Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Downton Abbey - "Series Two, Part IV"

“They're going to chuck everything they've got at us.” 

For the past few weeks, as I've been going through the second series of Downton Abbey (legally, I might add), I've been more or less waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the show to reach the point where I would finally understand just why this season received such a tepid response from viewers and critics across the pond. I've been able to pick up on a few annoying things, sure – like Mrs. Bates, Ethel, Daisy's unsettling engagement to William – but none of it felt so overpowering as to ruin my perception of the show, or to declare a noticeable drop in quality. Unfortunately, "Part IV" seems to be the place in which the show's beginning to lose me, and I'm not sure how many events in this hour the show can easily recover from.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Louis C.K. Lands New Sitcom Deal

As you may have already heard, Louis C.K. and co-writer Spike Feresten have had their 13-year-old sitcom pitch picked up CBS, after the network passed on it back in 1999. The show - originally called Boomtown, though that's likely to change if the show goes to air, considering it's a name that's been used by another series, and wouldn't that be confusing - centers on a group of twenty-somethings trying to achieve their dreams in rough economic times. (Here would be where I would insert some glib comment about the fact that the economy always seems to be an issue in anything that Hollywood produces, but I'm better than that, really.)

I'm happy for C.K. The man has a huge amount of talent, and his work deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, and CBS would be the place to go to achieve that. But I'm also worried by this news because, well, it's CBS, and they're not really known for producing shows with a lot of artistic creativity. I have to wonder if C.K. - who's used to the larger freedoms granted to him by cable networks like HBO and (especially) FX - will be able to take this show through the network gristmill without losing his original vision. This has nothing to do with the FCC standard imposed on networks - as Alyssa Rosenberg points out, a lot of C.K.'s views on life can still air legally - just that I don't think the network would be willing to air such dark and nuanced material on the level that I know he's capable of producing.

And oh, did I mention that this show was a multi-camera sitcom? Because we all know how well Lucky Louie turned out. Fortunately, co-creator Feresten worked as a writer for sometime on Seinfeld, so there will be at least one voice in the room that knows how to make multi-cam work, and C.K.'s storytelling skills seems to have improved since his days at HBO, so I don't think that would be a problem. In fact, I would love for the two of them to create a traditional multi-cam that actually works, and to possibly bring about a revival of the formula. Let's just hope CBS doesn't fuck it up first.

Parks and Recreation - "Bowling For Votes"

Season 4, Episode 13 

“When have I ever let anything go?” 

So here's the funny thing about Leslie Knope: as much as we all love her, and as positive of a role model as she may be for both women and politicians, she's actually kind of a horribly selfish person. As an audience we tend to let this go because A) her selfish actions are really just part of her attempts to the best thing possible and B) this a comedy, and things probably wouldn't be as funny if Leslie wasn't so over-the-top with her actions. This something that the show has addressed in the past, but it's not something that's really been “solved” (I'm not even sure that it should be), so your mileage of this episode probably varied based on how much of Leslie you're willing to buy/take. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Touch - "Pilot"

Season 1, Episode 1 

Much like Terra Nova and Alcatraz before it, Touch interests me by the very fact that it's a genre show on a network that doesn't seem to know what to do with genre shows, or at least hasn't since the days of The X-Files. But what makes Touch an interesting exception in that unlike the former two shows, it doesn't shy away from the fact that it's a genre; it goes full force into it, to an almost unbearable degree. Indeed, the latest show from Tim Kring (yeah, that's right, the guy who created Heroes) doesn't falter for a lack of ideas, but rather from a fairly lazy execution.

Justified - "The Gunfighter"/"Cut Ties"

Season 3, Episode 1-2 

“Not much call for cowboys these days.” 

Within television criticism, there is this inherent fascination with something that many refer to as “The Leap”, that moment where a television show stops being good, and starts becoming great. For many, Justified's second season was the show's Leap, as it left those things that were bogging it down (specifically, the overabundance of standalone cases in relation to the seasonal arc) behind, and began to tell far more involving, character-based stories that made the show shoot to the top of many critic's top ten lists. It's a bit of a head-scratcher, then, of what to make of the first two episodes of this third season. If the show already made The Leap, what do we call it when it seems to be getting even better?

