Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Like most two-parters on this show, Valhalley of the Dolls runs out of material midway through this second half. The valkyrie story has a couple of cool moments (notably the Russ Meyer-ish motorcycle sequence), but it mostly devolves into messy fighting sequences and repeated moments where Piper dithers over her allegiances. In some ways it reminded me of the Fury episode in season four, only with a pretty flat ending where everybody says goodbye and the valkyries exit without a huge resolution.
Am I the only one who doesn't think Alyssa Milano's new haircut is that terrible? At least in its pre-valkyrie, less-butch state? With the curls and the shininess? It actually looks pretty great on her. The hair of the Pheebs is just one example of 'not as bad as I remembered', along with the rest of this episode. Valhalley of the Dolls Part 1 is still relentlessly goofy and sees the show once again morphing into some genre version of Charlie's Angels, but it's not entirely awful.
Monday, January 30, 2012
This was just all right. I'm a sucker for a Cordelia drama, but That Vision Thing never rises beyond 'decent'. It kind of cribs a whole bunch of ideas from past episodes, and while a lot of that is pretty enjoyable, there's an obvious sense of deja-vu to it at the same time. The only truly new element is that undercurrent of romantic tension between Angel and Cordy. They definitely seem a lot closer this season, with Angel willing to dance with the devil to save her life. He loves the girl, clearly.
There's a lot of padding in this two-parter, which results in a second half that feels around twenty minutes longer than it needed to be. But the most successful aspect to Bargaining Part 2 is the ease the writers avoided when it came to Buffy's resurrection. On a new network with a lot riding on the show's immediate success, it would have probably been simpler for the writers to have an act or two of unbalanced Buffy trying to figure out how she came back, followed by a quick snap back into kick-ass slayer mode. What we have here is far more interesting, though, with the hour ending not on a triumphant reunion, but of a still-rattled Buffy wearing a blank facial expression as she hugs Dawn. It's scary how similar it is to Dawn hugging the Buffybot last episode. So Buffy's back, but she's far from normal...
Her name is barely mentioned, but Buffy's presence is all over this season premiere. Heartthrob is about losing somebody you love, and the explosive reactions that death brings out of you. Where the story kind of falters is James' insistence that Angel never loved, but merely 'existed'. Yeah, that's not true at all. Angel's reaction to Buffy's death involves him cutting ties with everybody and running away to find some kind of sanctuary and peace. James' reaction to losing Elizabeth is to literally rip out his heart and pursue revenge. Neither reflects how much they loved, but simply how they are as people. James had always been cray-cray, and Angel has always been somber and mournful. It's how they roll, people.
Never has the phrase "putting the pieces back together" felt more appropriate. This was a season premiere that appropriately felt different, not only because of Buffy's absence, but because everybody feels a lot more somber and frustrated. It's a risky strategy. This was Buffy's first episode to air on UPN, and had the challenge of luring in new viewers as well as following up the show's most arresting cliffhanger in its history: Buffy's sacrificial demise. Bargaining Part 1 works well on a variety of levels, but it's the characterization that feels most affecting and sets the tone for what is undoubtedly the series' most polarizing season.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Glen Morgan and James Wong's X-Files background folds nicely into Till Then, an episode that smashes together real-life events with the regular supernatural phenomena depicted on this show every week. It's an interesting and ambitious episode which dispenses of most of the cast early on, giving way for a flashback-heavy hour all about Elmer's involvement in World War II, in which British intelligence used his psychic abilities to help soldiers cross over to the other side. That in itself is such a great idea, and the show conveys it pretty well. There are some awful accents along the way, but Thomas Silcott gives a strong central performance as the young Elmer, and some of the more profound elements of the script grant Bill Cobbs extra material to flesh out his character. He's a fascinating guy, but hasn't been given a whole lot to do lately.
