Monday, February 27, 2012

Reviews 2/20/12 - 2/26/12 (added Awake)

I forgot that Awake was airing this week since it's been online for over a week, so here's an addendum. Awake is a nifty show that manages to do what Touch doesn't--feel real. There are almost no moments when the writers try to artificially inject pathos into the story, the main problem Touch suffers from. From the onset we know exactly what's going on--a detective's wife and son dead in separate worlds. He goes from one to another, not knowing exactly what to do. At the same time, the procedural aspect of the show focuses on the similarities between worlds and how they help solve seemingly separate cases. It all comes together nicely in  neat package that gives us a good look at every character while never getting bogged down.

With the second season of The Walking Dead coming to a close in three weeks, it's hard not to think that the show has stagnated at the farm. Beyond the immediate character conflicts--which still have not resulted in any significant developments--the characters have stayed safe at the farm, going about their regular tasks. They're quite safe unless they choose to put themselves in a position where it isn't. As for the character conflicts, Rick and Shane's is easily the most compelling, based upon events of the past that they continue to grapple with. On the other hand, Lori being a stupid bitch is getting silly. She's descends into a staunch supporter of traditional gender roles, telling Maggie to get behind Glenn, and yelling at Andrea to get back in the kitchen. Her self-righteousness is incredibly off-putting.

Spartacus delivered in a truly incredible episode--not just in its own bubble but television in general. We see all the various conflicts that have been developed over time, through Blood and Sands, Gods of the Arena, with all these forces colliding. The melodrama is real, rooted in love and death, never blindsiding the audience with behavior that is not plausible. Indeed, the writers realize that characterization comes about from what has happened in the past. This culminates in a glorious final scene in which gladiators--including Oenomaus and Gannicus, once brothers but now enemies--fight for their live, Spartacus tries to exact revenge on Glaber, and Mira brings down the arena in a blaze. It's a magnificent 10+ minutes, the action and drama equally compelling. What's best is that this isn't a one-time scene. Every part is implications for the future, and the future remains even more clouded for every characters.

Fringe finally cleared out a question everyone has had: who are the Observers? Now we know--they're humans from the future. While this may at first rather inconsequential--even similar to Star Trek: Enterprise's underwhelming time travel stories--the implications are highly interesting. Here Peter is, looking off towards an unknown future which September claims is somehow wrong. Just when he thought things were getting back on track and he accepted that this Olivia is close enough to the one he knew, the gets this new piece of information. Immediately, he questions his every move and arrives at the conclusion that he should get involved with this Olivia, lest anything bad happens.

I don't want to call The Office's Tallahassee adventure a bust just yet, but from the two two episodes, I'm not getting my hopes up. Instead of a meaningful plot related to their new location, the episodes have been about things that could have happened back in Scranton. Dwight acts silly and Jim is Jim while Kathy comes on to him unsuccessfully.

Parks and Recreation makes couples work. Whether it's Andy and April,  Leslie and Ben, or even Chris and Ann, the show has an ability to make us like couples. Ann and Tom, however, is an entirely new beast. Tom has always been a bit obnoxious, a bit too arrogant. It looks like it'll take a while for them to start clicking.

One of the oddest things about The Finder is Willa and the gypsy stuff. Even after six episodes, the plot doesn't feel like it belongs. While Walter is off being quirky and findy, she deals with this flat family drama. It seems like a really big waste of time.

Royal Pains took an interesting turn in its season finale when the conflict between Hank and Evan, which was a great problem through various parts of the season, finally came to a head, with Evan making some decisions without Hank and Hank blowing up. Evan buying Divya's shares was shoehorned nicely into the episode, as Evan now has two-thirds of Hank Med while Hank has the rest.

Needless to say Glee was awful. Not just regular awful, but awful awful, even for Glee standards. The episode begins like it's going to be about suicide with Karofsky swallowing pills before being found. The show even tries to make Sebastian and Sue sympathetic in the aftermath. Suicide is, after all, a big deal and the spate of gay teen suicides these past few years surely makes it an important issue. Well, the Glee writers tell us, it's actually not. The episode moves on to regionals and the unemotional, uninspired music commences. So New Directions wins as expected and then... the cliffhanger.