Alcatraz - "Pilot"/"Ernest Cobb"/"Kitt Nelson"

Season 1, Episode 1-3 

You're probably wondering why, given my general frustrations with Terra Nova, I would commit to covering another FOX sci-fi series that happens to air on Monday nights, and for all intensive purposes seems just a purposely mainstreamed and procedural-in-nature. The truth is that I find the FOX approach to sci-fi and serialization fairly interesting, given that it makes for some of the blandest television on air, and that it does so much better than than the more creative and ambitious shows that tend to die much quicker deaths. Sadly, Alcatraz exists in that vein, but I think it's still worth talking about, nonetheless.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Downton Abbey - Series Two, Pts. II & III

“I don't think one knows anything in war time.” 

While it is a common complaint/concern among episodic TV criticism that the critic perhaps spends too much time worrying about the individual pieces of the show that we lose sight of the overall narrative. It's the standard “losing the forest among the trees” argument, and it becomes even more significant in the case of miniseries (or British series, as we're dealing with here), where the overall narrative tends to be tighter, and episodes tend to piece together more fully. With the PBS editing of the series that effect is amplified, as the original openings and endings sort of become non-existent. This leads to a mess of themes and plotlines, and makes it very difficult to review individual episodes.

To that end, I wasn't able to review “Part II” by itself, but when coupled with “Part III”, it becomes much clearer how this season is shaping up, and how I should approach each one without being overly simplistic.

Chuck - Series Finale - "Chuck Vs. Sarah"/"Chuck Vs. The Goodbye"

Season 5, Episode 12-13 

“If you ever want to save the world again...” 

I know I've said this in pretty much every review that I've written this season, but Chuck was a show made for happy endings. In this day and age, where the best works of both television and film have at least a healthy amount of skepticism, and where many writers and directors think that “happy” and “treacly” are somehow synonymous, this can seem like criticism on my part, but it's not. Chuck is one of the few shows, right up there with Parks and Recreation, that can and does earn it's happy endings almost regularly. This is largely due to the fact that Chuck tends to wear its heart on its sleeve, and while this was sometimes a liability (especially in the later seasons), it's what gave the show so much power, and when it was able to expand the range of emotions to something other than happy or lovesick, that's when it was at its best. Thus it should be no surprise that the finale worked not just because we were able to experience so many happy moments for all the character, but also because there was so much moving darkness to these two hours.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Archer - "El Contador"

Season 3, Episode 5 

Last week, I discussed at some length how Archer seems to have fallen into a predictable episodic formula, and while it's one that still works – based mainly on the fact that's it a formula that's open ended and allows for a wide-variety of stories to be told within the confines of the genre – it's also one that feels like it will eventually lose it's charms. That being said, it was nigh impossible not to notice the formula (or rather, another, more “classic” version of it) being used in this episode, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't good fun nonetheless. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fringe - "Enemy of My Enemy"

Season 4, Episode 9

“Something About the air on this side, it tastes sweeter” 

One of the major criticisms of my reviews (or if you prefer, criticisms of my criticisms) that I hear from people is that I often times can't just write about what a show is, rather than how it's disappointing me by what it's not. This is something that I notice many critics struggling with, and though I always thought of myself as someone who can turn into what ever curveballs shows throw at me, this season, a variety of shows (Fringe, Glee, How I Met Your Mother) are testing me at various times, and I've admittedly been faltering in that department. But I still maintain that there's a difference between wingeing about a development you don't like, and commenting when said development is hindering individual episodes, and it's important to talk about the latter without falling into the former. 

The problem with Fringe's fourth season from reviewing standpoint is that so much of it has leaned on the development of Peter's disappearance (and later, his reappearance) that's it's become hard to talk about anything else, and I've been repeating same criticisms just so I have something to say. “Enemy of My Enemy”, then, is an interesting episode for me, because it has a lot of things that I like, couched in some developments of which I'm still unsure. 

