Monday, April 30, 2012

Angel: Spin the Bottle (4.6)

Joss Whedon, as much as he's known for misery and apocalyptic doom, is also pretty darn silly. And it's said silliness that he runs with in Spin the Bottle, a lightweight diversion in which our Angel protagonists are struck down by a misfiring magic spell that renders them all teenagers again. Joss wears his Band Candy/Tabula Rasa source material on his sleeve, and manages to improve on the weaker elements of those episodes. Like the finest comedy, Spin the Bottle works because the funny is derived from our own knowledge of the characters. There's a definite sense of the show almost pining for the days when its protagonists were a little less complicated, but it never exactly harms the hour itself.

Buffy: Him (7.6)

I have a real fondness for this episode. It's really the final Buffy episode to be entirely standalone in nature, every additional hour this season at least semi-revolving around major story arcs. It's also the last episode to really utilize the re-opened Sunnydale High, a weird decision considering the major push it's had since season seven began. There's also a gorgeous musicality to Him, strengthening the whole 'high school genre' angle -- great pop songs as Dawn dithers over her new crush, a cute ballad as Dawn hunts for Buffy's old cheerleading outfit (aww, Witch), as well as that moving Coldplay song as she sees Buffy and RJ getting intimate. Now, you kind of need to think Coldplay are lame, but that entire scene and the music playing over it just clicked together in this teenage, melodramatic burst of feeling. Aww.

Angel: Supersymmetry (4.5)

Supersymmetry continues this season's trend of feeling remarkably un-Angel, in the best possible sense. Characters have been granted stronger definition this year, while Cordelia's amnesia has been a daring decision that has produced better use of her character than it easily could have done. There's also this pulpy sensibility to most of the year's episodes so far, with the comic book references, grandiose plot mechanics and the decision to cast Angel as a Batman figure of superhero intensity. In some ways, it feels a lot like the first season, only with three years-worth of intrigue and story arcs making up for some of the weaker elements that harmed Angel's opening year.

Buffy: Selfless (7.5)

What is identity? That's the principal question at the heart of Selfless, another under-appreciated Buffy masterpiece and one of the most dynamic character studies I've ever seen on television. By the end of the episode, it's clear that no matter how long Anya has lived, no matter how much she has seen, and no matter how many varying emotions she has experienced, Anya isn't at all a person. She's drifted from one incarnation to the other over the centuries, mainly dictated by the men around her. The impressive title of this episode feeds directly into that, not only alluding to the human being she long ago was, but also the complete lack of self that she has today. In the end, however, there's a glimmer of hope -- Anya acknowledging all of the pain she has inflicted on others, and how much she strives to be someone better.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The X-Files: This Is Not Happening (8.14)

It's always admirable when a genre show focuses on the raw naturalism of an extreme event. Fox Mulder vanished several months ago, without a trace. Nobody would rationally believe that he'd been taken by extraterrestrial forces. His entire being is somewhere unexplainable. Every part of him has gone, and the people left behind are constantly hitting brick walls in their pursuit of him. The entire concept of a person just disappearing is unimaginably awful, and this episode successfully put the honest truth of the situation ahead of myth-arc hoodoo... and that was nice.

The X-Files: Per Manum (8.13)

Scully's pregnancy has been a cold affair since it was introduced at the end of last season, kept on the back-burner presumably to give Doggett's introduction some breathing room. Per Manum is really the first episode to push her story center stage, and it winds up being one of the more successful mythology hours. It goes without saying that these types of X-File turn out stronger when they directly involve characters we love, and Scully gets pulled through the ringer here. Gillian Anderson is always great, but I especially enjoyed seeing Scully working the case through the vacuum of her inner denial, verbally reacting to things as an FBI agent while internally breaking down over her own personal involvement in the case.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dawson's Creek: High Risk Behavior (2.10)

Sex had always been Dawson's Creek's cachet. It's now-dated sexual openness created widespread controversy at the time, while the show continued the long-standing YA tradition of making sex the be-all and end-all of high school existence. The thing that everybody's thinking about, that everybody's terrified of, and that everybody's eager to start having. High Risk Behavior is probably one of the more overt episodes centered on sex, so much that the WB plugged the hell out of it: "Which one of the DC-ers loses their virginity? Tune in to find out!", etc. It's an hour that isn't entirely perfect, but manages to find some interesting new angles to a sort of tired premise.

