Saturday, 11 October 2008

These Weeks In TV Year II (Weeks 4-5) Part 1

We went on holiday! To Italy! And when we got back we had about one million TV shows to watch (and had missed some movies at the cinema, such as ::choke:: Appaloosa). It was a lovely trip, but it meant I have been avoiding blogging (thanks to Masticator for holding the fort with his defense of Jersey Girl). So, here is a bunch of whining about everything we've spent the last few days slogging through, with some omissions. I'm considering saving my soul by not watching Knight Rider anymore, have not seen this week's installment of Pushing Daisies yet, and haven't tried out Eleventh Hour and Life on Mars, though that's partially because I've not yet watched the originals either. So, bear in mind there are some episodes missing, but otherwise, this is a lot of stuff from the past two weeks.

Triumphant Return of the Week(s):

Saved from cancellation by a weird deal between parent network NBC and DirecTV, Friday Night Lights, the best non-Lost network show on TV, returned with a long stretch of time left unvisited, which is an unfortunate side-effect of the unfairly truncated second season. After a burst of exposition for the benefit of any new viewers (oh please let there be a few million when it returns to NBC!), the show fit right back into its groove as if it had never been away.

Show highlights included Tyra's existential panic, Buddy and his beloved Jumbotron, the uncertain relationship between Lila and Riggins, and Matt Saracen's imminent retirement due to the arrival of hotshot QB J.D. McCoy and his scheming dad. To be honest, it was so great there's little to say about it other than OMG IT WAS SO GREAT and so was the second episode OMG! But perhaps that's enough.

Most Hectic Hour of the Week(s):

The return of Pushing Daisies was overwhelming even for someone who has been following it since the pilot, so God knows how it was received by any new viewers (of which there were probably none, considering its disastrous viewing figures). With two guest stars (Missi Pyle and French Stewart), the usual murder mystery, Chuck and Ned's estrangement and reconciliation, and Olive's departure from The Pie Hole (not to mention her nunnery subplot and Emerson's pop-up book project), it was perhaps too busy, but it was at least funny and smart and original.

The script was beautifully constructed and satisfying as well. Moaning about it all makes me feel like an awful misery-guts, you know.

Non-Returning Highlight of the Week(s):

My love for Mad Men now solidified, I can get on with enjoying the show instead of getting annoyed by the odd flaw. Of the two episodes we saw during this fortnight (Sixth Month Leave and The Inheritance), perhaps the second was more cohesive on a thematic level (see future Weeks 4-5 posts), but the first episode, dealing with Freddy Rumsen's sacking, was more fun.

Highlights included Freddy peeing his pants (kudos to the foley artist who captured the sound of his shoes squishing as he leaves the office), Pete and Peggy facing off over her promotion, Don crushing the juvenile idiots working under him like the unworthy scum they are, and of course the out-of-the-blue revelation that Roger Sterling was leaving his loyal wife for that overconfident floozy Jane.

My favourite thing, though, was the long sequence where Don and Roger take Freddy out and let him know, through glaringly obvious doubletalk, that he's being let go. The pace of the show is always a marvel, and here it allows the show to take a long detour as they wine and dine their friend, who is smart enough to know what they are doing but not smart enough to know what he should do next.

Joel Murray gives a terrific performance as Freddy, a dopey but genial executive who has come to the end of the line and accepts it with a mixture of resignation and fear. These long scenes were a total joy to watch, taking their time to tell a dozen stories in a way a network show would never be able to.

Alarming Failrate of the Week(s):

Heroes really is screwed, isn't it. I mean, we had a great time watching the last two episodes back to back, cracking up every few minutes at some dreadful staging or silly dialogue: we had great fun with Suresh and his terrible rash, which made us think all those geneticist brane-smarts mean nothing if he doesn't think to wear a condom while ravishing hott babes (sorry for the insinuation, Maya!). By now the disastrous writing, all speechifying and incomprehensible plot twists, is not the worst of it. It's full of errors, perhaps most visibly the self-plagiarism. When Usutu revealed his gallery of predictive paintings, we growned aloud.

