Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buffy: Angel (1.7)

This episode marks the point where the series raised the stakes and demonstrated that it's not a simple, occasionally silly, girl-fighting-monsters show. Most TV shows have that one couple who define the series and cement it in pop culture. Ross and Rachel, David and Maddie, Mulder and Scully, Dawson and Joey, etc. What is introduced here is the most epic TV couple in recent memory, the beginning of a doomed love affair that could never work and should never work, but the undeniable chemistry and heated passion between them make the two of them pretty much inseparable. A couple whose love shakes up the rules, brings about death and destruction and defined the high school years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It works not only as a gothic romance, but also as a wonderful metaphor for teenage love. It's unexpected, usually restricted or frowned upon by certain parties, and is wrought with just as much pain as there is pleasure. Obviously, I'm talking about Buffy and Angel.

The X-Files: Chinga (5.10)

By turns both hilarious in its absurdity as well as (dare I say it) kind of boring, Chinga is the work of guest writer Stephen King, arguably the world's most famous living horror novelist. Chris Carter was presumably drafted in to fix up the script, since so much of Chinga's 'killer doll' story is laborious and nonsensical. It is admittedly a lot of fun at times, too, but it's ironic that the real fun is generated not from the murderous doll and the creepy little girl who carries her around everywhere, but instead from the banter between Mulder and Scully, separated by geography and revealing a bucket load about their personalities in the process.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Ronnie Chase (5.15)

It always felt like the writers of Nip/Tuck had repetitive strain injury. There would be runs of episodes full of cartoon craziness, strained exploration of taboo subjects, and awful things happening to the show's increasingly victimized cast of characters. Then, out of nowhere, almost as if the writers had realized what they had done, they'd drastically pull back and put the main cast center stage once again, granting them character-driven stories that weren't obscene in their ridiculousness. Then, of course, they'd quickly grow bored of that and introduce a whole bunch of batshit contrivance to grab some attention from passing viewers. Ronnie Chase begins with an elaborate fifteen-minute exercise in carnage, before exploring human drama for once.

Charmed: They're Everywhere (2.7)

All the stuff about the Halliwell's dad never really goes anywhere. They raise Victor in part because of how dedicated Eric is to his own father, which is in sharp contrast to the fact that Victor abandoned them and seemingly doesn't give two hoots about his kids. This is all fine, but the fact that it goes nowhere fast and nothing is really achieved as a result of such breezy references severely impacts on the episode. What's more vapid than something so standalone are lazy attempts to make a standalone episode more important. And considering, with hindsight, that Victor's early season characterization is casually dismissed once you get to the James Read years, episodes like They're Everywhere become even more redundant.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Convertible (2.11)

'Endgame' is a term that has been bandied about between the fanbases of just about every TV series over the last couple of years, in regard to the idea of certain stories and (most commonly) certain relationships being chosen as the 'defining elements' of the series that will all come together when the show eventually wraps up. It appears that as Dirty Sexy Money got closer and closer to cancellation, the 'endgame couple' would be Nick and Karen, the writers determined to throw the two of them together in time for the last gasps of the series, regardless of rhyme nor reason.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buffy: The Pack (1.6)

It's pretty easy to dismiss The Pack as just another of season one's dumber episodes. You'd certainly have a point, though. I mean, come on, possessed by demonic hyenas? It's pretty stupid. But away from the ridiculousness of the concept, it's important to note that the episode isn't afraid of creating truly ugly moments that are both aggressive and disturbing. Xander's cruelty is especially nasty, not written as teen-show "Xander's acting weird" behavior, but as destructive and upsetting in how personal it is. His attitude towards Willow, which borders on abusive, is especially tough to watch, unloading his anger on her and degrading her both physically and mentally. In that regards, the episode is successfully affecting.

