Monday, October 29, 2012

666 Park Avenue: A Crowd of Demons (1.5)

Is 666 Park Avenue supposed to be campy? There were numerous moments this week in which I wondered if I had been looking at this show all wrong, and that I had been treating a campy horror soap like a dark soapy thriller all along. A Crowd of Demons isn't 'funny ha-ha' campy, of course, but campy in a "I can sort of see what they're trying to do here... if I reeeeally look for it" kind of way. Most of the dialogue is appalling ("That strange ritual was supposed to bring us incredible wealth", somebody actually says with a straight face this week), extreme tonal shifts occur at the drop of a hat, and plot devices drop like heavy anvils all over the place. It sure feels like a show intending to be campy. But while all of that would ordinarily result in a fun way to kill an hour on a Sunday night, 666 masterfully makes all this soapy awfulness actually pretty boring. It's some achievement.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hunted: LB (1.2)

Cable television is a wonderful medium. Greater importance is placed on artistic vision, numbers aren't so important, series orders are shorter, production is less of a marathon. And the rules and regulations of network TV don't usually interfere with a writer's perspective. But cable television is sometimes a negative platform for writers who have only been previously involved with network TV. Frank Spotnitz is such a man, somebody who worked on shows which pushed as far as they could with the boundaries of horror violence in the 1990's on FOX, and who is presumably relishing less mandates and network notes. Cinemax allows Spotnitz to go all-out, bringing the ugly realities of criminality and spy work to the forefront, never stopping to sanitize any of it. But the problem, at least for me, is that I sometimes prefer the sanitized version.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A thousand of these things...

This is a huge thank you to everybody out there who has stumbled across my stuff, read a little bit of it, hopefully liked it, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who have commented and contributed yourselves. This is work that I am incredibly proud of, and while there's part of me that's unsure how much longer I'll be around, the feedback I've received thus far has been hugely flattering, and has pushed me to actively pursue similar endeavors in the real world.

To you, to television, and to the future!

Dawson's Creek: Mind Games (4.16)

Drue has one of those characteristically Dawson's Creek meta moments this week, in which he explicitly discusses the respective Dawson/Joey, Joey/Pacey couples, and explains which one he finds more interesting as an impartial member of the audience. It's a fun bit, characters literally discussing what everybody at home is talking about. But, watching Mind Games, I realized that it's no longer important which couple you 'side' with, since the most important obstacle right now is Joey's shiftiness. Gretchen describes it perfectly when she demands that Joey stop using the love triangle as some kind of excuse for her own shitty behavior, and that lying to both men in her life will only do damage in the future. It's absolutely true, and exposes where the real issue lies.

Dawson's Creek: Four Stories (4.15)

Two episodes ago I wrote about the way that Dawson's Creek has recently been exploiting dialogue, and how the writers have been using characters and their conversations to sell a story, rather than throwing together a bunch of plot devices. It's a theme exploited even further here, Four Stories essentially being four vignettes of conversation, each story anchored by two characters talking to each other about their feelings and emotions. It's one of the most frustrating episodes in a while in terms of characterization, but there was something here that really absorbed me. Maybe it was the fact that when you completely strip back a script, until it resembles just two people talking about their lives, it almost forces you to listen intently. And you get totally enraptured by it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

American Horror Story: Tricks and Treats (2.2)

It's funny that there isn't so much a singular protagonist this season. As a result, last week's premiere seemed to travel down various tangents as it went along, bouncing from a story about Kit, the incarcerated maybe-murderer, to a story about Lana Winters, snooping reporter locked away to keep her quiet. Then there was Jessica Lange, so dominating the screen but not so focused upon that she instantly became the show's lead. Tricks and Treats introduced Zachary Quinto as a do-gooder doctor disgusted by the regressive treatments at Briarcliff Hospital, and it was yet another ingredient being added to the mix. It's not at all a complaint, but it's been a little hard to entirely latch onto one clear lead so far. Whereas last season saw the Harmons very much at the center of things, Asylum seems far more eager to bounce around between a tight ensemble -- even if it remains at least atypical to not have one character who really anchors it all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Alias: Trust Me (2.2)

This episode was all about power. You would think that the CIA would have the upper hand with Irina in their custody, but it's quickly made clear that she's still holding all the cards, enforcing her power as quietly as possible. She's already such a strong character, projecting this ownership and strength despite, once again, having barely any lines. But as Trust Me builds, the ever-shifting balance of power is tipped over into Sydney's favor. While Irina is still orchestrating something, Syd makes sure to stand strong and promote herself as a willing ally. Despite their genetic ties, they are not friends, nor will Sydney bow down to her mother's rule. Like Janet Jackson once said, this is about control, and despite the current messy circumstances for the Bristow family, Sydney is standing her ground.

