April 2010

"The Time of Angels"



Two of executive producer/lead writer Steven Moffat most enduring contributions to Doctor Who return in "The Time of Angels", the fourth episode of the 2010 series: the mysterious River Song (first seen in 2008's "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead"), and the terrifying Weeping Angels (which made their debut in 2007's "Blink"). It is the first two-parter of the season, with the story wrapping up in the concluding "Flesh and Stone".

Conan Still Whining?

What is  the topic on the lips of America this morning? Conan Criticizing Leno? Slaminng him? Calling him and a bad giver -- gives and then takes back what he's given?  CBS "60 Minutes" gets Conan to open up on Leno. CBS, being CBS, didn't want Leno haters to wait until this Sunday evening to hear what nasty Conan had to say about the CBS Letterman show's  competitor. They released clips from the show, to stroke the flames still very much  present in the eyes of Conan lovers, who feel just as abused as Conan, about what Leno and NBC did to him.

The Office: Body Language

Ah, another Michael Scott romance. Aside from Holly, who was a genuinely perfect fit for Michael, all the other women who have been involved with him have fallen into a pattern. They're moderately successful business women who are simultaneously drawn to Michael's childish kindness and have some sort of complex that compels them to endure his absurdity. In the case of Donna, the restaurant manager who seems inexplicably drawn to Michael, it's hard to tell just what hidden geekiness or dysfunction has led her into Michael's arms. Though most of "Body Language" indicated the contrary, it seems we'll be able to find out over the next few episodes.

Glee: Home

The ridiculous, unnecessary conclusion to the ridiculous, unnecessary return of April Rhodes (Christen Chenoweth) to Glee got me thinking: How much would it cost to pay Brad Falchuk to never, ever write another episode of the series? Every week we get one of his episodes I hope that my assessment of his negative contribution to the show is wrong and every week one of his episodes is featured, I'm disappointed. Without fail, every single one of Falchuk's episodes capture everything that's wrong with Glee and the only thing that saves them from being uniformly terrible is the strength of the cast. I got the feeling from "Home" that the episode consisted of nothing but loose plot ideas that could have popped up in any other episode, but thankfully got lumped together rather than drag down a much more interesting plot later down the line.

Legend of the Seeker Canceled

Bad news for fans of Legend of the Seeker, the TV adaptation of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels. Reports over the past two days have confirmed that ABC Studios, Seeker's parent network, has decided to take the show off its docket due to poor ratings. The Tribune Station Group, which makes up the majority of the show's UHF markets, has more or less dropped Seeker following its nosedive in the ratings during its second season. The remaining episodes of the season will air as scheduled, but nothing short of a miracle will bring a third season to the air.

ST:TNG "Justice"

"Justice" is the eighth episode of the first season, and initially aired on November 9, 1987. It's

one of those multi-author episodes, and that's never a good sign. This particular episode is the work of Worley Thorne, based on a story by Ralph Wills and Worley Thorne. Wills is a pseudonym for John D. F. Black, the guy who also has to claim responsibility for the other contender of Worst TNG Episode Ever, "The Naked Now." When this first aired, it was clear in just a few minutes that this episode was going to suck. For one thing, no one was exerting any control, at all, over costumer William Ware "Bill" Theiss, known for his "Look Ma no Bra" costumes held on by strategic straps and a fair amount of costume glue.

House: Open and Shut

House works best when it's as realistic as possible. In its glory days, the show was a weekly splash of cold water, an ongoing conversation about human frailty that bordered on both cynicism and sentimentality without going over the edge. Accordingly, one of the (unfortunately) many complaints about House over the past couple seasons is how it has so often veered away from that realism into melodrama, science fiction and too-convenient coincidences of storytelling. It has been business as usual for the dramas in the lives of the main characters to inexplicably reflect some element of the patient, whether it's his/her ailment or back story. That's why "Open and Shut" was such a breath of fresh air. The personal lives of the diagnostics team reflected the patient in believable, organic ways. By not having to carry an overbearing philosophical conceit, the actors got a chance to bring some nuance to their performances, to the benefit of the episode as a whole.

