Sunday, October 30, 2011

Angel: War Zone (1.20)

The Faith two-parter really marked that moment where Angel became its own show with its own universe and its own way of doing things. War Zone takes its lead from those episodes, expanding the Angel world and introducing a new character who looks and feels different to anything we've been granted so far in the Buffyverse. Whatever you think of Gunn later on, he makes an immediate impression here. He's an admirable guy who kills vampires out of pure heroism, not merely out of necessity. He champions a group of street kids, and has the similarly 'haunted' quality that makes Angel so absorbing.

Buffy: The Yoko Factor (4.20)

There has obviously been dissent within the ranks of the Scoobies for most of the season. When the year opened, it was Buffy who was feeling shut-out. Then the Initiative arrived, and Buffy dropped her friends for her new army buddies and her hunky soldier boyfriend. Willow was initially troubled by Oz's departure, then she too moved away from her circle after she met Tara. Xander and Giles have been on the periphery of things all year, both having lost their traditional 'roles' when Sunnydale High went up in flames. The Yoko Factor exploits the angst by having these issues come to the forefront, but I'm not sure the episode in general works that well at all.

Angel: Sanctuary (1.19)

Sanctuary continues Faith's road to redemption, the character trying to figure out where she goes from here. The episode beautifully captures her mental state, from her initial fantasy of stabbing Angel right in the face, to her fear of saying sorry, since 'sorry' seems so empty considering the violence and chaos she has caused recently. I love the Angel/Faith dynamic just as much as I love the Buffy/Faith dynamic. Unlike Buffy, Angel has been through the same thing that Faith has gone through, making amends for causing so much pain. What makes the two of them interesting is that Angel was forced to acknowledge his past evilness because of his curse, while Faith is turning it around on her own terms.

Buffy: New Moon Rising (4.19)

It's a Whedon tradition to bring back a character just when we don't want them to come back. Oz's return is timed for just the most awkward moment imaginable, with Willow's relationship with Tara growing more public and physical. Parts of this story worked for me, notably the interaction between Oz and Willow and her conflicted emotions over his return, but it annoyingly got wrapped up in the Initiative hoodoo, and that road led to nothing but annoyance.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The X-Files: Three of a Kind (6.20)

I've never been a fan of self-consciously 'nerdy' characters, and the Lone Gunmen are the kind of co-stars that feel a little on-the-nose even in their brief appearances every once in a while. Unusual Suspects, the pre-cursor to this belated sequel, worked in spite of my personal ambivilance towards them, but Three of a Kind struggles to find any kind of identity, resting on the few set pieces that it has.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

American Horror Story: Halloween Part 1 (1.4)

I think the biggest hurdle this show has to overcome relates to the Harmon's and the fact that they're still living in that goddamn house! I may be stupid for seeking some realism in a show about gay ghosts and Frankenstein babies, but it's so ridiculously silly that this family is still sticking around despite being assaulted and weirded out by literally everyone that stumbles into their lives every week. Characters exhibiting irrational and clueless behavior is a trope of the horror genre, but it sure is making the family at the center of this show so easy to point and laugh at.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Charmed: Saving Private Leo (4.17)

Leo isn't really a character. He operates primarily as exposition fairy, but even in that role his information is mostly useless. He obviously has his relationship with Piper, but for me they never exhibited the chemistry nor the huge romantic obstacles that usually affect and endear 'endgame' couples on TV. I bring this up because whenever Leo is pushed center stage, the results are usually appalling. Because of this, Saving Private Leo drags something fierce, and it's not helped by Brian Krause's whiny-voiced emoting. Gah. He's never been more heinous.

Charmed: The Fifth Halliwheel (4.16)

There's a confidence to this episode which is really entertaining to watch. The Cole arc is in full swing, and the idea of sisterly conflict has brought out the best in the writers. Great direction by David Straiton, too, who adds some interesting visual flourishes throughout, notably that great post-credits sequence with the Halliwells in the bathroom together. The idea to isolate Paige from her sisters is continued from last episode, but depicted as far more hurtful and evil than it was in Marry-Go-Round. The scenes with Cole tormenting a mentally weakened Paige are incredibly difficult to watch, both actors entirely selling their respective mindsets at that point.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Angel: Five by Five (1.18)

Five by Five continues the spectacular Faith characterization that started over on her recent Buffy two-parter. Just like Angel, Cordelia and (in some regards) Wesley, Faith too has come to Los Angeles on a journey of redemption, consciously or not. She breaks down in tears at the end, begging Angel to kill her, so disgusted with herself, her body, her behavior, her everything. It's pretty remarkable to see self-hatred portrayed in such a grandiose way, but Eliza Dushku sells it wonderfully. Being Faith, though, it takes a while for her self-awareness to kick in, and first she has a crazy amount of fun.

