Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Sorry if these reviews are becoming as predictable as turkey on Thanksgiving, but Ringer rapidly cycles through the same exact problems every damn week. This was another episode in which nothing of huge consequence actually occurred, but ended on a couple of cliffhangers that managed to give the illusion of the complete opposite. Now that I think about it, that's totally this show's routine! The writers flail around the multiple story arcs and tease them out until they're directionless disaster areas, but ensure that each episode is capped by some fake-out plot twist that encourages the audience to tune in the following week, even when we all collectively realize that nothing will actually come of the 'to be continued' shockers. Ringer is all about manipulation, folks, and based on the abysmal numbers it's been getting recently, it seems most people have figured that out.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
One of the things Charmed rarely invested in during its later years was a real sense of mythology, something that extends the dimensions of the series and creates more personal antagonists for the sisters to face off against. If there's one thing season six could be praised for, it's the decision to expand the show's universe a little, this week introducing an elaborate past/future mystery where both the morals of key Charmed characters and the fate of the earth are threatened. Of course, being this show, the story rests on the shoulders of an actor who gives new meaning to the word 'vacant', and is filled with flying cars, weirdly British evil siblings and doomed future-wives in dominatrix leather. But at least it's progress.
This straddles that annoying line between demon vanquishing hijinks and Touched by an Angel sentimentality, something I had assumed the show got over way back in season one. Little Monsters is a thin depiction of the whole 'nature vs. nurture' debate, with the sisters taking in a demon baby and figuring out what the hell to do with the little thing. Paige is all for keeping him safe and making sure he grows into a sane (if lizard-tongued) adult, Piper couldn't care less, and Chris wants him dead. Because he's gross and weirdly psychotic.
Monday, February 27, 2012
While there are still explosions and angst and folks trying to abduct, sacrifice and experiment on a newborn baby, Dad adds a surprisingly lighter feel to the show. I guess we're so used to Angel being relentlessly miserable that crying babies and circumcision jokes appear so jarring. This is an all-together less grand spectacle than Lullaby, which is entirely necessary -- while that episode was all about apocalyptic emoting and profound sacrifices, this allows the show some breathing room, setting up its newest narrative evolution and rolling with it.
Before it was undermined here, Willow's reliance on magic appeared to originate from her need for power and control, turning to Wicca in order to prove her own worth or importance. There was also that element of the girl being plain lazy. Why bother performing menial tasks like buying party supplies when you can just magick shit in? Elements of both explanations appear here and there throughout Wrecked, and there's a wonderful coda where Willow seems to reveal that the only reason she's become so wrapped up in her abilities is because of her own fear of returning to her pre-magic self, where she was, in her own words, 'some girl'. Unfortunately, most of this is drowned out by the hideous 'magic equals drugs' metaphor, one of the laziest and most unintentionally hilarious storylines Buffy ever attempted.
One of the driving themes of early season two was Darla trying to come to terms with her new found humanity, and experiencing feelings that she hadn't felt for hundreds of years. That sense of emotion and soulfulness eventually crippled her sanity, so desperate to become a vampire again that she ended up trawling bars for an easy siring. A similar thing happens here, but it's played in such a haunting way that it's infinitely more moving. This is Darla's finest hour, an episode that explores her psychology and allows Julie Benz to play varying different tones as her character experiences a deep personal crisis.
And this is where the season begins to fly off the rails. Smashed is all about individuals who tow the company line, only to find potential for badness to be more appealing than ever because of how moral and 'proper' they are. It's a theme described in vivid detail by Xander and Anya during a Magic Box conversation, and produces the bones of the hour. It's also pretty good in theory, but is executed in a way that's borderline ridiculous and sometimes plain ugly.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Brand X is an episode that probably required a little work. There are a ton of strong ingredients here, but somewhere along the line they kind of bottomed out in execution. It does have an interesting central conceit, though: powerful tobacco companies and the greed-fueled desire to alter tobacco itself, in the process creating super-sized tobacco beetles that infect people's lungs and eventually make them explode with insect-y goodness. There's also a neat contrast between the polished interiors of boardrooms and science labs with the run-down poverty of the test subjects smoking this new form of tobacco, but the story eventually peters out midway through the hour.
