Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Walking Dead - "Secrets"/"Pretty Much Dead Already"

Season 2, Episode 6 & 7

“The world out there isn’t what you see on TV”

The “mid-season finale” is a recent construct, one that has popped up over the past five years or so as cable networks sought for a way to split up their 16-ish episode seasons instead of airing them all at once. (Okay, so this statement mostly applies to the USA network, but given how instrumental that it’s been in the rise of basic cable original programming, at this point it’s an idea that doesn’t feel exclusive to the network.) It’s something that exists more as an construct than an actual element of television, because even as there are plenty of show that make sure to include big developments in the episodes leading into the hiatus, to the point that even networks shows like The Vampire Diaries have adopted the model, there are still other shows, like say Leverage, that don’t. But the idea of this being so is still strong enough that I expected something big to come of tonight’s Walking Dead, and it's to that end that I would like to start this review with the following thought:

Even given the fact that “Pretty Much Dead Already” didn’t have any sort of big twist, and at times was underwhelming in much the same way as the season one finale was, and flies in the face of how we expect mid-season finales to work, it was still a pretty great episode, the kind that I have been hoping the show would eventually produce.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "The Rebound Girl"

Season 7, Episode 11

Look, not everybody liked last week’s episode. I find it kind of hard to believe, since I found it to be one of the strongest episodes that the show has produced in quite a while, but it’s true. A large reason for that appears to be that some people didn’t like the ending, whether because they saw it as a stall tactic or because they felt it represented the show putting up just one more unnecessary road block. Tonight’s episode had a similar twist ending, and considering that fan reaction will be just as divided (if not more negative) as it was last week, it seems like a bold move for the show to pull. But it also got me thinking about how the show does a lot of things in pairs, and how maybe that’s worth taking under consideration.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SNL - "Jason Segel/Florence + The Machine"

Season 37, Episode 7

Much like Charlie Day before him, Jason Segel is the kind of actor who just seems a bit too for SNL school, the kind of actor whose talent I fear will get subsumed to some mediocre sketches. Luckily, Segel’s got too things going for him: One, he’s far more mainstream than Day ever was. And two, given that he’s here to promote The Muppets, odds are they be able to prop up at least one sketch. Well, let’s see how he did…

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chuck - "Chuck Versus the Buisness Trip"

Season 3, Episode 4

I’m beginning to wonder if Chuck’s biggest problem, at least for this season, isn’t the fact that it isn’t telling the best stories – although, yes, that still is a significant issue – but that it hasn’t found out just how to break those stories into sizeable chunks. Two weeks ago, I railed against the show for introducing evil Morgan far too quickly, and I equally criticized last week’s episode for walking him back at roughly the same pace. But it goes beyond pacing; the show has also had problems connecting the episodes to one another. “Chuck Versus The Bearded Bandit” seemed to end with Morgan working for Verbanski, only for it to take half of the next episode to get to that point. Likewise, tonight’s episode opened with Morgan’s brain still fried (something that I thought was already fixed), and, in a weird bit of continuity, with Jeff still sober. But, if you could manage to look past the fought spots that it took to get here, “Chuck Versus The Business Trip” was actually pretty solid, and the best episode of the season so far.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fringe - "Wallflower"

Season 4, Episode 7

“You know, I’ve been investigating fringe events for three years. I never thought I’d become one.”

As you might have noticed from these reviews, I never been a fan of discussing the standalone cases of the week, unless perhaps they have some sort of emotional connection or impact, and even then I rarely discuss the actual plot itself. It’s not that I’m prejudiced against standalone plots – I can recognize when one is well executed, though that seems to be a bit of rarity these days – but rather I think the serialized elements of any show make for better discussion. Standalone plots are meant to be disposable, and discussing them always seems like an exercise in futility, and they kind of make reviewing a show week to week a bit pointless. So what is one to do when an episode is almost entirely a standalone plot, and not much else, and to top it all off, the standalone plot is even that good? Shake your head mostly, and then just scrounge for whatever discussion points you can.

Parks and Recreation - "Smallest Park"

Season 4, Episode 8

“I just decided what I wanted, and I got upset when you didn’t want the same thing.”

One of the strongest things that has been at play in this current season is that it has gotten very good at playing out the more emotional, serialized elements of it stories to great effect. This isn’t to say that the show has been bad about serialization in the past – in fact it’s been quite good – but that it feel much stronger now, that it has more of a presence. And despite all the sniping from some corners that Parks and Recreation isn’t as good as it used to be, I think it’s important to note that while the episode formula hasn’t changed, the overall storytelling has, and when that makes the show capable of such episodes as strong as “Smallest Park”, I think the detractors need to start rethinking their assessment of the show.

Community - "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux"

Season 3, Episode 8

“This is it. This is how I get to put Greendale on the map.”

