Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reviews 7/10/12 - 7/16/12

I’ve fallen way behind on television once again. I’ve watched all the USA shows, but still need to watch multiple episodes of The Newsroom, Continuum, Common Law, and this week’s episode of Perception. I’m probably leaving out some other. The main point is, it’ll be a while before I catch up.

Breaking Bad will go down in history was one of the greatest television shows ever. Its unrelenting pace, its distinct visual style, its monumental acting performances will forever be remembered. What I will remember most is Vince Gilligan’s handling of the show, his impeccable planning and foresight. There are plenty of wishy-washy shows out there, which either make stuff up as they go or don’t have anywhere good to go. Breaking Bad stands out among all shows, with its ability to shock viewers at all turns at any time in a season, not just at the beginning and end. Each season flows in the next, setting up potential conflicts and characters relevant in the current season and also in the future. It is in this way that Breaking Bad reached its fifth and final season.

The fifth season starts with an ominous flash ahead to Walt’s 52nd birthday. He’s at a diner in the northeast, far away from home, haggard with facial hair and a crestfallen demeanor. He buys a machine gun, cuing us into the fact that bad shit will go down this season. We go back to the present in the aftermath of Gus’s death. Walt is running around, cleaning up after himself, getting rid of the poisonous plant among other incriminating items. This is all good—until he realizes the biggest piece of evidence, the surveillance camera. He and Jesse drag Mike, who is still recovering, back to help them, as they are all doomed if they don’t do anything. They end up having to destroy Gus laptop which is in police lockup, and do so in a funny way, with a giant magnet from the junkyard guy. They end up getting away, although they have to leave behind the truck after it tipped over. The bigger problem for them is Hank, who recognizes the lab was exactly what Gale drew and is ever more determined to get to the bottom of Gus’s operation. Meanwhile, we see what happened to Ted and it’s not pretty. He’s paralyzed and bald, and won’t tell anyone about what happened, or so he claims to Skylar. The season premiere ends with Walt hugging Skylar and telling her he forgives her. Sure, Walt, we believe you.

I guess True Blood is finally getting somewhere. Yes, it’s still all over the place with storylines flying by left and right, but the vampire story is going somewhere. The episode ends with Russell miraculously breaking free and killing Law & Order, a surprising twist since Christopher Meloni was the main new character. We still don’t know what the fuck is happening, but Russell is now on the loose and stuff will happen. The rest of the stories are okay, Hoyt getting dragged into a vampire killing crew, the fire monster, Sookie and Jason finding the faerie club, Tara-Jessica drama. 

Political Animals is a confusing show. It airs on USA, not known in the past half-decade for having serious programming, and its lighting is similar to other shows on the network. But its subject matter and tone seem to be serious with the bulimia, homosexuality in the White House, infidelity, dramatic outbursts throughout the first episode. And yet, it’s hard to take the show seriously. Right off the bat, it’s obviously about Hilary Clinton, and the show goes out of its way to make this comparison so many times that it gets dumb after a while. Worst of all is Ciarán Hinds's hideous Bill Clinton accent which is basically a parody. In many ways, the characters on the show are less competent than those on Veep, a parody about the Vice President and her staff. Barrish's staff is utterly confused about anything the Iranians do, and the antics with the Russian foreign minister are just childish, in an attempt to be playful. Altogether, the show tries to be super-dramatic like an HBO show while maintaining the fun of its USA counterparts. These don’t work in context of the Secretary of State, a crucially important role in the world where a mistake has real consequences.

In an attempt to fix Falling Skies, new showrunner Remi Aubuchon has taken the approach of having plot developments come very fast and without warning. A few weeks ago it was Weaver’s daughter returning out of nowhere, this week is was Weaver falling ill and Karen returning out of nowhere. While these plot developments are fine, the way in which they are handled leave much to be desired. They randomly happened, so there’s no flow between episodes and at the end of the episode, the immediate problems are resolved. Ben and Karen run off at the end of the episode, but is there any indication what will happen next? Not really. The other change is that he's focusing more on relationships, and they're all pretty lame with lots of silliness like Tom suddenly calling Anne his dead wife's name.