Buffy: Where the Wild Things Are (4.18)

This is a strange beast. It has an intriguing conceit at its heart, but there's something really 'off' about the whole thing. There are some interesting themes about child abuse and sexual repression, but it mushes badly with such abject failures as the orgasm wall and the monster vines and the bad-sitcom sex gags. At the same time, the 'haunted frat house' thing was done already in Fear, Itself, and that episode was far scarier and far funnier than anything offered here.

Angel: Eternity (1.17)

While Eternity follows the same general concept as something like I Fall to Pieces (a damsel in distress needs protection from a stalker), it also features some fascinating ideas about Hollywood and vampirism, while the script tumbles down several unexpected detours before it hits the closing credits. Most will remember Eternity for the brief return of Angelus more than anything else, but the rest of the episode does in fact have some interesting moments, mostly related to Tamara Gorski's has-been actress at the center of the story.

Buffy: Superstar (4.17)

Like The Zeppo last year, this is pretty much a one-joke episode, and it's a joke that gets real tired about half-way through the hour. But Danny Strong is so wonderful here, and the general concept so moving, that you can forgive the fact that Superstar ends up dragging. I think it's because of Jonathan's shifting relationship with us as a viewer that creates that effect. He started out as a recurring co-star who was always being victimized, like one part of a running joke. Then, out of nowhere, we were suddenly forced to know intimate details about his mindset, and it was disturbing and horrible and relatable. And, like all of us, problems take a while to be worked out, Jonathan's attempt to make everybody admire him sort of understandable.

The X-Files: The Unnatural (6.19)

David Duchovny's directorial debut is absorbing and sweet, if so overly sentimental you could scream. You half expect Kevin Costner to show up midway through. But with that in mind, maybe that was Duchovny's intention? The Unnatural plays a lot like an old-fashioned fairytale. There are a ton of stock characters (scrappy orphans, whimsical baseball coaches), conversations about what it is to be human, and friendships developing over deep divides. It's all pretty trite, but somehow works.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

American Horror Story: Murder House (1.3)

I think by now it's been established that this is a polarizing show that you'll either love or entirely despise. Online commentary seems to fall into one of two extremes, some considering it wonderfully intense and intriguing, others thinking it's one of the stupidest shows on television. Of course, it is pretty stupid. The writers are creating such a batshit little universe that it's hard not to laugh most of the time, the first residents of the house being this week's nuttiest creation. There's the disturbed Matt Ross character sewing up bats and fetal pigs in the basement, and his equally nutty wife roaming the halls in the modern day, shrieking at the sight of a kitchen appliance. Everything is being played so broadly that most of the laughs appear to be unintentional, but there's a method to this level of madness, and I think American Horror Story is carving out its own little niche successfully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ringer: The Poor Kids Do It Everyday (1.6)

So I guess Bridget is abandoning the concept of making this a 'short-term' deal. And I guess Siobhan is straight-up evil. I like both girls a lot (well, more than I did at the beginning of the series), but it would be foolish to claim that they were being written well. A problem with a show like this, one that depends on twists and cliffhangers, is that in the relentless pursuit of curve-balls to throw at us, the writers become susceptible to losing track of the protagonists involved. The Poor Kids Do It Everyday did a good job of adding new levels to both sisters, but I'm not sure they totally worked from a logic stand-point.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Charmed: Marry-Go-Round (4.15)

Thematically, this is very similar to last season's Power Outage, another episode in which Cole exploits the most vulnerable aspect of the Power of Three (their sisterly connection) in an attempt to destroy them. But, unlike Power Outage's family blow-out, the tension here has a huge dose of humor to it, with Cole going out of his way to sabotage his own wedding and make Paige the fall-guy for an array of errors. So, we have scenes of oversized wedding dresses, the bride's face covered in pimples, and oversleeping on your wedding day.

