Thursday, March 29, 2012
One of my biggest complaints about Dawson's Creek's first season was that everything became a little insular towards the end of the year -- Dawson, Joey and Jen all trapped in this annoying triangle bubble where they only talked about themselves and struggled to interact with anyone other than each other. Season two is already making strides to get over that problem -- and fulfilling this show's interest in meta referencing and knowing comedy, Crossroads sees Jen and Pacey both acknowledge how self-involved Dawson and Joey have become, as a result trying to find new acquaintances and interesting new experiences.
Now that they're an actual couple, I can't help but see Dawson and Joey as a little incestuous. Their romance is definitely being pushed as something romantic and finite, but it really feels like the love shared between them is unevenly balanced. We've seen Joey pine over Dawson for the last thirteen episodes, while Dawson's sexual attraction to her seems a lot more new and, as a result, sort of mystifying. Dawson has never been a character we can entirely root for, but as The Kiss stumbles into that new area where the two of them are actually on the same page (romantically), Dawson appears more and more like somebody who's jumped on board rather than someone who actually feels something strong for her.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Mad Men remains one of those rare series that exists within its own impenetrable bubble of mystery. Despite being off the air for nearly two years, only mere tidbits were revealed prior to its return, meaning half the fun of its season premiere is working out how far the show has jumped forward in time, as well as seeing how the lives of each character have been shaken up during the interim -- Pete's stock has grown, but his respect remains stagnant; Roger's problems have only gotten worse; while I don't think there's any more jarring image than the sight of Joan struggling to push her baby-stroller through the glass doors of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce...
Part of the problem with a show that roots its foundation in fake-outs is that you end up spending most of your time trying to spot the fake-out before it arrives. Throughout it's nineteen episodes, Ringer has gone out of its way to set up shock cliffhangers, before pulling back and revealing a frequently annoying sleight of hand. But it's become so routine that any effect they once had has rapidly vanished. Let's Kill Bridget opened with three separate cliffhangers. We saw Andrew making out with Catherine, Henry being interrogated by the police, and Bridget (or is it Siobhan?) lying dead on the ground with a bullet in her chest. Maybe ten episodes ago we would still see all this and be mightily intrigued, but at this point you just wait for the inevitable truth to come flying at you.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
This is a strange episode that tries to do way too much at once, opening with a promising villain played by an actress who knows her way around some campy dialogue, only to dismiss her in favor of overplayed Chris/Leo angst. Until the overlong cave coda, Spin City's A-plot is actually pretty fun, something along the lines of The Wendigo in season one with the infected Chris slowly becoming more and more nuts, as well as an Elvira-lookin' demon to destroy. It's only when the script stumbles into an array of fugly subplots that Spin City begins to annoy.
The last 'high school reunion' episode was the considerably better Coyote Piper, an hour that had fun with the usual reunion clichés as well as a campy (but interesting) demon plot given to an actress who can always sell the material she's given. Hyde School Reunion, from that weirdly weak title to the horrifying ending, is filler junk driven into the ground by annoying guest stars and bad girl clichés. Kill it with fire.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Lord, this was dull. I hate to be the guy that casually dismisses any Gunn-centric episode, but it's quickly become apparent that he can't successfully drive any Angel hour anymore. I don't really know what's happened to his character, but I can suggest that his relationship with Fred has severely impacted him. Remember the whip-smart warrior of season one? Or the resourceful pseudo-detective in season two? Now he's the lovesick puppy. J. August Richards can't sell his complete infatuation with Fred either, their scenes together having this awkwardly YA flavor to them, with all the goofiness and the complete lack of sexual intimacy they have. It's just strange.
Outside of the vengeance demon elements, this is Buffy entirely in soap opera mode. Now it's understandable that a show would get soapier in its later years, especially when the small ensemble begin getting a little incestuous with each other like it has this season, but Entropy is probably the most overtly soapy episode in a long while. The back-end of the hour is full of ridiculous contrivance and silly plot twists, Spike and Anya getting it on, the two of them being unknowingly filmed by video surveillance cameras that the Scoobies just so happen to be hacking into at that very moment -- it's all crazily annoying. Like always this year, logic seems to have flown out the window in the writers' pursuit of melodrama, but the strong performances manage to salvage things.