Dawson's Creek: The Election (2.9)

Andie is very much becoming a character of two halves. She has this annoying penchant to speak a mile a minute, sputtering dialogue like a crazy-woman and alienating everyone who isn't Pacey in the process. At the same time, though, she's vulnerable and tragic, making her this ticking time bomb that we can't help but sympathize with. Andie is somebody who is rapidly facing the same fate as her mother, but hasn't yet come to terms with it. When somebody pokes fun at her, she doesn't fight back or take it in her stride, instead undergoing an emotional meltdown. It's this version of the character that works better, Meredith Monroe having the saddest eyes whenever Andie gets hurt. And no matter how often Pacey tries to help, it's a personal issue that she can only get over by herself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mad Men: Far Away Places (5.6)

A lot can happen in a day. Like Seven Twenty Three in the third season, this was another episode that experimented with non-linear narrative, all of the three stories here linked by that collective desire to break out and escape. It's a theme that's always been at the forefront of much of Mad Men, that wanting to experience adventure and break up the monotony of everyday life. We can all relate to that, but it was even more daring back in 1966 -- doing something bad, abandoning your responsibilities, reaching that high. Every story here had that same sense of momentum, and the three characters anchoring their own vignettes all wound up experiencing some kind of epiphany or emotional break-through. And only one of them was helped by a little LSD.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charmed: Charrrmed! (7.4)

"Did you just call me a ho?" This really shouldn't work, but somehow winds up being crazily entertaining. It seems more than ever that Charmed's cribbing of pre-existing source material ends up being a game of chance. I felt the whole 'sword in the stone' story in season six was an hour of boredom that added nothing new to the concept, while the Sleepy Hollow riff was similarly weak. But here we have freaking pirates and parrots and ridiculous ghost fog, yet it all kind of works. It feels like something fresh, throwing in some new sets and even stronger new set pieces for the Halliwells to plow through, and I really liked the damn thing.

Charmed: Cheaper by the Coven (7.3)

Along with the show's rapid denigration of the concept of death, continuity is also getting brutally beaten every week, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the most glaring mistakes occur whenever Grams appears. Just as in Witchstock, here we have a Grams episode undermined by a ton of errors. She's aware of Gideon, yet didn't know that Piper just had a baby? She had a 'witch talk' with the sisters when they were teens? What? TV series always have a 'show bible' that helps prevent insanity like this, and I have no idea why Charmed isn't using it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Angel: Slouching Toward Bethlehem (4.4)

Thematically, the first half of Slouching Toward Bethlehem isn't great television. Cordelia has arrived back on earth with that pesky Lifetime-style problem of amnesia, sending her on a quest to find out information that we as an audience already know. It again feeds into the idea of this season trying to hook freshman viewers, but it's not a ton of fun for us long-term guys, besides a couple of funny lines about Cordelia's hair-don'ts and her past at Sunnydale High, along with Fred's comedic deflecting of anything potentially demonic. What does work in these early scenes, however, is Skip Schoolnik's direction, his photography able to make the familiar Hyperion set suddenly so cold and unwelcoming. It feels so empty and vast in its size, and you can really feel Cordy's loneliness and sense of detachment from everybody.

Buffy: Help (7.4)

One of my favorite Buffy scenes is actually one without dialogue or even a whole lot of movement. It occurs mid-way through this episode, with Buffy, Willow, Xander and Dawn sitting around the dining-room table investigating pre-cog death girl Cassie and trying to unravel the mystery surrounding her. It's a brief moment, but feels so powerful. Here's a group of characters that we've been watching for so long now, all of whom are friendly once again and determined to solve a supernatural case. A lot of this episode feels pretty intimate, notably in that scene as well as the brief shots of Dawn, Cassie and Mike all hanging out and laughing together. There's so much happiness and teamwork here, which make Cassie's ultimate demise so much more affecting. I love Help, and it's that sense of together-ness that really struck me, not only as a viewer but as a long-term fan of the series.

Angel: The House Always Wins (4.3)

It's interesting at this time to see the writers approaching season four with something of a blank slate. The stories are more standalone-driven, characters have become a little less angsty, and every member of the ensemble seems to have a comfortable new role to inhabit. It's all pretty funny considering season four became that notorious Angel year that got way bogged down in story arcs, all of which ran so consistently that the show sometimes ended up resembling a supernatural version of 24. The House Always Wins, while a standalone, cribs from the sensibility of Ground State in that it's very filler in nature but features some wonderful character-driven drama. This week, it's all about Lorne.