Charmed: The Three Faces of Phoebe (4.14)

For an episode with a dangerously heinous-sounding central idea, The Three Faces of Phoebe surprisingly depicts some interesting discussions about fate and desire. The writing of Older Phoebe is remarkably powerful, reflecting an elderly woman with a lot of regret and justified hostility as a result of the decisions she has made in the past. She knew at one point that Cole was infected by the Source, but has always been left with that lingering doubt over whether vanquishing him was the right thing to do. So she allows events to play out differently, in the hopes of changing her fate. It's a well-constructed idea, and Frances Bay (marble rye!) is wonderful in the part, with a performance layered with subtle emotion. And who doesn't love a character who finally calls Phoebe out on her trampy wardrobe?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Angel: The Ring (1.16)

This isn't as bad as some insist it is, but The Ring is still criminally unambitious. It's another of the numerous early-2000's genre shows that set episodes in some WWE-esque wrestling stadium, a series protagonist being forced to fight to the death. Charmed did it. Birds of Prey did it. Deep Space Nine did it. Ugh. The fighting undeniably creates the weakest elements of the script, full of annoying demon politics and elaborate choreography. Snore.

Buffy: Who Are You? (4.16)

It's almost too easy to just compliment Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku on their acting throughout this episode. Their performances are pretty extraordinary regardless, but the real wonderment in Who Are You? is found in the psychological insight that the script explores. Faith spends a lot of this episode in one way or another trying to 'corrupt' Buffy. She dresses in revealing outfits, she's sexually aggressive, she's mean. She has fun making this 'image' so repulsive, and she loves every second of it.

Angel: The Prodigal (1.15)

It's a compliment to the show's growth in confidence that two plot threads that I was painfully uninterested in when explored earlier in the show's run are suddenly fascinating when unearthed here. One is the character of Kate in general, a monotonous bore with a major stick up her butt, and the other is her messy relationship with her father. Via The Prodigal, Kate becomes a far more complex and interesting lady, and you really do feel her sense of betrayal over Angel, and later her horror and anger over her father's murder. I still think Elisabeth Rohm is somewhat miscast, but I like what they're doing with Kate as a character.

Buffy: This Year's Girl (4.15)

Buffy and Faith's relationship has always been one of my favorite Buffy dynamics. They work really, really well together, with so much hatred and resentment and jealousy festering between the two of them, as well as the unspoken acknowledgment that they somehow need each other in the world. With that in mind, Faith's dreams are the purest depiction of how she sees her rival. There's that sisterly connection between them at first, where they talk and converse while changing the bed-sheets, only to be spoiled when Faith suddenly remembers the knife that Buffy stuck in her gut. Then there's the happiness Faith experienced with the Mayor, the one person who saw potential in her. But, once again, it's spoiled when Buffy, now depicted as this unhinged Terminator-esque monster, stabs him to death and pursues Faith through a moonlit graveyard. It's that constant feeling of angst over what could have worked, but ended up falling apart.

The X-Files: Milagro (6.18)

I struggled writing a review for this episode, which is really saying something since I find I always struggle to say anything interesting or insightful about The X-Files. That's nothing to do with the quality of the show in general, I just find it hard to articulate my feelings about certain episodes, and Milagro was one of them. This is another experimental X-File, and a trademark Chris Carter script. It's pretty clear when Carter's fingerprints are all over an X-Files episode, if only because of the pretentious and overwritten dialogue. But this time around that's actually what makes Milagro so interesting, as it explores the job of a writer and how a writer forms the characters he creates.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

American Horror Story: Home Invasion (1.2)

This episode toned down the supernatural insanity that made the pilot just as attention-grabbing as it was unbearable, but it's still clear that American Horror Story is focused on plaguing its central family with ludicrous levels of misery. It's something that too often affected Ryan Murphy's other series Nip/Tuck, which became over-reliant on terrible things happening to its core group of characters to keep things soapy and dramatic. But, if anything, the groundwork is being laid for a fascinating show mythology, and that ought to keep people tuned in for at least a couple more weeks.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ringer: A Whole New Kind of Bitch (1.5)

This was the strongest episode so far, if only because it's clear that the writers are in the process of fixing some of Ringer's inherent problems. The biggest being that the entire premise of this show is more than a little, I don't know, silly: "Solution to my twin sister supposedly killing herself? I got it! I'll steal her entire identity!" The best moment here was Gemma's on-point put-down of Bridget's elaborate lie. As much as Bridget likes to claim that she's only keeping this charade up in order to 'fix things' in Siobhan's life, her actions are pretty self-serving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Charmed: Charmed and Dangerous (4.13)

People like to compare this episode to All Hell Breaks Loose, but away from both involving some kind of epic event (in this case, the defeat of the Source), there's little similarity in quality. Charmed and Dangerous is, obviously, a very good episode. It explores the Charmed mythology successfully, offers up a battle sequence which is technically impressive, and features a wonderful and unexpected cliffhanger ending. But, for the most part, the episode involves a lot of waiting around, mildly repetitive 'shock' incidents (Leo getting shot by a poisoned arrow; Phoebe getting impaled in the back four episodes after the last time that happened) thrown in every ten minutes or so to increase excitement.