There's very little narrative arc to Forgiving. More than anything, it's just a cluster of individual scenes linked by Connor's abduction. Unlike most episodes, you can't really discuss any separate subplots or whatever, because everything feels so scatter-shot right now. And 'scatter-shot' only because the show is going balls-out at this point. Forgiving depicts exactly what would happen following a traumatic event, with people falling apart, urgent searching for some kind of resolution, but coming up empty just as you think you've found it. It's an episode that is daring, brutal and uneasy to watch, but ridiculously powerful.
There's an interesting story in here somewhere, and you can understand why the writers would want to explore what in general is a cool idea, but Normal Again struggles to be coherent as an episode. The pacing is horrible, certain elements of the story fail to resonate, and there's a gradual sense of redundancy to the whole thing. It's the first and only episode credited to Diego Guttierez, and it's unfortunate that the script stumbles from one strange subplot to another, failing to produce a ton of internal logic as the whole thing spins into weird, unexplainable directions.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Ranking up there with Home in terms of grizzly scares, Roadrunners is one of the eeriest episodes in a long while, Scully embracing the classic female horror movie protagonist role as she's pursued and attacked by a group of crazed cult members in the middle of the desert. Vince Gilligan's script is straight out of the genre playbook, with an isolated Scully cut off from the outside world and trapped in an abandoned desert town populated by a collection of vacant eccentrics. The story opens traditionally, before turning into one of the most gory horror shows I've seen.
With Doggett settling into his new role as an agent of the X-Files, it's natural that Patience is a traditional monster episode. As a standalone mystery, there's a lot to enjoy. The bat monster thing is one of the most unsettling antagonists in a while, and I liked the idea of it lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to exact revenge. But, generally, the script kind of dovetails down strange new roads as the story continues, eventually wrapping up with two eccentric guest characters and over-reliance on shady monster attacks in dark environments.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Watching season one again, it's been pretty noticeable how lame a lot of Dawson's Creek actually is. Characters do things that no sane person would actually do, continuity is abandoned with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and the self-analytical themes are enough to bring on a coronary. But what still pushes Dawson's Creek into the ranks of great television is that the show is quite happy to actually acknowledge how lame and ridiculous everything is. Decisions' entire teaser sequence involves Joey lecturing Dawson on the horror of end-of-season cliffhangers; the annoying insistence that major changes are on their way when everything is quickly undone come the new fall season. It's a breezy confidence that saves the episode from collapsing in upon itself, every corner of the story awash in genre clichés but remaining ridiculously absorbing nonetheless.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
After staggering plotlines far longer than what is reasonably sane, Ringer seems to be burning through the lingering story arcs in time for its approaching finale. As a result, there's a definite sense of forward momentum that pulses through this episode. Just like the pushing of financial hooey a couple of weeks back and the repetition of one-sided phone calls in... every damn episode, there was a definite over-reliance tonight on characters vanishing without a trace, but the show did a neat job of tying together the frequently scattered ensemble cast, all of whom interacted with each other in at least some capacity this week.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
There's nothing explicitly wrong with this episode, but it sure felt like a long-winded journey to its inevitable conclusion. The Courtship of Wyatt's Father mostly involves scenic changes between the real world and the Ghostly Plane, an empty San Francisco colored in perpetual blue haze. We see Piper and Leo on the run from a snarling Darklighter and reigniting their romantic spark in such a major way that Piper gets knocked up in an alley. Classy conception, girl!
Like last season's Sense and Sense Ability, this is an episode that really shouldn't work, yet somehow ends up being ridiculously entertaining. This is mostly due to Saba Homayoon, who is hilarious at the beginning with her comedy accent and mugging, and then convincingly bad-ass when she's revealed as a demon. Even throwing Alyssa Milano into a stupid get-up doesn't wreck the whole thing, presumably since the show allows the characters to reference how silly everything is.
