Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dawson's Creek: True Love (3.23)

Hahahahaha! The face that launched a thousand memes. As soon as Dawson and Joey hit the dock, the realization suddenly hit me that True Love was the source of that infamous image up top. Oh, Van Der Beek. Who knew your face could contort like that? Gah. True Love is actually a really wonderful finale, pulling together all the themes of the season and featuring an ending which pushes most of the cast into absorbing new directions. Dawson, Jen and Jack all grow, and Joey and Pacey finally run for the hills together. It's a happy ending, not that you would guess it from that picture. It never gets old, right?

Dawson's Creek: The Anti-Prom (3.22)

Dawson's Creek never disappoints, always cycling back to characters trying to salvage friendships despite all the awkward baggage that you can't forget, no matter how much you want to. It's really the last barrier that Dawson and Joey need to break through. You can understand why Joey would want to remain friends with Dawson, but any rational person would realize that it's an impossible task. It sucks, but you either choose to be with the person you love, or pursue a friendship with someone who is clearly infatuated with you. It's sort of lose-lose for Joey, but it's a decision that she needs to make to protect everybody's sanity. Including ours at home.

Dawson's Creek: Show Me Love (3.21)

Show Me Love instantly increases the melodrama, Dawson's petulance surfacing in an overtly "TV show" form with the regatta rivalry and the boat race; but the honesty of the show's major love triangle keeps things intact for now. All three parties have gone their separate ways since the events of last episode, and they all spend most of this week trying to get back into the groove, so to speak. Joey tries to stop her guys from feuding, Pacey goes crazy over Dawson's arrogance, and Dawson tries to act as if nothing has happened. Three guesses who comes out of this the worst.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Alias: Time Will Tell (1.8)

Eight episodes in, and Alias resembles more than anything a well-oiled machine. It hasn't become annoying or anything, but the show is absolutely adhering to a strict set of instructions every week. Syd pursues some kind of device, there's a swanky gala to infiltrate, she fights with Anna, the retrieved device leads to someplace else, and a cliffhanger leaves Sydney's life in jeopardy. It's all very routine, and it's actually something of a blessing that this is Anna's last appearance for a couple of seasons. I dig the character a lot, particularly her ice-cold demeanor, but the show was risking falling into a generic pattern, and Anna was definitely a major symptom of that.

Alias: Color Blind (1.7)

There's a strong recurring theme here that writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman keep coming back to: characters bending their prerogatives over time, or reacting in surprising ways that seem to go against the feelings they may have had up until recently. It's present in Francie's acceptance of Charlie's proposal, as well as in Will's reluctance to investigate Danny's murder following the demise of Eloise Kurtz, but it's most present with Sydney, who expresses so much emotional growth here. We only met her six weeks ago, but she's already evolving as a person.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Charmed: Engaged and Confused (8.16)

I had forgotten how little the Triad factors into season eight, their deaths immediately thrusting Christy center stage for the final battle. Of course, this is also the episode in which Billie is revealed as 'the ultimate power', an enormous slap in the face to everybody who has watched this show for the last eight years. What I find strange is that the writers knew the fan reaction to Billie at this point, and yet still insisted on having her monopolize the season like a bad case of crabs. Kaley Cuoco has never appeared totally comfortable with this material, and it's insane that everybody involved didn't slowly diminish her screentime over the course of the year.

Charmed: The Last Temptation of Christy (8.15)

So the season is at last launching into its major final arc. As much as I dislike Billie and Christy being at the center of it, I appreciate the forward momentum, as well as the return of the Triad -- logic be damned that Cole vanquished them, but whatever... Sure, you can roll your eyes at all the dramatic dialogue about 'the Key' and Billie's continued insistence on being as moronic as possible, but there's was the only storyline this week that actually felt purposeful. It still sucks that the Charmed Ones have become an irrelevant presence in their own series, but I guess we just have to sit back and deal.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Angel: Shells (5.16)

There's an enormous shift in tone here, understandable considering the tragic hour it follows, but it's still something that rattles. As an introduction to Illyria, however, Shells is ridiculously successful. It's not the first time a character has been taken over by something evil (we've seen variations on this plot device repeatedly over the years on Buffy and Angel), but Amy Acker is so shockingly convincing as this cold, uber-powerful titan that you get completely suckered in by her character. A strange mix of Glory (with the minion worship), Anya (the total lack of understanding when it comes to humans) and some kind of relentless machine, Illyria is a wonderful addition to the cast.