Outside of Paper Hearts, I don't think I was ever hugely invested in the Samantha arc. Then again, I've felt more and more over the years of watching this show that it's been pretty easy to not get invested in The X-Files. Because Samantha's story was just one of the more obvious examples of the series letting a story run away from any kind of logic -- the character getting wrapped up in increasingly obscure mythology hijinks and sometimes losing sight of the overall simplicity of her disappearance in the first place. Closure, while not an episode I particularly enjoyed, does at least bring the story back to its origins: as a means to give Mulder the hope and drive that he needed to engage in the X-Files in the first place.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The showy central story continues to bug, this time an excuse to allow everyone to fawn over Phoebe's beauty and elegance (hah!) and Rose McGowan to mug like she's never mugged before. Both actresses are intensely annoying here, but it does allow Holly Marie Combs to provide some levity as the one sister who isn't lobotomized by the titan spell. "I find this ridiculous", "This is getting tired": are we sure Holly didn't improvise most of her dialogue this week?
This is the latest in a run of season premieres/finales that involved the sisters getting dressed up in some kind of magical ensemble, presumably to give the WB promo department something to work with. Unfortunately, the whole Titans thing looks resoundingly cheap, like an annoyingly low-rent Xena pastiche full of bad acting, melodramatic dialogue and tacky outfits. Throw in a reunion from hell that nobody asked for, rounding up all the hideous magical creatures inflicted upon us this year (including the trashy nymphs, the snarky dwarfs, that barf-worthy fairy girl and those damn leprechauns), and Oh My Goddess! ends up among the worst finales this show ever did.
I've always thought Necromancing the Stone ranks up there among the most boring Charmed episodes. And I hate describing something as boring. Sure, it's nice to get some Grams development, and the commentary on gender politics and Grams' own issues with men are both interesting, but the episode drags like nothing else before it. The necromancer's plan is a little hazy, and the annoying 'men are worthless shits' theme that runs through several of the storylines is more than a little contrived and offensive.
Monday, January 23, 2012
I find this episode a little underwhelming compared to its two predecessors, if only because the writers seem to have ran out of story around fifteen minutes in. There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb is all about getting the hell out of Pylea, with our protagonists quickly discovering the darker side of paradise. There are a bunch of great scenes, but some of the humor felt a little more forced than usual here, and certain moments dragged. It's a little flat, yet not at all terrible.
When we're young, every decision is made pretty easy because you're not the boss of things. As much as we try and project growth and confidence, you're still a kid, and things like housing and food and clothes are treated as pretty inconsequential, because your parents will somehow take care of all of that. Your main priorities are high school politics, friendship, dating, trying to fit in. I bring all of this up as season five has been one long journey into adulthood for Buffy Summers. In September, she suddenly became the older sister who has to be responsible for Dawn. This was exaggerated when Joyce fell sick, and Buffy had to fill in the blanks that Joyce could no longer provide for. Then, out of nowhere, Joyce died. Buffy is suddenly thrust into the mother role, where she not only has to take care of Dawn but also take care of the house and the finances, all the traditionally adult roles that she had understandably never prepared for.
Can I ask the TV gods why the hell Charisma Carpenter doesn't have her own sitcom? I seriously think her performance here ranks up there among her best, with her desperate attempts to flee the royal castle and avoid mating with the Groosalugg ("Say, don't you think it would add an air of feminine mystery if I were to, you know, not be here?") She's ridiculously funny throughout, and channels both a delightful air of self-importance as well as a frantic fear of having to com-shuk a giant beast monster. The Groosalugg, in the end, turns out to be a hunky slice of man-itude. A little pea-brained, sure -- but Cordy likes what she sees.
This felt like another episode written to delay things for the finale, since it mostly involved all the characters stuck in neutral. Buffy is out of it, the Scoobies are struggling to do anything of any use, and Glory can't move forward with her plans because of Ben. It's not successful at all as a pre-finale episode because everything feels so inconsequential, but there are some interesting ideas floating around. I kind of wish the writers would have made these last couple of episodes a little more frantic and exciting, though. Buffy shouldn't be like this.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
It's become clearer over the course of the season that Marian Kitt isn't the most interesting character around. Ten episodes in, and she's still very much depicted as a catalyst for spooky mysteries, and she hasn't yet had the opportunity to drive the action of her own accord. Of course, this is a problem that could have been fixed if the show had ran for longer than it did, but the fact that they were never given that opportunity is another lingering disappointment.
