November 2009

Heroes: The Fifth Stage

Alright, tonight's Tim Kring penned episode of Heroes wasn't terrible. It wasn't good, exactly, but it avoided being another in a parade of inexcusable scripts and lackluster direction. Maybe it was because things ostensibly happened or because the show mostly focused on two plots. Also, Adrian Pasdar got to show off his acting chops, which is always welcome even if his character should have been written out of the show at least three times by now. Is "The Fifth Stage" a sign of this show turning over a new leaf? Absolutely not. I've wondered that and have been burned by the results enough times to know that a halfway decent episode of Heroes is little more than a respite before things get awful again. But it sure was nice while it lasted, huh?

Californiacation: Dogtown

Californiacation has been hyper aware of hipness throughout its three seasons. To maintain an image of current coolness, though, the series occasionally delves into some territory that doesn’t seem to maintain a singular bent to the show or any sort of sensible decisions on the part of the characters. Of course, Hank Moody has been concocted to represent some romanticized version of what a novelist is and or should be. But the fact that his character and its trajectory seem to change from episode to episode – or even in the middle of one – is kinda bothersome.

Legend of the Seeker: Touched

Legend of the Seeker is an odd show for me, as both a critic and a fan. I can see so much potential in it and while I never really expect it to live up to that potential, I still find myself feeling disappointed when it doesn't take at least a few opportunities for some real emotional depth. Whenever a book gets adapted for the screen there's a respectable impetus to be faithful to the source material, but there are always reasons to deviate from the original. I think the Sword of Truth series does well as a standard exercise in high fantasy, but like most of the genre it lacks the pathos required to make a compelling modern TV drama. I so often find myself wishing that the show would be darker or more emotionally complicated, especially in episodes like "Touched" in which there are so many chances to push that button.

Glee: Hairography

Last week I wrote about how the three main writers on Glee have three distinct styles and likewise three noticeably different levels of quality in their respective scripts. I talked mostly about the good/bad contrast between Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, but tonight it was all about Ian Brennan's Glee Train to Crazy Town. Brennan's episodes are pure left-field insanity, the kind of wild misconception that makes musicals like The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. He isn't subtle and it's mostly out of courtesy that his plot points actually get referenced in future episodes. Still, Brennan's episodes are entertaining, even if they are certifiable. So, sure, why the hell not? Let's have an entire episode ostensibly about how stripper hair is a metaphor for all of life's petty distractions.

House: Ignorance is Bliss

Characters on House just aren't interesting when they're happy. In fact, that particular mutual exclusivity is the subject of this week's episode. Or at least it might as well be. I've written before about how Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital is as much an existential state as the setting of this show. While the paces of "Ignorance is Bliss" aren't as sharp as House can get, the overarching ideas it conveys are some of the more intriguing of the series. In a show that directly contrasts worth with wellness, it's only a matter of time before a character either leaves or becomes miserable.

Heroes: Thanksgiving

Tonight, a friend hit me with an interesting hypothetical. If you could have any super power, but you had to live in the Heroes world to use it, would it be worth it? Honestly, I don't know how to answer. Sure, it would be awesome to have a special ability of my choosing, but if I had to live in a world that was populated exclusively with stupid, inconsistent people who are over-dramatic and boring, I'm not sure it would be worth it. Of course, maybe the characters on Heroes are just the most ridiculous ability-positives around. Just like the Teabaggers are annoying, illogical and much more noticeable than most other people, the characters on Heroes are a hateful, useless bunch. That in mind, maybe that's why tonight's episode didn't bother me as much as most of this season. I went into "Thanksgiving" like a lot of us go into an actual Thanksgiving dinner with family. I expected the experience to suck, so I wasn't disappointed.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: #70

***Don’t read this if you’ve not watched the enirty of Season Seven. No, really. It’d be bummer.***

I remember the circumstances that surrounded my watching the Seinfeld finale a decade and some change back, but I don’t remember the show at all. If someone wants to let me know, go head. But seriously, if I can’t snag that bit of info from the recesses of my brain, there might be a reason for it. That’s basically stated in the seventh season closer of Curb Your Enthusiasm simply titled Seinfeld.

Imagining the licensing rights that needed to be wrangled for this season of Curb to come off is beyond imaginable. But Larry and company were able to do it and wound up with a hyper self aware season (even more so than usually) full of self effacement and even some shocking moments.

Californiacation: Mr. Bad Example

Dukin’ woman left and right only results in consequences for some guys. It seems that a fairly slim portion of the male population is able to do as they please with ladies – seriously, anything – and remain capable of going back to that well over and over again. It really makes very little sense, but I suppose that’s as much a commentary on those women as on the men. Either way, Hank Moody is one of those guys that can get away with pretty much anything.

Dexter: Hungry Man

Oh Dexter. What a bizarre set of situations the writers on your show have gotten you into. But I suppose the fact that you’re a serial killer is strange in and of itself. The heart of gold that you tote around mitigates any short comings you might have as a deranged sociopath. Unbeknownst to your friends and family you’ve slaughtered scores of people, but have always worked to hide behind some mask, held in place, although precariously by your sister and now by your new family.