It's becoming apparent that the powers are being spread between characters (Usutu and Isaac, Nathan and West, Claire and Adam, Future Ando and Elle, Claire's mom Meredith and Pyrokinetic Man etc.), and this will almost certainly be explained by the utterly dreary plot about the lineage of all of the Heroes (as soon as Angela Petrelli appears I totally tune out). Nevertheless, it still means the narrative is eating itself. Another apocalypse, another series of predictions, more time travel, more Company shenanigans, and on and on and on. If the characters were written better, this wouldn't be a problem, but they seem to have no fixed identity at all. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing matters.

Even on a surface level the show can't keep itself straight for two seconds. Early in the fourth episode, Suresh kicks Maya out of his lab and blathers on about fate and valour and DNA or something (I tuned out again), and then he sets his recording doohickey down onto a table. Time passes, and we're in the future, as shown by the recorder being covered with dust and cockroaches.

Immediately Canyon said, "He never picked it up again? Bullshit. He'll use it again later in the episode." Of course, she was totally right.

And are we supposed to believe this is a real headline? Any self-respecting editor would off him or herself if they let this go to print.

If the showrunners think none of this matters, they're horribly wrong. The amateurishness and silliness have reached epidemic levels, and viewers are deserting in droves. Not us, of course. If we're going to watch Car Crash TV, this is at least less painful to watch than Knight Rider.

Show Change of the Week(s):

Doug Petrie always seemed to be an odd choice for CSI producer/writer, not because he isn't talented (he is), but because his work on Buffy was leagues away from the tone needed for a gritty procedural. Many of his episodes were quirky, much as expected (especially Toe Tags, with the talking corpses), but he was able to come up with the expected grimness when necessary (he is credited with co-writing my favourite CSI episode ever, Monster In The Box).

It was never a problem that he was on the show, especially as it's always good to see Mutant Enemy writers doing well (see also: Marti Noxon on Mad Men, which is a hell of a step-up from Point Pleasant). However, nice though it was to have a writer we like work on a hugely successful show, seeing that he has jumped over to Pushing Daisies really cheered us up. His writing is perfectly suited to Daisies, and the only thing that sours that news is that Daisies is doing so badly in the ratings that it might get cancelled before he gets to write an episode. ::is sad::

Unexpected Cameo of the Week(s):

Holy shit! Betty Draper's dad is played by John McCain!

He was perfectly cast as well. Belligerent, lying to himself and others to cover up his confusion, and so overcome with attraction to hot females that he loses his composure.

Steady on, fella! That's no way to treat a vice-presidential candidate. Hehhhhh? Hehhhhh?

Second Most Unexpected Cameo of the Week(s):

This is Betty Draper's brother.

How did they de-age Robert Englund?

Opinion Reversal of the Week(s):

How quickly I have soured on Lucas the hapless PI in House. Individual moments were still funny, such as his appearance in House's closet, but the desperate attempts to create an audience for his forthcoming spin-off are embarrassing and distracting.

The stalking and subsequent courting of Cuddy has the potential to ruin her character forever, and the temporary suspension of House's usual disdain for any and all people in his sphere looks idiotic and transparently calculated.

A narrative decision this blatantly cynical could backfire horribly. David Chase should have thought twice.

Funniest Joke of the Week(s):

This rendered us helpless this week (it’s between 7:30 and 8:30, but you should watch the whole thing.

Infantile genius.

Punch of the Week(s):

Don Draper clocks Jimmy Barrett, and it is beautiful.

The best part of that is that even though I enjoyed seeing Don batter that obnoxious jerk, I also really enjoyed the scene from a few weeks ago when Jimmy humiliated Don by revealing he knew all about the affair with Bobbie. This is the show that gives and gives and then gives some more. Such brilliance is hard to achieve. Compare Don's effortless cool with Daphne's speedpunching, a supercool Flash trick rendered ugly by some dire effects on Heroes.

