Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Return of TV, The Departure Of A Blog Feature

For a while now I have plugged away at writing enormous posts, filled with screengrabs, about the various weeks of TV, a task I once enjoyed and slowly came to dread, simply because even if I had some fun with it the process was horribly time-consuming, which made posting even more irregular than it already was. My reading time was overtaken by attempts at writing comments with every spare moment I got, which eventually became a source of much frustration as my ever-shitty TyTn II phone kept crashing and deleting my work. The last time that happened ended up removing the majority of a Week in TV post, and though I didn't realise it at the time, it was the final straw. I've said it before, and I'll say it again; THE TYTN II IS THE WORST PHONE IN THE WORLD! Do not even think of buying that buggy-assed fucking shit.

So, with the TV season restarting after a Christmas holiday, I might as well admit defeat, even though I have several semi-finished posts filled with pictures littered around the place. Should I even bother finishing the rambling diatribes when I can't even muster the enthusiasm to do anything with them now that a silly amount of time has passed, and I have now found other projects to concentrate on? I don't think so.

So, for now, here is a bit of what I was going to write, just for the sake of keeping track of my responses to the last few weeks of TV, which contained some dreck but mostly some of the best TV of the year, such as a wonderfully consistent season of Friday Night Lights, the grim but entertaining introduction of Dr. Raymond Langstrom (aka Morpheus) on CSI, and certainly the best series finale since the last episode of Angel, as The Shield finished with a staggering, emotionally draining closer that even my favourite show, Lost, cannot possibly top. And then there was this stuff...

Stupidest Science:

Suresh, the crusty unscientist and narrator of Heroes, is already the stupidest and most annoying character on TV, so having him experiment on, and kill, innocent people in order to make his serum work is par for the course of this moronic show. Even so, stating that they need a catalyst to make the proteins bond with the enzymes, as they did many weeks back, is possibly the worst kind of sciencey-sounding gibberish I've heard in years.

Proteins and enzymes don't bond. If they did, we'd never be able to digest meat (or nuts). Considering this is a show that features superheroes and scientists, it's a blow to its credibility that no one who works on it seems to know anything about superheroes or science. It's no wonder Suresh's research creates this.

Plus, for extra stupid points, this poor bastard mutates way faster than Suresh does. If a reason for this was given, I don't know what it is. Suresh can't even fuck up properly. What amuses me most, is that this non-science bullshit carries across the writing staff of Heroes. Here is a panel from Joe Pokaski's dire Ultimate Fantastic Four, set moments after Jeph Loeb ruined the entire universe with his Ultimatum, a comic almost as bad as his Onslaught Reborn mini.

And the way Heroes uses death to lazily generate drama?

Don't get too upset there, Ben. Oh, and because Jeph Loeb continues to be a plague on the world...

Crappiest Plug:

Obviously written before Jeph Loeb got shitcanned by Tim Kring, this episode of Heroes (It's Coming) featured Hiro getting upset about the current state of affairs in the Marvel universe, proving that he truly is a fanboy in his current brain-damaged state. While the shock over the death of Steve Rogers is justified, getting all twisted up about Red Hulk is a waste of time.

Once Loeb is off the title and Greg Pak or Fred Van Lente get back on it, that's gonna get retconned as quickly as Supergirl got rewritten once Loeb left DC. And hey, when Bryan Fuller arrives at the end of this season of Heroes, he can retcon all of his nonsense here as well! It all works out in the end.

Most Annoying Turn of Events:

As I've mentioned before, it's gratifying to see an atheist heading up a TV show, which is one of the reasons we've stuck with The Mentalist so far. Sadly, however, just as with the other big TV atheist, House, instead of letting that stand, the showrunners have to flirt with showing these characters in doubt about their stance. Fair enough if the character is dealing with some terrible event. As they say, there are no atheists on a deathbed. However, having characters doubt their beliefs just because some "supernatural" event has happened is just horseshit. It troubles me to think that atheists are just considered religious believers in waiting, and a bleeding statue or family tragedy is all we need to be pushed over the edge, just as it's horseshit to assume a religious person would automatically eschew their beliefs if presented with examples of terrible mortal cruelty.

