January 2011

Being Human: Some Thing To Watch Over Me

Inaction can kill an otherwise good show. The lack of real forward momentum has been responsible for the failure of far too many shows in the speculative genre, even though it's far easier to come up with interesting ways for the extraordinary characters who populate those series to do whatever it is makes them special than to dream up yet more dialogue about why they aren't doing anything. Being Human veered awfully close to this ponderous approach in the second half of its pilot but started to show a lot of potential in this third hour of the series. The show is easing viewers into the mythology of its monster-populated world and the whole thing feels like an acknowledgment that it could all be unwieldy if it's not handled with care. That in mind, "Some Thing To Watch Over Me" feels like the first real episode of the series so far.

Monkey Business: Californiacation

Oh, goodness. The schlock continues.

Californiacation has the uncanny nack for sitting scenes just short of excruciating and trite next to a few minutes of relatively genuine acting and emoting. That’s not to say this week’s “Monkey Business” was worthy of showered down awards from Hollywood peers, but a few momentary surprises were had.

A Nod to "White Collar"

USA is not exactly an ambitious network. It does hour-long genre shows and that's about it. It has its slew of cop shows, lawyer shows and doctor shows, none of which are as good as the best stuff on TV but also aren't even close to as bad as the worst stuff, either. USA does comforting, middle-of-the-road fare, like a generic family bar and grill. One show has started to blossom into something special, though. White Collar hails from the land of the police procedural but it has found a nice balance of cleverness, drama and good casting to stand out among the rest of the basic cable family. Now in the middle of its second season, White Collar has started to transition from the case-of-the-week format that more or less comprised the entirety of the first season to a more serialized dramedy with just enough ambition to make it worth a glance for those who prefer the prestige projects of AMC, FX and HBO.

The Office: The Seminar

The past couple seasons of The Office have been an exercise in slow retooling. The characters who were at the center of most stories for the first five seasons have either moved into a less compelling arc or have been on their way out of the show altogether. Jim and Pam have achieved everything that made their characters interesting in the beginning, so now that they're happily married, more or less financially stable and have a child together, they don't really make convincing heroes anymore. Season 7 has also been dealing with Steve Carell's exit from the series, which will be coming before the season is even over. In Michael's place there needs to be another authority in the office, or at least somebody who dominates the overall tone of Dunder-Mifflin. A lot of this season has felt like a series of auditions for the show's new central figure and new heroes. "The Seminar" seems to put a lot more work into defining those new roles.

Lights Out: The Shot

We all fall apart in the end. So far, that's the predominant message of Lights Out. Whether it's about the career of a boxer, the body of an aging man, the economy of a country or just the arc of one title match, everything in the Lights Out world crumbles in the final round. What's worse, a lot of those moments of disintegration look like the final stage of a cycle rather than just isolated incidents. The question the story has yet to answer is whether or not each breakdown opens the way to useful wisdom.

The Cape: Scales

Why isn't David Lyons having more fun? He gets to play a super hero on what is, without a doubt, the campiest show currently on television. He should be having the time of his life, and if he is then it ought to come through in his performance. I mean, even Christian Bale looked like he was enjoying himself when he played Christopher Nolan's especially brooding version of Batman. Why the hell does Lyons act like playing The Cape is akin to a visit to the dentist? He fluctuates between depicting an unconvincing (and maybe too intensely involved) dad to depicting an unconvincing, kinda bored crime fighter. It's pretty astounding that the people behind The Cape have managed to get such a great cast of supporting and guest players but couldn't find a more engaging lead.

Being Human: There Goes The Neighborhood (part 2)

I've never watched anything but a promo bumper for the original BBC version of Being Human. Ultimately it won't really matter what happened in the original because the US/Canada adaptation is only using the premises of the first series anyway. After six or eight episodes, the North American take on Being Human will be flying without a map, so there's no reason to assume it'll come to the same conclusions as its predecessor. That in mind, I have some concern over where the show can actually go beyond the necessary hand-wringing of its first two episodes. Yes, the very concept of being a supernatural monster is genuinely terrifying as the chance of something horrible and irreversible happening is high. But how long can the show sustain this particular narrative and more importantly, where does it go once it stops?

