I spend most of my day trying to not sound stupid. It's sort of a natural reflex, probably rooted in insecurity and lacking in any real logic... but it's there. I bring this up because reading promotional materials about Last Resort was like trying to understand Korean or something. Just that general premise, with the submarines and the missiles and something about a tropical island -- it seemed impenetrable. Watching the pilot, some of the show still flies straight over my head. There were times where I completely failed to follow some of the Navy jargon, and the political subtext is a little disorienting at the best of times. Everything about this show is wildly outside of my comfort zone, set within a world entirely alien to my own, and it honestly threw me off a little. I have no idea if that says more about me, or that the show is going to struggle as it goes on, but it's something that rattled nonetheless.
Friday, September 28, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
The Unusual Suspects is another off-kilter episode of Dawson's Creek, with Harry Shearer's stern principal interrogating Dawson, Pacey, Jack and Drue over an elaborate prank involving a stolen boat, a kidnapped dog and Capeside High's swimming pool. It's intricately plotted, features a bunch of funny lines, develops the foundation for a Pacey/Dawson reunion, and slowly builds to a twisty climax that anybody with semi-decent knowledge of these kinds of mysteries would have guessed around ten minutes into the episode. I'm not sure the episode warrants its 'series classic' tag or anything, but it's a reasonably amusing standalone piece.
It's hard to disagree with the belief that Andie McPhee got royally screwed by the Dawson's Creek writers. She emerged as a flawed yet sincere and relatable voice of reason in season two, somebody who helped Pacey develop into a mature young man and overcoming her own personal troubles in the process. She had a strong female presence on the show, neither the neurotic over-analyzer that is Joey, nor possessing the relaxed nonchalance of Jen. Instead she was somebody reasonably together as a person, even when her own mind was falling apart. Then season three happened, and she was sacrificed in order to engineer a relationship between two other characters, becoming this irrational nutjob in the process. She's flailed around for a while, and here she's swiftly removed from the show in an awkward, unbelievable manner. It sort of sucks.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
It's interesting to suddenly spot the ideas percolating inside the head of J.J. Abrams, years before they're actually realized. Watching The Prophecy and the collection of mysterious secret branches within the government that are put on Syd's case instantly brings to mind Fringe, the Department of Special Research being investigators of extreme phenomena and 'fringe science'. It's this strange mash-up of procedural realism and elaborate genre smarts, investigators utilizing strange testing procedures and heat-vision generators to get inside Sydney's head, in the hopes of tying her to a centuries-old prophecy that pledges infinite destruction if it comes to fruition. It's so cleverly batshit at this point, but that constant merging of a character-driven narrative with science-fiction drama always keeps the show on the right track.
Page 47 marks the moment when Alias really blew up. Every writer knows that the greatest way to grant life to a storyline is to make it truly personal for the story's protagonists, and here the writers give the Rambaldi arc something of a face... literally. Rambaldi has been this consistently intriguing but necessarily vague plot device throughout the season, full of shady theories and strange artifacts. With one shocking plot twist, not only does it become something grand and almost supernatural, but it places Sydney firmly at the center of the mystery. What was something mysterious and personally insignificant is suddenly all about her, and all Sydney can do is stare in complete disbelief at the image staring back at her.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Have you ever wanted to just scream at the top of your lungs and say "fuck it!"? It's the most exhilarating thing imaginable, especially when you're stuck in a dead-end job or getting constantly screwed over by the individuals wielding greater power than you. But it's also something that usually only exists within a specific moment. Nobody can realistically become entirely outspoken and brutally honest long-term, because most of us have enough integrity and self-awareness that doing so would be pretty ugly. Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe is one of those people, a woman who flew so close to public insanity that all she could do to get her life back on track was remove the negativity that had once totally consumed her and left her this perpetually edgy shell of a person. So she became enlightened, making a moment of madness the instigator for an entirely different existence.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Drugs are bad, mmkay? This perpetuates the PSA vibe that plagued last episode, but happily tosses that into just one small subplot, saving us from the bombardment of preachiness that could so easily drown out any of its potential merit. Andie's descent into junkiedom is hilariously speedy, but at least the writers added some vague excuse for her near-death experience, what with the ecstasy reacting badly with the medication she's already on. It's not quite 90210 territory (didn't Kelly Taylor become a coke addict in the space of, like, a day?), but there's definitely a feeling that the show is bashing you over the head with a "very important message".