Buffy: Same Time, Same Place (7.3)

Season seven, while undoubtedly promoting new arcs and fresh incarnations of our favorite characters, is appropriately still sifting through the baggage of last year. Buffy's assault played a major part in last week's episode, and here we see Willow returning to Sunnydale after her murderous rampage last season. Same Time, Same Place is all about fear, and the various forms it arrives in. Willow is terrified of being isolated by her friends, as well as scared that she'll once again return to the crazed, grieving state she was in following Tara's death. Meanwhile, Buffy, Xander and Dawn all experience their own varying emotions when it comes to forgiveness, and whether Willow can ever truly be absolved for what she's done, and whether she's even still possessing the same anger she exhibited the last time they were all together.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The X-Files: Medusa (8.12)

There are various real-world locales that I've always felt work wonders when depicted through the prism of genre film-making. Like planes or trains or subway stations. It's why I always dug The Lady Vanishes, or Daylight, or the parts after they get off the bus in Speed (woops, spoiler!) Medusa opens promisingly, with some sort of acid-monster presumably responsible for the death of an undercover cop on a subway train. Soon after, we're introduced to a collection of guest characters to support Scully and Doggett, giving Medusa an early air of vintage X-Files classics like Ice. But rapidly the potential trappings of locale-set storytelling take over, leaving the episode feeling like a strained collection of dimly-lit scenes involving people walking along empty tunnels.

The X-Files: The Gift (8.11)

I've written a lot this season about the writer's strange creative decisions when it comes to Doggett. The year opened with some particularly strong characterization for him, the character initially by-the-book and arguably antagonistic, before becoming deeper connected with Scully and intrigued by the possibility of supernatural phenomena. Then the show embarked on a run of episodes where his character was either intentionally left out of proceedings, or merely had Scully's pre-season eight dialogue subbed in for his own. The Gift produces an immediate turn-around in regards to his character, pushing him center stage and once again tying him in with the bigger scheme at play.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Reluctant Hero (2.8)

Sometimes Dawson's Creek reaches so hard to make its lead character appear a good person that you begin to wonder if James Van Der Beek was demanding script approval at this point. The Reluctant Hero paints Dawson as one of the last incarnations of a dying archetype: the selfless, classic 'good guy', who saves threatened women, does the right thing, and stays moral and true despite heavy temptation. Sure, most of his actions here are worthy of praise -- but, being Dawson, you can't help but wonder if all of it is really that selfless, the character doing all these things to make himself look better, rather than doing them because it's the right thing to do.

Dawson's Creek: The All-Nighter (2.7)

The All-Nighter tries so hard to be another Detention that it winds up being pretty soulless. The format is exactly the same, with the Dawson's Creek ensemble tossed together in one location and having their deepest secrets exposed. Only instead of Abby Morgan being the instigator, this time it's the all-together less charismatic Jane magazine. It also suffers from there not being a whole lot of juicy secret-keeping lately. We all wanted Joey's crush on Dawson to be revealed last year, but I don't think anybody cares all that much if Andie finds out about Pacey's fling with Tamara. Eh. It's all a little weak.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ringer: I'm the Good Twin (1.22)

It had become more and more apparent over the last couple of weeks that Bridget and Siobhan were never going to meet in time for the finale. You can understand the logic. I assume the writers had thought we'd be so wrapped up in the Bodaway/Catherine stories that we wouldn't care all that much if our dueling protagonists ever had that elusive reunion. But, along with everything else on this show, things obviously didn't work out the way they had intended. This was a strange finale -- sort of drab and uninteresting, despite several half-resolutions to a couple of long-running stories. It also had one of the most flat endings I've ever seen. Even if a second season was guaranteed, that sure wasn't much of a cliffhanger.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mad Men: Signal 30 (5.5)

I experienced a crushing blow watching Signal 30. The latest in a number of Mad Men-related disappointments, gravitating from the ugly reality that doesn't always present itself every week on this show, the admiration you have for certain characters that is unexpectedly upturned. Because Pete isn't a good person. He's funny and charming and adorably unaware of his weekly downward spiral into inevitable disappointments, and all of this combines to make him somebody you can almost root for. But then we get an episode like this one, where he exhibits behavior that is beyond reprehensible. And, somehow, he can't get away with it like Don does. He just ends up appearing pathetic, and suddenly you're hit with that realization that he's truly not good at all.