Home Sweet Home: Californiacation

Writing something like twenty to thirty pages of coherent story and dialogue a week has to be a pretty difficult task. What’s become even more astounding about Californiacation is that the characters seem to be roughly replicating past actions in an endless television loop. It’d be just about impossible to count the number of times Hank’s been pushed aside by Karen and chastised by his daughter. Getting to that point in sundry episodes, though, calls for a herculean writing task, devising ways Hank can disappoint his family. Of course, after it’s figured out what transgression is currently troubling the Moody clan, ostensibly the same dialogue follows – there’s a bit about being who we are, trying and lying.

Bob's Burgers: Sacred Cow

Only three episodes in, I've already come to appreciate the approach Bob's Burgers takes to sentimentality. It's a show about a tight knit family, so it pretty much has to be at least a little sentimental, but it's also a cartoon so it has the opportunity to subvert the sappiest elements of that sentimentality. Like any good cartoon, it knows when to indulge in the surreal and when to keep its footing firmly planted in the recognizable. This unpretentious tack has proven the show's ability to take on some otherwise heavy and controversial topics, such as this week's (quasi) examination of the ethics of eating meat.

The Office: The Ultimatum

One of the things that makes Holly Flax work as a character is that she seemingly exists with one foot in the bizarre world of The Office and one foot in the real world where things are a lot more sober-minded. She's fluent in the geeky language of pop culture and jokes gone on too long that Michael speaks exclusively, but she also has a deep well of emotion and can switch out her active imagination for a level head when she needs to deal with it. That's also why Holly's stories have been more heartbreaking overall. Michael has all the mercurial experiences of an adolescent, so even in his most down moments he's just a hop, skip and a jump from another silly distraction. Holly's melancholy is more lasting. "The Ultimatum" was mostly about everyone obsessing over whether or not Holly forced A.J. to propose to her, but it was really about how Holly has come to doubt the stability of that relationship as a whole.

Community: Midseason Premiere

When Community premiered in 2009, I didn't really warm to it. I found its first few episodes to be overly reminiscent of the formulaic, sunny sitcoms that had fallen out of fashion by the 00's. I finally got around to catching up with the remainder of the series in the sparse winter weeks and became a full convert to its genius. It wasn't really until the twelfth episode, "Comparative Religion", that I really came to appreciate what Community has going for it. After toying around with its many stock pieces, the show finally found a way to balance its classical sitcom heart with a delightfully postmodern take on the sitcom as a genre. It has since made an effort to say plainly what most shows only reference obliquely and it presents its characters as somehow more real than most of their counterparts on other shows, despite the fact that they're often considerably more silly and surreal. In the end, it's those characters that make Community great. Once the show took its necessary half-step away from Joel McHale vehicle to full ensemble comedy, it became one of the best shows on TV.

Doctor Who: "Utopia"

Transported to the year 100 trillion, the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack Harkness encounter the savage Futurekind hunting the last vestiges of the human race, in a universe about to die. Trying to help them is Professor Yana, but the sound of drums in his head is growing ever louder - and soon, the human race will have a lot more to worry about than just the Futurekind. "Utopia" was broadcast on June 16, 2007, and stands as one of the best episodes in Doctor Who's then-44 year history.

Happy Birthday Betty White!

Two items on the net this morning. Betty White celebrated her 89th Birthday, and she is still hot -- a hot performer, co-starring in the TVLand sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, which is doing well in the ratings, and that tonight, Wednesday, for the second season premiere of her show, Betty White is reunited with Mary Tyler Moore, who will be guest starring.