Preachy, preachy, preachy. Dawson's Creek hit the zeitgeist at a time in which it was de rigueur to promote earnest life lessons for its teenage audience, sex being a major source for all kinds of finger-wagging. You could always rely on YA television to feature stories about teenage girls pledging that they're "not ready" for sex, or disguise important PSAs as part of the narrative. Here, there are condom talks, discussions of how sex can be *gasp* dangerous, and warnings about what sex really means. But A Family Way is jarring in its messages, not only because it's concerned with Joey's virginity to the point of parody, but also because of two additional subplots that bombard you with preachy statements. It's the show pushing the idea of impartiality, while being completely censored from reality by network meddling.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
It was inevitable that at some point down the line Sydney's path would cross with one of her friends during a mission. Surprisingly, The Coup doesn't actually exaggerate this to its fullest effect, instead using it to grant additional material for Francie. There's a little bit of fun with Syd dodging her best friend in Vegas, but generally it's a pretty non-espionage affair this week. A lot of people violently dislike Francie, and it's a given that she doesn't exactly need to have her own subplots, but I feel like her presence is welcome on Alias, a nice reminder of how mundane the real world is, where the only 'double lives' involve infidelity and cheating and not, you know, international spy hooey.
Alias is a show that is continually evolving over time, and it's clearest when it comes to its cast of players. The Box, superficially, is an elaborate Die Hard pastiche. It was referenced early on in Part 1 with that John McTiernan nod while Part 2 rapidly becomes this relentless melody of action adventure tropes, characters forced into terrifying situations to protect people they care about, and large hypodermic needles the weapon of choice for enthusiastic antagonists. But even if you remove the genre traditions, The Box is a radically important episode for the show's central characters.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
After 178 episodes of cleavage, fairytales, scenery-chewing, stupid police detectives, crummy exposition, off-screen feuds, skanky hooker outfits, underground caves, depressed alleyways, continuity errors, casual sexism, useless Elders, fugly haircuts, cheap knock-off's, McGowan mugging, illogical plotholes, shrewish whining, lazy repetition, vacant fuck-buddies, bad teeth, terrible child actors, desk sex, sperm quests, Shannen Doherty intrigue, ridiculous media commentary, weepy gorilla-face, gratuitous nudity, stank new cast members, Phoebe worship, sustained dwarf employment, cries for a normal life, nonsensical career decisions, questionable morals and more demonic possessions than there are people in China, Charmed is over.
Let's open with discussing how impressive that coda is. It starts off with pyrotechnic mayhem as both sets of sisters send various strands of CGI at each other, producing an elaborate explosion that rips apart the Manor and sends everybody flying, killing almost the entire cast in the process. What follows is the most anticipated beatdown since Ali vs Frazier, Piper leaping on top of raggedy dingleberry Billie and pummeling her repeatedly. It's crazily fun. But it's easy to forget that this only occurs in the last five minutes, the rest of the hour being so painfully long-winded that you have to question why it's such a popular episode in fan circles.
Revolution is the latest in a long line of series I like to dub "wanderer shows". It all started with Lost back in 2004, with its high-concept pilot and crowded ensemble, all of whom navigate an increasingly plodding mythology. Lost was a big deal, and like every fresh concept that proves big, rival networks chased after their own Lost-ish dramas. There was The Event, FlashForward, Invasion, Surface, Terra Nova -- each opening with ambitious pilots that stunk of mega-bucks, full of glitzy CGI and vague mystery narratives. So why "wanderer show"? Well, because all of that kicky CGI intensity is reserved for the very first hour, subsequent episodes noticeably quieter and smaller in scale, quickly becoming shows in which characters just walked around a lot, moving not only from point A to point B in the narrative, but also from location to location, every once in a while stumbling upon the action that that week's budget would allow.
Monday, September 17, 2012
And they went out fighting. When Angel began, you'd be hard pressed to imagine that the series finale would end with the few survivors left pulling a Butch Cassidy; guns blazing, running into probable doom. But, thinking hard, Angel was never a show about victory. It was more a series about atonement, about constantly aiming for something despite rarely coming out on top. The show's entire mission statement is expressed during Gunn's reunion with Anne, where he asks her how she would react if she knew everything was ultimately futile. Would she give up? Just call it a day? She answers that she wouldn't, and instead would just continue doing what she'd be doing regardless. Not Fade Away is about taking a stand, being counted, and making your actions worth a damn. This is brutal in its execution, but beautiful as a piece of storytelling.
Power Play works like a cleaner, punchier version of season four's Awakening, with every corner of the script building to that inevitable plot twist. But while Awakening lived and died by its ending, Power Play is strong enough on its own to not feel like filler material leading to a cut-and-dry resolution. While you're never left wondering if Angel really did travel over to the dark side, the episode does a wonderful job of depicting the corruption of power, continuing the idea of an end of the world not brought forth as a result of one singular threat, but of the merging of various acts of negativity -- crossing human, demon and satanic bounds, this is an elaborate convergence of every type of evil, from the calculating to the mundane to the anarchic.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
I think episodes like one this always strike close to home. Senior year is crazy with the intensity, not only because of your schooling itself, but because of the enormous pressure you're facing as you're headed for college in the fall. As a result, everybody has a different reaction to it. Some throw themselves into the possibility of an amazing future, grasping every opportunity and making sure you get your name out there. There are others that get paralyzed by fear, too terrified to aim high because the thought of actually going the distance seems far-fetched. Then there are folks who are so distracted by their high school existence that they can't even begin to think about the future. Each view-point is explored here, in another successful season four episode that puts character ahead of crazy plot drama.