I'm really bitching about Daphne, which is not really representative of my opinion. You've got to love a snarky speedster, and she goes well with Hiro and Ando.

I just think her superpower pales into insignificance compared to the fearsome might of Don Draper.

Easter Egg of the Week(s) Month:

It took very little time for me to fall for the new nerd-baiting mystery man The Observer, who arrived in the latest episode of Fringe in an explosion of debris, flame, quirky tics, and hot peppers. Even though it was obvious to me that he is little more than a grab-bag of weirdness calculated to appeal to the nerd fanbase, I immediately became enamoured of him, partially because he is bald and loves jalapenos (we're like brothers!), but mostly because he has driven the show headlong in an even stranger direction than I thought it would. What I had assumed was going to be a mildly diverting Alias-meets-X-Files procedural looks now to be a batshit curio that will split the audience into opposing groups of rabid fans and exasperated haters to such an extent it will make the Lost Talkback Wars look like a love-in.

It could have gone the other way, though. Midway through the episode, upon being confronted by Anna "Vanatron" Torv, Lance "Intensity" Reddick reveals that he has been seen numerous times at Pattern events, including the hospital in which the grisly birth scene from the second episode occurred. A photo is produced, showing The Observer, which offended me greatly. A blatant piece of ret-conning, it made the show look amateurish and desperate, trying to convince the audience that the show mythology had been planned in advance but instead making it look like it was being made up as it goes along (just like haters think is happening with Lost). Just to prove this, I went back to the second episode, hoping the hospital scenes would be Observer-free. Well, I'm not too proud to admit I was horribly wrong.

How cool is that? He's so fucking creepy. Thrilled by the knowledge that the Fringe team are trying to generate a plan for the show with seeded cameos and whatnot, I checked the net for more news about The Observer, and whaddaya know, he's been in all four episodes so far, with a Hitchcockian cameo walking past MASSive Dynamic in the pilot, and an eerie stalker moment on a train in the third episode.

Even better, it's obvious the show has been designed to appeal to those of us whose idea of a good time is to waste hours clicking through Lostpedia or play ARGs like the current Dharma Initiative Initiation game. As you can see here, there have been Easter Eggs throughout the series (The Observer was namechecked in the pilot title sequence), either feeding into the mythology or giving ARG hints. It's all very entertaining.

In fact, I find the promise of a new sci fi mythology more exciting than the actual show, which, despite the introduction of nose torture, glowing subterranean torpedoes, and crazy 50s rayguns, still kinda bores me whenever Dr. Walter Bishop is not onscreen. Hints that Peter and Olivia have a secret Pattern-influenced past might make them more interesting, but right now I'm not interested in them at all. And yet I can't wait for the next episode. I'm such a sucker for big mythologies. It's actually really embarrassing.

Well-Used Secondary Character of the Week(s):

I keep on about it, but it needs to be shouted from the rooftops of New York; Marc and Amanda are the best things about Ugly Betty, but are sorely underused. Amanda is getting about two lines an episode right now, though thankfully she is talented and funny enough that she at least knows how to make those lines count.

Marc, on the other hand, was given a juicier plot than usual, scheming to get Wilhelmina demoted from her new position as Mode editor-in-chief just to keep her all to himself. This angered Canyon, who was disgusted to see the status quo returned after a long period introducing numerous story opportunities that ranged in potential from promising to almost certainly a dead end. She has a very good point. Still, there is the short term gain that Marc got to show a new, Macchiavellian side. It ain't much, but it meant I laughed a lot, and sometimes that's enough.

How To Ruin a Character Recipe of the Week(s):

Add one book...

...Stir in one genetically engineered triplet damsel in distress...

...Sprinkle with liberal amounts of an invisible old man who probably never shuts up about working with Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson between takes...

...And you end up with a hyper-lame loser who can only get about four people to attend his press conference about a catastrophic disaster that kills hundreds of thousands of people.

Nice Jackie O glasses there, Tracey.

And now, I shall stop there, so that I can finally watch Hairspray (remake). More to come, peeps.

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