This is a little unfairly maligned. It's by no means perfect, and Gillian Anderson's subsequent lack of further behind-the-scenes work implies that she's aware it isn't her forte, but all things is undoubtedly intriguing as a Scully piece. For so long, Scully has been pretty defined by her Catholicism as well as her belief in science. Here we begin to see different shades to her character, and the deeper emotions that drive her every decision. There's a man from her past that reflects the naive girl she once was, as well as a spiritual awakening that makes her question certain characteristics about herself. It's an episode that seems to be asking how much of our lives are of our own making, or if fate evidently pushes us in certain directions.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
What we've been seeing over the course of the season is the characters expressing the vulnerability hidden beneath their tough exteriors. It's been most evident in Joey and her interaction with Dawson and Jen -- not only does she feel more relaxed about being open with her feelings for him, but she's also been publicly dismissive of Jen numerous times in the last five episodes, throwing away any kind of filter. Here we begin to see more family-centered vulnerability, especially when she has to check out from Bessie's labor because of flashbacks to her own mother's fatal disease. Then there's her first, non-sniping discussion with Pacey, where she bonds with him over their mutual knowledge of being at the center of school gossip. It's welcome seeing Joey become more human, and it's a theme that resonates through most of the show's ensemble, too.
Taking a page from Buffy, this is very much the show using extreme phenomena as a metaphor for teenage hardships. Obviously, being Dawson's Creek, said phenomena is an out-of-control hurricane, but the message is clear. As the wind and rain arrives in Capeside, Gale's affair is finally exposed, tearing apart her family, destroying Mitch and alienating Dawson in the process. It's an interesting approach, especially when parental characters on these kinds of shows usually flail around on the sidelines with nothing to do. Call it 'the 90210 effect'. But here Mitch and Gale have real personalities and emotions, and that creates a welcome distinction.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Before Ringer turned into a convoluted mess dangling perilously close to the edge of Mount Cancellation, there was actually a relatively simple idea at its heart. Way back in the pilot, Bridget took over her sister's identity in a shocking moment of ill-conceived craziness, a rash decision that quickly devolved into assassination attempts, marital intrigue and contrived mystery-solving that would make even Jessica Fletcher wince in embarrassment. But at the crux of the show was that initial decision, a chance of potential escape from Bridget's eternally rock-bottom existence that she instantly leaps at. Whores Don't Make That Much, the strongest episode in a long while, finally threw that decision into perspective, granting Sarah Michelle Gellar the emotionally-draining material that she's been crying out for.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
As season six continues, it's become more apparent how tired Charmed has become. Most of the episodes this year have settled back on familiar ideas -- usually involving possession of some kind, the sisters being taken over by evil, or the purging of old stories that everybody is already accustomed with. Everything's become pretty predictable, and only Holly Marie Combs seems to be having fun anymore.
Paige's obnoxious temp jobs have driven at least one fugly subplot in every episode this season, but the story that unfolds here more resembles the quality of Love's a Witch than, say, the dog-walker thing. It's a story that lacks any of the originality or depth of the Montana/Callaway feud, but it's an absorbing diversion nonetheless. Being Charmed season six, the writers cop out instead of exploring the idea of free-will and whether the souls should be interfered with at all, but at least the first twenty minutes of the story work.
Monday, February 20, 2012
One of the most disquieting side effects of Angel's newest story arc is the fact that Holtz is very much entitled to his revenge. This has always been a series that highlights its interest in moral ambiguity, but this particular storyline really challenges your allegiances. Naturally, being Angel's show, we champion him and hope for his eventual victory, but Holtz is a compelling sort-of antagonist. He's already been given an intense back-story through dialogue, but actually seeing the horror of Angelus and Darla murdering his wife and child was pretty horrifying. We don't want Holtz to succeed in killing Angel, but we can't realistically condemn his repeated attempts to do so.
