Monday, 29 October 2007

This Week in TV (Week 5)

Things might be settling down in TV land by now. I certainly found myself enjoying several shows on their own merits instead of concentrating on writing mistakes and figuring out which shows are broken and which aren't. Even some of the shows that have vexed me in the past have entertained me greatly this week. Perhaps I've been thinking about them too hard because I'm officially a blogger now, with all of the fame, glory, and riches that that coveted position entails. I also have the responsibility of writing content that will shatter the zeitgeist into little zeity pieces of geist. For some reason, this week, I've tried giving that responsibility a break, possibly because a few days ago I watched Spider-Man 3, and dang, everyone involved can shove their great responsibility up their asses, with great power, because that movie sucked. Time to chill out and have some fun with my TV viewing. Perhaps not watching Chuck helped (that was an error on our part, especially as Veronica Mars star writer John Enbom worked on it, but what are you gonna do? It would have cut into our Guitar Hero II time).

The highlight of the week was, once more, provided by 30 Rock. For all the wonderful material handed Tina Fey, Jack McBrayer, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, and especially guest star Carrie Fisher as the borderline insane "Future Liz", the scene that will inevitably be referenced and quoted and talked about incessantly by Rock fans (probably to non-Rock fans, in such a fevered and enthusiastic manner that it would probably put them off) was the award-deserving scene with Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan in therapy, with Tracy in straight man mode and Jack going on an extended and enthusiastic riff filled with impersonations and racially stereotypical behaviour. As someone noted on the AV Club comment thread, the set up earlier in the episode, with Liz railing against commercialism and praising risk-taking was half screw-you to Studio 60, and half meta-gauntlet-throwing. At first it looked like nothing more than a joke; as soon as crazy Carrie Fisher said they should make jokes about race, Liz freaked out and refused, saying jokes about race were right out. 15 minutes later, and Jack is squawking like Redd Foxx and threatening his "wife" with a beating, prior to being shot and killed by "Da Honkies". First time I watched it I didn't know how to take it, second time it blew me away.


Even more unorthodox was Liz making a choice to sell out to GE at the end. I'd like to think the message was that she was more interested in being funny than daring (Carrie Fisher's radical feminist comedy was, after all, purposely dreadful). It's not the first time the show has imparted this message. In a previous episode a worthy sketch written by Twofer and Tracy is dropped for something empty but funny, so the moral of the show seems to be "Funny first", which is, to a certain extent, a dig at Sorkin, but mostly a philosophy of life. Liz giving up on her ideals should bug me, because TV likes to teach us that pious do-goodery and noble intentions are worth more than going for the easy laugh, but it's refreshing to see a show praise someone for just wanting to do well in life and achieve one simple goal; make 'em laugh.


It's nothing new for 30 Rock. There may be a thread to the show about the war between commerce and art, but it's usually been about coming to a happy middle-point instead of art conquering all (which would be unrealistic and unfunny). It always seemed to me that that was the secondary engine of the show, with the main driving force in the show being the tension between steady, successful, mature Jack and flighty loser and Queen Nerd Liz. The masterstroke has always been that Jack is not a humourless money-making caricature but a three-dimensional business genius who may not fully understand art and humour but gets that Liz is in turmoil and wants to help her achieve her potential.

Yes, commerce and art battle, but they are only a small part of what makes Jack and Liz such a great onscreen partnership. His mentoring of her, his acceptance of her need to struggle against it, and her slow realisation that she needs his wisdom more than she expected, is part of why this is my favourite non-romantic relationship on TV, and their final scene, with him so exasperated with her for not knowing how to work within the system for her own ends, was just adorable. ::sigh:: I now nominate this best show currently airing. Until Lost returns, of course.


