May 2009

The Office Webisodes: Blackmail

Summer is just around the corner and NBC's golden comedy The Office packed up its fifth season weeks ago. After last Summer's highly successful Office webisodes kept laugh-addicted fans connected to their favorite series, NBC wisely decided to commission more this year. Kicking things off is the very well-done "Blackmail" starring Creed Bratton.

The Office webisodes have been clever enough to shift the focus to those supporting characters who aren't even in every episode. So far, Michael, Jim, Pam and Dwight haven't even made an appearance in any of them. Last year we got to spend some time with the accountants and it was great to see that they have their own little world, complete with power dynamics and internal dramas independent of their coworkers in sales and management. Hopefully this year's first webisode centering on Creed is an indication that we'll be getting to spend some time with the other supporting characters like Kelly, Toby and Darryl.

The Goode Family: Pilot

Twelve years ago, Mike Judge debuted one of the longest-running animated shows in television history. After a successful, if occasionally controversial, run with MTV's Beavis and Butthead, Judge introduced America to King of the Hill. As that show runs down its final season, Judge has a new program that launched this past Wednesday on ABC, The Goode Family. While this show has some potential, it doesn't strike a very flattering comparison with King of the Hill. Too bad it practically begs for one.

Garry Shandling vs. Larry Sanders

One must admit, at this late date, the situation comedy is an art form. It might be an unrecognized and much maligned set of precepts, but these tenets serve to inform countless television shows being aired every evening and viewed by literally millions of fans across the globe. There are a few commonly accepted classics - Seinfeld being one of them. But if revisiting the show, it at times seems dated. Of course, that's not necessarily the fault of the 1989 Jerry Seinfeld. He, of course, couldn't have guessed that twenty years on people would still be watching, re-watching and discovering his work. That show was of a specific time, even if the subject matter really is timeless.

In Treatment: Season 2, Week 7

And so we come to the close of another show's season. In Treatment's was shorter than most, and yet in its own way also longer. Seven weeks, sure, but 35 episodes is probably the longest season of any scripted program on TV. It's this very reason why In Treatment might not see a third season. It has all the acclaim and viewership it needs to convince HBO to give it the greenlight, but poor Gabriel Byrne has inadvertently become the hardest-working man in showbusiness. With two and a half hours of television to film for every week the show is on, and for a show that 90% talk, In Treatment produces so much dialog that Byrne probably forgets his own name by the end of principle photography.

That said, us viewers have been reaping the benefits of Byrne's labor. Every weakness of Season One (not that there were many) was addressed, making Season 2 one consistently stellar slice of television. So, how did each of the troubling stories turn out?

Glee: Pilot

This Fall, Fox will premiere a singing, dancing comedy called Glee about the glee club for a money-strapped school in a small Midwestern town. In a unique marketing ploy, the network decided to air its one-hour pilot in May. If the show can keep up the pilot's level of energy by its Autumn premiere, it might just turn out to be one of the most entertaining things on television.

In Treatment: Season 2, Week 6

The line between Paul Weston's personal life and his professional life has always been, at best, blurry. Back in Season 1 he experienced far more honesty and intimacy in his office than in the rest of his house, whether in the form of a passionate love for Laura he had long lost for his wife, or in his care for Sophie he had a hard time extending to his own children. Now that he's alone, Paul seems less inclined to even try to keep his private emotions cordoned off from patient care. A few weeks ago, Gina told Paul that his decision to become a therapist came from his deep, lifelong sense of empathy. That ability (or need) to reach out is at once his greatest strength and greatest liability as a clinical psychologist.

A Second Look: The Riches

It's an all-too-common occurrence for a good show to get axed for the wrong reasons. Everyone has at least one show they wish hadn't met an untimely end and people with good taste have to deal with the reality of at least half of their favorites every year getting stuck in the ground before their due. 2008 was a particularly rough year thanks to the already legendary writers strike. Good programs got cut short, bad ones didn't have a chance to lose enough viewers to keep them from being renewed and the few of us who watch TV for good storytelling saw countless plots filed down to unsatisfying nubs.

Dollhouse Renewed

So good news for Dollhouse fans! Fox has renewed the lackluster, flaccid, ethically ambiguous, vacuous and boring series for at least 13 more episodes, in spite of its week ratings performance. Yes, the network that completely blew it with Firefly has given at least part of a second season of Dollhouse the green light.

To be fair, my esteemed colleague, msarko, seems to quite like Dollhouse. Or perhaps he's just a nicer person than I am. Regardless, I wish that if a series was going to inherit the Joss-Firefly-Fox- Screw-up karma to get a second chance, it was something more interesting and worth spending 40 minutes of my life every week watching. And I tried to like this show, I really did. But these are all just really unpleasant people.

30 Rock: Kidney Now! and an Apology

I've maybe only watched a handful of episodes of 30 Rock over the course of its three-year run, but not for any particular reason. I've enjoyed every episode I've ever seen, but I suppose I just hit critical mass for television-watching by the end of the week. Strange as it is for a TV blogger to say it, I'm just not that much of a tube-boob. That said, I think I've been neglecting 30 Rock on this blog, so I wanted to highlight tonight's season finale and make a solemn promise to cover its fourth season in its entirety when it airs next Fall.

