Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ringer: That's What You Get for Trying to Kill Me (1.10)

Regular readers will probably be aware that I've had a complicated relationship with Ringer. There were times when I've thought it was genuinely absorbing and fun, then there were other times when I got entirely bored by the damn show. But as Ringer wraps up the first half of its season, I'm left with that general feeling that it's not exactly terrible. I don't think Ringer will ever be high art, and I don't even think the show is going to hit that stride of soapy awesomeness I really wish it would pursue but, for what it is, the show is fine. There were parts of this episode that really frustrated me, but it had a drive to it that I found weirdly entertaining.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Charmed: The Eyes Have It (5.6)

The Eyes Have It is an interesting exploration into a different culture, along the lines of Dead Man Dating in season one. I'm not sure if the gypsy stuff here is consistent with reality, but I always liked the depiction of other kinds of medicine and folklore on this show, and there were some great moments here like Aunt Lydia showing the sisters the magic of her culture. The story itself was also a lot of fun, with an interesting demonic conceit and strong performances from the genre vet guest stars, including Tobin Bell and Emmanuelle Vaugier.

Charmed: Witches in Tights (5.5)

This is one of those episodes that probably should have been a lot better than it actually was. It's the Charmed Ones as superheroes! Yay-ness, right? There are a couple of cool moments with the sisters dolled up in their multi-colored leather ensembles, but in the end the hour flatlines, full of a multitude of annoying subplots, ridiculous plotting and bad acting. In the A-plot, Kevin's powers are wildly inconsistent, and Arnon was pretty weak as a bad guy considering the genre vet playing him. Fun costumes though, and for seemingly the first time ever it was Phoebe who actually looked the best.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Angel: Guise Will Be Guise (2.6)

It feels a little jarring to be thrown into a comedy episode right in the middle of a dark and dramatic Darla arc, but Guise Will Be Guise still exists as a strong, tightly scripted comedic detour. At the same time, Jane Espenson showcases her knack for making character-driven comedy by giving Wesley some additional depth and strength. He's still a lot of fun, but already his wacky season one persona feels like a million years ago. The episode allows him to evolve from bumbling comic relief to a real hero, saving the day and getting the girl. It took literally becoming somebody else to allow Wesley to discover the confidence and strength of a hero.

Buffy: Family (5.6)

This episode raises an interesting point about Tara. For all the time that she's been around, she's pretty much been depicted as three things: a witch, a lesbian, and kind of insecure. We don't know a whole lot about her as a person, and it's a feeling that both Buffy and Xander discuss when thinking over potential birthday gifts. She's a nice gal, but there's not a whole lot 'there'. Step in Mr. Whedon, who crafts an intriguing backstory for her that goes some way in explaining why she's so awkward and nervous in public.

Angel: Dear Boy (2.5)

Darla is bringing out the spectacular in Angel's writing team. One of the major themes this year seems to be Angel's conscience, and how it can alter and change. During one of their many fascinating conversations here, Darla insists that his 'true' self is itching to get out, and how his natural instincts are just being restricted by his silly little soul. At the same time, Angel's obsession with Darla has been affecting his mindset. He's far more reckless and aggressive when he's around her, not so concerned about doing the right thing or upsetting the apple-cart in his pursuit of her. It's an interesting idea to play around with, getting to the root of Angel as a character.

Buffy: No Place Like Home (5.5)

Watching season five again, I'm surprised at how similar the Dawn concept is to last season's Superstar. Both stories involve things happening that we as an audience know just aren't right. Things have changed, and yet nobody is acknowledging it. It's like an elaborate joke played on the viewer, sitting there waiting for somebody to stand up and ask 'huh?' The revelations about Dawn's true identity are played really well, with the gorgeous vision-quest scene with her presence fading in and out, and later the terrifying-then-quickly-tender monologue where the monk explains what has happened.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Others: Luciferous (1.2)

Settling into episode two, one of the key attractions that already leaps out at you is how still and silent this show is. The Others is built around atmosphere, and it's usually achieved through slow-paced steady cam, lingering still shots and just a faint scattering of a music score. It's even evident in scenes that aren't filled with foreboding and supernatural phenomena, like the brief scene with Mark at the hospital. It's an emergency room with a dying kid on a gurney, but it's still dark and moody and filled with quiet intensity. It creates something radical and distinctive compared to other series around, but probably sealed the show's fate in the long run, audiences too quick to change the channel and ignore something low-key and atmospheric.