The big thing about last week's NCIS episode was Jaime Lee Curtis. The plot was pretty average, but there was certainly something going on between her character and Gibbs. Whether this means anything long term is another story. At this point, you can kind of condemn all of Gibbs's relationships to failure.

The finale of Castle's two-parter had an even more ridiculous plot than the Hawaii Five-0 episode in which the team flew into North Korea. The so-called linchpin was actually a little girl. If it seemed like the CIA targeted her, her father who is influential in the Chinese government and is apparently one of the few people urging the government to buy American bonds would stop trying to help America. Then the world crumbles and certain people profit... like the Russian spy... Yeah, so I don't know what any of that's about or what kind of fandangled economics was behind all that. At least the episode moved at a nice pace.

I can't wait until we get to the end of this season of Justified. Quarles and Limehouse are both great villains, but as we're only halfway through the season, they're not on screen as often as they would be if Harlan blew up into total war--which is clearly where everything is headed.

The new partnerships on Southland have probably been my favorite of the entire series. Cooper and Tang are a good, earnest team, and Lucy Liu has really defied all expectations. Ben and Sammy are also enjoyable, with their ability to play games with each other and also their serious sides as was the case in this week's episode in which Sammy's brash attitude gets significant suspicion from Ben. The weak link, sadly, is Lydia and Reuben who are a typical detective team. With Reuben gone for the week, Lydia was still the worst part of the episode, running around the place while pregnant before going to the hospital.

I'm beginning to think that The River might be too episodic for its own good. In trying to create singular stories, it has to grasp for a solution, as was the case with the cell phone stuff, and the overall story of finding Emmett and the Amazon setting is relegated to the back.

Smash's ratings have quickly fallen down to 2.3 while The Voice is still getting 6.0, so the show clearly isn't clicking with viewers. Perhaps the show doesn't have the bright, glossy sheen of Glee to cover up the flaws. What I like about Smash is that it actually feels like something is getting made. We get glimpses of the production progression and it seems like a long process where the characters are building something and it's quite fulfilling. I think the biggest problem with the show right now is that there are so many characters that it's hard to develop them individually while balancing them with everyone else. This is most evident in Ellis, who is just a scummy guy without much else.

How I Met Your Mother: Was the nail really, really, really, really put in the coffin of Ted and Robin? Maybe, and maybe not. The writers seemed to think the last episode was somehow necessary to show that Robin and Ted don't belong together. Mainly, it seemed like a waste of time.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reviews 2/13/11 - 2/19/11

This week's Shameless was a relationship episode, and as relationships in Shameless are generally dysfunctional, there was lots of diversity and weirdness to go around. There's Karen and Jody who are over, Jasmine and Fiona which took a wrong turn, Lip and Ian who finally get back on the same page, Kevin, Veronica and Ethel 1/2, and of course Frank and Peggy. The only thing that was too far out there was Karen, who is always crazy.

Pan Am ended the season (and series, unless a genuine miracle happens) on a hopeful note, moving into 1964 and putting all worries aside. There would surely be more drama ahead, as Amanda revealed she was pregnant, but for this moment the characters were together and happy. With that, it made me feel bad that we won't be able to see what happens next. So what went wrong? It started with 11 million viewers and a 3.1 18-19 rating, falling to 3.88 million and 1.2 last night, not to mention the even lower 2.57 million and measly 0.7 the week before. The main thing I'd point to would be the lack of ambition in tackling relevant storylines to the time period. The look the show nailed down, but there was never really a sense of the times. In the end after the amazing pilot, the show slipped into a comfortable position which was charming but never that interesting. Do these faults deserve the low ratings it eventually got? Looking at Once Upon a Time, not really. Maybe if Pan Am pretended it was grander than it actually was, more people would have hung on.

