Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Leo, as a character, never worked for me. Ostensibly, he's the show's version of a "get-out-of-jail-free-card", somebody the writers can turn to when they're painted into a corner, a character who can heal/teleport on outta there and save the day. This always bothered me. Now we have a show where nobody is truly dead or truly in danger, unless of course the actor involved got fired or alienated themselves so much from the rest of the cast and crew that they'd never be asked to set foot on the Charmed set ever again. It's a little frustrating.
The strongest episodes of Charmed usually contrast a ridiculous demon/warlock/witch storyline with a human 'issue' that the sisters are experiencing. From Fear to Eternity, another surprisingly decent season one hour, explores the long-lasting after-effects of a tragedy. In the case of the Halliwell sisters, it's the demise of their mother. Prue not only faces her greatest fear, but also finally tells her sisters that she loves them. It's not the most complex of problems, but it makes for an intriguing episode grounded in a kind of emotion that the show deserted later on.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Scully's skepticism has become more contrived over the years, eventually settling in the position of pure denial. Here, Scully witnesses events that go beyond rational explanation yet continues to refuse to acknowledge it. But while in past episodes her denial reads as crazily annoying, the strength of John Shiban's script forces us to only see sadness. She's so terrified of her own mortality, and can't even consider another life-changing occurrence right now, where she accepts that supernatural phenomena actually exists. Gillian Anderson is stunning here, pushing Scully's denial so far that it is released through anger towards Mulder. Their final scene together is heartbreaking. They're both so terrified of her cancer that they're at each other's throats. It's a horrible, but both inevitable and truthful evolution of the story.
Eden is an oversexed porno monster, a character so ridiculously implausible that she fails to even work as comic relief. She's so much a walking porno character that she makes the equally porny Kit McGraw look like a Merchant Ivory creation. In her ten minutes on screen this episode, she references blow jobs, anal sex and a black man's ding-dong, calls Sean 'daddy', discusses her hymen and masturbates in public. She's also fine with belittling a pre-teen about her weight. AnnaLynne McCord looks like a porn star and acts like one too, Eden Lord being one of the most absurd things to happen to the series in a long, long time.
Monday, January 24, 2011
The first of many, many, many episodes about one of the sisters becoming possessed by something demonic, The Wendigo is nowhere near greatness, but it is an atmospheric little mystery. It's by turns fun, exciting and ridiculously contrived (all ingredients that create the best Charmed episodes), and there's enough here to make it one of those early classics. This is mostly down to Holly Marie Combs, who has so far created the most vivid of the three sisters, and who gets a real showcase here to display her versatility as well as Piper's neurotic charm.
This should have been an interesting episode from a Phoebe stand-point, but unfortunately too little time is given to her history, or her own feelings of personal growth since her return to San Francisco. Instead, most of the script's attention is given to her dull-dull-dull love interest Clay, his ham-fisted proclamations of having 'gone straight', and a flat mystery involving a cursed urn. Throw in a couple of dull subplots and yet another superfluous Andy appearance, and it's no surprise five writers are credited to this mess.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Skinner continues to prove he's one of the strongest characters on the show with this Mitch Pileggi-heavy episode. Skinner is a stoolie for a reprehensible monster, trying to do the right thing but forced to orchestrate an awful chain of events in the hopes of achieving his end goal (to save Scully). There was a lot of fun to be had here, with the atmospheric and almost dialogue-free early sequences with Skinner disposing of Jane Brody's body, while Mulder seeking help and advice from the very man he's unknowingly pursuing was equally entertaining. The conspiracy episodes only truly work at this point when it doesn't feel like the writers are simply tossing a series of elements into a pot, and Zero Sum thankfully only explores one of them.
Julia's detour "from dwarf-humping to carpet-munching" is never explored as successfully again as it is here. The story is quickly derailed by... uh, next episode, but her explosive revelation this episode is wonderful. Away from the sensationalism of the 'idea' of the story, it isn't totally surprising that Julia would explore her sexuality. She did seem to be attracted to Ava in her dream episode in season two, Ava even remarking that Julia has always wondered what it would be like to kiss a woman. I loved her explanation for her attraction to Olivia, not that she's explicitly gay now, but just that she fell in love with somebody who happened to be another woman. Portia de Rossi was also great. Like the story, she's quickly wasted as the season progresses, but she has a sexy, confident and almost masculine (while still flirtatiously feminine) energy in this episode, easily bantering with Christian and showcasing the exact qualities that Julia would find attractive.
It's about damn time that the mythology element to Undercovers was explored, but frustratingly we were once again just blessed with the 'idea' of mythology. Here we have a secret key, a locked vault, and a mysterious book. The problem is that just by having allusions to mythology doesn't make the show more interesting. It's the show dragging its feet to create some kind of tension or drama, but it's only succeeded in backfiring completely. A show like Heroes also seemed to intentionally drag out story arcs and 'ideas' for so long that they became stale, and that show too became unwatchable. The fact that NBC ordered several additional scripts and, after reading them, then decided to cancel the series goes a long way in revealing that even after warnings of cancellation, the show didn't re-tool enough to make the concept work.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In a lot of ways, Birds of Prey was a show that struggled to find an identity. This was pretty evident in the on-screen changes that occurred throughout the thirteen episodes produced. For a show conceived with an three-character ensemble (echoing its source material), it quickly became a vehicle for The Huntress. Likewise, as the season progressed, Dinah became almost entirely phased out - her scenes reduced, her high school subplots removed. At the same time, no over-arching storyline was ever present, besides the flat Helena/Reese romance. The series also couldn't work out how to use its source material. I'm sure DC copyright forced the writers one way or another, but it never really worked out whether it would confidently wear its comic-book roots on its sleeve, or only briefly allude to it. The latter only ever came off as lazy and illogical, such as Reese's ignorance of Batman, while the former was barely used outside of the pilot. It's disappointing that the show was canceled, but I'm not sure it would have made any significant improvements without an entire production overhaul.
