August 2009

Mad Men: Marriage of Figaro

The continued towing of the line between that new thing and the old continues on this week’s Mad Men. The show’s obviously beholden to the place and period that it’s based, but unlike other shows of its ilk, Mad Men has an uncanny facility for explicating social ills through the sometimes ostentatious actions of the show’s characters. Yeah, an old man marries a woman who could be his daughter – that should make the wedding night kinda gross. But since parties and social gatherings that occur within the frame of the show generally end badly, Marriage of Figaro isn’t any different.

Jeremy Piven: Clerk to Defendant in Twenty Short Years

Jeremy Piven’s bounced back and forth between small time, but well received work and some enormous hits – both critically and in the old pocket book. And as he continues on as Ari Gold in Entourage it’s worth taking a look at some of what made Piven what he is today – it’s something more than a smarmy, self important dude even as he portrays those inclinations so well on the small screen. But defining an actor is not only a difficult thing to do, but in the end, completely fruitless. So instead, a cursory look at how he’s cropped up over time seems to be just as significant.

Catching Up: Farscape (2:16-2:18)

At this point in the series, Farscape starts to move away from purely stand-alone episodes in favor a deeper devotion to plot arc and character development, as do many shows with a couple seasons under their belts. This is particularly true of shows that attempt at a complex mythology. It just wouldn't work if characters who have spent so much time together didn't develop some kind of shorthand for their shared experiences. For a series like Farscape, it's really better to take this approach anyway, given that long-time fans are what sustains it rather than newcomers. This week's episodes are only stand-alone in that they don't overtly pursue the series-long plot, but they're still full of references that casual viewers couldn't hope to understand.

Mad Men: Love Among the Ruins

There aren’t a lot of folks who have too many negative things to say about AMC’s Mad Men. For good reason, of course, but while the show has functioned over the din that surrounds it by concocting a variety of plots that could be seen to be lascivious at best, its also worked to comment upon the time during which the show’s supposed to take place. There was an episode about urban sprawl – well, a white guy moved to Brooklyn – an episode touching on the taboos associated with the work place and pretty consistently has navigated in and around the role of women during the ‘60s.

Weeds: Glue

The best of creative endeavors sticks with the receptacle. Yes, human beings here have been reduced to things by which to hold information over for a week or so as the writers, actors and everyone else scurries to complete another installment of whatever show is at the time most entertaining to them. But if as one of those writers or producers, you begin to create a product that isn’t really able to stick with viewers for a time, there might be a problem. And I kinda feel like Weeds has gotten to that point. It’s unfortunate, as I’ve said elsewhere, but nonetheless true. The show seems to be headed down some path into the wilderness without a way to get back.

Catching Up: Arrested Development (Season 2 Finale)

For a show that is infamous for ending way too early, Arrested Development sure has a way with tying up loose ends. Each season finale brings a respectable amount of closure to the longer story threads and even minor characters don't get short-changed when the curtain closes. Ultimately, it's this attention to detail that made Arrested Development a very entertaining show as well as a master class in how to construct a television comedy.

Dexter: Living the Dream

It’s probably hard to conceive of ways by which to make a serial killer a likeable enough character to warrant viewers to return on a weekly basis. Early on in Dexter’s first few seasons his relationship with a woman named Rita - who has two kids from a previous relationship – gets explained to do just that. The narrations that the character of Dexter lends to the show, leading viewers through his thought process, explains that since he doesn’t really have feelings in a traditional sense, the interactions that the couple has frequently are telegraphed – Dexter guesses what a normal, do-gooder would say. In his frankness, though, is some sort of glimmering humanity seemingly void from what the title character describes.

Fall TV Preview: CBS

CBS is something of a mixed bag these days. On the one hand it has the usual slew of reality shows and third-tier procedurals like the many-headed beast that is CSI. On the other hand it has fair-to-good comedies like How I Met Your Mother and inventive, woefully underrated programs like Numb3rs. With a full docket of laughers, CBS has decided to pile on the drama this Fall (with one exception). Here's what's new.

Nurse Jackie: Season 1 Finale

Someone forgot to tell the writing staff of Nurse Jackie that there's a big difference between a finale cliffhanger and ending a season one episode early. This last half hour of Season 1 is nothing if not a string of stories that really need to be tied up, or at least condensed. I can understand wanting to retain some tension for the second season (production begins in a month), but at least something needs to be resolved.

