Monday, January 30, 2012

Reviews 1/24/12 - 1/29/12

Luck isn't exactly the easiest show to get into. The audience, from the very beginning, is tossed into another world--horse racing--without much guidance and it's a lot like swimming for the first time Characters are using obscure terms and we go from scene to scene without much semblance of structure. The first half of the pilot is a bit uncomfortable to watch, as it's not exactly clear what's going on. That's David Milch's style. But despite being tossed into this great expanse, everything starts jelling around the halfway point. We may not know characters' names or the details, but we get a general sense of who's who and what they're doing. What really shines are the horse races, the one thing that connects all the characters. They are pure beauty and generate a sense that a lot if riding on it, for the random spectators in the crowd, for the gamblers who stand to earn millions, and for the audience at home.

I wonder what Shameless would be like without Frank and I think it would be better. He's mostly deadweight as a character, much like he is to his family. He's a mean-spirited drunk who interacts with few people other than Sheila. Unlike all the other characters, he has no intentions of changing and instead does whatever it takes to keep drinking. There's nothing redeemable about him nor is there any insight from his character. I'd be perfectly fine without him. Aside from the usual Frank mess, I like where this season is headed. All the characters have their personal problems and it wasn't overly dramatic or wacky in this episode.

I said I wouldn't review House of Lies again until it changed, so I'll say it did change this week. With Roscoe coming with the team, the job of the week was pushed to the background, and we got to hang out with the characters much more than we usual do.

The culmination of The Good Wife's "Will might get indicted" arc came to an end, with both triumph and a sense that everyone got off too easily. After all the wrangling and Wendy Scott Carr coming back, beating her proved to be pretty easy, as she wasn't on top of everything and Kalinda had actually been on Will's side the entire time. Still, if Will and the firm did get off easy, the inquiries did shake the actual tenuous foundations of Lockhart Gardner and we know more trouble is coming.

Now the big ticket item, Chuck. In my mind Chuck was a happy show. It had its ups and downs, but mostly it was a happy show. Thus, I always envisioned the series finale, or at least the last 10 minutes, to be happy all-around. As any who watched the final episode can testify, it was anything but happy. Bittersweet maybe, soul-crushing even. We watched Sarah grow over the course of five seasons, from when Chuck was only a mission until she was his wife. And what happens in the last two episodes? She loses her memory and isn't the same person. We didn't get to see the Sarah we've come to know one last time.

Rationalizing, we can, with much optimism, presume that Morgan's kiss theory was right and that Sarah did regain all her memory. (In fact, I thought it would be really cool if they took all 3600+ minutes of the show and quickly played through it to show fans that we did remember). Or maybe Sarah would eventually remember everything, as she did remember some things from her past. But the alternative, Sarah remembering nothing or very little, and having Chuck tell her these stories, is incredibly sad. It just wouldn't be the same.

I began thinking afterwards and realized that Chuck was really sad, once the fun and humorous tone was taken away. The further into the spy life any character went, the more their personal life got destroyed. Casey, Stephen and Mary, Volkoff, Jill, Sarah, Bryce, Chuck, and everyone else. The highs of the show were really high and the lows were really low, and the final moments of the show captured this perfectly. There is hope that Chuck and Sarah will pull through and there's a chance they might not. Like the final scene of the pilot, they are on the beach and the future is unknown, except the roles are reversed this time.

The substance of the two final episodes was mostly a mixed bag. Quinn was one of the worst villains of the show, in his lack of menace, action, and gravitas. Beyond that, though, the recalls to the first episode were great, bringing everything full circle before the end. It rekindled my interest in Chuck, which has be waning for some time, and I want to go back and rewatch the show. All in all, the final two episodes were fantastic.

Spartacus is in the midst of big changes. On a story level, the gladiators have escaped, but they, and Spartacus, aren't sure what to do. Quintus is dead and Lucretia is miraculously still alive but damaged. Nobody is sure of what's coming next. On a production level, Andy Whitfield's tragic death means that his replacement, Liam McIntyre, must be able to fill in big shoes. The second season premiere sets up the situation and then ups the stakes by killing off Aurelia, so there's the vengeance that will carry through the season.