Alias: The Enemy Walks In (2.1)

Let's just picture the scene. Your mom died when you were a child, and you grew up with this fantastical mental image of a woman who loved you unconditionally and gave you the emotional support you always needed, especially in the light of an absent father. Then, years later, you are told that she wasn't at all who she said she was, but in fact a lying, murderous, criminal traitor. A couple of months later, you discover that she isn't dead at all. Then you see her face-to-face for the first time in decades. And then she shoots you in the shoulder, before disappearing. The next time you see her, she shoots her nearest ally dead in cold blood, yet spares your life. She then disappears again, only to hand herself over to the CIA soon after. This lady is not a walk in the park.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Enlightened: Not Good Enough Mothers (1.5)

People are assholes. That's sort of a given. Especially today, it's not exactly hard to stumble upon somebody rude and obnoxious, or selfish and arrogant. And when you see those kinds of people, it's easy to get pretty angry yourself. What's their problem? Why do they feel the need to inflict their own issues onto somebody else? In that brilliantly observed scene at the top of this week's show, Amy sits on a bus stop as it begins to rain, kindly expressing to the kid sat next her that he must have forgotten his umbrella, too. The kid replies with an immediate "Fuck off!" Then she gets on-board the bus, and she has to ask a lady to move her bag so she can sit down, like it's some huge inconvenience. Her voiceover remarks how people are mean, and how that makes them ugly, and how that in itself makes her burn with hate. And everybody at home gives a collective sigh because this is so ridiculously true to life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

666 Park Avenue: Hero Complex (1.4)

The fourth episode of a new series should mark the moment in which things start coming together, the show hopefully having settled into a groove that forms a make-it or break-it relationship with the viewer. Narrative isn't actually as important here as you would imagine, since serialized dramas so often fluctuate between stories that work and stories that don't. What matters more than anything is for the show's characters to be engaging enough to capture your attention at home, that they somehow jump off the screen. It's easier said than done, as proven by 666 Park Avenue's strong cast trying valiantly to provoke interest, Hero Complex once again confirming that this is a show that's hard to explicitly care about.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hunted: Mort (1.1)

Hunted is an unusual new series, its pilot seeming to veer swiftly in one direction, before pulling back and becoming something a little less intriguing and a lot more conventional. As part of Cinemax's late-night action strand, it naturally carries a trashy allure, presumably more in keeping with the explosions 'n' boobs 'n' yelling hour that is Strike Back. But Hunted itself is actually a little less typical in its identity, a spy drama that is played mostly straight, with surreal visual cues and an emphasis on an espionage existence that is presumably a little more authentic than, say, 24. It's not a great show, by any means, but it sure is sort of interesting.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dawson's Creek: A Winter's Tale (4.14)

And Dawson's Creek continues its messy relationship with sex. For most of the episode, Joey worries and pleads and bites her lip with nerves at the mere thought of having sex with Pacey, so driven by her desire to have sex "with the right person" and "at the right time" that she comes off like a crazy person. She eventually goes through with it, but I'm not sure any of this is at all believable. Sex is an amazing thing. It's huge and important and a major step in becoming an adult and being in love with somebody. But it's also something fun and casual that you don't need to obsessively over-analyze to the point where the whole idea of sex becomes stale and tired, lacking in anything remotely spontaneous. A Winter's Tale tries to walk that line, but it eventually overdoses on worrying, becoming just the kind of overly anxious PSA that I doubt it ever intended to be.

