Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Reunited (2.20)

Andie glimpsing Abby's ghost in the last ten seconds of Rest in Peace could have easily read like the show indulging in vaguely supernatural hooey for no other reason but to lend the episode some metaphysical intrigue. Instead, Reunited turns what could have been something silly into something tragically real -- since it was the first of a run of events in which Andie hallucinates the dead people closest to her, her mental problems surfacing once again. It's a saddening story, Meredith Monroe making Andie's sometimes obnoxiously manic personality this vivid and upsetting thing rather than something to dislike her over.

Dawson's Creek: Rest in Peace (2.19)

There's an interesting sensibility to Rest in Peace, which addresses the complicated reactions that we all have to death. Abby Morgan, as fun a character as she was on the show, wouldn't be somebody you'd enjoy encountering if you ever met her in reality. Hearing of her death would be naturally shocking, but it'd be hard to eulogize her, or put her on some kind of post-death pinnacle purely because of how tragic it is for somebody to die so young. But the show does a strong job of exploring that contradiction, mourning the circumstances of her passing, but not making out that she was ever a good person.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mad Men: The Other Woman (5.11)

I've always thought there was something naturally tragic about owning a huge, fancy car. Okay, that's probably a little unfair. But so often the purchasing of something like the Jaguar at the center of The Other Woman is guided by the very fact that it's incredibly expensive and awe-inspiring. It's a physical reflection of your wealth, something that isn't static like a house or a fancy object, but something you can drive around and impress with by proxy of merely passing by. For those fleeting seconds it's ridiculously impressive. But, I don't know... it feels hollow. Maybe if you're genuinely filthy rich and could afford a couple of them, but when you're merely pushing the illusion of wealth and grandeur, it can't help but read as sort of underwhelming.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Charmed: Carpe Demon (7.14)

And we return to our regularly scheduled programming. I get that the show would want to do something lighter after the Avatar arc, but guuhhh. Don't get me wrong, Billy Zane is ridiculously charismatic as Drake, having immediate chemistry with all the ladies and able to make even the lousiest dialogue sparkle, but the episode begins to blow as soon as the Robin Hood thing starts up, leading to an ending which drags on for what feels like a century and an array of annoying subplots.

Charmed: Charmageddon (7.13)

Watching the Avatar arc, it's interesting to see the parallels to last season's finale, in which the characters were all stuck in an alternate universe where everything seemed outwardly perfect, only for the slightest imperfection to be zeroed in on and punished with death or injury. The 'utopia' seen in Charmageddon is nowhere near as extreme as the one from last year, and all the better for it. Instead of having their legs blown off for the smallest hint of anger or moral outrage, people simply vanish, while death itself is treated as something pretty inconsequential, handled with the laziest cry of 'they're in a better place'.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Angel: Release (4.14)

It's interesting to see the radical changes that have occurred in both Wesley and Faith, as depicted here. Faith's jail time has given her a greater appreciation for life, as she's no longer the self-destructive psychotic that wreaked havoc on Los Angeles four years ago. She's grown up, matured and honed her strengths. But the spell in prison has weakened her defenses, leaving her vulnerable to attack and lacking some of the focus and intensity she once had. It's in direct parallel to Wesley, who has become ruthless and uncompromising in the intervening years. Their relationship has always been particularly intriguing, with the power balance constantly changing. Here Wesley took control, pushing her to be the baddest she can be, as that's the only way she could actually stop Angelus.

Buffy: First Date (7.14)

Something that is making this current run of episodes so choppy is the fact that they all want to do far too many things at once. Even more so than last week, First Date features a vast number of subplots and continuing story arcs -- I counted at least four that were given a notable amount of weight here. Because of that, the show has stumbled into that formula where you can't really appreciate entire episodes anymore. There are obviously certain stories that continue to work well and tap into that trademark Buffy awesomeness, but lately it's become just as likely to find other stories within the same episodes that aren't good at all.

Angel: Salvage (4.13)

It's actually pretty hilarious that the Beast is written out with such an underwhelming death sequence, since we're now at the point where Angel season four moves onto a whole new platform of awesomeness. The previous run of Beast-centric episodes have been problematic, with one of the major issues being the Beast's lack of presence as an antagonist. But with Angelus running wild in the city, Faith crashing into the show and bending everyone to her rule and a plot-twist doozy of a ringmaster pulling all the strings, Angel has once again hit the ground running...