This episode opens with one of those "only on TV" moments, in which the play everybody's analyzing in their English class directly parallels their own love lives. So we have Dawson and Joey arguing over Two Gentlemen of Verona, all about two best friends torn apart by a girl's romantic inclinations. Unfortunately, this goofy teaser sequence sets a precedence for the rest of the episode. When it's not directly lifting from The Perfect Storm with an elaborate CGI rescue story, the script overdoses on clichés, right down to Grams threatening to "kick butt" in a manner suited only to wise-cracking old people on bad TV shows.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
As long-term fans know, Alias started off a series that was frequently sort of silly but nevertheless grounded in some semblance of reality, before becoming this tonally batshit espionage sci-fi show full of prophecies and clones and zombies and ice rays. If memory serves correct, they actually manage to pull most of that off... for real. But I always pinpoint The Box as the first push of insanity for this show, and that's primarily due to guest star Quentin Tarantino and his scenery-chewing archness. This isn't a nondescript vaguely-Middle Eastern antagonist, but a wacky, volatile character, naturally blessed (or arguably cursed) by Tarantino's assaulting vocal pattern, spitting out dialogue like a machine gun with an impossible number of bullets. But it works, crazy and all.
Just as Alias' narrative builds and builds, pushing through different episodes as missions blur into additional missions and so on, the characters are beginning to build on each other, too. The relationships between the ensemble are increasing in power so swiftly that The Confession constantly resembles a house of cards. Just when the whole thing is fixed together, something comes along to knock it right back down again. Parental angst has always been a trademark of J.J. Abrams, but one of Alias' major success stories so far has been its ability to constantly shift and evolve the source of that angst. Yes, it's still the conflict between child and parent, but there are these consistent game-changers that radically alter that theme. It's intense.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Even if you try and excuse the show for struggling to fill time with an obvious transition episode, this is still pretty horrible. Can I ask what tool on the writing staff thought it was a bright idea to dedicate so much of the second-to-last episode to those Oirish asshat leprechauns? As well as the hideous collection of ogres, fairies and wood nymphs that make up the 'magical community' on this show? Ah, remember the days when this poop didn't exist to permanently stink up Charmed?
Kaley Cuoco is probably the biggest problem with season eight. Because, shockingly, I actually like the concept of Billie and Christy as explained here. Lady-Elder tells Piper that the existence of the Jenkins sisters was set in motion long before the Charmed Ones came into their powers, as a means to destroy the essence of good in the world -- the Triad being keenly aware that it's not just ultimate power than would tip the scale, but sisterhood. It's an interesting approach that entirely resuscitates the Jenkins women as characters, grants them added purpose and calls back to what this show was at one point actually about: the Halliwells being, deeper than any of their powers, strong women with a sisterly connection.
Despite every show on Ryan Murphy's resume arriving with a fully-formed gay sensibility, he's unusual in that he's never been renowned for creating gay characters that proved particularly positive. Gay men are either swishy sex freaks or over-earnest victims, gay women are flexible, and bisexuality is a phase. Or, for women, something to be used to grab a guy's attention. All of which makes The New Normal, Murphy's sitcom about a gay couple and their surrogate, something of a risky move. He's an auteur who seems to believe he's an instigator of some kind of grand social change, and while there are certainly factors to somebody like Glee's Kurt Hummel that are overwhelmingly positive, a lot of his work with gay characters leaves a bitter aftertaste, pandering more to cliches and stereotyping than anything else.
Monday, September 10, 2012
I remember seeing this years ago and thinking it was ass. With Buffy at arm's length throughout the whole thing, glimpsed only from afar in a nightclub, played by some bony stand-in that is so not our Sarah... why bother all-together? But watching The Girl in Question for the second time, I was mystified that I could have ever thought so much negativity about it. It's probably the silliest thing the show has ever done, but has such a spitfire of zany energy that you're completely carried by it for the whole hour. And the real message of the episode is worthy of additional acclaim. It's no classic, but a hilarious book-end to all the Buffy angst.
