Monday, February 27, 2012

How I Met Your Mother - "No Pressure"/"Karma"

Season 7, Episodes 17-18 

“I swear to God, if they're are any other surprises, I'm going to hit someone.” 

After practically rage-quitting the show two weeks ago, I had honestly meant to review last week's episode, but as is increasingly the case this semester, school got in the way, and I was forced to shift this review into a double post that couples it with tonight's episode. Well, the television criticism gods must have been looking down on me, because while I wasn't entirely sure what to say about last week's episode, when I look at this pair I can't help but wonder and worry about the way that the show seems to be rolling out its story plots this season.

The Walking Dead - "18 Miles Out"

Season 2, Episode 10 

“The right choice is the one that keeps us alive.” 

Tonight's The Walking Dead flipped a bit of conventional wisdom about the show on its head; while the SOP in reviewing the show has been to compliment the action sequence and whinge about how the character work and conversational scenes are all slow and boring and whatnot. Tonight however, we got what feels like the first conversational scenes that actually meant something, and that were able to evoke any sort of legitimate emotional response. (And we got some more zombie action sequences. Because this show knows why people really tune in.) 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fringe - "The End of All Things"

Season 4, Episode 14

“You have to go home.” 

This week, I did something different in order to process this episode of Fringe. I got together with a few of my friends on Google Hangout, and we set about talking about the episode. This exercise came about thanks to some Facebook conversations about the show, and our collective desire to really talk about the show in a more suitable format to exchange our idea. For my part, it was an interesting experiment, as I finally was able to have an active experience of this season's divisive nature, something which living alone and the diminished “water cooler culture” haven't exactly facilitated. Fittingly, our conversation clued me into the various views when it comes to the season's big questions, a debate which only helped to solidify my position that the season's biggest problem is it's inability to define its narrative. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Walking Dead - "Triggerfinger"

Season 2, Episode 9 

“You missed all that gun training. Could have come in handy now.” 

One of the biggest complaints against the show – one that I and many others have made, especially in it's second season – is that there is always too much talking, and not enough zombie action (or really any sort of action, really). Now, depending on who you talk to, the problem with this formula is that (for fans of zombie/horror films) there's not enough explicitly action-oriented scenes, or (for those who decry The Walking Dead as the symbol of AMC's artistic decline) that those scenes that don't have any action don't do enough character-, world-, or story-building to be worthwhile. While I understand the former complaints (zombie action is the only thing the show seems to do well at this point), as a fan of character driven drama, I count myself in the latter camp.

“Triggerfinger” then, as one of the most-action oriented episodes of the entire season, raises some interesting questions about exactly what kind of action we expect/need from any given episode, and whether that those scenes also need their own specific context in order to work. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fringe - "A Better Human Being"

Season 4, Episode 13

“There really aren't any normal days on this job, are there?” 

In order to truly appreciate what “A Better Human Being” is up against, it's important to recognize the long shadow that was cast by “Welcome to Westfield”. That that episode seemed to answer a lot of the complaints that had been lobbed against the show's fourth seasons – for an hour at least – while also providing some important and intriguing development of the mast plot set the bar fairly high for any episode that would come after. To that end, “A Better Human Being” was never likely to be that great of an episode in comparison, and it would only be fair not to be too hard on it. But that doesn't mean that the episode gets a complete pass, especially when it was so close to being on par with “Westfield.”

Archer - "El Scandalo"

Season 3, Episode 8 

Continuing the seasons' theme of referencing and proportioning past episodes to generate laughs, “El Scandalo” is perhaps the episode that has done the greatest amount of lifting so far this season. Unsurprisingly (and perhaps a bit troubling) is the fact that this also makes it one of the strongest episodes of the seasons. 

The Office - "Tallahassee"

Season 8, Episode 15

Much like with last week's post, I'm going to keep this one brief, as I'm really only interested in if and how splitting the denizens of the office into two separate groups helps to inject any sort of creative energy into the show, and whether that makes for a better episode overall. The short answer is yes, but only when the show is truly able to leave old dynamics behind.