Re-watching the early episodes, it's pretty great to see a story arc involving villains that aren't just reduced to the whole "crush, kill, destroy" method of dispatching the Charmed Ones. The show's villains eventually became so shrill, flat and one-note that seeing Rex and Hannah forming this elaborate plan is actually pretty refreshing. Wicca Envy is occasionally both melodramatic and ridiculous, but it's probably the strongest episode of the series so far, and a benchmark for what the show would eventually become.
Another vaguely flat early season one episode, this does at least advance the show's mythology a little, even if it is contained in an episode full of obvious humor, obvious characterization and generic plotting. Nobody ever said Charmed was subtle, but this episode essentially smashes you over the head with a sledgehammer, in terms of both the writing and the acting, the latter presumably performed by a bunch of daytime TV actors and ex-models. Essentially, Aaron Spelling-types.
Comedy works at its finest when there is an undercurrent of tragedy. Eddie Van Blundht, the shapeshifting, once-tailed gentleman at the center of Small Potatoes, is a schlubby loser who uses his abilities to become what he never has been as Eddie. With his powers, he doesn't have to be the ignored fertility clinic janitor, he can be the businessman or the lovable husband or the gun-toting FBI agent. What he's responsible for is genetic rape, but in Eddie's mind it's merely an escape from an unfulfilling existence. And then there's Mulder. Now, Mulder appears perfectly happy leading the life he leads, but somebody like Eddie automatically thinks different. Mulder is a handsome, charming government employee with a hot work partner. And yet he associates with nerds, calls up phone sex lines and keeps to himself. Why should a life that great be wasted? These are the themes raised throughout the hour, one of the show's finest comedy episodes.
For a show all about transformation, Nip/Tuck rarely transformed itself as a series. Characters remained pretty stagnant throughout the show's six seasons, antagonists usually came in the same package of attractive psychotic women, and stories were repeated. One area that actually did transform was in the location of the series, the characters deciding to up sticks and relocate from the sleaze-filled streets of Miami to the destructive Los Angeles. It's a decision that proved irrelevant in the long-run, but did inject the series with some temporary mojo.
Friday, January 14, 2011
There was a moment in Funny Money where Steven and Hoyt manipulated the bad guy of the week into saying the seven-digit code needed to open up his secret vault. What made the scene even more fun was the use of on-screen graphics which appeared every time a new number was spoken. It was such an odd moment of visual flair that stuck out like a sore thumb in a series that has lacked any kind of visual identity. Sure, you can see that expense has been poured into the sets and the various international locations the show has explored, but visually the show just hasn't been memorable. I guess the travel-card location titles were interesting, but paled in comparison to the floaty 3D wording on Fringe, or the comic book typeface on Heroes years ago. But, man, the password scene here was pretty darn great, and a step in the right direction.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I understand that the WB allowed Birds of Prey, even after cancellation, to fulfill its 13-episode order with a rushed two-part finale, shot on a low budget and featuring some immediate resolution to the show's various story arcs. It was a nice gift for the, oh, six people that were watching. Feat of Clay was all about the breaking down of secrets. There was nothing new on the Helena and Reese front, but we had Barbara forced into coming clean to Wade about her double life, Helena discovering her mother's killer, and Harley stumbling upon Helena's secret.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
This episode's subplot was pretty fun, featuring the aftermath of an ill-advised truth spell. So far, so Sabrina. However, the show puts enough dramatic weight behind the storyline to increase its power, in particular where Andy and Prue are concerned. While it's a little silly that Andy discovers the secret, thinks it over, and eventually decides he's against the whole "witch" thing in less than a couple of hours (with few questions asked), I'm excusing it. Everybody's allowed at least a little bit of artistic license once in a while.
Season two saw the introduction of Jenny Gordon, a neighborhood girl who (in her brief tenure on the show) asked about tampons and sex and threw herself into dangerous situations. Then she vanished. It was never explained what the writers had intended for her, or why anybody thought she would be an asset to the series. Watching The Fourth Sister, I can almost see what the show may have had in mind. Here we have a lonely teenage girl, desperate for some kind of acceptance, turning to the Halliwells for wicca-related guidance. While the character bugs at times, her presence isn't entirely reprehensible, and I'm a little surprised that they never asked Danielle Harris back. Which leads me to thinking that maybe Jenny was supposed to be a new incarnation of the same character?
While entertaining, Synchrony works better as a series of ideas than as a logical slice of science-fiction. I'm a huge fan of time-travel episodes in general, and the allusions to Back to the Future in the teaser were pretty great. Equally effective were the guest characters, from the sadness of the older Jason to the icy resourcefulness of Lisa. But there was a real feel here of a missed opportunity, and a significant lack of emotion when it came to its time-bending conclusion. Here we have two versions of the same person, the older version killing his younger self to prevent chaos, and it doesn't deliver the sucker punch it probably should have.