Dawson's Creek: Hopeless (4.13)

Dawson's Creek is a show so driven by dialogue rather than story, or at least this season. It's always been a series in which characters over-analyze their lives to the Nth degree and micro-manage every movement or action through exaggerated, overwritten dialogue -- but they were always carried by plot contrivance at the best of times. Particularly at the beginning, it was a frequent complaint of mine that characters were doing things purely to service a story that the writers wanted to tell, rather than doing things because it made any real sense. But season four has been different. So much of it is dialogue-driven lately, characters analyzing their emotions verbally, and deciding a course of action based on their own introspection. It makes Dawson's Creek a far smoother, relatable series.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

American Horror Story: Welcome to Briarcliff (2.1)

Despite the presence of nuns and aliens and innards, it feels a lot easier heading into American Horror Story than it did last year. Sure, most of it is because we've gotten used to the dogged tenacity of the writing team to keep things outlandish on a pretty consistent basis, but it's also helped by the knowledge we have now that we didn't have when the series first began. Season one opened with only a vague sense of where the show was going, FX dodging questions about the series' length, leaving many of us at home unsure whether or not we'd be stuck in that murder house for years. In the interim, however, we learned that American Horror Story is in fact an anthology series, every season dedicated to a new story, a new location and new characters. So there's suddenly a lot of breathing room, at least in terms of creative vision, one that presumably isn't hampered by mystery about the future.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alias: Almost Thirty Years (1.22)

And it comes full circle. With a bang, some teeth and a big red ball. Almost Thirty Years ties together the cacophony of plot strands that have been building up since the very beginning, while simultaneously introducing the drive and mystery that will anchor season two. It's a ridiculously satisfying finale, one that seizures with energy and successfully mirrors so much of the pilot that started it all. With that, it's a lot of fun seeing how much everybody has changed over the course of the year. New relationships have formed, secrets have been exposed and everyone has become extremely multifaceted. But the real evolution has occurred with Sydney and her perception of her family. She and her father are unrecognizable from the chilly, tension-dripping 'associates' they inhabited when the show began, while her mom... well, things have gotten a little screwy there.

Alias: Rendezvous (1.21)

For the first twenty minutes of this episode, a lot of mention is made of characters being flung off-track. Jack criticizes Sydney for losing sight of the bigger picture in pursuit of her mother, Vaughn is confronted by Weiss over his personal involvement with Syd, and Sloane is all about protecting his wife instead of keeping tabs on his SD-6 agenda. All of these arguments are valid, and it's no coincidence that the show exposes all of these home truths in the first episode to feature Sydney's espionage world aggressively colliding with her personal life, Will discovering her secret identity in a badass moment of 'holy goddamn crap did that just happen?!" histrionics.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Enlightened: The Weekend (1.4)

A lot of my praise for Enlightened has so far centered on the writing and the acting, but I haven't even started talking about how gorgeous the show looks. I don't think I've ever seen a TV series that makes you want to reach out and touch more than this one. Laura Dern's peaceful voiceover and the tinkly ambient score help, but Mike White's photography so beautifully captures color and texture. This episode in particular, with its river rafting trip and the slow pans across water and rocks and beautiful rose gardens, just leaps off the screen -- surrounding you with nature and a feeling that the world around us is filled with so much beauty. All you have to do is look for it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

666 Park Avenue: The Dead Don't Stay Dead (1.3)

Is the fact that stories are being built at all enough to say this was a pleasant hour? Regardless of none of said stories being particularly fascinating? 666 Park Avenue is in a difficult bind right now, the ratings tumbling with every passing week and a feeling brewing that the show isn't long for this world. So where do we at home go from here? Do we abandon ship before it inevitably sinks? Or just keep on watching, despite being fully aware that ABC will yank this in a couple of weeks? If you're doing the latter, then it's probably best to try and spot the goodness on offer. The Dead Don't Stay Dead was another episode with little universal success overall, but, unlike last week, there were actual bits of gold here and there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Te of Pacey (4.12)

There's a moment this week in which the Witter family get together, many of them, particularly Pacey's parents, ribbing him constantly and reciting a long laundry list of embarrassing moments from his past. Thrown into this are casual insults about his future and his complete failure to do anything right. Sat at the center of it all, surrounded by nothing but dismissal, is Pacey himself. His face reads absolutely numb, struck down with this inevitable feeling of resignation. He knew that his birthday party would turn out like this, and he just radiates isolation. It's a wonderful scene, flawlessly acted by Joshua Jackson, who grabs this Pacey-driven episode by the horns and knocks it out of the park.