Charmed: Lost and Bound (4.12)

It felt a little out-of-character for Piper to be so against binding her children's powers, considering she has always been the most vocal sister to whine about wanting an ordinary life. Here, she's stubbornly insisting that she and Leo allow their kids to grow up with full access to their powers, seemingly to prevent future crises. Surely it would make more sense for Leo, a magical being for so long, to want their children to have their powers from an early age? Eh. This is one of those things that really bugs me about Charmed, how writers didn't exhibit any real respect for the characters, re-writing their personalities at the drop of a hat. It's pretty disrespectful.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Angel: I've Got You Under My Skin (1.14)

There isn't anything particularly groundbreaking about this episode. It's 'Angel does The Exorcist', and it's problematic that there isn't much else to the script except that. But what does work are the twists that appear at certain points during the episode, notably the first reveal that the Anderson boy is the one who is possessed, and then the further reveal (the one I wasn't expecting) that the demon inside the kid is trapped and desperate to get out, the boy himself being pure evil. It's an interesting concept, and maintains the Buffyverse's stance on generic stories: always add something fresh and unique to make it different.

Buffy: Goodbye Iowa (4.14)

Less chaotic than The I in Team and all the better for it, Goodbye Iowa introduces us to Adam, seemingly the big bad for this year. There were some interesting attempts to contrast both Adam and Riley throughout this episode, with both of them pushed into a grown-up world that they hadn't been prepared for, following the death of their 'creator'. Adam doesn't understand himself, and there are obvious Frankenstein parallels made even more overt with that squicky scene with the little boy. Riley, too, is questioning his entire existence after he stops taking his medication. He's looking rough as hell, he's angry, frantic. He's a mess, and Professor Walsh was the God-like creator of both of them. It's different for this show, but fun.

Angel: She (1.13)

This episode has a pretty awful reputation, and most of that is justified. The alternate-dimension slave-girls story feels entirely wrong for this show, and the female circumcision metaphor is too heavy-handed to truly work. There's also the problem of the episode's ultimate message feeling a little muddled. Jhiera is a strong warrior who we're supposed to like, yet she doesn't have a problem with humans being slaughtered. Jhiera's entire planet is ruled by oppressive men, yet she's clearly drawn to Angel. There are just too many plotholes in relation to the character.

Buffy: The I in Team (4.13)

Immediately after I re-watched this episode, I became a firm believer in the urban legend that Lindsay Crouse was fired for being a huge pain in the ass on-set. The I in Team is Buffy on fast-forward, with a lot of interesting ideas pretty much exterminated before they have time to flourish. In just 40 minutes we see Buffy joining the Initiative, annoying the Initiative, surviving the Initiative, and discovering the true agenda of the Initiative. It's all way too fast, the story immediately losing any power it could have had.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The X-Files: Trevor (6.17)

I feel like I should be criticized for never being satisfied with this show. I've spent a long time this season requesting some monster of the week episodes that aren't played in such a comedic way, but the ones we've been getting lately have been pretty weak. Am I just overly demanding? Trevor isn't as heinous as Alpha since there are at least some interesting ideas at work, but there's something pretty routine and flat about the whole thing, resulting in what feels like a throwback to some of the less successful early episodes. More specifically, those annoying Howard Gordon scripts featuring guest stars embarking on some supernatural revenge mission.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

American Horror Story: Pilot (1.1)

Ryan Murphy has always been criticized for pushing the envelope so much that his series become contrived and ridiculous. It's what he's become more or less famous for. Finally, Murphy has found the one genre which can survive such outlandish insanity, and unsurprisingly his new FX thriller American Horror Story is entirely batshit. This is a pilot that exaggerates the grotesque, filling every corner of an ancient California house with all kinds of ugly depictions of terror and menace. Most of this works in an off-beat, absurdist kind of way; but then there are elements which are so crazy that you can't help but cackle at how silly this show is.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ringer: It's Gonna Kill Me, But I'll Do It (1.4)