Tell Me You Have No Qualms About Shtupping Me was especially fun this week, as Palek the Vulcan Inseminatron suddenly entered the Pon Farr, the mating cycle that hits all Vulcans every 7 years. Poor Carolyn, trying to get on with her baby-less life, when Palek goes all plak tow on her ass, demanding sex and becoming a bigger douche than ever. It does not end well, as he tries to hit on the last woman to treat him even the slightest bit of polite civility, i.e. some innocent clothes shop assistant (see above). He hits her with the full force of his undeniable emotionless charisma, and it seemed as if she was responding a little, just as, somewhere in their forest retreat, Carolyn realises, OMG, she is pregnant! What are the chances that that lazy writing would come into play right then? The show ends with her ecstatic face, having forgotten Palek's terrible anti-baby behaviour of the past week or so, and Palek approximating human happiness with his new crush. I hope she doesn't already have a boyfriend, or there will have to be the Kalifee, just like that time on Vulcan when Spock got all pissy.



The other amusing thing about the show is the weekly cameo by the Predator. Outside Carolyn and Palek's Fortress of Solitude (so named because it is as sterile as Superman's icy pad), there is a forest of some kind. Very pretty, but from within you can hear the familiar clacking of a Predator. Is he stalking them? We'd been betting that the season would end with the increasingly adorable David and Katie finally having sex (they're certainly heading that way, what with this week's endearing scenes with them ogling each others sex parts), but now I think there's going to be a brutal cast cull and a cameo by Carl Weathers. Which would also be great.

Heroes was better than usual, though still not the jawdropping cauldron of boiling excitement it needs to be as soon as possible if it's going to reclaim all of my love. As I said before in another post, the heroes are just not heroic, and just to piss me off a little more, Monica was given a chance to rat out the scummy guy she kicked through a sheet of glass last week, but backed out of it when her loser friend objected. What's the betting he pops up again soon, probably to kill Nichelle Nichols, spurring Monica on to use her powers for good, so that she pretty much becomes a K-Ville cross between Spider-Man and part-time Avengers member Echo? Too late. Why couldn't she do that? Because the writers need her to go through the motions of discovering her power, and they apparently haven't got the imagination (or time or money, if I'm going to be generous) to explore other avenues or story-telling possibilities.

At least she seemed to finally enjoy it once Micah calmed her down. While watching it I got more and more agitated that she wasn't doing what I would do if I had her muscle mimic powers, i.e. watching a bunch of martial arts movies, but thankfully they addressed that at the end. Sadly she was trying to learn Jason Scott Lee's moves in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. What? Go to the source, young padawan. and take in Drunken Master 2 while you're at it, because the thought of you doing this on network TV makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat.



In other news, Canyon and I suddenly found ourselves loving Nathan Petrelli, of all people. He was pretty wasted last year, but the disgruntled bitchy version 2.0 is very entertaining. He seems to be the only actor in the show still having fun. He also featured in the awesome nightmare sequence, with him and Matt trapped in the dreamworld of Matt's dad, the Nightmare Man. It didn't last long, but it was a terrific sequence of events, adding new mysteries to the show in a dynamic manner. It was the best writing of the season so far, though the dialogue still grated. Did I really hear The Nightmare Man say, "Maybe we're not so different, you and I"? Oh dear. And if Matt can wake Nathan up from the dream, why can't he wake Molly up. I get the feeling he's probably a bit pissed with those night-time dinner conversations where she ends up yelling at him about something or other, such as the long, dark pizza night of their soul.


Still, it was fun, and ADRIAN PASDAR! is doing some great work, and his hair is very very high. That said, it's pretty obvious that he's the guy who murdered Kaito, so his sarcasm isn't a newly discovered charming side, but more a precursor of his inevitable slide into villainy. It matches up with his brother's walk on the dark side, though of course he will be redeemed and become a good person, probably when he gets a bump on the noggin and gets his memory back. Whatever. Oh, and Kristin Bell showed up last night, as Elle, the Elle-ectrical lady sent to capture Peter. She might have been great. I have no idea, as her dialogue was crushingly bad, and her direction was to appear to be miffed and sarcastic no matter what the context. I did not enjoy her appearance at all, probably because I was thinking, "You passed up Lost for this? GAH!"