Fringe: In the middle of Peter showing up in this other world, I don't want to see even more elements introduced. Unfortunately, there is a new plot about the Observer telling Olivia she has to die and it's not a one-off thing. Olivia's fears came to a head in last week episode, where they find a girl who can see people's future deaths. This is important to Olivia, of course, but we still don't get a good idea of what anything has to do with the overall picture. It's clear the writers are making stuff up as they go and with the show possibly coming to an end this season, it's hard not to be wary of these new developments

Fox previewed Touch after American Idol, and it was pretty bad. I described it as "a bunch of pointless, transparently manipulative threads tying together," on Twitter. You can imagine how quickly the show devolves into a procedural. Each week new people are introduced and we see how they are interconnected by the end of the episode. Meanwhile, Jack Bauer hangs out with his son and restrains himself from beating others into a pulp.

Art got lots of actions scenes in Justified for a change, Carla Gugino's character was introduced, and the other bad guy from Limehouse was also introduced.

Southland: With the badass new captain who wants to get things done, there was lots of talk about the proper way to go about police business. Ben crossed that line, possibly motivated by the senseless shooting in the season premiere, while Lydia tricked the granny in order to get evidence, which she thinks was ethical.

Alcatraz continues to play out like an average procedural, which is probably not what people were looking for in the show. The big thing of the episode is that the doctor looks the same as he did in the past. Spooky.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reviews 1/16/12 - 1/22/12

For its third episode, House of Lies continues on the same path--crude jokes, little story, and good acting. I probably won't say more about the show unless it changes.

Shameless: Frank is surely a bad person, but last night's episode took it to an extreme, as he denied Dottie a heart she should have had. Then she pays him to essentially kill her, and then he steals from the church. It's hard to stomach watching Frank each week when we know he deserves a lot worse than he gets. It's far more interesting to watch a character like Fiona--someone with an actual conscience--grapple with the decisions she makes. And that leads to the return of Steve, plastered in front of a completely unrealistic beach. (Seriously, that was comparable to the boat scene in the pilot of Ringer.)

It kind of feels like Once Upon a Time painted itself into a corner with this week's episode. In the fairytale world, Snow forgets about the prince at the end of the episode, and as we know they got married at the beginning of the series. So it's a long way before we reach that point, and when we can figure out more about the spell which sent them to Storybrooke. How much longer do we have to wait?

Sometimes, it's a good idea to look at the big picture of a show and evaluate where the show is. In Fringe's case, all we have to look at is the episode number, 9. 9 episodes into the season and the viewers have no clue why things are happening. Peter's stuck in this alternate place, by himself and with familiar but ultimately different characters. Now he's trying to get back, but it doesn't seem like he'll be getting home anytime soon, what with the new shapeshifters and other roadblocks in the way. So we stuck watching these characters who are different than the ones we watched for three season. But why are watching them? Because the show points out time and time again that they are different, it's hard to have any attachment for them, knowing they're part of a bigger plot device. While we get plenty of great scenes in the episode with Peter's mother and Walternate, it's hollow knowing something is dreadfully wrong with the position Peter is in. It demands Peter go back to where he belongs and leave behind these characters we've known for 9+ episodes.

If you needed confirmation that Grimm resets itself and the end of each episode, look no further than last week's episode. Following an episode in which Nick gets battered in his own home and sent to the hospital, everyone seems to forget what happened. Juliet is worried about the car parked outside, but it's no big deal. The main point of the subplot is that she's curious, not scared or worried or any feelings you'd expect after last week's episode. The writers don't do much with her character when she's the most disposable character on the show, and we end up with half-baked subplots.