The X-Files: Schizogeny (5.9)

It isn't surprising that this episode was written by two freelance writers, since the script and some of the characterization is undeniably problematic. However, that doesn't hamper the fact that there are some surprisingly effective ideas at work here. Schizogeny is an episode about revenge, and the anger and resentment created as a result of abuse. The three principal guest characters are all wounded by that feeling of distrust, people that are supposed to love and protect them only hurting them in the long run. And we also have a villain (or, arguably, a misguided hero) who believes she is doing the right thing, but letting madness take over whatever common sense she once had.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bonus - Law & Order: SVU: Bombshell (12.19)

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a show which prides itself on the depraved nature of so many of its stories. Now in its twelfth season, it's unsurprising that the show regularly seems intent on exposing whatever kinky sex fetish they can, creating a New York City full of irrational wingnuts and delusional perverts. The series is comfort TV, however, a show that you can easily tune in and out of with regularity, despite the obvious feeling that the actors and writers have all but given up trying to be convincing. Bombshell is the first episode I've seen in a while, SVU now being a show I tune in to whenever a decent guest star appears (including Shohreh Aghdashloo and Maria Bello, recently). While it was fun in its stupidity, it was pretty ridiculous that practically all the guest stars were wacko. There's the stabby housewife, the nutcase swinger, and the incestuous con artists. I practically need a decontamination shower after watching this show.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Candy Richards (5.14)

Ryan Murphy spoke before season five premiered that the year's stories would be driven by the idea that Hollywood corrupts those who occupy it. In that regard, the season has been successful in some areas. Sean and Christian both got carried away with the fame and lifestyles of the Hollywood elite, embarking on a series of awful misadventures with teen tyrants, male prostitution and the relentless pursuit of attention. But for so much of the season, this idea was abandoned and replaced by an array of cheap dramatic tricks, salacious plot twists and embarrassing attempts at provocation. In one way, Nip/Tuck itself had been corrupted by its pursuit of notoriety, taking that once complimentary label of a 'boundary-pushing soap opera' and using it as an excuse to depict whatever nutty carnage they could think of.

Charmed: That Old Black Magic (2.6)

Besides Cole, Charmed was never known for its dynamic male characters. Season two was really the show's nadir in terms of testosterone, with an array of dismal males left right and center, each one as annoying as the next. Leo is especially groan-worthy here, his holier-than-thou attitude and random bursts of emotion!! both majorly contrived. I got the impression that Brian Krause still had no idea how to play the character at this point. Dan Gordon, Piper's latest boo, is a slab of beef with an annoying hair cut. His entire persona seems to be that "he's hot", with little spark anywhere else. And then there's newcomer Jack Sheridan. If there's one thing I can't stand more than anything else in romantic storylines, it's when two characters meet and immediately can't stand one another. The faux anger and sniping, mixed with the sexy sexy flirty banter, just bugs the hell out of me. In terms of relationships, this episode fails.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Organ Donor (2.10)

The show lost a huge amount of momentum by skipping over the aftermath of the shooting. Even worse was the bizarre decision to kill Carmelita, a character who could have been explored further. What made this decision even more contrived was that it was the second time in, what, a couple of months that Patrick lost somebody close to him. And while Patrick did express some rage over her murder, it was pretty underwhelming considering how much he loved her. This is a guy who risked his entire political career to be with somebody 'controversial', and her murder is treated so casually. He didn't even seem broken up about it. This particular plot development was a major disservice to both the characters themselves, and the great discovery that was Candis Cayne.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Buffy: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (1.5)

This is the most obvious depiction so far of one of Buffy's enduring themes: the desperation for a normal life amid all the apocalyptic monster-hunting. Here we have Buffy besotted with an annoyingly broody and handsome loner who surprisingly isn't Angel, who reads Emily Dickinson alone in the cafeteria and clearly has some fetish for watching petite young ladies beat up toothy muscle-men. It's all very, very disturbing. What it succeeds in is creating real sympathy for Buffy. She can't do anything ordinary without at least that nagging sense that others could be in danger or that darkness could be lurking right around the corner. It sucks, but it makes her such a great heroine in the process.