I've always enjoyed House, except for some terrible episodes last season where the fun was utterly lost, but my God, the fourth season is a revelation. Even if last season had comprised nothing but episodes with Wilson being made to be the opposite of fun by Tritter chewing gum noisily and threatening him with all sorts of horrible punishment, it would have been worth slogging through to get to this season, which has been absolutely wonderful. The temporary format of the show is still working like gangbusters, giving the showrunners huge amounts of material to work with, and all of it is gold.


I've fallen in love with the show all over again, but we both noted with much sadness that it's all well and good to be pissed at the showrunners for slowly chipping away at the candidates until a new trio of whipping boys (and girls) is created instead of keeping the whole team, but the main reason this is working is because the team are at each other's throats. Take away that tension and the concept stops working. The inbuilt obsolescence is what makes it so good. Anne Dudek as Cutthroat Bitch/Amber is particularly good. She is utterly loathsome, but so so watchable. Without the competition to work with House, she'd just be obnoxious. Hopefully she'll make it to the last four and then get booted out, hopefully in a really humiliating way, like when Jade got to the last three in America's Next Top Model cycle 7. Or was it 6. Whatever. Amber is just so evil and yet I think she's awesome. Even when she's at full Guptocity, it's fun to watch her scheme. That said, it was sad to see the last of the delightful Carmine Argenziano, but even though we went, "DAMMIT!" when he was cut from the team, the decision to remove him from the Cottage shortlist was understandable, and beautifully explained. The writers are on fire so far. Please let it continue beyond the three weeks I guess it will take for House to choose his Cottages.

Also very strong this week was Pushing Daisies, now 100% Sonnenfeld free (except in an executive producing capacity). Sadly he was there long enough for a visual template to be created that the rest of the show is kinda forced to follow, but director Adam Kane (another cinematographer turned director) managed to keep the hyper-realism without resorting to the same four tricks for the entire show. As a result I could actually relax and just enjoy the show without my eyes getting too annoyed.


Rina Mimoun's script was funny too, and only occasionally overplayed the cutesy factor, though perhaps things slackened a bit in the latter half, but it was great to see Dash Mihok and Jayma Mays doing their thing, and basically it's the sort of episode that fans of the first three episodes would probably consider a letdown, but people irked by those same episodes would consider a blessed relief and massive improvement. I get the feeling there will be a division of the fanbase sooner rather than later, those who want it to go for all-out tweeness and those of us glad for a slackening. Just so you know, my faction will bring weapons to this reckoning.

Oddly enough, considering how down I've been on Pushing Daisies in the past, this week it was Reaper that disappointed, but only a little. There were many delights: Tyler Labine throwing cereal into Sam's mouth as he slept; the cameo by Aaron "Tyrol" Douglas; lots of pratfalls; our heroes stuck in jail. That said, the tone of the show is slowly changing as the series progresses, and yes, finally we see the beginnings of an arc as Sam's dad begins to act all shady about the contract and the Devil starts showing his true colours. He's really enjoying making Sam's life hell, and it's as upsetting to see as it is entertaining.

So yeah, I'm becoming a bit conflicted about it, though kudos to the showrunners for equating Sam's dead-end job in retail with his dead-end job as the Devil's lackey. A nice touch. Plus, even though Andi is becoming a more interesting character, it's only because the Devil is forcing Sam to keep his role as a Satanic bounty hunter. Other than that she's still just a cypher, and the show drags whenever Missy Peregrym is onscreen. It's a shame, but it's not ruining the show. Just creating tiny longeurs. It will survive it. Because of this wonderful wonderful grin, of course.