I've always liked episodes of this show that aren't overtly science-fiction, in which Mulder and Scully investigate mysterious phenomena that feels just a little outlandish but still entirely believable -- instead of horror movie monsters and aliens, like the wackadoo that occurred last week. Sein und Zeit reaches back into X-Files continuity with the return of one lingering plotline from the past: the disappearance of Samantha Mulder. What the episode does well is have the girl actually lingering in the background for at least half the episode, allowing the audience to see the clear similarities between the disappearance of a young girl and Mulder's long-lost sister, as well as allowing us to watch in understanding as Mulder becomes far too wrapped up in the case than is presumably recommended.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
It's all in the delivery, people. Sense and Sense Ability is pretty underwhelming in terms of story, while the concept is pretty thin, and the performances are so broad, but somehow... insanely, this episode actually works. The moments where the sisters try and communicate are all pretty funny, Alyssa Milano's shrieky performance surprisingly not setting my teeth on edge this week. Rose McGowan, too, seems to be having fun in the manic charades sequence.
Aaaaagggggghhhhhhhllrlrrraaaarr! This is another masterpiece of suck. Similarly to Shannen Doherty's emotional investment rapidly shattering to pieces back in season three's Once Upon a Time, you can just about spot Rose McGowan's soul packing up its bags and fleeing the set for a vacation home in Cabo right around the moment where she dances around in a fountain with two morons in fugly green satin. Seriously, whose wheaties did Rose pee in to get saddled with this material? Like getting groiny with a bunch of leprechauns just two weeks ago wasn't bad enough? Nymphs Just Wanna Have Fun is the total nadir of the series. God, even that title is hideous.
Monday, January 16, 2012
As you may or may not know, the Pylea arc only existed due to scheduling conflicts terminating a big blow-out for Lindsey, Darla, Dru and Kate. Admittedly, it does feel a little jarring to see characters who anchored so much of season two suddenly peter out. But one of the factors that strangely makes this storyline so much fun is that very feeling of the writers making it all up as they go along. It's like a bunch of really funny dudes throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. It's all very Xena, very Army of Darkness; but crazily entertaining. Ordinarily this would result in disaster, but I've always liked this series of episodes. Sure, it falls apart towards the end, but it feels so fresh and different that you can't help but get swept away by it.
This and the following episode are Buffy in a holding pattern. Season five has been problematic because it regularly felt like the writers had so many tasty ingredients this year that somehow failed to make a satisfactory pie. The concept of Dawn and Glory and the Key is so strong, and Joyce's death was so powerful, yet the fringes of those ideas were pretty weak. As a result, we had a ton of episodes where Glory raised a monster or did something 'bad' to one of the Scoobies. There were a whole bunch of episodes with people standing around in hospital corridors looking concerned. And with two more episodes to fill before the big finale, we once again have the show running on empty.
In setting up the last run of episodes this season, the Angel writers do a decent job of dumping on all the regulars. Cordelia is left humiliated during a commercial shoot and reduced to some token hot girl in a bikini. Wesley is once again criticized and bullied by his father during a simple phone call wishing him a happy birthday. Gunn is outcast from his one-time LA crew, and loses one of them to vamps. Angel is generally frustrated with the world. While Belonging feels a lot like part one of a long arc, it's a fun hour which gives everybody great material to work with.