Parks And Recreation - "Dave Returns"

Season 4, Episode 15

While watching “Dave Returns” I couldn't shake the feeling as if the Parks and Recreation writers were splitting their bets between this and last week's episodes as to which one should be Valentine's Day themed. Okay, that's not entirely true, considering that “Operation Ann” was so explicitly about romance that it even had a scene at a V-Day dance. But it is interesting to note how the theme of romance bridges these two episodes, both in terms of continued Ann/Tom arc, and in the larger sense as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Endings - "Everybody Loves Grant"

Season 2, Episode 13 

Picking up where we left off emotionally last week, this week's episode of Happy Endings triples down on all the sweet, sweet James Wolk action, and gives us another crackerjack of an episode. 

SNL - "Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells"

Season 37, Episode 15 

“So many memories, so much laughter, and so much casual intercourse.” 

Maya Rudolph holds an interesting place in SNL history; she is one of the show's alum that lots of people like – I count myself among them – even in the face of so many reasons why they shouldn't. Perhaps Rudolph's greatest (or at least best-remembered) contribution to the show was her series of impression of the loudest female African-American celebrities of the day (Oprah, Whitey Houston). This lead to the idea that Rudolph was an always over-the-top actress, and indeed, many of her original recurring and one-off characters existed within this vein. (Her role on Up All Night hasn't really helped this perception.) However, Rudolph could in fact reign in her acting when the sketch called for it – which wasn't often enough – and so she has better acting chops than people give her credit for. So it will be interesting to see if tonight if the show will allow Rudolph to exist in a more natural mode, or if we'll just be subjected to the umpteenth iteration of “Bronx Beat”. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Justified - "Thick as Mud"

Season 3, Episode 5 

“I'm a desperate man.” 

Playing off of the recent world building that the past two episodes have done, “Thick as Mud” uses that same mentality by giving us an episode that wouldn't in theory seem like it could work, but excels and pops when on scree. And it's all thanks to the show focusing on one characters, perhaps the most pathetic in it's entire roster: one Dewey Fuckin' Crowe.

When we first met Dewey back in the pilot, Raylan quickly got the jump on him, handcuffing him to the steering wheel of the car that he was driving and busting up his nose in the process. Ever since then, Dewey's come to represent the the worst of the Harlan crime world – he's dumb, overly complacent with being a second (or third, or fourth) fiddle to whatever criminal enterprise he happens to be a part of, and he'll follow any slight charismatic criminal leader anywhere, often to his own detriment. To that end, centering an episode around such a pathetic figure would seem to be a risky move on the part of a show that often asks us to bask in the badassery of the characters on screen, but it's a gamble that paid off by giving us one of the best – and funniest – episodes that the show has ever produced. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cougar Town - "Ain't Love Strange"

Season 3, Episode 1

In the months leading up to the premiere of the show's thirds season – even before a specific return date was set – Bill Lawrence and the cast and writers of Cougar Town implemented their own grassroots campaign to increase awareness for the show, doing everything from a death march of reviews, twittering their thumbs off, hosting a Paley center panel, releasing a 10 minutes spoiler reel to make sure people understood that the show's original premise is no longer in use, and even throwing up viewing parties all over the nation where fans could gather, watch the first few episodes of the show, and drink oh so much wine.

As such, this paragraph is not for you, the fan who clicked on through. You can skip down a little if you like. No, these opening paragraphs are written to appear on blog's main page, where someone randomly scrolling through other posts might see it and briefly flirt their eyes over these words. To those people, I would suggest the following. Read these inspired pleas from Ryan McGee and Maureen Ryan. Then visit this post from Alan Sepinwall, whose collected a number of clips from the past two seasons to show exactly how the show shed it's old premise and became so much better for it. Then if you are still not convinced, go visit the 10 minute reel I mentioned above. I readily admit that Cougar Town's sense of humor is purposefully specific and a little weird, and in no way to I expect it to appeal to everybody. But if you've never seen the show, or you wrote it off based on the first few episodes (I don't blame you), you owe it to yourself to give it a real, honest-to-goodness chance, lest you miss out on something that you might enjoy as much as I and many others do.

