Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reviews 6/19/12 - 6/25/12

The Newsroom is supposed to leave viewers misty-eyed at the end of the pilot, reminiscent of a bygone era when Americans could trust journalists to give them the truth every night of the week. In this regard, Aaron Sorkin succeeds. He is a master of drawing pathos out of nowhere, after all. The massive problems quickly arise, however, when Sorkin thinks he has good ideas--which is about all the time. He's not a deep thinker, someone who really understands anything at all, and yet his ideological bent is so present that an outside viewer, with no knowledge of Sorkin, may mistake the show for a parody. This begins in the pilot's opening monologue when the main character, a news anchor, rants about why America is no longer the greatest nation.

In full he says, "We stood up for what was right, we fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons, we waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men, we aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy. We were able be these things and do these things because we were informed by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country anymore."

The first part about the past is, of course, a crock of bullshit by anyone who knows anything about history, and the second part about the "great men" is just dishonest pandering to the media elite. Fundamentally, Aaron Sorkin does not understand why America is the greatest country. Prior to the monologue, the main character rattles off America's rankings in various subjects, adding that the only thing America is first in is military spending. (Herein lies Sorkin's uncritical mind. More reasonable analysis would point out that America has by far the largest GDP in the world and that comparable countries spend a much lower share of their GDP on military expenditures. A statement like this would show that the US is indeed rich as fuck (the real reason for being #1) but also that perhaps the US does spend too much on the military. Stupid statements with no perspective, like pointing out that the US spends more than the next 26 countries combined, means nothing without context. (Journalists seem to love numbers--26, 40 quadrillion barrels, 100 thousand barrels--which hardly mean anything, and are adverse to percentages and comparisons.) But what do I know, I'm not a journalist.

The Newsroom keys in on broadcast journalism, and there are actually a few good moments in the pilot when everyone is scrambling after the Deepwater Horizon rig blows up and they are trying to figure out what happened. The tension in newsroom--the uncertainty of what happened and what's going to happen, whether the story will blow up in their faces--is exciting stuff. Unfortunately, it also shows what's wrong with journalism. Who are these journalists? Are they experts about anything? The answer, after seeing the characters interact for over an hour, is an emphatic no. These are regular people, spurned to action by proximity to computers with the AP wire, not education or special ability. Then they try to dig deeper. "Should government regulators have done more?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?" We see the uncritical eye of journalist and the problem with the 24/7 newscycle. They look for a simple answers to problems, thinking there are never tradeoffs between things. Suppose the rigs have a 0.001% chance of exploding in a year, and suppose checking them once a month reduces this risk to 0.00099% (either by catching a problem or companies being more careful as a result), then is there a clear imperative that they should be checked each month? What happens when a serious fault is found? Is there an incentive through a fine/punishment so companies make sure there are no problems, even minor ones? Shouldn't this be important information for these "great men?"  (Obviously I have no clue about any specifics, but that's the kind of information I'd like to know.) At the most basic level, these journalists should recognize that no one wants an oil rig to blow up and that the risk of explosion may depend on how much things cost, but apparently no one cared to find out these things.

There is instant reaction to developing stories, regardless of all the facts. Journalists are so eager to get the story out and they know so little that they end up going on air, spouting off a few choice facts, getting into the faces of interviewees, entertaining the public, and suddenly they're supposed to be revered. That's horseshit and apparently what Aaron Sorkin is promoting.

I caught up on The Killing in the past week, and if there's one thing that was clear to me after watching episodes consecutively, it's that you can't keep the tone and lighting of a show so gloomy for 26 episodes. It's not the story that bothered me (though a good story could have helped) so much as the sluggishness and overall feel of the show. By the end, I just wanted it to be over with. As for the eventual reveal of the real killer Terry, I thought that came together fairly well. I believe in my first review of The Killing, I predicted the killer would be Jamie, thinking his crazy political aspirations would lead him to kill. Close enough, I guess!

Falling Skies hasn't changed, unfortunately. This week's episode featured one of the stupidest moments on the series, Tom volunteering to join the Berserkers right after they try to kill him. This is somehow supposed to make sense, but it just makes Tom look either stupid or too boy scout. The rest of the episode is a tad more sensible. Jimmy gets killed off kind of randomly and a plane supposedly from Charleston arrives. In the end, the group heads south for Charleston where great promises await. The characters didn't seem to mind that it sounded far too good to be true, though. I guess that never happened in Tom's history books.

True Blood always starts seasons quickly, but this season is quite different, with the third episode essentially repeating everything in the second episode, which was already a bit sparse. We get different looks at the same situation, but overall it was a bit surprisingly to see the season proceed in this manner. Maybe this means the end of the season will be exciting for change. The stuff that is usually good remained good, so Pam's flashbacks were great, as well as the exploration into vampire history. Of course there was the usual bad parts with Tara and the pointless Terry parts.

I have been reluctant to comment on Continuum since it doesn't air in the US, but by the time it reaches Syfy, I'll probably have forgotten everything. The show continues to expand on the future and it also dived into time travel mechanics, namely what would happen if someone's ancestor was killed. As we saw in this week's episode, killing one's grandmother does nothing to that person. Huge implications for the future and whether Kiera can actually return to where she belongs.

Suits builds on the discord sown in the season two premiere with more drama and setup for the future. This time we see more Rachel and how she fits in to Mike's life. Mike wants to be with her and honest, but Harvey recognizes that more people should not know about Mike's secret, and since Harvey has more power, Mike has to comply. They haven't reached the stage yet where Mike would be willing to blackmail Harvey, but that's definitely a possibility, given their predicament.

Burn Notice seems to have gotten a second wind in its sixth season, although it's yet to be seen whether it lasts. With Fiona dealing with people in prison and Michael not thinking straight, there are more elements which actually matter than in previous seasons when there was a random big bad to contend with.

Wilfred is a puzzling show and the second season premiere may be the most puzzling episode yet. It drags us back and forth between Ryan's work and the mental institution, both equally crazy places, before settling in a world where Ryan is still a lawyer, albeit a very tired one, Jenna is still there but is with another guy (Edit: it's Drew, actually), and the basement exists. At the end of the day, Wilfred is a show about a talking dog. It'll be delightful no matter what, regardless of the plot.

Dallas took a step down in the second week as we got to see how the show would go without the normal expository material. There is more of the shady dealings, backstabbings, and characters trying to control their feelings, but also a lot more of the clunky, juvenile science from the first two episodes. It's embarrassingly bad. Even the most seasoned actors wouldn't be able to make it sound believable.

Royal Pains is trying to go for more drama this season and I'm hesitant to say whether this was a good move. Admittedly, Hank and Evan fighting is more interesting than the usual storylines, but this constant sniping undermines their characters and makes them all look back, Divya included. One thing I'll say for certain is that the handling of Jill's story has been horrific. The writers drag out her leaving for a season, then abruptly has her job taken away right before leaving, and then in last week's episode gets a new, better job in Africa. WTF?
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