Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reviews 8/9/12 - 8/14/12

I've basically caught up on everything I've missed. I'm debating whether to watch the rest of Political Animals. The date for the reviews include Tuesday, but I honestly don't have anything to say about Tuesday shows so I left them off.

Major Crimes continues right on from The Closer without much hesitation. The characters are basically all there except for Pope, Gabriel, and obviously Brenda, the look of the show is the same, and there's the Rusty kid from the finale. There's so much familiarity that anyone who watched The Closer not only for Brenda will find much to like. And yet, I can't help but think something is missing. The Closer began with Brenda finding herself in an antagonistic division with everyone trying to undermine her. Major Crimes is very similar in this regard, with everyone hating on Raydor (she's actually been a thorn in their sides for a while unlike Brenda who had just arrived), so we once again get that Prime Suspect vibe from the show. But after everyone came to respect Brenda, there was still plenty to watch. Brenda handled suspects like no other, using a mixture of anger and subterfuge to break them down, and it made for good television. Raydor's thing so far is that she cuts deals with suspects. Is that all she brings to the table? I hope not.

I don't like how The Closer ended. I don't want to be thinking, "What's Brenda Leigh Johnson doing today?"  while we're following Raydor and her new crew, because we all know Brenda's going to be doing something interesting at her new job at the DA's office. I mean, is Brenda really going to give up crime solving and dead people? Something tells me she won't, unless she takes a big step back from this whole world for a while. Aside from that, the series finale went as one would expect. We get to see all Brenda's familiar traits one last time, she finally nabs Stroh (alas Croelick is still out there, following the reports that Jason O'Mara would not return), gets to shoot him a couple times, and the team says their goodbyes. It's not an overly sentimental affair, but it marked the end of an era. With all her quirks and mannerism, Brenda was one of the most distinct characters of the past decade

Of the shows currently airing, there are few whose new episodes I really want to watch immediately. Breaking Bad is one, Alphas is another. I don't care too much for the rest. The writers do such a superb job with the characters that I want to know what happens to them next. Some shows (Warehouse 13, Grimm, to name a few) would have bungled the flashback device, but Alphas dives right in. Nina's backstory is both sad and chilling. She intervenes in domestic issues as a child, keeping her father in the house, which ultimately results in him killing himself. It's the perfect backdrop for her actions in the present when she's basically unhinged, making Rachel kiss her (yes, gratuitous by the writers, but they make sure to let us know how much Rachel hated it), making Tommy leave his family, pushing Rosen again, and finally jumping off the rooftop. She's may be back at the end of the hospital, eyes cover and arms strapped down, but there's so much wrong with her. Although Nina's story was very dark, Kat balanced it out. She has tons of spunk and is incredibly likable. I hope she gets to stick around longer or maybe even become a permanent member of the team. But I suspect she, like Nina, has a dark past, one that has been forgotten, setting Kat up as Nina's foil. All the members of the team have their own specifics debilitations, while Nina has no clear one. It is in fact her memory that holds her back and her inability to let go of her past.

With horrible, worsening ratings each year, NBC tried something different this year with Grimm. The network decided to start airing it in mid-August, right after the Olympics and a month before all the other shows will premiere, and on a Monday, not on its regular night of Friday. This would seem like a risky move, as network ratings are decidedly lower during the summer... but it's not like anyone watches NBC anyways. The season premiere got off to an okay start, a 2.0 demo, better than the first season average and only a hair lower than the series premiere. Now if the goal of these moves were to attract new viewers, NBC failed pretty badly. The first season of Grimm was good when it focused on the procedural aspects of the show, the different Wesen and how Nick eventually dealt with them. It was at its very worst when it touched on the mythology. It did so in the most infuriating way, exemplified by Captain Rernard always using "mystery speak." Every character skirted around the core of the mythology--a few words here, an implication there--but never a fully fleshed out picture, and yet the mythology was always a big part of the show, used as motivation for actions  many episodes. Characters would do something because of ____, but we don't even know what the hell _____ is.

The second season premiere focused almost entirely on this mythology aspect of the show. The plot device coins rear their heads once more, with this silly melting quest, and there is more of that useless mystery speak regarding Juliette, Nick, Renard. On the plus side, Nick's mother explains how the Grimms worked for the seven royal families, and how there's this thing out there that would allow the royal families to control the world, and Grimm knights hid the location by making a map and splitting it between them. The episode ends with a "To be continued," as Nick's about to get smacked in the face, but beyond that, there is little implication about what's really important. There are too many mysteries, too many magical objects out there that it's hard to tell what actually matters.