The Good Wife is in another transition period with the firm not under investigation and Will temporarily out the door. What this bodes for Alicia isn't clear yet, and the episode didn't really give us indication of what's up next, whether the plots of the episode are about tying up loose ends or if they will have more traction in the future.

Spartacus and complex aren't exactly two words that go together, but the show did a nice job mirroring what happened over the course of a night. Spartacus and his small band hid out in the woods, trying to evade Roman soldiers while shorting through their own problems. On the other side, we see Lucretia and Illythia scheming against each other, against other people, and gaining allies.

With waning ratings, it's great to see Nikita pushing the story from all fronts with Carla and Alex, in what may be its final episodes ever.

It was cool to see Supernatural return to the past with a bit more grit and craziness than the later seasons have been. There were no long-term implications, but I was a welcome change of pace.

Without a cool plot and setting like in the previous episode, Fringe seemed to be back on that shaky ground where things are happening but the audience has no clue why. Again, it's probably because the writers make things up as they go along.

The Office characters going to Florida sounded like a good idea but apparently it actually isn't. The episode started off well with a couple laughs, before diving off in Dwight-land, where he's making a fool out of himself. Maybe Jim should have been in charge of the team so that we wouldn't have to suffer through Dwight being an idiot. It's one thing when all the characters are being silly, but it's too much when one character is making a mess while the others are being normal.

The Secret Circle has been building up to the point where Blackwell, Cassie's supposedly dead father, returns. We've heard how powerful and how evil he was, and even saw him set things on fire in the flashback. Seeing him for the first time was actually boring. He's kind of just standing there, talking about how he wants the medallion and wants to protect Cassie. It's all standard stuff.

In the previous episode, The Vampire Diaries had set it up so that Esther was preparing to kill her offspring. That's good, since Klaus has been terrorizing Mystic Falls for over a season now. But what do the writers do? Immediately put her plan into motion, initiating the ritual in the very next episode. The plan fails and we're back to square one. So what was the point of that? After all these foiled plots to kill Klaus, it's getting really tedious.

Holy crap was Morena Baccarin good on last week's Mentalist.

Revenge finally reached the moment which began the series, Daniel seemingly being shot. It's something I've never really been keen on, as a straight reveal of Daniel being shot in this episode would be shocking in its own right. Perhaps fewer people would have talked about the show up to that point, but making big decisions out of insecurity is a bad move, in my opinion. In any case, it was handled well with rising tension until the reveal--that it was actually Tyler and not Daniel who was shot. Now, with everything torn asunder only 15 episodes into a 22 episode season, Revenge has a chance to reinvent itself.

Royal Pains is such a leisurely show that I hadn't realized it was close to the end of the season until Jack died. I'm guessing that's what's going to keep Jill in town. Other than that, the Boris stuff was a wash. Does anyone care about his family drama? I don't.

Southland had a really strong episode with Cooper and Tang, as usual, with some funny Dewey and Sherman behind it. Michael Cudlitz was on fire in the episode.

Justified: Timothy Olyphant got a breather these past few weeks, as there's been focus on previous background characters like Devil and Dewey. In the end, Dewey doesn't actually die and we got to see him bumbling around, thinking his kidneys had been taken. Also, it was cool to see Maggie Lawson in something other than Psych.

In the first two episodes of The River, there were at least attempts to find clues and move ahead in the jungle. In the third episode, however, it's basically a stand alone horror story--jungle natives poisoning them and then trying to find the cure. It's a little scary, but pointless on the season as a whole.

The way Hawaii Five-0 handled Lori was nothing short of laughable. They randomly insert her on the team, give her nothing interesting to do, a generic personality, and then drop her midway through the season. She was kind of just there, not intrusive but otherwise not important.

The first part of Castle's two-parter was not the super-serious episode we've come to expect. It had the tone of a typical episode except a more juiced up plot and Jennifer Beals. I'll have to go back and check, but I think Castle only does serious episodes when it relates to Beckett's mother.