Dawson's Creek: The Tao of Dawson (4.11)

This is very slight as an episode, but remains nonetheless charming. It's unusual, though, to see Gretchen anchor so much of it. Most of the episode involves her character journeying back to her ex with Pacey in tow, and it seems a lot like an hour designed to elaborate on her history and grant her added dimension. Personally, it's all a little bland and forgettable as a story, but Sasha Alexander has a really absorbing presence on screen. She projects this confidence and charisma that makes her a strong TV star, so it's no surprise that she's bounced around between a bunch of successful series ever since.

Beauty and the Beast: Pilot (1.1)

Beauty and the Beast is probably this fall's easiest show to make fun of. As a reboot of a curious Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman romantic fantasy series from the 1980's, it's creatively bankrupt. The titular 'beast' is about as hideous as your average Calvin Klein model, the heavy Disney-ish prosthetics of the earlier series replaced by an eww! grosssss!!11!! scar on his face. Kristin Kreuk, already pretty vacant as an actor, is about as convincing as a tough New York cop as Dame Judi Dench playing Shaft. There's little that works well here, from the incidental murder mystery to the mutually hackneyed 'dark pasts' of the show's protagonists... but it would be crazy to say that this isn't a strangely compelling pilot. If everything is awful, does it become sort of... good?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nashville: Pilot (1.1)

One of the best network television innovations over the last couple of years has involved the repurposing of traditionally soapy storytelling into arguably respectable serialized dramas, blurring the lines between 'legit TV' and 'night-time melodrama'. ABC has been particularly deft at this, Nashville being their latest serial to feature standard soap opera tropes translated through an intricate wall of real-world drama. Set against the surprisingly-absorbing back-drop of country music, the narrative unspools between Dallas-style power intrigue straight through to All About Eve sniping, all anchored by an authentically sassy performance from Connie Britton. This is something special.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alias: The Solution (1.20)

One of Alias' neatest pleasures is its willingness to blur relationships and allegiances. What began as a show all about one woman's mission to bring down the organization responsible for her fiancee's murder has grown to be a show where ambiguity rules all. Recent weeks have seen Sydney utilizing SD-6 instead of trying to destroy it, and turning to others for help besides Vaughn. Jack has gone from this cold, mysterious enigma to a caring, compassionate father still wounded by betrayal. And, in The Solution, we see Sloane becoming as much a victim of the Alliance as he is a key member of it. It's just incredibly diverse writing, the show refusing to settle down for too long and allowing things to get complacent.

Alias: Snowman (1.19)

This and the preceding episode have been frustratingly standalone in spirit. While a lot of Snowman is concerned with Laura Bristow (or, as I'll now be referring to her, Irina Derevko), most of it is distracted by the titular assassin, an ambiguous hitman with a reputation for bloody carnage. The problem with this is that it's clear from the very first mention of his name that it'll turn out to be Noah Hicks behind the mask, both since he needs removing from the series, and because what he offers Sydney is too earth-shattering to permanently stick. So most of the episode feels like waiting for your train to hit its intended destination, and that's a little underwhelming.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Enlightened: Someone Else's Life (1.3)

There's that old saying that there's no such thing as a selfless good deed, and it's something that Enlightened keeps bouncing back to. Amy is a character whose entire mission in life is to give and give, so infuriated by modern society that she feels it is her duty to help those without her good fortune. But as we're getting to know her, it's becoming more and more clear that there's a wall preventing Amy from becoming entirely selfless, as her old belief system can't help but creep out every once in a while. Just look at her timid embrace of a homeless woman this week, hugging her only because it's the sort of thing you should do in those circumstances. The woman leaves some kind of stain on Amy's arm and, soon after, she briefly washes her arm during a trip to the bathroom. It's such a subtle gesture, probably entirely unconscious, but something that says so much about Amy as a person.