After weeks of feel good episodes, Chuck dived back into the angst before its final hurrah four days from now. Sarah remembers nothing--oh noz! There's going to be a happy ending, of course, but not before serious problem solving. The sad thing is, this arc could have been switched with any number of arcs from earlier in the season. All had the same format--everyone's happy at the start, major problems in the middle, and back to being happy.

The Mentalist revisited O'Laughlin and gave him a final send off for Grace. We'll never really know what went on in his head--maybe when Red John is caught--but Van Pelt got the absolution she needed. As for the idea that the necklace has some embedded electronic device, I highly doubt it. It would really cheapen that final scene and the necklace must have been inspected before going into evidence.

The Finder, even airing after American Idol, got very average ratings. Unless its ratings stay perfectly stable at where it is, which is highly unlikely, the show will be canceled. The second episode suffers the same problem as the backdoor pilot, too much Bones. If we want Sweets, we can watch Bones. We know need his psychoanalysis and random comments about Walt.

There's not much to say about The Office. The pool stuff was okay, but Robert California was insufferable as always. I still don't get.

The Secret Circle took a big step, allowing Cassie to actually see the events of the infamous fire. And a lot of what she saw contradicted what people told her had happened.

The Vampire Diaries didn't really have that much going on other than introducing Bonnie's mother, but the episode ended with Elijah's return, so I'm happy.

Royal Pains has gone back and forth with Jill and Hank so many times. They like each other but work gets in the way, blah blah blah. Can't the writers just choose something so we don't have to watch the same dynamic repeat itself?

As always, the subplots on Criminal Minds are painfully underdeveloped, but the episode was bolstered by the most interesting case in a long time.

Modern Family: The whole deal with Lily cursing was stupid. The words were bleeped out since the writers don't want to be fined, and the situation was realistic enough. That said, Cam and Mitchell again had the worst plot. Balancing it out, though, were the other two plots--the hilarious doggy suicide and Claire failing during the debate.

Southland's return was better than Justified's, in my opinion. Lucy Liu was surprisingly good as a cop, and dash camera video was hard-hitting.

Justified introduced its new batch of villains and gave Winona a great incentive of getting out of town, being held at gunpoint. The loss of Margo Martindale will be big, so we'll see if the new bad guys can make up for that.

Glee's proposal episode was horrible--a musical spectacle with all the dumb platitudes one might expect and zero heart.

Castle took a fun turn when they busted into the phone sex place, but the episode took a dark, dumb turn into conspiracy land. Castle simply isn't good when it's in plot-heavy, serious mode.

I think it was a mistake to air two episodes of Alcatraz. The first episode had enough mystery and exposition to mask the fact that the show was just another supernatural procedural a la Grimm or Haven. Yeah, we could see the framework of a procedural, but it wasn't clear whether the writers would proceed in that direction. Then, the second episode aired and it was clear the show would have a procedural format, with each episode focusing on a time-traveled convict. This isn't bad or anything, especially with the revelation that Rebecca's grandfather killed her partner, but the procedural idea certainly takes away from the allure of a show about Alcatraz and time travel.

The second season premiere of Being Human was a lot less on the angsty side than I remember, which is probably a good thing, since I like the premiere and how light it felt.

Monday, January 16, 2012

1/9/12 - 1/15/12 Reviews

Shows are beginning to pile up, so there are a lot of shows missing and a lot of one-liners. Maybe I'll adjust the schedule of posting in the future.

House of Lies's second episode is a lot like the first. The characters are assholes who get the job done. It's amusing at times, but the content isn't anything to write home about.

A mix of Shameless's season premiere and this week's episode, bridging the gap between crazy behavior and actual drama, would be a solid episode. It would have all fun of the pot plot from last week while introducing the plot of the Gallagher's crumbling foundation as the younger ones grow up. As it stands, each episode is incomplete, with good stuff altogether but not as individual episodes. But I think that's the hardest thing for the writers. There isn't really an ongoing plot for the episodes to hang on, so the episodes maintain stand alone qualities, which will have the wackier behavior. At the same time, as we see in this episode, the writers want to add some drama to the family, something that might not happen if they're off making money.