Here's a wonder that happened without the benefit of That Grin; Bionical Woman did not totally totally suck. It was merely crushingly average with a couple of tolerably entertaining scenes. I really think this has a lot to do with the lack of Katee Sackhoff as the Fifty Million Dollar Mangirl. Her hammy performances and bleak plotline have been responsible for driving a lot of the show, which shows a terrible lack of faith on the showrunners part concerning the main character of the show. Without it, the show temporarily reinvented itself as that most rare of things, an action adventure show about rival spy factions getting in each others way while trying to capture deadly technology from scientists while anonymous gangs of terrorists try to kill them. It's something TV has never had the guts to attempt before, and so kudos to the Morgans and Jason Smilovic and David Eick and everyone else on the show for revolutionising TV. If only Jaime was working in an anonymous retailer offering advice about computers; then it would truly be groundbreaking.

::really bored and disappointed sigh:: Okay, so the show became even more formulaic and unadventurous than ever, but thankfully Friday Night Lights producer Jason Katims has had the foresight to import not only actor Kevin Rankin, but also ace writer Liz Heldens. Her light touch improved the dialogue massively, and the phone conversation between Ryan (so much better when talking with an English accent) and Rankin was positively entertaining. They both need a lot more screen time together.


I know Canyon hated Rankin's FNL character Herc and practically considered him the show Gupta, but I thoroughly enjoyed his saltiness. Pairing him up with the holier-than-thou Street was a genius move, and I looked forward to his unapologetic dickery each week. On Bionic Woman he's similarly snotty, but the likeability is amped up. He's stealing the show week in, week out. If the new team can capitalise on his charm, and make Jaime's implants malfunction so she constantly speaks in an English accent, this show will be on the way to becoming not the absolute worst thing on TV (see below for info on the show that is bottom of my viewing list).

Remember how I kept complaining about the hour-long Office? This week it was half an hour and it didn't seem long enough. That's not to say I wish it was still an hour long; it means I'm even more mad at the showrunners for doing it in the first place. It's going to be weeks before I get back into the swing of the original format. Of course, it was still great, with Dwight becoming more and more adorable every week, but it was one of those episodes of The Office that I would put in the subset called, "I really really really hate Michael Scott." This time it was mostly because he was mean to the office musicians, who were adorable. Especially The Mighty Creed, seen here in the grip of a Guitar Hero fugue just like the ones we suffer from.


A lot of the time I find Michael endearingly pathetic, or somehow noble (his appearance at Pam's art show in season three might be his finest moment), but every so often I just want to throw him off the roof of Dunder Mifflin onto a bouncy castle. At Phyllis' wedding I despised him so much I wondered if the show had broken him, and the resolution of that episode where Phyllis forgives him just angered me more. This week he treated the whole team like a bunch of idiots, and yes, I get the joke that given a creative role he would become a tyrant instead of an "entertainer", but he was so mean to everyone I was desperate to see his advert fail. Hopefully next week I'll start to like him again.

Ugly Betty was also not as amusing as usual, but then it seemed to be resolving some of the downbeat plot threads introduced last week. How wrong I was about Betty and Henry. The scene where they decide to forget about their problems for 5 months and go for it despite the inevitable heartache was unexpectedly moving and, for this show, unusually bittersweet. Even better than that was Marc's new relationship with fashion photographer Cliff. Although seemingly doomed by Marc's relentless superficiality, their reconciliation at the end was wonderful, and fit in perfectly with the theme of the show (honesty and integrity vs. shallowness and emotional cowardice). Marc has been fleshed out wonderfully since his introduction in the first season, especially with his mentoring of Justin, and this new relationship is a welcome continuation of that trend. I'm already rooting for them to make it work out.