Smash had a lot of dumb moments in its second, but none more dumb than when the teenage son asked about his potential sister in China and asked, "What is going to happen to her if we don't go get her?" What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I made more comments on Twitter about this if anyone's interested.

I liked that Alcatraz tried to make things a little more dangerous, but the show is still bland from the characters to plot.

House at long last did a Chase episode. It wasn't anything special, but I liked it.

How I Met Your Mother: After all the back and forth Ted and Robin have done over the years, why again? What hasn't been covered already?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reviews 2/7/12 - 2/13/12

I don't have enough time for Luck, especially since it takes a while to reacclimate to the show's style, so I'm putting it off until I can watch several episodes in a row, as I did with Boardwalk Empire.

I found myself enjoying The Walking Dead's return even though nothing really happened. Two things stuck out to me. Lori getting in the car crash was ridiculous. Do the writers really want her to be an idiot, or do they not realize how stupid her thought process was? Second, Michael Raymond-James killed that final scene. He's sitting there, perfectly calm, speaking in a manner that isn't overtly threatening. But there's something there, just slightly, that indicates something is not right. Indeed, this is confirmed as Rick shoots Dave and Tony, a good ending to the episode to reinforce the realities Rick must face.

Shameless: The thinking behind Frank and his mother is that their unpleasantness and situations they're in magically will be funny. I don't know about other people, but their perpetual meanness is off-putting. They're not just dickish like House of Lies characters--they're bad people with no hope of redemption. What the introduction of his mother did do, however, is to partially explain why he's the way he is. It by no means absolves him of anything, but we get a better idea of why he's a mean drunk. The rest of characters didn't get particularly good plots in comparison to last week's, with Steve's awkward return and more Lip pouting. Ethel and Malik running off was great, though.

This week's Pan Am episode was aired far out of order, belonging after the sixth episode rather than the twelfth.  It's actually a fairly important episode, showing what happened to Ginny and Laura's nude photoshoot (which, embarrassingly, was a major plot point in the previous episode). But you can see why ABC chose to put off the episode during November sweeps--it's pretty bad. Ginny becomes crazy in an instant, the Charlie story is horrendous, and Kate's plot gets sidelined by most of the episode and is rendered useless, despite the greater implications. Putting another nail in Pan Am's coffin, last night's ratings: 0.7 18-49, 2.662 million total. Yikes.

Once Upon a Time continues its tedium with another fairy tale story--Beauty and the Beast--wrapped in a different context than we're used to seeing. The big reveal is that Mr. Gold knows he's Rumpelstiltskin and has a face off with the Queen. What will come of this? Probably nothing until the end of the season.

I've been hard on Fringe this season, but last week's episode was really good. It places the characters in a frightening yet intriguing situation where people in this town are merging with their other selves. It's freaky and dramatic right up until the end. Perhaps it was a little too transparent in reflecting the situation with Peter, Olivia, and Walter. Still, with Olivia remembering things she shouldn't be, it'll be interesting to see where the season goes and whether Peter really does have to go back.

There comes a point when you resign yourself to the fact that a show can't be as good as it used to. I've come to that point with Supernatural. So yeah, the overarching story is lame, Bobby potential, maybe, could be a ghost is lame, but the clowns were a good distraction.

In an episode which had relatively less violence than usual, Spartacus amped up the drama, ending with Crixus being taken and Naevia freed.

I'm about ready to give up on Grimm. Amy Acker is awesome and all, but the plots and Nick's boringness are going nowhere.

Nikita took another wild turn when it's revealed that Carla, the one who took Nikita in, was actually the person who started Division.

Last week's Vampire Diaries was hardly the most action packed or twist-filled episode, but it put all the Originals together and got the ball rolling for the next part of the season, Esther plotting to kill them all.

The Secret Circle had an all-around solid episode following a real stinker of an episode. It had plenty of funny parts with Diana and Melissa on devil's spirit, and some genuinely scary parts with the hooded dead witches haunting Cassie.