Charmed: The Bare Witch Project (7.2)

Jesus. Try and be serious sometimes, sure, but don't try and lecture about feminism, show. It only comes off as crass and cheap in equal measure. The Bare Witch Project is an asinine hour already, but what really destroys any potential merit is the script's attempt to discuss important issues. This is an episode where Lady Godiva is depicted as the defining female voice throughout the history of time, every act of femme power somehow tracing back to her. In the minds of the writers, this ends up meaning that women are only listened to when they're naked, one of the weirdest 'messages' this show has ever put across. Even weirder, Phoebe herself takes all her clothes off in protest -- instead of using her celebrity or city-wide readership to make a stand. It's one of the stupidest episodes of Charmed.

Charmed: A Call to Arms (7.1)

I may be imagining it, but there's a sense of renewed energy here, presumably because most of the present/future baggage that weighed down season six swiftly exited with the departure of Drew Fuller. There are still stories that have been carried over from last year, but they didn't bug me too much. Leo is being thrust center stage, more so than ever, and while that would ordinarily inspire eye-rolls, I liked the moral ambiguity of his quest to kill Barbas, as well as the sinister skull-faced presence that is following him everywhere. A Call to Arms isn't a great episode by any means, but it's that rare Charmed season premiere that immediately sets up an overall arc for the future.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Angel: Ground State (4.2)

This week's script appropriately name-checks Batman, Flash Gordon and Lex Luthor, tying in famous comic book characters to a very comic book-style episode of Angel. Ground State does a successful job at setting up an exciting standalone mystery while still connecting it with the major story arcs at work right now. So even with Cordelia's disappearance a top priority, we also got some breaking-and-entering electrical hijinks with a bad girl in tight leather. Gwen Raiden is a sizzling new Angel character: smart, funny, quick with the banter and skilled at fighting -- she's like a superpowered Batgirl. While she could have so easily been a cheap ratings stunt, Gwen turns out to be one of the coolest creations in a long while. It's also not a problem that Alexa Davalos is really, really hot. Giggity.

Buffy: Beneath You (7.2)

Buffy's attempted rape was such a huge plot development that it couldn't realistically be swept under the carpet, as much as I'm sure everybody hoped it would. Spike drove the story here, and improbably the show managed to make that horrible bathroom scene last season the root cause of so much Spike-centric pain. While it furthers that unintentional side effect I mentioned last season (forgiving the man who tried to sexually assault you), Spike's madness quickly becomes remarkably affecting. While his nuttiness occasionally nose-dives into silly rambling, there's a human quality to it explored in that gorgeously photographed final scene -- Spike wanted to become the man he hoped Buffy would love, thinking gaining a soul would release him of his inner guilt. But the pain is still there. Even putting on his Spike 'costume' doesn't work out anymore. It's aggressively powerful, and lays groundwork for an interesting year for Spike.

Angel: Deep Down (4.1)

It takes a while to settle into this episode, the writers presumably wanting us to feel just as disoriented as Angel. I never believed season three was perfect, and you can tell that the writers didn't either, abandoning the weaker elements from last year while running with the bunch of story arcs that really worked. Deep Down not only rounds off the cliffhangers from last season's finale, but also produces an interesting new dynamic for the Angel cast, one that I can't help but admire.

Buffy: Lessons (7.1)

It's become pretty routine for genre shows to feature melodramatic proclamations that deep badness is right around the corner. Hell, Buffy does it every season. But there's undeniably something different about the warnings seen here. Maybe it's the fact that we all know this is the show's last run and that suddenly all bets are off, but it's more likely that it's the globe-trotting spectacle that is Joss Whedon's premiere script that cements the tension. Lessons is unusual in that it's so reminiscent of vintage Buffy while at the same time successful at pushing the show forward, lending it a lightness and momentum that feels so welcome after a year of punishing angst.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The X-Files: Badlaa (8.10)

About twenty minutes into Badlaa, I thought this was seriously one of the coolest episodes in a long, long time. We have creepy Indian mystics rolling around on carts, crawling up people's butts and stowing away inside their host's bodies for a quick trip across the world. There's a fantastic sequence in which Scully cuts open a man's body to find said Indian dwarf wriggling around inside, before he flees and crawls out of the medical lab. This is all just crazily awesome. But gradually as Badlaa continued, it suddenly dawned on me that literally none of this makes sense...

