December 2009

Better Off Ted: It's Nothing Business, It's Just Personal

If there is any sign that ABC has an unfounded, irrational hatred of Better Off Ted, one of their best shows in years, it's that the network decided to air a new episode smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season. I'm not complaining, as any new episode of BOT makes me happy, but I also know that mistreatment like this is a pretty clear indication that the show's prospects for a third season aren't looking good. It's a shame, too, considering how consistent this second season has been. While there haven't been any major standouts yet, we're not very deep into the season. Heck, the best of Season One didn't happen until the second half. I've still got hope for this excellent comedy, but I can't say the same for the ABC execs.

Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side

Two years ago when the folks over at Family Guy decided to take pop culture riffing to a whole new level for the Season 7 finale, they produced "Blue Harvest", a surprisingly clever, loving parody of Star Wars. From its closing moments it was apparent that a sequel would be inevitable. "Something Something Something Dark Side", the hour-long episode riffing on The Empire Strikes Back was originally supposed to air in 2008, but it got pushed back until just a couple days ago when it was released on DVD. So, how did this parody fair both on its own and compared to "Blue Harvest"?

Catching Up: Lexx, Season 1 Part 2

As I've been sitting through the preliminary episodes of Lexx Season One, the thought that keeps crossing my mind is why these stories were stretched into two-hour TV movies. It defies programming logic on every front. The longer something is, the more expensive it is to make and the less ad revenue it generates. It also doesn't benefit the story in any conceivable way. So far, none of the episodes I've watched had to run as long as they did. Tense moments, especially in this week's episode "Super Nova", get stretched out to the point of absurdity, but it's not a knowing, ironic over-expansion, just a poor directorial choice. Most curious of all, Lexx ends up being an inadvertent lesson in how TV characters are really designed with brief encounters in mind rather than cinema-length lingering.

Better Off Ted: Battle of the Bulbs

When it comes to shows like Better Off Ted I don't really require character development to enjoy my viewing experience, but it sure is nice when it happens. That's why tonight's episode was so enjoyable. I worried at the beginning of Season One that goofy scientists Phil and Lem would quickly be relegated to the Land of Inconsequential B-Plots, never to return or ever be more than cartoony distractions from the center-stage concerns of the prettier people upstairs. The show has done a really nice job of deepening Phil and Lem in ways that are both meaningful and entertaining. For a while now we've heard references to Lem's stunning parentage. His father was the first male supermodel and also a heroic firefighter who died saving lives. Tonight we learned more about his mom, a world-renowned scientific genius who casts the longest possible shadow over her son's more corporate-style smarts.

Last Minute Christmas Gifts: TV on DVD

Christmas is this Friday, so most of the gift-buying has already been wrapped up, at least by the more prudent folks. Without fail there are always enough last-minute shoppers who have put off checking their entire Christmas list until it's nearly too late. While the hottest items have probably already been stripped from the shelves, you can always count on the Christmas season glut of new DVD releases to fill those empty stockings. Here are a few TV shows that have been given the box set treatment just in time for the holidays.

Dollhouse: The Attic

December 18, round 2. I'm not usually a fan of dream episodes. They're usually too self-serious and eager to convince the audience that wanton weirdness can somehow fit into the tone of the show. Some of the most egregious offenders were the few dream-centered episodes of The Sopranos. What was otherwise an excellent series ground to an inexplicable halt whenever Tony had surreal, symbolic experiences in his own head. Not coincidentally, the only dream episode I can think of that I genuinely enjoyed was from another Joss Whedon show, the excellent Buffy The Vampire Slayer closer to Season 4, "Restless". I don't necessarily think there's something inherent to Whedon's style that lends itself to depictions of dreams, merely that "Restless" and tonight's "The Attic" use their respective shows' standing atmospheres within the dreams as opposed to employing dreams as some sort of prophetic device. Dollhouse is already kind of a mindscrew, so dream logic isn't a huge leap.