Angel: A Hole in the World (5.15)

The concept of "astronauts versus cavemen" is such a Whedon-y joke that it can only read as a goofy aside at first. It's strange and fun, and everybody is weirdly distracted by it. But as the episode builds, it becomes clear that this running gag is there for an entirely different purpose. A Hole in the World is an exploration into futility, events unfolding that are so horrible and painful, yet entirely inevitable. No matter how much they work, no matter what they do to try and prevent it, the episode still ends with blood and pain. Like Fred says, "this is a house of death". You can be a forward-thinking astronaut and explore science and technology and that's all great, but the primal power of those cavemen, of the old ones, is always impossible to undermine.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Longest Day (3.20)

While it was always fun seeing Joey and Pacey gradually come together, it's quickly become clear over the last couple of weeks that this is Dawson's story, too. Dawson and Joey's saga was such a huge deal for this show, a romantic relationship built on years of friendship, an unrequited crush that grew into what should have been perfect romantic happiness. But it didn't really work out. They fought a lot, they could never rectify their friendly history with the intimacy romance naturally brings, and they seemed to spend more time talking about themselves than actually enjoying the ride. Even though they went their separate ways over and over again, certain feelings still linger and, unlike Joey, Dawson hasn't yet found another outlet for them. So, unsurprisingly, there's a lot of hurt there when everything is exposed.

Dawson's Creek: Stolen Kisses (3.19)

It's no surprise that the show is once again playing up the love triangle vibe. Just as Joey and Pacey finally get together, Dawson's feelings for Joey surface once again, and he begins to think there may be mileage in them yet. Thanks a lot, crazily invasive Julie Bowen! Stolen Kisses tosses the main cast together in the same location and features another previously-unheard-of character meddling in their personal lives, this time Bowen's ambiguous 'Aunt Gwen', a wacky bohemian artist type who doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut. Her inappropriate machinations grant Dawson motivation to pursue Joey again, even when it's perfectly clear that Joey's attention is elsewhere. It's all a little annoying in its predictability, but the bones of the arc continue to be wonderful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Alias: Reckoning (1.6)

Something that has set Alias apart from other series is the very thing I complimented it on just a couple of weeks ago, how the show is so forceful in its narrative that standalone missions blur into two separate episodes at a time. Reckoning, while still fun and absorbing, gets a little lost between the constant shuffling of various storylines, losing sight of where the focus should be. Last episode was more successful at that, especially as all the disparate stories were linked by one key theme. Reckoning, on the other hand, feels too disorienting at times to totally work.

Alias: Doppelgänger (1.5)

For its first four episodes, Alias was artificially all about disguises -- Sydney getting dolled up in ludicrous outfits to intercept, interrupt and infiltrate swanky parties or top-secret buildings. There was also the background theme of false identities, the one that Sydney uses as a cover inside SD-6, the person she is at the CIA, and the woman she is at home. But Doppelgänger is really the first episode to truly utilize the concept of disguises, the various secrets Sydney has been keeping of late all threatened by a mission that quickly spirals out of control. With so many balls in the air, it was inevitable that one of them would eventually drop...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Charmed: 12 Angry Zen (8.14)

This cribs elements from both Enter the Demon and Sword and the City, but remains mildly entertaining. It's a story that rests on obvious familiarity (possessed sisters, a mythical trinket of some kind), and despite a bunch of errors and gaps in logic throughout the script, I kind of liked this one. Maybe it's just Piper being center stage that piques my interest, being the only sister that appears invested in anything anymore. Even before they were possessed, both Phoebe and Paige seem so driven by their own personal investments and couldn't care less about their powers or their responsibilities. Considering they're the only sisters who haven't got a popsicle of a husband waiting in the wings, it makes them look even worse by comparison.