I must fight it. I must fight the urge to talk about tonight’s episode in light of the recent dustup over NBC’s decision to bench the show for a few months. Much like I discussed with “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”, it’s key with any episode of Community to keep authorial intent in mind, especially when it comes to a show as meta as this one. As self-referential as the show can be, not every connection between the show and the real world is intentional. That being said, it’s hard not to at least mention how dense “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” was as an episode, and how off-putting that most likely was to any new viewers who happened to tune in to the episode in the wake of the general internet outcry over the show’s fate, and somehow think that they were watching another knock-off of The Office or something. But unlike The Office, “Redux” was an episode that intentionally injected unreal situations in a genre that strives for authenticity, perhaps to the episode’s detriment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Endings - "The Code War"

Season 2, Episode 7

For the first time this season – and quite possibly the first time in the show’s run – Happy Endings crafted an episode that didn’t spin some of the characters out into the edges, but instead separated the group into two smaller groups. However, considering one of these groupings was just Brad and Jane, that left Alex, Dave, Max and Penny in another group, and I think it’s because of this that the episode faltered just a bit. With the show trying to have four characters have laughs from one story, and the lack of any crazy side gags, the show just wasn’t able to deliver the top notch tomfoolery that it normally does. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable all the same.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Modern Family - "After the Fire"

Season 3, Episode 8

Well here it is, come down upon us as if from the television gods above: an episode of Modern Family that was both free from outrageous clichés and manages to mix up the titular family from beyond their nuclear households. It may have not been the best episode, but it was most certainly the strongest episode so far this season.

Glee - "The First Time"/"Mash-Off"

Season 3, Episodes 5 & 6

You know, it’s funny. Given the dust up that the PTC made last week concerning the perceived immorality of “The First Time”, I’m surprised that there wasn’t similar controversy over tonight’s episode, given that it upped the age-inappropriate relationship angle in a big way. Now, there are most certainly reasons for this – PTC probably wasn’t made aware of the plot, and, as the episode took pains to remind us, Puck is 18 – but it’s still ironic that this episode that was much more sexually suggestive that last week’s. In fact, it would be a good Idea to compare “The First Time” and “Mash-Off”, not just because I didn’t post a review last week, but also because the two are of opposing levels of quality, and that says a lot about where the show is now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "Tick, Tick, Tick"

Season 7, Episode 10

“What if it’s actually the story of how we got back together?”

Last night’s How I Met Your Mother proved to be a very divisive one, with critics either upsetthat the show threw up yet another roadblock, or instead enjoying the emotional journey that the show is taking us to get to the point of Robin and Barney’s reunion. Me, I fall into the latter camp, and it appears that I have one more to add to the list of shows that I love. Sure, I may be more critical of HIMYM than the other shows on that list, but when the show is firing on all emotional cylinders, all of my rational criticisms seem to just melt away.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Community Got Hiatus'd! Or, Why I Almost Rage-Quit NBC.

By now, you’ve no doubt heard: in the Great NBC Schedule Change-Up of 2011, there have been a few casualties, including the apparent but unofficial cancellation of Prime Suspect, and far more importantly – for the purposes of this blog and this post – the network’s decision to remove Community from its airwaves from January, February, and into March. And although this probably a pointless exercise – not only are the chances of NBC executives or even a general internet audience reading this, but by the time I’m able to finish/post this, there will no doubt be many other posts about this move competing for your attention (as with so many complications in my life, I blame grad school for this – but I need to write this piece. NBC’s move left me angry. I don’t mean miffed; I was outraged, fist-shakingly, couldn’t-concentrate-on-the-paper-that-was-due-in-an-hour-and-a-half angry.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Walking Dead - "Chupacabra"

Season 2, Episode 5

“You got this knack, you spread us thinner and thinner.”

The cold open to tonight’s episode involved shots of helicopters flying overhead, soon followed by some bad CGI of a city (Atlanta, I assume) getting blown up real good. Even though it was a flashback, I worried that it was the shape of things to come – that the episode would make the show once again making the bad choice of placing the characters in circumstances way over their head, a la the season one finale. Luckily my fears were assuaged, and the show actually doubled down on telling its personal stories, much to my delight.

SNL - "Emma Stone/Coldplay"

Season 37, Episode 6

It’s hard to believe, but Emma Stone was on SNL just a little over a year ago, and it was one of the stronger episodes of the season, though the extent to which that quality belonged to her and not the sketches is hard to gauge. So this will be an interesting experiment tonight, seeing if Stone can recapture the magic of her first appearance.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fringe - "And Those We've Left Behind"

Season 4, Episode 6

“Too many variables, not enough constants.”

