Saturday, 27 September 2008

This Week In TV Year II (Week 3)

This was, originally, a short post, but it managed to get out of hand with a quickness. As a result, I'll be splitting it in two, and finishing it tomorrow.

Highlight of the Week:

The return of The Office was cause for much celebration, especially after the lethal combination of compelling cosmic-level absurdity and chasm-deep tedium of the worst new show of the decade (I'll get to that in a bit). Realising that it would be a cheat to not show the events of the summer (as is the way of most shows on hiatus), Eisenberg and Stupnitsky cleverly showed the highlights of a two-month weight loss challenge, with goatees and terrible illness used to visually express time passing.

Some of it fell flat (e.g. Michael bouncing around in his sumo suit was a nice callback to an earlier episode, but still felt like something done better in earlier seasons), but it was saved by some superb moments: Angela and Dwight's secret liaisons, the vending machine running gag, Ryan's return (first time I've been glad to see him back, as I usually hate him), Jim and Pam's lunch. So good to have something return that we really love, and how adorable were Michael and Holly?

OMG so adorable!

Format Revamp of the Week:

Ugly Betty returned with a flourish of game-changing, with Betty opening the episode by dumping Henry (yay!) and Gio (boo!), going on a cross-American trip, leaving home to live in New York, and returning to Meade Publishing to find Mode transformed into Wilhelmina's Ice Palace (nice use of fairy-tale imagery), Daniel running a tacky sub-Maxim lad mag, and Alexis alienating everyone through her inexperience and gullibility. It also established Lindsay Lohan as Ignacio's burger joint boss, and Justin as a disappointingly intolerant jerk with regard to lesbians.

While it was far from the best episode, at least things have ben shaken up. I'm hoping for an improvement over the latter half of last season, which was a formless and unfunny mess, but I'm hopeful that, with Amanda and Marc reunited, things will work out well.

Pacing Revamp of the Week:

After season two of Heroes failed to live up to expectations, series creator Tim Kring was quoted as passive-aggressively saying that he guessed the fans wanted action and not character development. Hilariously, that sounded like he was defending the circular and contradictory motivations of his poorly defined characters, instead of spotting that the show had been pushed back into production without a clear and compelling idea of what was going to happen. It wasn't necessarily action we wanted, but for any event to have some internal logic or ramifications. Now characters are coming back from the dead and changing allegiance with little care for dramatic affect or continuity, and action scenes would do nothing to improve the failings of the writing, or the inherent lameness of some of the characters (as evidenced by the less than impressive Legion of Doom).

The long season three opener kept making mistakes (bringing back Nathan and transforming him from a snarky know-it-all into a humourless God-bothering hallucinator is crime no. 1), but Kring kept his pissy promise. As Hercules said on AICN, it was a mess, but it wasn't boring. Now that I refuse to take it seriously, I ended up enjoying it, but there was a lot of "oh for fuck's sake" moments that made it less than great. It's enough to keep me watching, though.

Best Title Card of the Week:

It's not got a proper title sequence yet, so we only got a bare-bones list of cast and crew, but even so, we still got to see the best new title of the year: THE MENTALIST!

Masticator already knows about this, and has linked to a similar clip in another internet venue, but for American readers who have not yet seen this, here is why The Mentalist is going to be a tough sell in the UK.

It's a shame, because creator Bruno Heller seems to have been inspired by the psychic debunking talents of Derren Brown (or, as many on the netts have suggested, the TV show Psych). The idea of a crime-fighting Derren Brown holds immediate appeal, but rather than cast the actual tiny Brit mentalist, the showrunners plumped for the super-slick Simon Baker.

He manages to capture the sleazy showmanship of a former psychic con-man and the privately tortured soul of a man whose wife and child were slaughtered by a serial killer, thus propelling him into a life of crime-fighting. Cleverly, he's a bit of a schmuck and is clumsy around people he has to work with, and his attempt at being Action Mentalist ends with him nearly crippling himself on a flight of stairs.

It's an entertaining performance, even though it's not as flashy as Hugh Laurie as the similarly misanthropic House. It's also nice to have an unapologetically atheist main character, though his alienation of a member of his team suggests he might change his mind at some later time. We hope not, as this pilot was strong enough to keep us tuning in, especially as his slowly paced showdown with episode antagonist and Emmy-award winner Zeljko Ivanek was so entertaining. After a long sequence of tricksy back-and-forth between the two, our hero's Amazing Powers of the Brain won out.

The good news is the show had a good start, ratings-wise, so this might have time to really find its feet.

Worst Title Card of the Week:

As the main characters of Knight Rider, Michael Traceur and Sarah Graiman, begin to disrobe down to their sexy undies in order to avoid being cooked alive inside a big sentient shape-changing car that has been hit by a rocket filled with super-scientific special napalm from the future, this flashed up.

Fail, Doug Liman. FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FUCKING FAIL!!! What were you thinking? What the hell are you doing to the general public, some of whom might have tuned into the show not realising what it was, and therefore not being prepared? Some innocent people could have been hospitalised. I blame you for any casualties, you formerly respectable human.

I could spend the rest of the week explaining everything that I hated about Knight Rider, from the shitty effects to the risible dialogue to the sickening, relentless overuse of music, but Josh Modell's AV Club review sums it up perfectly. I must admit to being almost fond of Justin Bruening, whose expressions range from super-smug... a version of Blue Steel that rivals that of dear departed Doakes.

Of course, having an entertainingly wooden lead doesn't mitigate even the least of its problems, which are seemingly infinite. It's exactly as bad as you've heard. It makes Bionical Woman look like Battlestar Galactica. It makes Torchwood look like The Prisoner. There are diseases that are more fun than this. It is a catastrophic, epic, unforgettable disaster.

