Monday, December 20, 2010

According To TV: Community - Christmas

This is my first blog about the subject of Christmas in television, but the timing of the episodes couldn't be more recent.

Of course, my investigation into Christmas on television also deals with the messages that television sends about the holiday, and I feel there's no more positive messages to be found than the ones in the Community Christmas episodes. Though they're both wildly different in structure and form -- one is focused on Shirley, the other on Abed; one is a simple holiday-gone-wrong extravaganza, one is a stop-motion claymation extravaganza -- they both communicate a consistent message about Christmas, one that is both communal (evidenced by "Comparative Religion") and existential (in the case of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"). They're both positive secular contributions to the canon of Christmas television.

"Comparative Religion"'s large focus on Shirley is more about her superiority complex regarding Christmas. She can't let go of her strong religious beliefs even in the face of basically every other major religion in the world being important to each of the other members of the group. Jeff, of course, isn't going to let the bullying of Abed continue unpunished. In the end, both characters level with each other; Jeff's speech is similar to the Tenth Doctor's speech about Rose in "The Satan Pit" (gratuitous Doctor Who reference: check!), namely that, if he believes in anything, it's his friends, particularly Shirley in this case. Shirley also realizes that if the study group is to be her new family, she needs to treat them like a family, so she supports Jeff in his endeavors. "Comparative Religion" isn't necessarily about religion, instead using religion as a lens for examining the true meaning of the holidays -- being with and supporting the people you care about most.

"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" takes a similarly secular stance, though by somewhat different means. Abed, now seeing the world in stop-motion claymation, is looking for the meaning of Christmas. He and the rest of the study group (plus psych teacher Professor Duncan) engage in a group therapy session-slash-Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-inspired journey through Abed's mind in order to discover this elusive "true meaning of Christmas".

What does Abed find? The first season of LOST, representing lack of payoff. (That's another blog post, friends, a whole other blog post.) But after a wonderful song in which the rest of the study group fends off Professor Duncan yet again, Abed understands: the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning.

How wonderfully existential! And yet, it makes sense. Previously, Abed talked about how he enjoyed the rituals associated with the holidays. They're tedious and annoying and often seem like they're all for naught, but performing the rituals was Abed's way of giving this holiday meaning. Now that Abed's previous ritual (watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his mom) is gone, he finds a new ritual -- spending time with his new family.

Both episodes showcase characters who, in some way, have lost something, and try to get it back in their own forms of religion: Shirley turns her Christianity on full-speed-ahead, while Abed retreats into his own mind, stuffed to the brim with pop culture. And both show the characters coming to terms with that loss by reaching out to the people who care about them -- the study group. And while I'm sure many Christians object to Shirley's characterization as a "tolerant Christian" in the show, I don't think anybody can find issue with Abed, a Muslim, discovering meaning in Christmas simply by the very fact that Christmas has meaning at all. "Comparative Religion" tries to be fair to each of the religions represented, and "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is entirely secular, containing no material related to Christianity beyond Shirley's protestations that only she knows the true meaning of Christmas.

Community is a rare show in this instance: that it can present a meaning of Christmas consistent with previous episodes dealing with Christmas means that the writers understand each other, their characters, and their show better than most. Both of these episodes go to extremes, but neither of them loses sight of the importance of the holidays. That's certainly not nothing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

According To TV: Christmas

In order to keep myself occupied over the long-but-feels-very-short Christmas break, I've decided to put this blog to use again. I'm gathering suggestions for, and making lists of, episodes of television shows that deal with Christmas directly or indirectly for me to watch and review in the context of a narrative. That narrative: what does television tell us Christmas is "about"?

In doing this feature, which will run at least through the end of this year, I'll be watching and discussing a broad scope of Christmas episodes from a wide range of television shows -- animated and live-action, drama and comedy, and all range of genre from science-fiction to horror to fantasy to slice-of-life to whatever else. The goal is to discover what values of Christmas television shows choose to highlight as positive, and conversely which values of Christmas are deemed negative, and how these values shift over time.

I'm in the "making a lot of big lists" stage of this project, but as I begin to write about the episodes, I'll post them here periodically. I'm going to try and jump around in time in order to keep things fresh. I can tell you what my first post will be, though: Community! I'm starting at the end, with a theory on the question I've presented, and I'll see how it holds up throughout the project. I'll also do a quick write-up on the Doctor Who Christmas specials from Tennant, summarizing my view of them, and then review Matt Smith and Steven Moffat's first special "A Christmas Carol" the day after Christmas.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Two

As if hearing my blog post from across time and space (to, you know, when the show actually aired last summer), "Day Two" hits all the sweet spots of building the scope of an on-going narrative while remaining fiercely devoted to character.

After all, the core characters have benefited the most from Torchwood's transition to mini-series format. Children of Earth has yet to fill a single frame with filler, and never is this more obvious than in the intimate scenes between characters. Whether it's Gwen telling Rhys about her pregnancy as they flee to London in a potato truck or Ianto meeting his sister in the park all dirtied up from the explosion at Torchwood-3, the show takes its time to put the characters in perspective. As an added bonus, Captain Jack Harkness, arguably the most developed character coming into Children of Earth, spends much of "Day Two" dead, regenerated and screaming, cemented, then regenerated again. By putting him in the back seat, we get to see Gwen kick ass with two pistols Lara Croft-style while Ianto slips about London seeking out Jack and Gwen and wondering why the heck the government would want to harm one of its greatest alien assets when an alien threat is coming to Earth "tomorrow" (so say the children of earth). I also dig how Rhys and Gwen are no longer at each other's throats -- it was the main complaint I had about season two's handling of bringing Rhys into the fold, but while the couple still debate each other and question their collective next move, there is little of the hot-headed Rhys that was his defining characteristic in the series.