Is The Office finally going somewhere? Looks like it, with Jim, Dwight, and others heading off to Florida. What's more Cathy, the rarely seen new girl in the corner, is revealed to be a villain. Progress at last!

Sheldon hanging out in Amy's lab was good for The Big Bang Theory standards--an actual change in scenery beyond the apartment, restaurant, or office scenery--but there wasn't anything particularly funny.

Revenge continues to surprise with its unrelenting forward movement and delivered another stellar episode where we see Emily tracking Daniel in flashbacks and the ending in which Emily discovers someone is onto her.

The River was really cool. The concept is good and it had enough scare to keep me interested. What differentiates the show from Lost--which seems to be the main comparison people are making--is that The River answers questions without leaving anything hanging. Mainly, you have to start with the fact that there is deep magic about. Magic, by nature, isn't confined by strict rules. Thus, supernatural things, like the dead spirit in the first episode or the doll tree in the second, are directly explained. There is a causal relationship between magic and human events which leads to these freaky things. After that, there's no mystery anymore about the scary happenings. What mystery remains is true to the entire premise of the show, where Dr. Cole is.

Glee may have hit its stupidest point yet when it was revealed that Will knows no Spanish--and he wants tenure. So this supposed "teacher" was getting paid while he taught nothing (except for glee club) and made no attempt to learn what he was supposed to teach. And then he wants tenure and collect even more money. Basically, Glee writers are telling us that Will is a piece of shit. But isn't Will supposed to be a good guy character? Oh well, I'll just called Will a piece of shit from now on.

NCIS's 200th episode was really sad. Like Chuck, it's a sad show shrouded in a funny tone. Shannon explaining to Gibbs why she and Kelly had to die is a tragic sentiment.

Castle's noir episode could have used some work. Stana Katic was flat out bad trying to be the femme fatale and it was hard to stomach her scenes. The overall mystery was pretty good, however, so it wasn't all bad.

How I Met Your Mother was really lazy last week. The plot--if you could even call it that--took up about 5 minutes total since nothing really happened. What the writers do is to chop the episode in piece, from the perspective of various rooms in the house, so we see the same things over and over again until we get the complete picture of what happened.

House had another one of those "special" episodes, probably the last before the final episodes, and I liked it, though it was overhyped. After the first couple interviews, it was evident that Chase was missing so he had to be the center of discussion. It was cheap how House got out of it so easily, but his apology to Chase was something new.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Reviews 1/30/12 - 2/5/12

Smash debuts tonight, but it was released a while back, so I'll review it now. The show starts off with some really questionable scenes involving Tom's assistant and the leaked video, but once Katharine McPhee's character Karen gets more involved, the episode takes off and there's a lot to like about it. It's an ambitious show and the stakes are real for these characters who want their shot at stardom. Of course, the danger in a show like this is that it overextends itself in "fan favorites" as Glee has done and becomes a mess. But the biggest danger to the show is people's fear of NBC. Plenty of people tune into the mediocrity of FOX's Alcatraz or ABC's Once Upon a Time, making them into hits, but NBC again finds itself floundering. Will Super Bowl advertising be enough for Smash?

I rewatched a bunch of scenes in Luck's second episode multiple times, so I generally got what was going on in every part of the episode. It bothers me when I don't understand what's going on, which is why I'm willing to spend extra time listening to barely decipherable dialogue. It feels like a chore, but it should get better as the season goes on. Without multiple plots riding on a horse race, as there was in the pilot, the second episode felt dry. Every character is developed a bit more--Jerry gambling, Renzo wanting to buy the horse, Ace plotting, Escalante taking risks and losing, Rosie losing the chance to ride Gettin' Up Morning, and Walter being sympathetic--but nothing really stood out.

