Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Manny Skerritt (5.19)

There comes a point where the boundaries of the word 'flawed' are truly stretched. The mantra throughout the years of Nip/Tuck was always that its core ensemble of characters were 'flawed' people. We stuck by their repeated bouts of cheating, murder, abuse and torment because they were all in some way 'flawed'. But how reprehensible can a character's behavior become before their 'flawed' persona slips straight into 'disgusting and ugly' territory? Manny Skerritt saw Christian and Kimber hit new lows, scheming together and injecting baby Jenna's lips with collagen and attempting to justify it via a couple of lines about 'insuring Jenna's financial future', or something similarly bogus. It was just a truly ugly storyline, the series pushing its characters into previously unheard of depths of depravity.

Charmed: Reckless Abandon (2.11)

I've mentioned it before, but one of the major TV staples I can't stand is the 'wacky results of maternally-inexperienced women thrust into a motherhood role' episode. It's always the same shtick. Characters rush around for diapers and baby supplies. Somebody is at some point covered in pee and/or poop and/or vomit. Or all of the above. Women usually end up learning some kind of lesson in the end, and learn to love the baby. It's just awful. Reckless Abandon, besides one or two cute moments, fits this pattern to a tee. From the annoying mid-'90s Lois & Clark-style sitcom music which plays over every baby scene to the various abhorrent montages of baby butts or the sisters cooing over the abandoned little boy they've taken in, it's pretty much a disaster of an episode.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Buffy: Nightmares (1.10)

Nightmares is another example of the series taking on a tried-and-tested, cut-and-dry fantasy idea and running with it. Nightmares are becoming a reality in Sunnydale, and the Scoobies have to overcome their own fears to save the day -- that's pretty much it. What separates the episode from similarly themed but altogether less successful attempts on other TV series is that each nightmare actually reflects true, deep-seated fears within each character. Some, like the characters living through said nightmares, are silly and ridiculous, while others give a shocking amount of insight into the vulnerability of a person growing up in the world, and the results are sometimes undeniably affecting.

The X-Files: Patient X (5.13)

I think scheduling impacted my opinion of this episode. Mulder is written as having pretty much given up on his conspiracy-leaden theories about elaborate government cover-ups, his moral beaten down by the events of the Redux two-parter. He's suddenly a man without a mission, brooding around the place while a desperate Scully tries to convince him to take extreme possibilities seriously once again. It's an effective plot twist, David Duchovny excellently portraying a broken man, and a neat reversal of the standard 'roles' Mulder and Scully inhabit. But, the problem lies with the fact that Patient X comes twelve episodes after the season premiere, Mulder for the first time exhibiting the same belief system he assumed in Redux. Such a sudden change in personality feels extremely jarring, like this is a different show that has been off the air for twelve weeks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Ricky Wells (5.18)

This episode was all about uncomfortable truths, the idea of people denying their true instincts and others being deluded enough to not realize the obvious 'thing' that's right in front of their eyes. A lot of the episode consisted of Liz being hurt by Christian, a spectacularly predictable route the show went down. Liz ordinarily is a smart woman, but she's become so wrapped up in this doomed quasi-relationship that it's not surprising when Christian immediately begins banging a bunch of women right in front of her. While the story is explored well on a surface level here, we still don't understand what is motivating Liz to act like this, and I'm unsure the writers do either. She loves Christian, sure, but what is driving her to change herself, her sexuality and her morals? It's so strange.

Charmed: Heartbreak City (2.10)

Phoebe is all 'woe is me' here, naval-gazing and being generally mopey despite making everything worse for herself by hanging out with two couples on a daily basis. Doesn't she have friends away from her sisters? This episode mostly revolves around Phoebe and her love life. Or, to be more specific, lack of a love life. I find it amusing that the writers seem to have pulled this plot strand out of their butts. She's considered the most fun-loving and man-crazed sister, yet suddenly is written as a woman on the verge of cat lady territory because she happens to be the one single sister right now? Gah.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buffy: The Puppet Show (1.9)

A plot structure that season one executed often was the 'whodunnit' format, with a horrific supernaturally-enhanced murder followed up by the introduction of a variety of kooky suspects, all of whom are just eccentric enough to be considered potential murderers. The Puppet Show utilizes that mystery element and juxtaposes it not only with a typically nightmarish high school event, in this case the much-maligned talent show, but also a B-movie style horror villain in the form of a ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own. Just like so many episodes this season, there's a doozy of a twist at the episode's mid-point that throws the cards up in the air and helps in opening up the mythology of the series, depicting other forms of demon-hunters in the process.

