Tuesday, 25 November 2008

That Week In TV Year II (Week 8)

While life gets tied up in elections, work disasters (boy, I really don't want to talk about that), Civilisation Revolution benders, and other distracting miscellany, TV marches on like a flickering, gaudy, hypnotic glacier, only slightly dented by by the unavoidable scheduling obstructions of the last couple of Obamariffic weeks. We totally took our eye off the ball, but then fatigue has begun to set in. I'm almost totally disillusioned by Ugly Betty even though Canyon is sticking with it, she has escaped the gluetrap that is Heroes while I remain hooked even in the face of cortex-wrecking stupidity, and both of us have lost interest in Pushing Daisies. That's especially galling for me as I really like it, but as with the cruelly cancelled Journeyman last year, watching a show that smells of death is a dispiriting experience. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually, but it will be bittersweet.

So, I intend to rush through the three-to-four weeks since our last Week in TV, seeing as how those weeks ended up being fairly similar in terms of what rocked and what sucked. Here is a rundown of what we watched:

Week 8 (27 Oct - 2 Nov):

The Shield 7:09 - Moving Day
Friday Night Lights 3:05 - Every Rose Has Its Thorn
America's Next Top Model 11:10 - Planes, Trains, and Slow Automobiles
CSI 9:04 - Let It Bleed
The Office 5:05 - Employee Transfer
House 5:06 - Joy
The Mentalist 1:05 - Redwood
Heroes 3:07- Eris Quod Sum
30 Rock 3:01 - Do-over
Ugly Betty 3:06 - Ugly Berry

If I don't mention the show now, I might in subsequent posts, when an episode worth chatting about crops up.

Highlight of the Week(s):

With a ninety-minute finale set to air tonight that will finally tell us whether Vic kills Shane / Shane kills Vic / Ronnie kills Mara and Corrine / Dutch kills Beaver Casablanca / Julien kills some time by doing nothing interesting / Tina kills everyone through outrageous negligence (delete as applicable), The Shield is almost at the end of a final sprint of astonishing and thrilling brilliance. If only every show could end with this amount of confidence and nerve-annihilating daring. Though we have rushed through all six and a bit seasons in almost no time, I can imagine fans who have been with it since the beginning must feel totally vindicated in their patience, as the knot of plotlines gets tighter and tighter. It sounds like hyperbole when I write it down, but I feel privileged to have been able to take this narrative trip.

Non-Shield Highlight of the Week:

The third season of Friday Night Lights already hitting absurdly high new highs at the moment, and Every Rose Has Its Thorn might well be the best of the year. It was certainly the best thing on air this week that didn't feature Michael Chiklis doing his angry face. Opening on a fraught football game, with Coach gambling on a crazy plan which entails switching between two offensive teams headed by Matt and new QB JD McCoy, we see the changing of the guard as dependable Matt wins the game at the last minute but is effectively ignored by the town, who embrace the new quarterback. It was nerve-wracking and sad and beautifully filmed, with its position right at the start of the episode a masterstroke.

Even better, this week saw the return of Jason Street, desperately trying to save his relationship with the mother of his child by getting involved in a half-arsed house-restoration deal with the Riggins brothers and the ever-belligerent Herc. As I love all of these characters, seeing the four of them bickering over even the smallest things was TV heaven.

In particular it showed how hollow Street's inspirational chatter can be when aimed at the wrong people, doing little to keep his quartet together (hilariously it's Riggins' appropriation of some bullshit salesman speak from Buddy Garrity that makes the difference), and failing to convince Erin to stay with him, while at the same time showing how he can trade on his pre-paralysis reputation in convincing Buddy to sell his house to him. His options are beginning to shrink within Dillon, which is a great set up for later episodes.

Nothing was extraneous. Tyra's Bueller-esque day off to hang with her pill-popping hottie boyfriend has an air of tragedy following her earlier scenes with Tami, where she gives up her college dreams just to shack up with some guy even though this is exactly what doomed her mother and sister, Matt's demotion brings about a reconciliation with his mother and gives Coach reason for some intense soul-searching as he gambles on a 15 year old quarterback, and even the unpromising thread with Julie's tattoo was filled with beautifully realised character moments, jokes, and touching speeches. It was a total triumph from beginning to end. Here is a visual representation of how happy it made me.

Lowlight of the Week:

Much as I hate to beat on a show I once loved, but Ugly Betty's unfortunate run of sub-par episodes now seems to be the default setting, with only the slim chance of temporary improvement. After enduring another depressingly mirthless episode, Ugly Berry, which revolved around the repellent Kimmy Keegan, played with her now-permanent lack of enthusiasm by Lindsay Lohan, I realised that I had no desire to watch another episode (though thankfully I did; see below). As Canyon intends to stick with it there's a good chance I will see it through to the end, and I do enjoy Marc and Amanda a lot, so much so that I wish they would get a spin-off to themselves. However, Canyon hit the nail on the head when she said about Ugly Berry, "It's just not funny any more."

Yes, Marc and Amanda make us laugh, but Michael Urie and Becki Newton are gifted comic actors and could probably make even the worst joke in the world work. What's worrying about that is that during the past twelve episodes or so there's a good chance they have been given the worst joke in the history of the world but we didn't notice thanks to them. I wouldn't put it past the current writing team to have stooped that low, as they are content to rest their show on tired pop culture references, farcical misunderstandings, and pratfalls, not to mention a Get Out The Vote PSA of episode-hobbling awfulness. It made the Wicked episode look subtle.