It makes sense that hot on the heels of so many revelations comes an episode that tries to stall total fallout of said revelations. It makes even more sense that Willow is the source of the stalling. Tabula Rasa is all over the place in terms of structure, with a weak opening, an even weaker start to the main crux of the episode, a fun third act, and a strong montage finale. It's pretty schizophrenic, which nicely sets up the messy quality of the rest of season six. But the dark places Tabula Rasa takes some of our characters is worthy of acclaim.
Last season I mentioned that I kind of support the idea of an Angel/Cordelia romance, due to their natural chemistry and their obvious affection for one another. Plus, it's pretty common for sexual attraction to grow out of long-lasting friendship and mutual respect. But one thing that's jarring with me this year is, in fact, the Angel/Cordelia romance. This may sound crazy, but I'm actually finding all their flirtatious banter sort of 'icky'. I don't know if it's the writing or that the relationship just doesn't work when its depicted so transparently, but there's something mildly contrived about them acting this way right now, and for the first time in the history of the Buffyverse, Cordelia actually annoyed me here.
One of the worst things I've ever seen was last year's Grey's Anatomy musical episode, in which weepy lesbian spirits sang Snow Patrol while watching themselves being operated on. It was just one of the most ludicrous, embarrassing and illogical things I've had the displeasure of watching; a perfect example of over-ambitious TV writers who think it'd be fun for characters to randomly burst into song. You see a similar mode of thinking on Glee, where kids randomly start performing some awful Katy Perry track that has nothing to do with the character's current predicaments. I'm obviously bringing all this up because Once More, with Feeling could have so easily been a collection of random scenes where characters began to sing Top 40 hits. Xander could have sung Mr. Cellophane, Anya maybe Material Girl. Buffy, with her recent death woes, could introduce a self-referential angle to an old Lesley Gore tune. It could have been so very silly.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Another peek into suburbia for this show, playing around with soapy themes of marital infidelity, middle-aged disappointment, secret love children, town outcasts and gossipy housewives, while at the same time throwing in an elaborate raven monster that materializes out of mirrors and tears up some cheatin' soccer moms. Naturally. Chimera is one of those old fashioned X-Files hours -- nothing is particularly remarkable, but the central demon conceit is intriguing and the multiple red herrings that occur throughout the episode keep you alert. I haven't been a huge fan of David Amann's previous work on this show, and while this is suspiciously similar to his season six effort Terms of Endearment, it's something of an improvement on his past scripts.
There's a remarkable simplicity to this story, even if it concerns mythological elements that became tired a long time ago. En Ami is a lengthy tête-à-tête between two characters, an elaborate ruse orchestrated by the Cigarette-Smoking Man in order to get hold of answers that are important to him. Scully is initially distrusting, but gradually comes around to seeing the human behind the smoker. In the end, Scully believes that she's been betrayed again, but the journey getting there and the ambiguity of the ending are both extremely perceptive.
Friday, February 17, 2012
As a group, the Others were drawn together because of their own outcast nature. While each member was easily dismissed as eccentric and unusual by the outside world, they all possessed one key similarity that pulled them towards one another -- they were psychics, tortured souls who repeatedly fall victim to communication from the other side, used as sounding-boards for messages from the great beyond. But like so many groups of outcasts, there is still that undeniable desire to pursue separate things away from the team. It's most evident in the uncomfortable Marian character, desperate to become an ordinary young woman. But this episode, which ended up being the series finale, proves that every member of the group is similarly eager to escape. And it's that desire that leads to their eventual destruction.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Watching Dawson's Creek again, I realize that I'm gonna have to put myself back in my pre-teen shoes to truly enjoy the show. It's a little unfair to criticize the characters and their strange personalities with the knowledge and conscience of somebody in their twenties, since I'm sure I was very similar to these people back in the day. I was initially going to open this review with another Dawson rant, this time about his frazzled opinion of Jen after she reveals her checkered sexual history, but you have to remember that this is a fifteen year-old with absolutely zero experience with women and even less experience with complex human emotions.