All of this is guided by an increasingly daunting narrative: gaseous-based life-forms are approaching Earth, using the children of the world (and an old dude, also on the run from the government) to communicate. Fortunately, we have Lois, an assistant to the guy in charge of whatever government branch this is (could it be UNIT? I don't really know, and the government branch is largely undefined beyond being "below the Prime Minister"), who aids Gwen and Rhys in locating Jack Harkness and realizing that Torchwood-3 was destroyed because someone with a lot of power doesn't trust them.

There's a lot to love so far. I can't say I was always a fan of Gwen in the series, but she grew on me as time went on; here, though, she's beyond multiple levels of badass. I don't know of many female characters who would engage in a shootout in a top-secret government facility with husband and fetus in tow. Ditto for Ianto, who like Jack is pushing beyond the traditional boundaries of gay characters by just being awesome: he totally saves Jack with that forklift, and he's smart in taking his sister's car and laptop after their meeting. Danger lurks at every corner for the people who love Torchwood-3 members, so every precaution must be taken.

Torchwood-3's members have been set up as the underdogs in the story, and that's fine, because underdogs make for awesome heroes. (See the list of critically-acclaimed cancelled television shows for reference -- and pour one out for new member Terriers.) "Day One" is a lot of plot setup and reintroduction to the world of the show; "Day Two" maintains the intensity but pulls back the pace so that we can see the characters we love transforming before our eyes from the two-dimensional players they were in the series to the three-dimensional human beings they are now. Gwen has developed a hardness, but maintains her love for Rhys and joy at having new life growing inside her; Ianto's love for Jack never clouds his judgment; and Jack is genuinely pissed at having been blown up, captured, chained, and cemented, a dramatic shift away from his usual flirtatious smile or hardened military stance of "doing what must be done for the safety of all humanity".

So the only question I have left is: what happens next? I'd say that's a sure sign of Children of Earth's success. The mini-series format has taken previously-developed characters and thrust them into an impossible, life-changing situation, yielding nothing but positive results for everybody.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day One

(Note: Hello! I'm aware that the weekly reviews somehow stopped getting written. I refuse to give up on the blog, but I've come to understand that weekly reviews aren't really for me. When I have something to say, I'll say it. For instance, this post, which originated as a Tumblr post to start up a TV Tumblr microblog, is being posted here as well. I'll be writing one blog post for each of the five episodes of Torchwood: Children of Earth, which I'm watching one per day, since that's how they were broadcast. Starting tomorrow after Day Two, I'll also be watching the final David Tennant specials of Doctor Who, though I'm not sure if I'll write about any of them beyond The End of Time, which I've already decided is going to be a tear-jerker because, well, I freaking LOVE Tennant as Who.

Anyway, here are my brief thoughts on the paradigm shift from regular, 13-episode seasons to mini-series format; future posts will continue to weave in my thoughts on the power of a focused narrative in this serialized format.)

Well. That was a wild ride.

In reflecting upon my experience watching Torchwood’s first two seasons in the past two weeks, I’ve come up decidedly underwhelmed. It’s not that the show isn’t good — it’s great, in fact. But in watching Children of Earth’s first episode, I feel silly for enjoying what came before.

It’s all in the story, of course. Season One is excused largely because of “spin-off syndrome” (the first season of a spin-off show will invariably suffer compared to the parent show because there’s still an umbilical cord of characters, themes, and a new twinge of insecurity connecting the two shows). Season Two had John Hart (everybody say a silent thanks to whatever deity you believe in for James Marsters) and some fantastic character-centric stories, but was lacking the kind of grand scope that makes Doctor Who finales (and by extension, seasons) pleasing to the eyes and ears.

That limitation breeds creativity is a well-established fact, and no more so is it true than when Torchwood’s third series was reduced to a mini-series. Five episodes, five days. In that one move, Davies was forced to finally transform Torchwood into the show it should have been by the end of season two. And just think: I’ve only seen "Day One"! I have no idea what’s in store for me: how this whole “children standing still and uttering alien declarations” plot pays off, or how Gwen handles her pregnancy, or how Jack and Ianto will proceed with their relationship (and hey, talk of kids is all in the air in this particular story). But I do know at least one thing that I love already: blowing up Torchwood-3. It’s like a big exclamation point saying, “HEY, LOOK, THIS IS A NEW SHOW NOW. WE’RE GOING TO TELL AWESOME STORIES AND YOU ARE POWERLESS TO STOP US. PLEASE ENJOY THE RIDE.”

There is no going back now — and Torchwood is all the better for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quickie: Terriers update

I finally caught up with Terriers today. It's absolutely one of the best shows on television.

I wanted to comment briefly on "Sins of the Past", the most recent episode. It was written by one of my favorite TV writers, Tim Minear. I love this guy so much because he's so good at the flashback episodes. On Angel, he wrote one of my personal favorite episodes, "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been" in the second season, which had Angel dealing with guilt stemming from an event at a Hollywood hotel in the 1950s. Firefly gave us "Out of Gas", widely considered a fan favorite episode -- this one handles the gradual gathering of Serenity's crew interwoven with an old-fashioned "the ship is sinking!" plot.