Buffy: The Killer in Me (7.13)

It's always unfortunate when a series caves into fan pressure, writing in plot developments to service the audience rather than push a story that feels at all organic. Then again, it's also annoying when series seem to go out of their way to not satisfy their audience, arrogantly lecturing viewers on how they shouldn't automatically get what they want. Willow really suffered as a character in season seven because her one major story arc felt like perpetual fan service, events occurring to quiet down a vocally hostile minority within Buffy fandom rather than portray something that made sense from a character perspective.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The X-Files: Nothing Important Happened Today II (9.2)

While I appreciate any episode that doesn't fall down on generic plot devices, the whole 'toxic water supply' thing seems a peculiar story in which to open up season nine. The super-soldiers continue to work on a vacuous, headless-body, arm-through-the-chest sort of way, but it's not the most arresting of storylines, especially in a season that is struggling to define its purpose for existing. Folding into that, the show needs to gain the confidence to actually kill one of these super-soldiers, since constant chase sequences and apparent deaths followed by shock twist resurrections get old after a while.

The X-Files: Nothing Important Happened Today (9.1)

Mulder's disappearing act can only be read as last-minute contrivance. I'm assuming that there were lengthy negotiations with David Duchovny over the summer, but neither side could come to an agreement. Unfortunately, it leaves this episode with a bittersweet quality. Sure, The X-Files is back for a ninth season (which I guess will bring satisfaction to many), but there's this strange feeling generated here where Doggett and Reyes are positioned as the show's new leads, but Scully is still lingering around in the background. It's like the show is having its cake and eating it too, confident to look to the future but too scared to fully cut old ties.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dawson's Creek: A Perfect Wedding (2.18)

For all the stupid plot developments and over-written insanity of Dawson's Creek, it's easy to suddenly hit that moment where you realize that you really, really love the show. Even though you recognize how intrinsically lame the whole thing is, that sense of overriding '90s nostalgia can't help but surface in you. A Perfect Wedding is one of those episodes that just bashes you over the head with warmth, featuring emotions that cut deep with their resonance and a sense of drive and momentum that never lets up. It's an overwhelmingly adorable episode, even if it does end with somebody plummeting to their death off the edge of a boardwalk. Oops.

Dawson's Creek: Psychic Friends (2.17)

"It's a preposterous soap opera about a bunch of teenagers who talk too much". Yikes. Everything that's been pretty clear for a while, that Dawson's film is self-indulgent goop that nobody outside of the DC ensemble would ever give a damn about, is actually stated here, in a gloriously blunt plot twist in which Dawson's hot film class teacher tears his work to pieces. It's harsh and brutal, but damn does it feel earned. Like she says, the industry is a gargantuan bitch-monster, and Dawson's hacky teen melodrama-fest isn't going to get some important producer to jump on the Leery train. It's a ballsy move for the show to completely undermine his entire life's focus, and for that the writers deserve a ton of credit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mad Men: Christmas Waltz (5.10)

If you're involved in Mad Men's online fan community, then you're doubtlessly aware that there have recently been minor rumblings of dissatisfaction with this season. I certainly understand their reasoning, even if I don't particularly feel like season five has been any less strong than the preceding years. But, with all that in mind, there was definitely a sense of cool nostalgia in Don and Joan's get-together. It suddenly made me remember how much more intimate the show used to be, the cast bouncing off one another in smaller moments that bristled with energy, with dialogue that wasn't steaming with overt symbolism. While I adore this show and have so far loved this season, Don and Joan brought the house down, and the writers should really try and explore older relationships like that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Charmed: Extreme Makeover: World Edition (7.12)

Zankou is proving to be one of the most charismatic villains since Cole. Oded Fehr is brilliantly underplaying the character, being snidely and menacing without being melodramatic, making Zankou a real threat in the process. It's also interesting to see a bad guy who has an actual plan with real levels, instead of a 'crush-kill-destroy' method that can only lead to death-by-Charmed One. Once again, the season continues to surprise with its crazy levels of ambition, the Avatar story allowing for profound conversations about cause and effect and the importance of moral duality. Yes, this is the same show that brought us Nymphs Just Wanna Have Fun.

