Tuesday, December 27, 2011

12/19/11 - 12/27/11 Reviews

Agonizingly, The Closer ended the first half of its final season without revealing who Goldman’s leak was. At this point, it’s almost impossible to know who it is. The ones who “shouldn’t” be  are Sanchez, Tao, and Provenza (and maybe Flynn too), while the ones who “could” be are Gabriel, Taylor, and Pope. My money’s on Gabriel, for what it’s worth. Although we didn’t learn who the mole was, Goldman got put in his place several times, which was a plus.

This week’s Leverage was very simplistic, the con barely entailing more than 3 steps, and even then, the job probably could have been done with even less effort. Without any advanced security system or dangerous enemies, it was easy pickings for the crew.

This is the kind of thing Sanctuary has been building towards since the beginning—the rest of the world knowing about abnormals—but the writing for the episode was painfully weak. Most notable, Magnus wants Will to join Baldouche, telling him he can feed her information. In the very next scene, Will is sitting at his new desk, and then all hell breaks loose and Will has no clue what’s going on. Qhat the hell? Will doesn’t know what Magnus is doing and neither does the viewer.

Last week’s Chuck episode got tons of hype—in my memory the most since the second season—but I was disappointed with it. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good episode, which it was, just my expectations were high and it didn’t live up to them. The problem with the episode is the same with all other Chuck episodes, and especially those of the final season—it doesn’t make sense. Without a stable, fully understandable plot, the episode is shaky, as the plot creaks forward and it soon dawns that the writers either made it up as they were going or have no idea how to create a season-long story where the ongoing story isn’t linked solely by the beginning and ends of each episode. Instead of a single, cohesive story, the story is tediously strung together by cliffhangers. A problem arises at the end of each episode, often sprouting out of nowhere, it’s fixed in the next episode, and then the new problem arises. This kind of plotting, when the writers want to make it seem like a big conspiracy is afoot, is awkward for the viewer who tries to piece things together. And when the viewer does piece things together, the idea that there is a long chain of villains and events leading up to the climax is pretty dumb. The Omen virus turned out to be a massive plot device which was hazily defined by the writers and served its purpose to get rid of Shaw’s Intersect.

But I can understand why this episode would stick out. First, it’s a Christmas episode and it’s a perfect holiday for a show that emphasizes family. Secondly, Shaw makes a better villain than the grab bag villain of the week, with his history and recognizable personality. There’s real danger in the episode several cool fights. In the end, however, plot is a critical part of television. It’s probably less important than in movies, but still something everyone pays attention to. No matter how great the characters are, there has to be a feasible plot to be a top episode.

The first season of American Horror Story was bizarre to say the least, and the season finale was no exception. There were little frights in the season finale, the majority taking place in the first half of the episode when the Harmons were chasing the new family away. The rest of the episode was rather mellow, with Christmas and the oddly soothing idea that they are happier dead than alive. So everyone ends up dead while Constance raises the Antichrist who is already killing people. Thus ends a truly batshit season of television. American Horror Story, for the most part, was terrible. The underpinning of the show is that anything messed up that’s sex or death related should happen, regardless of how that point is reach. Random crap happened and then, “Oh, they’re having sex. Oh, she’s killing him.” It’s not particularly imaginative.

If Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck were providing commentary on the current state of American horror movies, which are mostly mindless scares, then I’d probably be more lenient. This was no parody or commentary, only rehashed content revolving around sex and killing. It is this tone-deafness which has turned Glee into a farce and will likely continue.

The good news, announced the next day, is that the second season will not be a continuation but rather something completely different with some of the same actors playing different characters. Hopefully the writers will try out new things and less of the sex and murder. Ryan Murphy also said there was a hint in the last three episodes where the second season would take place. The obvious guess would be Roanoke, which would be very cool since the best parts of the season were the flashbacks with the Montgomerys.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The unambitious Terra Nova

With all its resources, Terra Nova should have been amazing. Big budgets, big sets, big names, big expectations. But no, Terra Nova turned out to be a unvarnished turd, neither engaging the audience with plots or nor creating distinguishable characters. I would attribute this to a lack of ambition on the writers part--a general agreement not to exit a tight, comfortable box.