Monday, March 19, 2012
This is exhausting -- a remarkable exercise in double crosses, shock cliffhangers and game-changing plot twists. Much of the episode involves Wesley attempting to remove Connor from Angel, leading to that stunning moment in which Lorne realizes what Wesley is about to do, leading Wesley to brutally knock him out and take the baby. It's yet another scenario which throws your allegiances for a loop, tying in neatly with the continued ambiguity of Holtz. We support Wesley for wanting to save Connor from imminent death, especially when Angel begins to act irrational and volatile, but quickly we see how irrational Wesley is becoming, too. He's so wrapped up in what he believes to be right that he begins to sacrifice any shred of forward-planning. It's a kick-ass episode.
Because this show can't go five minutes without dumping all over at least one of its cast members... Hell's Bells is the unsurprisingly maligned Xander/Anya wedding episode, something that strives to be engaging and sympathetic, yet comes off as yet another desperate attempt at throwing misery into the lives of the Buffy ensemble with little rhyme nor reason. It could have worked if the following episodes featured interesting new avenues for both characters to go down, but since Xander and Anya ultimately end up becoming even less integral to the Buffy ensemble, Hell's Bells is a total wash.
There's definitely been a strong sense of detachment this season when it comes to Angel's main cast. Angel has been wrapped up in being a father, turning him into somebody who appears so much lighter and comedic, yet being entirely single-minded and focused on his son. Cordelia has become a little sanctimonious at times, while her importance to the show has been so diminished that she's entirely removed from this and the following two episodes. Finally, after so much initial promise, Fred has been dragged into a stillborn subplot with Gunn, by proxy making her character a total drag. This leaves Wesley as the only strong character left, and it makes sense that the show has suddenly thrust him center stage in the middle of a moral dilemma and a dangerous prophecy.
This is another example of the show dumping all over Buffy for no reason other than making her more miserable than ever. While you can still understand a lot of her sadness, this is really the point where her constant humiliation becomes almost laughable. It's bad enough that she's working at a burger joint, but here comes her uninterested ex, then some awkward flirtation on her part, then the arrival of his wife, and finally an awkward bedroom encounter between the ex and her sleazy new lover. It's all overtly fetishistic, as if the writers were intent on dragging her down to the lowest ebbs of human crumminess.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
This is essentially one long chase scene, Kim Manners photographing the Arizona desert beautifully and brilliantly conveying its scope and intensity. It's also one of the stronger uses of the Alien Bounty Hunter, who shapeshifts into a variety of different characters during the hour. With that in mind, the episode lifts from the season one masterpiece Ice as well as the obvious influence of John Carpenter's The Thing. There's an enjoyable sense of paranoia throughout the episode, through both the shapeshifting mystery as well as the feeling that this is a whole new world for Scully and Skinner, both being the only characters we can fully trust at this point.
The most radical X-Files game-changer so far occurs with the arrival of a new series regular -- Mr. T-1000 himself Robert Patrick. As a result, Within sparkles with newfound momentum, Scully anchoring the series as she relentlessly pursues the missing Mulder all while keeping her pregnancy a secret. Thankfully, Scully and Doggett's partnership isn't immediately easy. There's already suspicion and tension between them, Scully throwing a drink in his face during their initial meeting and later accusing him of spying on her. At the same time, their dynamic throws things for a loop with Scully suddenly the believer, and Doggett the one skeptical of any kind of supernatural UFO hoodoo. Chris Carter's season premiere is a tightly scripted opener to the 'new' X-Files.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Dawson's double standards are once again explored here, and again you have to question whether its intentional or not. Jen rallies against pageants and their inherent promotion of stereotypical ideals of beauty, something Dawson initially disagrees with. However, it's only after Joey has been plucked and pampered and dolled up in an expensive black dress that Dawson, for seemingly the first time, actually notices how beautiful she is. It's one of the most annoying types of male ignorance, and despite Dawson's belief that it's incredibly romantic, Joey eventually realizes that it's yet another road-block in their schizophrenic relationship.