Breaking Bad became an action show this week with a full-on train heist with plenty of excitement to go around, starting from Walt bugging Hank's office and finding out that Lydia didn't actually plant the tracker. The heist is fun in usual Breaking Bad fashion, crafty rather than brutal. There are some hiccups late in the heist, but everything goes fine until the end. The kid rolls up on his bike and Todd shoots him dead. Normally if this were just Jesse and Walt, they would weasel out of it. It might take an episode or two, but eventually the kid would be alive and no problem. But there's Todd. He doesn't know how they operate, and he makes damn sure no one will find out about the heist. While Breaking Bad has action episodes from time to time, Walt and Jesse never shot anyone, nor were they ever comfortable shooting someone. And they are clearly not comfortable this time. Now what do they do?

Grudgingly, I went ahead and watched the season premiere of Hell on Wheels. Like the first season, the premiere was all over the place. All the characters are in different places and positions than they were in the first season, but still with no sense of direction. There is nothing cohesive in the little town that explains why exactly these characters are important to each other or the world around them, and why the writers have chosen to show them versus other people. Especially troublesome is Bohannon being the exact same as he was in the first season. While Anson Mount plays him with this greatly grim studiousness, Bohannon become tiresome after a while. He's told his stories, he's fought Yankee soldiers, he's wallowed in himself--and now, in the second season, he's doing it all over again.

I don't understand why True Blood can't be like this week's episode every week. No Arlene, no Terry, all the characters being active. Sam and Luna are actually doing stuff, trying to find Emma by changing in mice which was pretty funny. Sookie and Jason learn that Sookie belongs to Warlow contractually. Hoyt leaving for Alaska gave us some good moments from Jessica, stabilizing her for a while, and Jason, who's usually too silly to be taken seriously. There was movement at the Authority where things are getting crazier each week. Yes, the vampires are all really stupid, especially the way they handled Russell from the beginning (although it's dumb that vampire strength seems to be determined solely by age), but the story is moving forward. And Tara becoming a vampire has been a great move. She's no longer the quivering victim who mucks up the show!

Okay, time to make the Falling Skies-Walking Dead comparison. The second season of The Walking Dead was too slow; the second season of Falling Skies is too fast. The Walking Dead spent its past season on the farm with no serious threat to the groups existence, and the show really stagnated there. But at least there were hints of cracks as the season trudged along and the zombies always kept things interesting. On the other hand, Falling Skies is eager to get to the next plot point, always racing towards the new problem. There's no time to let anything develop. This is what I've complained about the past few weeks, and this week's episode was a great example of that. After so long to get to Charleston, there are a few minutes for viewers to get acclimated with the new setting before the first hint of trouble: the general doesn't want intelligence on the skitters. Then the contrivances come with Pope trying to escape and getting caught, Maggie getting caught trying to stop them, and Hal getting caught trying to escape with Maggie. It turns out that Terry O'Quinn's history professor character, leader of the Charleston group, is one of those dictator types.

Longmire, bizarrely, has dangled Walt's big mystery in front of us this whole season. There were this weird, stylized flashbacks which meant nothing and bits of dialogue which also meant nothing. When the reveal finally came, that his wife was murdered and Walt was involved in the murderer's murder, I didn't really care. No reaction. Does this change my view of Walt? Not really. He's always been one of those old timers who doesn't give a crap, no matter how rude or hypocritical. A bigger problem is that the reveal doesn't open up any new plot avenues other than Katie becoming more pissed. The good thing about Longmire is that the crimes, as unrealistic as they are, are Montana crimes, not LA crimes ported over. So we get to see different kinds of people, different cultures, and a different way of handling crimes.

NBC previewed Animal Practice while the Olympics closing ceremony was still going on, so it didn't start with much sympathy. Still, the premiere got massive ratings and NBC's goal of getting people to watch, even for a few minutes, was fulfilled. From there, though, the number of people sticking around depends on how many people like stupid humor. There's nothing smart or redeeming about Animal Practice. One of its main attractions is a monkey, which may be passable entertainment for some. We'll see where the show goes, but I don't have high hopes.

Common Law, off by itself on Friday nights, hasn't been a breakout hit for USA as have other shows (maybe USA could learn something from this and Fairly Legal) on the network. It has this gimmicky premise of two cops in relationship group therapy which enhances an otherwise boring show. The procedural side of the show is very plain, and with plenty of procedurals already out there, it brings nothing new to the table. The season finale takes us through the origins of the partners' original conflict, which should have been brought up earlier, and they resolve the case. If the show doesn't get renewed, this is a nice stopping point. They've resolved the immediate issue which put them into therapy in the first place and there aren't really any strings left hanging, except for Wes's ex-wife, if anyone cares.

As much crap as NBC gets, no one can say that it doesn't try with its comedies. Go On stars Matthew Perry as a sports radio host whose wife died which puts him in therapy. Not funny, you say? The writers jam as much comedy into the first half as they can before confronting the fact that his wife just died. It's some stupid bit about making a bracket for who has had the worst thing happen to them, and I was ready to hate the show. The second half is much better, and touches on serious issues while maintaining a humorous tone. I want to see Go On be more of the second half, which was funny at times without being over the top.
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