"Sins of the Past" deals with some serious pieces of business, too. With the help of the journalist Hank saved in "Asunder", Hank and Mark bring closure to an old case of theirs involving a serial rapist -- significant because it's the case that ended Hank's career as a cop (and arguably also his marriage). Britt, meanwhile, gets really drunk and beats up Katie's classmate, assuming that he's the guy she slept with. Back in the slammer with you, and right back to the doghouse for Hank and Britt as Hank spills that he knew about Katie's drunken affair.

It's a bitter episode to get through, but rewarding in the end -- not unlike "Are You Now..." or "Out of Gas". I think it'd be a worthy endeavor to compare and contrast these three episodes for tonal consistency, structure, and content. Minear's a very talented writer and I'd like to dig a little deeper into the episodes he's written. In the meantime... tonight's Glee night. Cue audible sigh, Joss Whedon-style.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections: Human Target 2.01 "Ilsa Pucci"

Good to have you back, Human Target. There aren't a lot of shows on television that do what you do best.

The season two premiere was a welcome return for the show that no one watched last season. The cliffhanger from the season one finale wraps up quickly, but I'm willing to accept that in exchange for two new characters and a shift in character arcs that will definitely be for the better.

The episode is about Ilsa Pucci, and so to the extent that she is a) interesting and b) useful, the episode does a good job of establishing her within Chance's world. This comes at the expense of the other new character, Ames, who gets only brief moments of character-building with Guerrero (whom she knows by name) and Winston (who arrested her five times when he was a cop). I don't expect that to last; at the same time, just these tiny mentions of her character's history makes Ames my favorite part of the episode.

Matt Miller was definitely the right man to take over this show. His experience on Chuck can help him maintain the show's action-movie style and pacing while simultaneously bringing in more solid character development. I am sad to see McCreary leave the show (and frankly, the new title theme isn't nearly as catchy as McCreary's verison -- why the unnecessary guitars?) but Chuck composer Tim Jones underscores the moments just right, making a smooth transition from McCreary's awesome themes.

Most of all, I'm just happy to be watching Human Target again. It's an incredibly fun action show with a great cast and fantastic visual flair. I enjoyed this week's episode, as I'm sure I will enjoy this season, for however long it lasts. (Let's hope the American Idol numbers mid-season give it a shot at season three!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead 1.03 "Tell It To The Frogs"

Two narratives dominate this week's episode of The Walking Dead. One, incidentally, is about narratives -- the stories we as humans tell each other as part of the building of community. The other narrative is about the great divide between old traditions and new methods of living life. Both narratives are linked by Rick Grimes integrating into the camp, and by the camp itself and the divisions within it.

The plot of this episode is driven largely by the first narrative. The primary dramatic conflict is in the scene at the quarry, where Lori ends her fling with Shane. "You don't tell me what to do" and "That's over too, you can tell that to the frogs." The titular phrase appears, representing a story that can fall on deaf ears for all anyone cares. The use of stories here is quite complex -- Lori tells Shane to knock it off so she can feel better about herself, devoting herself more to her family, but only because Shane told her Rick was dead so that he could have an honest shot at her (and as Rick himself points out at the campfire, everyone had perfectly good reason to believe he was dead). Similarly, T-Dog continually points out that he chained the door to the roof so Merle Dickson would not get eaten by Walkers, but only to make himself feel better about having to abandon Merle after accidentally losing the key to the cuffs. These stories are meant to be small comforts, but like Glenn's shiny new car, both the Walkers and Merle can deconstruct the story simply by being unpredictable. And since Walkers aren't capable of higher brain functions, guess who gets to be unpredictable.

Meanwhile, a different narrative is taking shape: how do you start society over again? The survivors are having a difficult task of reconciling the way things used to be with the way things are. From the cuckolding to Ed's misogyny to Glenn's reckless behavior with a blaring car alarm to the unfortunately archaic divisions of labor, there is a minor struggle going on in realizing that luxuries such as coffee makers and washing machines no longer exist. This theme takes a particularly disturbing turn when we consider the depictions of brutal violence as a means of enforcing these traditions. Certainly, the Walker that gets Daryl's deer can't really be considered a human being anymore, but in this instance, it represents humanity, beaten and beheaded by human beings -- which is all the more disturbing when Daryl walks in a few minutes later and admonishes them for not finishing the job: "Do y'all know nothing? It's gotta be the brain." Later, Shane's anger at losing Lori erupts all over Ed's face when Ed takes a smack at his wife for being insubordinate. The resulting violence is horrific, and Shane promises to beat Ed to death next time if he ever lays another hand on his wife or daughters. The message is clear: violence begets violence. This is why Rick's decision to go back for Merle is a positive one. Yes, Merle is a "douchebag" (Shane's word, and he chose it carefully) and horribly racist, but he's a human being, and Rick won't let him die chained to a rooftop like an animal. Rick is willing to preserve humanity -- at great personal risk.

"Tell It To The Frogs" gives us an insight into the group dynamics of the survivors' camp. Some are old, some are young; some are college-educated, some are not. They all say they want to live, but their actions tend to speak otherwise. Dale puts it best: "Words can be meager things. Sometimes they fall short." If this holds true, then Merle may truly walk out of this scenario alive -- if he's willing to cut off his hand to get out of the cuffs, he's willing to do anything to survive. I wonder how many of the survivors can say the same.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Glee 2.07 "The Substitute"

Remember when Glee used to have fun and also have interesting character moments? Me too. It was the last time Ian Brennan wrote an episode. Just when I'm ready to doubt him (as he is my favorite Glee writer -- full disclosure), he gives me Singin' in the Rain mashed up with Umbrella.