The X-Files: Kitsunegari (5.8)

Sequels are always problematic, and always pretty similar. They take the most successful elements from the original source material; replicate them enough to be consistent, while introducing shiny new elements which usually rely a little on contrivance. A lot of the time, a sequel can feel tiresomely familiar, but other times that feeling of 'we've seen this before' is exploited to positive effect, creating something that is as enjoyable as the original, but intriguing enough to feel like a distinct second half of the same story, instead of merely being tagged-on and unnecessary. It's funny that even with some of those standard 'sequel contrivances', such as a sexy new character and an 'evil twin' plot twist, Kitsunegari is so ridiculously awesome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nip/Tuck: August Walden (5.13)

There was a beautiful moment this episode, with Julia finally acknowledging the fact that she has once again completely screwed up her own life. She had a new romantic opportunity with Olivia, but blew it by once again jumping into the sack with Christian. Now, months down the line, Christian is once again banging random women on the dining room table. What I loved about this scene was Joely's ability to convey complete disappointment and abject resignation to the fact that Christian is incapable of change. She had a fantasy of the two of them together, and regardless of her recent sickness, he would have still screwed her over. She's a fuck-up, but at least she knows it.

Charmed: She's a Man, Baby, a Man! (2.5)

Parts of this episode are pretty great. It has an absorbing 'whodunnit' format with a variety of suspects, an intriguing nemesis for the sisters to battle, and some hilarity in the gratuitous Alyssa Milano boob shots and her various scenes of orgasmic moaning and talk of vivid sex dreams. However, the episode is entirely derailed whenever it tries to get serious. Sexual politics when explored on this show almost always end up being trite and offensive. And we haven't even talked about Shannen Doherty's 'Manny Hanks' transformation. I'm guessing Hilary Swank won't be losing any sleep over that...

Dirty Sexy Money: The Plan (2.9)

Can you say Maldovian Massacre? That's all I got from that ridiculous shooting rampage at the inauguration, something straight out of the Aaron Spelling playbook. Of course, it was a lot of fun, what with everybody ducking for cover, Jeremy hitting his head, and Nick leaping into the air to protect the family. Chase Alexander's motivations, like everything this season, were more than a little contrived, if only because we barely know the guy. There were vague allusions to losing his family, but I don't believe that he'd turn murderous in a snap like that. But I guess it runs in the family. Ellen, too, seemed merely uptight before suddenly turning into a crazed banshee.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buffy: Teacher's Pet (1.4)

Buffy settles into a goofy, standalone-driven groove, with a fun if lightweight episode all about virgins, bugs and interspecies mating. Buffy for the first time takes a major backseat, allowing Xander to take center stage in all his lovestruck glory. As a character, he's better here than he has been so far. He has that nerdy likability factor, as well as that keen self-awareness of how awkward he is. But what 16 year-old guy isn't mostly a big dork? You're trying to find the courage to be the man that you assume you need to be, while trying to keep that fear you have about it all from being made public. There's a neat moment of personal victory for him when he discovers the obnoxious jock isn't quite the sexually experienced stallion he claimed he was, but it's undermined by the fact that he isn't exactly much better in the sexual stakes. However, he's Xander: lovable, funny, self-deprecating and kind of heroic even this early in the series. He's still pretty darn awesome.