The Pacific: Part Seven

Despite its transcendent moments, like the majority of last week's episode, The Pacific still has its down turns. The handling of John Basilone's story is one such problem. Aside from the fact that there is no reason to show Basilone looking out of place on the war bond trail again, we never really spent enough time with him on the battlefield to get a sense of what frustrates him so much. Every courageous maneuver made by every soldier in the series is depicted in as heroic a manner as possible, so Basilone's barefoot fight on Guadalcanal doesn't look that incredible, even if it was. That's probably part of the point, but it also steals a lot of the power from his Stateside disaffection. Placed next to scenes of real wartime horror, Basilone's abstract anger seems petty. What's worse, visiting him at the Shriner lodges and driving ranges of his existential anguish diminishes the narrative of entropy that comprises most of the episode.

Legend of the Seeker: Walter

It's a classic element of genre TV shows that unusually talented actors get trapped in a purgatory of camp, rarely if ever escaping. From Patrick Stewart's inescapable tenure as Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation to Lucy Lawless and her unfortunately unforgettable turn as the title character of Xena: Warrior Princess, actors with admirable performing chops end up carrying whole series that never quite seem to match their pay grade. Though I enjoy Legend of the Seeker and frequently defend it as a much smarter show than it seems from the outside, I still acknowledge that it's a fantasy adventure series with no pretense toward the kind of gravitas of anything that airs on weekdays. To that end, I'm glad that Craig Parker finally got to be the center of an episode. The cast of Seeker is far from weak, but Parker definitely stands out as an indelible screen presence.

Stargate Universe: Human

Though storytelling is an art and therefore prone to a lot of subjective elements, there are still right and wrong ways to do certain things in a story. For example, when writing the screenplay for a two-part episode of a TV show, there are some do's and don't's about which some shows seem oblivious. As good as it can be, Stargate Universe just doesn't do well with those complex flourishes. It's just bad form to give no indication whatsoever as to how two distinct plots are connected, which is almost as bad as having two plots that aren't connected at all. Though the stories commenced in "Human" aren't finished yet, they certainly don't seem like they have anything to do with one another.

The Office: Secretary's Day

I imagine that in retrospect, the sudden fame of Ellie Kemper will be considered one of the great rising star stories of TV history. She paid her dues in the web video scene and as an occasional comedy writer for years before she got her big break on The Office. The Erin character was originally only supposed to appear in three or four episodes and Kemper herself has described the decision to add her to the regular cast as a surprise. The Office already had a very well-established cast of characters and the only one who carved out a permanent place after guest starring was Ed Helms as Andy Bernard. That Ellie Kemper could go from a low-profile bit part to one of the show's central characters in the space of half a season is pretty remarkable. Seeing how much of "Secretary's Day" focused on Erin and how natural that seemed is actually kind of shocking, given that The Office has survived for so long on the strength of its familiar cast.

TNG: Lonely Among Us

This is the 7th episode of the first season of Star Trek the Next Generation, written by D. C. Fontana, of considerable ST:OS fame, and Michael Halperin. The USS Enterprise is transporting representatives from two warring worlds, the Selay, and the Antican, to treat on the neutral world of Parliament. The basic premise is very similar to that of the original series episode "Journey To Babel," but alas, even with Stewart's skill, this episode suffers in that it lacks a character like Sarek, and an actor like Mark Lenard. It's also got that hoary original series device, an "energy cloud," which turns out to be sentient with a predilection for possessing corporal bodies, first that of Worf, and then Dr. Crusher, who both exhibit odd behavior and memory lapses. From Dr. Crusher, the "energy cloud" moves to the computer systems of the Enterprise.

"Victory of the Daleks" (part 1)

After a remarkably short cold open, the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) find themselves in the Cabinet War Rooms of a heavily-blitzed London. Winston Churchill (Ian Paisley) has recruited Professor Edwin Bracewell (Bill Paterson) to deliver a secret weapon that will win the war against the Nazis.

There's only one problem. Only one, slight, teensy-weensy problem.

Mark Gatiss presents "Victory of the Daleks", the third episode in the 2010 series of Doctor Who. It's the first episode of the series that was not penned by showrunner Stephen Moffat, and sees the Doctor pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies, the Daleks. This time, however, the Daleks have Union Jack identity tags under their eye-stalks, and instead of barking orders and killing everything they see, serve tea, carry files and promise to win the war against the Nazis: "I am your sol-dier!".