Dollhouse: Stop-Loss (actual episode title)

Last week I got my episode titles mixed up and erroneously referred to "Meet Jane Doe, Part 2" as "Stop-Loss", the title of the first of this week's episodes. The good news is that Fox is finished airing two episodes of Dollhouse in a row, the bad news being that we'll have to wait until January to see another episode. If there was one way to go out of 2009, though, tonight's two incredibly awesome hours were definitely it.

Catching Up, Holiday Edition: Lexx

Since we're heading into the thick of the holiday season when the majority of regular TV shows are on break, I thought now would be a good time to revisit a slightly smaller version of TV World's summer series, Catching Up. My first selection is a bizarre sci-fi series from the late 1990's called Lexx. When Lexx first came to the United States it wasn't exactly in its original form, in a lot of different ways, too. The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) bought the US rights to the show in 2000 but only ended up airing edited versions of Season Two episodes. This was mostly because Season One consisted of four contiguous movies rather than a series of stand-alone episodes, but also because Season Two has a plot that was relatively friendly to the tone of Sci-Fi viewers at the time. Lexx is a controversial show, with some people lauding its weirdness and others calling it a fiasco. I'm going to be watching Season One in its entirety and I'll come to a conclusion later about whether or not to follow the rest of the series.

Better Off Ted: The Lawyer, The Lemur and The Little Listener

Sometimes sitcoms are little more than a few entirely unrelated ideas forced to occupy the same half hour of television. Such was this week's episode of Better Off Ted. After last week's strong season opener, the show seems to have repeated Season One's sophomore slump. I recall giving that particular episode a harsh rating and casting doubt on the series as a whole. While tonight's episode wasn't nearly as flat and I've learned just how good this show can be, I still found "Lawyer" to be a bit off its game.

Dexter: The Getaway

The concluding episode of Dexter’s season four had a great deal to work through. There were substantial loose ends floating around and as one would have hoped, “The Getaway” took care of most of them with enough time to toss in one of the most unexpected endings to any season in recent memory.

The Trinity Killer’s still running around all willy-nilly after having confronted Dexter at his place of business – which is how last week’s episode concluded and this week’s show begins. It seems as if the jig is up, as it were. Arthur has proven a pretty worthy nemesis despite the fact that it’s clear that Dexter reveres him in some odd way even as the internal dialogues focus on how awful the elder killer appears to be.

Californication: Mia Culpa

After having been a pretty rocky season, despite the persistent storylines, the season finale of Californaication last Sunday – titled “Mia Culpa” – actually held a few surprises and twists that most wouldn’t have been able to guess at.

It seems that Hank Moody is rather incapable of spending a single, normal day with his family. And as the episode begins with a ridiculous and disconcerting dream sequence that does nothing other than explain that the character wants to be a good father, but’s torn, he literally stumbles out of his bedroom and into the kitchen. Moody’s family, all pristine in a television style, is waiting for him with glasses of orange juice and effervescent loveliness and early day smiles.

The familial love-in, though, gets derailed relatively quickly.

Caprica: Extended Pilot

A few months ago, the recently re-branded Syfy Channel released the pilot mini-movie of the Battlestar Galactica prequel series Caprica and now, in anticipation of the show's premiere on January 22nd, an extended cut of the pilot is currently being hosted on Hulu and on Syfy's own streaming site. With a number of new shows launching in January and February of 2010, now would be a good time to see if Caprica has what it takes to give BSG junkies a reason to tune in.

Legend of the Seeker: Fury

Ah, finally some real darkness on Legend of the Seeker. Not since the Season One finale have things gotten so intense and violent as they got in "Fury" and the result was easily the best episode of Season Two so far. On top of all that, I think the nature of this season has finally become clear. Whereas Season One was all about stand-alone adventures, character development and a clearcut central arc, Season Two is a lot more meta in its trajectory. We're exploring what makes these characters tick and generally how the Sword of Truth world works. After only a few quick references last season, "Fury" dug its blood-soaked hands into the frightening duality of the Seeker and the implications it has for his supposed heroism.

