Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Showtime's recent exploration of "half-hour dramatic comedies" makes for a challenging approach to television. While it does create these series that defy any certain genre and appears to attract consistently top-tier female talent, it also proves difficult to get a handle on the show's tone and in certain cases its characters. Nurse Jackie is a titan within this genre, but on the flip side is The Big C, its pilot a sometimes clumsy and sparingly amusing exploration of one of the most disgusting, frustrating and universally loathed of bitches: cancer.
It's screamingly obvious that there's no direction in the Simon Elder storyline and that the writers are pulling the varying plot strands out of their butts. So much of the plot developments related to his arc felt right out of left-field in this episode, from his lengthy connection to the Darling's, to the weirdness about the previously-never-mentioned-unless-I'm-blanking "Kenneth Darling" and his mysterious assassination. All the actors are trying, but you can tell that they're also desperately searching for some kind of understanding of what is happening.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
There was an interesting contrast created throughout this episode, made clear with Kiki's line where she described how she wanted to live in the Darling mansion forever, no matter what. This moment was followed by Ellen angry over being part of a "fake world", smiling for the cameras and being forced to deny the pain she's actually experiencing. It's a tradition of the genre to reflect the dark underbelly beneath the glamorous exterior of the wealthy, and it's something Dirty Sexy Money has done pretty well so far.
While it improved on Piper Maru, a lot of Apocrypha towed the company line: minor revelations, convoluted attempts to tell a simple story, some decent scenes of intrigue. I'm still a little lost in the mythology of the show as a whole, but knowing where the series is headed, I'm not sure I'm actually missing out on anything. It must have been crazy disheartening for the fans who actually cared about the intricate details of the show's villains and conspiracies, especially when so much of it in the end seemed to be made up as the show went along.
It's always difficult reviewing the first part of a two-part episode, especially when it's pretty clear that everything that happens in part one is merely an opener to the major action in part two. But, judged on its own, I really didn't like Piper Maru. What's even more disappointing is that it started so well, with an intense teaser sequence and a great Scully moment.
I remember that as a kid, back in the dark ages of the 1990's, that I actually read the novelization of this episode before I saw the episode itself. Yep, remember novelizations? Heh. Grotesque is almost a spiritual successor to last season's Irresistible, both of which help lay the groundwork for Chris Carter's Millennium, especially with the insight into the criminal mind. Grotesque is arguably a better episode than Irresistible, if only because it has far more ideas, and we don't have the seemingly requisite "Scully-in-peril" third act twist.
Monday, August 9, 2010
I always wonder what happens to the creator/executive producer of a show when a writer suddenly appears and entirely exploits the potential the show has, raising the bar to such an extent that it leaves everything else out in the cold. Was Chris Carter a little intimidated? A little bruised? This is clearly his attempt at a Darin Morgan script, from the wacky supporting characters to the exaggeration of Mulder and Scully's on-screen "personas". But, and it's especially unfortunate considering the episode it followed, Syzygy ends up a mess unsure of which direction to exploit.
Darin Morgan's third episode lacks the warmth of Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, but damn if it isn't a comedic tour-de-force. Combining some of the grossest, most repulsive bug moments that I've ever seen on television with some ridiculously fun insights into the Mulder/Scully relationship, War of the Coprophages surprised me in its genius. Especially since it's usually considered the black sheep of the Morgan episodes.
This episode is all over the place, but the weight of its ideas mostly overcomes the shallow mystery Mulder and Scully find themselves investigating. That doesn't discount the fact that a lot of the episode is extremely frustrating, but Revelations at least hinges its last twenty minutes on the religious angle to Scully's character, something that hasn't been utilized in a while.
While The Game's titular set piece left a lot to be desired, it was a necessary means to an end, both in cementing the trust between Nick and Tripp, and in helping Simon Elder become even more ambiguous as a character. Personally, any character who wants to turn Manhattan into some trashy video game-looking eyesore is pretty much guaranteed to be untrustworthy. Nick and Tripp's closing scene, which revealed their plan all along, was especially moving. Both Peter Krause and Donald Sutherland are nailing their relationship, Tripp seeing Nick as almost the son he never had, and Nick proving he's not as gullible as he likes people to think.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
This was another episode where my enjoyment was hampered by my knowledge of the rest of the series. I was always a casual X-Files viewer, and this is my first time watching the show unfold episode-by-episode, but I'm already aware that literal aliens do come into play at various points down the line, which affected how I viewed 731. It would have been pretty heartbreaking to have Mulder proved wrong in his beliefs, but it would have been equally as daring. Having The Conspiracy creating these elaborate and grand red-herrings to cover up brutal, human evil at its worst? It takes a lot of guts to do that, and I can't help but wonder if it might have really worked.
For at least half of the episode, Nisei follows a now typical pattern for the X-Files conspiracy episodes. Mulder discovers some improbable lead, relentlessly pursues the mystery, Skinner steps in to warn him, Mulder does something reckless. It's become a little formulaic, but it's still aggressively fun. But, at the same time, Scully experiences something a whole lot more original, and a whole lot creepier.
So far, I haven't talked a whole lot about the Dutch George mystery at the center of the series. The arc hasn't taken hold of an entire episode yet, but the show has kept it as a neat little subplot in the background of pretty much every hour so far. The introduction of Simon Elder successfully humanizes the story, giving the mystery a little more gravitas than the random "one-episode enigmatic guest star" characters Nick has encountered previously.
In the continuing Nick/Karen/Lisa triangle, the writers have made a good job of making all parties pretty sympathetic. Sure, Karen is a little obnoxious in her complete lack of awareness, but Natalie Zea's winning performance and the hints of sadness and regret that layer it definitely redeem any negative qualities about her character. Likewise, it's understandable why Lisa is so panicked. She's terrified of losing her husband not only to Karen but to the Darling lifestyle itself. The scene where she handed Karen back the shoes she purchased for her was revelatory in how much it said about her character.