He also giveth Gwyneth Paltrow, who steps in as the substitute glee club/Spanish teacher when Will gets sick, rather ingeniously, as a side effect of Sue's recent ploy for power. The episode then spins from there, giving great moments to Will and Terri (the latter coming to Will's house to "make him feel better", which includes his favorite movie Singing in the Rain (obviously) and the patented massage-which-then-turns-into-sex-because-pure-sensuality-does-not-exist-in-fiction-ever) and the rest of the club.

A lot of people will probably take issue with this episode, but aside from Kurt's "way to buck the stereotype" line to Blaine at Bread Sticks (because it points out how oblivious the show is to how stereotyped Kurt himself is), this episode was a marked improvement over "Rocky Horror Glee Show" (an abomination I will never mention by name again -- like Volde- I mean, He Who Must Not Be Named) and "Never Been Kissed" (an attempt to bring a real issue to the foreground falling flat due to its cliche structure). Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow or Terri Schuester, this was a fully-functional episode of Glee, complete with fun musical numbers (and the audacity to attempt to live up to Gene Kelly -- impossible, but I appreciated the effort) and some of the best versions of the characters. Funny, the element of the episode I was most worried about, the mini-mes, turned out to be a hilariously brief segment pointing out the broad, one-dimensional aspects of the characters, which if nothing else shows that Glee has made some progress in becoming a real boy.

I'll take any of the above over a botched "Time Warp" any day of the week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quickie: Monday, November 15, 2010

Chuck 4.08 "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death"

Ah, glorious synergy. Chuck's fourth season has bounced back and forth between straight spy narratives and artificial relationship problems, not to mention lacking any good Buy More stories, but tonight's episode nails the show's core themes once again. I love the extremes the show is willing to go to enhance the effect Chuck's mom had on the Intersect, a now-defunct piece of junk in Chuck's head. And it can still sow seeds in the Chuck/Sarah relationship without feeling artificial, a much-needed improvement from, say, the wedding ring "cliffhanger". Buy More was fantastic -- Summer Glau shines by doing a version of Cameron from Sarah Connor Chronicles, and she plays well against Morgan and Jeffster. Call me crazy, but this was really good.

Lie To Me 3.07 "Beyond Belief"

This was a marked improvement from last week's episode (and yes, I didn't review it fully -- I'm just a tad behind). I'm becoming privy to how one-dimensional the characterization of "Lightman-Group-as-family" really is, but the show leans more on Emily this week, and I adore Emily, so I was very satisfied. The main story was rather predictable, but I liked David Sutcliffe's portrayal of Stafford. Without any other recognizable stories, though, the episode was a bit... boring. I'm considering dropping the show from my Reviews category, as everything that used to thrill me about the show is no longer here. (I'm guessing that's at least partly related to Shawn Ryan's departure as showrunner -- why does that man make such damn good television?)

The Walking Dead 1.03 "Tell It To The Frogs"

Yes, at long last I caught an episode of The Walking Dead live! And how! From teaser to cliffhanger, I was hooked. Expect a more detailed review later this week; in short, I'm very happy with the changes made from the comic book, as they provide new nuances to what I still expect will be the ending of this first season. In any case, it's already providing the survivors with solid characterization, which I know was a gripe many people had with last week's "Guts". This show is hitting all the right notes, and I'm absolutely tickled. Got issues with that? Tell it to the frogs!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead 1.02 "Guts"

It should surprise no one that The Walking Dead's second episode, entitled "Guts", is about fear. The fear of not knowing where your husband/wife/son are. The fear of someone different from you in some way -- skin color, or the smell of your clothing. The fear of losing communication with your fellow human. And of course, the visceral fear of death, pouring from every frame of this episode.

The plot is simple enough -- Rick, trapped in a tank, makes contact with another human being named Glenn. This leads him to more survivors, giving him his first true glimmer of hope. But they have to get out of the city to get back to camp, and therein lies the rub -- trapped in a department store in the middle of town, fear comes alive. Dickson, the sniper, makes a racist comment towards T-Dog, a black member of the group in charge of radio communications with the survivor camp. When the decision comes on who should explore the underground options for escape, Glenn wants to go alone, because he is afraid that more people will only be more detrimental to survival. (His fear of the unknown, and staring down into it, evoked the final image of LOST's first season for me -- the man of faith and man of science staring down into the Hatch, a metaphor for the journey of humanity.) Ultimately, Rick and Glenn lather up in zombie guts, plastering themselves with the greatest fear they've come to know: the Walkers. And let's not forget Lori, whose fears of an uncertain future for herself and her son Carl leads to an illicit romance with Rick's buddy Shane. The marriage ring, still hanging around her neck, is no longer a symbol of love, but of loss, and the fear of future loss.

I've got to give my props to Bear McCreary this week. I think he's a brilliant TV composer, and he's really making full use of his talents here on this show. Just as our worst fears tend to come from the things we can't perceive (as for instance the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who, or the Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush"), McCreary enhances the visceral experience of watching the show by being selective about where his score is placed. The silence is frightening because we don't know where to look next and have no guidance from the music to help us; the music is frightening because it can mask the groans of the Walkers, or the emotions of the characters, who, faced with uncertainty and fear, are in constant conflicts with their own ids.

