Thursday, June 30, 2011

Annual TV Commentary: 2010-2011 (Part 3)

Here's part three of my annual TV commentary, this time for the 2010-2011 season. Each review is pretty spoiler-ific for each show's respective season. So unless you've seen every episode of, say, Glee's second season, don't read it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Annual TV Commentary: 2010-2011 (Part 2)

Here's part two of my annual TV commentary, this time for the 2010-2011 season. Each review is pretty spoiler-ific for each show's respective season. So unless you've seen every episode of, say, Glee's second season, don't read it. Enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Annual TV Commentary: 2010-2011 (Part 1)

Here's the first part of my annual TV commentary, this time for the 2010-2011 season. It's a little smaller than usual, not only because the TV landscape flatlined a little last year, but because I end up watching a lot of shows (notably the cable series) on DVD almost a year after they first aired. Regardless, here's part one of the commentary, reviewing a couple of the shows that grabbed my attention this year, for both good and bad reasons. Each review is pretty spoiler-ific for each show's respective season. So unless you've seen every episode of, say, Glee's second season, don't read it. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The X-Files: The Beginning (6.1)

This has the difficult challenge of following up both last season's finale as well as the movie sandwiched in between. What makes it even more challenging is the fact that so many of the show's major players at this point (Spender, Gibson Praise, Fowley) were entirely absent from the movie. So we have this kind of unbalanced script which tries to make reference to both, resulting in a season premiere that has some interesting moments and sets up some promising stories for the sixth season, but also suffers from ridiculously poor characterization.

Nip/Tuck: Abigail Sullivan (6.5)

Finally, there is an acknowledgment of sorts by Sean and Julia that they are both truly awful parents. However, realization of their problem doesn't help matters. Julia is still being written as a hateful shrew, somebody who dares to throw the 'irresponsible parent' card at Sean despite how messed-up Annie became under her watch. Just three weeks ago she was eating her own hair, for God's sake! Then there's Sean, who entirely crumbles under the weight of his own personal failure. But at least with him it's partly understandable. His wife was horrifically murdered and mutilated, and then turned out to be a sleazy con artist who had designs on making him her latest victim. What a rough day for the guy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Charmed: The Honeymoon's Over (3.1)

This is a surprisingly flat season opener. It introduces a whole bunch of stories that'll grow in importance over the course of the year, but in general it's far too distracted by a ridiculously underwhelming 'Charmed meets Law & Order' A-story, in which the Charmed Ones get wrapped up in a conspiracy-leaden legal case. You can see why the writers assumed this would be interesting: it's an interesting moral decision of what to do when you are forced to give evidence in a trial, but can't exactly spill the beans about being a witch. But that particular element of the story is dropped mid-episode, things becoming increasingly 'blah'. There's a stunt-heavy fight sequence at the end which is all kinds of impressive, but the story still stinks.

Charmed: Be Careful What You Witch For (2.22)

It feels like the writers threw literally everything into the pot for the season finale. It's a method that show-runners employ all the time, and most of the time it works. But Charmed's second season ends on a messy note, with a plot that explodes into a dozen different storylines before dovetailing it to a routine conclusion. It's fine as an average episode that could have aired at any point during the middle of the season, but after stories like Astral Monkey and Apocalypse Not (two hours that easily could have been the season finale considering the explosive concepts of both scripts), Be Careful What You Witch For is more than a little underwhelming.

Buffy: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (2.16)

There are always moments in high school where you wish you could just make something happen. Make somebody like you, make your tests go perfectly, make things a little easier for yourself on the social spectrum. Xander, the most obvious depiction on this show of 'ordinary' succumbs to that feeling here, using his supernatural connections to make Cordelia fall back in love with him. But because this is an awesome comedy episode, the spell immediately backfires. And it's a hoot.

Buffy: Phases (2.15)

One of the most successful aspects to Phases is in how the episode itself takes on board the relaxed, dazed feel of Oz himself. I loved how both his conversation about Cousin Jordy and the final revelation that he's a werewolf were ridiculously casual. No other show could do something like that, but there's a knowing sensibility to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that makes it work. Equally systematic of this show is how Oz, introduced only a couple of episodes ago, already experiences his own character development. He's not just the reserved, quiet and observant guy anymore, he's the secret werewolf now, too.