While the Meade family falls apart a little more each week, Hilda and Justin have come together at last after weeks of grieving. Their scenes have been simultaneously horrifying and funny, especially Hilda's clique of depressed widows making quilts out of their dead husbands' clothes, but hopefully now some semblance of normality will return. The death of Justin's father came out of nowhere in the season 1 finale and I wondered where they would go with it. Miraculously, they have dramatised Hilda and Justin's grief without overwhelming the light tone of the show. Amazing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; Ugly Betty is a marvel, doing things that no other soap on TV seems to be able to manage, or even attempt (this week I was even told by two male non-TV watchers that they love it, which, if you knew them, would be final proof as to how universally appealing it is. You'll just have to take my word on it). Compare it to the still-risible Dirty Sexy Money, now restored to usual levels of suckery with the departure of ace writer Diane Ruggiero. Not that her presence did much to improve the show, but it did raise its game a little. This week, nothing worked. Even the most notable moment, i.e. Tripp and Jeremy's reconciliation toward the end of the episode, only worked because Donald Sutherland, again, blew the bloody doors off with his professionalism and enthusiasm. The writing was pitifully flat, the resolution contrived, the emotional intensity unearned. Plus, I'm really superpissed that there has been no mention of his pimp coat since the first episode.


Considering Ugly Betty is so garish and over the top, it always surprises me how delicate it can be when it needs to. Betty and Henry's thread was superbly handled, and avoided contrivance so completely that when they kiss at the end the moment is all the more affecting (Shades of Caruso code for: I cried. Happy now?). In Dirty Sexy Money, every line of dialogue hammers home exposition so clumsily that instead of feeling the moment, you're told what is going on. Anvils clang continually, so loud there is no space for any other information or nuance to come through.

Dad, I feel so bad that I have lots of money. I want a job so that I can prove myself to you! Because your respect means so much to me, even though this is the first time I've mentioned it and it really only means anything in the context of the events of the previous 40 minutes of show time.



CLANG!



You can't buy that silly painting! It's expensive, and hanging around with the incredibly rich Darlings has shown me that conspicuous consumption is a bad thing! And yes, I acted like I hated it all in the first couple of scenes of the first episode, but I guess this is what passes for character growth in this show's world.




CLANG!



Yes, I tried to employ your father, because he wanted to do good things with his money but couldn't while working with those wacky dysfunctional Darlings. Have you managed to do anything charitable since starting work with them? No? Why, how odd! Perhaps it's time you did. Maybe in the final scene, so you can look all wistful at the hand that life has dealt you.




CLANG!


Show, don't tell, is advice that gets bandied around all the time, and for good reason. Betty and Henry's pain is evident but they refuse to acknowledge it, allowing Christopher Gorham and America Ferrera to perform around their dialogue. In Dirty Sexy Money, Seth Gabel, Samaire Armstrong and Donald Sutherland are forced to ignore emotional subtext and deliver lines that hit the nail on the head, often in looping afterward, just in case the viewer has missed something obvious, because we're all drooling pinheads just waiting for another reality show to come along so we don't get distracted or challenged while trying to eat pudding with our index finger.

I guess that's the main difference between both shows; Ugly Betty treats its audience with respect, and Dirty Sexy Money assumes the audience cannot function without constant handholding. That would also explain the relentless exposition that plagues the show and accounts for about 35% of the dialogue. Plus, Ugly Betty understands the current pop culture landscape better than Dirty Sexy Money; making Donald Sutherland refer to such modern superstars as Justin Timberlake and Ethan Hawke was horribly clumsy, though redeemed by his hilarious line reading. He is so far and away the best thing about this show that everyone else onscreen should hang their head in shame.


They should look to Friday Night Lights for a lesson in how to do it. Every episode contains hours of information-per-second crammed into 45 minutes, and even when it's not amazing it's still the best drama on TV right now. This week saw the murder plot move forward with the discovery of the body, but even though that was dealt with better than feared, the meat of the show came with Coach Taylor's return to Dillon and the resumption of his coaching of the Panthers. Of course, the changeover was anything but smooth, thanks to the usual bumbling by Buddy Garrity, but even if it causes problems in the long run, for now the format of the show is back to normal, and even better, we'll get more scenes with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton together, which is the best news ever.

Also fun was Riggins and Street's Amazing Mexican Adventure, which featured much drinking and misunderstandings about shark DNA. Taylor Kitsch has always had great chemistry with Scott Porter, but as Kitsch/Riggins spent little time with Porter/Street during the first season for various reasons (i.e. being a big sleazy coward who shtupped his girlfriend and kept avoiding him), they didn't have a chance to get together much. This week they went crazy in Mexico, and Riggins began to panic for his friend.