Love triangles are a tradition of the teen genre. Hell, they're a tradition of fiction in general. It's a pretty easy method for creating an enraptured fanbase, as well as something that instantly propels a modern television series into pop culture. But after just eleven episodes, it really feels like Dawson's Creek has played out the Dawson/Jen/Joey triangle, especially where Jen is concerned. This is another episode involving Dawson pining after Jen, once again creating some elaborate ruse to get close to her. In the process, the show sifts through themes that are already repetitive, and again Dawson is portrayed as a manipulative asshole.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
I don't know if Ringer's quest to pull from continuity is really such a good thing. It's great in theory, finally confirming that the writers seem to know where the story is going and that they've been planning all of this for months -- but in execution you get a ton of awkward flashback scenes to episodes as far back as the pilot. It's the show stumbling into that strange contradiction where things are horribly sign-posted while simultaneously convoluted. Generally, this episode was mighty convoluted, opening with inauspicious exchanges about flash-drives and CEO crookery, before becoming sort of entertaining. In the midst of all this were enough personality changes to generate concerns for schizophrenia, but somehow it all washed over me.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Ugh. Magic School. The most overt of the latter day knock-offs this show employed, Magic School's not only entirely illogical, it's also the one Charmed concept that just wouldn't go away. Whoever decided to make it a long-term deal should probably be horrifically maimed. The Legend of Sleepy Halliwell is one of those episodes with a decent central conceit that is quickly petered away by weak writing -- leaving only a couple of annoying set pieces designed to show off the headless Halliwell sisters. It's weak all-round.
I mentioned it a couple of weeks back, but Charmed needs a radical resurgence of energy. Used Karma follows the exact same pattern as almost every other episode from this period, from the scenery-chewing villains and their doomed plans to kill the Halliwells, to one of the sisters getting possessed by some evil spirit. Even more specific tropes are getting repeated. How many times have we seen demons attacking the manor, injuring two of the sisters and kidnapping the third? There's a basic level of 'been there, done that' which has crept into nearly every corner of this show, and it's pretty shameful that none of the writers ever sat back and thought, "you know what, we can do something better".
Monday, March 12, 2012
A cute, if frustratingly lightweight, episode. Couplet more or less signals the end of the Angel/Cordelia romance, and while it still feels a little unfinished as a story, you can sort of understand why it was quickly dropped as a plot point. Nevertheless, this is Angel in weird sitcom territory, cemented by the annoying Desperate Housewives score that plays over every one of these 'comedy' scenes. But if you dig a little deeper and avoid the obvious humor of Cordy dressing up Groo in Angel's outfits and making him a complete doppelganger of the guy, there's a lot of heart to the episode that proves quietly affecting.
If you were disliking the creative direction Buffy had been headed in of late, you could almost view this episode as a week where the writers gave up, coming up with a script where the Scooby Gang literally stand around in a house wondering why they can't do anything. While Older and Far Away doesn't work on any particularly deeper level (I guess you could strain that it's a metaphor for early-twenties lethargy, but that's sort of a stretch), it's fine as a standalone mystery. It does grind all the high-strung emotion and devastation of Dead Things to a severe halt, but I guess the show couldn't throw even more angst at us right now.
Now midway through its third season, there are many things that Angel obviously does right. It's depicted incredibly powerful story arcs, featured characters that are ridiculously well-drawn, all of which has been propped up by a main cast that has entirely grown in strength and numbers and gradually become a multi-faceted crime-fighting unit. But one of the things that has kind of eluded Angel over the years is something that made Buffy one of the most attention-grabbing series on television. I'm talking about 'event' episodes along the lines of Hush or Innocence, arresting detours into unexpected adventures, hours that broke new ground and experimented with the conventions of the series. Waiting in the Wings is a rare Angel episode of that type, an ambitious melodrama that is just as profound as it is visually gorgeous.
