Thursday, June 27, 2013

Felicity: Spooked (1.5)

The end mostly justifies the means in Spooked, probably the weakest episode so far and generally an exercise in repetition. Because Felicity isn't actually in a relationship with Ben, the writers have to source material from her perpetual longing. And that's fine, since the show has already done such a successful job of having Ben mostly exist through Felicity's gaze, the guy constantly photographed in slow-motion, the unattainable dreamboat. But part of the problem with an episode like Spooked is that it mostly revolves around their actual interaction, and so far the show is relying on the same narrative trajectory whenever they commit to a real conversation.

Girls: Hard Being Easy (1.5)

There's rarely a time correlation between a relationship falling apart and a relationship actually ending, both parties usually dragging it out far longer than is reasonably healthy. Because relationships naturally inspire self-doubt, the worry that you're not giving enough, or that it's your fault if something isn't working. Both Hannah and Marnie are at that crossroads this week, wondering if they can continue in their respective relationships, or if they're even strong enough to make actual change. Hard Being Easy features some characteristically strong Hannah material, but it's Marnie, unusually, who is the greatest recipient of character growth.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Alias: Another Mister Sloane (4.16)

And things grow ever murkier. Alias has gone in this direction countless times over the years, so much that the words "Sloane's allegiances" are enough to break me out in hives. But we keep coming back, regardless of the plot holes or dropped storylines. There's a moment here in which one of Sloane's contacts brings up his short-lived venture as a globe-trotting philanthropist, and what that whole thing was supposed to be, whether his interest in genetic experimentation went anywhere interesting, and just what kind of game he's been playing. Sloane deflects the question, naturally, but it works well as a metaphor for the show itself, how the writers frequently bypass logic or continuity in pursuit of the story they want to tell at any given time.

Alias: Pandora (4.15)

Despite the plot twists and surprises that seem to make up so much of Alias as a series, it's rare to hit a point where everybody at home is constantly several steps behind the characters on the show. Whenever we've been put in that position before, it's usually because we're echoing the shock and surprise of the protagonists themselves. See Sydney and the Rambaldi manuscript in season one, and how we were supposed to mirror her own reaction, feeling just as taken aback as she was by the strange plot detour she'd encountered. But in Pandora we're repeatedly left flailing around in ambiguity, a whole bunch of scenes ending with characters being clued into something, or experiencing some grand epiphany, that we're all still in the dark about.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Devious Maids: Pilot (1.1)

When you've made a name for yourself in television with a hit show, one that captured the attention of critics and audiences alike (how long that acclaim actually lasted being irrelevant), you're pretty much allowed free reign when it comes to your follow-up. In the case of Marc Cherry, hot off the eight-year run of Desperate Housewives, the familiarity of his new nighttime soap is perplexing but understandable. With Devious Maids, Cherry cribs the murder, the opulence and the female friendship from his ABC predecessor, only forgetting most of the parts that made Housewives such a runaway success back in 2004. But I guess if it ain't broke...

Mad Men: For Immediate Release (6.6)

For Immediate Release sees Don's internal conflict clashing with the collective togetherness of the people he works with, Joan outraged that his actions make her sacrifice last season ultimately fruitless, Pete once again driven to rage at the thought that he's getting phased out of the company. It's important to remember that Don himself wasn't aware of the public offering engineered by the others, but that their group anger was more a product of his many arguably selfish choices over the years, and not only this specific incident. It's another indication of long-standing tensions surfacing, Don once again growing ever alone.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Felicity: Boggled (1.4)

I don't know anything about Felicity's future. I don't know who Felicity herself chooses, I don't know what roads the show will ultimately go down, or if the series' general quality will be easily maintained over its four seasons. But Boggled brought to mind how, regardless of where his shows end up going, J.J. Abrams can develop incredible opening years. Like Alias later on, there's an undeniable focus that's evident from this early into the show's existence, every plot detour meticulously thought out and pre-planned, every character stinging with relatable angst and drive. There's little drifting, and while the pacing is glacial at times, it's clear that you're watching a show that's arrived fully-formed. Growing pains don't exist in the Abrams universe. Things have a tendency to fall apart eventually, but those debut seasons are things of beauty.