Because as all the fans who actually watched the premiere know, it was pretty fucking great, and an excellent example of why the show needs to stick around for year to come. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alcatraz - "Paxton Petty"

Season 1, Episode 6 

Say, do you care about the central characters of Alcatraz? If you don't, do you care about caring about them? Do you wish that the show would give us more personal stories so that you could get to know them and eventually reach a place where you could care about them? Well, if you're in that small section of the show's audience, then you're in luck, because you got a whole lot of you coming at ya. And just it times for Valentine's Day, it all has to do with love. Awwwww...... 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How I Met Your Mother - "The Drunk Train"

Season 7, Episode 16 

The main lesson that was learned out of season six, by both the audience and the writers, was that How I Met Your Mother could handle emotional beats that were far more affecting than most people would have ever consider possible on contemporary four-camera sitcoms. (I realize that HIMYM isn't produced or edited like a traditional four-cam, but it still is, in style, comedic rhythms, and tone.) Thus season seven as leaned hard on this approach a lot, and while I appreciate this move in theory (I love shows that can deftly mix humor and pathos), I'm beginning to wonder if the show is doing this a bit too much, because things are getting a bit ridiculous. 

The Walking Dead - "Nebraska"

Season 2, Episode 8 

“We bury the ones we love, and burn the rest.” 

In the formless, motionless mass that was the first half of The Walking Dead's second season, there was a lot of disappointment of unrealized potential, and what made “Pretty Much Dead Already” such a standout among a season of bland was that it's final minutes seemed to provide a new way forward, an antidote to the fairly rudderless hours that had come before it. The problem with creating big emotional cliffhangers however, especially on a show like TWD which is usually defined by how little occurs, is that it becomes hard to steer through these curves and come out the other side as both the show you were before and still affected by the latest blowout. “Nebraska” tries to have it both ways, of course, but it really just falls back on past beats, and that's a problem.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Downton Abbey - Series Two, Parts VI & VII

“Aren't all of us stuck with the choices we've made?” 

I would like to start with an apology over the glib comments I used to close out last week's review, wherein I chastised Julian Fellowes for seeming to wrap up certain storylines in a way that seemed to return the show to its earlier status quo, and thus continue his weird defense of the British class system. Yet as the first half of tonight's concluding episodes (next week's two hour Christmas Special is treated as a quasi-separate entity) makes clear, things have seriously changed in Downton, regardless of whatever the family tries to do to stem the tide. 

Fringe - "Welcome to Westfield"

Season 4, Episode 12

"So you just click your heels and think of home?"

In the past few reviews, I have essentially broken Fringe's standalone episodes into tow categories, those that have a strong emotional connection to the larger arcs and those that don't, and I have basically held the former in reverence while displaying some contempt for the latter. It's been unfair of me to do so, especially considering that such discussions also usually involve me saying that I have nothing against the procedural format in theory, just that few shows ever manage to tell standalone stories that work as well as they could.

What's even more unfair of me was the fact that I've left out a third option for the standalone episodes, one that I haven't even thought of in relation to this show in a long,long time: it's the standalone cases that works to further the overall season arc, even as it provides a satisfactory conclusion for the events of this hour. It's a formula perfected by Alias, and continued on show's like Justified, and Fringe even did some in it's earlier seasons, though specific episodes now escape me. It's to that end that I want to say that I enjoyed “Welcome to Westfield” quite a bit, and I consider it to be one of the best hours of the seasons. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

SNL - "Zooey Deschanel/Karmin"

Season 37, Episode 14

Internet, are you ready for the most controversial, talked about episode in recent SNL memory? For reasons that I can't even fathom, SNL has chosen two personalities that inspire online love and hate in equal measure – Zooey Deschanel and musical duo Karmin. I have nothing against Deschanel personally (although really, Karmin is just awful), so it will be interesting to see if and how her well known twee personality either helps or hinders the show. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Office - "Special Project"

Season 8, Episode 14 

As you may recall, I always said that my coverage of The Office's eighth season was going to be sporadic, and I would drop in and out of the show as my interest warated, based on whether there was anything interesting new and different for me to discuss. And so it was that not long into this season, I simply stopped writing about it, even as I watched every episode (and tried on some occasion to produce even the slightest post), so formulaic had the show becomes. However, thanks to having the next few weeks from class off, I'll have the opportunity to talk about the next few episode, which based on this latest offering will really peak my interest.