House has flirted with this in the past, much to my disgust, this episode of The Mentalist (called Seeing Red, showed our jovial but tortured hero Patrick Jane meeting a psychic, played by Leslie Hope, aka super-unlucky Teri Bauer from season 1 of 24. For much of the episode he calls her out on her techniques, treating her as a terrible fraud. Much James Randi-esque fun is had as he toys with her, but all of that good will is undone in the final scene as the psychic tells Jane that she knows about his family's murder at the hands of the evil Red John, and reassures him that they didn't suffer. As she leaves, Jane bursts into tears.

Now, the worst case scenario here is that Jane is so distraught over this tragedy in his past that he's willing to suspend his scepticism long enough to allow the possibility that this information is real, which is a betrayal of everything he has stood for so far and scuppers the show entirely. That his devout colleague Grace Van Pelt sees him crying could suggest that that is what is intended, her look of sympathy also one of triumph. However, I'm going on the minor information I have about this lightly sketched character. For all I know, she understands that Jane is actually just grieving, having been reminded of the tragedy by the psychic, which is the scenario I would prefer to imagine. Jane has been portrayed as a man angry at the abuse of skills such as his, and I'd like to think the show is willing to portray him as a tortured man but not one turning his back on his beliefs (and his knowledge of fraudulent psychic nonsense) just for some solace. It's lazy writing to have him debating this so early in the day, and smacks of focus group meddling. I hope Bruno Heller knows this and won't take the show down that road, and so in the interest of giving him a chance I'm just going to assume Jane is merely grieving and not taking her words at face value. Nevertheless, I'll be keeping an eye out for any further bullshit flare-ups.

Best Road Trip:

FNL has faced cancellation since early in its first season, and especially now, with the show on a roll, the prospect of losing it is a miserable one. Last season, ending on an episode that provided zero closure and only accidental cliffhangers, looked for a while to be the last episode ever until the DirecTV deal came through. That third season might also be the last (we'll have to wait and see what happens when FNL returns to NBC), but at least we're getting a little closure before then at the start of the season we saw Smash achieve his dream, and with this episode the same thing happened to Jason Street.

Using actual New York location shooting with a bit more grace than the clumsy attention-seeking of Ugly Betty, Street and Riggins bumble around the city in search of clothes and employment like a couple of yokels, except lovable, funny, and relatable. In the process, we see Street's confidence finally hit a speedbump, as he is rebuffed by the sports agent who had inadvertently given Street false hope, and yet more signs of Riggins' newfound maturity, as his advice and support saves the day.

As is usual with me, the end of the episode caused floods of tears, as Street gets his Happily-Ever-After with Erin, and Riggins watches from their cab. It was only then that it struck me: no more banter between these two friends. As grateful as I am that we got to see Street's arc finish (and finish with a happy ending to boot), it's a shame we get to lose that.

The chemistry between Scott Porter and Taylor Kitsch has been one of the most appealing things about FNL since the pilot. It shall be missed.

Most Pleasing Guest Star:

My childhood adoration of Steve Martin has taken numerous knocks since he became the go-to guy for weak wacky dad roles or unnecessary and ill-thought-out remakes of superior works, but luckily his appearance on 30 Rock as the crazed white-collar criminal Gavin Polone was a shot in the arm for my admiration.

Though he strayed into Wild-and-Crazy-Guyisms in the final stretch, for the most part he was reserved and quirky, much like in his film-stealing uncredited turn in Baby Mama. I'd hold out hope that this is a sign of a forthcoming renaissance, but I shouldn't hold my breath.

Worst Fashion Sense:

I could have spent a long time dealing with the psychic fallout from this horrendous jacket (cagoule?) worn by Greg in CSI...

...but we're actually both traumatised by the clothes foisted upon the female leads of The Mentalist. Amanda Righetti has been given some really badly fitting t-shirts, especially in the most recent episodes.

She's got a rocking bod, so it takes some skill to make her look bad. Still, in early episodes she did okay. Robin Tunney, on the other hand, has been lumbered with awful low-slung pants and nasty, tucked-in shirts. This picture...

...doesn't even begin to display the horror. If you watch the show (and you should, as it has gone from strength to strength, despite the quibbles voiced above), check out her dreadful ensembles. I'm shallow enough to want some CSI-style flash in their outfits. Tim Kang and Owain Yeoman also suffer with their bland suits, with only Jane looking swish with his vests. Maybe that's the point. Still, though.