I don't know if it's considered sacrilege to say this, but I can't stand Tara. Or maybe I just can't stand Amber Benson's portrayal of Tara? Either way, I find her frustrating. I don't think she's funny, I don't think the writers gave her a whole lot to work with to make the character interesting, and I don't understand why Amber played her in such a way that I can only describe as... mentally challenged. Even before her brain-suck, Tara is so strange in that ridiculous way she walks and the pained expression she constantly wears on her face. Her body language on that bench is just bizarre. She's slumped there in such an obviously "sad" kind of way, like it's Acting 101. I just don't get her performances at all. I do get that Tara is supposed to be shy and awkward, but I never, ever thought Amber sold that. Tara became a much stronger character in season six, but she's just awful here. Gah. Sorry for the rant.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Broadway legend Marian Seldes' interesting performance as a seemingly immortal ballerina is the best thing about an episode which feels somewhat routine in nature, while at the same time convoluted in its attempts to handle too many different subplots at once. Like always, Mora has a wonderful central idea, with Seldes as a hospital patient at the center of a series of unusual deaths that have trickled out through her neighboring wards. The finale, in which it's revealed that her determination to live and reunite with her long-lost son is responsible for the supernatural events of the hour, is remarkably powerful, but the script itself feels a little too busy to truly work.
If you had never watched The X-Files but thought you had a decent idea of what to expect, Signs and Wonders is probably the hypothetical X-Files episode you would come up with. It's gross, there's a ton of strange supernatural phenomena, features women in peril as well as a reliably ambiguous ending -- but it's also this show running entirely on autopilot, and besides a couple of decent scares, feels a little too gratuitous to truly work.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
A clip show. But at least they went and made Cat House an imaginative clip show. It has an actual structure to it, and there's at least some attempts to give the story a real purpose, instead of just showcasing past moments from the show in order to save a couple of bucks. I also liked that the show actually pulled from continuity. Sure, Kit's had a sex change, but I appreciated the writers bringing him/her back at all, and once again exploring the importance Wiccans place on 'familiars'.
Yeah. It's the leprechaun episode. Where to begin? It's a ridiculously stupid storyline, with the same concept as the Sandman one a couple of weeks back: some magical creature with special powers is threatened by a demon, who wants the powers for himself. There are rainbows and pots of gold and Irish accents that make you want to put a drill through your ears. The leprechauns themselves are preachy and annoying, Seamus in particular gross and horny and determined to come on to every Halliwell he encounters.
Monday, January 9, 2012
It was clearly the influence of David Boreanaz and Christian Kane's real life friendship, but I loved the way their characters interacted with each other. They were always at each others throats, but this season has been particularly memorable in making their feud so childish and silly. There's no greater moment reflecting that than during Lindsey's performance at Caritas. Everybody is so captivated by his singing, and Angel's there trying so hard to undermine it. It's so schoolyard, and it's really unfortunate that moments like this were cut short due to scheduling conflicts. They had such great banter, and then he's written out.
I seriously think Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance as the Buffybot is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. She completely embodies this silicone android with the most basic of emotions, and I love her unrestrained glee over Spike and all of Buffy's friends. At the same time, she makes her really sweet. Sure, she's a porno sex robot, but she seems genuinely nice to be around, and looks adorable walking so forcefully in that floaty pink skirt. Aww.
After a run of heavy drama, this was entirely welcome. Disharmony is a whole barrel of silliness featuring a series-best performance from Mercedes McNab. Like practically everybody else that comes to Los Angeles, Harmony is seeking some kind of redemption. Or if that doesn't work out, at least a new perspective on life. I loved how the writers depicted her flakiness here, gradually going from one extreme to another as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. That also feeds into vampire mythology, too, since she's not the blood-hungry monster that most vampires in the Buffyverse seem to be. She hasn't got a soul, but it's almost like she hasn't got the smarts or the ambition to become a fully-fledged blood-sucking fiend.
The real problem affecting Forever is The Body. While The Body depicted death in its most detached, banal and painful form, Forever is a far more conventional episode dealing with a character's death. We have a funeral, characters articulating how sad they are and, being a supernatural series, one character attempting to resurrect the dead. It feels like such an obvious route to tumble down, and in that regard it's pretty disappointing. There are obviously some aspects to the episode which work really well, but I didn't totally enjoy it.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Don't Dream It's Over is all about the accidental folding over of two time periods, dreams blurring into one another and people from two radically different worlds finding common ground and falling in love. It's the first episode that really puts Mark center stage, and it makes sense that his story is more romantic and tragic than any other so far. Mick Garris does a great job in setting up Mark and Mary Jane's romance, all the while providing that tonal undercurrent of menace, the audience keenly aware that something is a little 'off' and that rapid doom is right around the corner.
