Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Charmed: Battle of the Hexes (8.8)

It's easy to look back at vintage Charmed through rose-tinted glasses, especially in light of the steaming piles of wet poop being thrust in our collective faces this season. But the Prue years certainly weren't perfect. Remember the teeth-pulling Dan/Leo love triangle? Lovestruck owls? Jenny Gordon? But in spite of all that, the one thing that kept you coming back to this show was the chemistry between the sisters and the believable interaction between absorbing characters. They were certainly flawed individuals, but their flaws rang true, and the Halliwell sisters were fun to be around. I bring all this up because what was once the show's saving grace has long vanished. I dislike everybody right now. Paige is a moron, Piper is angry all the time, and Phoebe is eternally wrapped up in her quest for semen...

Charmed: The Lost Picture Show (8.7)

As much as it may look that way, this isn't actually a re-run. Sure, almost all the storylines here have been done on the show before, but technically it's still a new episode. Charmed season eight, people -- where things are tossed together with all the subtlety of an elephant parading through a retirement village. Everything here blows, but the worst elements involve the complete re-writing of history, notably in the Paige/Sam relationship. Long-standing resentments were resolved back in season five, yet here Paige is ridiculously antagonistic towards him. And while it is pretty shitty that he hasn't contacted her in three years, the show does such a bad job of depicting her animosity that it reads like they've never even met before.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Angel: Destiny (5.8)

There's definitely a fan-service quality to Destiny, if only because it seems like a response to one of those 'who'd win in a fight between...?' fanboy questions, along the lines of Freddy vs. Jason, or Batman vs. Superman. But it quickly becomes clear that Destiny, while eventually settling for rock-'em, sock-'em hysterics, does at least have a conscience. It continues to explore one of season five's few running themes, the show wondering whether merely having a soul is tantamount to being a good person, and whether Angel will ever get himself out of this funk that he's been in for a while. It's no Lineage, but definitely another strong episode that sets the show back on track.

Angel: Lineage (5.7)

The first episode in season five that doesn't feel regressive in its sensibilities or alternatively plain terrible, Lineage wonderfully depicts the contradictions between your private self and your public self, and what happens when the barriers between both personas are torn down. Wesley has always been a character of two extremes. When he arrived on Buffy, he was this bumbling butt-nugget that made Hugh Grant seem like the pinnacle of manliness. But after experiencing torture and pain and emotional devastation, he's wound up this brusied anti-hero -- a complete 180 to what he once was and a testament to the Whedonverse's dedication to the art of character growth.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The X-Files: Sunshine Days (9.18)

These last run of episodes have seemingly been trying to represent every past sensibility of The X-Files, bouncing from serial killer horror to monster supernature, back round to alien mythology and now comedy experimentation. Sunshine Days is a little light on the comedy, but Vince Gilligan lends a neat sense of strangeness to the episode, which opens up as a wacky goof-ball mystery full of strange eccentrics and visions of 1970's sitcoms, before settling on more character-driven drama with a surprisingly tender father/son relationship. It's tonally disoriented, but easily reflects all the ideas and creativity of the X-Files writing team over the years.

The X-Files: Release (9.17)

Presumably having now become aware that the show was about to end, Release is the second episode in two weeks that brings to a close some of the series' long-running story arcs. With that in mind, it would be a little unfair to criticize the episode for not being as impactful as it could have been -- potentially in the hands of writers with a stronger sense of direction, we would have already had a greater emotional attachment to the story of Doggett and his deceased son, instead of just a couple of vague references over the last two seasons. Regardless, Release is a strong episode on its own, despite its faults.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dawson's Creek: A Weekend in the Country (3.12)

Oh God, the corn! While Dawson's Creek is superficially all about over-angsty teenagers who obsess over every little detail of their lives and talk like the televisual equivalent of being beaten over the head with a thesaurus, it only rarely exploits the sentimentality which is so readily at hand. A Weekend in the Country unfortunately overdoses on the maudlin, whole rafts of embarrassing dialogue handed to the ensemble as they reminisce about their favorite smells (??) and remember the good times. There's then a horrible Big Chill pastiche with everybody dancing in the kitchen, which is about as fun as being flayed alive. Granted, this episode isn't a total crock but, boy, is it hard to love.