Dirty Sexy Money showrunners, watch this goddamn show. So much was unsaid during their scenes together, but tons and tons of information was imparted through superior performances, writing, editing and photography. Their past weighed on every line and look between them, but the only things we heard were their bitching to each other about getting drunk and finding women.

Okay, so Dirty Sexy Money doesn't have a whole season of backstory to utilise, but even in the first season we found out more about these characters from what was shown or not shown, instead of through pages and pages of exposition. The same goes for all the other characters. It's how everyone should be making shows now, treating the audience with some respect instead of assuming they cannot follow soap operatics after decades of living with the conventions of the genre. Perhaps this is why I watch Dirty Sexy Money; it makes me appreciate Friday Night Lights all the more.

On the good old BBC, with its funding depleted and staff revolting, The Culture Show continues onward, at least for a time before getting cut back. It's a shame, though only because the BBC doesn't have enough arts programming, and this hodge-podge of tiny flighty features is better than nothing. I very rarely watch it, as it doesn't get to spend enough time dealing with any subject. I may not be a fan of The South Bank Show either, but at least it gets to treat its subjects with extra time. This week featured some amusing stuff. Verity Sharp interviewed Cate Blanchett about Elizabeth 2: Raleigh Me Up and the Dylan biopic It's Not Me, Babe, It's a Bunch of Other Actors Playing Me, or whatever it's called. Most of it was a slight remove from the usual puff pieces you see on entertainment TV, but Sharp, after pointing out that her performance as Dylan was from his early, curiously feminine/androgynous early years, memorably asked Blanchett how masculine her Elizabeth was, to which Canyon continued, "50% masculine? 60%?" Blanchett looked suitably rattled by the stupid question.

Even more entertaining was Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent, interviewing Jake Gyllenhall about Rendition. We got to see Gardner preparing Gyllenhaal for the interview (which was obviously one of many held as part of a press junket that day) by telling him he was a journalist who had been shot and paralysed by al-Qaeda insurgents. The look of confusion and terror on Jakey's face was hilarious, but luckily his responses during the interview were more thoughtful.


Silliest of all was Mark "Zoot Suit" Kermode interviewing Greatest Living Film Director David Cronenberg about his new movie Eastern Promises. Of course, a significant chunk of that time was spent discussing how the new movie fits in with Cronenberg's horror filmography, which is something that drives me crazy. Of the 17 full length films he has made (I'm counting Stereo and Crimes of the Future as one, as they're an hour long each and are often screened together as companion pieces), 7 of them aren't horror, and some of the others are so odd as to defy genre descriptions. For example, is Naked Lunch really a horror film? Or eXistenZ?

Anyway, when interviewers or critics focus on these films it makes me wonder if they have any interest in the development of his oeuvre, choosing instead to rely on lazy thinking. That said, I'll give Kermode a break on this one as he is obviously a horror film fan and was probably very excited about interviewing the great man, as well he should be. That said, why oh why oh why did he decide to set up an elaborate series of cameras and monitors so that they could talk with their backs to each other, with their faces filmed head on? Kermode said it was because Cronenberg's films are unflinching, so he wanted the camera to look right into his face. It was such a silly, pretentious thing to do that I could barely concentrate on the interview over the embarrassment I felt for Cronenberg. He handled it well. Class act, that guy. And his hair is positively Pasdarian.

1 comment:

sjwoo said...

Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-DUM...I can just hear that Trek fighting music.

The only show I caught last week was 30 Rock. Everything else has been DVRed. Alec Baldwin was, as he usually is, the highlight of the show. His impressions were too, too much.

A show I'm going to dearly miss is Drawn Together, which has three more episodes to go. It's one of the most envelope-pushing shows around. You'd appreciate some of the superhero humor. For example, instead of Hawkman, they have Ethan Hawkman!