April 2009

The Office: Casual Friday

Bravo to the writers on The Office for not focusing too much on Michael himself on his return to Dunder-Mifflin. "Casual Friday" was a true ensemble episode. Really, everybody at the Scranton branch got to have some excellent moments. What better way to return to the status quo than a half hour highlighting why each of these characters are great?

Of course, Michael was still the center of the show, but he's always been. His triumphant return to the branch manager's desk brought with it a little bit of conflict. Apparently, Pam and Ryan have been allowed to keep the clients they stole from the sales people at Dunder-Mifflin, so the old sales team is on the edge of mutiny. This is where Dwight gets his moment. He decides to communicate with the other disgruntled workers via hidden messages written in his own urine. Between that and his pony sandwich, it was a stellar night for everyone's favorite proponent of the mustard-colored shirt.

In Treatment: Season 2, Week 4

In Treatment is a show about people with some pretty profound emotional issues, so it really means something when I say that this week absolutely everybody was a complete mess. We were about due for it anyway. At this point last season Paul's patients were doing everything in their power to ruin their own lives, while at the same time Kate was screwing off to Europe with her lover. This season everyone is somehow doing even worse. Naturally, this makes for some great TV.

Heroes: An Invisible Thread

Thus goes the strike-elongated third season of Heroes, not with a bang, nor a whimper, but with a resounding "meh". It was really the only way we can expect this show to approach a season finale at this point. It hit all the most unfortunate hallmarks. We had a death that wasn't really a death (two, actually), we were once again robbed of the great Sylar/Peter confrontation, heck there was even the re-emergence of yet another character played by Ali Larter. At this point, I think they're just teasing us. And by "they" I mean everyone who has anything to do with Heroes.

House: House Divided

Gimmick episodes of House are either a nice change of pace or they fall flat. Tonight's head games happened to occupy the former. As promised by last episode's cliffhanger, House spends a majority of "House Divided" talking to a hallucination of Amber.

Aside from it being great to see Anne Dudek back on the show, head-Amber gave us a peek inside of House's subconscious. She wasn't just there to tease House, she actually voiced his usually hidden thoughts. Sometimes that meant some rapid-fire diagnostics, other times it meant obsessing over the name of a stripper from a decade-old bachelor party.

Speaking of bachelor parties, House jumps right on top of throwing one for Chase now that he's getting married. This allowed for some amusing interludes and comically literal visuals. In a nice twist, it also actually fit back into the main plot by the end.

Dollhouse: Haunted

I've come to expect more from a Joss Whedon production than predictable drama. That's why I found the main plot of "Haunted" to be so boring. A high-society murder mystery with a sci-fi twist is still just another high-society murder mystery. By the same token, dime novel plotlines are made no more intriguing just because they're in the context of Dollhouse. That's the central weakness of this show. At its best it can be a thrilling exploration of identity, but at its worst it's little more than tired TV tropes strung together with a self-conscious conceit.

Parks and Recreation: The Reporter

I still don't know what to think of this show. I guess it's fitting that it takes place in the purgatory of do-nothing local government because Parks and Recreation has a kind of drab desperation to it. No matter who you are in Pawnee, it's kinda depressing. Leslie is the most hopeful person around, but that's not really saying much. The small-town cynicism extends even to the local media. The reporter sent to do an article about the proposed park, unscrupulous vixen that she is, still has to face the fact that her life of intrigue always rounds back to articles about raccoon infestations.

The Office: Broke

I'd take this moment for a big "I told ya so" except that every TV critic in the Anglophone world saw this one coming. In the end, the Dunder-Mifflin buyout of the Michael Scott Paper Company was never about if it was going to happen, it was about the execution of its inevitable occurrence. To its credit, "Broke" managed to make the whole thing satisfying and fittingly shaky.

The episode opens with a peek into the mom-and-pop logistics of the MSPC. In a used van believed to be formerly owned by a Korean church, Michael et al get rolling in the pre-dawn hours to deliver their cheap-as-hell wares. This sets up one of the better running gags I've seen on The Office. Periodically throughout the episode, random Korean ladies hop into the van. At a low point when all involved with the MSPC seem doomed, a new passenger even climbs aboard in the middle of their sorrowful silence.

South Park: Fatbeard

One of the great things about South Park is how quickly the production team can put together a new episode. It's the only scripted show on TV that can be topical within a week of a current event. In a sort of bizarro-world version of television production, these hastily slapped-together episodes are often the tightest, most entertaining of the series.

"Fatbeard" addresses the recent scad of pirate assaults off the coast of Somalia. While in the real world the reasons for all of this elevated crime and violence are complex and rooted in decades of geopolitical atrocity, in the South Park world it all centers around Cartman. This has actually been a very Cartman-centric season and I'm not entirely sure how much I like that. I miss the old ensemble days most weeks. Still, this episode was one of the best of the season, not quite reaching the heights of "Margaritaville" but coming pretty close.

Better Off Ted: Goodbye, Mr. Chips

I have to say, it was pretty fulfilling to see the entire cast of Better Off Ted involved in a single plot. Don't get me wrong, the kooky B-stories involving Phil, Lem and Linda are more often fun than filler, but sometimes a half-hour comedy needs the entire gang in on the same running joke.

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips" put poor Ted on a Kafkaesque (well, Kafka-lite) quest through bureaucratic hell when a clerical error renders him non-existent as far as the Veridian computers are concerned. As for that clerical error, it was a clever little joke on which the show thankfully didn't linger. Apparently Ted's last name is Crisp, but he was recently entered into the system as Ted Chips. A culture joke like that usually doesn't show up on primetime.

Heroes: I Am Sylar

Every time I watch a Sylar-centric episode of Heroes the same question pops into my head: Is Zachary Quinto at the mercy of bad directors, or is he just an old-fashioned ham? His take on Sylar is like Nicolas Cage on Valium. Tonight's episode gave him plenty of room to play and he even had some genuinely good moments, schizophrenic character motivations notwithstanding.

Parks and Recreation: Canvassing

Honestly, I don't know how much more cringe humor I can stand. It's always been far from my favorite kind of comedy and I just don't see how it's any different than telling the same joke over and over. Character gets in over his/her head in a situation and publicly humiliates his/her self trying to salvage it. And then the clown squirts water from a fake flower on his lapel and someone gets hit in the face with a pie.