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. The Bullet Train"

Season 5, Episode 11

“So close I can smell it.” 

The fifth season of Chuck has been forced to make a lot of....let's say “interesting”...choices when it comes to its overall plotting, having to fit in several different arcs in a fairly mish-mash manner in order to set everything up for the finale, all in a very short order of time. This has meant that a lot of stories end up getting under-developed, and things resolve not so much because they evolve organically out of the story, but because they need to in order to move on to the next bit of plotting. “Chuck Vs. The Bullet Train” was perfunctory for most of its running time, but at least it's ending felt earned and hold the needed interest and tension for next week's final two hours.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Parks and Recreation - "Campaign Ad"

Season 4, Episode 12 

Even though I gave last week's episode a positive review, I've been thinking about it in the week since I've seen it, and I think I might have been a bit to complimentary. While it was both a funny episode, and one that was important to the overall plot, I'm not sure if the focus on the whole team was the best decision. In hindsight, the episode was perhaps a bit too ramshackle to fully work, and larger focus, specifically in the scene on the ice rink, made for an episode that lacked as much emotional or dramatic power of the series' best episodes. If “The Comeback Kid” focused on Leslie's campaign team, “Campaign Ad” has a much tighter focus on Leslie herself, and was stronger for it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Archer - "The Man From Jupiter"

Season 3, Episode 4 

Welcome back, Archer fans, to the rest of season three, which frankly has a lot to live up to after the fairly ambitious three-part epic, “Heart of Archness” mini-series that aired back in September. Since those three episodes were obviously paired with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in an attempt to boost ratings, it would be correct to say that there's a lot riding on the next few episodes in terms of holding new viewer's attention week-to-week – or least there would be, if “Archness” had experienced any sort of rating bump. (Tellingly, it did do better in that time slot than The League usually does.) Of course, I can't tell if that was for the best, because I'm not entirely sure what to make of last night's episode.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fringe - "Back To Where You've Never Been"

Season 4, Episode 8

“It's not my fight.” 

Welcome back, Fringe fans, and what better way to be greeted by a show but with an episode that should have aired as the fall finale instead airing as the spring premiere? Okay, I see your point. In fact, not only is the ending of “Back to Where You've Never Been” one of those that probably needed more breathing room, and thus time to ramp up anticipation than what it was given, but I think I would have felt better about the season as a whole if this had aired back in the fall before the show abandoned us for over two months.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. Bo"

Season 5, Episode 10

“Never say 'One last mission.'” 

Last week, I posited my two main worries about the home stretch of Chuck. One, that the last few episodes weren't really going to give us a coherent narrative because two, the show was so concerned with making sure that everybody got the happy ending that the show thinks that they deserve. “Chuck Vs. Bo”, while still dabbling in the latter problem – to successful end, I would argue – also managed to solve the former.

SNL - "Daniel Radcliffe/Lana Del Rey"

Season 37, Episode 12 

So this is Daniel Radcliffe's...what? This is is first time hosting? Are we sure about that? Because I've been wrong before. No, it appears that this really is his first time, and the SNL must be giddy with all the possible Harry Potter jokes they can make. But I beg of you writers, don't go down that well. Please don't.

Did they? Well, let's find out....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Parks and Recreation - "The Comeback Kid"

Season 4, Episode 11 

If I had to pick the one strongest aspect about Parks and Recreation's fourth season (a difficult task, I know), I would say that the show has really gone for broke – and succeeded – at ramping up the pathos to never-before-seen levels. Now, the show was already wearing it's heart on its sleeve before this season came along, so this was a potentially risky move, but I think they managed to temper that by making sure that they also really brought the funny. But after three straight episodes that all ended with big emotional moments, it was about time for the show to bring back the comedy big time, and “The Comeback Kid” was able to do just that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Endings - "Meat the Parrots"

Season 3, Episode 11 

After last week's unexpected turn into serialized, and frankly more conventional, storytelling, there was a good deal of anticipation of what this episode of Happy Endings might bring, and what that may mean for the show from here on out. Surprisingly, the show didn't continue with the will-they-or-won't-they arc introduced last week, but they did keep the more conventional storytelling, once again to the show's detriment.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Modern Family - "Egg Drop"