"Guts" is very bleak because it is representing different characters reacting to the same situation based on the same emotion. Dickson resorts to violence and racism, attempting to maintain his own personal lifestyle choices at the expense of the community; Lori surrenders hope that Rick is alive and makes plans for a future with Shane and Carl, but she keeps her wedding ring around her neck. Even Rick himself is driven by fear -- he has no idea if Lori or Carl are still alive. But he lets Dickson live, and he permits the shoplifting of jewelry from the store, because he has more than fight-or-flight instincts going for him -- he also has hope, courage, willpower. And though the moments are rare (and usually involve Dodge Challengers and joyful Glenns), the group is thankful for Rick's appearance, because he represents a humanity that doesn't end just because the world does. He even hates that Dickson ultimately gets left behind, which is contrast to how the survivor camp reacts to the news that the group got stuck in the middle of Atlanta. To the survivors, that group is as good as dead. To Rick, there's still hope for Dickson.

As many Americans will argue, of course, "hope" is just a buzz-word. But we'll see how this story develops in the weeks to come. In the meantime, "all I am is a man looking for his wife and son"... and we should all be afraid of that fury.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflections: Bones 6.06 "The Shallow in the Deep"

Bones has really been having a great season. Hannah's turned out to be a fantastic character, someone we can all love -- even Dr. Brennan. Establishing Hodgins and Angela as the "it" couple have helped give the show a more home-y feeling that allows it to continue to stay aloof of most crime procedurals by just being about the characters. And this week, Tamara Taylor shines!

I loved the subtlety of this episode, because call me crazy, but I don't think Bones does "subtle" all too often. This episode, though, was about a lot of things, without ever really forcing those things to work together as one. This is good -- one problem I had with this week's Event and Glee was how contrived the plot's themes were. The stories were deliberately intertwined so as to attempt to make the episode "click" as a singular unit. Unfortunately, when you have a bunch of those to balance, contrivance becomes commonplace.

But Bones has grown to fight contrivances, and it has succeeded mightily. The theme -- of the old adage "never let 'em see you sweat" or the psychological concept of face-saving -- plays out differently in different characters' hands. Cam, faced with identifying the remains of the slave ship that carried her great-grandmother, strives to act calmly and rationally in front of others. As she plays out her leadership role, she cannot care too much about the skeletons that lay their secrets bare before her. But in the end, she gets that one moment -- when she hesitates to say "Hany Beaufort", she solidifies her role as leader by being allowed that one moment of public weakness. And how calmly she moves on afterward. What a beautiful scene.

As for the main case: On the surface, it's about continuing to show viability as a productive human being in the face of humanity's mortal enemy: aging. Booth's body is showing some wear and tear -- which Brennan is only too happy to point out in great detail, including the one time "that obese woman shot you", referencing S3's stalker-lady -- but he trudges on, working the case of a foster kid caught up in a "cougar cruise", which is exactly what it sounds like (and no, I don't mean a spin-off of Cougar Town featuring Bobby and Travis on the open sea). But on another level, this case was about how people perceive you versus how you want to be perceived, regardless of age, gender, sexual identity, and so on. Even the foster kids -- the victim, Liam, and his buddy from the system Hunter Lang -- deal with their self-perceptions, though through wildly different means.

This is sort of what I wish all episodes of Bones were -- but if the horrendous ADR and openly ridiculous cases hadn't come first, we wouldn't have gotten truly touching stuff like "The Hero in the Hold" or "The End in the Beginning" or "The Parts in the Sum of the Whole". As much as people loved him, I gotta say, we've come a long way from Zack Addy. 太好了!(At least three of you just said, "I don't know what that means.")

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quickie: Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fringe 3.06 "6955 kHz"

Cheeky commentary on the LOST numbers aside, this episode was rocking the Christmas tree from start to finish. The cracks are beginning to show in everyone's armor, and the pieces are falling into place both literally (as the team begins to find the pieces of the Doomsday Device that has Peter as a core component) and thematically (as the show deals with Peter's moral dilemma and the problems that face Fauxlivia when she's not the Olivia that spent two years cracking cases with the Bishops). I particularly loved the utilization of Astrid here, and the comparisons between our Astrid and Alt-Astrid were awesome. Overall, a very strong episode of Fringe.

(Quick note: I realize there isn't a review for last week's episode; that's because I got sick. I mean to come back to it with a review later; I'll also be sure to get a review for this Fringe up soon as well. By the way, did you see the promo for next week? HOLY CRAP!)

Community 2.08 "Cooperative Calligraphy"

For once, I am truly glad I chose Community over Big Bang Theory this week. I've come to find that there's a time and place for Sheldon, but the Community study group is FOREVER. And how! This bottle episode was also strong from start to finish, including some of the best jokes I've heard in comedy television in a long time. But at its center, as at the center of all great episodes of television, is a heart of gold... nestled firmly within Annie's Boobs. "Your disappointment will just have to suck it! I'M DOING A BOTTLE EPISODE!" There's just too much to love and me trying to describe it would just devolve into a series of random quotes, so I'll stop here and simply say: YAY COMMUNITY!