So we arrive at the ugliest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's Dead Things that pretty much encapsulates the sixth season, with a ton of ideas being thrown at us all at once and only some of them sticking. Like so many of these episodes, it's the Spike and Buffy relationship that is most problematic, as well as the most fascinating thing on offer. Here we have confirmation that it's somewhat mutually abusive, with both parties manipulating the other and both being unhappy with the results. It's troubling, and there are several moments here that are plain uncomfortable to watch.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
For all intents and purposes, this could have been the series finale. It works well as both an enjoyable mythology hour, as well as an earnest throwback to the very first episode, and its that cyclical tone that raises a couple of moments of well-deserved angst. The one problem is that there are two whole seasons left after this episode, and you can't help but feel this is just another cog in an already long-tired machine that makes little sense as it is. Are they really going to resurrect the Conspiracy? Are we going to see more Alien Bounty Hunter hijinks? Will we spend two years following Scully as she pursues Mulder in between nursing? Gah.
There's a beautiful simplicity to this episode, Vince Gilligan able to maneuver around a potentially destructive idea by casually undermining the very implausibility of it. Mulder eventually comes to realize that there's no such thing as wish fulfillment -- and that no matter how he words his wish, there would always be some gray area that throws the whole thing off. The genie, played with sardonic enthusiasm by Paula Sorge, has always remarked of the holes that appear in people's wishes, but everybody that's come into contact with her in the past fails to listen. It makes for an intriguing moral to the story.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
With this and Detention, it's now two-for-two for Mike White, here lifting just as much from horror movie convention as he did from '80s teen genre staples three episodes ago. From the opening with Dawson and Joey watching Sarah Michelle Gellar run for her life in I Know What You Did Last Summer, straight through to the class discussion about Halloween, this is very much a dissection of genre traditions, each character getting scared out of their minds by a series of increasingly spooky pranks on Friday the 13th. While there's still a ton of romantic entanglement running alongside all of this, it's the horror comedy that winds up most entertaining.
Roadtrip splits apart the guys and girls in the cast, sending both sets into different adventures as they navigate romance and rumors. Billy, who I'm eager to see depart the show by now, spurs Dawson on a quest to become less of a goody-goody, driving him to a Providence bar that looks a lot like the old Melrose Place hang-out Shooters. Pacey tags along, and the three of them set out to bone as many older women as possible. Naturally, this instantly fails. But in the process Dawson learns about the type of man that he wants to be, and it's all pretty sweet.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Have I entered the Twilight Zone? Is the sky green? Is water dry? Is Agent Machado suddenly interesting? Ringer has appropriately spent the last six months pulling the rug from under us at every opportunity, forsaking almost all character consistency in the process, and this episode fell into that pattern once more, only with a crazed hootenanny of exposition and stupid decisions. I think I liked this episode. It was kind of frantic and amusing in a really lightweight sense, and I was never exactly bored. It's only on closer inspection that literally every plot development falls to pieces.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
With Desperate Housewives imminently checking out, ABC is eager to find its next hit soap -- a show that can hopefully break out unexpectedly and both satirize as well as pay homage to grand soap opera tradition. Good Christian Bitches, with that similarly arresting title, could have easily fit into the DH wheelhouse. But arriving mid-season under the hideously watered-down moniker 'GCB' (the B not even standing for 'bitches' anymore), Robert Harling's primetime sudser is quickly exposed as a pretty mundane comedy series, sacrificing most of the juicy potential of its premise and becoming something that's frustratingly forgettable.
The low point of season six, Prince Charmed is one of the laziest episodes in a long while, a tacky bottle show full of terrible sex gags, terrible characterization, terrible demon antagonists and, shockingly, a goddamn food fight. It goes without saying that the one bright spot is Phoebe getting a cake flung in her face, the rest of the episode taken up with the sisters drooling over some Latino beefcake played by an anti-choice neo-con tool. Ugh.