Archer - "Drift Problem"

Season 3, Episode 7 

“So, how much did Dodge kick in?” 

Adam Reed has written for every single episode of Archer to date, and with a few exceptions, he does this entirely on his own, which is probably both a cost-cutting measure, and a way to exercise strict creative control. It's work that I'm sure is quite tiring for Reed, and I bring this up as the only half-assed way I can think of to bury the lede. This just wasn't a good episode of Archer. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this is the worst that the show has ever done, and what makes it really disappointing was that it comes in the middle of an incredibly strong season, one that was giving me plenty of material to work with critically, And yet somehow that all fell apart with “Drift Problem”. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy Endings - "The St. Valentine's Day Maxssacre"

Season 2, Episode 12 

About half an hour or so after this latest episode of Happy Endings ended, the Paley Center hosted a panel discussion for Cougar Town (whose third season will premiere on Tuesday at 8:30/7:30c, justsoyouknow), which was actually moderated by co-creator Bill Lawrence. While there were a whole lot of nuggets for any Cougar Town fan, the thing that really stuck with me was something Courtney Cox said about ensemble dynamics and guest stars. In an attempts to compare CT with her previous show Friends, she said that the latter show's best episodes always centered around just the six main characters, and didn't use any sort of guest stars, special or otherwise.

Obviously, it's something that resonated with me in the light of just having seen “The St. Valentine's Day Maxssacre”, which was a fine return to form for the show after a string of lower-than-normal-quality episodes, which reached it's nadir with the last new episode, “Makin' Changes”. (And know you know why I didn't even bother writing up a review for that particular episode.) 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Justified - "Harlan Roulette"/"The Devil You Know"

Season 3, Episodes 3-4

One of the things that's impressed me so much about this season of Justified is how, over the past two episodes especially, it's begun to cull the inhabitants of the world that it's build over the prior two seasons, to the extent that it's becoming something like the drama equivalent of The Simpsons, or perhaps more appropriately, Parks and Recreation. It's an important step for the show to take, because it means that anytime that the show needs to rely on a standalone cases – as it's done every episode so far this season – it can use characters that we already know, and having these personalities drive the cases, and that makes them far more interesting. 

Alcatraz - "Cal Sweeney"/"Guy Hastings"

Season 1, Episodes 4-5

“Four down, and a hell of a lot more to go.”

Sometimes the best of intentions can go wry. After waiting three episodes and over two weeks to get my first post with all my thoughts on Alcatraz published, I was all jazzed to continue the discussion, by breaking down each of my complaints further, point by point, until I had either exhausted them all or the show had shown a significant uptick in quality. But then grad school did what it always does, and it got in the way. Therefore, I was left to do yet another multi-episode post, which are fun experiment to do when I “get” the chance to do so, but always make me feel like I'm not able to do enough in depth analysis.

Lucky for me then that the past two episodes of the show both revolved around my main complaint about the show – the overly procedural nature of it all – while being in contrast to one another with a criminal at the heart of one episode, and a guard in the second. Luckier still was that Monday's episode felt like a significant improvement for the show, as if it had finally found a more entertaining way forward.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How I Met Your Mother - "46 Minutes"/"The Burning Beekeeper"

Season 7, Episode 14-15 

I know, I know, I skipped reviewing the last episode of How I Met Your Mother. I'm sorry. “46 Minutes" was the sort of episode that I enjoyed, even if I couldn't find a whole lot to say about it. But considering that both that episode and tonight's centered around Marshall and Lilly's new home, I think as a pair they serve as an important reminder of the new avenues that this locale will open up, as well as the limitations.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Smash - "Pilot"

“Why doesn't anybody do new musicals anymore?” 

