a drama about corruption and murder? Would Peter Krause get to do anything funny?), but I can imagine that will settle down once the showrunners have a better idea of how their cast gels. The bigger problems with it lie in the sheer mechanicality of it.
Everything in it is designed by committee to put bums on seats, with nothing organic or real in it (It’s the anti-Tell Me You Love Me, FOR REALSIES!). Principled lawyer working for sprawling, wacky, corrupt family he has a history with, all of whom are cliches (Paris Hilton-a-like, slacker son, evil priest, lonely sex-driven old flame, corrupt politician with a taste for transsexuals), tempted by the success and glamour of their lives while coming into conflict with his wife. It works (it’s built like a machine by an army of writers and looks like a billion dollars was spent on it, so it kind of has to), but it might not hold our attention in the long run, despite the presence of Krause, Billy Baldwin in full-on puffy mode, and Donald Sutherland with his Amazing Eccentric Pimp-Coat.
The parallels with Arrested Development are obvious, and the AV Club has been comparing the characters to the Bluths. They’re right on a lot of them: Samaire Armstrong = Maebe; Evil Priest = GOB; Jill Clayburgh = Lucille Bluth, though as Canyon said while we watched it, how wonderful it would have been to cast Jessica Walters. Many are saying that Peter Krause is playing Michael Bluth, but Michael was part of the family, and Krause is playing their lawyer. Surely that would make him Barry Zuckerkorn.
ETA: I got screen captures of the lipstick incident!