Dawson's Creek: Barefoot at Capefest (3.11)

Identity plays an important part this week, primarily when it comes to the idea of who you should be, versus who you actually are. It gets a little confused in the Dawson story, as he's inspired to abandon his movie aspirations by Nikki, but the principal still rings true. Nikki, who is turning out to be a surprisingly engaging love interest, talks about her own perception of film as a medium to express stories, while claiming that Dawson's love for filmmaking comes from his love of film itself. There's definitely a difference there, and it's no surprise that Nikki's work holds greater artistic merit. But it's a story that angers Joey, since she views Dawson's decision as him compromising his identity. Isn't it just natural evolution though? Dawson being inspired by his peers?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Charmed: Kill Billie Vol. 1 (8.6)

It either says a lot about her own charisma as an actress, or works as a statement on where season eight is going, but I'm actually missing Alyssa Milano. While she's still hanging around, it really feels like Phoebe is on the periphery of things this year. Not only have Alyssa's performances become mostly drab, Phoebe is only ever wrapped up in her own personal dramas this season, and it's mostly Piper, Paige and Billie that are carrying the show. It was probably at Alyssa's own request, but I'm missing her presence, especially since the other characters are being saddled with such horrible material.

Charmed: Rewitched (8.5)

I don't know if it was at all intentional, but I liked the sisters slowly realizing how ridiculous their entire 'glamored identities' plan was. It was most successful, shockingly, in the Phoebe storyline. Alyssa Milano generally seems completely over this show, but she did have a couple of neat moments this week, especially when she finally acknowledged the fact that she's always lied to Dex and doesn't know a damn thing about him. I'm happy that both of these stories are finally on their way out, and I appreciated the brief moments of sisterly bonding that Rewitched featured. Being season eight, however, everything else blew.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Angel: The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco (5.6)

'WTF?!' is not a good reaction to have when you're watching a television show. This is Angel's very worst episode, and just like Buffy's worst hour, all you're left feeling is complete disbelief that anybody thought it could work in the first place. Even if you excuse the flamboyant wackiness of the Mexican wrestling, it's rare to find a Buffyverse episode that's such a drag. Whole streams of dialogue are given to a mumbly wrestler in a mask, ugly exposition is tossed around like confetti, and the Angel team do little but stand around pondering the mystery. It's plain horrible.

Angel: Life of the Party (5.5)

Even though he's essentially been a permanent cast member for four years now, I don't think Lorne has ever been better than he was during Angel's second season, cast as the proprietor of a strange demon karaoke bar and a proud dispenser of little nuggets of profound wisdom. Ever since Caritas burned down, he's been something of a background character. And while Andy Hallett is still a wonderful presence on the show, most of the time he's only there to toss around nicknames and euphemisms... and that's sort of a drag after a while.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The X-Files: William (9.16)

This is a story of two halves. It tries to bring something of a resolution to the Mulder arc (before an elaborate fake-out tosses that away), and finally brings to a close the entire character of Scully's son. It goes without saying that one of them is stronger than the other. While there's still that annoying vibe of the writers keeping David Duchovny off the show while simultaneously using Mulder for drama whenever possible, I liked the rawness of the cast encountering a man who could potentially be the guy they've been looking for all these months.

The X-Files: Jump the Shark (9.15)

I'm not sure if this didn't work for me because it was a weak episode, or if it's because I literally have no feelings, negative or otherwise, about the Lone Gunmen. I understand that they had their own fanbase back when the show was airing, so I'm sure their big coda affected a bunch of people out there. But I found myself generally unmoved by their demise. Because they were always such a one-joke unit played by actors without even a hint of charisma between them, their death scene is a curiously flat moment -- the three of them staring blankly as the affects of the virus are felt, and I guess everybody is supposed to be sad.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dawson's Creek: First Encounters of the Close Kind (3.10)

When I was a teen, I remember finding it interesting that certain people I knew had these varying emotions about growing up and moving on from high school. There were people who were desperate to escape their parents and find their own way in life, while others were terrified at the thought of suddenly having responsibilities and being a real adult. For me, I totally resonated with Joey here. College for many automatically equals a form of escape and release, but we only realize the full social potential of college once we actually spend some time there. Joey articulates those feelings so well in that final scene, in which she talks about her perception of college the day before the tour, versus her appreciation of its potential once she had actually glimpsed Harvard.

Dawson's Creek: Four to Tango (3.9)

Dawson's Creek has always been about those four protagonists. Even when they drift apart and get involved with additional characters, the show always comes back around to Dawson, Joey, Pacey and Jen and their various entanglements. What's pretty astounding is that, three seasons in, the show is still getting mileage out of that foursome. Sure, the Dawson/Joey on-again/off-again saga is like the Ann Veal of romances, but the way Four to Tango was able to engineer new developments in all four characters made it easily the strongest episode this season, and the first time in what feels like forever that I really, really enjoyed an hour of this show.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Charmed: Desperate Housewitches (8.4)

I've talked a lot this season about the general lack of effort that is radiating off this show like expired meat, and Desperate Housewitches is one of the more obvious examples of the show coasting on old stories and pre-existing characterization, as well as cribbing themes from far more popular series. There are a ton of problems with this episode, the largest being a general sense of futility to everything on screen. Whole minutes of time pass by with people just sniping at each other for no discernible reason, while demons just hover around glowering at folks. It's ridiculously vacuous.