The X-Files: Salvage (8.9)

One comment in the writers' room inspired this entire episode, didn't it? "Wouldn't it be cool if Terminator 2's Robert Patrick remarked that metal-men only existed in movies?" And then they ran with it... Salvage, like last week's Surekill, struggles to become anything more than 'a cool idea'. Wade Andrew Williams, a great character actor, is unfortunately handed an antagonist whose entire personality boils down to a collection of mumbles and grunts -- he looks awesome on a visual level, with the metallic wounds and the metal fibers growing out of his head like facial hair, but Salvage ends up being a routine revenge tale, and not a very competently-told one at that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Dance (2.6)

It's interesting to see the show almost directly addressing some of the weaker elements of season one this year, particularly when it comes to Joey. Joey, throughout her young life, has done little besides pine for Dawson. If she has ever cultivated extra-curricular interests, we've never exactly been informed of them. The Dance allows Joey to actually come to terms with her own lack of personal interest, as she realizes that she's spent so long directing attention to the boy next door that she's completely failed to grow as a person herself. It's an intriguing new approach to her character, and grants her some much-needed dimension.

Dawson's Creek: Full Moon Rising (2.5)

It's funny with a show like this to find certain things fine one week, and annoying the next. Dawson's Creek has always been a series that has straddled that thin line, and Full Moon Rising whiplashed back and forth between both extremes. It doesn't have the most auspicious of premises -- the full moon is making everybody supposedly crazy, something Joey ruminates on in one of her trademark overlong, frowny monologues at the top of the show. The drama, at certain points, resembles both a 7th Heaven shriek-fest as well as an Aaron Spelling soap, with face slaps and cries of 'easy lay'. But, naturally, the show pulls you back in the end.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mad Men: Mystery Date (5.4)

I think everybody has a moment in their lives when they begin to recognize the negative qualities they possess. That maybe you make rash judgments about others, or you exhibit behaviors that can be interpreted as damaging to either your own well-being, or the well-being of society. Sometimes you wind up shocked at your own flaws, sometimes you embrace them, and sometimes no matter how hard you try and improve yourself -- those bad qualities just insist on coming back. Mystery Date was all about those hidden feelings, the ones you try and suppress but struggle to entirely rid yourself of. It's a theme that runs through every one of the episode's stories, and it's characteristically fascinating.

Ringer: It's Called Improvising, Bitch! (1.21)

I don't think I've ever experienced more critical whiplash in all my years of watching television than I have over the last year. Ringer is a show that has achieved near consistent levels of banality, but it's surely something worthy of scientific investigation that, right before the show is launched into the cancellation abyss, it pulls out of its butt something so ridiculous and so terrible that it becomes sort of, kind of... great? It's Called Improvising, Bitch! was the abject soapiness that this show has seemed to avoid for so long -- a frenetic, hilarious mess that wound up crazily entertaining, like Showgirls-awesome.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Charmed: It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World Part 2 (6.23)

It's a welcome surprise to see a finale that proves occasionally affecting. I always disliked Chris, I was pretty bored by his story arc throughout the sixth season, and my feelings about Drew Fuller's acting have been made clear countless times already. But I would be a liar if I said I wasn't saddened by his death scene. It's a powerful moment of unrelenting grief, regardless of it being only one 'incarnation' of the character that has met his demise, and the following discussion between Phoebe and Paige only cements the sadness: "he just faded away?" I'm so used to Charmed being shallow and devoid of any real meaning, but that scene was pretty spectacular.

Charmed: It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World Part 1 (6.22)

If there's one thing we've learned about alternate Charmed universes, it's that the inhabitants have always had a penchant for leather. Once you get past the brass knuckles, hammy acting and ridiculous costumes (Leo in particular has never looked more stupid), the first part of this finale is pretty interesting. The arcs that have driven season six, elaborate in theory but weirdly stagnant in execution, have dragged on for so long now that it's welcome to see everything finally coming to a head.