Monday, October 8, 2012

666 Park Avenue: Murmurations (1.2)

A lot of stock is put in a pilot, primarily because it's supposed to be the very best depiction of a show's premise, something that inspires confidence at the network and within everybody watching at home. At the same time, a great pilot can grab an audience's attention so successfully that further viewing should be guaranteed. But it's also a little fraudulent: second episodes are far more indicative of where a series is going, and what we can expect week to week. With all that in mind, it's disappointing that 666 Park Avenue followed up its unoriginal but arguably fun pilot with something so... basic?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Self Reliance (4.10)

You just knew that the time would eventually come when Dawson's existence would somehow intersect with Joey and Pacey's relationship. There would be tension, harsh words, some kind of break-up, and everything will go back to that boring middleground. But this is also a series that's expressing a surprising amount of growth this season. For the first time in its four years on the air, Dawson's Creek is exploring maturity, and depicting those familiar themes (jealousy, heartbreak, romance) but through the prism of senior year. These kids are growing up, and refusing to settle on their old routines.

Dawson's Creek: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (4.9)

Dawson's film aspirations have fallen away in the last year, and he struggles to explain why. But it's all part of maturing. His work in season two was hackneyed and shallow, and deciding to abandon it entirely is a natural reaction to dismal failure, especially when you're sixteen and your romantic life generally takes precedence. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang puts him back on the straight and narrow, his college applications forcing him to ask himself why exactly he's drawn to filmmaking. It's an essential part of understanding what drives you, and this episode does a great job of exploring that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Alias: Masquerade (1.18)

It doesn't quite stick an aggressive pause on the show's propulsion, but Masquerade does initially come off as a little jarring, as it so swiftly returns to the safe Alias equilibrium that had previously been put on the backburner. This is mostly a result of Peter Berg's Hicks character, a remnant from Sydney's past. The two of them were SD-6 agents around the same time, discreetly fell in love, and were torn apart by job promotions and various miscommunications. Hicks represents both Syd's pre-pilot past as well as her potentially romantic future and it's obviously an important story to tell -- her first nervous footsteps into post-Danny sexuality. But it doesn't have as much emotional pull as it probably could have done, and I'm not sure whose fault that is.

Alias: Q & A (1.17)

Over the years, Alias' issues as a series were frequently the fault of ABC. They wanted the show to evolve, and supported major changes in the show's second season, but they also wanted the show to revert back to what it used to be soon after, and that back and forth did nothing but harm the show in the long run. Whether it entirely killed it is a whole separate discussion. But Q & A, as dull an episode as it sometimes is, at least reminds you of a time in which ABC had so much faith in Alias that they demanded an episode like this one, to hopefully open up the Sydney Bristow universe to new viewers -- fearing they'd been driven away by the various hiatuses and the quickly elaborate storytelling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Enlightened: Now or Never (1.2)

One of Mike White's greatest strengths is his ability to expose the hidden vulnerabilities that make us who we are, and how we only really express them in secret. It's something that kept reappearing throughout this second episode, which opened with Amy fantasizing about a conversation with her management, one full of environmentally-friendly buzz words ('sustainable', 'renewable', 'compostable') and 'up with people' enthusiasm, culminating in her message having a real effect, not only on Abaddonn itself but her bosses as people, too. Only the really important word there is 'fantasizing', because it's one of those things that just wouldn't happen. It's the next big journey for Amy, slowly realizing that her dreams and ambitions aren't going to be fulfilled overnight.

Monday, October 1, 2012

666 Park Avenue: Pilot (1.1)

Do you remember being read fairytales as a kid and thinking that the leads were always kind of lame and uninteresting? And that the villains were so majestic and cool that you sort of wished you were spending time with them instead? Sleeping Beauty? Pfft. Gimme some Maleficent action! It's a similar feeling to 666 Park Avenue, ABC's spooky new horror series, where the villains not only steal the show, but are so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast in terms of mystery and entertainment value that you wish they had more to do. Which isn't to say this is a weak pilot, but says a lot about the burgeoning 'campy-slasher' sub-genre, where the helpless protagonists are shuffled around between the far more exciting bad guys, who chew the scenery like their lives depend on it.