With great awkwardness and spotty character building, Hell on Wheels finished its first season. Am I impressed? No. Do I think it's better than The Killing? No, actually. However, I think the show has more promise than The Killing. The cast is good, sets are great to look at, and there are plenty of story to tell.

Leverage brought back some old friends/enemies from the past to help with the last con of the season. It was supposed to be dramatic or something, but I found it mostly tedious since the plot sprang up out of nowhere. In fact, I think the overarching plot for this season was handled worse than Burn Notice's, as bad as it has been. So Nate gets justice and doesn't have to kill anyone, and they're back to their merry selves.

Once Upon a Time: How long will the exposition continue? How long with humor be barred from the script? The ratings are still exceptional, but man are the writers taking their time to develop whatever they want. Surely they can't introduce a different fairy tale character every week.

The Good Wife had another ripped from the headline story with a Bitcoin episode and while it wasn't as good as last week's plot, it was still enjoyable. Another fun thing was the three Mr. Bitcoins, one of whom was an "econophysicist." If you want to do physics, do physics, and if you want to do economics, do economics.

Pan Am's trip to Moscow was pretty funny. The Soviets are out of control authoritarian and is prepared to imprison Laura and Bridgett forever, but Kate manages to slip past them and save the day. Problem solved!

I think I'm done with Blue Bloods. Its Reagan elitism and in elitism in general is too nauseating to bear on a weekly basis.

Fringe is getting back into the swing of things (finally) with Lincoln and Peter heading to the alternate universe. Walternate might not be evil? Lots of thoughts to chew on during the episode which was equal parts exciting.

Ignoring the time travel mechanics, Supernatural's time travel episode was awesome from beginning to end.

The most important thing about last week's Grimm episode was Eddie finding the Grimm stash and using the rifle. But it's importance towards the show at large is dependent on what the writers want it to be. It seems like, from the dropped storylines (the captain, Eddie about to attack Nick's aunt at the hospital), all the writers want the show to be is a police story where they hunt fairy tale characters. At this time, I'd say it's a bit better than OUAT, which has less interesting stories and has globs of exposition.

Argh, we'll have to wait until February for Nikita's return when we'll find out what happens at Division. Nikita and Michael will probably be fine, so the writers, at least with them, are not going for a status quo change. On the other hand, plenty can happen with Oversight or Division... or not.

Chuck pulls another big bad out of nowhere... Yeah, yeah, he has parallels with Chuck, etc, becomes deranged and will have to be defeated. There's only two weeks left, so we can stop walking around in circles soon and end our dizziness.

The Mentalist showed its limitation, trying to balance Red John stuff with a crime story. The crime story was far too brief to get anything from it, with Jane popping in at the last second to save the day. The stuff with Jane getting Darcy off Red John's trail was great, though.

After the terrible backdoor pilot to The Finder last year, the actual pilot of The Finder was surprisingly refreshing. The story moved nicely and the setting was much different than usual procedurals. Add Geoff Stults portraying Walter's quirks and the pilot was quite good.

Bones once again managed to infuriate me. The plot was epic, if not completely implausible, with an evil genius as a villain, unseen since the great Gormogon days. Then there was Booth and Brennan. They're so annoying. Booth should just suck it up and realize that Brennan is loaded and can buy any house. That means she can buy whatever Booth wants and more. Choices, Booth, choices. No need to be a character from ABC's MAN comedies.

Caroline is my favorite character on The Vampire Diaries, so I hope Klaus doesn't damage her irreparably

The Secret Circle needs to kick one of the plots into high gear, because the teen drama isn't cutting it. And Jake returning isn't exactly not teen drama (double negative, I know).

The Office took a trip out of the office, and it was lots of fun, like most of the times when they're out of their usual setting. We got to see different sides of the characters and for once we see that the "dumber" characters might just have different skillsets.

Leslie's campaign on Parks and Recreation kicked off with her team and it wasn't pretty. But it was very, very funny and that's why we watch.