The X-Files: Emily (5.7)

It was an odd but at the same time entirely predictable decision to make the follow-up to Christmas Carol so conspiracy-heavy. What set this episode's predecessor apart from recent conspiracy episodes was that character was put ahead of action, a decision which has resulted in several strong mythology episodes in recent seasons. It's also disappointing that after driving so much of the action in part one, Scully takes a back-seat to Mulder, who seizes control of the mystery and does his regular 'truth-hunting' thing. There are some impressive moments along the way and a welcome proclivity to avoiding vagueness, but it's still a disappointing second part.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Lulu Grandiron (5.12)

I mentioned it two episodes ago, but this show had a huge problem with keeping some of its less useful cast members around long after they'd served their original purpose. Kimber, as strong a character as she is (or was), spent season five in a major rut, appearing infrequently and in a series of barrel-scraping storylines. Here, she is inexplicably revealed to have hooked up with slut maiden Eden, that sex tape with Aidan supposedly encouraging Ram to pick her up as a porn star. It's pretty darn ridiculous. Kimber at this point solely exists as both a titillation machine, demonstrated by that lesbian porn clip glimpsed during Eden's consultation, and a vacuum of bitchy snipes at Christian. It's disappointing that a character that was at one point so dynamic and intriguing has been reduced to stories of narrative laziness.

Charmed: The Devil's Music (2.4)

Aaron Spelling became notorious throughout the 1990's for forcing his shows to introduce a night-club hot spot for the characters to hang out and therefore listen to a popular band who just so happen to eschew major venues and perform at some low-rent Peach Pit instead. As a result, Charmed, through P3, welcomed onto the show an array of one-hit-wonders over the years. This, the first episode featuring a 'musical guest', features an elaborately contrived story involving Dishwalla, a name which creates a resounding "who?" nowadays. Away from the constant name-dropping of the band, The Devil's Music is still pretty darn awful, from its vaguely sleazy demon storyline to the various annoying subplots.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Summer House (2.8)

Something went wrong here. For a couple of weeks, Dirty Sexy Money had been riding that wave of insanity pretty successfully, but here the show flew off the rails with a host of unfocused storylines, weird characterization and annoying plot developments. Least of all is Nick and Lisa's break-up, which is being handled appallingly. In one corner we have a bitter Lisa, who orchestrates a date with Jeremy in an attempt to make her ex jealous. Whatever you thought of Lisa before this episode, she wasn't a flighty teenage girl. In the other corner we have Nick, who two seconds after splitting with his wife is in a flirtatious new relationship with Wrenn. Excuse me? They were actually dating each other! And then later abandoning your newly ex-wife in the middle of a deep conversation to run after your hot young girlfriend is just low. Ugh.

Buffy: Witch (1.3)

I have a particular fondness for this episode, even if its not particular great, since it was the first Buffy episode I ever saw. I remember that my mom was working late, so I used that as an opportunity to turn over and sneak a peek at this show that my mom thought was inappropriate for an eight year-old. Heh. Witch sees the show settling into a monster-of-the-week groove, a format I have no problem with on this particular show. It not only showcases a different kind of enemy, but expands the world of Sunnydale High and, with that in mind, follows up the pilot with a very 'high school' episode, with cheerleaders, jocks and extra-curricular activities. It's a lot of fun.

The X-Files: Christmas Carol (5.6)

This is an especially somber episode, lacking in the sci-fi spectacle of other conspiracy episodes, but forgoing that for a mournful, human quality. Mulder only briefly appears, allowing us to see Scully completely out of her comfort zone of the FBI 'bubble', and it's pretty uncomfortable at points because of this. Scully herself is an emotionally withdrawn person, alienating herself from the rest of her family who are all happy and peaceful as Christmas approaches. There's a quirky irony to the fact that while her relations get gifts under the Christmas tree, her present is a bunch of DNA results hand-delivered to her door on Christmas morning. Scully's pretty sad as a character, still wounded by the loss of her sister and the way her own life was almost snuffed out recently, throwing herself into a case to avoid the banality of a family reunion.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Kyle Ainge (5.11)

As this season progresses, it feels like the showrunners are veering further and further away from what they had initially created at the start of the year. Stories that everybody had assumed would be center stage (Eden and Olivia, the Sean/Christian rivalry) have fell away, while even the main cast seem to be increasingly absent. Matt and Kimber haven't appeared in weeks, Julia's forever bed-ridden and Liz has around three lines per episode. Nowadays we're presented episode upon episode consumed with disturbed women and increasingly more absurd storylines. Kyle Ainge, full of cannibalism, child abuse and build-a-bear murders, was a trainwreck.