Charmed: Witch Wars (6.21)

Reality television is ripe for parody, but Witch Wars does nothing with it. Instead we have routine demons-want-the-Charmed-Ones-dead hoodoo, alongside some annoying 'secret evilness' from Gideon. I don't know if it's because I'm watching these episodes in a vacuum, but it's become more than a little tiring seeing the sisters getting attacked, working out what just attacked them, and then vanquishing the attackers. The show is crying out for something radical and different, and despite an interesting central conceit, Witch Wars sure ain't it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Angel: Tomorrow (3.22)

It's all about parallels. Angel is confined to the depths of the ocean, and Cordelia ascends to places unknown. Tomorrow is one of the few Buffyverse finales that literally ends on a cliffhanger, leaving you gasping for some kind of resolution just as that coffin fades into the darkness and we smash into the end credits. Even before that ending, however, this is a strong closer to the third season. Here, events conspire to make everything sort of perfect. Angel has his family back together again, Cordelia has her epiphany. But David Greenwalt's script ensures that, once we look a little closer, things aren't as wonderful as they may appear.

Buffy: Grave (6.22)

So we reach the end of Buffy's most polarizing season. It's been an intense journey full of strong ideas and lousy execution, but has mostly achieved what it set out to do. This was a season that, to this day, still provokes discussion and controversy, and definitely pushed the limits of the term 'darkness'. Grave, fittingly for season six, is a mixed bag. Some of it is incredibly powerful, and some of it is just as contrived and ridiculous as a lot of this year. It's by far the weakest season finale the show ever produced, but not the all-out horror show that I remembered it being.

Angel: Benediction (3.21)

Revenge has been one of the driving themes of season three, especially in relation to Holtz. Holtz has never been somebody we could completely dislike, since his quest is rooted in the pain of experiencing the horrific murder of his entire family. Here he begins to showcase new levels as he encourages Connor to connect with his birth father, later granting Angel his blessing when it comes to re-forming the bond with his son. But, obviously, this is Angel, a show when nothing ever ends up the way you had expected. Holtz, hate driving his every action and decision, forms the ultimate revenge scheme, and it's a masterful moment of biblical intensity.

Buffy: Two to Go (6.21)

While there's a lot of vacuous fun to be had as Willow tears up the joint, my problem with this entire arc is that it quickly loses track of Willow's purpose for wreaking havoc. It becomes less about Tara's demise and Willow's self-destructive levels of emotional devastation, and more about Willow making snarky jokes and being mean to people. All season has built up to this point, and it's annoying to see such interesting character work thrown out in exchange for typical 'evilness'. It's underwhelming.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The X-Files: Surekill (8.8)

Watching Surekill, I kept imagining ways that it could have been more interesting. Most of them revolve around the 'superpower' of the week, in this case the ability to see through walls. There's only one scene here that truly works, in which Tammi Peyton remarks that she feels like she's always being watched, X-ray visioned Dwight presumably peeking in at her from outside the room. It's a really vivid moment of creepy voyeurism, positioning the ability as something that's intrinsically unnerving, bringing out the reality in a supernatural situation -- since we can all kind of relate to the fear of being secretly watched. But, for some reason, Surekill ends up really dragging, Greg Walker's script struggling to find anything truly exciting within his intriguing premise.

The X-Files: Via Negativa (8.7)

This could have easily been a Freddy Krueger retread, and certain scenes do feel remarkably similar to those popularized in that seminal '80s dream-killer franchise. But Frank Spotnitz stumbles into new territory with his antagonist's M.O., Tipet able to cross into a higher plane of consciousness and embrace his inner darkness, leading him to a dream-state killing spree. There are some intriguing ideas here, notably the concept of exploiting the anger within us all so much that we become murderers. This is a story that is clearly highly-researched, Spotnitz pulling from strands including biblical prophecy, the Eye of Providence, cults like Jonestown, as well as modern-day spirituality. It's all evident on-screen, and raises the bar for what could have been a pretty mundane monster-of-the-week story.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Tamara's Return (2.4)

It's a mark of the show's constant growth that season two is still attempting to open up new avenues for its tight ensemble cast, and after some strong work for both Pacey and Jen, it's Joey's turn to have her world explored a little. Watching this episode, it was interesting to realize that we still don't know a whole lot about Josephine Potter. We know her dysfunctional family background, we know that she's academically successful, and we know that her entire life revolves around Dawson. But what do we actually know about her own personality and the things that make her tick? It's arguable that her artistic streak has been pulled out of left-field, but I like that she has gained some kind of passion in her life, a personal interest removed from the romantic entanglements that derailed a lot of her potential last season.