Charmed: Ordinary Witches (7.11)

Ordinary Witches straddles two storylines that are both entirely necessary, but both feel somewhat padded out to fill time. What remains absorbing is the Avatar arc and the inevitable questions it brings. Who are the Avatars to decide what actually is good or evil? Like Piper said, is burnt toast something bad enough to be removed from existence in this utopian paradise? The entire story arc itself is riddled with plotholes, and for once the characters are actually acknowledging that fact. It's a ridiculously strong premise.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Angel: Calvary (4.12)

Lilah Morgan doesn't have a whole lot of depth to her as a person, and that's what seems to make her such a dangerous badass. Cordelia tries to get to her here, claiming that Lilah's determination to kill the Beast is rooted in fear, and that Lilah's just too stubborn to acknowledge that side of herself. But, to be honest, Lilah isn't fearful. She's calculating, ruthless, and doesn't at all care for the weakness of humanity. Like she says to Wesley at the top of the show, she misses her 'shiny things', and it's irrelevant that she had to sacrifice any sense of morals to get them.

Buffy: Potential (7.12)

This is a minor improvement on the last two weeks, but Potential still winds up being something of a chore to get through. There's a lot of running, a lot of whining, all building to one ultimately moving final scene. Dawn's place in the narrative of season seven was something that needed to be explored, especially since she was initially positioned as a key player way back in Lessons. But, in an indication that the wheels are flying off in the writers room, all the intriguing development she was getting just a couple of months back has been rapidly pulled back, Dawn becoming just another member of the Buffy ensemble given nothing but filler dialogue most of the time (see: Xander, Anya, Willow).

Angel: Soulless (4.11)

An entertaining episode, even if its narrative is frustratingly obvious -- Angelus is back, locked in a cage, and desperate to mess with everybody's heads. Angelus himself straddles that thin line between being genuinely perceptive and devious... and acting like a tenth-grade brat with the meanness. He seems a lot more forthcoming with the quips and snarkiness than his Buffy season two incarnation, but you can't help but enjoy his easy victory over the Angel team, exposing secrets like some puppy-killing Nancy Drew.

Buffy: Showtime (7.11)

Rewatching a series again gives you a unique perspective far removed from the one you held when the show originally aired. You have the benefit of hindsight, as well as the ability to form opinions that aren't necessarily clouded by rapid fandom experiencing it at the exact same time, week by week. Maturity also plays a more personal role for me, since I had barely hit my teens when I first watched this way back in 2002. I bring all this up because the potential slayers are almost universally maligned, and I use the word 'almost' purely out of respect for the, what, two or three people out there who actually dug them. But before I watched season seven again, I wondered if fandom had created that opinion for me when I was just an impressionable kid -- a sort of pack mentality that we all ran with? Were the potentials really that terrible?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The X-Files: Existence (8.21)

Existence is cool and showy for the most part, even if the first thirty minutes are essentially more grandiose remakes of the very same scenes depicted last week. There are more chases through underground parking lots, more running up stairwells, more Billy Miles Terminator theatrics (despite his ending up crushed to death in Essence). It's still vacuous entertainment, and there are certainly moments that perk up your interest, but there's little here to justify why this needed to be a two-hour finale.

The X-Files: Essence (8.20)

This feels a lot like one of the conspiracy episodes of yesteryear, opening with one of those pretentious narrations that Chris Carter killed us all with when the show first began, followed by a series of scenes in which agents break into buildings, interrogate shifty individuals and argue over alien experiments. While it's all breezily entertaining, this isn't an episode that breaks any new ground, and in some ways feels almost regressive.