Catching Up: Farscape (2:13-2:15)

Between last week's epic three-parter and this week's thoroughly enjoyable stand-alone episodes, we basically get to see everything that's good about Farscape. Season 2, Episodes 13, 14 and 15 are exercises in well-calibrated, mildly postmodern science fiction. More reliable than predictable, better staged than most works of experimental TV and always in sync with the show's larger goals, these episodes do it all right.

Catching Up: Legend of the Seeker- Revenant

I like my heroes flawed. The only thing worse than a mustache-twirling villain who's evil purely for the sake of evil is a Dudley Do-Rightesque hero who lives only to pursue a vague form of justice. Heck, even Superman saw his responsibilities as an alienating burden. By that token, my favorite episodes of Legend of the Seeker so far have been those that deconstruct the very nature of heroism and make our protagonists think twice about saving every shrew in the forest. "Revenant" goes a long way to humbling our heroes, or at least proving that there's a dark side to being a mystical warrior designed to kill things with a magical sword fueled by rage.

SOAP: Season Three

The inclusion of enough different actual soap opera cops amidst the ensuing years of SOAP fit the show’s personality to a certain extent. At some point, though, the show’s creators and principal creative folks, namely Susan Harris and Paul Junger-Witt, must have had a discussion about the direction of the narrative. Unwittingly, SOAP, with all of those traditional day time trappings, could have become what it aimed to mock. Surely, there was still the tongue and cheek mockery of the show’s lead characters, but sooner or later, it could have all devolved into some amalgam of awful day time plot twists and shocking cliff hangers. And that’s really what the third season of SOAP ended up moving closer towards.

Catching Up: Arrested Development (2:13-2:15)

One thing that has always puzzled me about Arrested Development is why Ron Howard's narration goes uncredited. I suppose it could be one series-long running joke, opening up opportunities for as many Happy Days gags as Hurwitz and company could ever want, but even that has its limits. AD's narrator is unique in that he's essentially another character, or at the very least an additional joke dispenser. Normally I can't stand voiceover narration, if only because it's entirely unnecessary and usually just spoon-feeds the plot to viewers. Howard's narration comes to be an indispensable part of this show's aesthetic.

Fall TV Preview: NBC

There was a time when NBC was an unbeatable juggernaut of TV excellence. These days, the network is falling behind and making a habit of killing off the best shows on its roster. Still, it has the Thursday night comedy powerhouse that is The Office and 30 Rock, two shows that could probably carry the entire network if they had to. Here's what the peacock has slated to premiere in the 2009/2010 season.

Weeds: Ducks and Tigers

I hesitate to proclaim my love for any show currently on (network) television. With cable programming, I’m only a little less reticent to publicize my longing for new episodes of stuff. Weeds may have started out as some out of control comedy that tried to get at suburban drug culture in an amusing way. Unfortunately, though, after the first couple of season, Nancy and company have taken a serious dip in quality and coherence. Of course, the show still has its moments that can prompt a viewer to chortle a bit aloud, but for the most part it seems as if Weeds’ fifth season has found the show spiraling further down the rabbit hole of soap-operadom.

Nurse Jackie: Pill-O-Matix

It seems to me that watching Nurse Jackie is an exercise is miscalculation. Sometimes the show miscalculates how effective a certain plot elements or line delivery is going to be. I've been quick to point these moments out. But tonight, I feel like I've been miscalculating Nurse Jackie myself. Things I never thought would work managed to be interesting in this episode and while I'm not ready to eat crow on a lot of my complaints, I am willing the entertain the idea that this show's lemons can be dehydrated, pulverized and turned into Country Time by next Summer.

Mad Men: Don Drapper and the Bubble

After the first season of Mad Men ­– or maybe it was the second – Jon Hamm made a series of appearances on the NBC show 30 Rock. His character there, as opposed to Don Draper, was a well intentioned, but woefully clumsy and ill informed doctor. After dating Liz Lemon for a time, subsequent to her wrangling his attention, Dr. Drew is revealed to be some sort of beautiful, cloistered man incapable of concocting even the most basic dinner. Liz’s response to all of this is to conclude that being as stunningly handsome as the good doctor was, he was never privy to anyone dashing his hopes with reality.

SOAP: Season Two

The second season of SOAP didn’t find the show’s creators, writers or actors aping any sort of civil tone as it begins just moments after the first season had ended. The continuity maintained from show to show – and apparently season to season – again makes this show one of the easier television efforts to be immediately sucked into. The dense universe of Dunn’s River, Connecticut finds itself being ever expanded as the shows principal writer, Susan Harris, continues to grow more and more confident in her ability to manipulate each character in some sort of sensible (?) manner given each’s background and personality.