Season 3, Episode 12

Twelve episodes. That's how long it's taken me to reach a place with Modern Family that so many critics reach with other shows: I've simply hit a wall in which I can't seem to find anything to new about this particular show. I keep hitting on the same criticisms that I outlined at the beginning of the season, and I'm sort of sick of it, as I'm sure you are as well. So tonight, in the interest of protecting everyone's sanity, and while I mull over whether or not to continue weekly coverage of the show, I would like to approach tonight's episode from a large scope and see if I can't come up with something a little different. Because frankly apart from one or two scenes, “Egg Drop” only served to continue Modern Family's descent into frustrating mediocrity.

Parenthood - "Just Smile"

Season 3, Episode 13

After last week's oddly-placed yet still incredibly wonderful side trip of an episode, Parenthood goes back full steam into serialized storytelling – or at least as serialized as this show can get. Given it's large ensemble cast and purposefully lax pacing and tone, Parenthood rarely manages to carry too many plots from episode to episode, and so apart from the occasional “cliffhanger”, it's rare to have any episode feel like it banks too heavily on any particular ongoing arc. So even if this episode didn't have that “gotta watch” quality that we expect from most show when they make similar returns to serialization, it did capture the show's “slice of life” feel in a way that made each of the stories pop. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Downton Abbey - "Series Two, Part I"

"I hate Greek drama – you know, where everything happens offstage."

Ah, the joys of the internet and international television. As you no doubt have already heard, the second season/series of Downton Abbey has been greeted with something of disdain and/or disappointment (the two seem to go hand in hand), first with slightly negative reviews when it aired over in England (and from those stateside who watched it through less than legal means), and then when it got hit with a second wave of criticism in the week leading up to tonight's premiere. Though one should never allow such things to cloud their judgment, given some of the vague criticisms I knew about this show beforehand, it's already apparent in the first two hours just where the season seems apt to go wrong, and I can't tell how worried I should be about the upcoming installments.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: Showtime's House of Lies

One of the biggest problems facing Showtime today – or I guess really, one of the biggest criticism of the channel, since it's not like it has problems racking up viewers or anything – is that all of its “comedies” aren't really all that funny. Now, this doesn't have to be an inherently bad thing; many “comedies” have given us great moments without being all that funny, like Louie or even Showtime's own United States of Tara. But far too often, these comedies contain the superficialities of humor – music cues, fast-paced scenes, quippy dialogue – without the jokes to back it up, and far too often these shows take the “dark comedy” label to mean that they can be super-depressing without giving us any sort of levity to balance it out. Showtime's latest offering, House of Lies, may not have any of these problems, but it's unfortunately brought down by even worse flaws.

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. The Kept Man"

Season 5, Episode 9 

What do you want from a series finale? What beats or plot points need to be covered so that a show can close out “successfully”? Now, obviously any answer to this question is going to be subjective, but in general finales tend to fall into one of two categories: either the wrap everything up nicely and they provide “closure”, or they purposely avoid such things in order to provide the sense that life will go on for these characters. Unsurprisingly, Chuck has taken the former route, and while that's certainly a move that fits into the established tone, here in the home stretch it's made for some fairly boring (and quite possibly unnecessary) wrap-up work.

SNL - "Charles Barkley/Kelly Clarkson"

Season 37, Episode 11 

So....Charles Barley is the host of tonight's SNL, for no real discernible reason outside of maybe promoting that new basketball talk show he's co-hosting with Shaq. Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh, but like many of the non-actor, non-comic hosts of the past, his presence here worries me, as I'm pretty sure that we'll be stuck with yet another host who gets sidelined in order to avoid too many instances of poor acting skills. In fact, I'm just going to predict that Barkely's going to play himself in a sketch at least once before the episode is out. So let's see how he did, shall we?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Happy Endings - "The Shrink, The Dare, Her Date, and Her Brother"

Season 2, Episode 10

About a month and a half ago, a friend of mine was asking me questions about the difficulties facing television (specifically comedies) in the light of every increasing ad breaks and the related decreasing of shows’ actual running times. It was a question that I sort of left unanswered for a while, both because I was in the midst of finals, and because there wasn’t anything substantial to my response that I deemed worth of writing a blog post over it. However, this latest episode of Happy Endings – a show that illustrates how comedies can work with only the room of 20 minutes and change to tell a story – seems to poised to raise that question once again, as it sought about to upend its regular formula for something more traditional, and frankly a little off-putting.