Even without Kevin Williamson on scripting duties, this is still very much about cinema and its negative effects on real people. Dawson spends most of the episode trying to pre-plan the perfect kiss with Jen, treating real life like a movie script. Joey, against her rationality, runs head-first into a movie romance, full of cute deceptions and doomed flirtation; while Pacey loses his virginity in the most ridiculously implausible way possible. It's all about fantasy, characters trying to mirror their own lives with the ones they see in the movies, and failing miserably.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Ringer is a series that works well in bits and pieces, but struggles to be much at all when put together as a whole episode. This was very much an hour of varying subplots being thrown at us all at once -- some that haven't been seen for weeks, some that are painful in their predictability, and others that essentially feel like a bombardment of uninteresting information. The latter is obviously occurring with Bridget who, for the second week in a row, gets driven around Manhattan picking up clues in ridiculous places. It's another waste of the character, somebody stuck in stumble-mode where she conveniently walks right into the path of another clue, all the while completely ignorant to the fact that her sister is so obviously alive. It's ludicrous that she hasn't even theorized that Siobhan's suicide was faked.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
"Today we're going to be talking about the five-minute orgasm". What a wonderful opening line. I can't remember the last time I wanted to bash myself over the head with a fire truck within four seconds of a TV show starting up. My Three Witches resurrects that tried-and-tested Charmed formula that's become even more tiring than the whole 'sister possessed by evil' trope, with the Halliwells trapped in alternate realities where their deepest desires are fulfilled. Cut to Piper in a world without magic (the words 'normal life' automatically put me into a coma), Paige in a world where magic is freely accepted, and Phoebe in a world where she's super-famous and everybody loves her. Naturally.
Another episode that isn't actually as terrible as I had remembered it being. Love's a Witch opens as a shallow Romeo and Juliet pastiche, but slowly becomes something heavier and more exciting. The episode has a distinctly soapy sensibility with the dueling families, potty-mouth grandma and a vengeful dead wife, but it's played in a way that feels kind of genuine and real. And unlike the season one trainwreck The Wedding from Hell, which had a similar tone, the sisters play an active part in the saga, and the guest stars don't bug.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Billy Blim is an even more disturbing antagonist because he's on this specific show. Buffy and Angel are such strongly feminist series with richly-drawn, powerful and badass female characters at their heart -- so the arrival of a character who despises the idea of a woman having strength creates something so abrasive and chilling, going against everything the Whedonverse has promoted. With that in mind, the sight of a beaten and bruised Lilah is truly horrible, while Billy's pathological madness feels so real.
If any episode managed to single-handedly destroy a TV character for me, it's All the Way. I've never been a huge Dawn fan, but it's crazily frustrating to see five episodes worth of strong characterization this season violently plummet down the toilet with just a couple of actions here. We all initiate a collective eye-roll over her hideous kleptomania arc, but I always note one random part here as the scene that killed her for me. It's that ugly moment where Dawn continues to flirt and make out with a guy who just robbed an old man in his home, later happily taking some of the money herself. I'm probably being annoying, but that's just one of the worst, lowest things somebody can do, and entirely destroyed Dawn Summers for me.
I had initially assumed Fredless was the first Angel script from a new writer. There's an artificiality to a lot of the dialogue, most of the ensemble feels out-of-character, and there's an over-reliance on making everything cutesy. At the same time, the script is filled with annoying recounting of Buffyverse mythology, like the newbie writer is determined to prove their Whedon cred. What surprised me is that Fredless in fact isn't the work of a first-time writer, but it's the work of Mere Smith, who wrote some wonderful episodes last season. So much of Fredless feels jarring and irritating, and I seriously fail to understand why it's so beloved by fans.