The X-Files: The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati (7.2)

I find it funny that this is the final part of a three-episode story, yet each episode looked and felt so different from the last. Even weirder is that Chris Carter scripted each one, so it's not like we can blame the writers for making each segment so jarring. Amor Fati saw the strange abandonment of the sinister African vision dude and all the Ivory Coast intrigue, and instead plunged us into Mulder's subconscious. I got extreme Last Temptation of Christ/It's a Wonderful Life vibes from the story, as Mulder is led through a seductive new life of suburban contentment and witness protection, where he's neighbors with an alive and kicking Deep Throat and a suddenly trustworthy CSM. It's an absorbing mythology episode, light on pretension and full of cool little ideas.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

American Horror Story: Rubber Man (1.8)

Happy Thanksgiving! And what better way to celebrate than with a bunch of pregnant-lady torture and anal rape! Ugh. This was the much-anticipated 'rubber man reveal' episode, and it sure was as gross as promised. The identity of the fetish baby-daddy was reliably squicky, with connotations I found deeply uncomfortable and scenes of forced intercourse that pushed this show into really horrifying areas. Sure, we had wang-for-dinner last week, but that's a whole different wheelhouse to the stuff that went down here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Charmed: Siren Song (5.4)

Please excuse the Melinda Clarke compliment trip I'm about to embark on, but I love the girl. Whether she's playing a sensual dominatrix on CSI, or hardass Julie Cooper on The O.C., or a mysterious torture-junkie on Nikita, she's always insanely memorable, her delivery always sexy and ambiguous and she's always been able to lift whatever material she's been given. Luckily for her, the Siren is an interesting character already; a demon with an actual back-story and an interesting concept. There was also something kind of tragic about her, being forever cursed because of an affair conducted in puritan times; the woman automatically getting the blame.

Charmed: Happily Ever After (5.3)

The deconstruction of various popular fairy tales made for a ton of fun, seeing Piper dolled up like Red Riding Hood, Paige becoming Snow White, and Grams getting attacked by the big bad wolf. It's an interesting episode in general, the show utilizing old ideas to create something kind of fresh, instead of merely remaking a concept and calling it a Charmed episode. They did that a lot from here on out, using pre-existing fables and stories as inspiration for Halliwell hoodoo, and this was one of the few examples that didn't totally blow.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Angel: Untouched (2.4)

Sexual abuse is never an easy subject to explore, with the risk of exploitation and ignorance ordinarily outweighing the story's dramatic potential. To avoid this, Untouched features a victim of abuse who is crazily multi-faceted, Bethany being vulnerable, aggressive, self-destructive and eventually badass. She also has a messy relationship with her own sexuality, and in that regard reminded me a little of Faith. This is another episode in which Angel sets out to help a damaged young woman, but the involvement of Wolfram & Hart and the Angel Inc. team themselves raises the bar.

Buffy: Out of My Mind (5.4)

While I never thought Marc Blucas' acting was as terrible as so many other folks insisted it was, Riley's presence really dragged the show down, especially whenever he was positioned center stage. He feels redundant and is far too petulant to work, while by proxy Buffy as a character has been suffering since the back-end of season four. At the same time, Riley's presence means the continuation of the Initiative, one of the few story misfires this show ever presented. I love that season five is exploring that very fact that Riley doesn't have a place anymore, but I'm really at that point where I want him to go away.

Angel: First Impressions (2.3)

I mentioned this elsewhere, but I love how the cast is coming together this season. Angel's first season felt a lot like it was Angel and the other ones, while this season the ensemble is really working wonders as a real team instead. First Impressions continues the theme of splitting Angel Investigations down the middle, but it split the team off into two winning pairs, Cordelia and Gunn creating sparks while off on a demon-hunt, and Angel and Wesley generating a lot of laughs and sexually ambiguous chemistry with the nakedness and the motorcycle-sharing. Or maybe I'm reading way too much into things...

Buffy: The Replacement (5.3)

I've always had an unsteady relationship with Xander. Sometimes he's been petulant and moronic, other times straight-up obnoxious. There's also the fact that he's so self-consciously nerdy and awkward, something that has bothered me with other Whedonverse geek characters that seemed to be based somewhat on Joss himself (Andrew, Wash and Topher also spring to mind). But every once in a while Xander is portrayed in a way that doesn't entirely bug me, and The Replacement is one of those times.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Others: Pilot (1.1)

Whenever people bring up their favorite TV shows that were canceled ahead of their time, I always mention an obscure supernatural drama series called The Others, which aired for one season back in 2000 as part of NBC's Saturday night 'Thrillogy' programming. As an eleven year-old, The Others was one of the coolest shows around, something which had just as much earnest humanity as it did horror movie ghoulishness. I guess it was tonally all over the place, but it left enough of an impression on me to become that one show that I always talk about despite nobody having heard of it. Last year I re-watched Birds of Prey, another show I was a fan of as a kid, but found I was looking at it through rose-tinted glasses and that it was, in fact, pretty terrible. As a result, I was nervous about watching The Others again, since I would hate to see my opinion of it change. But so far I'm impressed.