Dawson's Creek: Alternative Lifestyles (2.3)

Mike White's episodes always seem to have an irresistible hook to them. Detention had the cast locked up in a room together; The Scare was a Friday the 13th horror show; and Alternative Lifestyles pairs the ensemble off as part of an elaborate school project, along the lines of that standard TV trope of 'taking care of an electronic baby', only this time with the more believable idea of having the cast plan the finances of various types of couple -- so Pacey and Andie are the blue collar couple; Dawson and Jen are the upper middle-class suburbanites, and Joey is the single mom. Of course, this is all just a jumping off point for various romantic tribulations, and White once again creates vivid sparks.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ringer: If You're Just an Evil Bitch Then Get Over It (1.20)

This close to the end, Ringer seems to have lost track of its original premise. We started this long slog through the mist way back in September, with Bridget a troubled young woman doing a stupid thing, and Siobhan the evil twin sister masterminding an elaborate scheme of faked suicide and hitman hoodoo. Could anybody have predicted all those months ago that we'd wind up in April with a show about two morons stumbling around Manhattan proving to be completely ineffectual when it comes to either pro-active investigating, or arch scheming. Bridget has turned out to be dangerously clueless, and Siobhan appears to be just as lost within her own criminal plot as we are at home. Ringer was at one point set in a world that we were led to believe was orchestrated by Siobhan, but plot contrivance has made her an annoying flip-flopper with no long-term game-plan and a penchant for stupid ideas.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mad Men: Tea Leaves (5.3)

Despite being set in the early 1960's, it's easy to be thrown out of joint when it comes to Mad Men's timeline. When we think of that era, we're usually inclined to think of the rebellious tokers at the forefront of cultural change, jumping into new music and new experiences with an unrivaled fearlessness... sort of like the ones we glimpsed in Tea Leaves. What we don't really think about are the ones left behind from that culture shift, the ones that lived their lives emulating the personalities and styles of their parents, the thought of becoming something sort of groundbreaking or different completely out of question. In all three episodes this season, a lot of emphasis has been placed on that swing, and how the Mad Men ensemble are merely observers to it...

Charmed: A Wrong Day's Journey Into Right (6.20)

I haven't mentioned it yet, but this is right around the time that Rose McGowan gives up. Pre-Spin City, she exhibited a believable albeit jittery mode of performing. But now we've stumbled into the Charmed period where she perfects that consistently asinine, mugging, screwing-up-of-the-face 'acting' -- constantly pulling lame facial expressions to cover up her own contempt for the show that she's stuck on. It's ridiculously annoying.

Charmed: Crimes and Witch Demeanors (6.19)

Oof. It's another clip show, and one that doesn't even play around with the format like they did last season with Cat House. This episode pulls directly from standard clip show tropes, showing a whole bunch of old footage in some kind of trial scenario, while the series protagonists look on all pensive. What follows is probably the messiest episode in a long while, covered in plotholes and featuring clips that, most of the time, have nothing to do with the trial since they involve events that were already scrubbed from memory by convenient magic spells or weak excuses. Blah.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Angel: A New World (3.20)

Connor is (justifiably?) maligned later on, but his introduction here is confident and engaging. Right now, he and Angel share an unsurprisingly complicated relationship -- Connor untrustworthy of his birth father, and Angel unsure of how to communicate with a son he knew briefly as a baby, before suddenly morphing into a broody teenager in the space of two weeks. There's a lot of parental angst here, Angel being fatherly and protective when he discovers Connor has been sleeping in a drug den, and later trying to get through to him on a paternal level. With that, there appears to be some hope for the two of them -- the first lingering moments of a traditional father-son relationship. Until, naturally, another trademark Angel sucker punch that sends the episode off on a high note.

Buffy: Villains (6.20)

The overriding sense of the writers failing to have the courage of their conviction feeds into Villains, especially when it comes to the obvious themes of the episode. Much of Marti Noxon's script is about morality, and whether it's right for Willow to pursue her own form of vengeance. Buffy insists that, regardless of his actions, Warren is a human and therefore should be punished by human means. Willow, suited to her character, bulldozes through the show demanding instant retribution. The issues of what is right and wrong and whether capital punishment is ever really a good thing are both strong, but all of it is undermined via the cop out of making Warren such a reprehensible sack of shit. As a result, it's hard not to cheer Willow on when she's slicing the creep up, and that sort of diminishes the credibility of the episode.