The X-Files: Bad Blood (5.12)

As with so many of the greatest episodes, Bad Blood plays on our own knowledge of Mulder and Scully's relationship, but also reveals additional layers to both of them by depicting what they really think about one another. Most of the episode is the same story being told from their individual perspectives, the humor lying in the subtle differences between them both. Scully remembers the investigation as another wild goose chase, bored out of her mind and struggling to deal with Mulder's elaborate theories about vampires. Mulder's interpretation casts Scully as a tired, negative hag who is constantly picking his theories apart, enters each scene with an annoyed and angry tone, and frequently bursts his supernatural bubble. It's all ridiculously entertaining.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Film reviews: Scream 4 (2011)

There's a fun moment in Scream 4 where a young, ambitious publicist encounters the once-powerful media juggernaut Gale Weathers, embarrassingly fawning over her and granting her the back-handed compliment of "You were my '90s". It's a feeling I'm familiar with, since the Scream franchise was truly the first series of movies I was ever really obsessed with. I don't know if it was the attractive stars, the iconic imagery of the Ghostface killer, or the wonderful blend of horror and comedy, but the Scream movies captivated me like nothing had before. The first two Screams are insanely badass; with loveable characters, cringe-inducing violence and shock reveals, creating a bench-mark for modern horror. Scream 3 was a clusterfuck of junk. The idea of Scream 4 was just as exciting as it was terrifying. A strong reboot of a once unparalleled franchise, or a tacky attempt to wring some more cash out of a dead series of movies? Luckily, my fears were pretty much unfounded.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Roxy St. James (5.17)

Considering she is such a strong and versatile actress, it was a disgusting waste of time to hire Portia de Rossi to play such a nothing character. Olivia existed as a plot device, a vacuum to explain the presence of tramp temptress Eden, and to justify the barely-developed decision of making Julia a lesbian for all of five seconds. Olivia's death has little effect as a result; her sudden decision to get plastic surgery contrived, and her actual demise appearing to have few repercussions in the long run. There are a couple of attempts here to imply that Sean may have wanted her to die on his operating table so he could once again get together with Julia, but the Sean/Julia relationship is so exhausted and ridiculous at this point that we can't buy any of this. Roxy St. James did at least semi-resolve the lingering issue of Julia's shooting and Eden's disappearance, but it was an undeniable anti-climax. Sure, we have the Melrose Place-style 'ashes in the face' moment, but don't we all deserve better from this show?

Charmed: Ms. Hellfire (2.9)

There was always an odd dichotomy to the character of Prue, and it's something the show has played around with in the past. There's the fiercely protective and conservative side, which is released at the office and in her insistence in being professional and working hard. Then there's the free-spirited, sexual and fun side, which isn't seen as often but is clearly screaming to get out. And by the flesh-o-rama outfits that have crept into her wardrobe this season, you can tell she's getting riskier. Charmed played around with this concept in Which Prue Is It, Anyway? last season, and the same is reflected here, both in her undercover stint as a leather-clad assassin-for-hire, and in her discovery of a new power: the ability to be in two places at once.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Bad Guy (2.13)

