April 2011

The Office: Goodbye Michael

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the direction The Office took with Michael Scott's (and Steve Carell's) departure from the show. Though the American rendition of the series has had a penchant for spectacle in its most important episodes (re: anything involving Jim and Pam's relationship), it would have been too much, not to mention ill-fitting, for Michael's last day to be a big, public thing. It makes perfect sense that Michael would want his last day to be as much like any other day as possible. Sure, the guy loves being the center of attention and having cinematic bombast in his real life, but he also genuinely loves the nature of his job. While everyone else has always been desperate to curtail the boredom of being white collar drones, Michael Scott has been thrilled with that dull atmosphere, if only because he sees the world through an imaginative, thoroughly skewed filter. He wants to remember Dunder-Mifflin Scranton as it always was, not as some kind of sappy carnival.

Stargate Universe: Epilogue

Two thoughts occurred to me during this week's episode of Stargate Universe. First, that this most recent plot about the alternate timeline of Destiny's crew is more interesting and affecting than anything this or any other Stargate show has ever done. Second, that I wish SGU's writers had been working on ABC's failed sci-fi series FlashForward. Really, a lot of these past two episodes have been, in spirit, the plot of FF. The modern-day crew gets access to the complete historical archives of the alternate crew and their descendants, so they naturally get to see what became of all of them. They see who marries and has children, who takes up positions of leadership and even how certain individuals die. When asked what they'll do with this information, few of the modern crew even know how to respond.

Episodes One and Two: The Paul Reiser Show

Paul Reiser isn’t exactly the sort of actor and comedian one associates with acerbic banter. But that’s pretty much the premise for his The Paul Reiser show, which is more than obviously based on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Regardless of where that latter show sits in terms of current popularity, it’s surprising that there haven’t been other rip-offs produced thus far. While the two respective stars – Reiser and David – sport similar back stories in terms of not just familial lineage – ie Jews – but earlier sitcom success, the Reiser vehicle hasn’t been able to out perform cartoon reruns so far. Maybe that’s a comment on the show itself, or the cleaned up nature of the show and its dialogue.

Glee: Born This Way

At this point it's pretty clear that Glee has more or less said everything it's ever going to say. "Born This Way" is yet another episode about people accepting diversity and embracing uniqueness, whether that means being okay with a certain body type or sexual orientation or anything else that makes them feel like outsiders. I suppose the only difference between this and every other episode of the show is that it focuses on the way the characters feel about themselves, but that's just being charitable considering that self-acceptance is implicit in the overall acceptance message. But hey, a lot of good shows have come out of a thematic broken record. What is Sons of Anarchy if not a constant reminder of the inescapable brutality of being an outlaw and what is The Office if not a seven-years-and-running joke about boredom in the white collar workplace? So, if Glee is only ever going to be a show about owning one's outcast status through the power of song and friendship, so be it, especially if it has a hit-to-miss ratio as favorable as "Born This Way".

The Event: Strain

Early in "Strain", Sean just flat-out asks Vicky why she's helping him. Her response? "Don't try to analyze me. Just take 'yes' for an answer". I couldn't help but feel like that conversation was more about the relationship between viewers and The Event than about the admittedly nonsensical partnership between Sean and Vicky. The truth is that there really is no reason, logically or within the ridiculous confines of the show's story, why most of what we see would happen. Vicky has no real reason to help Sean and Sean has no real reason to take up every crusade that comes his way. Jarvis has no reason to help Sophia sabotage the government and, honestly, Sophia has no real reason to pursue the genocide of the human race. I mean, didn't Simon pretty much say that the planet they come from doesn't have much (or any) water? Why couldn't the aliens just camp out in the Sahara where nobody lives anyway? But maybe I shouldn't analyze The Event, I should just take "because NBC is paying us to fill an hour of air time on a Monday" for an answer.

The Borgias: Borgias in Love

Much as I've preferred The Borgias to stick to historical fact, I don't want to give the impression that I don't thoroughly enjoy the bits of drama in between. Tonight's episode, for instance, is composed almost entirely of things that almost certainly didn't happen, but they're all so damn entertaining that it hardly matters. This is mostly because the plot relies heavily on characters devised whole cloth for the show, so their purpose in the narrative doesn't seem forced. Bit parts and supporting players like the assassin Micheletto and the sympathetic servants of Giovanni Sforza bring The Borgias to life and lend some surprise to an otherwise predetermined story.

