Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts on shows 12/12/11 - 12/18/11

This week, I'm bolding shows' names for reading convenience.

After not watching Boardwalk Empire since the seventh episode, I finally caught up last week. It's really a show that gets better as you keep watching episode after episode. The first couple episodes felt sluggish and I was just waiting to get the episodes done, but by the season finale, I was disappointed there were no episodes left.

Of course, I also have a bunch of criticism. First, the show is somewhat inapproachable in that none of the characters are likable and it feels as though the viewer is always at arm's length from the show. Nucky is a cold, deceitful gangster, and the other characters mostly fit into the mold. Cold and deceitful isn't always a losing combination, but Nucky isn't charming or menacing either. He's just mean. Probably the most expressive character, Jimmy, always has something on his lingering in his mind that he's distant most of the time. The only character who seems like a good person is Margaret, but she's only one character out of many. These characters being unlikable is hard to swallow when the plot isn't exactly moving fast.

Second, the decision to kill off Jimmy seemed a bit much. While I understand how this is a huge step for Nucky, killing off his adopted son as a signal to those watching, Jimmy was a great character. He'd inject life into the show, when other characters were being their calm selves, and Michael Pitt was a clear stand out. Without Jimmy, the show will be very different.

Homeland's excellent season finale capped a terrific first season, paralleled by few shows. There are actually some criticisms out there, so I wanted to make some points.

1) Homeland is a character-driven show. The show isn't about unlocking Abu Nazir's web of conspiracies, finding his lair, and killing him. The show isn't about gun fights and explosions. It's about characters dealing with the unique situations given to them. It doesn't matter how Abu Nazir formed his plan, how long he's been planning the specific plot. Yeah, it seems a tad far fetched, but we don't know the details. In place of plot machinations, we got an intimate glimpse into the War on Terror, Saul, Brody's family, Brody, and Carrie.

2) Brody must live. The writers don't want Homeland to be 24. There aren't moles in every corner, or an evil, white villain glaring from atop a skyscraper. Think what happens if Brody does die. A new villain? That's... original. By keeping Brody alive, the writers can continue to push the Carrie-Brody plot--something that has as much potential now as it did in the middle of the season--in addition to the billion other unexplored things about Brody. And who doesn't want to watch Damian Lewis for another season?

3) The vest malfunctioning was a big plot device, yes, but a plausible one. The vest wasn't exactly an expensive, machine-manufactured suicide vest--as there are none. It was built by hand in a basement and has exposed wires all over the place. Obviously, while Brody was jostled around, the wires got loose.

4) The season finale of The Killing is much different than Homeland's. Does it matter who killed Rosie Larson? The answer, emphatically, is no. There was literally a suspect a week and by the end, after all the tedious runarounds, anyone could have been the murderer. In Homeland, we know the linchpin of the plot is Brody. He was ready to kill himself, actually flipped the switch, but later decided to save himself, ready to take the political mantle in the second season. Things will definitely change, in line with the idea that a second season should be different than the first. On the other hand, the second season premiere of The Killing could well serve as the next episode of the first season.

I was surprised to learn in Hell on Wheel's preview that there are only three episodes left this season. Is that it? This piece of information compounds everything wrong with the show. Nothing's really happened. Troubles randomly pop up, troubles are solved, and it's all good. The drama, conflict, and backstory feel so manufactured, I'd argue they're worse than in Dexter.

Speaking of Dexter, the season finale fit with the rest of the season. It was bad. Travis was more goofball than villain, and the plot was tepid. The season did end with a good twist, though, with Deb spying Dexter killing Travis. But that couldn't make up for a season of missteps and continued mistakes from previous seasons like the terrible supporting characters. This interview with showrunner Scott Buck just about summarizes how clueless he is. Worst of all he says this of Deb-Dex: "I’m not aware that there’s an ick factor, but that’s certainly not going to affect where we go with that story." Really? Really?? Really??? Really???? Dexter and Deb have been brother and sister since they were kids. They're not biologically related, but obviously there is a social stigma related to incest regardless of blood. Maybe he's saying that to absolve something from his own life... or Professor Gellar is in his mind too.

The counterpart to last week's Leverage episode was the male-centric episode and while the main plot wasn't as good, I liked seeing how everything fit together. It's a cool way of telling stories, a two-parter of sorts where the pieces intersect occasionally.

Chuck had a plot-heavy episode and like previous of the type, it wasn't good. It was exactly bad, but I don't watch Chuck for plot and there weren't that many character interactions in the episode.

Grimm had a poorly-constructed episode which was out of character for the show. The girl in the woods with the long hair, the Grimm version of Rapunzel, could have had potential, but led to an episode where there were way too many extra characters and parts that were never dealt with.

My memory with regards to when I last commented on The Mentalist is hazy, but I have some general comments on this season since the show won't be back until January. The fourth season isn't as strong as the third season, which started with a heavy emphasis on Red John, and has generally stayed with the standalone cases. That said, Jane is must less of a dick than he was in the second season. Last week's Mentalist episode was about Jane being a dick after losing his memory. His roughish behavior hasn't exactly changed, but the end result--which for him is usually positive--is very mean towards the Lisbon, Cho, Rigsby, and Van Pelt who were trying to help him. The sad thing is that he needed his family to die for him to be a good person and productive member of society. I'm curious to see whether Jane will remain the way he is, without memories, for a few more episodes, or whether seeing the Red John face brings him back to normal.

I guess Viven dying on American Horror Story was something worth talking about. Other than that, it was more or less the same. The writers don't specify the rules by which the house operates, so they make up whatever shit they want as they go, under the guise that the house is haunted.

Glee's Christmas episode was..... crap. There was zero plot other than random references to things and the whole thing stunk of indulgence. The characters became dolls to participate in a generic medley of computer generated Christmas music.

Enlightened ended its first season without much fanfare in the media, but I'll admit that I was enlightened. When the series first began, I remember not knowing what the show was or what would happen beyond the introductory pilot. Even after watching 10 episodes, I don't know another show like it, with little plot movement but so many somber moments.

Terra Nova remains shockingly boring. Between "I need to do homework!!!!" and Skye being caught and given a slap on her wrist, there's hardly anything worth watching anymore. From the outset, the writers made a couple critical mistakes. None of the characters ever went beyond their stereotypes and nothing surprising ever happened. There was always a happy ending, no matter what happened. From there, when things did get rough, there were still no consequences for the notable characters. Everyone's still fine, doing their boring things.

I got around to watching the Bag of Bones miniseries and it was better than I expected, though my expectations were pretty low. The novel didn't have a strong plot anyway, relying more on imagery than tangible things happening, and while the adaptation tried to put more meat on the story, it didn't really work. Four hours was just too long for what paltry plot was there to be sustainable.
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