This is immediately evident in the heart of the show, the Shannons. Jim was jailed for several years, then illegally crossed into Terra Nova. Surely this would cause problems. His kids would hardly know him, his wife wouldn't have seen him for a long time and they'd likely be more distant, and the Terra Nova authorities would hold something against him. There could have been plenty of conflict and drama with Jim. Instead, after a few episodes, Jim is great with his kids, wife, and Taylor. Problems solved! From there it gets worse. Elisabeth is a doctor and does doctor duties. That's it. In the third episode, the writers introduced Malcolm as a potential rival with Jim for Elisabeth, but that was resolved instantly, and he became the pointless lab monkey. The kids, while doing stuff on occasion, are actually worse than Elisabeth--they're actively annoying with bad dialogue and unlikable traits. Josh is a douche who cares about this 2149 girlfriend we met for two seconds in the pilot, Maddy is a generic girl who likes this guy, and Zoe says five-year old things.

The rest of the characters follow roughly the same trajectory. Taylor is the hard ass commander who has problems with his son, but really has a heart of gold. Washington is the generic second in the command who we never get to learn about. She dies and it's supposed to be sad, but what has she done besides do her job? She's even replaced by another female soldier soon afterwards. Lucas got the plot rolling, but it's not like he amounted to much. He was more crazy than scary, and then died after stabbing Taylor who survives. The "best" character is probably Skye, oddly enough. The stuff with her mother wasn't actually bad, with her allegiances being pulled in different direction. That's more than you can say for every other character. Unfortunately, the writers treated her mother like a plot device and abandoned her in the final two episodes. You'd think Skye would be concerned about her amidst all the chaos.

Aside from momentary conflicts in the middle of random episodes, the characters never fought, rarely disagreed and always ended up happy at the end of the episode. So they travel from 2149 to the distant past and now they're happy. Basically, the conflict lies in the setting of 2149, not the characters. And since the show isn't set in 2149, they're perpetually happy.

You can see why the writers would want it this way. Believable drama is hard, and some shows that really try fall flat and seem worse than if they didn't do any drama at all. Stringing together character dynamics from one episode to the next, with varying plots, while balancing the characters is probably the hardest part of television. Though there is great difficulty, we've seen it accomplished, sometimes spectacularly, in the past. However, the Terra Nova writers took the easy way out. If everyone is happy at the end of the episode and nothing changes between the characters, writing the next episode is easy. They start with the same slate of generic characters and start again. For all the money spent on the show, the writers decided they didn't want to deal with character difficulties and bailed out on any attempt to give them nuance or shade them any differently. Trying would at least earn my respect, but not trying at all is just pathetic.

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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

12/5/11 - 12/11/11 Reviews

Weekly reviews again! Again, I'll go backwards in the week and I'm not covering everything I watched--just whatever comes to my mind (and, yes, that means shows later in the week will have a greater chance of being remembered). No, I still haven't caught up on Boardwalk Empire or watched Luck, but I will have a post on them when I do, hopefully later this week.

Homeland: Claire Danes has been very impressive thus far, but I suspect last night's episode will be her Emmy submission. It begins with her going right off the edge of the cliff--after being on the edge for most of the season--before she mellows out during the middle part of the episode. It is at this point when everything hangs in the balance, and then she calls Brody, which leads into everything going into ruin and the brilliant final scene where everything explodes. If Carrie had just been manic in the way she was the first minutes of the episode, Claire Danes probably wouldn't have gotten as much praise from me. But as the episode progresses, so does her behavior once she starts coming to grips with herself and the medication kicks in. One of my favorite parts of the episode is how people react to her: they treat her like a normal adult, not someone who needs to be locked up, despite her erratic behavior. The sad thing about all this is that Carrie is right--Abu Nazir has a huge plan brewing.

Hell on Wheels continues to be weird and infuriating. This week it featured a bunch of cookie cutter Native Americans and religious people, while sidelining Bohannon, easily the most interesting character on the cast who isn't cut from the same stereotype cloth most other characters are. Worst is these awkward spectacles in each episode. Last week, it was the fight lasting half the episode and this week was the John Henry moment where the Native American on a horse races the train. What is that supposed to tell us? That trains are faster than horses? That machine prevails over nature? Duh?