"Victory of the Daleks" (part 2)

Leading the supporting cast of "Victory of the Daleks", Bill Paterson is magnificent as Edwin Bracewell, whether it's his humble absent-minded genius or his desolation at discovering the fabrication of his life. Gatiss gives Paterson great lines, and Paterson doesn't let him down, but the plot holes are big enough to pilot one of the new paradigm Daleks through - how does talking about forbidden love deactivate "walking, talking, exploding bomb"? How was Bracewell able to merge his (at the time) purely theoretical hypersonic flight and gravity bubble designs with World War II Spitfires in under ten minutes? It's a distraction from what would otherwise have been a unique and powerful character that Paterson did very well in bringing to life.   

TNG: The Last Outpost

"The Last Outpost" is the

fifth episode of the first season of Star Trek the Next Generation. This one was written by Herbert Wright, based on a story by Richard Krzemien, and it first aired on October 19, 1987. The most notable thing about this episode is that it introduces the Ferringi, with the captain Letek played by Armin Shimmerman, later to play the role of Quark in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The basic plot summary is this:

Glee: The Power of Madonna

This week's episode of Glee was like the show in microcosm. It had a very far-out premise about which I was initially skeptical, but despite its occasional hiccups it won me over on sheer enthusiasm and showbusiness charm. Beyond that, "The Power of Madonna" was one of the strongest all-cast episodes of the series. It even had a few winking moments when it acknowledged some of the more valid criticisms of the show thus far. And hey, Jane Lynch finally got to sing again. I know it's hard to come up with reasons for Sue Sylvester to break out into song, but it's always welcome when she does.

House: Knight Fall

It's rather fitting that half of this week's episode of House focused on Wilson rekindling his romance with his first wife, Samantha. These days, it feels like this series really doesn't have anywhere else to go. Whether it's a lack of new ideas for its main character, the clear decision to do absolutely nothing with the supporting cast or the obvious tiredness of the medical mystery formula, House seems to have run its course. With the opening sequence of "Knight Fall" at a Renaissance festival, the show's tragic descent into unwitting camp has become blatantly obvious. The series that used to provide some of the most compelling commentary on human nature has traded in its relentless sense of heartbreak for sheer aimlessness.

Dave Chappelle's Ohio

Whatever the opposite of timely is, that’s what this is. Dave Chappelle exited the world of television after figuring that what he was being asked to do things he found distasteful. The actor and comedian may have thought that he’d sunk into a sort of self parody, or even worse a racial parody. That, though, is part of what made his art so demanding and so consumed by audiences.

Most folks know that Chappelle high tailed it to South Africa to collect his thoughts for a few weeks. And everyone knows that there isn’t any longer a Chappelle Show to speak of unless you’ve acquired the DVD boxed sets. And while its been pretty well documented that the husband and father has receded into his estate in Yellow Springs, Ohio, not too many know what that town is actually like even after having watched Block Party and hearing countless explanations of bucolic Ohio life.

TNG: Where No One Has Gone Before

This is episode 6 of the first season, and aired on October 26, 1987. The title is a fannish nod to an episode

from original Star Trek; 1966's "Where No Man Has Gone Before." That episode was the second pilot (after "The Cage"), and also features super-human powers and the edge of the known galaxy. "Where No One Has Gone Before" looked interesting when I first saw it, all those years ago, because the screen play was by Diane Duane and Michael Reeves. Both had written a number of Star Trek novelizations for the original series. Duane is a top notch writer, with talent not only in terms of the Trek novels she penned for Pocket Books (who own the Paramount Trek tie-in franchise) but a fine writer on her own merits. Indeed, the basic plot for the episode borrows heavily from Duane's 1983 Star Trek novel, The Wounded Sky.

The Pacific: Part Six

One thing I would like to know from any of you readers who have experience in the military is whether or not squad leaders actually give inspirational pep talks in the field, and if they do whether or not they actually motivate the people fighting alongside them. It's one of those war movie cliches that has a good chance of being true, but I've never known a veteran who I felt I could ask. For screen writers making movies and TV shows, the pep talk is often a convenient way to express a storytelling concept that isn't apparent in the action, like in this week's episode of The Pacific when just such a hushed heart-to-heart revealed that the bravest men on Peleliu pushed themselves across a grim airfield with the belief that, no matter how many casualties it causes, their fight is just.