One of the promises made by the writers prior to the series premiere was that mysteries wouldn't unfold at a glacial pace, and that answers will be given at a speed which would satisfy the viewer. Sometimes this formula can backfire a little, like in the busy pilot and its abundance of illogical plot twists. But what the show did here was throw everything up in the air, setting in motion events that will obviously create shock-waves throughout the entire series. Being so soon into the show's existence, it's pretty exciting.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Charmed: Trial by Magic (4.11)

There's a huge sense of 'what's the point?' in regards to this episode. Phoebe's adventures as a jury member were promising, and it could have allowed for some interesting attempts to prove the validity of her outlandish claims if she were to, say, experiment with low-level 'magic', or try and convince the jury of the possibility of the defendant being innocent. Instead, we get an elaborate 'summoning the murder victim' scene, and everything getting undone in the end via some convenient memory dust. It's a really patronizing story.

Charmed: A Paige from the Past (4.10)

This isn't the greatest of episodes, though it does at least explore Paige's history, made into typical TV movie hoodoo via an ugly car wreck that killed her adoptive parents. Rose McGowan does fine with the material here, in particular in her attempts to depict that sense of trying to tell your parents how much you love them, even when they don't want to hear it. Paige was a huge pain-in-the-butt as a teen, a whiny brat who skipped class and smoked cigarettes. It's not great characterization (very Angsty Teen 101), but Rose makes the story work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Angel: Expecting (1.12)

Expecting works far better as a character piece than as a Rosemary's Baby-style 'evil pregnancy' story. In some ways it works as a sequel to Rm w/a Vu, evolving Cordelia's character, bringing back Phantom Dennis and allowing some discussion of where Cordelia is going as a person. Likewise, just as in Rm w/a Vu, Cordelia immediately assumes that she is being punished, a deserving karmic side-effect of her high school cruelty and her casually vacuous behavior. It again reflects her growth as a character, and Charisma Carpenter is wonderful in the scenes where Cordelia really feels as if her life has come to a standstill.

Buffy: A New Man (4.12)

To commit to this episode, you need to excuse some of the script's more contrived elements. While Giles has been on the periphery of things this year, his treatment by the Scoobies doesn't entirely make sense. Buffy in particular is pretty obnoxious here with her ignorant statements about how superior and 'grown-up' Maggie Walsh is, and later telling Willow that she'll run to Maggie with news about the majicks going haywire. Can you be any more insensitive, Buff?

Angel: Somnambulist (1.11)

Undoubtedly the strongest episode so far, Somnambulist utilizes Angelus' history, fuses it with standalone elements (a serial killer on the loose), and sets out to actually 'say' something. It's the first Angel episode which feels truly confident about what its doing, depicting the twisted relationship between a vampire and his sire, made even more complicated by the sire's soul. Angel and Penn had a ton of chemistry together, a pre-fame Jeremy Renner reliably disturbing as a vamp with even less conscience than normal, who sadistically enjoys the thrill of the chase and enjoys making a spectacle out of his killings.

Buffy: Doomed (4.11)

As an episode, this doesn't hold together well at all. It tries to do far too many different things with little cohesive link between them all, spinning off into directions which generally aren't that spectacular anyway. At its heart is the aftermath of Buffy and Riley's exposure to one another, Buffy unsure about starting a relationship with somebody who isn't entirely normal, and Riley uncomfortable with suddenly discovering his love interest puts herself in extremely dangerous situations on a daily basis. While this is a natural development for their courtship, their dialogue-heavy scenes together drag on for what seems like forever, talking in circles and generally getting nowhere. Of course, that was probably the point, but the dialogue felt unusually flat for this show.

The X-Files: Alpha (6.16)

This was a dog of an episode. I think this one should have been taken out and shot. This puppy needs to be put down. Ahem. Alpha is pretty terrible from just about every perspective. Casting, story, characterization, dialogue. It's all awful. At least it's bad from the get-go, though. So you don't spend fifteen minutes thinking "Hey! This could be great", only to be disappointed later on. Seriously, why would somebody open up a giant cage holding a mysterious animal that is clearly angry and twitchy? When will folks in sci-fi shows learn that cargo ships never carry anything remotely positive and non-evil?