Charmed: The Painted World (2.3)

This wasn't actually as bad as I remembered it being. The idea of being trapped inside a painting is arguably pretty innovative, and The Painted World crosses that with general Charmed ridiculousness. But the hour is probably strongest from a Phoebe standpoint. There's an annoying "stay in school, kids!" message at the end, but up till then it's an amusing character-driven subplot, with Phoebe conjuring up a smart spell when she comes to the conclusion that her supposed lack of intelligence is what's preventing her from truly moving up in the world. Alyssa Milano is great here, showcasing her focused, impressive sitcom skills.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Facts (2.7)

After a run of episodes with more twists than a hula hoop factory, it's puzzling why the powers that be intended to interrupt the show's crazy momentum with this glorified clip show. Far more interesting than the cut-and-paste shorter-than-average episode we have here is the background to how all of this came about. Supposedly, from day one, events conspired which made working on Dirty Sexy Money pretty much hell on earth. Everybody, from ABC's top-brass to series creator Craig Wright to show star and producer Peter Krause, had their opinion of how the show should work, creating numerous areas of conflict and re-writing of scripts. This isn't totally out of the ordinary for freshman TV. What is unusual is that six complete episodes of Dirty Sexy Money were shot, before being scrapped and hastily re-written to form the opening of season two.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Buffy: The Harvest (1.2)

The weaker hour of the two-part pilot, The Harvest puts greater emphasis on action than its predecessor, and only really fails in that regard due to some pacing problems and the show being a little unsure about how to depict Buffy's vampire antagonists. What is most noticeable here is that immediately the Scooby Gang is formed and given their separate ranks. Xander is the everyman, tagging along in the hopes of helping Buffy in combat, while Willow is the internet hacker and bookworm (the hacking being a convenient deus ex machina that's used repeatedly through the early seasons). Giles, too, relaxes into his role as the stuffy 'dad' figure to all three of them, delivering exposition and chastising everybody for not taking things seriously enough. He's kind of a grouch, but he obviously gets better.

The X-Files: The Post-Modern Prometheus (5.5)

This is not only Chris Carter's attempt at a Frankenstein pastiche, but it's also his attempt at writing his very own Darin Morgan episode. Not that we can blame him. For so long his name has been synonymous with monotonous narration and conspiracy junk that it's unsurprising he'd want to branch out and grab some of the spotlight himself. Miraculously, this is a wonderful tour de force of an X-Files hour, creating another small-town of caricatures and stereotypes but wrapped up in a gorgeous black-and-white horror story. And I'm a huge fan of episodes where Scully looks bored out of her mind, and this is certainly one of them.

Nip/Tuck: Magda and Jeff (5.10)

Okay. Let me get this straight. She just got fucked off a building. If that isn't the nuttiest thing Nip/Tuck has ever done up till now, I don't know what is. I remember thinking that it was actually kind of refreshing that the show actually killed a major character. So much of the cast just linger around for years stuck in repeated plotlines that it really took some guts to cut Gina like that. I guess the writers really were sick of her, which is unsurprising. Gina, as a character, was stuck in the same exact storyline throughout her duration on the show. She's a deeply disturbed sociopath who appears on the scene with her trademark catchphrase, feigns normality, before exploding off the deep end around act three. It got old fast, but I guess that was her as a person.

