May 2010

Catching Up: Carnivale- Milfay

I think that 2010 is a much more interesting time to watch Carnivale than when it originally premiered back in 2003. Taking place in the early 1930's when America was withering in the grip of the Great Depression, the show is full of disturbingly familiar images and themes. In the first episode alone, protagonist Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) loses his home to financial collapse, various characters express a deep distrust for banks and the whole episode is punctuated with the echoes of an old war all while a new one brews off camera. Carnivale takes place in a time when religious zeal tore as many or more people apart as it saved from the horrors of an uncaring society all while a sense of apocalypse, both spiritual and secular, hangs over every moment. It's an intense projection of the ills of people living in a troubled era. Every character in Carnivale is so wretched that it's hard to have sympathy for them, but they're compelling nonetheless because it's clear that they're at the center of something important.

Weeds: What's Next?

There seems to be a pretty pervasive consensus that Weeds should have ended a few years back. And watching the show parsed up from week to week might bear that out. Maybe. But in readying television sets for the show’s sixth season, it’d be a great service to revisit the show, in sequential order and in its entirety.

It’s easy to dismiss any show that moves on past season three or four – The Office is a pretty strong example of that. And while it’s difficult to keep the faith, as it were, the minds that created this universe are still working on the show. So there’s that if nothing else. Yeah, it’s difficult to get that lemonade from a cart full of lemons, but that’s all we’ve got.

Doctor Who: "The Hungry Earth"

In 2020, Dr. Nasreen Chaudry leads the deepest mining operation in human history, but she unwittingly awakens some old friends of the Doctor's. Retaliating, they capture Amy Pond and two others, and the Doctor finds more than he bargained for, as an ancient civilization awakens in "The Hungry Earth", the eighth episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who.

 Following a cold open so predictable that it could only be Doctor Who, the Doctor, Rory and Amy find themselves in a small Welsh village, where Dr. Chaudry (Meera Syal) and Tom Mack (Robert Pugh) oversee a drilling procedure that burrows 21 kilometers (13 miles) into the Earth. But one of their workers, Mo Northover (Alun Raglan), has gone missing, and there's a mysterious hole in the floor of the drilling station. As the drill operations restart, an earthquake causes large, steamy cracks to open in the ground. While trying to help Tom escape, Amy is pulled through one of the cracks and into the Earth.

Star Trek TNG: "Haven"

This is the tenth episode

of the first series; it first aired on November 30, 1987. It has not aged well. The plot centers around an arranged marriage for Counselor Troi; the Betazoids, we are told, practice "genetic bonding." I note that that has to be one of the most inept pseudo-scientific coinages I've see. I'm assuming "bonding" here is used as a substitute for mating, as in the Vulcan rites related to Pon Far. That said, what were they thinking by slapping it together with "genetic," which immediately makes one reevaluate "bonding" to mean molecular bonding. The episode was, I think intended to evoke some sort of humor around Deanna's Betazoid mom Lwaxana Troi, deftly played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

FlashForward: Series Finale

These days, I wonder how anyone manages to sell a long arc TV series to network executives. We seem to be past the age when networks are willing to invest in shows that are designed from the beginning to last several seasons. ABC's failed science fiction experiment FlashForward got its walking papers approximately two weeks before it closed out its first and only season, which means that tonight's requisite cliffhanger finale did little more than tease what few remaining viewers it had with several seasons' worth of story that will never air. Given the show's abysmal ratings, the only consolation is that not that many people care.

Art Linkletter, RIP

Radio and TV personality Art Linkletter, a fixture of early television died today, Wednesday, at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 97. He is being remembered as the popular host of two running shows, in the 1950 and 1960s, “People Are Funny” and the afternoon daily show “House Party.”