So the major themes of Buffy season six continue. Life Serial is all about Buffy trying to discover her role in the world she's found herself suddenly occupying again, the script neatly divided into four separate vignettes in which Buffy tests out some new kinds of vocation. She experiments with college, then hard labor, then retail, and finally boozing. By the end she's chosen to not pursue any of them and turns to Giles for help, assuming he'll be around whenever she runs into a bind. It's sad seeing her rely on other people, but it folds in neatly with what this season appears to be doing with the characters.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Remember how season one featured constant repetition of bad guys seeking revenge through supernatural means? Theef is a late entry to that type, and an episode that ends up being far more interesting than it probably has any right to be. Most notable are a couple of ridiculously entertaining horror set pieces derived from the deus ex machina of the episode. Billy Drago's vengeful Appalachian carries around his own freaky little voodoo doll, and there are some wonderful fright moments as he sticks pins in its eyes to make Scully temporarily blind, as well as that awesome moment where throwing the thing in the microwave causes one character to be cooked to death during a CAT scan. Eek.
Season five's Kill Switch was a gorgeous meditation on identity, cyber-crime and artificial intelligence, something that brilliantly fused cyberpunk action with X-Files intrigue. First Person Shooter, on the other hand, is loud, dumb, occasionally amusing, but mostly fug. It's disappointing to see William Gibson and Tom Maddox responsible for something that generally amounts to nothing but thongs, guns and strippers. There are a couple of attempts to make the episode somewhat deeper, but nobody can deny that this is an awkward misfire.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Without trying to tailspin these reviews into one lengthy Dawson Leery hatefest, he continues his asshole behavior here. The driving storyline continues to be Dawson's infatuation with Jen, all the while being stupidly ignorant of Joey's own feelings for him. Here, he once again thrusts his Jen attraction in Joey's face, as well as stringing her along for the second night in a row as an accomplice to some ridiculous romance scheme. Maybe I need to remember that these are a bunch of fifteen year-olds and obviously prone to moronic behavior, but I can't help but see how emotionally manipulative the dude is.
Every generation seems to have their own ubiquitous teen show, and this was mine. In 1998, the WB launched the low-key antidote to the overblown Hollywood wackiness of Aaron Spelling's FOX serials, a show that quickly became one of the most inexplicably controversial series of its time, made stars of its four leads, and along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer spawned a creative resurgence in teen-oriented programming. It's also one of the few shows that can instantly transport me back to my childhood -- just hearing those shrill wails of Paula Cole gets me a little weepy. It's a show that's achingly sincere and full of characters that repeatedly strain your patience, but it's also crazily endearing and wonderfully acted. Welcome to Dawson's Creek.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
It's become routine in recent years for writers to present networks with a multi-season plan when it comes to serialized dramas. In light of high-profile failures like Heroes, it makes sense for networks to request some kind of long-term agenda, preventing a series from sputtering along with writers making things up as they go. Ringer is an example of a series that clearly has one of those long-term plans (it's something the EPs have mentioned a lot in interviews), but is struggling to execute it very well. This episode was of course better than last week's flat series return, but the overriding problems lie in the little things -- it's all good providing shock twists and interesting plot developments, but the journey getting there needs to be interesting, too.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Comedy is hard. I can't tell you the number of times in my community theater days that we worked on a comedic performance only to realize midway through that the entire thing was sucking ass. All that initial excitement and drive rapidly vanishes, giving way to a whole lot of emergency re-writing and regret over how painfully unfunny all the material is. I bring this up because The Power of Three Blondes is one of those 'comedy' episodes that fails on just about every level. It has an interesting concept, sure, but is written and performed in such a manic, embarrassing way that you can't help but cringe all the way through it.