Surprisingly, we're only one episode away from the midway point of Shameless's 12-episode second season. What we see from this week's episode and the season as a whole is that the show has become less involved in money-making schemes. There's still stuff going in the background, but nowhere near the level in the first season, when characters were engaged in episode-long cons. The focus on the characters this season is turning out great, as it feels natural that the characters are changing as they grow older. Ian looks forward in his life, but finds West Point an near-impossible goal. Debbie is hitting that age when she cares about boys. Fiona tries to find her purpose in life and decide what she wants to do with her personal life and then Steve arrives. Lip is thrust into a position where Karen is pregnant and the baby could be his, throwing his life into even more turmoil.

Fringe writers should have had an Astrid episode long, long before--especially since they had those Bible episodes in the second season which were never revisited (probably the greatest proof they make things up as they go along)--and now in the likely final season we get one when the writers should be trying to tie things together. Okay, so the situation is far from ideal, but Jasika Nicole is pretty awesome and the plot was solid, covering the spectrum of Astrid and her counterpart from the other world, Neil and his deceased brother, and Walter and Peter.

In the middle of the season, we couldn't expect Nikita to have another monumental change and have everyone inside Division die, so as expected everyone turns out fine. The biggest change is that Percy is now out and free to execute his evil plans.

I kind feel bad about being so uninterested in Supernatural these days. I want to like it, but there's little I get from it these days, other than being occasionally amused by the Winchesters. The Amazons were badly developed, the daughter twist obvious, and the Bobby ghost thing going nowhere. Every scenario with Sam and Dean has been done already, so their conflicts no long feel fresh, just rehashes of stuff in the past.

Grimm had genuinely freaky creatures last week and Juliette was outside for an extended period of time! The stuff with the captain is still terrible, but maybe Juliette being involved is a sign of things to come.

Last week's Office episode blew by quickly. It started and then was over before anything really happened. There was one big development, the reveal that Angela's baby might by Dwight's--possibly as a prelude to Dwight's spin-off--and the rest was filler. The filler actually took up most of the episode, as Jim made up excuses after excuse after excuse, ad nauseum.

I don't think Up All Night will every reach the level of Parks and Recreation, but last week's episode with Chris and his brother was probably the best plot thus far, showing the squabbling part of a sibling relationship and resolving it as well.

The reason why I rarely have anything to say about Parks and Recreation is because there's rarely anything wrong with it. During the episode, I laugh and think about how great every character is. There wouldn't be much I could say, other than listing funny scenes, which would take too much time.

Until the end, last week's Secret Circle episode was the most boring episode. Even after the psychic stabbed and then got killed herself, the episode, on average, was probably still the most boring. There was more non-committal love triangle/quadrangle, mild drug use, and all of time-wasting. Doesn't the show have another gear?

The Vampires Diaries showed why is several steps above The Secret Circle. The episode had movement in all direction with Caroline's father dying, a killer scene with Caroline and Elena, and then Alaric is found stabbed in the darkened house with blood everywhere. Finally, all the Originals are gathered and most aren't happy about Klaus. There's lots of uncertainly right now with the Originals, and there's an unknown killer on the loose.

In its third episode, Justified gives a fuller introduction to Limehouse, rounding out the villains and showing us the various factions in Harlan who will be fighting for turf and money while Raylan and the Marshalls trying to keep them under control.

Glee's Michael Jackson episode was a bit better than previous theme episodes but not by much. First, the one positive: the application plot was relevant and something was actually on the line. And the big negative: in evil Sue's absence, this Sebastian guy became the ultimate evil, completely unrealistic and malicious for no reason.

Reading the description of last week's Alcatraz episode, I thought the hostage problem would take up most of the episode, where Rebecca learns more about the prisoner as she tries to defuse the situation. Instead, the episode played out its usual procedural before the tepid bank robbery. I'm surprised to see the ratings for the show are still really high, as the show has not indicated it's anything other than another supernatural procedural.

Being Human (UK/US): I want to talk about both shows because the fourth season premiere of original aired on Sunday (which you can find online if you look hard enough...), and it took the show in a dramatically new direction. Without spoiling anything, the DNA of the show has been changed. Going back to the US version, it introduced Josh's ex-fiancee Julia as the doctor Aidan hooked up with. It looks like the shows have completely diverged.
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