There was a awesome scene about a third of the way through tonight’s episode, where Peter began to start skipping in time, first jumping from Walter’s lab to the site of the latest fringe event, and then from the car back to the event site so that he could gain a vital clue to figuring out was causing all the temporal displacements. It was delightfully weird and disorienting without being too confusing, and it perfectly captured for the audience the feeling of being unstuck in time. I thought that this was going to be how the rest of the episode would work, and it would grow continuously more complicated with its time skipping, to a level of gleeful bat shit inanity. However, most of the episode was fairly standard, as it often seemed to skirt the more interesting idea for the sake of a more straightforward narrative.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. The Frosted Tips"

Season 5, Episode 3

Over the past couple of years, I have grown to hate episodic previews. It’s not that I dislike show’s trying to tease us about what’s coming up, and I appreciate knowing when there will and won’t be an episode next week, or if the show is taking a break. But somewhere along the way, networks leaned a little too much into this concept, as they began revealing too much about the next week’s hook, or, even worse (and in the case of this week’s episode) they destroy what was supposed to be a cliffhanger. Usually, I try to avoid these previews (except for FX and AMC, where it usually doesn’t matter), but NBC likes to tack them on right to the end of the episode, and I was ruined about the truth behind Morgan’s attitude shift.

Parks and Recreation - "End of the World"/"The Treaty"

Season 4, Episodes 6 & 7

“Yeah, sure. I’ll just tread water until you’re ready.”

Of the reviews that I’ve kept going this season (sorry, Terra Nova), Parks and Recreation has been the show that I’ve fallen through on the most. This shouldn’t be an indictment of the season, as I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, unlike other critics you have been worried that the show is headed for a downhill slide in quality. But I think that there’s something to the concerns that P&R is using the same formula, and that it’s getting old. Now, I still think the show is delivering hilarious results, so I’m not too worried about the formula being used out just yet, but I do think makes it difficult for me to write about the show week to week, even if it remains my favorite comedies. So I might be changing up the reviews some as I see fit, starting today as I review both last week’s “End of the World” and this week’s “The Treaty”.

Community - "Studies in Modern Movement"

Season 3, Episode 7

“Why am I always the one who has to adapt?”

I am always interested in the ways in which single-camera comedies use the inherent creative freedom of the form to break away, subvert, or otherwise diverge from the formula set by years of their multiple-camera counterparts. And I don’t just mean the obvious things, like the varied looks they are able to adopt or the different comedic rhythms. As readers of my Modern Family reviews no doubt know, I often expect to single-camera comedies to use the form to avoid telling the tired tropes that we all got sick of in the 90s. But there are some elements – especially the warmth of comedies from the 80s – that single-cams should adopt, and tonight’s episode of Community did that beautifully.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "Disaster Averted"

Season 7, Episode 9

“True Story.”

What is it about tragedy that affects us so, that makes us want to tell our story to those who weren’t there to witness it first hand? More specifically, what is it with comedy writers who are making such a big deal out of Hurricane Irene? Okay, so it was a big deal, but it’s pretty impossible not to notice that where as Hurricane Katrina gave us Treme and When the Levees Broke, but Irene inspired episodes of both How I Met Your Mother and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But, when you place put aside the fact that a comedy is making light of a situation that most people turn into serious drama, “Disaster Averted” is actually a pretty great episode.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pixelated History: Hell on Wheels - "Pilot"

Though I may haunt the fringes of the internet as an amateur television critic, my first and foremost concern is with my grad school work. (Trust me, I wish that it was the other way around too.) As such, I present to you Pixelated History, my attempt to write reviews/posts that seek to discuss historical practice and television in equal measure, mostly in preparation for my master’s thesis, but also just because I think it will be fun. Pixelated History isn’t about nitpicking the details of historical dramas; it’s about analyzing how television depicts and influences our understanding of our past.

This is not a straightforward review of the show; for that I can send you to any number of reviews, all of which say more or less the same thing about Hell on Wheels. That it feels like a rip-off of Deadwood. That it’s lazy. That it’s just not that interesting. All of these things are true, and if it’s wasn't for a more compelling reason, I would probably stop watching that show right now.

That reason? My interest in history. As a grad student in the subject, I have been subjected to a whole lot of courses, both about historical events, and the practice of history itself, and as I come closer and closer to obtaining my master’s (read: writing my thesis), I’ve begun to home on my topic, and I now seek to combine two things I love the most: history and television.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Walking Dead - "Cherokee Rose"

Season 2, Episode 4

“Good thing we didn’t do anything stupid, like shoot it.”

Apparently I was wrong about last week’s episode – or, to put it in more objective terms, I was completely out of step with the critical consensus. I actually don’t think I was wrong about the episode – the episode didn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know, and (mostly because of that), it was boring – but it times like these, when I see to be on the fringes that I begin to question what exactly it is I look for in a television show. It’s not that I believe that I have to fall in line with every other critic – in fact, a variety of opinions is what makes criticism interesting – but I often do have similar taste to those critics that like last week’s episode, and it felt weird for me not to agree them. And thus I’m thankful for episodes like “Cherokee Rose”, which affords me another opportunity to dissect what I do and do not like about a show.