The X-Files: The Sixth Extinction (7.1)

It's difficult to review this since it really feels like middle section of a three-part story, but generally I enjoyed it. Season seven is the last 'ordinary' X-Files year ahead of major changes for its final two seasons, and you can already spot the building of groundwork for the future. With that in mind, The Sixth Extinction is an important episode for Scully, her determination more notable than ever before as she pursues the truth about the downed UFO in the Ivory Coast. She also comes undone at Mulder's bedside, and later tells Skinner that Mulder has been taken ill by something of extra-terrestrial origin. It feels like the birth of a new Scully, somebody with a greater appreciation for extreme possibilities, and someone more open with her feelings for Mulder. Of course, I've said this in the past only for the characterization to switch out of nowhere, but it's a good sign for now at least.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

American Horror Story: Open House (1.7)

I sometimes wonder what Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Denis O'Hare all think about this show, in light of the scene where two of them stood around while Conroy's sexy doppelganger chewed a guy's penis off. Lange especially, as she's always been pretty vocal about her appearances in bad projects (check out the 'mother-in-law-from-hell' Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Hush... or don't). American Horror Story isn't at all a bad show, but I don't think anybody can deny that it's a series that waves its shlock flag proudly. Seeing these esteemed actors perform scenes like that feels so arresting as a viewer, and you can almost imagine them asking "has it really come to this?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ringer: Shut Up and Eat Your Bologna (1.9)

Unfortunately, I feel like I'm at that point where Ringer has lost me. I still watch the show, and I'll tune in and review for the rest of the season, but my general interest in the characters and the storylines has drifted, and I don't think I'm ever gonna be completely drawn in again. I bring this up because Shut Up and Eat Your Bologna featured a ton of movement in several story arcs, but I was never particularly engaged with any of it. When that sort of thing occurs, you can't help but feel that the show's general tone just doesn't work for you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Charmed: A Witch's Tail Part 2 (5.2)

Less interesting than its predecessor, primarily because there isn't a huge amount of story to tell. Phoebe's mermaid escapades are most evident of this, with various sequences of Alyssa lazing around on rocks and getting caught up in fish nets. I guess the interview with Nancy O'Dell was funny, but the story bottomed out long before the credits rolled. Cole's involvement produces some interesting moments (I liked his interaction with Paige), but it still feels like the show is exploiting a tired story arc since there's so little new to say.

Charmed: A Witch's Tail Part 1 (5.1)

So we enter 'part two' of Charmed, the half that is almost insufferably shitty. Okay, that's maybe a little unfair. But most of the series did blow chunks from here on out. A Witch's Tail Part 1 isn't totally heinous, but it really promotes the 'new' Charmed's mission statement: More revealing costumes! More whining! More cribbing of existing source material! Gah. So we have another exploration into some kind of magical mythology, this time mermaids. And being Charmed part two, Alyssa Milano is thrown into a cleavage-revealing ensemble midway through the hour. Once more, gah!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angel: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? (2.2)

This is a series classic. It takes a potentially disastrous concept and bleeds it for all its worth, creating an episode that explores some of the ugliest years of recent US history while simultaneously putting a vampire at the heart of it, contrasting the denial and fear and persecution of the time with Angel's own personal guilt, accepting of his soul but still unsure of how that'll impact him as a person. There are a dozen varying themes that the hour covers, and it's done so skillfully that it quickly becomes the finest episode the show has done so far, and speaks volumes on the uptick in quality this year and where this season is headed.

Buffy: Real Me (5.2)

Considering how heinous she eventually became, it's easy to forget how effortlessly Dawn was first written into the show. Shockingly, the out-of-nowhere kid-sister character is actually fun and endearing, something pretty unprecedented for television. Michelle Trachtenberg slides easily into the part, and the writers go that extra mile to make her a two-dimensional being. She's inquisitive, sweetly bratty and sometimes ridiculously cute. I can't think of a funnier moment this episode than that great bit where she narrates about Xander seeing her 'as a woman' while she sits there with chocolate ice cream all over her face.

Angel: Judgment (2.1)

Angel opens its second season with an episode that isn't a total masterpiece, but one that gives the show a stronger direction and sense of purpose. One of the major themes carried over from season one is the idea of redemption, with Angel plotting his next move after his discovery of the Shanshu prophecy, and discovering that things aren't always easy. It's an episode where people make mistakes and screw up, and there's even a neat cameo from Faith, who gets to bond with Angel over their mutual attempts to make things right.

