Sunday, 21 September 2008

This Week In TV Year II (Week 2)

During the last TV season I got myself into a right tizzy blogging about the various shows aired that week, taking on too much for little reward. So, with the new season starting in a staggered manner, I'm coming to it a bit late (or perhaps too early). I'm not sure I'll be able to keep this up each week, but I will try, if only to see how long Fringe lasts, which is a shocking turn of events considering it was expected to be such a big hit. That said, it does featureone unmissable element...

Mad Scientist of the Week:

Dr. Walter Bishop is our new favourite character on TV after just a few minutes of screentime, but if you've seen Fringe you'll probably understand. While the show underwhelms as drama and underperforms as a ratings grabber, it's got four things going for it. 1) Lance "Intensity" Reddick in full effect. 2) Blair Brown as the cyber-arm wielding Nina Sharp, though her casting appeals to me more as a reminder of Altered States than anything else. 3) Darin Morgan is on staff as a consulting producer, hopefully getting to add his stamp to the show in the way he didn't on the Diabolical Bionical Woman. 4) is Walter Bishop, a modern-day Frankenstein, shunned by the scientific community, mistrusted by his son, and perhaps responsible for The Pattern, a mysterious sounding arc-MacGuffin that sounds like it was put into play by Milo Rambaldi and Gerald De Groot in an Abrams-verse super-team-up.

None of which would make an impact at this early stage, if it wasn't for John Noble's vastly entertaining performance. After one particularly amazing line-reading, which made a tedious comment both silly, informative, and heart-wrenching all at the same time, Canyon exclaimed, "Oh my God he's so good!"

She was right. Nailing every joke and wringing pathos out of every situation, he brought the goods. Even if the other reasons to watch don't pan out, we're sticking around for John Noble.

Most Pointless Character of the Week:

Though I would have loved to have given it to Chase, who continues to serve little or no purpose in House (less than Cameron, amazingly), the honor has to go to the utterly vestigial Peter Bishop, a supposed supergenius in his own right, but whose purpose on Fringe seems to be repeating dialogue back to people just I case the audience missed it the first time around. The only wrinkle Joshua Jackson adds is to deliver those lines either with reflexive, annoying sarcasm or disbelief. Once an episode would be too much, but he gets to do it about nine thousand times. The showrunners, in a fit of paranoia about their product, seem to think the audience will be sitting at home scoffing at every absurd event on screen, and so must have someone in the show echoing that eye-rolling. Though I will admit a plot involving rapidly-grown supersoldiers who have to eat pituitary glands to stop themselves ageing is ridiculous, but it's a sci fi show about mad science. I don't need someone on screen going, "Mad science?!?? Do you know how mad that is?" Plus, Joshua Jackson, who was just fine in that performance of A Life In The Theatre we once saw him in, is deeply annoying in this, and appears to have a weird fold in the middle of his forehead.

Did mad science put it there?!?!!?

Worst Stylistic Tic of the Week:

Canyon and I disagree on as many things as we agree on, and one of the first things we found we had a difference of opinion about was lens flares. I love them, mostly because they're old school and looked so good in Die Hard (why can't Jan De Bont swallow his pride and go back to excellent cinematography?), and she hates them because they distract the eye and remind you you're watching a movie or TV show. Much to my disgust, however, while nostalgic love of photographic stylistic choices is my cross to bear, no one should have to put up with the ridiculous CGI faux-flares in Fringe.

During the deeply unpleasant opener and the suspense-free finale, every action shot opened with an identical flare, sometimes mirrored but otherwise the same.

It didn't matter if there was no light source for it; it was just added. Why director Paul Edwards and producers JJ Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci thought this was anything other than a silly distraction is beyond me.

Real flares only! Don't accept the CGI kind.

Still, the finale did feature one stylistic choice I could totally get behind. While Josh Jackson did his flappy defribrillator shtick, and Anna Torv ran around in the dark with her gun out in front of her like the TV cops do, it kept cutting back to Walter eating popcorn and impassively explaining how to shock a dying woman back to life. Hilarious stuff. We love you, Walter Bishop!

Reaction of the Week:

Pete Campbell's glum expression when he realises Don Draper isn't going to invite him to his party was the funniest sight of the week.

We love not loving this little creep.

Disappointment of the Week:

There was no way that House M.D. was going to top last year's format shake-up, and I wasn't going to expect it, but even taking into account the fireworks of that excellent two-part season finale, this was still a flat episode. While still providing many laughs and much character drama (plus a rare admission of sorrow from House), as well as some top-notch work from Robert Sean Leonard, there was little to distinguish it from typical mid-season filler. Except, of course, Wilson's departure.

The final scene, with him telling House to basically go screw himself for beng a toxic asshole, was great, but I'm unable to feel good about it. Though there may be great dramatic opportunities opened up by House potentially becoming even more of a jerk without the corrective influence of Wilson around (nicely picked up by Foreman), our favourite moments of the show are the conversations between them. Without that, no matter what happens next, we're going to miss that.

Youthified Legend of the Week:

Attempting to capture the Doctor Who lightning in a bottle once more, the BBC has revisualised Le Morte D'Arthur and The Once and Future King in much the same way that Robin Hood was turned into a topical drama about the war on terror. Having not seen Hood I can't compare it to Merlin, but I can say that the new show is not a disaster, though any praise I'll throw its way will be extremely faint in nature.