Charmed: Repo Manor (8.13)

The most derivative episode in Charmed history. We have three female demons impersonating the sisters (The Power of Three Blondes), the sisters miniaturized (Size Matters), folks trapped in inanimate objects (The Painted World, Scry Hard), Phoebe getting attacked and lobotomized in an elevator (Freaky Phoebe), and Paige working with leprechauns and fairies (Lucky Charmed, Spin City), as well as thematic riffs on Bride and Gloom and The Importance of Being Phoebe. Everything here has been done before, and if this were an episode from a different season I'd be a hell of a lot more critical. But since this has the good fortune of being placed at the midpoint of season eight, a year that gives abject crumminess new definition, it's actually weirdly entertaining.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Angel: Smile Time (5.14)

I wrote back in my review for Waiting in the Wings that Angel was rarely the kind of show to entirely break with tradition. While Buffy frequently offered episodes that played around with formula, both elaborately (the musical, a silent episode) as well as via less showy but nonetheless alternative ways (characters hearing everybody's thoughts, a dream episode), Angel was more of an generic series in terms of spectacle, allowing a traditional narrative to unspool over long-term arcs. Smile Time is one of those rare Buffy-ish episodes, in which initial absurdity quickly becomes something truly warm, winding up one of the most wildly experimental hours that the show ever attempted. They made him a puppet.

Angel: Why We Fight (5.13)

Why We Fight is the absolute epitome of an episode anchored by really, really cool ideas, only they're not depicted all that well on-screen. It's an episode generally considered pretty bad, but I'd rather take an ambitious but flawed hour over something as generic and flat as, say, Unleashed or Hell-Bound. It's unfortunate though, because the very concept of Angel being recruited by the government in 1943 to investigate Nazi plans to create a line of vampire super-soldiers is so strong and intriguing. But, outside of a few powerful scenes, Why We Fight is a real chore to get through.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Neverland (3.18)

Heh. And instantly it's icky and gross. I guess they're saving the big Joey/Pacey get-together for the finale. But the show did a great job of handling such a problematic event, even when the two characters in question barely play off each other this week. Because, you know, it is a big deal. Both of them are aware of the ramifications of a potential coupling, and the writers ensure that they both debate it before totally jumping in. Joey confides with Jen about the kiss, while Pacey turns to his brother. There are a ton of hoops to navigate through before they can finally make it official, but the outcome of the episode (with both happy and un-awkward about it, despite not pursuing anything just yet) is ridiculously mature.

Dawson's Creek: Cinderella Story (3.17)

Oh, God. Kids. Specifically wise-cracking, over-articulate asshole kids that we've been conditioned to consider 'cute'. I'm not advocating child abuse, but Jonathan Lipnicki's bratty nine year-old is the most annoying thing to happen to this show since Eve knocked her knockers through Capeside at the start of the year. His story with Pacey tries to be charming and adorable, particularly Pacey's emotional growth coming about as a result of a poor kid in foster care, but it's such a generic, hatefully overused plot device that you can't help but violently dislike every minute of it. Which sucks, since the rest of Cinderella Story is excellent.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Alias: A Broken Heart (1.4)

An all-together more low-key episode compared to the ones surrounding it, A Broken Heart takes a step back from the relentless spy hoodoo of the opening run and focuses deeper on the characters, extra attention granted to the ones less involved in SD-6 espionage. Now it's pretty easy to whine about Francie and her boyfriend troubles, especially when this is a show about a spy lady and her increasingly colorful collection of wigs and disguises... but I always liked the home-front stories, if only because they add a necessary sense of normality to the show. It's potentially damaging to push elaborate action hijinks at every juncture, so I grew to really love Syd's interaction with her non-spy friends, especially as it only helped humanize Miss Bristow herself.

Alias: Parity (1.3)

Already, Alias has settled into a winning formula. Every episode so far has been driven by a standalone mission in which Sydney is ordered to retrieve something for SD-6, while at the same time Syd is given a CIA counter-mission. It works like a charm. But what clearly separates the show from more conventional action dramas is that the standalone missions are literally blurring between episodes, something I haven't seen attempted since (network mandates probably explain why). Not only does this create an array of memorable cliffhanger endings (who doesn't remember the open-box-in-the-stadium moment this week?), but it also instantly develops a sense of aggressive momentum, the show running through stories at such a brisk speed that events are encroaching on whole separate episodes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Charmed: Payback's a Witch (8.12)

Lord, this was boring. Hostage crisis episodes are always my least favorite episodes of anything, since they always seem to rely on the exact same tropes time and time again, particularly in the hands of unambitious writers. There's always the threat of a main character getting shot, there's always some tool who tries to be a hero and ends up delaying any progress, and there's always a bunch of annoying cops in a van outside trying to negotiate their way in. Blah. Payback's a Witch wades through every one of these clichés, only real slowly, which makes it super-super fun!