Rob is a show where Rob Schneider makes Mexican jokes and Mexicans made Rob Schneider jokes. Yeah, I don't think this will work.

Revenge returned to the target of the week format and Emily took down an author. Meanwhile, the other elements of the show continue to be developed, with Daniel wanting to marry Emily for money reasons and love, Conrad and Victoria plotting against each other, and Amanda possibly getting in big trouble soon.

It's been a few days short of a week since I watch Are You There, Chelsea? Honestly, I don't remember much about it other than talk about sex and alcohol, and very few laughs.

In the easiest possible twist to get rid of a romantic rival, NCIS ditches CI Ray by making him the murderer. Now that gives Ziva an easy choice...

Castle laid on the Castle/Beckett marriage stuff really thick, in an otherwise enjoyable episode.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1/3/11 - 1/8/11 Reviews

Part of me wants to believe Hell on Wheels is supposed to be a parody, poking fun at Westerns and the themes that often arise in them. Surely, no sensible, serious writers would serve us what we've seen thus far without it being a joke, would they? The opening scene seems to support this, in which the characters get in a big fight following last week's cliffhanger. It's a freaking montage, with song playing as the main characters defeat the Indians who have no clue how to fight and the extras die randomly. The fight comes from old action movies where the villains are big but dumb while the main character can't die despite the circumstances. But the music indicates this isn't any mere fight. It's an artsy fight, you see.

House of Lies is about what you can expect from Showtime these days and the perfect show to follow Shameless. The cast is credentialed and charming, the jokes are mostly crude, and it's about morality ambiguous people doing morality ambiguous acts, in ways people will find funny. There's no big message to glean other than that consulting has a bunch of douchebags (and who didn't know that already?).

The second season of Shameless isn't much different from the first. The Gallaghers break the law, have tons of sex, and drink. There's plenty of rambunctious fun, to be sure, but it's a show where nothing too important is going on and you'd probably be fine not watching all the episodes.

Pan Am is almost certainly going to be canceled, but I'm still watching. Unlike with Hell on Wheels, Pan Am rarely bothers me to the point where I question what the writers are thinking. It's clear what the show is. The gorgeous sets and costumes, Blake Neely's lush, full-bodied score, and the quick pacing lets the audience indulge in the time period rather than force them to dwell on the plot specifics of the week. And the plot specifics were quite good this week, with Colette and Kate each put in difficult situations.

Once Upon a Time needs to get out of exposition zone. We're eight episodes into the show and the writers are still setting the backstories of the characters one at a time. Yeah, it's cool to see where Rumpelstiltskin got his powers and his conniving political mind in the real world, but the plot is going nowhere.

The Good Wife delivers again. Alicia is tugged in numerous directions in the episode and you can tell she's definitely frazzeled and increasingly disillusioned with this world. She has loyalty to the firm, loyalty to the truth, loyalty to the law, and loyalty to herself. These loyalties aren't often in conflict as they were in the episode, but she made her choices as she saw fit.

The pilot of The Firm reminds us why television dramas are an hour long. It begins decently enough with two suited men chasing another suited man. Sure, they aren't running particularly fast, but it's a chase scene. After that, however, the episode devolves into generic legal drama land. The middle sections, probably taking up an hour forty, are a tedious bore. Other than a few key flashbacks it's stagnant and uninteresting. Then the end finally comes around and there's the twist we've been waiting for. If the pilot's going to be two hours long, there should be a very good reason. Either there has been be lots of exposition, because the setup is complicated--as was the case with Terra Nova--or the plot can actually fill the entire two hours. But no, introducing the characters and the backstory could have taken 15 minutes tops while the rest of the hour could be spent on the simply case of a teen killing another teen and a bit of the conspiracy.

Leverage is a fine show, but it should stop having these season-long enemies like Moreau last season or Lattimer this season who show up for 20 seconds to speak two ominous lines and leave. What's the point? Even worse, why bring back Saul Rubinek's character from the pilot who no one remembers?