The X-Files: Alone (8.19)

There's something amusingly retrospective about Alone, Frank Spotnitz having fun with a guest character who easily subs in for the show's audience, referencing old cases and generally enjoying her time with the X-Files. At the same time, Doggett easily takes the reigns for the hour, showing that he's more than a capable protagonist for the show, should Scully finally bow out. As a monster episode, Alone isn't hugely interesting. Besides some neat special effects, the story becomes overly familiar when Doggett and Harrison get stuck underground and seek their escape, but I guess that isn't the point of the hour. It's a throwback episode, a bittersweet closer to the monster-of-the-week Mulder years.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Be Careful What You Wish For (2.16)

It's always been an overriding problem with Dawson's Creek, but I'm still not entirely used to characters bending their emotions and switching priorities in such a short amount of time -- and it's usually confined to the annoying Dawson/Joey relationship, which is all crazy flirtation and longing gazes one week and then angsty resentment the next. They're "on" this week, with Dawson determined to win her back since her relationship with Jack went down the gay tubes last episode. But it's a problem that's especially horrible, since the constantly conflicting emotions that appear and disappear in equal measure can only mean that you wind up a little bored of the characters themselves, since any internal consistency flies away.

Dawson's Creek: ...That Is the Question (2.15)

Part of the reason I enjoyed last week's episode so much was that it avoided the preachy sincerity of traditional 'coming out' episodes, since the show went with a more introverted exploration of sexuality, with a character coming to terms with their own emotions. Where this episode takes a dip in quality is in the various on-the-nose discussions that Jack's maybe-gay revelation brings. But, at the same time, I'm aware that asking a late '90s WB teen series to avoid the saccharine is like asking Barney the Dinosaur to not be so purple. It sort of comes with the territory, and luckily most of ...That Is the Question manages to eclipse some of the weaker elements of the story.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mad Men: Dark Shadows (5.9)

It doesn't seem fair to claim that Dark Shadows didn't totally work because it was such a Betty-heavy episode. And that was a probably an unfortunate turn of phrase. Heh. It's been a constant criticism of Mad Men in recent years that Betty isn't entirely necessary anymore, so stuck on the periphery of the show that she could easily be written out all-together. It's similarly unfortunate that this debate has only gotten more heated this season, when January Jones' pregnancy has majorly increased her absences from the series, meaning Betty turning up again after several weeks of being MIA comes off like a visit from a ghost from the past. But lumping Betty into a slightly 'off' episode is more of an unlucky coincidence than a statement on Betty's redundancy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Charmed: Witchness Protection (7.10)

Something I'm finding interesting about this season is that most of the character-driven drama is rooted in ideas that are sort of derivative. There's tension between Piper and Leo, the sisterhood is threatened by distrust and separate allegiances, the Elders are self-involved and ridiculous, and so forth. But for some insanely positive reason, the writers are finding new shading to old storylines. There's logic to these arcs, and right now each character is being driven by something that feels personal and believable, not things that are only there to service a plot. I feel like I'm praising Charmed a lot lately, which in itself is something new and unexpected. I'm suddenly liking this show all over again.

Charmed: There's Something About Leo (7.9)

One of the major story arcs last season was Piper and Leo's break-up, problems in their marriage further exacerbated by Leo's promotion to Elder status. What entirely destroyed the story was how illogical it was, Piper ending their marriage because of his absence from their lives, only for Leo to show up every week doing the exact same things he always did. This season, the Avatar arc is doing a far greater job at creating conflict between the two of them, Leo clearly having been seduced by this mysterious new power, but unsure about telling Piper. It's something sort of believable as a source of angst, as you can understand why both parties are feeling distant from each other.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Angel: Awakening (4.10)

Awakening is a nice encapsulation of season four's strengths and weaknesses. You spend the first forty minutes having ridiculous levels of fun, the story full of booby traps and mysteries and earth-shattering action sequences. But then things start getting a little silly. You find yourself on the verge of throwing things at the screen, wondering why on earth characters you know and love are behaving so irrationally -- "why is Angel having romantic sex with somebody he loves??", you cry! Then, out of nowhere, the show tosses a game-changer of a doozy of a surprise right at you, making you question everything you saw and everything you thought you knew. All you do know is that you're tuning in next week...

Buffy: Bring on the Night (7.10)

Bring on the Night succumbs almost immediately to the problems I mentioned last episode, and only gets worse at it goes along. Season seven showcases the perils of reaching for a 'big finish', in that setting up an enormous final battle results in things getting mighty crowded. This episode sees the return of Giles, as well as the shitstorm of suck that are the potentials -- a strange decision that forces most of the actual regular cast to take a back-seat to bad accents, contrived whining and horrible plot twists. Like Never Leave Me, the hour is entirely watchable, but the badness here far outweighs any of its rewarding qualities.