Girls: Hannah's Diary (1.4)

Referencing this show's parallels with Sex and the City is the critical equivalent of bringing up The X-Files when talking about early Fringe, or bringing up any other show heavily indebted to a certain cultural touchstone from the past. It's tired and predictable and not all that interesting to read about. But I will for a little bit, because I'm not being paid for this so 'meh', and because Girls itself has such an odd relationship with its HBO predecessor: intentionally distancing itself from it, while embracing so many of its key characteristics.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Alias: Nightingale (4.14)

Alias has been many things over the years, but 1970s-style conspiracy thriller isn't one of them. Until now, anyway. Nightingale is more about the tease than anything else, events building to a variety of cliffhangers instead of anything concrete or defined, but it's an episode heavily reminiscent of espionage dramas of the past -- conflict created via characters going in over their heads, all the while unaware that people they know are secretly orchestrating their own dueling agendas. It's a different kind of episode, but one that feels welcome after a season of smaller, albeit entertaining, stories.

Alias: Tuesday (4.13)

Tuesday is an episode split right down the middle, one half more pulpy and interesting than the other, the latter half casually fun but lacking in comparison to prior detours into Marshallville. It's also an incredibly popular episode, which makes sense on certain levels, but one that I've never had a huge affinity for. The first twenty-five minutes of the hour are almost unbearably tense, heavy on the Kill Bill riffs with Sydney getting buried alive while out in the field and contrivance ensuring that Marshall is the only APO spy able to rescue her. It's unsurprisingly exhausting to watch, capitalizing on a universal nightmare scenario (seriously, does anybody not consider premature burial a fate worse than anything else?) and featuring an uncomfortably helpless performance from Jennifer Garner... but the episode sputters out soon after.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mad Men: The Flood (6.5)

Mad Men's sixth season is still coming off like a series of disparate elements, the only real link between each character's personal story being that they themselves just happen to work with or operate in the world of the other characters on the show. It feels more and more like a season built upon a cut-up technique, random bits of story tossed together here and there, small insights into lives formed with the smallest of actual arcs. That doesn't necessarily mean The Flood is another underwhelming episode, however. In truth, it's probably the strongest hour since the premiere, even if it maintains the drifting, unspecific structure that made the previous couple of episodes so troubling.

Felicity: Hot Objects (1.3)

When we talk about first times, it's usually associated with what society deems to be major turning points. Like sex for the first time, or our first kiss, or first house. But then there are the smaller turning points, the ones that don't get talked about as much, but are equally as intimidating and scary as their more popularized counterparts. Felicity talks a lot about those 'firsts' this week, the mix of fear and excitement as she prepares for her first college party, or the way she's realizing that she could now actually embark on a real relationship with somebody. I've talked a lot already about how low-key this show is, but J.J. Abrams is doing such a spectacular job of exploring those small, usually unspoken emotions that it bears repeating over and over again just how rewarding it is to see them at all. Most of real life is small, and it's rare to see a TV show reflect that so well.

Girls: All Adventurous Women Do (1.3)

Like Seinfeld before it, Girls could also be described as a show about nothing. Nobody actually seems to do anything on Girls. Characters are usually slumped in front of a TV set, or taking personal calls at work, or dissecting their sexual histories instead of getting a damn job, all of which results in the show effectively becoming Procrastination: The Series. Usually when we talk about delaying tactics in regards to TV, it's related to the narrative itself, the writers of the show staggering events to fill time, or fulfill the series order. But here it's the characters themselves in delaying mode, determined to do anything other than the things they ought to do.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alias: The Orphan (4.12)

The clashing between past and present is an important subject here, Nadia struggling to align the woman she is today with the girl she used to be, an issue already present for her throughout a lot of this season, but even more pronounced with the arrival of a crooked old flame. Alias has frequently driven home the similarities between Sydney and Nadia, but The Orphan exploits how their respective differences sent them briefly down vastly alternating paths. Both women spent years under the tutelage of organizations they believed to be heroic, only to discover they were being lied to all along. And while their backgrounds are in parallel, it's the shock revelations themselves that set both women apart.

Alias: The Road Home (4.11)

Something that initially separated Alias from its contemporaries was its thematic interest in duality and double lives, Sydney flying around the world in the middle of all kinds of international espionage, before coming home and hanging out with her friends. Season four seems to be constantly returning to the show's old characteristics, that sense of normalcy having been excised from the show with the departure of Will and Francie, and The Road Home gets a lot of mileage out of dropping Jason Segel's clueless everyman into an environment of guns and hitmen and robotic helicopter weapons. It ought to work in theory, but the execution isn't great.

Monday, June 3, 2013

In Treatment: Week Seven (3.25 - 3.28)

It feels sort of funny to say that a season with twenty-eight episodes ended up a little rushed, but that's always the feeling I get at the end of another year of In Treatment. Stories build, characters grow in complexity, and the finales are always pulled together with a half-dozen smaller ideas left scattered to the wind. And, once again, just like every year, I come back around and realize that it's life itself in a nutshell -- a commentary on the fact that we're never truly 'done', and that actual individuals don't have season finales.