This is probably the right time to ask why Alias isn't sucking right now. Because there's something inherently funny about how standalone the show has become, each episode resolving with Sloane announcing that their latest mini-crisis has been steadily averted and that APO should never hear from these pesky villains again. Especially this week, with everybody looking on in glassy-eyed glee at the off-screen dismantling of the Nocturne project, the whole thing strains credibility to the highest degree. And yet Alias remains absorbing as a series, in spite of the plotholes and recent lightweight quality to everything on offer.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
It's always interesting to spot when a freshman writer comes to a long-running series with merely a cool idea, regardless of it actually fitting into the show's sensibilities. This marks the Alias debut of Drew Goddard, a Buffy/Angel vet who has since gone on to a host of acclaimed genre features, from Cloverfield to The Cabin in the Woods, and he lands on this show with impressive ingenuity. True to form, this guy. He's clearly arrived with a bag of intriguing concepts, this one meshing together Cold War paranoia with picture-perfect suburbia intrigue, and while there's little in Welcome to Liberty Village that rises above 'cool' territory, it's a fun standalone episode nonetheless.
True to form, these early weeks feature patients entering therapy with what they believe to be a clear understanding of their problems. In some cases, it's more about other people's opinions, but there's still a general semblance of understanding. What Paul is starting to do, like always, is try and pick at those who have turned to him for guidance, forcing them to confront the true issues that are lurking beneath the surface traumas. It takes aggressive coaxing at times, but we're just about able to spot the specific sources of the various issues on offer this year, including with Paul himself.
It's always tricky to review the very first week of In Treatment. Like life, it's hard to get a complete handle on people after only knowing them for twenty minutes. You can obviously get a sense of what makes them tick and what their general personalities are like, but it's only ever surface. So the first week is naturally a little vague, a rough draft of a bunch of new characters rife with dramatic potential. Like always, though, there's a lot to love so far, the surface of these people already rich and intriguing, played by actors that immediately jump off the screen with intensity and anguish.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Throughout the last-minute media blitz designed to save this show from impending cancellation, there's been a sense of doom projected by Mike White, being overwhelmingly pessimistic when it comes to the show's future and expressing sadness over his belief that Enlightened could be the best thing he's ever done. It's a feeling that's been reflected through a lot of season two, that sense of quiet danger lurking beyond every corner, like you're just waiting for a hole to appear and swallow up everybody in the cast. Whether it was the LA Times expose, or Amy's frayed relationships with essentially everyone around her, Enlightened's second season has been frequently unnerving, unexpected considering how quiet and soothing a lot of the show generally is. All of this makes Agent of Change a beautiful surprise, a finale that feels like the end, but which sparkles with enough hope and integrity to make the possible future, whether we end up seeing it or not, a comfortable place to be.
Because it'd be all kinds of obvious if I were to trash everything Lazarus does, instead I'm going to be talking about what might have been, if the show had lived past its abridged first season. If anything, 666 Park Avenue at least ends with a final scene that proves to be the most interesting thing the show ever did -- a gothic, morally complex epilogue that leaves enough up in the air to distract your mind for a good half-hour post-show. That probably didn't read like a compliment, but I promise it is. There was always a darker underbelly to this series, as if a coiled, conniving dragon was struggling to get out and breathe fire all over the place, only for it to be buried under standards and practices and annoying network notes. Lazarus goes there, eventually, but it's all too little too late.
666 Park Avenue has suddenly become a hard show to write about. Due to circumstances outside of the writers' control, it's a series that, in its last gasps of life, greater resembles a mass info-dump than anything else. By rapidly speeding up what we can assume is the entire first season's worth of plot into just two or three hours, the show has sacrificed whatever threadbare characterization may have existed in the first place, leaving The Elysian Fields an episode in which people do things that don't make a ton of sense, while being told about other things by drab third parties.
Friday, March 1, 2013
I had my own Joey. Or my own Dawson, depending on which one you think is the bigger tool. Heh. It was one of those things that started off young, was founded in a real friendship, and occasionally went deeper. And because you're young and you're trying to understand love and emotion, you naturally fall into a sort of romance. Because isn't that just what people do when they like each other? But no matter how far each 'blip' went, it always ended with hurt feelings or disillusionment. We still hung out as friends a lot, even if there was always that undercurrent of 'maybe', or 'what if...?'; but, in the end, as much as we always thought that the problem was that little hint of sexual chemistry, it turned out to be something far less romantic that pushed us apart. In essence, those teenage years are always the turning point, the years where you evolve the most and rapidly become the person you want to be as an adult, and with those mutual changes came differences between us as people. The person I knew, and the person she saw in me, became alien and different and unappealing, and that longing to remain friends despite our shared history sort of dissipated. So we were done.