Glee: Theatricality

In some stunning recent news, Fox has decided to greenlight a third season for Glee even though the first season hasn't even finished yet. This isn't exactly unprecedented, but it's still pretty amazing considering how much of a long shot Glee looked like when Fox premiered it last spring. I would be less surprised if this show wasn't still such a daring program. I was actually a bit concerned when the stupendously cheesy opening posited Principal Figgins as a believer in vampires, only to see it turn into a clumsy segue into an episode dominated by the legacy of Lady Gaga. During those first ten minutes it really looked like Glee Season 1.5 had lost its brain on the way to capturing its #1 ratings slot, but then Ryan Murphy's script hit us with three very well-played, emotional stories that proved this series still has its heart in the right place.

Boondocks: "The Story of Jimmy Rebel"

The history of racist music includes a huge list of names. This particular entry into the Boondocks’ cannon focuses on Jimmy Rebel, a sort of hillbilly outlaw. And yeah, his lyrics are given over to overtly racist stuff, but honestly, if you like country music, you’d probably like his discography.

None of the following is meant to sanction music purveying a racist message, that’d be ignorant. But there are a few issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, there’s unquestionably some anti-white sentiment in rap music. It’s not pervasive by any means. And of course, Tipper Gore’s cohort would be up in arms after listening to some Brand Nubian tracks, but it’s worth noting the existence of the form.

The Jeffersons: Two Lionels...Well, Three

Mirroring the reinvigorated film market, television during the seventies seemed to ape a concerted politicism that was largely absent from the medium up until that point. Beginning with Archie Bunk and his cohort on All in the Family, the Norman Lear developed show examined a working class family whose neighborhood would eventually become integrated, much to the consternation of its figure head.

Incorporating black characters into a predominately white show in 1971 was unheard of unless there was a maid or servant to play. But including the Jefferson family as Archie’s racial foil worked and generated a slew of spin offs. Most success was the Jeffersons, which followed the family from Archie’s neighborhood to the upper west side of Manhattan.

Catching Up: The Summer 2010 Roster

Aside from a few low-wattage genre series, summer is a time when television networks let reruns, old licensed material and unscripted shows dominate their schedules. This used to be a pretty dire situation prior to the advent of the DVD box set, but these days TV fans have made it a habit to fill those content-deprived summer weeks with back logs of shows they always intended on watching but never had the time to. TV World adopted this tradition last summer in a special column called Catching Up. 2009's lineup included Mitch Hurwitz's cult comedy Arrested Development, Rockne S. O'Bannon's science fiction masterpiece Farscape and the first season of the fun but ill-fated Legend of the Seeker. This year we're coming back starting in June with an entirely new set of recent classics. Here's the Catching Up 2010 roster.

Doctor Who: "Amy's Choice"

Five years after parting ways, the Doctor visits Rory and his very-pregnant wife Amy - or does he? The trio wake up in the TARDIS, confused and disoriented, but remembering every detail of their dream - or do they? Amy must make the choice in the seventh episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who, as the Doctor confronts a deadly danger in both the dream world and the real world.


Legend of the Seeker: Tears

And so we come to the end. Unless the small but vocal fanbase of Legend of the Seeker can cry a magical gem that causes hell to freeze over, "Tears" was the final episode the series will ever see. I'll say that if a show has to go out, it could do a lot worse than this one. "Tears" was as epic as promised and it was actually full of surprises, not the least of which was the addition of a child character who wasn't at all annoying (which I admit isn't a first for this series). All of the actors got to play to their strengths and even though the final moments leave enough room for the further stories we know exist in Terry Goodkind's books, they still gave the series a satisfying conclusion.

Stargate Universe: Subversion

Three years ago, the then-named Sci-Fi Channel's most critically acclaimed series was Battlestar Galactica while Stargate SG-1 was at the top of the network's ratings. When the newly re-branded Syfy launched Stargate Universe it seemed like they were attaching the name of their most profitable franchise to the sensibilities of their most respected. For the majority of its run, SGU has felt like the product of such an arrangement. Any relation it had to the Stargate franchise has been nearly negligible, adopting a few of the cosmetic elements of previous series while taking the tone, characterization and themes in an entirely different direction. Gone were the Goa'uld, the quasi-magical gadgets and the lighthearted banter. Viewers could come to SGU with almost no functional knowledge of the extensive Stargate mythology. It was a risk that ultimately paid off. That's why this week's half of the season finale (which is taking a week off in between segments) was so conflicting. All of a sudden, SGU has started to depend on several years' worth of backstory that, exciting as it is, feels like a huge diversion from what has made this show so interesting.