The Office: Company Picnic

The genius at the center of the US version of The Office has always been its keen understanding of the way corporate life can alter a person's mindset. Trivial things become matters of extreme importance after so many months or years of drudgery. This week the trivial thing was a volleyball tournament at the annual Dunder-Mifflin picnic. It's pretty telling that, as a viewer, I cared a lot more about the outcome of that tournament than I did about the many real-life dramas going on around it. This is not to say those dramas weren't deeply rewarding on their own.

Online Video Player Report Card: The Big Four

With the increasing ubiquity of high-speed Internet connections, several major TV networks have been implementing online video streaming of their most popular shows. None of these players feel like they're out of beta yet, but a few are moving along nicely. Let's see how the video players from each of the four big networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox) match up, not only in the quality of the technology but also concerning each network's uploading policy.

NBC

House: Both Sides Now

I have to admit, last week's episode of House had me worried. This whole season has been leaving us viewers very little believability, from the sudden shocks to the less-than-stellar soap opera plots. Tonight's episode proved that the writing team still has it, and by "it" I mean the ability to hit us with some satisfying surprises.

30 Rock Rips off Larry David's Kidney

Before even introducing the following comparison, it must be understood that Curb Your Enthusiasm is easily the most influential and overwhelmingly important comedic television show in the last fifteen years - or, perhaps ever.

Being exposed to ridiculous premises for as long as televisions have been common in households, the sitcom became stagnant - even Seinfeld. But what Larry David has done, in addition to incorporating some pseudo documentarian aspects to the show, is to include a level of mystical commonality unmatched anywhere else on the small screen. His every day conundrums so far surpass any other comedic set up, that at this point, there's not really even any competition. Of course, we're still waiting for that new season. Hopefully it doesn't stink.

Dollhouse: Omega

And so goes the first season of Dollhouse. If Fox has any decency, this show will be back, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed next autumn. "Omega" did a good job of digging into the philosophy behind the show, adding nuance to the moral debate of the nature of the Dollhouse and those who choose to be its Actives.

The central theme of this episode was the idea of a "core" personality, that deep down everyone has an essential seed of self that shines through no matter what's put on top. We finally get Alpha's origin story and it makes his inherent villainy make sense, even if it does rob the show of some of the moral ambiguity of the Dollhouse itself.

DeWitt explains that, in its experimental phase, the Rossum Corporation tested the chair technology on convicts. Alpha spent his pre-Doll days as an aspiring serial killer. As a consequence, even his tabula rasa form had an affinity for sharp things.

The Office: Cafe Disco

It's been a while since we had a party episode. I suppose the brief but tyrannous reign of Charles Minor wasn't the best time for the folks at Dunder-Mifflin to boogie down inept-style. "Cafe Disco" was good for the small revelations and a ton of funny moments, so let's get into it.

Still not quite ready to return to the status quo after getting bought out, Michael wants to apply the camaraderie he felt at the MSPC to his old life at DM Scranton. When he invites someone, anyone (except for Dwight) to join him for lunch, Michael finds that everyone is still exercising the "No lunch with the boss" policy that mysteriously went into effect the moment Michael became the branch manager. As always, he's unwilling to take "Nobody likes you" for an answer, so he pulls out his trump card.

Better Off Ted: Get Happy

This week, ABC decided to do something strange and disconcerting. They took their best new show, a fun comedy that was just hitting its stride, and they aired its seventh episode one day early while billing it as the "season finale". It doesn't take a wizard of the TV business to know that this spells bad news for any Better Off Ted fans. The show hasn't performed as well as one might hope, but this sudden, disturbing maneuver by ABC just feels like bad business. Few comedies ever grab their audience straight out of the gate. The most widely-loved network comedy of the past five years, NBC's The Office, limped through the first half of its debut season. Now it's a practically unimpeachable gem. The prospect of losing Better Off Ted because of a slightly less than stellar opening is the type of thing that makes people get rid of their TV's.

In Treatment: Season 2, Week 5

One line I keep coming back to from the first season of In Treatment is when Paul says he could never be an author because he would want to give all of his characters happy endings. Paul has a deep-seated desire to fix people but he's such a mess himself that he frequently ends up letting his own personal need to be fixed get in the way of helping his patients. And of course, there's always the question of whether or not people can really ever be fixed in the first place.

House: Under My Skin

For several seasons now I've wanted to see some real progress in House's Vicodin addiction. It's a great character element but it seems to have been more cosmetic than it ought to be. So, it should come as no surprise that House's recent hallucinations have been a result of his poisonous pill-popping, nor should it be a surprise that he goes to such great lengths to blame his mental check-out on something else.

House has been a true-to-form addict, choosing his substance over just about everything else in his life. He has kept all but one person (Wilson) at a distance, he has risked jail time and has even put his own life in danger just so he can keep those pills in his routine. The only thing that could possibly make House consider giving up Vicodin is the prospect of losing his gift for diagnostics. By the end of tonight's episode, that's exactly the problem House faces.

Dollhouse: Briar Rose

If the future is more just than today's world, Joss Whedon and Jane Espenson will be known as one of the greatest creative teams in television history. In regard to that, tonight's episode of Dollhouse will be a part of the supporting thesis.

I do love it when a plan comes together. The entire season has been building up to the events of "Briar Rose" and the episode did not disappoint. As is their favored mode, Whedon and Espenson went for a layered approach to tonight's story. As a matter of course, not a single scene was a wasted moment. Echo begins the day as a volunteer at a shelter for abused kids, but the story book she reads to them is reflected in the rest of the night's plot.