Game of Thrones: The Kingsroad

Something remarkable yet subtle has happened in televised storytelling. TV as a medium allows for a mix of novel-length story arcs, filmic visualization and the unique ability to compartmentalize themes. So, while Game of Thrones has an overarching master plot moving in broad strokes of empire-building and other political machinations, the show can devote an entire episode, as it did tonight, to multiple perspectives on how people change with their circumstances. Next week the episode's theme will almost certainly be different but the master plot will remain the same. Only a few shows in the past decade have been able to pull off this complex method of storytelling. Game of Thrones seems to be diving into the narrative deep end early.

Doctor Who: "The Impossible Astronaut"

Secrets and Silence abound when the Doctor returns


It's been an emotional few months for Doctor Who. Longtime fans mourned Nicholas Courtney's death in February, and a few days before the show returned to the airwaves, Elisabeth Sladen passed away. The events marred what may have been the biggest promotional blitz in Doctor Who's history: its first-ever filming in the U.S., special screenings in New York and Chicago, and the series premiering in three different countries in 24 hours. Amidst tragedy and mourning, Doctor Who has returned.



The Office: Michael's Last Dundies

How much you enjoy the extremely lengthy pageantry of Steve Carell's departure from The Office likely depends on how sentimental you're willing to get about this or any TV show. The show's writers have definitely been leaning on the assumption that their viewers are long-time fans of the show, the types who get personally invested in the trials and triumphs of fictional people. Honestly, it's extremely difficult to be one of those fans these days. Before the Internet, or even TV commentary programs like those on E!, it was easier to grow attached to shows. There were few outlets for behind-the-scenes news, so things like Michael's exit would have been a genuine surprise for viewers. Furthermore, having to tune in at the same time and channel every week grants a certain ritual component to TV shows that just isn't present in the days of DVR, Hulu and, let's face it, rampant file sharing. All shows, even the best of them, take on a disposable, transparent quality now. That said, there are still some fun and affecting moments in "Michael's Last Dundies", it's just not the heartrending comic powerhouse it wants to be (and might have been in another era).

Colin Quinn's Long Story Short

Colin Quinn probably should have been famous something like a decade back. Even before Tough Crowd, the comedian was part of a cohort that included Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK, not to mention Jon Stewart and just about anyone else you can think of. Yeah, Saturday Night Live was a boon. And surely, Quinn’s concert ticket prices appreciated the boost in the comic’s public visibility. But he remained a rather gruff figure in the comedy underground – not in the same way Marc Maron’s become quantified. But similarly.

Stargate Universe: Common Descent

I have to hand it to the writers of Stargate Universe. They really made something interesting out of what began as a stock time travel plot. While the weirdness of "Twin Destinies" at first seemed designed to do some leg work, like removing guest star Lou Diamond Phillips and closing up Eli's inner-star gating theory, "Common Descent" lets the time travel have larger implications for the plot and overarching philosophy of the show. After another drone attack forces Destiny to jump to the nearest gate world, the crew discovers a planet inhabited by their own descendants. Or, more accurately, the descendants of the version of Destiny that attempted the inner-star dial.

For Reelz: The Kennedys (6-8)

After watching and digesting the eight hours worth of Kennedy factionalism, it’s hard to conclude some specific reason as to why any cable station would go and pass on airing the features. Granted, The Kennedys was a sensationalized, almost soap opera account of historical events, but it wasn’t too bad. After all the hubbub about censoring the shows, though, one would have expected a stronger showing in the ratings category. Part of the reason for that, though, could have been attributed to the pacing which allowed for an entire episode to transpire after JFK’s killing – hope that wasn’t a spoiler.

After seemingly running through all that Cuba stuff with the Bay of Pigs, it was pretty stunning that the show’s producers went and figured another hour was due to the Missile Crisis. Yeah, that was surely a tense time in the White House and across the country. But a quarter of the mini-series being devoted to a single series of events seems like poor writing and planning, most likely contributing to the luke warm ratings. Either way, watching Greg Kinnear pretend to be a heavy thinker was troublesome. So was watching Barry Pepper’s mouth while he was playing Robert Kennedy.