Dexter: I think most people would agree how horrible Travis is. But take a moment a think about the other plots potentially worse than Travis. Deb in love with Dexter, video game/hand guy, LaGuerta being a bitch for the 100000 time.

I liked how Leverage let the girls have an episode for a change and brought back Tara. Fun stuff as usual.

The Good Wife has had some interesting cases as of late, and last night's episode was no exception, with the plot about potential jury tampering. On top of that, Wendy Scott Carr using her position as special prosecutor--appointed by Peter--to investigate Peter played out nicely.

I haven't said anything about Once Upon a Time on the blog, so I'll repeat what I said about it on Twitter last night. I like the tone of the show--the grand, majestic sweeping fairy tale kind versus the humerus fairy tale. There isn't anything overtly funny, but it has enough charm not to be depressing. Each episode moves along quickly, and is enjoyable to watched, granted you don't think too carefully. My biggest problem with the show is the lack of nuance with the characters. Sure, these characters' origin stories are different than the ones we know them by, but that's all that's different. Their characterizations are generic and what they do is as expected.

I haven't said anything about Grimm, the other fairy tale show, so here are some thoughts as well. The twists on fairy tale characters combined with the police work is turning out pretty good. What stands out on the show is its use of darkness and shadows, which provides a tone the show wouldn't otherwise have. I'd say Grimm gets the most value added from its lighting than almost any show out there. The Pied Piper violin episode was good as was Friday's episode, but I have a small quibble about it. It seemed like Nick was more lenient towards Angelina than the pig.

Boss's first season ended, and while it has already been renewed for a second season, I'm not exactly holding my breath for it. It seems like producers and directors were far more interesting in a distinctive visual style than telling a good story. Kane's wife was barely developed--at least not enough to explain her devotion to Kane--and his daughter, a plot device.

I like this season of Chuck so far. Sure, the plot still makes zero sense, but that's been the case since day one. What has changed, though, is that Chuck and Sarah are firmly together and it doesn't diminish how likable they are, as individuals and as a couple. Quite impressive, considering how painful Bones has handled Booth and Brennan.ly

The Office's Christmas episode wasn't as painful as previous weeks' episodes, because Robert California seemed almost normal in the episode. That said, it was as aimless as ever, with Andy being a dufus and other people do what they usually do.

Now on to the good Christmas episodes! Both Community and Parks and Recreation, while vastly differing in styles, were awesome. Community had the musical episode poking fun at Glee, and Parks had a very heartwarming episode with all our favorite characters pitching in for Leslie's Christmas present.

American Horror Story continued with the "a bunch of crap happens each week" format, but I actually liked the way they revealed Violet's death, making it overwhelmingly meaningful to Violet, even if viewers had already figured it out.

Suburgatory's Christmas episode was another strong episode, compared to Modern Family which was again pretty bland. Suburgatory has rather simple formula--put likable, recognizable characters in awkward, semi-realistic situations--and it works well.

Sectionals on Glee wasn't that bad, but it's clear that some moves, like bringing back Mr. Trouty Mouth, was purely to placate the fans. Okay, fine, I'll admit it. It was crap, especially Mike Chang's resolution. I've actually thought of some ratios Glee sticks by. 1) Every conflict must be resolved in three scenes or less. 2) For every good episode, there must be seven bad ones.

I think Syfy should stop doing these holiday episodes. The ratings were below what the shows would normally get and the episodes aren't that good themselves.

I've been watching Covert Affairs, but nothing has really stood out about its second season. I really liked the first season, which had Annie stepping into a huge, unknown world and trying to make her way in it. The second just had Annie doing her spy thing, with some boring office subplots thrown in.

The biggest disappointment--and I think everyone else's too--was the season finale of Sons of Anarchy. It started badly with the hilariously bad deux ex CIA, and promptly plunged into Plotdeviceville, where Potter saves Charming through sex toys.The episode ends with Jax taking over, the implication that Tara is becoming Gemma, and Clay alive and kicking.