Legend of the Seeker: Broken

Television is a tough medium from a storytelling perspective. If a show aims for long plot arc, it inevitably becomes a balancing act between teasing the story out over the course of sometimes an entire season and still making individual episodes compelling in their own right. Usually this means that segments of the larger plot emerge during stand-alone genre episodes, then the occasional plot-heavy explosion happens all at once after things have had time to accumulate. Unlike in movies or novels, major character elements and story pieces don't have the luxury of living and dying by a handful of poignant lines. That's why, despite being at its best during action sequences, Legend of the Seeker ends up being boring and unimaginative for the sake of loose ends. This week, we viewers had to pay for an interesting addition to the principle cast by sitting through a medieval courtroom drama.

SGU: Life

Remember when science fiction used to be, ya know, about fictional things with a scientific component? Yeah, sometimes I really miss those days. Given a less even-handed writing team a 21st century sci-fi show can quickly lose its footing and become little more than a soap opera that happens to take place in outer space or on an alien planet. It's obvious at this point that Stargate Universe wants to be the new Battlestar Galactica and it's equally obvious that neither the cast nor the writers have the chops to fill those gigantic, award-winning shoes. What matters now is how badly the show stumbles, or at best how gracefully it accepts that it's just a genre show on a cable network.

The Office: Shareholders Meeting

The Office has a problem surrounding the bankruptcy plot introduced in last week's excellent episode. It wouldn't serve the show or any sense of realism if that plot blew up or was otherwise resolved in a short period of time. That doesn't make for very good TV, especially comedy. Watching the slow collapse of Dunder-Mifflin necessitates watching the company's board of directors tread water and stall for time. Where are the jokes in that premise? If "Shareholders Meeting" is any indication, the answer is few and far between.

Glee: Ballad

Glee is the surprisingly ambitious pet project of three different writers and as the first season of the show progresses it becomes more apparent that they aren't all equally talented. Last week's stellar episode was the product of Ryan Murphy's script and Paris Barclay's direction. This week, we can thank Brad Falchuk for a far inferior hour of television. This is a trend in Glee. Murphy writes interesting, entertaining scripts that are properly paced while Falchuk tosses off lumps of clunky dialog and clumsy storytelling devices. Falchuk was the mind behind "Preggers", the episode that I still consider the weakest of the season, though tonight's wasn't far behind. I'd be happy to see a second season of Glee that alternates between Murphy's good storytelling and oddball Ian Brennan's weird but stylistic episodes.

IASiP: A Very Sunny Christmas

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia hasn’t gotten all capitalist on us as of yet. The release of a straight to DVD double episode doesn’t seem exploitative. Not exactly. Hocking anything in the marketplace might bring on cries of sell out and the like, but no one seemed to mind the dick towel. So what’d that teach us? Probably nothing, unless you’re a perv. But the simply titled “A Very Sunny Christmas” is pretty much an indispensible addition to the show’s fifth season.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: #69

The penultimate Curb Your Enthusiasm episode of season seven – “The Table Read” – really seemed to be an exercise in how Larry’s former co-workers were able to speak with him in any tone that they pleased. Cheryl finally gets to interact with everyone and a Funkhouser even shows up. None of this sounds like it should result in a well rehearsed show, but the Seinfeld reunion seems to be getting under way nicely. We’ll have to wait and see how the season finale finds the cast.

Dexter: Road Kill

Admittedly, I’ve been guessing that the end of Dexter this season will have something to do with the murder of the Trinity Killer. But over the past few weeks as Dex has infiltrated the man’s normal and staid life. Viewers should by this point be painfully aware of the fact that Arthur moves in and out of sanity, which can seemingly be brought on by anything at all – even a family eating lunch. But as Dexter continues to create a more in-depth and realistic life as Kyle Butler will there be a moment that the Trinity Killer realizes what is going down and puts an end to it?

Californiacation: The Apartment

I’ve perhaps wrongly assume that anyone currently writing for a television show has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. Its adaptation in 1954 from Frederick Knott’s play makes it anomalous in Hitchcock’s filmography for taking place mainly in a single room. Surely, Psycho was distinctly connected to the Bates Motel, but viewers were able to see the owner’s house, the motel office and a few rooms in addition to that creepy path leading up the hill. Dial M for Murder is all windows, walls, carpet and furniture. That’s not bad – and in fact it’s one of my favorite films from the British director. But it’s surprising that last week’s episode of Californiacation – “The Apartment” – was able to summon some connection to the fifty-five year old film.

House: Teamwork

Season 6 of House has been all about whether or not the title character can change, or to what extent he has changed. More to the point, it's been about discovering just what's wrong him. Was it really just his drug addiction, which has been firmly put to rest? Or maybe it's something deeper, a fundamental personal flaw that makes him destructive to himself and others. I think that "Teamwork" went a long way to answer this question and it did so with a demonstration of balance and good storytelling that the show hasn't always been able to achieve.

Heroes: Brother's Keeper

Somewhere there's a jerk sitting in an apartment in Hollywood who is eating a dinner purchased with money he made by suggesting, fighting for and eventually writing a scene in which two of the worst characters on a show populated exclusively with bad characters sat on a couch, drinking tea and talking wistfully about their inability to make decisions. I'm not saying that such a scene can't make for good TV. Hell, In Treatment was one of the best shows on television for a couple of years. But see, that show was about a troubled psychologist and his inherently interesting patients. Heroes is a show about people with super powers. Can you hear me when I shout that, writers of NBC's Heroes? YOU WRITE FOR A SHOW ABOUT PEOPLE WITH SUPER POWERS!

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