Charmed: Run Piper Run (8.3)

Cameron Litvack has become Charmed's most reliable writer. Not that there's huge competition, but his scripts generally have a certain sparkle to them, especially when it comes to dialogue. Run Piper Run puts Charmed's strongest character center stage and features a couple of neat lines here and there, especially some fun shout-outs in response to the ridiculous story arcs at work right now. Piper also doesn't bug this week, unlike her random bout of hagitude last episode. There's still a lethargy to Holly's performance, but at least it beats somebody like Rose McGowan, who's been acting like somebody coming down off a four-day coke bender all season.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Angel: Hell-Bound (5.4)

I recently wrote about a particularly underwhelming episode of The X-Files, in which the script quickly dovetailed into random bouts of spookiness, characters facing various bursts of nastiness purely to fill time before the inevitable showdown. Hell-Bound, unfortunately, follows the same track as Unleashed in that it's mostly showy and flat, only mildly intriguing due to some strong character work. But it's still generally pretty tiresome, another reminder that it takes a long while for season five to go anywhere interesting.

Angel: Unleashed (5.3)

Unsurprisingly for a show that only got a last-minute renewal from its network, season five's opening stretch has a ratings-bait feel to it, the writers concentrating on standalone mysteries to lure in new viewers rather than over-complicated arcs like last year, in which you were completely lost if you hadn't watched the previous four or five episodes. With that, though, comes a real generic quality, and Unleashed is probably the most mundane episode since early season one. But it even lacks the noirish sparkle of those initial 'damsel in distress' hours, eventually becoming pretty blah-worthy in how safe it is.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The X-Files: Scary Monsters (9.14)

Sometimes writers get a little lazy when writing about supernatural occurrences, and Scary Monsters falls into that trap. The episode centers on a young boy with the ability to bring his scary artwork to life, and while that idea naturally gives way to freaky-deaky imagery, Thomas Schnauz's script ends up just throwing a bunch of scary shit at the cast. So we get latex-belly ookiness, blood streaming from eyes, hands going through stomachs and explosions of bugs. Blah. It actually reminded me a lot of that old, old episode The Calusari, with random acts of spookiness occurring with little internal depth.

The X-Files: Improbable (9.13)

Like last episode, there's a definite sense of the show repeating stock ideas but pushing them through the use of new characters. But while last week's Underneath played around with an idea that hasn't produced spectacular results at any point in the show's history, Improbable relies upon the concept of free-will and how everything in our lives is the result of some kind of universal algorithm. It's something that's been done before in the classic Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose as well as to lesser effect in season seven's Goldberg Variation, but Improbable manages to find amusing new areas within the concept, as well as featuring a charming performance from the legendary Burt Reynolds.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (3.8)

Season three is getting better, but I'm still thrown off during moments in which it's patently clear that there's an entirely different writing staff this year, none of whom seem to have ever watched the show. It would explain why Gale somehow recognizes Jen's mother at a grocery store, or why Joey is being written as a sympathetic bearer of remarkable wisdom, floating through the episode like she's Oprah. It also explains why Bessie is supposedly a single mother now, seeing as Bodie has entirely dropped off the face of the planet. Despite it being Thanksgiving, he's not present with his family, nor is he at all mentioned. Like I said, this new team of writers seem to be unaware of the historical dynamics of the show's ensemble.

Dawson's Creek: Escape from Witch Island (3.7)

And a bunch of kids head to a mysterious island, shooting an amateur horror movie about its cursed past... While this was another stunt episode, the Blair Witch knock-off was absurd enough to work, and I liked that the writers acknowledged the improbability of it all and offered two easy suspects who were more than likely behind all the hauntings. Additionally, the show references a famous movie while insisting on making the episode itself, more than anything, a character piece. While the other film pastiches this year were very much style over substance, here we have a story that makes sense from a character standpoint, and finally allows members of the ensemble to grow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Charmed: Malice in Wonderland (8.2)

I can watch season one's The Wedding from Hell over and over again, primarily because it's so completely terrible that it becomes some of the finest unintentional comedy this show ever produced. Hilariously, that episode has a rival for the crown, and it's this entirely misjudged car crash. Malice in Wonderland is shockingly ill-conceived, every corner of the script peppered with the most ridiculous, offensive storylines ever portrayed on Charmed, propped up by a demon scheme that goes nowhere fast and additional Billie junk that makes your brain leak out from your nose. It's by far one of the funniest episodes in the show's history.