Dollhouse: Stop-Loss

Welcome to part 2 of this week's Dollhouse coverage, and boy what an episode it was. Bad guys got badder, a main character got deader and plans generally fell apart. What's ended up being most impressive about this show is how it can so easily contain both elements of standard TV action/suspense and heady, dramatic contemplations of major philosophical ideas. Dollhouse is a show about existential crisis and moral relativism, but also explosions and kicks to the face. "Stop-Loss" had plenty of all these things and more.

Dollhouse: Meet Jane Doe

So, because Dollhouse will be running in two-hour "event" format for the rest of the series, I'm going to divide coverage of each week's episodes into two parts, one for Friday night and one over the weekend. A lot happens on this show and I don't want to shortchange individual episodes just because Fox swept their low performer under the rug for all of November. That said, let's dive into the first of this week's episodes, "Meet Jane Doe".

IASiP: The Gang Reignites the Rivalry

What’s alternately endearing and disgusting about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the juvenile crap that either weights down an episode or makes it hilarious. Each character is perpetually eleven years old, which is fine except for when their personalities wind up making a scene or episode completely unbelievable. But then again, maybe we should just accept whatever’s dished out as the gospel of comedy and suspend reality for twenty two minutes a week. That’s probably the best idea.

This week, though, on “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry,” the plot swings wildly from the onset to the tail end of the show. It’s not disjointed, but the episode ends up being more about competing with frat guys then the rivalry with another bar.

The Office: Secret Santa

I've always appreciated how well The Office handles obligatory holiday episodes. Sometimes there's just a nice cold open, like the Halloween episodes. Other times when it would be strange not to have an entire half hour dedicated to the holiday (Christmas), the show weaves typical holiday themes into the episode without feeling like a special that has been entirely divorced from the rest of the series. For this season in particular, that means addressing major plot threads that would otherwise hang over the episode making whatever Christmas-y action feel like an unnecessary distraction. A few times over the course of "Secret Santa" it looked like things just might derail into full-on "Christmas Special" territory, or even worse, but then it veered back on track to be one of better episodes of the season.

Glee: Sectionals

It's almost adorable when TV networks arbitrarily introduce new terms into the viewing vocabulary. Really, they're just euphemisms. In the 80's “A Very Special” was a modifying term attached to episodes of any given show that was going to feature some soft, moralistic message about drugs, gun safety or teen pregnancy, while “Must See” quickly became 90's vernacular for “Doesn't Suck”. In these last days of 2009, the networks are trying to pretend that “Fall Finale” has always been part of the scheduling system and not just a bizarre artifact of staggered programming resulting from a writers' strike and an unusual string of successful shows the networks seemed desperate to kill. Because of that unique set of circumstances and the meaningless but customary programming blackout of the holiday season, shows like Glee will be vanishing for a little while as if buried by snow. Glee in particular won't be airing again until Spring, unlike a lot of “Fall Finale” shows that will be rising from hibernation in fits and starts throughout January and February. So, for all intents and purposes tonight's episode of Glee was a chapter-ending hour. Naturally, it didn't really feel like a finale so much as the end of a set of plots and the setup of those that will carry the rest of the season.

Better Off Ted: Love Blurts

Better Off Ted is a sitcom and it doesn't apologize for that. This makes it unique among the funniest shows currently on TV. As much as I love The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and see plenty of potential in Modern Family, these shows do everything they can to differentiate themselves from the old standards of televised comedy. Better Off Ted makes no pretensions of documentary style, the single-camera approach or any kind of realism. The show relies on silly plots, cartoonish characters and a candy palette, but it supports those tried-and-true conventions with a rapidfire wit and an astonishing cast. Tonight's Season 2 premiere was a strong opening for a series that survived despite not getting a fair shake by its network. Hopefully, ABC will learn to treat Better Off Ted like one of its most valuable properties instead of a risk.

Dexter: Hello, Dexter Morgan

It’s actually been a pretty surprising couple of weeks on Dexter. I’d come to the conclusion that most television show plots were easily figured weeks in advance. And while that might still be broadly applicable elsewhere, this particular Showtime program has skirted the problem. Bully for all involved.

There’re some emotional moments here. And of course, since the season is drawing to a close, there’re a lot of loose ends to tie up.