The Event 1.07 "I Know Who You Are"

After two weeks of excellent storytelling, The Event drops back to mediocrity again. I can appreciate some of what was going on in this episode -- and I love learning more about Blake Sterling, easily one of my favorite characters so far -- but it all just felt too contrived and "television-y" for my tastes. Zelko Ivanek is on his game as per usual, though -- that scene at the end with his wife and father? Worth the unfortunate high price of admission. The whole Sean/Leila/Samantha story though? I don't have high hopes for it. But we'll see. I managed to hang on for "Casualties of War" and "Loyalty" -- let's see what else this show has up its sleeves.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quickie: Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How I Met Your Mother 6.08 "Natural History"

Like most, I thought this episode was slow to pick up, but once it did get going, it got going. I love Zoey even more now as a character -- maybe I even want her to be the mother? (Too much blasphemy?) I actually enjoyed the Lily/Marshall stuff this week, particularly the clever way the show uses its setting (a natural history museum) to comment on the passage of someone's life -- like Marshall, who used to want to save the world, but has adapted to his basest needs and essentially phased out older versions of himself because they just can't cut it in the married world. Finally, as always, Barney/Robin shenanigans are fun, but I especially loved the twist at the end regarding Barney's father. I didn't see it coming, but given that a lot of the show was handed to Ted for the night, I guess that was by design. Strong episode.

House 7.06 "Office Politics"

After several uneventful B-plots involving the hiring and firing of a female employee, we finally get a solid member of House's team -- and she's a total weirdo. Fortunately for us, Amber Tamblyn plays the role well, combining elements of the women before her (Cameron's fierce ethical responsibility, Thirteen's unwavering ability to jump face-first no matter the consequences) and throwing in some quirks so annoying that House fires her no less than six times during the course of the episode. Spunky! Unfortunately, the case was just okay -- but hey, Jack Coleman from Heroes!

Glee 2.06 "Never Been Kissed"

Um... well I'm really not sure how to respond to this episode, which is why I won't be posting a more detailed review tonight -- I need time to... ruminate. I will say that, as per usual for Brad Falchuk, the song choice was exquisite -- I particularly enjoyed "Teenage Dream" and the girls' mash-up -- and the episode continues to reinforce my own opinion that Will-as-teacher is much more interesting and useful than Will-as-single-straight-male. (Oddly, Jessalyn Gilsig was credited but never made an appearance -- she did show up in next week's preview though. Deleted scene or honest mistake?) I liked the return of Puck, too -- that made for a great storyline this week.

Lie To Me 3.05 "The Canary's Song"

This is another episode I really need time to think about. The concept of Lightman-Group-as-family was strong -- this week, the group split along gender lines, with Torres and Foster taking the FBI's case (partly because it involved Cal, who got caught up in an illegal gambling ring) while Lightman and Loker run the main case, involving an explosion at a coal mine. Strong performances by the cast and very beautiful shots this week, but aside from the gender split, there wasn't a whole lot of heft to this one. The canary's song echoes inside a hollow shell, if you will.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quickie: Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quick updates!

First: I am still watching Terriers. I just watched episode 4 "Fustercluck" this week, and I'm already in love with Hank's sister Steph. I really dig this show and will continue to try to catch up with current airings.

Second: Instead of attempting to do the same-night-review-scramble for The Walking Dead, the way I do other shows, I'm going to post reviews for that show on Friday night. I want to really give those reviews some thought, because I know that there's going to be a lot of meat to each episode.

Third: Human Target returns soon! I'll be reviewing it as I loved the first season.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead 1.01 "Days Gone Bye"

What separates zombies from vampires? This is the question facing The Walking Dead, a zombie TV show entering a pop culture landscape overflowing with vampire stories. Fortunately, The Walking Dead's premiere "Days Gone Bye" subverts a couple of the tropes associated with zombie fiction, allowing a new kind of story to flourish in AMC's little corner of cable television.

The first comparative trope: vampire fiction is psychological -- for instance, linking the vampiric bite to the act of sex (a mainstay in Kubrick films) -- while zombie fiction focuses on social commentary -- the cannibalism of humanity, the usual apocalyptic ideals of "what do we do now that society is completely destroyed", and so on. While The Walking Dead will surely offer some excellent social commentary of its own, as it does already in the monthly comic book, "Days Gone Bye" is mostly about the effect these Walkers have had on the primary characters of the episode. Rick Grimes, our hero, wakes up with no idea of what's happened -- but he knows he must find his wife and son. Similarly, Morgan Jones must face his undead wife every night as she prowls around his house, a sad and zombified look on her face. The episode links the two characters together even after Rick has gone his own way -- Morgan cannot bring himself to end his wife, while Rick goes back to a park, bends down next to a zombie, says "I'm sorry this happened to you"... and then pulls the trigger on her. The two characters share empathy for the undead, though perhaps for different reasons. But this empathy is wildly different from, say, a George Romero film, where zombies are the end of all humanity -- depravity, lack of morality, unbridled Freudian id, and so on.

