July 2011

Torchwood, "Miracle Day: Escape to L.A."

Torchwood is now virtually unrecognizable from its first two series; and this is a very good thing


When you remove death from the equation of life, the results will likely be anything but desirable. Healthcare institutions break down, murderers and politicians make power plays, and whoever orchestrated the miracle will stop at nothing to ensure their plans continue unaltered. Four episodes in, still over half the series to go, but Russell T. Davies' Torchwood: Miracle Day is doing and saying all the right things.


Futurama, "All The Presidents' Heads"

Hail to the Chiefs


In last week's episode of Futurama, it has to be said that not much happened, and the story, such as it were, went nowhere. That's certainly not the case with "All The Presidents' Heads", as the Planet Express crew travel back in time to exonerate the Farnsworth family name. But when one of your crew members is a man who once did "the nasty in the pasty", rest assured that all will not go according to plan.


Wilfred: Conscience

Had he taken a different path, Chris Klein could have been just another hunky lead or supporting actor in a cavalcade of middling-to-bad studio pictures. Instead, he has made a career of playing intense oddballs and twisty caricatures that make subversive use of his good looks for high comedy. His role as Drew, Jenna's super-competitive boyfriend, in Wilfred is among his best performances. His brief appearance earlier in the season was memorable and I'm glad he got a full episode to really dig into the meat of the character. He's such an excellent foil for Ryan and also a great way to talk about Ryan's own unhealthy behavior without directly addressing it, which would be show-endingly inert.

Catching Up: Brisco County, Jr.- The Brooklyn Dodgers

Mob stories were pretty big in the early 90's. Some of the best (and many, many of the most middling) crime pictures were made in the first five years of the decade. All of the most famous American criminals got their own profiles. Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Rothstein and a whole host of fictional heavies graced the silver screen relentlessly in those days, so much so that those films provided a useful shorthand for small screen mob stories both serious and parodic. It was inevitable that Brisco would make its own foray into the genre. What's surprising is that it ended up being one of the best episodes of the series.

Doctor Who: "The Claws of Axos"

Beware of Axons bearing gifts

With the announcement that Doctor Who will return to our screens on August 27th, and with the fourth series of Torchwood in full swing, the tribute to Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen continues with The Claws of Axos. While Sladen's iconic Sarah Jane Smith is still years away from making her appearance, Courtney's indomitable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had become an inherent part of the series. At the helm was still Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, but this time, he has unlikely company.




White Collar: As You Were

A JONES EPISODE! After two and a half seasons of sitting in the van, Agent Jones finally gets a story that revolves around him (even if it still thematically revolves around Neal). In keeping with Season 3's format of exploring supporting characters, "As You Were" uses a case-of-the-week to fill in a lot of important details about Jones, from the way he lives to how he found his way to the FBI. The result is an episode of great scenes and, unfortunately, a villain who could have used another draft or two of script work.

Catching Up: Aeon Flux- Ether Drift Theory

In the late 1800's when the modern science of physics was in its infancy, optics was a pretty big deal. There were a number of competing theories about the nature and motion of light, with Einstein's Special Relativity ultimately winning out in experimental reproduction. One of the stronger failed theories was that of "luminiferous aether", the hypothesized existence of a medium through which light moves. Through a series of experiments, most famously the Michelson-Morley Experiment, it became fairly obvious the aether doesn't exist. This week's episode of Aeon Flux takes its name from a particular variety of the aether hypothesis that had to do with light's medium moving in particular ways (as opposed to a different sub-theory that involved stationary aether) but the most important part for our purposes is that Aether theory was never anything more than a dream. Elegant and fascinating in concept, but a dream nonetheless. The same thing can be (and is) said about Trevor's experiment in the episode.

Strangers with Candy


Amy Sedaris is pretty.  That’s what most people I talk to are shocked by when they look at the actress and writer when she's not wearing her Jerri Blank getup.  She is pretty, but she’s willing to put all of her good looks away for the nasty hilarity that is Jerri Blank--a former drugged up 46-year-old bisexual high school freshman with child-bearing hips and a monkey-like overbite.  You haven’t watched the show?  You better.  Here’s what’s up with it. 

Torchwood: Miracle Day, "Dead of Night"

Painkillers sell...and everybody's buying

The closer Torchwood gets to uncovering the mystery behind Miracle Day, the deeper the rabbit hole goes. A conspiracy that reaches far and wide, enough to control high-ranking CIA officials and congressmen, enough to reach out to every human being on the planet and keep them from dying no matter what, might be enough to make one pharmaceutical company very rich, and very powerful.  The fight to end the miracle starts in the "Dead of Night".