It happens so often that it's not wholly surprising anymore, but it's still crazily frustrating when a series you enjoy gets canceled so abruptly that the writers have little chance to wrap up all the loose ends before the show itself is shipped out to the funeral home. Dirty Sexy Money, canceled in the midst of a half-dozen lingering storylines, frustrates in its finale most of all because of where Craig Wright's attention seemed to lie. Surely the showrunners had some idea that ABC wasn't going to renew, and maybe then Wright could have written something a little more fulfilling. Instead of blessing his strongest characters with some kind of closure, Wright decides to concentrate almost entirely on several of the most ill-thought stories from the messy season two, leaving you more than a little pissed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Buffy: I, Robot... You, Jane (1.8)

Watching season one again, it's surprising that Willow is so under-developed. Maybe it was simply accidental that Xander had so much to do in the first seven episodes, but Willow definitely pales in comparison to him, at least in terms of character development. It's interesting that as the series progresses, however, Willow becomes so integral while Xander fades away into the background a little. I guess the writers realized which character was more exciting to develop. What's disappointing is that the first Willow-centric episode is so goddamn awful, making her look like a desperate, naive moron. I, Robot... You, Jane has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Buffy episode which really does look and feel like it aired nearly fifteen years ago. But even without the dated quality, it's still pretty appalling everywhere else.

The X-Files: Kill Switch (5.11)

William Gibson manages to translate his writing forte far more successfully than Stephen King, with an episode that manages to reflect Gibson's cyberpunk leanings as well as explore intriguing character elements. As a novice X-Files viewer years ago, I dubbed Kill Switch my favorite episode. In retrospect, that was just a little silly, but it remains a pretty wonderful mash-up of various different genres, depicting an array of ideas all about love, isolation and deep-seated fear. This is most evident with Mulder's nightmares, in which he has limbs removed. The dream sequence is littered with metaphorical imagery, from the immediate contrast between sex and violence, between sex and religion, and the idea of Scully as a kick-ass heroine who rescues him when he's in danger. And that Scully vs. sexy nurses fight sequence ranks up there with the greatest X-Files scenes ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Gene Shelly (5.16)

Liz's sexuality has always defined her. Okay, maybe that's a little unfair, but she had always been depicted as an outspoken lesbian with strong feminist values and a firm hold on her own sexuality. Never had the mere thought of being in a heterosexual relationship crossed her mind, as evidenced by her complete inability to be in a relationship with the pre-op transsexual Sofia Lopez in season one. Liz's sexual encounter with Christian was an unusual moment, not just because of the obvious fact that she's gay. It was a scene lacking in any kind of intimacy, Christian using Liz as a depository for his sex drive, Liz lying there unsure of what the hell she was doing or what she was experiencing. While the scene is the latest in a long run of mildly absurd plot twists, the idea of Liz and Christian sleeping together holds a lot of potential, with both characters thrown into an unexpected situation and forced to deal with the consequences. But, as this is Nip/Tuck season five, a far cry from the intriguing heights of the first two seasons, the story immediately turns into sensationalist junk.

Charmed: P3 H20 (2.8)

Angsty and deeply personal for the series' protagonists, P3 H20 is season two's version of That '70s Episode, a dense family melodrama wrapped around an intriguing demon plot. The script explores the idea of history repeating itself, notably in Prue's terror that her life is becoming more and more like Patty's, making her worry that she'll suffer a similar fate -- her life cut short before she can experience anything truly meaningful. Meanwhile, Piper discovers that she is not the first member of the Halliwell genealogy to have a romance with a Whitelighter. Both stories are serviced with the care and time they individually deserve, and a lot of it is oddly prescient.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Unexpected Arrival (2.12)

Whenever a series introduces a mysteriously vague big bad with ties to everybody and a keen ability to orchestrate evil schemes which rattle the core of the series itself, it's probably helpful if the writers actually knew what to do with them. It's been hinted at all season, but The Unexpected Arrival truly confirmed how entirely unaware the writers were of how to handle Simon Elder. Even after rewatching, I don't understand why Simon wanted Nola to 'kill' him (before changing his mind), I don't understand why he saw Karen's pregnancy as an opportunity, and I don't understand why he spent so little time distracted by the fact that somebody blew up his car last episode. Blair Underwood is a great actor, yet it's insane that the show gives him essentially six different characters to play in the space of one episode.