Views of death are another aspect of the zombie/vampire fiction contrast. In vampire fiction, the undead creature (the vampire) is not usually seen as something to be feared -- rather, vampire fiction is characterized by the thrill of being in the presence of something which cannot be killed, which can live forever and provide endless possibilities. In other words, eternal life, though sometimes at the heart of vampire characters' angst (see: Angel), is rarely a bad thing -- indeed, vampires can often be seen as close to human, if not exactly human. Zombies, however, cannot be human. Their eternal life, driven by a barely-functioning brain, is a sickness which must be put down. This was the driving motivation behind Morgan's attempt to shoot his own wife; similar motivations allow Rick to put a gun to one of his former police officer's heads and pull the trigger. It isn't necessarily heartless -- think of the moment in Serenity (the film, not the Firefly pilot episode) when Mal shoots a civilian about to be torn apart by the Reavers. Given the options that civilian had left, Mal chose to end him with mercy, as opposed to being raped, skinned, and worn like a trophy. Rick puts down three particular zombies in tense scenes during "Days Gone Bye" -- the little girl in the teaser, as he's looking for gas; the girl in the park whose bike he was about to steal; and his former colleague at the police station. Again, to the girl in the park, he says, "I'm sorry this happened to you." He's not being facetious, or snarky, or sarcastic -- he is genuinely sorry to this person for what has happened to her, and what he is about to do to her in order to help her. And to not forget that piece of advice Rick offers Duane at the police station: "If you pull the trigger, you gotta mean it. Every time."

So where does this leave Rick? In the teaser from Comic-Con, there's a clip of him saying, "All that's left is a man looking for his wife and son." He is certainly that; he is also the man who will shape the audience's opinions of events as the series progresses. After all, it's not just zombies he'll have to face -- soon he'll be found by the survivor camp, and have to deal with Shane moving in on his wife.

For all its subversiveness, there is one element of classic zombie fiction in the title of the episode. "Days Gone Bye" (also the title of the first trade paperback of the comic book series, by the way) not only references memories of simpler times, but also the notion of days literally being gone -- that time no longer matters in this world. With only five episodes remaining for the first season, I hope that time is used wisely. For now, I'll take this excellent premiere to Atlanta and watch it while hiding in a tank. "Cozy in there?"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quickie: Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hello, gentle readers. I wanted to post a quick update because I know I haven't posted much this week. That's in part because of the lack of new television (at least of much of the stuff I watch), the fact that I got sick (which means I watched old episodes of my favorite sitcoms mixed with a cocktail of Doctor Who and cold medicine), and the fact that I missed The Walking Dead premiere because I was working a haunted house on Halloween night.

Fear not, though! I should be back and running soon. "Days Gone Bye" re-airs tomorrow night, so I'll have a review up by Saturday. There is a new episode of Fringe tonight as well, so I'll have a review of that up later tonight.

I did also hear the news of Undercovers being canceled. I'm not terribly surprised. Is that bad? Can we just put those two main actors in another show as a married couple? They're really great. I just couldn't get into the pilot all that much.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quickie: Monday, November 1st, 2010

Just a brief update today; right before elections, and with sweeps now upon us, not a whole lot to watch. Chuck was all-new and I loved it (see below); I didn't get to watch the premiere of The Walking Dead, but it will be repeating on Friday, so watch for a post that night.

Chuck 4.07 "Chuck Versus the First Fight"

Oh goodness. Where has this episode been hiding?! Extremely effective spy plot, dealing directly with Chuck's mom. The best relationship subplot of the entire season. So many plot twists piled up at the end. DO MORE OF THIS, CHUCK. I LIKE THIS.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Blink": Existential Horror and the Passage of Time

Human beings often take their senses for granted. That's one of the great joys of Halloween -- it's the one time of year when you have to force yourself to be aware, lest you become an object of someone else's fear-mongering. One of our favorite senses is sight. Oftentimes, what we cannot see is more terrifying than what we can see. But what does that mean for the things we can see, and do see, every day? This is just one question at the heart of the Doctor Who episode "Blink".


The single most universal fear any human being has is of death. After all, why would we spend so many hours and so many pages figuring out what happens after we die, metaphysically speaking, if we weren't at least a tiny bit afraid of death? In this episode of Doctor Who, the Weeping Angels have devised the perfect method of murder -- as soon as they touch you, you're zapped to another point in time, usually in the past, where you'll be forced to live out your life isolated from the people and places you're familiar with. Two people Sally Sparrow interacts with in the episode die by this method: Kathy Nightingale, her best friend, and Billy Shipton, the police officer who flirts with her when she goes to the police about the house at Wester Drumlins -- the residence of the Weeping Angels.

There are two strange things about these two characters and the way they react to what happens to them. First, and most interestingly, neither of them feels remorse or despair for being transported to different times. Kathy admits, in her letter to Sally delivered via grandson, that time-traveling is "a strange way to start a new life," but "a new life is exactly what she always wanted." (Of course, she maintains her youthful spirit -- "told him you were eighteen, you lying cow!") Billy Shipton has a similar experience -- he falls in love with another woman named Sally after he gets transported to 1969; he is also instrumental in planting the Doctor's DVD Easter eggs. Indeed, Billy's perspective on time changes -- when asked by Sally why he clocked out of work early, he replies, "Because life is short and you are hot." Later, when Sally meets the elderly Billy Shipton, he says wistfully, "Life is long and you are hot." LOST fans will note the comparison to "The Constant" -- Sally Sparrow is the constant for people in this episode.

The second strange thing about Billy and Kathy is the exact circumstances of their disappearances in Sally's time. Both of them are caught up in other peoples' lives when the Angels take them -- in particular, they're caught up in Sally Sparrow. When Kathy is taken, she's in the Wester Drumlins house, eavesdropping on Sally's conversation with her yet-to-be-conceived grandson (I know, I know -- wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff). Billy, meanwhile, is flirting with Sally, and only when he looks back over at the TARDIS does he even notice the Angels creeping up on it. And then, in the blink of an eye, their lives are gone. Creepy.