Previous journeys into the past or future have created some wonderful character-driven drama -- there was the sisters' reunion with Patty back in That '70s Episode, a time when death was treated as pretty finite on this show. Then there was Morality Bites, a gorgeous commentary on cause-and-effect that showcased the strong bond between Piper, Prue and Phoebe. Even weaker time-travel episodes like All Halliwell's Eve had certain deeper elements that affected the sisters on a personal level. One of the numerous reasons why Witchstock entirely blows is that it has no emotional pay-off. It's not engineered to allow Paige some character growth, nor does it help her strike a deeper bond with Grams. Instead it's a messy 'wouldn't it be cool if this happened' hour, with the sisters winding up in the most stereotypical 1960's imaginable and facing off against a rent-a-demon who wants to kill a bunch of people and get hold of the Nexus. Booooring.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Another episode that staggers the major plot arcs currently running -- but at least the events here felt organic. Sure, most of Provider was crazily lightweight, but it never felt like we were being thrown off-course from the main thrust of the season. This episode was all about the Angel Investigations team getting back to work for Connor's sake, really pushing the agency in order to get their hands on whatever money they can. In general, Provider felt a lot like a collection of stories that probably couldn't sustain an entire hour, so we got bite-size nuggets instead. It's moderately entertaining, but struggles to be anything deeper.
Doublemeat Palace is a strange beast, something that looks and feels a lot like something the show would casually dispense in its first season, only with the depressive melancholy that has become season six's trademark. Even after watching it at least a couple of times since it first aired, I'm still unsure whether it's a good episode or not. To praise it, Jane Espenson's script is pretty funny, while the most inventive element is the use of meat as metaphor. Lengthy shots show Buffy watching as the burger meat becomes processed and identical, an unfortunate depiction of burger joints pushing the idea of conformity, turning employees into meat-dispensing machines and stopping any shred of individual identity. It's a strong message, but the rest of the hour feels a little contrived.
Without giving anything away, it's unfortunate that so much of Birthday ends up retconned in future episodes. Future episodes that, if I remember correctly, are a whole heap of convoluted suck that never makes a whole lot of sense. On its own, Birthday is a pretty wonderful fable that breaks down the walls of Angel as we know it and allows Cordelia to experience a life that could have been, if she had just taken a different direction all those years ago. Cordelia as a character has been problematic this year (far too preachy and sanctimonious) -- but this takes her back to her roots, maintaining her recent growth but allowing her to once again be funny, charming and vacuous.
This is Buffy on auto-pilot, an episode derived from a weak conceit and desperately given some kind of meaning or purpose via Buffy's ongoing personal woes. But, in the end, it still feels like an unnecessary detour, one with little momentum or actual 'reason'. Buffy's invisible. She likes it, plays around with it for a while, faces death, feels sad, and gets over it. There are funny moments sprinkled through the script, but Gone still ranks up there among the most forgettable episodes of the entire series.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Fight Club has one of the strongest, most absurd openings this show has ever done. Immediately we're aware that this is one of those goofier X-Files episodes, from the strange Jehovah's Witnesses riding their little bicycles to the exact same woman appearing at two separate houses one after another. Then we see two people who appear to be Mulder and Scully -- only they're not, and it's another example of the show depicting the old adage that everybody has a twin out there somewhere. Unfortunately, from that point until the closing credits, Fight Club becomes a rapidly nonsensical mess.
This is one hot mess of an episode. David Duchovny's first trip behind the scenes occurred with last season's The Unnatural, a sentimental hour that was generally pretty pleasant and moving. Hollywood A.D. is a far more ambitious episode, similarly lifting from reality for its principal mystery before all of a sudden tail-spinning into industry satire at the end. There are some amusing moments here and there, but the stunt casting overwhelms, and most of the humor comes off as more than a little embarrassing and unfunny.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
This is a weirdly disjointed episode, something that struggles to escape the trappings of contrivance while resurrecting old plot strands that were already laid to rest just last episode. It's a theme most clear in the Joey and Dawson saga, Joey's confession of her feelings for him entirely forgotten about and their lingering sexual tension once again pushed center stage. I don't know if this was intended to air before Detention, but it's an annoying turnaround in events, which stalls a lot of the forward momentum that had been building so successfully this season.
Mike White's writing debut instantly becomes the episode that all other Dawson's Creek hours will aspire to be as strong as. It lifts straight from the Saturday-detention classic The Breakfast Club, and uses a striking new character as the catalyst for major romantic developments. At its heart are the convoluted themes that have been sizzling under the surface for most of the season so far, our protagonists bursting with feelings of jealousy, bitterness and sexual attraction. Detention is the show's first series classic, and one of the most entertaining episodes of the teen television genre.