Now in its fifth season, there isn’t much Leverage hasn’t done yet. The show has always been fun, with elaborate schemes and funny characters, but none of the overarching, season-long plots have ever worked. The season premiere finds the team in Portland, after Boston got burned in the fourth season finale. They have a new place above a brewery, and quickly get to helping little people and bringing down the bad guys. The episode ends with Hardison and Nate up to something, reminiscent of the “mystery dialogue” that started all the previous arcs. Yawn.

Suits continues to move along perfectly in its second season. We get to see more of Louis and Donna, and learn what they are about, while the overall plot develops to set the stage for a rich battle between the factions at Pearson Hardman. Now the firm is facing fraud charges and Donna knows the memo exists, trouble not only for the firm but also the characters individually. But WTF was up with Rachel's plot? Is there something in Meghan Markle's contract that says she has to be in every episode?

I wasn’t planning on reviewing Louie and Anger Management this week, but I have to note how astounded I am that they are on the same network, airing on the same night. On the one hand, there is Louie, in which Louie goes off to Miami and has a good, eventually awkward, time. It diverges from normal episodes, but is similar to previous travel episodes and the audience can recognize what it is. Then there is Anger Management, which is just about the same every week. Charlie has the patients at his house, sitting on the couches, being weird. Charlie then is at the prison with the inmates, sitting in a circle, being weird. Charlie is then with Kate, sitting opposite each other, talking about sex.

If Damages had maintained the quality of its first season through four seasons, there'd probably be many more critics talking about it, and direct comparisons with Breaking Bad, also entering its final season. As it stands, the later seasons of Damages couldn't live up to brilliance of the first, and the show has fallen by the wayside. I feel like these problems are mostly by design. The setup each season is largely the same. There's Ellen, there's Patty, there's wrongdoing by corporate types, there's a case, and there are of course the flashforwards, flashbacks, and the occasional dream. There is much less room to move in this framework than in Breaking Bad, where anything can pretty much happen without fear of disrupting the next season. The fifth and final season of Damages is the Patty vs Ellen, a battle that has been coming since the first season and was teased at the end of the fourth season. The legal case revolves around a Wikileaks-like organization and is douchbag owner, and information that shouldn't have gone public. There are two twists that got my attention--Jenna Elfman's character getting killed so early and Ellen appearing to be dead or at least unconscious in the future--but the rest left my empty. It doesn't help that Ryan Phillipe is pretty boring, no comparison to Ted Danson, Željko Ivanek, Campbell Scott, Martin Short, John Goodman, or Dylan Baker, actors who elevated the show with the performances.

Royal Pains is like the exact opposite of Breaking Bad; its writers don't really know where anything is going and wing it until they have something that could work and let the rest fall in place. In their minds, there has to be a Boris story each season, so he'll randomly show up some point in each season and then a medical emergency will somehow arise. This time, it appears as though Boris detained an intruder and shot him, and the government is looking in it or something like that. Boris uses plenty of "mystery speak," jumbling up the order of sentences to sound cryptic for the sake of being cryptic.

Covert Affairs mercifully killed off Jai at the beginning of the third season. Let's face it--he was a useless character, never having a place on the show with the other characters other than the squabble with him on occasion. He reminds me a lot of Jill on Royal Pains, a character who was never given anything to do and then written off. He probably didn't need to die to change up the show, but the ultimate result of his death is that Annie and Auggie are sent off in new directions while Joan must struggle with her husband. Annie's new role gives her more leeway, as her boss is far for freewheeling than Joan, and she ends up sleeping with her target. Could this be a revival to a show which captivated me in the first season but bored me to tears in the second?

Although I've never been too keen on White Collar's overall plot machinations, always too random and filled with "mystery speak," when the actions gets rolling, it's hard to think of a show which comes close. I had to pause as Neal, Mozzie, and Peter were racing down the streets of Cape Verde from an incentivized mob and think how sick the scene was. One thing that really bothered me, the way Collins found out about Cape Verde, from Peter's papers in plain sight, was ridiculous. You'd think Peter would have learned by now that putting important evidence in an obvious place when someone crazy is looking for is a bad idea. I actually thought this was some kind of deception at first, because it seemed ridiculously easy for Collins to find the evidence and get to Cape Verde.
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