Angel: Long Day's Journey (4.9)

This is right around the time when Angel season four begins to project itself like an epic novel and less like a television series, meaning events occur not within the vacuum of an one-hour format, but in grand statement stories that cross several episodes. It's sometimes wonderful from a viewer perspective, like vintage 24, but doesn't inspire a whole lot of material for a writer critiquing each hour. Then again, Angel isn't exactly made for those of us annoying enough to write lengthy assessments about it every week. Long Day's Journey, on its own, is another entertaining chapter of the story -- lacking in the elaborate set pieces of last week, but maintaining that high level of apocalyptic absurdity.

Buffy: Never Leave Me (7.9)

There are numerous complaints leveled at Buffy's seventh season, but one of them that isn't hugely important but probably impacts my annoyance with the latter half of the year is that episodes really started to blur together around this point. Ordinarily, this was something the show never had a problem with. Even in the deeper story arc-driven episodes in seasons three or five, each individual hour is memorable for one reason or another, the writers able to find self-contained elements within the serialized format -- making them easier to watch and better to stick in your memory. Around this time, that concept sort of faded away, resulting in a run of episodes that struggle to have much of an individual identity. Never Leave Me is fine, but it's the first of that type that struggle to be anything more, where the season's pursuit of thematic intensity starts spiraling out of control -- characters pondering over how bad everything is without the show actually depicting it very well on-screen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The X-Files: Vienen (8.18)

A necessary episode, but one that travels down predictable roads. Mulder and Doggett's relationship has quickly devolved into a macho pissing contest, barking demands at each other and undermining each other's vastly different methods of investigation. Unfortunately, there's little of the deeper shading to this tension. While recent episodes have tread similar ground, they at least rooted their animosity in some kind of fear or personal trauma, here they're like mismatched agents in a buddy cop movie.

The X-Files: Empedocles (8.17)

Had The X-Files exhausted its standalone origins by this point? Are there no more monster-of-the-week stories left to tell? I ask because Empedocles opens up as a traditional standalone mystery, only to become another episode more concerned with character development than breezy spookiness. I'm not complaining, since the Doggett work here is particularly strong, but it feels like forever since we had an honest-to-God, straight-forward horror episode -- and you have to wonder if the well has finally gotten dry. The show is about to close its eighth season... so it's not surprising, but it's hard not to miss what was at one point such a trademark of the series.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dawson's Creek: To Be or Not to Be... (2.14)

While everybody remembers this as the big Jack episode, it's in actual fact a huge moment in time for Pacey, who confirms his position as one of the most sympathetic, compassionate and strong-willed characters on the show. His defense of Jack is worthy of major kudos, putting his own education at risk to stand up for what's right. Mr. Peterson is something of a ridiculous caricature of evil teachers, and I can't remember if we're ever given indication for why he's so harsh here, but the contrivance at least pays off in the character development given to the rest of the cast.

Dawson's Creek: His Leading Lady (2.13)

For anybody who's seen Scream 2, it's no surprise to learn that Kevin Williamson enjoys translating a traditional narrative into a movie within the existing narrative. So just as Sidney Prescott got disturbed that her real-life experiences had been turned into a hit slasher movie, here we have Joey struggling to cope with "Creek Times", Dawson's film based on the events of the last year. What makes this all so much more screwy than Sidney's experiences with Stab is that Dawson lifts entirely from reality, so much so that whole conversations are taken straight from real life and tossed into his movie script. It's all strange and ridiculous, and you can understand why Joey would be weirded out… especially with an annoying actress monitoring her every move in the hopes of capturing the aura of 'Josephine Potter: character'.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mad Men: Lady Lazarus (5.8)