Most Distracting Furniture:

It was the confrontation absolutely nobody was waiting for. After two years of not thinking about it at all, Nathan Petrelli finally comes face to face with the father he thought was dead. It was one of the great TV moments, up there with the end of M.A.S.H., or that bit in Only Fools and Horses with the chandelier. And through it all I was transfixed by Pops Petrelli's table.

It's just a sheet of circular glass resting on three metal beams. Simple. Yet I spent the whole scene either staring at it or worrying about the damn thing. Is the glass resting on the pointy corners of the beams? Isn't that dangerous? If you nudge the table will those corners scratch the glass? Or are the corners flattened? In which case that wouldn't happen, but the purity of the design would be disrupted. This fascination with furniture is proof that there is obviously something wrong with me, if I'm going to be distracted from all of the dramatic tension and devastating emotion on display by something so innocuous.

Most Blistering Performance:

Recently I pointed out how amazing Walton Goggins had been in The Shield, and his streak of acting brilliance continues all the way to the outrageously exciting finale, but in the penultimate episode, Possible Kill Screen, his genius was utterly eclipsed by one of the most astonishing acting moments I have ever seen.

Shield spoilers! Do not read if you have not yet watched this amazing show!

Michael Chiklis has been consistently great from episode one, even though I had a tough time buying this little man as a hardass despite all of the posturing and violence. In the penultimate episode, believing he has no choice but to sign a deal with ICE behind Ronnie Gardocki's back in order to save his wife from an arrest that didn't actually happen, Vic is asked to confess his wrongdoings in order to complete the deal, allowing him to start his new deal as a federal agent. After signing the document he pauses for a startlingly long time, something even the best TV shows don't have time for, and in that time, he seems to age ten years. The weight of everything he has done is so overwhelming that the strain of it made him look like a different person. How he did this I don't know. I don't have a picture of that, so take a look at this, and imagine the complete polar opposite of it.

The moment was electrifying, even more so when he finally unburdens himself of the list of crimes to an increasingly horrified Laurie Holden, who slowly realises that her support of Mackey has doomed her career. Vic's deadened laugh as he recounts some of the more despicable acts of the past three years is chilling, but even worse is his arrogance at the end, knowing that he has saved his own ass, with his only remorse saved for Ronnie.

Chiklis deserves honours and awards for his work here, but he wasn't the only actor to shine even brighter than usual. Midway through the confession Claudette and Dutch arrive to catch Vic, only to find he is now immune to prosecution. CCH Pounder's performance in that moment, snapping with the strain of seeing the man she detests getting away with not only the crimes she thought he was responsible for but also much much more, was another award-worthy moment, and not the first either.

This is the depressing fact about The Shield, that outside its fanbase, it's largely ignored in favour of more prestigious work. The recent disgraceful Golden Globes, which snubbed Lost and The Wire, also coughed up nothing for The Shield, and while there's an argument that ballots were cast a while back, the show has been around for long enough that it deserved a sentimental nod just for old time's sake. Though, of course, a gratuitous nomination just for making it to the finale would be almost as galling as no nominations at all, it still stings that Chiklis, Goggins and Pounder end up with nothing. At least they have the gratitude of a legion of fans who have been lucky enough to see these fine actors at the height of their powers.

Most Pointless Torture:

While waiting for the TV season to kick off again, we started watching the sixth season of 24, which we had yet to watch even though it aired a couple of years ago. During that there has been less of the torture, though saying that we're not even halfway through, so who knows how that changes. Nevertheless, nothing they can do in that show will top the endless crazy zapping of Sylar (who, at that point, was momentarily good) by Elle.

Seriously, she goes nuts.

Really nuts. It's to do with him killing her dad, Evil Ned Ryerson.

Stephen Tobolowsky was a dick in this show, and she never seemed to like him, so why his murder brings about this response is, as with many things on Heroes, illogical.

Even Mel Gibson doesn't get tortured for this long in his movies, and he has a Christ complex.

Well done, Elle, you blew some skin off his face. You can probably knock it off now.

No? Still going? Okay. Do you need to recharge or something? Drink some Powerade?