The relatively unknown Canadian actor did a passable job – and proved a better actor than the mini-series’ star – but was mostly emotional as opposed to moving in and out of moods. Being Bobby was probably not a ball of laughs during the sixties. And of course, catching a bullet in the head didn’t help. But the fact that RFK received short shrift here – again – after decades of playing second fiddle makes the The Kennedys feel slight, like any high school text book.

Glee: A Night of Neglect

Well, that was a ridiculous, scatterbrained, incomprehensible hour of television!.. wait, Ian Brennan wrote it? Never mind. That was a perfectly understandable slice of mad science that couldn't have worked out any other way. On the plus side, Holly Holiday came back for another guest spot, so that's always nice. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Glee couldn't pull off a relatively simple premise. Hurting for money to pay for their trip to Nationals, the glee club stages a benefit show supposedly based around the music of neglected, unappreciated artists. The theme was also supposed to give a little spotlight to characters from Glee itself who have been pushed to the background this season. "A Night of Neglect" failed on both counts, in spirit if not in action.

Doctor Who: "The Ambassadors of Death"

Before The Impossible Astronaut came The Ambassadors of Death


Nothing Doctor Who-related would be complete without mentioning the passing of Elisabeth Sladen (February 1st 1948 - April 19th 2011). Sladen was one of the most popular co-stars in Doctor Who's history, returning for guest appearances in the revived series and featuring in her own spinoff. While we remember Lis Sladen and look forward to the start of a new series of Doctor Who, my tribute to the departed Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011) continues with The Ambassadors of Death.




The Event: Cut Off The Head

Sometimes I like to think that characters on TV shows are at least subconsciously aware that they're characters on TV shows. It makes their often inexplicable or just plain unrealistic actions make a little more sense. Like a lucid dreamer, the character suddenly realizes that they're in a fictional universe and so there are no real consequences for their actions, or at least that they have the chance to make the most of their experience. Tonight, I'm willing to accept that Hal Holbrook's Sorta Evil But Kinda Not Really Dempsey basically "woke up" to the fact that he was just a character on a floundering, usually pretty bad NBC drama. So, he did the only thing someone in his position should do: He dumped a bunch of exposition on one of the main characters with no ceremony whatsoever and then promptly shot himself in the head, removing himself from this ridiculous series once and for all.

Inspector America Premier

It is no secret that the infrastructure of the United States is in a terrible state.  Our bridges and highways are crumbling, our water mains are rotting, and the electrical grid is pushed far beyond its max.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, as the problems go much deeper than what I have already mentioned. 

The Borgias: The Marriage of Lucrezia

Last week I complained about the unnecessary fiddling with real history by The Borgias in service to the plot, claiming that actual historical events are interesting enough to carry TV dramas. This week provided an excellent case in point: The marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza. Put simply, this marriage was predicated entirely on political convenience and it was a disaster before it even began. Furthermore, Sforza was a right bastard (in every sense of the word) who never really had the favor of his 14-year-old bride or her increasingly powerful brother, Cesare. It didn't take long for a plot against Giovanni Sforza to brew which found him first fleeing for his life, then eventually accepting a sizable bribe to accept an annulment justified by all but certainly false charges. These true events are dramatized effectively in this episode of The Borgias, reality left mostly unmolested while the details get played out in an entertaining way.

Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming

I will admit two things before I begin covering HBO's new medieval fantasy epic Game of Thrones. One, that I have never read any of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels, which I consider an advantage because I prefer to review TV shows on their own merits and not by how well they adapt source material. Two, that I have little intention of diligently learning all of the names, references and political complexities of the show's world. If tonight's pilot is any indication, Game of Thrones is going to be, at best, an intricate tapestry of myth and, at worst, an opaque mess of names, titles and histories resulting from unabashed fandom of Martin's thick fiction series. It also appears that learning names, faces and political structures might just be a waste of energy, considering how quickly things change and get dismantled over the course of just the first hour. The show's early complications are worrying, though there's plenty to suggest it'll become clearer as time goes on.

The Office: Training Day

There has been a lot of speculation about who will be replacing Steve Carell in the role of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton's manager. When Will Farrell was announced as a guest star, he seemed like a prime candidate. What's strange is that, even with his appearance in "Training Day" as supposed new manager Deangelo Vickers, Farrell doesn't seem like he's about to become a series regular. Maybe it's just resistance to change (though that change isn't terribly drastic so far), but this feels like a red herring of the highest order.