Buffy: Innocence (2.14)

The best way to describe this episode is 'gut-wrenching'. Joss Whedon writes pain like nobody else around, creating an hour filled with some of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen on television. Here, Buffy experiences what so many young people feel at various points in their teenage years: sudden betrayal. Somebody she loves and cares about is suddenly acting differently, treating her in as hurtful and cruel a manner as possible. She's also experiencing one of the worst nightmares of teenage love: abandonment straight after sex. Angelus' treatment of Buffy is horrible to watch, Sarah Michelle Gellar beautifully conveying how destroyed she feels as her entire lovelife crumbles to pieces out of nowhere. When she isn't crying, she looks like she's on the verge of tears. When she isn't collapsed on the ground, she looks like she's aching to physically fall apart.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Film reviews: The X-Files (1998)

Was the X-Files movie more than a little unprecedented? A movie based on a TV show which is still on the air, set after a season which was filmed after the movie had wrapped. Ordinarily big-screen updates of classic TV shows are shot long after the series folds, or 'updated' decades later a la Charlie's Angels or Dukes of Hazzard. But I guess what makes the X-Files movie even weirder is the fact that moving to a bigger screen and working on a bigger budget doesn't actually inspire a whole lot of 'new'. What we have here is essentially a two-part X-Files conspiracy episode, which would likely be unappreciated by new audiences, and underwhelming for long-term fans. While there are obviously a lot of fun moments, the one reaction that stems from the movie is a resounding 'blah'.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Jenny Juggs (6.4)

Only on Nip/Tuck will you see a serial killer con-woman stumbling into another random serial killer right in the middle of her own murderous scheme. I don't know if that's poor writing or just the worst luck in the world. Teddy's demise was pretty hilarious, something I'm not sure the show was aiming for, and I enjoyed her last-minute plot to dispatch Sean, Annie and Conor. She's one ruthless asshole. Her interaction with Annie prior to the camping trip was also a lot of fun, in particular her sniping about 'mentally unstable' pre-teen girls. Heh.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Charmed: Apocalypse Not (2.21)

It features a wailing performance from Paula Cole, as well as the worst running in the world ever, but Apocalypse Not is in fact a tightly-scripted detour down dramatic avenue. Hot on the heels of Astral Monkey, the show once again explores darker territory, with dialogue about the evils of the world, and the selflessness sometimes required to do the right thing. Charmed rarely delves into serious storytelling, but when it does, it's pretty memorable. Again, the show is exploring the sisters' actions themselves, and the cause and effect of the powers they wield.

Charmed: Astral Monkey (2.20)

Wacky shenanigans with monkeys ranks up there with baby poop humor in my list of all things awful, but Astral Monkey reaches the once-believed-to-be-impossible feat of not being indescribable garbage. It's actually a pretty wonderful meditation on cause and effect, morals and guilt. The ambition of the script and the concept of questioning the sisters' actions sticks out like a sore thumb on a show like Charmed, but judged on its own it's one of the series' strongest episodes, anchored by an emotional rollercoaster of a performance from Holly Marie Combs, who really works wonders with strong material like this.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buffy: Surprise (2.13)

While the real awesomeness lies in the next episode, Surprise is a lot of fun on its own. In setting up Buffy losing her virginity, the show excellently depicts that teenage sense of lust and fear. Buffy and Angel are all over each other, the two of them having such raw passion that the inevitable is right around the corner. I also loved Buffy's determination to not say goodbye to him as he plans to leave town with the Judge's arm. They're infatuated with one another, and Buffy isn't prepared to let him go before they've even consummated their relationship.

Buffy: Bad Eggs (2.12)

The main problem with this episode is that there is little separating it from any other fantasy series from the 1990's. Characters are brainwashed by monsters into worshiping monster's overlord-type thing, hero saves the day. There's very little else to the hour, not even a metaphorical depiction of what happens when trust is broken, or what happens when people begin to act differently. Also disappointing is the compete lack of any Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style paranoia. The egg critters appear, characters are suddenly revealed to be evil, and folks begin cracking open the ground beneath the high school. It's major filler material.

Buffy: Ted (2.11)

I always thought Ted could have been a stronger episode if it hadn't turned out that Ted was a homicidal robot. The idea of a sinister new presence suddenly appearing from within Buffy's home life is a great one, the possibility of exploring the resentment between child and step-parent intriguing. And while the episode does explore that to an extent, there's an inherent goofiness to the whole thing which makes it kind of a failure. In general, I'm a fan of that thing in movies and television where only one character is aware of another character's insanity, while everybody else floats around none the wiser. There are a couple of great moments in this episode which depict this, with Buffy pretty darn horrified by Ted's casual aggression and threats toward her. But then the whole thing quickly dove-tails into ridiculousness.