Early impressions hinted that by presenting Merlin: The Teenage Years we would be getting a transparently Harry Potter style grab at the attentions of Brit children, and though it's a blatantly cynical move, it also seemed kinda logical. Why not capitalise on that? I'm almost jealous that someone else came up with the idea. What did surprise me was the similarities with Smallville and Gossip Girl, of all things. Just as Smallville starts with Clark Kent and Lex Luthor becoming friends, thus setting out the relationship arc between them, Merlin features the mirror version of that, with Merlin and Prince Arthur bickering at first sight, even though we know they will eventually become a partnership.

That snarky relationship is one of the most likeable things about it, with Colin Morgan and Bradley James keeping it pleasingly light. However, it kept reminding me of the fractious early relationship between Dan Humphrey and Nate Archibald in Gossip Girl. From that point on, I realised the show was going to spend as much time on exploring the dreary relationship combinations between Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, and Morgana at the expense of the mystical aspects of the myth, which so far include Uther Pendragon (a grumpy Anthony Head) outlawing magic, and Merlin using what amounts to a lot of telekinesis. It's practically counting down the episdes until a saucy youngster called Lancelot turns up and complicates things even more (he will be played by Santiago Cabrera, formerly of Heroes).

Speaking of the myth, it's interesting that The O.C. and Gossip Girl appear to be templates for this, using the class difference between Merlin and Arthur as the basis of their antagonism. Of course, in the most famous renderings of the myth, Arthur is kept out of Uther's circle, and only becomes king when he pulls Excalibur from the stone. Here he is already a cocky young shaver, treating his servants badly and being a total dick. Luckily the change works, and I'm not about to get pissy about the alterations. It's so far removed from any classical renderings of the legend, especially with the colloquialisms and very modern cast diversity, that it would be churlish to see it as anything other than a frivolous and mildly diverting curio. I might not bother watching further, but I'm not repelled either. Plus, it's made me want to watch Excalibur again, even though that film is crazy nonsense.

Meltdown of the Week:

Progressing elegantly from Shaky Hands to avian genocide to the 19th nervous breakdown that probably inspired the Rolling Stones, Betty Draper went full-on Howard Beale at Don Draper, after practising on a chair.

Sadly the very entertaining crazy was handled by January Jones, an actress who still fails to convince us she can pull this kind of thing off.

It was especially frustrating as she did raise her game with her best opportunities yet, but was still blasted off the screen by show-best work from Elizabeth Moss and her life of empty "success", and Christina Hendricks, whose hypocritical embrace of career progression contrasted with Peggy's ennui. The scene with her dealing with the loss of that newly discovered world of responsibility and achievement should be her award clip next year.

Though it didn't feature raggedy hair and obsessive suit-sniffing. Score one for Jones.

Pleasing Visual of the Week:

As mentioned many times in the past, we love dragons, and for all its faults, at least Merlin features a dragon.

As voiced by John Hurt, and obviouslty hamstrung by budget, it's still better than some, but not as good as Vermithrax Pejorative. We're still impatiently waiting to see Temeraire on the big screen for a definitive dragon, PETER JACKSON!!!

Intensity of the Week:

Lance "Intensity" Reddick!

Yes, I'm going to bang this into the ground just like I did with Ray Wise and his awesome grin. Je ne regrette rien.

Biggest Shock of the Week:

There I am trying to relax with Merlin on iPlayer, and what happens?

Eve Myles aka Gwen from the hated Torchwood!?!?! No one warned me! I was taken utterly aback. Just to make things worse, a few seconds later there were two Gwens, as an evil old crone uses magic to impersonate her. Surely this is madness!

To be honest, without her usual Gwen-style histrionics, Eve Myles gave a fair performance, merely being a bit sinister at times while presenting a friendly face the rest of the time, all to get closer to Arthur so that she can kill him. I was almost disappointed, but thankfully, at the end we get to see her badly lip-synching to some Gaelic song in front of Uther and his courtiers, as well as waggling her arms in an approximation of a dance. The tears, they flowed down my face.

She even gets to go batshit murderous with a knife. Oh how I've missed her expressive face!

It's a shame she gets murderlised by Merlin using his own magic to crash something on her head, as weekly appearances by her would definitely keep me tuning in, but still, this little reminder of her peculiar talents was enough to make my day.

So, some underperforming new shows, a returning show that fails to live up to the previous episode, and some top 60s events to make up for all that. Brian Michael Bendoom, what did you think of this week in TV?

I can't argue with that.


Douglas said...

Hello, I quite enjoyed Merlin, although I do wish they hadn't thrown tomatoes at him when he was in the stocks. Dragons and magic I can handle, fruits that didn't exist in Albion until the 16th century, up with I will not put!

Admiral Neck said...

If that annoyed you, don't watch Wanted. In that some characters use binary 700 years before it is "invented". I was also surprised to see bratty teenage behaviour had been invented way early as well.

The Rush Blog said...

You must be blinded by January Jones' "Nordic" look. What did you want her to do? Chew the scenery? Judging by your comments, it seemed that you did. Remind me never to take any of your criticisms serious.

Douglas said...
I've seen 'Wanted'. I was dazzled by the "loom of destiny"!