That wifebeater he's wearing is awfully resilient. After all, in this opening shot, she destroys his jacket in a homage to Watchmen.

Occasionally, for variety, he gets blown backwards.

So yes, she is very angry.

So angry I bet she never gets over it and forgives him! That would be crazy.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

Most "Holy Shit!"-Inducing Improvement:

We really never saw this this coming.

Yes, Fringe had been, before the pre-holiday episode, a sporadically entertaining sci-fi show packed with silly implausibilities, boring secondary characters, poorly cast leads, and even more loose plot threads than Lost had at this point in its first season. Other than John Noble's brilliant performance as Dr. Walter Bishop, we found it mildly diverting but frustratingly underwhelming, especially when compared to the electrifying mind games of Lost.

And then Safe happened. Suddenly every character was written better, every plot thread echoed the others, and most of those annoying questions posed earlier in the season came together brilliantly. It also featured the best cold open so far, as shady FBI traitor Agent Loeb (surely a comment on the hapless writer/producer) used the phasing doohickey from a few weeks ago to steal a lockbox containing a mysterious machine.

The sequence had pace, intrigue, grisly death and cool sci-fi trappings, and even better, we didn't have to wait to find out what the machine was, and who it belonged to. By the end of the episode we knew it was part of a teleporter that had been designed by Walter many years previously, something that even he didn't know.

Not only did it sate our curiosity about the elements introduced this week, we got to see Mr. Jones in action, killing his lawyer (played by an underused James Frain), and then being snatched from his captivity in Germany by mad science to reappear in America, at Little Hill (another question from previous weeks thus resolved). The teleportation effect, disrupting the ground and shaking the prison, was especially well conceived.

While the craziness raged, Walter's memory hiccups continued, as Olivia began to mistake John Scott's memories for her own. That the show had finally figured out how to make two plots intertwine in this way inspired hope that the writers were becoming more confident now that the format and characters have been set down. It's not the best writing on TV, but it was the best writing on Fringe so far, and I take heart, hoping that this represents the moment the show kicks into gear.

So, for now, that ends that. I'm sure that I'll still talk about TV in the future, in some format, and not just because some of our favourite shows are returning. Yes, Battlestar Galactica, Big Love, and Flight of the Conchords are back, and coming very very soon, my favourite show, Lost, returns following a triumphant season. In the words of my good friend and dastardly despot Brian Michael Bendoom...


Jaredan said...

Ahh Jeph Loeb and his idiocy. Seth Green must've wanted to slap someone when he read his line "Don't worry there's plenty of Red Hulk issues for everyone."
Amazingly in his "Rulk" issues, punching The Watcher wasn't the dumbest thing he wrote.
No, it was taking Thor to the moon so the Red Hulk could lift Mjolnir and batter the much cooler God of Faux-Shakespearspeak with it.
Any Comic nerd knows that lifting the hammer has nothing to do with how heavy it is but if you are worthy.
Loeb thought "Ahh fuck it, it's cool!"
Ultimatum is a study in how to write young characters like a 60 year-old imagines young people speak.
Only someone as lazy as Loeb can kill prestigious characters in a throwaway manner and see that as achieving drama and tension.
Utter bollocks.
Also, don't hold out any hope on 24 until you get to this season. As I mentioned elsewhere, there are still "torture: good, anti-torture: meddling hippies" mentions in the new season, but there are actually moments of tension again.
It still isn't the best example of 24 but there are definitely signs of a turnaround.
Maybe it is watching Bush slink off in a vehicle no longer designated as Air Force One that makes Surnow's neo-con ramblings tolerable.

Admiral Neck said...

Ulitmatum is easily the worst comic I've read in over a year. I couldn't believe it had been printed. Makes Chuck Austen look like Art Spiegelman.

The sixth season of 24 is on hold right now as everything else has started and we're trying to watch In Treatment, but though that season seemed a bit dull, watching it bend over backwards to present a positive view of Muslim-American life while also showing a bunch of moustache-twirling Islamic fundamentalist psychos trying to blow up everything in the US was very entertaining. As with True Lies, showing a couple of nice Muslims hanging out with the good guys doesn't mean it's not racist when the rest of the Muslims portrayed are genocidal maniacs screaming, "ALLAH!", you right-wing jerks.