The X-Files: The End (5.20)

It's easy to repeat the usual complaints. The most obvious being that Gibson Praise is the latest in a long line of guest characters who we're told 'hold the key to everything'. But, for whatever reason, The End works because the conspiracy junk isn't given center stage. Instead, we have more character-driven stories to round off the season, which is appropriate considering the huge character changes that have been depicted over the course of season five. It has felt all season that the show is at a turning point of some kind, with Mulder and Scully both changing their perspectives on extreme possibilities and government conspiracies. And The End utilizes that pretty well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nip/Tuck: Briggitte Reinholt (6.3)

It feels almost redundant to bring it up, but Nip/Tuck always had stunning music selections throughout its one-hundred episodes. Briggitte Reinholt does that now-familiar Nip/Tuck trick of connecting a song to a specific storyline. Here, we have two genius song choices. The first is Nasty by Janet Jackson (totally appropriate in its kinkiness), used throughout the Mike transvestite story. The second is that truly haunting and gorgeous In the City by Cromatics, which is used so well alongside scenes of the death and carnage orchestrated by Teddy. Song selection is so important on a show like this, and when done well it completely raises the greatness of the episode.

Charmed: Ex Libris (2.19)

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to television is when death is treated so casually. This episode sees a friendly college acquaintance of Phoebe's being attacked and beheaded on campus, just hours after they strike up a conversation while studying. Phoebe is obviously shocked at first, but then quickly starts goofing around about the murdered girl's ghost. And, as the episode continues, little is said about her family, or the fact that a college student was horrifically murdered in one of the most brutal ways imaginable and nobody is charged or investigated. I get that this is a silly Aaron Spelling show, but it's pretty lazy storytelling.

Charmed: Chick Flick (2.18)

It's always evident that a TV series has reached full confidence in what its doing when it starts to poke fun at itself. One of the countless things that make Chick Flick such a masterpiece is that writers Chris Levinson and Zack Estrin repeatedly pull from Charmed's history to create great dialogue, allowing our familiarity with the show as an audience to enhance the viewing experience. So, here, we get references to how terrible exposition can be, we finally get some answers on whether or not the sisters clean up after the demon attacks (and how they feel about in general). Chick Flick is also one of the few truly innovative Charmed hours, with a great central idea and perfect use of the show's protagonists.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Buffy: What's My Line? Part 2 (2.10)

Buffy and Kendra have an almost sitcom-like relationship here, Kendra kind of arrogant and opinionated about Buffy's flaws, and Buffy aggressively catty with the new Slayer in town. Their scenes together are a lot of fun, Buffy's put-downs hilarious in their broadness (from 'John Wayne' to 'Pink Ranger'). I also loved her obvious jealousy over Kendra's instant bonding with Giles ('volume six a-ha-ha!'), Kendra being sort of the perfect example of an obedient Slayer. But, for all her plusses, Kendra lacks the heart or personality that Buffy is so proud of. And as has been made clear so often on this show, it's those differences that make Buffy such a strong and worthy opponent of evil.

Buffy: What's My Line? Part 1 (2.9)

It's a little clumsy, I guess, but Buffy has a case of the sads because she feels as if she's permanently stuck in her role as the Slayer. And while her friends are learning about their potential careers and setting up at least an idea of the future, Buffy feels as if she can't. Her destiny has already been decided, and nothing that comes her way will ever be able to take precedence over her slaying duties. It's more than a little convenient that into this puddle of navel-gazing comes her exact destiny double: Keen-dra the Vamp-eer Slay-eer! But more on that in a bit. Buffy is still at that crossroads where she wants to keep her normal life as intact as possible, and whines about it constantly. The ice skating sequence is a perfect metaphor for her life. She's free, like a regular teenage girl, until a giant boogeyman appears and tries to kill her. After killing him, she makes out with a vampire. The girl's got problems.

Buffy: The Dark Age (2.8)

This episode treads similar ground to Lie to Me, in that they're both about learning uncomfortable truths. While The Dark Age is very much Giles' episode, it's Buffy who experiences an emotional sucker punch in the process. Just like last week, she discovers that another person in her life is a killer. But while Angelus' madness was a symptom of his being a vampire, Giles' involvement in a death came about as a result of a bunch of dumb kids looking for kicks. This development continues a theme of Buffy and her friends growing into a harsher, more violent world; where even the ones you love and care about have dark histories or destructive flaws.

The X-Files: Folie a Deux (5.19)

The most successful element of Folie a Deux is in the unexpected routes the script travels down. It begins as an intriguing depiction of paranoia taking over a man's life, potentially a statement piece about the lives of office drones, employees who spent all of their days stuck in tiny cubicles. It sends him crazy. Then the story quickly becomes one of those 'hostage crisis episodes', with Mulder among the hostages. But then, twenty-five minutes in, the script again spins off into different territory, the crisis is averted, and Mulder pursues what he believes to be the truth, Folie a Deux ending as a straight-up monster episode with freaky insect creatures being shot out of windows by Scully. It's fun.