The Office: Whistleblower

When the Sabre smoking printer scandal first broke a couple weeks ago, I let myself fall into the trap The Office has set time and again. I really thought it was going to blow up into some sort of major development that would set up a spectacular season finale. If this was any other show, that's exactly what would have happened. But The Office, despite being goofy and improbable in so many ways, is still more rooted in reality than most scripted (or for that matter, unscripted) shows. The Sabre scandal resolved itself in a way that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever watched the national news. Big corporations like Sabre usually don't fall apart or turn into sources of public outrage. Instead, they spend a little money and publicly apologize, then everyone stops paying attention. In "Whistleblower", the important part of the scandal was how it affected the small, forgettable lives of the folks working at the Scranton branch.

The Good Guys: Pilot

It's probably just an old habit picked up from our days as school kids, but we Americans by and large prefer fun, brainless entertainment in the summer. I can respect that sentiment and I'm glad that it has finally started to translate to television. Networks haven't put as much energy into summer series as they probably should have, but they're starting to reverse that trend. Apparently someone finally told a few key TV executives that people still like to watch new shows between June and September. To that end, Fox has decided to take a chance on a nothing-but-fun cop show called The Good Guys. Tonight the pilot aired and the regular season is set to begin on June 7th. If the remaining 19 episodes of the series can keep pace with the pilot, The Good Guys will be a welcome midweek distraction during the hot months.

Glee: Dream On

It's actually pretty tough for individual performers or other creative voices to make a major impact on an established TV show with just a guest spot. We're so used to certain people having such a distinct presence that we just assume they're going to swoop in and make their relatively brief amount of time really count. The truth is that it's not a guest's job to shift the show into their own little world, it's their job to fit into the world created by the show before they even got there. That in mind, the doubly exciting presence of Neil Patrick Harris as a guest star and Joss Whedon as the episode's director in "Dream On" has to be tempered with the understanding that Glee has been on the air long enough to not be swayed too hard in any direction by either of them.

House: Help Me

Real disappointment is actually fairly rare. It requires high expectations and the slow build of anticipating elation, only to have everything dashed at the last moment. That said, I didn't really have high expectations for the finale of this season of House. The show has hovered between mediocre and bad for the entire season and it didn't really have anywhere else to go with its plot or characters. Even the titular protagonist, the only reason the show has lasted as long as it has, stopped being interesting and started being a source of irritation, especially over the last month or so. I wanted House to go out with an appropriate whimper, but instead it managed a bang that fizzled out at the last minute. As the episode closed, I had to ask myself: How can a team of writers create such a compelling hour of television with such a tremendously stupid ending?

Heroes Canceled

After last season's awful performance and utterly risible execution, NBC's tragic misfire Heroes has finally been put out of its misery. The network has been hinting since late this past winter that the show was on thin ice and as the spring slaughterhouse of series cancellations has come into full swing there was a lot of talk about the future of Heroes. As late as last week there were rumors that Heroes would be getting a truncated 13-episode season, but over the weekend NBC announced that the show wouldn't see the embrace of primetime ever again. But for the few of you who, out of sick fascination or a genuine love few will ever understand, would like to see some more Heroes, there's a distinct possibility of the plot getting a wrap-up miniseries some time in 2011.

Boondocks: "The Red Ball"

After the first few episodes of the Boondocks this season almost completely focused on deep political and social concerns, it couldn’t have been too long before the show’s creator, Aaron McGruder, endeavored to write up a slightly less pedantic offering.

That might be a bit misleading seeing as “The Red Ball” still retains enough cultural critique to pass it off as almost political, but framing the entire thing within the realm of kick ball was a wise move, even if some folks didn’t particularly care for the episode.