Sweet ride, though.

Surprise of the Week:

The second episode of House was a big improvement over the season premiere, but it did introduce a new character who, without warning, took up a lot of screen time and interacted almost exclusively with our anti-hero in a snarky way. Lucas, a private investigator hired by House to observe Wilson, was certainly entertaining enough to justify more screen time, especially with Wilson's absence creating a void in the show, and Michael Weston was very funny, but the level of character detail on display seemed excessive for a one-off guest player. As a result I didn't pay as much attention to him as I should have, partially because I was knackered while watching and was having enough trouble following the Disease of the Week, but also because, even as an entertaining Wilson replacement, he was surely only going to be around for a week before disappearing for good

I couldn't have been more wrong. Turns out he is not only around for a three episode run, but is also getting his own show. David Chase has decided to pimp out his new show by slotting this new character into the flow of a current big hit. There are two good things about this inclusion. Firstly, at least Luke was funny and pointed out some interesting facts about the House/Wilson dynamic, and secondly at least this means that the long-mooted House spin-off doesn't feature Chase and Cameron solving crimes, all while never appearing on screen together. However, abruptly introducing someone new felt very Mary-Sue-like (or rather, Gary-Stu-like), though of course no writer would write such a character as a really quite pathetic stalker.

Nevertheless, having this stranger talk knowledgeably about Cuddy and Cameron didn't feel right. Plus, ambushing the regular cast and format with a new and suddenly important character was reminiscent of the awful Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, which would make Luke our generation's Gary Seven. Shame our generation didn't need one.

Improvement of the Week:

Fringe's resident eye-roller Peter Bishop didn't totally suck this week. The toning down of his reflexive sarcasm was infinitesimally small, but losing even a bit of his jerkocity made the show more entertaining. We even laughed at something he said, though it was a minimal response compared to the gales of laughter elicited by his father, Dr. Walter Bishop. Fringe is still not great, but Canyon loves it, and I'll watch anything science-fictiony, so we're sticking with it until its inevitable cancellation (we're talking about Fox, after all).

Slumming Actors of the Week:

Is there a more depressing sight on TV right now than excellent actor Bruce Davison giving his all for something as unforgivably bad as Knight Rider?

This is more depressing than seeing him turn into a blob of jelly in the first X-Men movie. The mane of hair offends the eye, and the effort he puts into trying to make the most trite dialogue come alive breaks the heart. Of course, what really stings is that he's onscreen throughout. Val Kilmer, who for all his rumoured personal faults is always fun to watch, is left off-screen and used to bring to life a morphing car with a queasy rippling eye in the dashboard.

While Hasselhoff and the original KITT, William Daniels, had a fun chemistry, Justin Bruening's flat performance is not helped by the decision to make the KITT 2.0 sound more like Hal 3000. At times you can almost hear the clicking of the phone connection Kilmer is using to send his dialogue to the recording studio, he's so lifeless. It's made my desire for a sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang increase by about 3000%.

Fringe Illogicalities of the Week:

A shady agent is killed on the bus at the start of the show, and a colleague visits her corpse in order to hang around it for no sinister reason at all oh no and you're a bad person for even suspecting it. Except that he is totally sinister and slices open the corpse's hand to retrieve a disc containing some mysterious information.

All well and good, but how did that woman ever flex her hand without screaming "ARGH my hand!"? It's massive! In other improbability news, according to Dr. Walter Bishop, the solid block of weird amber in the bus is originally in gaseous form (as we had already seen), and becomes solid upon contact with the nitrogen in the air.

So why doesn't it turn into a solid immediately? It's not like the nitrogen is only in some of the air. It's everywhere! So the nozzle would open, and immediately become clogged by the gas solidifying.

Those were deeply improbable moments, and this might seem like nitpicking, but during the interrogation of science-psychic Roy McComb, Peter acts like he can tell if someone is lying because he is a poker player, and is thus able to figure out a person's tells. Of course, he would have to see them lying and see how they behaved when being deceitful, but he doesn't get a chance to do that here, as Roy only says what he thinks is the truth. So how does Peter know what his tells are? As a World Champion pokerist of several decades myself, I know all about how easy it is to give away a lie with an error. Peter does not know what he's talking about, and I do. It's mad science. Oh, and this?

I'm sorry, but having the big chase finale rest on Olivia's inability to get past a huge crowd of three people in a wide entrance tends to ruin the subsequent suspense.

Visual of the Week:

It's either the wicked frozen bus effect in Fringe...

...or the excellent colour trail following Heroes speedster Daphne, a welcome addition to a cast of ponderous, pretentious jerks who sometimes quote Yeats when they're not crying a lot.

Not only is Daphne light enough to make her new nemesis Hiro fun again, she's wearing the same red as The Flash. Nice touch.

Brainiac of the Week:

Way to go, new Heroes villain Pyrokineticman, using your flame power in a gas/petrol station. Huge jets of blue flame coming out of your hands are obviously nowhere near as bad as using mobile phones on the forecourt, which is just asking for trouble.

On the other side of the pumps you can see The German using his powers of magnetism to punch a guy in the face a bunch of times. He speaks a moment later and I was disappointed to find he has a German accent. How much more fun it would have been if he was an American with an inexplicable nickname, despite his Euro-villain glasses.

And on that note, I take my leave until tomorrow so that I can gorge my brain on season six of The Shield. I predict there will be tears.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still have hope that Betty will pick Gio eventually. I'm totally in love with him. I was disappointed with the first episode of Season 3. Hopefully things will get better and we will see Gio more often later.