I guess Bobby really is dead on Supernatural. Now, Supernatural is left with the brothers, whose drama has reached its end, and the Leviathan plot which remains boring. I used to be a big supporter of Supernatural--even last season--but Sera Gamble needs to do something to spice up the show soon.

Nikita's "twist" of Alex's mother being complicit was really obvious, but it fulfilled its role in bringing Nikita and Alex back together.

It looks like Chuck, after the defeat of Shaw, is taking an extended victory lap(s). There is some drama, but it's at a bare minimum, as all the characters get to be as happy as possible. Honestly, I don't really care anymore. The show hasn't been top-notch for years, so to end with this laxness won't be a deviation.

The Secret Circle upped the ante by making it abundantly clear that Cassie isn't just a pint-sized blond who can do magic. She's powerful and very dangerous--against her will. Good stuff for the future.

The Vampire Diaries again splits its season cleanly in half. Last week's episode felt like a season premiere, with the characters struggling to figure out what happened in the previous episode. By the end of the episode they realize the new paradigm, and move ahead. For Damon and Elena, that means the kiss everyone's been waiting for.

Revenge remains awesome. Whatever crazy things may happen, Emily always has an angle to exploit and it's always very fulfilling to watch.

How many times did Body of Proof bash us over the head with its message about body image?

Work It is simply awful. It's the third, and hopefully, last in ABC's line of MAN comedies. Between the unrealistic drag, unfounded jokes about women taking men's jobs, and general stupidity, there was literally nothing to like about the show. Usually, you can point out something about a show that makes it viable to see the light of being broadcast. Not with Work it. Think about how many steps it takes for a television show to get to air, from conceptualization to writing to casting to filming to editing to being aired. Along the way, no one high up at ABC looked at this atrocity, put his/her foot down, and said "no." Unbelievable.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reviews 12/27/11 - 1/1/12

Hell on Wheels

It's tiring to see the writers do everything in their power to create "anti-stereotypes." The former Confederate soldier is actually not racist--in fact, the Union soldier is--and he's only a tortured soul trying to get justice. He even teaches the black guy how to shoot! There's Lily, the pretty British woman who is not a damsel in distress but someone who can stand the wilderness, and the prostitute who is so nice she'll sleep with a black guy. Individually, these characters aren't that bad--heavy-handed but workable to an extent. Altogether, they form a painful bunch of characters, so cliched it's impossible not to laugh.

In the post Mad Men, Breaking Bad era, AMC has been seen a paragon of basic cable programming, able to challenge HBO and the best of premium cable. After The Killing and Hell on Wheels, though, I'm ready to say the first two critical successes were mere flukes on AMC's part, lucky guesses which happened to pan out in the best ways possible. Mainly, it seems like the problem is that the showrunners aren't particularly experienced. Looking at various showrunner's IMDB pages--Veena Sud (The Killing), Tony Gayton (Hell on Wheels), Jason Horowitch (beginning episodes of Rubicon)--it's obvious they don't have the experience as Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), especially with regards to serialized television.

Leverage had a fun con with Hardison running the team for a change and failing. While his gimmicks are lots of fun, setting up a video game situation for the marks, the marks see through the plan. Nate saves the day with a far easier plan and it's all good.

Sanctuary hasn't been renewed for a fifth season yet and I'm not sure I really want to see another season. The show's really spiraled out of control since the beginning of the fourth season with plots and characters coming from nowhere. The situation with the abnormals from Hollow Earth isn't explained well, like where they're staying where no one would notice, and plots and characters pop up from out of nowhere. Damian Kindler certainly has good ideas, but the sloppiness is clearly evident.

The most annoying recurring plot device of Chuck are when the characters keep secrets from each other which leads to bad things happening. Even more annoying is in last week's episode, where Chuck knows Sarah has a secret, Sarah tells him she has a secret, and then she doesn't tell him. Come on... you'd think they'd learn by now, especially since they're married. But no, the ridiculous secret keeping leads to major drama.
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