Castle and Beckett handcuffed together made for a fun episode. The writers could have turned this into another one of those episodes where they almost kiss in the face of imminent death, but instead made it funny.

Enlightened took a delightful turn when it focused on Amy's mother, Helen, in the same way an episode would focus on Amy. We get to learn about her backstory and her reflections on her daughter.

How I Met Your Mother was widely talked about on Tuesday, and for good reason. The episode was heartbreaking in many ways, as we learned Robin would never have children. It was, however, a very uneven episode. It fluctuated wildly, from "wow, this is really sad and Cobie Smulders is a great actress," to "fuck you, writers, for playing around with us again." There was the sex twist, then the pregnancy twist, to the no kids twist, and many in between. How long until there's a new twist, destroying the one before it?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thoughts on shows from 11/28/11 - 12/4/11

I'm going backwards in the week like I did last week. And no, I still haven't caught up on Boardwalk Empire.

The Good Wife was rolling along just fine, with a case about a professor fired, possibly, for religious reasons, the return of Michael J. Fox, and the investigation into Will getting a little deeper. But the episode takes a wild turn past halfway into the episode, as it's possible that Grace has been abducted or something like that. As one could expect, all hell breaks loose and everyone scrambles to find Grace. Only, nothing happens in the end. Grace is fine--more than fine, actually. She's being baptized! While this brief but tense episode provides Alicia perspective on her parental role, I can't help but feel cheated--that the writers would gin up this situation only to have it resolve so easily.

Hell on Wheels is starting to lose me. This week, Bohannon and Elam have a fight lasting the entire second half the episode. So what? One the Irish brothers cheated to win lots of money? Meanwhile the main dramatic force seems to be the Indians, basically the generic outsiders who speak funny and are there to disrupt things.

Leverage's Office was a good bit of fun. There were some parts of the episode where it looked identical to the place where Jim and Dwight sit in Dunder Mifflin.

It's increasingly clear that Dexter has nothing left. The bad guys are boring--and even laughable--the side characters are still boring and laughable, and Dexter is becoming boring.

Boss is seemingly written in the "fictional but possibly realistic" style, but this week's episode clearly strayed from that. Kane turned into the Devil himself, crawling from the asehs and busting out all sorts of information that saves him. He destroys his daughters life and magically has incriminating pictures Zajac. Just like that he's back in business.

Is Bobby really gone on Supernatural? After Jim Beaver put up a great performance, it'd be a shame to see him gone for good like other great characters in the past, namely Cas.

Nikita's midseason finale ended with a big shocker, Alex's mother still alive. On a show where family bonds are fraught with many complications, it'll be interesting to see where this all goes.

I still don't understand Robert California on The Office. He shows up in the office, yells at Andy not to hire his wife, then spends the rest of the episode trying to get his wife hired. He makes no sense.

Parks and Recreation was a little sappy, but as a Leslie and Ben fan, I liked how the episode played out.

It's a shame no one watches Community, because it had another top-tier episode, with both the Dark Knight DVD and foosball plots.

American Horror Story is a bad show. It's like the writers never sat down for more than two minutes to actually discuss what the show is about. But that's part of the allure of the show--that there's a certainty random crap will happen each week. The episode ended with a hilarious revelation about the Pope and the Antichrist. Horrible? Yes. Horrible enough to be interesting? You betcha.

Psych had another good episode in this very strong season with the arrival of Juliet's father. Once again, though, the show's central premise of Shawn lying about psychic abilities is troubling. Juliet's father is a conman, someone who consistently let down his father. What about Shawn and his constant lies? Surely this subject has to be touched on eventually.

All the secrets got revealed on Sons of Anarchy, setting up what is sure to be a doozy of a season finale. Jax will have to kill Clay, right?

Sanctuary continues to have bad ideas, featuring a virtual world where Adam Worth's avatar resides. That makes perfect sense.......

New Girl finally gave Winston something to do!

Glee continues to burn off its goodwill from "The First Time" with yet another horrible episode. Can't say I'm surprised.

One episode away from the season finale, Terra Nova serves up an episode as boring as the ones at the beginning of the season. It's truly awe-inspiring to see the writers bumbling around such fertile ground.
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