This episode continues the season's running theme of having sparkles of gold surrounded by mountains of garbage. Forget Me... Not features one of the most arresting openers in a while, the sisters mid-action and experiencing Wyatt being removed from their memory, and generally continues to entertain for the rest of the hour. It's only when you see both logic and continuity get beaten and left for dead that the episode begins to collapse in on itself.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Body swaps naturally create comedy, as we see people stumbling into the lives of others and rapidly messing things up for everyone around them. Carpe Noctem avoids any type of final resolution or an ending in which Angel discovers something about himself (via a 'how the other half lives'-type scenario), but quickly becomes one of the most entertaining episodes in a long while. It's such easy comedy (and sometimes the hour reeks of fan-service), but there's just so much fun to be had watching some horny old man inhabiting Angel's body and coming on to literally the entire female cast.
Flooded marks the show once again stumbling into soap opera territory with a barrage of various plot strands flying at us all at once. Being season six, some of these stories are considerably affecting, and others are riddled with plotholes and annoyances. Four episodes in, and it's becoming clear that the character work right now is far more interesting than the routine Sunnydale action stories. Have the writers just grown tired of demons and antagonists? Or have ideas simply dried up? Where Flooded works is in the dramatic character moments, which are totally anchoring the show right now.
That Old Gang of Mine is heavily flawed, but on a purely superficial level is probably the most entertaining episode this season so far. It features the most interesting villains, seems to be experimenting with heavy story ideas, and exploits 'hostage crisis' conventions for all they're worth. The latter is interesting because I ordinarily dislike hostage episodes of any TV show, but the Caritas showdown here is mightily affecting, presumably because the place itself is so welcoming and pleasant.
For a lot of this episode, the Scoobies speculate on whether Buffy has come back 'wrong', that awful things occurred during her summer vacation in deathville and that she's somehow damaged as a result. But what After Life eventually proves is that it isn't Buffy that feels 'off' this season, but everybody else. It's no surprise that Buffy sparks up an immediate connection with Spike, since he's the only one who isn't bombarding her with questions and trying to figure out why she's acting differently. There's obviously a lot of overt symbolism (the knuckle wounds, both having dug themselves out of graves), but the deepest connection is found in the natural chemistry between the two of them. Their conversations are covered in long pauses and quiet trepidation -- an unusual friendship that feels weirdly right.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
It's hard to watch this episode without thinking of the X-Files masterpiece Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, since both feature everything from eccentric psychics and their unwanted premonitions of death, to the various discussions of fate and the uglier side of supernatural phenomena. Further cementing that is the guest spot from Darin Morgan, the writer of that very episode. So maybe the connections are intentional? Regardless, $4.95 a Minute is another unheralded classic from this series, an episode that constantly upturns expectations and develops into something that is by turns humorous as well as surprisingly moving.
It's easy to forget during an era of 'found footage' shit-shows that disappoint crowds of moviegoers every couple of months that there was a time when steady-cam horror film-making was actually pretty groundbreaking. X-Cops is an episode that obviously breaks formula, but also produces something actually thrilling and dynamic as a visual art form, taking the genre histrionics of traditional X-Files episodes and sending them hurdling into the trashy FOX reality series Cops. Vince Gilligan's script doesn't just satirize that show, instead making the spoofery form the entire hour of X-Cops, ending up an actual Cops episode that just so happened to feature two plucky FBI agents investigating the supernatural.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
After middling reviews, dwindling ratings and an extended hiatus, I had expected Ringer's return to be a lot more auspicious than it actually was. Taking the show off the air for two months usually results in a little bit of behind-the-scenes tinkering, but annoyingly It Just Got Normal was more of the same. While I wasn't exactly any less enthused than I was back in November, there didn't seem to be many attempts here to forward the show's momentum, especially when most of the stories have barely lurched on from where we last left them. Considering the CW plugged the hell out of Ringer's comeback, it's a little disappointing.