The driving theme of Pete's story this season has been his sense of entitlement, and it's been arguable whether it's always deserved. He wanted the bigger office, he wanted the respect that naturally gravitates towards his contemporaries. He wants that lifestyle, so he sleeps with the hooker and pokes fun at the lame, stuffy British guy in his office. Here, we see him pursuing an affair, determined to make a spur-of-the-moment liaison something far deeper than it probably should have been. But the problem with Pete is that nothing is ever as simple as it seemingly is with other people. He didn't just have sex with somebody, he had sex with the wife of a man he sees and talks to regularly during the morning commute. He can't just treat their encounter as a one-time thing, he has to talk his way back into her home and pursue a lengthy affair. It's the constant trap of running on empty, the heart chasing something long after the brain has checked out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Charmed: Charmed Noir (7.8)

Seven seasons in, and the tropes that once made Charmed so engaging and fun have rapidly become tired and annoying. This season is already doing a strong job in breaking new ground, but Charmed Noir is probably the most single-handedly inventive Charmed hour since, gosh, Chick Flick? It looks gorgeous, has a visual identity all its own, utilizes each character well, features some perceptive dialogue, and entirely resists throwing in a bunch of badly-performed demon characters. Yes, this is still the later years of Charmed.

Charmed: Someone to Witch Over Me (7.7)

While I'm enjoying the various plot threads that are gradually coming together, this script was a mess from start to finish. The most important action occurred during Leo's subplot, even if his entire vision quest was an unnecessary detour down clipshow alley with a return from Drew Fuller that nobody sane asked for. We finally learn a little about the Avatars, and you can see why Leo would be attracted to their plan. A world without good or evil? Surely that would be pretty great, right? It sounds promising, even though it's ridiculously clear that things aren't going to end up as promised.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Angel: Habeas Corpses (4.8)

There's definitely been a back-to-basics feel about season four, with a heavier reliance on showy set pieces and attention-grabbing stunts than ever before. In a lot of ways, this has worked well. Angel is a lot of things, and pulpy action thriller is just one of them. The lengthy zombie massacre chaos at Wolfram & Hart is obviously entertaining, but it's interesting to consider the last W&H massacre and see which one was clearly stronger, as well as what made that one so much more powerful. Entertaining superficiality has become routine this season, but there's that definite absence when it comes to deeper layers of the narrative -- sparks only appearing when characters are pushed center stage over wacky twists.

Buffy: Sleeper (7.8)

Sleeper plays like an old-fashioned mystery novel, Buffy in detective mode as she prowls the city streets determined to find evidence that Spike is actually killing again. With Spike himself prowling for victims of his own, a fun cat-and-mouse game ensues, only made awkward by Spike's seemingly truthful insistence that he has no recollection of blood-sucking murder. This is another episode maintaining that sense of intense foreboding highlighted in Conversations with Dead People, the Scoobies all working out that something that seems to know them on an intimate level is messing with their heads. It's the end of the series, and the big bad is ready to turn the screws...

Angel: Apocalypse, Nowish (4.7)

It's interesting that both Buffy and Angel are setting up apocalyptic wonderment at the exact same time... but both from opposing angles. Buffy, right now, is all about foreboding and dialogue-driven intensity, arguably reaching for a sinister 'tone' rather than something physical and raw. Angel, with Apocalypse, Nowish, is straining for balls-to-the-wall carnage. It's an arresting trade-off between the dueling tones both series have embraced in the past, and both shows are currently successful in their respective approaches. Apocalypse, Nowish features one of the most realistic depictions of biblical end-of-the-world insanity that I've ever seen in genre television, the episode ending with a stunning montage of a divided cast all experiencing the horror of a rain of fire and brimstone, the new big bad seemingly indestructible in his quest for hell on earth.

Buffy: Conversations with Dead People (7.7)

There's something about evil striking you when you're alone that is naturally pretty terrifying. Dawn's vignette in Conversations with Dead People is the most overtly horrible, but both Willow and Andrew fall prey to a more insidious evil, the type that burrows into your head and tries to rattle you on a purely emotional level. Most of the characters here are targeted in ways that could potentially do the most damage to their separate sensibilities. Dawn is all blood and horror and carnage, becoming a real slasher movie victim as she's terrorized by the great beyond. Willow is lured in by niceties and the promise of emotional connection. Andrew has his vulnerability zeroed in on, a big bad using his weird infatuation with Warren as an instigator for brutal murder. This is a very special episode, confirmed by that gorgeous opening sequence with Angie Hart singing and the title and time-stamp appearing on-screen, and another season seven success.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The X-Files: Three Words (8.16)