Charmed: Morality Bites (2.2)

The idea of "personal gain" is always brought up in regards to witches. I remember Sabrina Spellman was always being lectured on the results of personal gain, and the Charmed Ones equally experienced first-hand how selfish acts of witchcraft can result in unpredictable side effects. Morality Bites, one of the series' finest hours, is all about the growth of a selfish act, and how one small moment of magic being used as a weapon can result in murder, public outcry and state execution.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Injured Party (2.6)

Wooooo, catfight alert! Now, I appreciate a catfight as much as the next soap opera viewer, and while the big Lisa/Karen slap-fest was a lot of fun, the sensationalist agenda of this season has made the whole thing explode into ridiculousness. Lisa in particular has had such a swift turnaround in personality in the space of one episode that I honestly don't know what the writers are thinking. She ends last episode weeping and desperate for her marriage to remain intact, she's suddenly chipper and only 'weirded out' by the separation at the opening of The Injured Party, then she turns crazed and beverage-happy at the party, before schtupping Jeremy, oh, about six minutes after her marriage hit the skids. Huh?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Buffy: Welcome to the Hellmouth (1.1)

I was a '90s kid. As a result, I have this affection for pretty much everything from the latter part of that decade, from the bubblegum pop music to the Freddie Prinze Jr movies that littered movie theaters. I bring this up because Buffy the Vampire Slayer was sort of like my awakening in terms of television. Before I went behind my mom's back and secretly watched this little TV show with the goofy title that was considered by my parents as being a little too adult for such an impressionable little kid, I was all about kid's TV. Sabrina, Dexter's Laboratory, Hey Arnold!, Batman, Sister Sister, Clarissa - they were my shit! Buffy, with that title, appeared to my young eyes like another show of that variety. High school, monsters, teenage girls fighting evil: awesomeness. At the time, I had no idea that Buffy would not only demonstrate to me how powerful television can be, it also introduced the concept of strong, flawed, hilarious, dark characters, all written with knowing dialogue and relatability. Buffy is my favorite ever show, not only because it was so wonderful as a series, but for opening my eyes to both TV and film, as well as crafting so much of what makes me who I am as a person.

The X-Files: Detour (5.4)

It would be unfair to call this episode a total failure, but it is pretty darn disappointing. There are certainly successful elements at work here, but the shadows of the various classic episodes (Darkness Falls, Quagmire) it emulates dents a lot of the intriguing ideas on offer. It's also frustrating that Frank Spotnitz seems to have cribbed almost the entire structure of his script from Quagmire, right down to the third-act 'dialogue moment' between a marooned Mulder and Scully. What's kind of embarrassing about that, however, is how inconsequential it is. Sure, I guess it's fun to see the two of them discuss The Flintstones, but the lightweight quality to what could have been a great little moment only hampers the rest of the episode.

Nip/Tuck: Rachel Ben Natan (5.9)

Yikes, this one was a mess. Probably the most frenetic episode in the history of the series, pulling at a dozen plot strands with little cohesion and stumbling around to try and find some kind of meaning in each one. It's like a bad spoof, with a pinch of lesbian bikers and gay pride gags, a dash of commentary on the Middle-East, and a smidgen of brawling dudes in love with the same lady. Ugh. Throw in a bunch of tired guest characters and you have the worst episode in a long, long time.

Charmed: Witch Trial (2.1)

This is an impressive season opener, maintaining the humor and chemistry of the first season and that new found sense of confidence the show genuinely appears to have discovered. The demon of the week, who resurrects some past enemies of the Charmed Ones (one legit, the other a cheap special effect and a different actor playing another), doesn't break any new ground, but from a character standpoint it's mightily impressive. Each sister now has her 'role' on the show, and it works really well.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Verdict (2.5)

Wow, this was certainly a game-changer. Theories that the show had devolved into all-out soapy scandal prove entirely correct here, with a doozy of plot twists, character assassinations, ulterior motives and secret agendas revealed in a last-minute flurry of excitement at the end of the episode. The Verdict was shamelessly fun, but maintains that ugly quality that has made this season so frustrating. Few characters are likable anymore, some are plain reprehensible, and others are a question mark of the worst kind.