Charmed: Still Charmed and Kicking (8.1)

Here we go. Still Charmed and Kicking is the beginning of 'Zombie Charmed', an entirely unnecessary final gasp of existence that looks as ugly as sin and is barely as exciting. The premiere arrives with an awkward follow-up to last season's coda, the sisters now undercover with new identities and the demon community eager to unleash all kinds of shiny evilness now that the Halliwells are supposedly dead. It's the show going in the exact direction you'd think it would. There's no spark here, little purpose, and everybody seems entirely over the characters they're playing. Only Brian Krause seems to be having fun anymore, probably because he's shifted thirty pounds over the summer. But, wait a second. Here I am discussing weight loss when there's an enormously shitty elephant in the room that deserves immediate discussion!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Angel: Just Rewards (5.2)

For anybody who read my recent Buffy reviews, you'll know that I got really into the Spike/Buffy relationship at the end of the series. And while I love that they wrote Spike into Angel season five and remember with a lot of fondness the material they give him this year, I can't help but feel that moving Spike over to another show sort of... cheapened his death? Because that death scene was so powerful and romantic and I loved the idea that that was the very end of his relationship with Buffy and the lasting impression he left on us all, only for it all to be undermined by his arrival in Los Angeles. Again, I love Spike on this show, but it was just something that I suddenly realized this time around.

Angel: Conviction (5.1)

It's evident from that very first scene -- a generic copycat of that classic Angel trope of David Boreanaz swooping in like Batman and saving a pretty blonde from a vampire. Only this is the fifth season, and Angel isn't that lone hero anymore. So immediately a swarm of lawyers descend on the scene, armed with contracts and offers of coffee, and Angel is left just as bemused as the woman he saved from a blood-sucking fiend. This is clearly a very different show.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The X-Files: Underneath (9.12)

By this point, there's definitely a formula for these kinds of episodes. There are some grizzly prosthetics, visuals lifted straight from Se7en, a serial killer randomly pursuing innocent people to kill, a third-act supernatural plot twist. Rinse and repeat. It's only when the show manages to stumble upon a decent guest actor or add some dimension to the character himself that things actually brighten up a little. But it still can't disguise the fact that Underneath is another drab entry in the X-Files 'serial killer' wheelhouse.

The X-Files: Audrey Pauley (9.11)

Audrey Pauley shares various superficial similarities with 4-D from earlier in the year. They're both written by Steven Maeda, and both are pulpy, experimental thrillers involving Reyes lost in time and space. They're also the only two episodes this season that could easily be compared to vintage X-Files, at least in terms of quality. This is a fascinating hour in which science fiction is used as a vessel for a traditional procedural story, but the honesty of the characters and the way in which Maeda's plotting furthers the Doggett/Reyes relationship both cement it as something of a modern X-Files classic.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Secrets and Lies (3.6)

I think we've all those moments where we wished we could go back to a specific place in time, a time in which your life was in a better state, or if your prospects were brighter, or when you were happy in a relationship. It's a relatable story, and considering how hard she's fallen, it's understandable that Andie would want to get back together with Pacey and act as if nothing bad had ever happened. But because of all the damage the writers have done to Andie over the last four episodes, everything she does in Secrets and Lies is pretty ugly... even if her instincts are believable.

Dawson's Creek: Indian Summer (3.5)

It's becoming clearer as time goes by that the show had no idea what to do with Eve. Thankfully appearing for the final time, Eve is once again depicted as a different person this week. A girl who started off as a porno movie caricature is now this knowing, self-aware stereotype aware of how ridiculous she is. In Indian Summer, Eve's levels of insanity inspire an elaborate film noir pastiche -- all awkward camera angles, moody lighting and melodramatic dialogue. But thankfully it again explores the absurdity of her character, Gina Fattore and Tom Kapinos' script almost making her as batshit as possible to complete this lengthy form of satire. At least that's how it comes off.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Charmed: Something Wicca This Way Goes (7.22)

This feels a lot like a series finale, and knowing the twenty-two brain farts that form season eight, this damn well should have been the series finale. Something Wicca This Way Goes plays like a greatest hits hour, full of references to past episodes, old spells and former characters. Some of the dialogue could be interpreted as too self-conscious, but I feel it kind of worked here. I liked seeing the sisters revisiting the past to try and find new methods to destroy Zankou, as well as the Halliwell's mutual concern over their newest antagonist and his grand scheme to steal the Nexus and gain ultimate power.