The show has put us as an audience into a daring position following the return of Mulder. One of the lasting images from Deadalive was Doggett's saddening step back as he saw Mulder and Scully's reunion at the hospital, something that threatened to leave Doggett out in the cold. But here, in the first real episode with the three of them together, it's actually Mulder who suddenly appears so alien and detached from the X-Files universe. Presumably to make up for lost time, he's brash and dangerously determined, breaking orders and casting suspicion on literally everyone he stumbles upon-- in particular Doggett. With this, Mulder isn't somebody we can entirely root for anymore. And that's a scary new development.

The X-Files: Deadalive (8.15)

The X-Files has always been a two-person show. We may have had supporting characters coming and going over the years, but the big draw was always the banter between two FBI agents, the butting heads and romantic undercurrent -- two against the world as they crack conspiracies and solve monster mysteries. With Mulder's disappearance, Doggett was brought on as something of a placeholder for David Duchovny, something that ended up working better than it easily could have done. But what Deadalive does so well is positioning Doggett within the series in the aftermath of Mulder's unexpected return. Three's a crowd, and the emotional crux of the hour is generated by Doggett working out his place in the suddenly-crowded X-Files.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Uncharted Waters (2.12)

'Daddy issues' are a firm favorite of the television genre, and they arrive here in the form of Sheriff John Witter, Pacey's drunken, abusive father who goes out of his way to undermine his son at every opportunity. It's a story that's been casually referenced since the show's inception, but this is the first literal depiction of the abuse -- Pacey driven to tears by his father's constant belittling of his life choices, his personality and his future. Uncharted Waters, as a result, is arguably a little manipulative as a story. We don't get a whole lot of insight into why Mr. Witter acts this way, or why somebody so volatile is happily elected Capeside sheriff. But if you ignore the stretches in logic, Pacey's characterization is mildly affecting. Joshua Jackson is able to finally source his character's inner trauma and low self-esteem, and conveys a real desperation for parental approval.

Dawson's Creek: Sex, She Wrote (2.11)

Like any good mystery, events are kept at arms-length for most of this episode, designed to keep us on our toes as we try and work out which DC couple actually did the deed the previous night. It's at the expense of some of the more human elements, though, since we're mostly watching characters discuss things in such vague exchanges, purely to confuse the audience at home. Nonetheless, Sex, She Wrote initially works so well because Abby and Chris are pushed center stage as younger, skeezier Miss Marple clones -- trying to work out the sex mystery after stumbling across an anonymous letter. It's a fun ride, not without its flaws, but surprisingly warm at the end. And that sounded a whole lot more sexual than I had intended.

Mad Men: At the Codfish Ball (5.7)

Lying is frequently depicted as something calculated and cruel, the actions of people wanting to keep negative actions secret, or desperate to keep somebody else in the dark. But, at the same time, lying is sometimes a form of protection. You can lie to yourself in order to prevent inner hurt, or keep something close to your chest to avoid disrupting the status quo. This can't be written off as a bad thing, either. Especially in 1966, it just made things far easier. It's no coincidence that the one act of honesty as seen here ended with anger and parental anguish.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Charmed: Once in a Blue Moon (7.6)

Season seven gets a bad rap, when I always thought it had a drive and ambition that hadn't been seen on the show since at least late season four. I think the fact it's lumped in between arguably the worst Charmed seasons kind of harms it's reputation, since nearly every episode so far has managed to be something kind of fun and interesting -- even if the basic concepts of most of these hours sound horrible in principle. PMS werewolves? Really? But I always sort of liked Once in a Blue Moon, video-game CGI and all.

Charmed: Styx Feet Under (7.5)

This works like something of a sequel to season three's Death Takes a Halliwell, another episode in which the Angel of Death lamented over the importance of his job to a not-so-agreeable Charmed One. It's not as earnest and moving as that previous hour, but still manages to be something pretty absorbing, notably when the fundamental importance of death gradually begins to dawn on Piper. Styx Feet Under works well in spite of Charmed's overriding plotholes relating to death, as well as the continued existence of ridiculous plot devices like 'protection spells'.