Time Bomb exists for three reasons: to diminish Illyria's indestructible power so she doesn't kill any narrative tension in the future; to remove Gunn from his suburban hell punishment; and to set up the last run of episodes, at least in regards to Angel. As a standalone hour, it's not particularly exciting, nor funny. It explores the very worst elements of Illyria's character and actually makes her annoying at times, while the sci-fi time travel hoodoo feels a lot like a different show all-together. But the season itself still feels so purposeful right now, like the writers are fully aware of that new sense of drive it's adopted and is just relentlessly running with it. This isn't strong at all, but isn't the total crock some make it out to be.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
It's natural for a show to immediately throw a spanner in the works when a couple starts dating, since it's not all that fun to a see a perfectly happy, contented couple on a soap opera. I went into season four assuming that Dawson will be the cause of Joey and Pacey's trauma, but Failing Down ensured that angst isn't created via traditional means. Instead of having Dawson's love for Joey intrude on their blossoming relationship, it's more about what Dawson represents as a young man -- he's everything Pacey isn't, and while for anybody rational that would be considered a good thing, it's left Pacey an insecure wreck.
An important thing an audience needs to grant a TV show is trust. Without trust, you're essentially building a story that people at home have zero emotional investment in. When, as a writer, you lay the foundations for a narrative, particularly if it's a controversial one, you need to have the trust of your audience in order to keep your story intact. No matter how game-changing it may be, if the trust is there, then the audience will follow. All of that is something that kept me at something of a distance this week, since Coming Home seems to be going one way yet constantly veering close to all-out anarchy.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Every decision Jack makes ends up confusing his daughter. It's natural that a parent would do everything to protect their child, and Jack going that extra mile to ensure his daughter's safety is powerful and compassionate on its own. But, being Alias, that 'extra mile' involves orchestrating somebody's murder in order to protect Sydney. It's an act of fatherly warmth, but in this twisted, blood-drenched manner. And it ends up being nothing but more ammunition for Syd to use against him. It's how her mind works, though, instantly seeing the negativity in everything that he does. Despite Vaughn's insistence that Russek was a bad man destined to die horribly at some point, Syd doesn't waver.
Mea Culpa is the first episode to truly utilize Ron Rifkin. Prior to this week, Sloane has very much been an 'idea' rather than an actual character, various CIA players speaking of his arch evilness, Sydney understandably only reacting with disgust at the events he's supposedly orchestrated -- from the murder of her fiancee, to the lies he forms to convince most of the innocents trapped in SD-6 that they're working for the good guys. Even so, it's evilness at arm's length, the show telling us about a man but withholding the man himself. But here we begin to see the person behind the image, and instantly he becomes a far greater character.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
So Christy's machinations continue. Sure, if Marnette Patterson had a mustache, she'd be twirling it 24/7. And, sure, the sisters come off as bigger fools than normal by entirely missing the insidious evil hanging out in their own damn kitchen, but the story continues to be pretty absorbing. Everybody's behaving in an unbelievable manner purely to service the script (particularly the strangely-unmoved-by-her-parents'-horrible-murder Billie Jenkins, or maybe that's just the terrible acting), but it's nice to see that forward momentum surfacing again. The only issue is that the Charmed Ones are still wrapped up in their assy personal problems, leaving most of the interesting material in the hands of Patterson and her horribly vacant on-screen sis. Stupid show.
Call me crazy, but is Christy Jenkins rapidly becoming the one shining beacon of interest on this show? I've always loved that television trope of a secretly evil character insidiously manipulating folks from within a group of good guys, and Christy is filling that role really well. The story was filled with a surprising amount of shocks, from Mom and Pop Jenkins turning up in a pile of their own innards to that awesome moment with Christy punching through the Triad dude's chest. It's all just surprisingly impressive watching her various attempts to divert attention from her own secret evilness and fill Billie's head with hooey. Marnette Patterson also deserves special credit for being mildly convincing all the while acting against somebody who looks like she's been living in a trash can for six weeks. What is up with Billie's hair?? Nesting crows would think it was too frazzled...
Monday, September 3, 2012
There's a great conversation this week in which Connor asks if he's a superhero, and if Angel and his friends are also superheroes. It brought to mind the work of Stan Lee, and how Connor's journey here is very much an elaborate comic book origin tale. In this new world where everybody's minds have been altered, Connor is an ordinary teenage boy from an ordinary family, who gets hit by a truck one day and finds himself completely intact. His parents are concerned, and take him to a strange law firm specializing in supernatural weirdness. There he discovers his true identity, meets his vampire father and his team full of demons and blue-skinned ladies, and gains back his old memories. It's such an incredible story, increased in power by how adorably normal this new Connor is.
Underneath spends a long time sifting through the various plot strands that have appeared over the last couple of weeks. There's sometimes little of a uniting theme between the dueling subplots, which means it's no classic, but each individual story is so successful as a standalone piece that you can forget some of the weaker elements here. It only makes Angel's cancellation sadder, the show finally having hit this moment in time where all the cogs that make up the series are cohesive and working like crazy, every character granted an incredible sense of purpose, and a tone that feels just as familiar as it does fresh and exciting. Rest in peace, show.