Charmed: Death Becomes Them (7.21)

While this is pretty good, it would be foolish to not acknowledge that Death Becomes Them could have been a hell of a lot better. The central conceit for the hour revolves around innocents that were lost, and the guilt that manifests in the Charmed Ones when Zankou brings them back from the dead. The sucky thing being that two of the three zombies are introduced literally twenty minutes before they're zombified, while season three 'lost innocent' Inspector Davidson was more a victim of Prue's decision making, and not so much Phoebe's. It's just a little annoying that behind-the-scenes sniping prevented somebody like Shannen Doherty returning, since that would have made a ton more sense from a storytelling perspective. Then again, Andy or some illusion of Chris could have made interesting zombies, even Charisma Carpenter's Seer. Eh. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity in that regard.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Angel: Home (4.22)

Reinvention is good. There's something about Home that screams of an attempt to curb cancellation, and it's not a new phenomena. When a show's ratings are flatlining, not horrible but certainly not strong enough for an immediate pick-up, it's seemingly traditional for the show to experiment with a game-changer. Sometimes the show flashes forward in time, sometimes a major new character is flown in, and sometimes an entirely new environment is introduced. The latter doesn't always work, think back to the jarring "Veronica Mars: FBI Agent" thing, but sometimes the game-changer is so absurd yet so inherently believable that it's no surprise the network was completely charmed by it.

Buffy: Chosen (7.22)

Back in the early years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the very first thing you heard at the top of every show was that gloomy proclamation: "In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer". Of all those words, spoken first by that velvety, nondescript narrator and then with Anthony Stewart Head's silky British tones, what stood out was the use of 'alone'. Buffy had her strong support group of friends, acquaintances and allies but, after all the blood and the pain, she still stood alone. Even when similar women with her sacred duty appeared, they were quickly marked by their respective differences. Buffy Summers was surrounded by others, but she was still alone when it really mattered.

Angel: Peace Out (4.21)

There's interesting moral complexity at the heart of Peace Out, something far removed from the pod-people sci-fi of the early Jasmine episodes and the exhausting melodrama of last week. Here we actually see the person within the illusion of Jasmine, as well as her generally good intentions. It's sometimes hard to rectify the Jasmine seen here with the Jasmine inhabiting Cordelia's body during the opening stretch of season four, but her plan raises some intriguing questions about freewill and Angel's arguably short-sighted decision to bring her down. Because, as she says, while she does a lot of damage and eats her own worshipers every once in a while -- is it really a worse situation than a world overrun with war, poverty and corruption?

Buffy: End of Days (7.21)

Caleb's arrival seemed like the first indication of the writers suddenly realizing that the First wasn't hugely effective as a big bad. Here, we once again see examples of the show struggling to give the First much definition as a villain, other than vague shading that doesn't really go anywhere. While the major antagonists of every other season had specific reasons for not instantly putting their plan into action (the hunt for the Key, the various trials before Ascension, etc.), it seems more than ever that the First and Caleb are merely hanging around trading barbs. It's something that hit me when Giles spoke about "running out of time", yet with there being little indication of what exactly is coming around the corner. The problem with this season's apocalypse is that, after everything, it's very much been a bunch of people talking about how bad everything is, without much depiction of it on-screen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The X-Files: Providence (9.10)

Again, it feels like a bunch of hot air. Providence is another in a long, long line of myth-arc episodes that put across the illusion of saying something without actually saying anything at all. The William story has now become so shapeless that you're never surprised by any of the events that occur. There are a couple of pointers about William being either the savior of mankind or the ruler of the aliens, depending on Mulder's survival, but again it's benching the story in the hands of what's essentially a lump wrapped in a blanket... and a guy who's not actually on the show anymore. What it does is leave the cast members that are still hanging around, and who can actually talk, drifting along with little importance in the grand scheme of things.

The X-Files: Provenance (9.9)

It stopped being a fresh complaint around five seasons ago, but the total lack of direction in The X-Files' longer story arcs mortally wounded this show. In Provenance, we once again see the show pulling from long-dropped continuity, in this case the spaceship rubbings Scully made back at the start of season seven, and it entirely feels like the show randomly throwing darts at something from the past and deciding to run with it again. My memory is always hazy with The X-Files, but wasn't that story just dropped without question years ago? It's just too hacky, the work of people with absolutely zero forward thinking.