Ms White and Ms. Moore worked well together on the sitcom classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and fans are anticipating a comedy gem tonight. I must say, Mary Tyler Moore still looks good.

Lights Out: Cakewalk

Being a TV critic has made me overly wary of second episodes. Pilots, by their very nature, are stunning and unusually fussed-over, so it's jarring to go into the first standard-issue episode of the series and find it so much less intentionally stunning. No matter how cinematic a show's aspirations may be, it's both prohibitively difficult and generally a bad idea to try to stretch pilot-level intensity over the course of the entire season. That's why this second episode of Lights Out, while not as flashy and impressive as the pilot, is still relatively solid. I'm grading on a curve because I know which series I'm likely to enjoy over the course of 12 episodes and I frankly don't have the energy for the show of the pilot.

The Cape: Kozmo

"Do you ever shut up?"

This is the key line in tonight's episode of The Cape. I think it was a mistake to introduce Gregor Molotov (facepalm on the stupid, stupid name, btw), the previous owner of the, um, Cape's cape, this early in the series. The first two episodes of the show already spent a lot of time on background mythology, so we really didn't need yet another hour of origin. It might have been easier to swallow if it hadn't been so damn talky. The Cape will never succeed on the merit of its scripts. Its action sequences are good enough to carry the show, as are any other moments of comic book bombast. Any scene that has characters sparring with words instead of fists falls flat, forcing unwelcome comparisons to the likes of Heroes. All this in mind, The Cape is still a fun show as long as no one takes it seriously. And that includes the show's own writers.

Being Human: There Goes The Neighborhood (part 1)

I've never quite understood the point of adapting a British TV series for an American audience. There's no language barrier, there are few significant cultural differences that U.S. audiences wouldn't understand with just a little prompting and most attempts to transpose the original scripts end up sounding pretty stunted anyway. The only compelling reason to completely redo a show with an American (and let's face it, also Canadian) setting is that Stateside TV production works within a much higher budget bracket. In the case of a show like Being Human, money really can make a difference. Granted, the show doesn't strictly need fancy visual effects, but it sure does help when total immersion requires viewers to accept that they're looking at a werewolf or a ghost. That's why Muse's American/Canadian adaptation of the popular BBC series isn't just a pointless cash-in. The fact that it's pretty good on its own is just a nice bonus.

Doctor Who: "Paradise Towers"

Seeking a vacation (and more specifically, a swimming pool), Mel convinces the Doctor to land the TARDIS in a 22nd century luxury high rise apartment building. But despite being a wonder of construction, the inside is filthy, graffiti covers the walls, and the rebellious gangs, little old ladies and bureaucratic Caretakers dare not speak of the mysterious disappearances that have been taking place. And they certainly dare not speak of the robotic cleaners. Can the Doctor fix the trouble in Paradise Towers?

Bob's Burgers: Crawl Space

When this second episode of Bob's Burgers opened with the all-too-familiar concept of hated in-laws coming to visit, I was ready to groan for a solid half hour. After last week's pilot I was worried that this show would lose itself to unoriginal ideas, but by indulging in some charming weirdness "Crawl Space" managed to make this age-old TV trope into something entertaining despite itself. Long story short, Bob decides to escape another unpleasant visit from Linda's parents by hiding out in the false walls of his own restaurant/apartment. Ah, but the episode features so much more than that.

Suicide Solution: Californiacation

Man, it’s gotta be hard to have done so many ill advised, scummy things and still fall ass-backwards into money and no-strings attached vagina. What a bummer.

Hank Moody’s got a tough life – when he’s not dealing with lawyers and the potentiality of winding up in jail for statutory rape, the guy’s got to run around town to schmooze with movie stars. Granted, meeting with a bearded Robert Downey, Jr., here portraying an actor bearing a striking resemblance to the aforementioned Brad Pitt, turns out to be amusing for a bit prior to Hank’s retiring to the on-screen Mia’s bedroom.