SNL - "Charlie Day/Maroon 5"

Season 37, Episode 5

“You gotta put out for these people.”

I like Charlie Day; I really do. Not only is he my favorite cast member from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but he has more charisma than many other, more mainstream comedians today, and I like that he’s finally gotten more lead roles in the past few months in productions that he doesn’t produce. Still, it feels weird for Day to be appearing on SNL, for obvious reasons. Day’s humor isn’t exactly in line with SNL’s more mainstream sensibilities, and  it’s hard to be cynical that the show is going to water down his manic energy instead of playing up to it. (Also supporting this theory: tonight’s musical guest is Maroon 5, the lowest common denominator of bands.) So how did Day and SNL do? Click through to find out….

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fringe - "Novation"

Season 4, Episode 5

“Some things are not ours to tamper with.”
- William Bell

It shouldn’t come as a shock when I say that in its fourth season, Fringe has more or less become a rebooted version of its old self, as Peter’s exit and reentry into existence essentially meant that a good deal of things changed in EWOP, and the show had to take the time to highlight exactly what those changes are. In essence, watching the fourth season of Fringe became akin to watching an entirely brand new show; sure, we technically already knew these people, and there some things to be gleaned from the not all that subtle hints at Peter’s disappearance, but I think a newcomer could have started watching with “Neither Here Nor There”, and, apart from being blow away by the show’s blatant approach to its sci-fi elements, have with few problems understanding what was going one. “Novation” seems like yet another reboot of the show, and I think that’s what kept the episode from really cracking.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. the Bearded Bandit"

Season 5, Episode 2

Last week, I posited that it was strange that Chuck would give us a premiere that held off on giving us a look the new Intersect that is Morgan. I appreciated the move to focus instead on the show’s lead, even though he’s no longer the character the gives the show it’s hook; it was a moment of subtlety, of paring down the pace from a show that usually doesn’t do such things, and I thought that was admirable. And yet considering that this is show that usually runs right through the plot elements that it does have on it slate was what made Morgan’s relegation to the sidelines stand out so much. So tonight’s episode saw a much greater focus placed on Morgan, all though now I’m wishing that wasn’t the case.

Community - "Advanced Gay"

Season 3, Episode 6

As I expressed last week, I had some trepidation about going into an episode of Community that was entitled “Advanced Gay”. It’s not that I thought that this was going to be some terribly offensive episode for the show – it’s far too progressive for that to ever be the case – but it was readily apparent that it was going to focus Pierce, and not only would including too much of his behavior risk crossing some sort of line, but after last season, it’s hard for me to take him seriously as a member of the group at times, and I feared that his worst qualities were going to rear up and cause my Pierce-hate to start all over again. Luckily, the show stayed on the right side of the line on both accounts, and produced another highly enjoyable episode in the process.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happy Endings - "Lying Around"

Season 2, Episode 6
Some quick thoughts on a solid episode

Modern Family - "Treehouse"

Season 3, Episode 7

Comedies don’t have to be substantial in order to be good. Sometimes – okay, most of the time – it is acceptable for them to just be funny in a way that’s true to the characters and doesn’t rely on tired or lazy situations. Now, as I’ve said before, being a family sitcom puts Modern Family in a tenuous position, as in this genre, perhaps more than any other that’s not science fiction, it becomes really had to determine the line between archetype and cliché. And while it “Treehouse” wasn’t a perfect episode, but it mostly stayed on the right side of those lines, and it was better for it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Glee - "Pot O' Gold"

Season 3, Episode 4

Can Glee realistically handle a political subplot? Actually, let’s back that line of thinking up just a bit? Can Glee handle any storyline that’s supposed to reflect the current situations of its real world? Now, television as whole requires a healthy suspension of belief, as all shows work in their own little worlds that function differently than real life, to varying degrees. (Well, expect The Wire, but that’s just the exception that proves the rule.) Glee has embraced this element to the extreme, and while it can stretch the limits of believability, it tends to work as long as it stays within its magical la-la land where emotions swing like clock pendulum and there’s always a backup band to score your random musical number.  The problem then comes when the show shatters this illusionary world by bringing in real-life problems, and it’s a problem that “Pot O’ Gold” highlights in a big way.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "The Slutty Pumpkin Returns"

Season 7, Episode 8

The thing about expectations is that they almost always lead to disappointing outcomes. As much as the idea of a second episode that features The Slutty Pumpkin sounds cool, the truth is that it’s probably not going to live up to the original episode – especially when the Pumpkin in question is played by Katie Holmes.