Given the financial straights that NBC is currently in, Smash in many ways is just another show that's become the victim of it's circumstances, where the meta-narrative surrounding it seems to encompass the actual issue of the show's narrative quality. Given the money that went into making this pilot, the Glee-bandwagon-jumping high-concept, and the overly aggressive marketing campaign, is it any wonder that whenever anybody looks at it, all they see is NBC's latest “make-it-or-break” it show? In fact, the best part of Smash's premiere may be the knowledge that once that 10 o'clock hour strikes, we can all leave the hellish nightmare of over-promotion. Because even though Smash makes a solid debut, I doubt it's going to be the kind of show that build a passionate fanbase, or even inspire the regular water-cooler buzz that NBC is surely hoping for. 

Downton Abbey - "Series Two, Part V"

“They're going to be facing a very different world after the war.” 

So far, I've refrained from commenting on the effect that the PBS edits of Downton Abbey's second season, because I believe it would be wrong to criticize the show for issues of plotting or pacing that arise only as a result of the show being brought stateside. Not only would that amount to whinging when I should instead be thankful that the show is being brought stateside by any legal means, but it would also go against my resolution to always keep authorial intent in mind when I write these reviews. But the editing problems of last night's episode were so severe that they must be addressed, especially since they ended up making already ludicrous plot even worse. 

Fringe - "Forced Perspective"/"Making Angels"

Season 4, Episode 10-11 

“I have found that anger is usually joined with emotional investment.” 

Two weeks ago, I responded to the presence of an obvious standalone case appearing right when things with the master plot where starting to get interesting just as one might expect me to – glibly. My thoughts on the current state of the show have been made explicitly clear throughout the season, and while “Enemy of My Enemy” still gave us very little reason to care about the people in Earth Without Peter, it at least gave us something that had been sorely lacking for most of the season: momentum. So to see the show give us something to derail that momentum for the sake of a standalone case was disheartening, especially given how disconnected from the master plot “Forced Perspective” ended up being.

Yet it most also be mentioned that Fringe is always surprisingly good with its character work, albeit more fitfully than I would like, and “Making Angels”, while also being a standalone episode, delivered well on that front – or at least as well as it could do in a season full of people we technically don't know. This raises some interesting question about where we are with this show, that the show can have two standalones back-to-back, and only feel the need to have one even try to connect with the audience.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Parks and Recreation - "Operation Ann"

Season 4, Episode 14 

One of the major complaints lobbed against last week's episode – both by me and other critics – is that it depicted Leslie completely unrestrained, and tested the limits of the character's likability. Parks and Recreation is a comedy, of course, and (most) comedies are supposed to have their characters act outlandish in order to get laughs, but having Leslie acts selfishly ignorant to what's going on around her threatens our ability to like and root for the character, which I would argue is essential to show keeping an audience, especially in the middle of a storyline that she's Leslie running for public office. So it was a positive that “Operation Ann” took a step aside from the political race and reminded us of just what a awesome person Leslie Knope truly is. 

Archer - "The Limited"

Season 3, Episode 6 

Tackling Archer's third season as I have, by discussing the various ways that the show does and does not conform to it's formula (or if it even has a formula), and whether or not that is a detriment to the show's humor and comedic rhythms, has been an interesting one, for while I still enjoy the show immensely, I'm always waiting for that other shoe to drop, and for the format to stop paying off dividends. But “The Limited”, which works in many ways like a sequel to the first season classic “Skytanic”, would seem to suggest otherwise, that the show can keep working in the same format, provided it finds ways to changed up the elements for every episode. 

SNL - "Channing Tatum/Bon Iver"

Season 37, Episode 13 

SNL has had its odd choices of host over the years, those people that you just hear about and go “Really? That person? They'll be terrible.” Channing Tatum is one of those people. Frankly, I'm still astounded that his career has taken off as it has, given that his incredibly wooden acting style. He's only moderately successful when given the chance to send up his lunkhead public image, and even SNL can't trade on that skill for an entire episode. So tonight's going to make for an interesting, and most likely painful, experience.