I can't help but groan a little whenever a TV show jumps into the future, since it so often feels unearned and somewhat unnecessary -- more an attempt to hook new viewers or promote a derivative 'game-changer' that has little effect long-term. But it actually sort of works for this show's series finale. As a show, Dawson's Creek has been almost unbearably suffocating at times, characters so consumed with emotional longing and repeatedly reminiscing about shared histories and romantic false-starts that it all got a little nuts a long time ago. But what All Good Things... does so well is create a necessary bridge in time for the show's ensemble, allowing them all to have grown up and moved on in the five years since we last saw them. As a result, the emotions that would ordinarily feel angsty and irritating feel slightly less frantic -- feelings smoothed out over time instead of being fresh and impulsive. There's a maturity here that carries the episode, and it's one of the more successful uses of a now-standard TV gimmick.
It's funny how much of this episode feels like a TV show, particularly whenever the writers explore Dawson and Pacey's friendship, or lack thereof. One of the key missions here is to get the two of them back on speaking terms, talking about their recent lack of communication and the way their friendship flew off the rails right around the time Pacey shacked up with Joey and how it's never truly recovered. But what really sticks out at you is that the show positions that friendship as something worth saving, or at least worthy of considerable attention. Because isn't it true that most people wind up losing contact with those you knew in high school? Even the people you were closest to? People evolve, circumstances change, communication drifts. And despite the ridiculousness of so much of this show in general, it's the way these kids are so fixated with the past that most easily throws you off.
I guess it's only right to end Dawson's Creek with Dawson acting like a horrendous jackass once again. There seemed to be real attempts over seasons four and five to make him sort of relatable and endearing, but the way he's been removed so heavily from season six probably ensured that nobody on set was particularly invested in making him a good person anymore. I gather that Dawson's absences this year were at James Van Der Beek's own request, but it has this unforeseen consequence wherein you don't care a whole lot about his movie or all the money he's lost. He just comes off like a ghost from the past, somebody who sits in the background assuming things will fall into his lap and becoming aggressive if they don't. Snore.
In its final week, In Treatment once again promotes how different it is to everything else on television. Like last season, anxiety and introspection has been slowly building session by session, presumably about to spill over in this final week. But here is where, traditionally, the show's dedication to naturalism clashes with the narrative's desperation for closure. As a result, you can look at this week of episodes as slightly underwhelming. If you're looking for resolutions and a true ending to the stories of Paul and his various patients, then it's probably not the greatest collection of episodes. But in exposing those small victories, the ones that suddenly grant you the ability to move on to that next phase of life, it's unsurprisingly a home run.
I'm a sucker for a tender moment played over a Mazzy Star track. It's only natural, right? Ice is pretty much built entirely around that wonderful scene towards the tail-end of the episode, Vaughn meeting in a bar with the enchanting Kelly MacDonald and comparing notes on guilt and retribution and how far they've both gone when inspired by other, more dangerous people. Both arrive with a ton of emotional baggage this week, Lauren on Vaughn's mind and his memory unsurprisingly tainted by all those feelings of bloody rage he experienced at the end of last season. MacDonald's Kiera MacLaine is in a similar boat, reduced to clandestine evilness by her shady mad scientist brother.
The Awful Truth represents the 'new' Alias: episodes driven by standalone missions, with some subtle character work as a backdrop to it all. It's disappointing in some ways, but feels somewhat more palatable considering this is the show's fourth season. If Alias premiered with episodes like this one, involving Sydney going undercover inside the home of a wife-killing arms dealer, then it would probably struggle to define itself as anything special or particularly innovative. But what saves the season's initial reliance on this format are the characters we know and love.
"Can't this have a happy ending for everyone?" I guess it was sort of inevitable that everything Amy believed to be true would wind up in the crapper. Whether it's the Abaddonn expose or her new relationship, it's hard for Amy to see the writing on the wall, even when it's blindingly clear that things are about to fall apart. Watching her for two seasons, it's always been noteworthy that the want to do right is usually a heavier, more satisfying feeling than the one that involves actually doing something. Not just because it's hard work, but because it means facing potential ugliness -- discovering that it wasn't like you imagined, or that you weren't looking for the right things in the first place. As Enlightened's second season reaches its conclusion, here we begin to see all the cracks appearing in Amy's foundation.
Every so often an episode of television makes you rattle and shake in your seat, its depth of feeling so beyond anything you're used to that you feel like you're having an out-of-body experience. Can television really do this to you? Can actors saying lines and characters experiencing heartache really hit you straight at the soul? And then you realize that it totally did, and that this is art. There's a scene here in which Amy has a rapid panic attack in front of her mother, hidden away in a bedroom while her date sits clueless outside. As Amy hyperventilates, Helen stands alert entirely at a loss about how she can help. Amy worsens, and all Helen can think to do is just grip at both of her daughter's shoulders and hold her tight. Falling onto the bed, Helen forces Amy to release into her, and Amy just wells up and breaks down in tears. It's the most vivid and painfully accurate depiction of a complete emotional unraveling that I've ever seen on television.