Charmed: Mr. & Mrs. Witch (8.11)

When folks call season eight 'The Billie Show', Mr. & Mrs. Witch is the most notorious example of the writers thrusting her center stage and producing terrible results. This is even more worthless than average 'bad Charmed', all about a bunch of day players we barely know and featuring one of the most tiring central storylines in years. Billie, for ridiculously contrived and nonsensical reasons, is investigating corporate America to find Christy, and if The Demon Who Came in from the Cold taught us anything, it's that sleeping pills are no match for a Charmed episode about corporate America.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Angel: You're Welcome (5.12)

Writing something purely for the fans is without doubt a double-edged sword. You can become so swamped in knowing, continuity-leaden moments that the whole script gets that feel of online fan-fiction... and that's never a good thing. But sometimes you exploit the series' history in such a celebratory way, throwing in a bunch of moments that are funny and nostalgic and cool, that the episode itself becomes an instant classic. Outside of that very last scene, there are few surprises in You're Welcome. It's not spectacularly well-plotted either, but it's such a rousing testament to Angel's vast accomplishments over the years and its wonderfully creative characters that it quickly becomes one of the finest hours in the show's history.

Angel: Damage (5.11)

The opportunity to follow through on some of the lingering threads introduced at the end of Buffy was pretty irresistible, but what Damage does so well is neatly elaborate on where the Buffy ensemble have found themselves, as well as directly picking up one of their last story arcs, all the while ensuring that this is very much an episode of Angel. It's shockingly different to something like season one's Sanctuary, where all of Buffy's baggage felt more like a rude interruption than something that was at all relevant to the world of her spin-off show. Damage, alternatively, takes thin ingredients from the potential slayer arc and drowns them in themes of mental illness and sadistic torture, as well as making it surprisingly important to the characters of Angel and Spike.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dawson's Creek: To Green, with Love (3.16)

There's always been something overwhelmingly 'white' about Dawson's Creek. It's set in a quiet, traditional small town, religious values are of high importance, everything's safe and moral and conservative. Everybody seems to know each other, and the class divide, while present, isn't a major distinction that tears individuals apart. And everyone's pretty perfect, outwardly. To Green, with Love expertly acknowledges the white-bread charm of Capeside, while finally exposing the lingering social prejudices that sit quietly for the most part, but become ever-present whenever something actually rattles the town to its core. It's that horrible realization that there's still a lot of hate out there, or at least a belief that a certain type of person is "less than".

Dawson's Creek: Crime and Punishment (3.15)

In a lot of ways Crime and Punishment is something of a book-end to the To Be or Not to Be... two-parter in season two, with Pacey supporting one of his friends after they're victimized, but going about it in a polarizing, aggressive way that only leads to personal upset. In both cases, you can totally understand Pacey's outrage, and you entirely support him when he rallies the troops and makes the incident a personal issue, but you also cringe at how reckless he becomes. It's heroic and noble, but it's Pacey uncomfortably putting other people above his own well-being, both episodes ending with him punished and feeling lousy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alias: So It Begins (1.2)

J.J. Abrams has always been a very modern showman. He's able to push these complex, relatable characters center stage, all with their flaws and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously remembering that a show about espionage and hot women in ridiculous outfits needs to have that mainstream, approachable quality. It's something that really jumped out at me while watching So It Begins, in awe at how the show can mine a scene for so much emotional weight, and a couple of minutes later force Jennifer Garner into what can only be described as a blue-latex 'Eurotrash porn star' ensemble. The ease in which Abrams can bend through these tonal changes is inspired.