Modern Family - "Lifetime Supply"

Season 3, Episode 11

The latest episode of Modern Family had a structure that I liked – in that it allowed the family to come together at the very end – with some stories that I didn’t – because up until the closing scene, the families were once again separated under clich├ęd circumstances. The end result was a highly frustrating half-hour, as I felt the show mocking me with the possibilities of greatness, while simultaneously taking the easiest path to its storytelling.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Parenthood - "Road Trip"

Season 3, Episode 12

Parenthood is one of those shows that I don’t really write about, both because it airs in a timeslot where I’m already covering another show, and because while I enjoy it every time I sit down to watch it, it rarely stirs up enough of a response in me that I can feel as if I can work up a suitable review. Granted, I took a stab at doing so once, but that was  in the early days of the blog, when I seemed to want to write about every show I watch, which is a lot, and something that I don’t really have time for. And while I’ve been open to the idea of writing about this season, nothing has really grabbed my like the arc kicked off by “Do Not Sleep With Your Autistic Nephew’s Therapist” (which, incidentally, was one of my favorite television episodes of last year).

However, since I’ve got the next couple of weeks off from school, and Justified won’t come into this slot until the 17th, I thought I would take a stab at writing about it, as an writing exercise sure, but also so I can finally get my comments down on record, and so that I may possibly (possibly) write a post for the show’s finale come the end of February.

American Horror Story, Season One

With some thoughts on the show’s future

Try as I might, I was somehow unable to escape the gravitational force that is/was American Horror Story. I was avoiding the show because I tend to be a big, stoneless chicken when it comes to the horror genre, true, but the far more alienating factor was the fact that this was another show from Ryan Murphy, who I have a lot of gripes with as a showrunner. As anyone who reads my Glee reviews no doubt knows, I tend to like Murphy’s show better in theory than in practice, for while he’s great at creating premises that could lead to great drama, he rarely seems capable of using said premises to the greatest effect, as his storytelling style tends to focus on creating singular moments rather than tell a coherent style. This style is perhaps ratcheted up to full effect in AHS, and while that makes the show a complete train wreck, it’s also a train wreck that I couldn’t stop watching.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How I Met Your Mother - "Tailgate"

Season 7, Episode 13

Say, did you know that there was a new episode of How I Met Your Mother this week, just a day after New Years? No, well you can thank CBS for the inability to advertise for it properly and/or to stick to a more traditional television schedule. (I have this same problem with ABC starting new programming on Wednesday, but that’s neither here nor there.) If I were feeling more cynical tonight, I might think that CBS did this on purpose, to bury a lower quality episode in a timeslot where maybe a many people might not have seen it. Which is a shame, because as unaffecting as the episode was, it held a lot of importance for the season as a whole.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Spring Schedule

January’s here, and tonight there’s already a new crop of episodes, which means now is as good of a time as any to update the review schedule, this time to reflect the spring half of the “traditional” 2011-2012 TV season.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chuck - "Chuck Vs. The Baby"

Season 5, Episode 8

In terms of television narratives, the introduction of babies tends to mark a creative downturn for any show. It’s this truism that made me really nervous when, in the last seconds of last week’s episode, it was revealed that there was a child apparently important enough to be referred to as “the baby”, thus indicating that it held some importance to Sarah. I suppose all those fears were for naught, considering that “Chuck Vs. The Baby” didn't go somewhere as stupid as Sarah having a secret child, and in fact the little McGuffin actually led to some nice moments of pathos for Sarah as a character. However, that didn’t stop the episode from being sort of disappointing in its own way.