Buffy: Buffy vs. Dracula (5.1)

An unusual season premiere, sure, but one that is admittedly a lot of fun. The entire Dracula storyline feels as if its arrived a couple of seasons late, being an example of the perfect distortion of popular culture that the show regularly explored in seasons one and two. Unsurprisingly, Dracula's appearance is treated with just as much humor and disdain as we expect from this show, Buffy's immediate reaction to his arrival a gleeful 'get out!', while the script bashes us over the head with some of the count's more ridiculous 'showy gypsy stuff'.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The X-Files: Biogenesis (6.22)

Everything's different, yet everything's the same. That was the feeling I got when the ominous 'to be continued...' rolled across the screen at the end. Biogenesis featured a lot that felt overly familiar. We had the same flat antagonists orbiting around the script, characters like Krycek and Diana Fowley being all shady and mysterious but with little understanding of what exactly they're doing. Skinner's loyalties are once again under scrutiny, and it took me a while to remember his nanobite blackmail thing earlier this season. There was the return of the Native American shaman dude, a character I'd entirely blocked out of my consciousness. But away from the stale villains and stale plot devices, Biogenesis was sort of fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

American Horror Story: Piggy Piggy (1.6)

In an episode that saw Connie Britton eating brains and Cam from Modern Family being terrified by the piggy man in the mirror, it was the kids that actually brought some levity to the proceedings. Opening with a horrible flashback sequence to the Westfield High massacre, this was an hour driven by Violet's gradual discovery of Tate's murderous rampage and her horror at her ever-present feelings for him. I'm not sure I totally buy that she'd still be into him, considering a) he's a multiple murderer, and b) he's dead; but the story is an interesting one.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ringer: Maybe We Can Get a Dog Instead? (1.8)

This was a far more character-driven episode than any of the ones preceding it, but lacking in anything particularly juicy. All the show needs to do now is find some kind of balance between the two. While I enjoyed a lot of the character beats on offer here, it was an hour that was practically crying out for something additionally soapy and ridiculous. And on that front the episode came up short. Up until the FBI wire scene, this was a major snooze-fest.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Charmed: Witch Way Now? (4.22)

Similarly to Womb Raider, this is another flat episode, made even more glaring by the fact that it's the season finale. At the heart of the episode is the Angel of Destiny's offer to grant the sisters an ordinary life. While there are parts of the story that work (notably Paige's "Will we remember?"), the whole idea is too illogical to realistically work. So somebody out there has the power to entirely brainwash all of good and evil into forgetting the existence of the Charmed Ones? Who's going to protect innocents from now on? Huh? It's another example of Charmed mythology that entirely falls apart when you think about it.

Charmed: Womb Raider (4.21)

Considering the quality of the recent Cole arc and the fun of Debbi Morgan's throaty-voiced Seer, it's crazily underwhelming for the grand finale to essentially be a huge light-show that lasts for all of fifteen seconds. Even the Charmed Ones seem surprised at how remarkably easy the resolution was. Womb Raider also casually re-visits the demonic rituals and underworld politics that have already become more than a little tired, with random demons with names like Dane and Malik still squabbling over who gets to become the Source. Meh. It's a ridiculously flat closer.

Charmed: Long Live the Queen (4.20)

The mutual concepts of good and evil are intriguingly explored here, Phoebe even stating that the sisters have stumbled into an area that is no longer black or white. You can understand Phoebe's conflict. She loves her husband, she loves her sisters. Obviously the two ideologies could never co-exist, but you can almost see why Phoebe thought she could work around it. She could have been the broker for some kind of mutual peace between both sides. Phoebe's development here is really well-plotted, from her casual anger towards her sisters and Elise, to her gradual realization that the Seer's tonics aren't as advertised...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Angel: To Shanshu in L.A. (1.22)

One of the problems with a show that features so many standalone episodes is that the writers have to rely on stock ideas to make the season finale that little bit more special. To Shanshu in L.A. successfully ties in the overarching concept of Wolfram & Hart, but too much of the hour is filled with what seems like a checklist of 'finale' events. There are explosions and characters stuck in crisis, a demon of the week, and a couple of interesting cliffhangers. But while the episode is by no means 'bad', it feels a little underwhelming for the Whedonverse.

Buffy: Restless (4.22)

In Restless, Joss Whedon explores the fears and inner traumas of Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles; pulling them all together in an ambitious, existential, David Lynch-inspired masterpiece of hints and foreshadowing of the future, as well as a story that speaks volumes about where the four characters are at, both emotionally and physically, at this point in time.