My distrust of the showrunners is not just paranoia either. Little did we know last season, as things started to go awry, that five writers, two producers (and one director) were let go from the show, all of whom had provided memorable episodes in the first season. Whether this had something to do with the strike or the imminent relocation of the show to New York, I don't know. It surely isn't a coincidence that the quality of the show dropped at that point and never returned to normal.

I will admit, the episode Granny Pants, in which Kimmy begs Betty for a job, was passable, but the script was credited to Sheila Laurence, one of the old guard of writers who has contributed a number of above average episodes, and the following episode written by Ugly Betty ace writers Poust and Kinneally (who are both still in the credits as producers) was a very entertaining hour, with some humanity instead of the empty farce of the rest of the season, but I can't help but feel the show is now broken, and has been for even longer than I had suspected.

Gay Event of the Week:

Analeigh, Marjorie the timid mouse, and Elina and her Face of Stone decided to annoy the rest of the surviving models with hott bathtub action at all hours.

Though there was probably nothing to it all, Samantha deemed it gay. She, of course, would know all about that (scroll down). The increasingly annoying McKey complained the most, which leads me to believe the potentially Sapphic trio should make sure to distract her before embarking on further bathtub parties. All they need to do is punch a wasp in the face and she'll be out of their hair for hours nursing it back to health. Either that or they can try to rust her ridiculous chainmail outfit until she can't use it any more.

Shockingly Ill-Judged Direction of the Week:

Joy, the episode of House featuring THAT KISS featured some of the best writing of the season, with Cuddy getting more screentime than is usual as she deals with an antagonistic pregnant woman whose child she hopes to adopt.

The disease of the week plot was fascinating too, as a father and his daughter sleepwalk through their lives without realising it, thinking they are blacking out when in fact they are living a phantom life, which neatly matches their secret life as Arab-Americans disguised as caucasians. The problem with the episode was that director Deran Serafian, whose work on House and CSI is usually very good, went nuts, turning the sleepwalking events into surreal nightmares...

...filming many of the main cast in exxxtreme close-up...

...or staring at the camera...

...and hilariously shaking the camera a bit during a drug buy, in feeble imitation of grittier fare such as The Mighty Shield.

This overdirection from the man who brought us the admirably economical Terminal Velocity (written by Riddick helmer and ace screenwriter David Twohy). It was utterly perplexing, as his work is usually flashy enough to be interesting but not so much that it distracts from the show. This week he got the balance all wrong. I get the feeling the credits got mixed up with the following episode (more on that in a subsequent post).

We Need An Acting Coach, Stat! Performance of the Week:

It's hard to get a bead on new Ugly Betty non-Gio-therefore-non-interesting love interest Val Emmich, who appears to be killing time in acting (notably on 30 Rock) while waiting for his music career to take off.

I hope it does, just so his depressingly flat line readings never happen again. He gives somnambulism a bad name. Quick! Everyone buy dozens of copies of his album!

Creepy Assault of the Week:

Poor Samantha just can't seem to sort out her panel outfit, a cardinal sin in a show as shallow as this one. After turning up looking like a white-trash Barbie yet again, Tyra (who professed to love McKey's ridiculous Aragorn-esque battletop) took matters into her own hands, launching herself at the poor girl and proceeding to wreck her top before yanking at her skirt.

To make things worse, she even patted Samantha on the butt at the end of it all.

Boundaries, Tyra! Respect them!

Shortest Amount of Time Spent Watching a New Show:

Okay, Gordon Ramsay's Cookalong first aired in the previous week, but I need to address it. Over the past year or so, I have tried many new shows, but have been forced to bail from some due to sheer awfulness or boredom. Here is a rough list:

Chuck: 7 episodes
John From Cincinnati: 6 episodes
Dirty Sexy Money: 4 episodes
Drive: 3 episodes
Knight Rider: 1 episode

Canyon is a fan of Gordon Ramsay, while I think he's one of many member of the Cult of Gratuitous Shittiness, a witless bully with more talent than most hidden behind a formica veneer of despicable attitude, false bravado, and relentless, embarrassing star-fuckery. It's that talent that makes the whole thing tragic. The man obviously know his shit (and then some) but I just cannot watch the man. So his new live show, Gordon Ramsay: Expletive Explosion LIVE! or whatever it was called?

1 minute 30.

I'm a nervous guy, and maybe too empathic for his own good, so it's hell on my sanity when I see something epitomise fat honking FAIL within seconds of beginning, as a live link-up immediately went haywire, and Ramsay's cocky bellowing gave way to that weird chittery laugh he does when he's nervously waiting for his over-encumbered brain to kick in and fill the emptiness with the usual profanity or exclamations (like when he had Meat Loaf in his kitchen on The F Word that one time. In the youth parlance, I have to say, "Bitch crazy!").

I might have been feeling bad, but the resident Ramsay fan sitting next to me started howling, "No! OH GOD NO I can't take it!?" and switched it off before it got any worse. This is without considering that he's trying to get people at home to "cookalong" with him at 21:00 on a Friday night, which is surely a terrible idea. If a show makes you wish Homo Sapiens had evolved with an enormous shell on its back so you could crawl into it just to escape the misery, then it's not going well. Still, our empathic cringe is not the worst thing that's happened to Ramsay in recent times. As I'm sure he said when this happened, DONE up like a kipper!!!

Least Sexy Kiss of the Week:

House taking advantage of a heartbroken Cuddy was depressing on a number of levels, perhaps most importantly that he might not have been taking advantage of her and they both wanted this somehow. Yuk.

Like catching mom and dad snogging. Please let it never happen again.

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