Alias: Truth Be Told (1.1)

Alias premiered at the very beginning of post-9/11 existence. The world had changed immeasurably, and my own bubble of childhood naivety had rapidly been exposed to unimaginable horror and destruction. It was a difficult time for me on various levels, and there was suddenly this sense of fear and hostility that permeated every discussion. Everything always came back around to tragedy, and whenever we weren't talking about it, we were thinking about how we weren't talking about it. I'm probably granting it too much importance, but Alias, along with the similarly-themed 24, marked an immediate escape from the terrible realities that we were all pulling through at the time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Charmed: Vaya Con Leos (8.10)

Charmed caught a ton of heat around this time for writing out Brian Krause due to budget cuts, fans (including myself) pinning the blame on Brad Kern and fried-ass car-wreck Billie Jenkins. Maybe that was all a little unfair, in retrospect. Especially on the latter, since it's not entirely Kaley Cuoco's fault that she was miscast in a role that was ridiculously ill-conceived from the very beginning. But here we go with the embarrassing dismissal of Charmed's sole male regular, another flat tire in a season that has so far done nothing to justify its entire existence.

Charmed: Hulkus Pocus (8.9)

Parts of this episode were fresh and interesting, notably the idea of government experiments and demonic viruses. It was like Charmed meets X-Files, and I kind of enjoyed it. It did stick out like a sore thumb, though, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this is a script from a new writer. Even though Hulkus Pocus falls back on ridiculous costumes and butch stuntwomen, there were actual 'ideas' here that felt pretty inventive, clearly something from the mind of a writer who hasn't been rapidly lobotomized from spending too long in the Charmed writers room.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Angel: Soul Purpose (5.10)

Maybe if Restless didn't cast such a huge shadow over Soul Purpose, it may have worked better. But both represent the two extremes of dream episodes, one being insightful and revealing while balancing out the absurdity and humor, the other feeling like an excuse for wacky dream shenanigans. Before anybody accuses me of selling the episode short, there's still a lot to like about it, but it can't help but pail in comparison to how the Whedonverse has used the dream device in the past.

Angel: Harm's Way (5.9)

There's a lot riding against Harm's Way. It easily grinds all the forward momentum launched last week to an abrupt halt, feels slightly strained as a comedy piece and has the thinnest of storylines in a long while. Long stretches of time are given to elaborate monologues in which Harmony recites the plot and wonders aloud what's really happening, and the finale isn't good at all. But there's an unlikely charm to the episode, despite all of its issues, that allows Mercedes McNab to be all cute and perky... which is always good.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

One of the lasting emotions I held following the series finale was a sense of literal bewilderment, confused by the decisions Chris Carter made and wondering why he would end his own series the way he did. Presumably he was intending to follow up those lingering questions in a movie, a movie-sized budget making the anarchic spectacle of that 2012 alien invasion even more vivid. I originally watched I Want to Believe in theaters, having not seen the last couple of X-Files years and unaware of how it left the characters, and believed it was pretty underwhelming but generally fine. But what I didn't experience was a sense of confusion. Watching it again, now with knowledge of where the characters ended up in the series itself, I'm very much bewildered by it.

The X-Files: The Truth (9.19) / (9.20)

Even before I sat down at the start of 2010 and decided to watch the entire run of The X-Files, I was aware that the series finale was a notorious disappointment. But I was under the impression that the disappointment came about due to the total lack of revelations or resolutions, not because the entire ninety-minute closer was such a horribly-scripted car wreck. The Truth is not a good episode. It's not a good finale and it's not even a good mythology episode. If anything it's a bizarre exercise in executive producer brain-leakage, something so absurd in its execution that it nearly descends into satire.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Valentine's Day Massacre (3.14)

There's an awkward sense of the show revisiting the plot strands of early season three this week, particularly with the whole "Let's go and party -- woo-woo!" vibe. With that, the show travels down inevitable routes, particularly with the whole "eww, be responsible, can't down a shot, not on this network" thing. I'm probably using air-quotes way too much. Gah. It's all kinds of lame. Thankfully, most of this is incidental in the end, writer Tom Kapinos eventually navigating events around and pushing Joey and Pacey closer together again, which is always great.

Dawson's Creek: Northern Lights (3.13)

I have no idea how it happened, and I can't explain why I'm feeling this way. It's scary and uncomfortable and I'm not sure it's at all rational... but I'm actually liking Dawson Leery right now. Aaaaggghhh!! Damn. That feels strange. He's currently stuck in this life-block, where he's calling into question everything he thought he knew about himself, notably his filmmaking credentials. But, unusually for Dawson, he isn't all panicked and neurotic over it -- instead he's remarkably calm, like he's more excited than anything else at the potential of self-discovery.