Angel: Blind Date (1.21)

Wolfram & Hart has already become one of the greatest inventions of the Buffyverse. It works not only because it's a law firm comprising of folks who are completely batshit, but there's also that element of believability about the whole thing. Lawyers are evil. That's generally accepted. But tie that in with mass corruption and the partnering of various forms of the supernatural, it creates something genuinely chilling. At the heart of the arc are the lawyers, each given vibrant personalities in the last couple of episodes.

Buffy: Primeval (4.21)

I like Adam as a concept. He's a strange fusion of human, monster and machine, and explicitly designed to be evil. Here's a being who was born to kill, but has been thrust into the world without guidance or understanding, lending him an inquisitive, introspective tone that goes at odds with the 'crush-kill-destroy' antics of previous big bads. But, and I struggle to understand why, Adam didn't work. It was presumably that characterization that made him a weak villain, since his big evil trip this last two episodes felt so contrived as a result. So, he wants to create a super army of genetic hybrids like himself? That's... not all that great.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The X-Files: Field Trip (6.21)

Last season's Bad Blood showcased the vast differences between Mulder and Scully, the former increasingly frustrated with his partner's lack of interest and diminishing investment in pursuing 'the truth', while the latter having only grown tired of Mulder's relentless pursuit of evidence she knew he'd never find. It makes sense that, after a season of sweeping change that has thrown them closer than ever before, an episode exploring their respective psyches reveals how reliant they've become on one another, and that they've both drawn from each other's unique perspectives in order to become better agents.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

American Horror Story: Halloween Part 2 (1.5)

For all their outward ghoulishness, there's a great sadness to every one of the ghosts depicted so far. Personally, it's a little surprising for me. In his most recent work, Ryan Murphy has specialized in giving his characters the most basic of personality traits, whether it's the obnoxious entitlement of Elizabeth Gilbert, the smugness of Will Schuester, or the illogical cruelty of Christian Troy. While certainly Glee and Nip/Tuck started out exploring the inner conscience of its characters, both shows eventually settled on making each member of their respective ensembles a certain 'type', forgoing any real depth. American Horror Story's ghostly antagonists (and even 'antagonist' seems wrong now) could so easily be one-dimensional and campy, and for a short time it appeared that that was entirely the case. But gradually as this show unfolds, said characters are becoming so complicated and fascinating, suggesting that Murphy and his collection of writers aren't so eager this time to fall back on one-note protagonists.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ringer: Oh Gawd, There's Two of Them? (1.7)

The twists are fun, but that nagging problem I was talking about last episode continued to obscure my enjoyment of the show. Bridget is still an enigma, and it feels like the writers are bending her character in strange directions depending on the scene that she's in. She opens the hour being all conniving by spinning more lies in the direction of Andrew and Henry, to throw off the feds. Soon after she pines for Malcolm and their brief fling. Then she turns to shady NA sponsor Charlie, telling him he's the only person she can trust. Then she has an intimate moment with Andrew, and they share their first romantic kiss since the twin switcheroo. I'm struggling to understand anything of her motivation. And while the crazy soap opera cliffhangers prove momentarily distracting, the characterization will eventually be the death of this show if the writers don't shape up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Charmed: We're Off to See the Wizard (4.19)

Phoebe's descent into evil is unfolding masterfully. The past two seasons have very much been about evil trying to separate the sisters, Cole in particular driving a wedge between both sets of Charmed Ones. Here, it's not only her unborn child that is corrupting her and her powers, it's also her love for a man who isn't trusted by her sisters. It's all played pretty convincingly, at least until Paige comes along and steadfastly claims that Cole is evil and that both she and Piper believe that he's a bad guy once again. Seriously? Not the best way to handle it, honey. But I guess it then ensures that Phoebe becomes even more distant from the two of them, and those final couple of scenes in which she's lured to the dark side with a pep talk from the Seer were ridiculously chilling. This is suddenly a new Charmed where all bets are off. It's an interesting approach.

Charmed: Bite Me (4.18)

This episode is fine, if a little over-familiar. It's, what, the fifth 'sister turns evil' story this season alone? Though Rose McGowan did look ridiculously hot in her vampire get-up, it's become the go-to plot device for most of the writers now. Introducing vampires to the Charmed mythology is interesting enough without having one of the sisters get 'turned', and it would have probably been beneficial for the show to ease back on that idea for a while. Then again, these 'evil sister' episodes were obviously popular, so maybe I'm just needlessly whining. Call me out on it if I am. Heh.