Futurama, "Yo Leela Leela"

...and everybody lived happily ever after.

After Leela's first attempt to impress the kids at the Cookieville Minimum-Security Orphanarium with a story falls flat, she digs deep to come up with something that'll knock their socks off. What she comes up with sets off a chain reaction of success, betrayal, blackmail and the worst laid plans of mice and mutants reaping the biggest rewards. If only the episode itself was that good.



Wilfred: Respect

It's hard to tell week to week what Wilfred is trying to do as a TV show. Though drugs feature prominently in every episode, it's not really a stoner comedy. No, it's far too dark for that. Then again, it doesn't exactly qualify as a dark comedy, either. Certainly not when it goes to such great lengths to undercut any moment of seriousness with something absurd and self-conscious. Maybe it's foolish to try to categorize a half-hour comedy about a man who talks to a dog represented by a foul-mouthed Australian in an intentionally cheap costume, but Wilfred practically begs to be analyzed considering how bold it is and the fact that it's paired with Louie, the smartest, most interesting comedy on TV today. There's something special about Wilfred, even if each episode of the show stumbles as often as it transcends.

Catching Up: Brisco County, Jr.- The Fountain of Youth

Lord Bowler's last line in the long arc episode "The Fountain of Youth" could double as an overall sentiment of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. After an episode full of science fiction, B-movie dialog and bad makeup, Bowler pleads, "Can't we just be cowboys from now on?" Oh, if only that were true. Brisco could have been a big success if it had stuck to the Western genre. It had enough humor and irreverence in its cast that it didn't really need to go off the rails into so many different genres. This lack of focus is in every frame of the series, from the way the snappy repartee falls flat thanks to limp direction to the way the sci-fi plotting casts too long a shadow on the story to the way some of the more welcome weirdness barely peeks its head out among each episode's clutter.

Torchwood: Miracle Day, "Rendition"

Coming to America


After the confusion and euphoria of Miracle Day dies down, questions begin to be asked: can the human race survives if no one dies? Since injured people can't succumb to their wounds, will they live in pain forever? What does "forever" mean? Will the planet run out of room and resources? And who - or what - did this? How? Why? The only people who might be able to help are on their way to the United States, in handcuffs - and, if the architects of Miracle Day have their way, in body bags.



Torchwood: Miracle Day, "The New World"

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death"


At 10:36 p.m., the last death on planet Earth is recorded. After that moment, no one dies. Elderly men suffer multiple heart attacks and survive. A man is given a lethal injection and lives to gloat about it. Another man detonates bombs strapped to his chest, and remains alive. All over the world, people who should have died, do not. And just as this happens, just as, despite best efforts, death is negated, one word flashes up on the CIA's computers: "Torchwood".


Catching Up: Freaks and Geeks- The Garage Door

Freaks and Geeks has a great supporting cast, so it was only a matter of time before those sideline characters got their own, meatier plots. For both of the titular crowds, "The Garage Door" is the first time we get a real glimpse into a couple omnipresent but thinly sketched characters' lives. For once, the geeks get the heavier story while the freaks are left to explore some fairly standard teen drama/comedy and the switch makes for a pretty interesting episode.

White Collar: Taking Account

Rule of entertainment media: Neither big nor small screen stories can avoid looking ridiculous when they focus on computers. I used to think that TV shows and movies were stupid about computers and the Internet because their scripts were written by people who simply don't understand that stuff, but that's not really a good excuse anymore. Computers have been a regular part of American life for over 20 years and the Internet has been ubiquitous for around 15. There's no such thing as being both modern and computer illiterate anymore. The fact is, things like computer hacking just aren't interesting on the screen. The reality of hacking is less cool graphics and frantic typing, more sitting in front of a monitor for days on end staring at code. So, whenever a screen story decides to incorporate hacking, it has to do so in a way that makes it work visually and in time constraints. "Taking Account" does so rather egregiously, which is really a shame considering how good the rest of the episode is.

Thoughts on "Rocco's Dinner Party"

I'll admit up front that I'm not a big fan of reality TV in general. Compared to scripted series (or rather, overtly scripted series) and actual news programs, reality TV always seems like the dregs of the medium. Precious few reality shows get the formula right. Bravo's new food porn/competition show Rocco's Dinner Party comes very, very close but where it stumbles, it stumbles hard.