The X-Files had been on the air for over seven years by this point, so it's not entirely surprising to see the writers lifting ideas from real-life concepts instead of creating fresh monsters or new forms of intrigue. Like the use of the Rube Goldberg inventions as a jumping-off point several episodes back, here we have an exploration into the world of magic, and more specifically the idea of distraction as a means to creating what we interpret as magic. It's a wildly fun mystery hour, full of plot twists and double-crosses and secret agendas straight out of an old caper movie.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
So here begins Charmed's long, long journey to its eventual demise. I always pegged the arrival of Wyatt as the true death knell for Charmed, not so much because of him as a character (although he sure did drive his fair share of asinine episodes), but because the show rarely reached any decent heights after his arrival. While seasons one through four were always a little schizophrenic in terms of quality, here's where the show becomes almost uniformly awful, with only a half dozen great episodes here and there. And there's a lot more Charmed to go, kids, so be warned.
An important episode for obvious reasons, but one that struggles to find its identity. The tone is all over the place from the very beginning, opening as a weak 'comedy of errors' sitcom episode with the manic running and scenery-chewing double-takes, before descending into violence and carnage midway through the hour. Like a lot of the recent 'blah' Charmed episodes, there are some interesting ideas at work, here the concept of all magic disappearing from the world, but they're not realized as effectively as they could have been.
Monday, January 2, 2012
This was all about putting things back together. After a run of episodes in which people fell apart and new allegiances were formed, Angel got the titular 'epiphany' we were all waiting for. But, being this show, things aren't as simple as they could have been. There's a lot of hurt still present throughout the ensemble, Angel's behavior having genuinely messed people up along the way. With that in mind, the most affecting moment of Epiphany is probably Cordelia's almost embarrassed declaration to her former boss: "You really hurt my feelings". It's one of the most endearing moments of human vulnerability I've seen in a long time.
Numb. That's probably the right word to use. The Body is about loss -- the searing, unexpected form of loss that smacks into you like a freight train and leaves you standing around searching for some form of release. Buffy's life is defined by the death around her. She kills on a regular basis, she's lost people close to her, she's killed people close to her. But nothing ever felt as cold and abrupt as the sudden passing of her mother. The Body artfully conveys every emotion and discomfort and disorientation that follows a death. It's one of the most difficult episodes to watch, but undeniably one of the series' strongest.
Up to this point, Wolfram & Hart had been depicted as pretty darn evil. Their brand of evilness has always been written with a neat streak of black comedy, but nonetheless they've been this show's biggest of big bads, so calculating and nasty that you don't give a damn when Angel allowed them to get slaughtered a couple of weeks back. But in just one scene in Reprise, our collective opinion of Wolfram & Hart is radically altered. I'm talking, of course, about Angel's elevator ride down to hell in which Holland explains to him that W&H isn't a company with walls and offices that can be easily taken down, its existence has always been connected with man's natural desire to be cruel and evil, W&H a 'being' that has always been around and always will be around, thriving off the worse inclinations of humanity. It's beautifully profound, and successfully subverts our expectations once again. Everything we have here -- this is hell, not some imaginary place full of fire and brimstone. And it can't be taken down with an axe or an explosion or a mass murder of a bunch of lawyers. It's a chilling moment.
Buffy is still unsurprisingly angsty over Riley's departure, obsessing over the fact that she doesn't have a boyfriend while everybody else does. It's a human reaction to relationship trauma, and it takes an encounter with a similarly boy-crazy robot girl to snap Buffy out of it. Ben seems nice, but Buffy doesn't need that in her life right now. Like she isn't distracted enough already?