Of course, Sally Sparrow loves old things. "They make me feel sad," she tells Kathy at the beginning of the episode. Sally's capacity to love drives her to find the Doctor and stop the Weeping Angels.

Speaking of which...


The Weeping Angels are the antagonists of the episode -- the "Monster of the Week", if you will. These creatures personify the terror of things we cannot see, as well as the existential terror of what we can see.


Lonely assassins, they were called. No-one knows where they came from. They're as old as the universe, or very nearly. They've survived this long as they have the most perfect defence system ever evolved. They are quantum-locked. They don't exist when being observed. The moment they're seen by any other living creature they freeze into rock. No choice. It's a fact of their biology. In the sight of any living thing, they literally turn to stone. And you can't kill a stone. Course, a stone can't kill you either. But then you turn your head away, then you blink, and oh, yes it can!


Don't take your eyes off that.


That's why they cover their eyes. They're not weeping, they can't risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.

The Doctor explicitly states in the above dialogue that the Angels don't exist when they're being observed. This concept is explored in Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist writings as "the look". In brief: as soon as we lay our eyes upon someone, we objectify them, quantify them by parts instead of a whole being. In the case of the Angels, they literally turn to stone when someone sees them. But as soon as you turn away, "they are fast, faster than you can imagine." When you aren't looking at them, the Angels exist and can move about freely -- and they are scary, and they are quick.

Indeed, these creatures contribute to how we are supposed to interpret the final images of the episode. Various statues from art history flash by while the Doctor gives his chilling warning: "Don't blink. Blink and you're dead! Don't turn your back, don't look away, and DON'T BLINK! Good luck." In any other context, this might be a commentary on the way that we often ignore the beauty of our own cultured history on Earth, but in this context, where statues are objectifications of actual entities, the meaning is quite different. Time kills, and no entities know this better than the statues of cultures long dead. In the above scene, Sally instructs Larry not take his eyes off the nearby Angel, for if he does, time will very quickly catch up with him.


The Doctor claims that the Angels aren't "weeping" but in the same breath calls them "the loneliest creatures in the universe." Given their grotesque faces, it's easy to assume that they aren't weeping, but one can't help but wonder about what it would be like to actually turn to stone when someone sees you -- and to zap someone into another time just by touching someone. The subtle undertone of the episode, personified in both the Angels and in Sally Sparrow's predicament, is that time is a very lonely thing to be lost in. This ties directly to the lonely nature of being the Doctor, a largely unseen character in this episode. Loneliness, and fear of death, drive everybody in this episode to the strangest of circumstances and back again, and makes "Blink" one of the most terrifying episodes of television.

(The transcript excerpt quoted above is from -- the images are from


Moffat, S. (Writer), & MacDonald, H. (Director). (2007). Blink [Television series episode]. In P. Collinson (Producer), Doctor who. Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom: BBC One.

Sartre, J-P. (1956). Being and nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. New York, New York: Philosophical Library.

Quickie: Friday, October 29, 2010

In this Quickie post, I'm going to post a few thoughts on shows I'm watching "in the background" as it were. These are shows that I won't be writing about every week because I'm still catching up with them, but I wanted to throw out a post just to show that I am, in fact, aware of them. No spoilers please!

Terriers 1.03 "Change Partners"

Yeah, without a doubt, this is the show to save this fall. I was digging the vibe of the show in the first couple of episodes, but the story was mostly just sliding across my glazed-over eyeballs until NOW. Especially loved the story with Britt and Katie -- their open and honest communication about past misdeeds is refreshing, particularly against Hank's own inability to say "no" to his ex-wife and her new fiance. And that ending... damn. Must-see TV.

Supernatural 1.01 "Pilot"

Whoa, hit me with your best shot! Despite the pedigree, and the crossover of Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel fans, I wasn't sure how I was going to take the first episode of this one. But right away, there are layers of storytelling at work visually and thematically. The focus is specifically on Sam, but is an excellent way of grounding the "demon hunting business" in tangible (or intangible, as the case may be) emotional connections. I like the brothers just fine for now, but it might take a while for me to warm up to them -- but as it took a season and a half for Angel to become a wildly complex character, I'm willing to give Dean and Sam the benefit of the doubt. What a fun show. Can't wait to see more!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Quickie: Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cougar Town 2.06 "You Don't Know How It Feels"

This episode reminded me of Scrubs at its very best -- simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming. Ken Jenkins as Jules' dad was just awesome (excellent piece of comedy with his name, too), Travis and Laurie were having fun, and poor Bobby is still trying to be a good guy, even though he was removed as Stan's guardian. The show integrated Halloween well, even using it to its advantage -- it took me longer than it should have to realize that the bear was actually Chick in disguise. Overall, a great episode of a great show.

Community 2.06 "Epidemiology"

Have I declared my love for Community on this blog yet? Is it too stereotypical of me to do so? Community is one of those shows that is good at committing totally, willingly, to the craziest ideas you can think of for episodes of television. This Halloween episode is no different. I mean, come on, a zombie infection set to ABBA? A horror homage/parody piece where the black guy is actually the hero? SHIRLEY AND CHANG HAVE SEX?! Most of all, I deeply appreciated Troy's journey (insert Illiad reference here) of self-identity; of all the identities in the world that can be denied by a person, "nerd" is the hardest. This episode is going on my stack of Halloween reruns -- in fact, I may never watch the Boy Meets World slasher parody episode again. (I'm kidding. Who doesn't love Jennifer Love Hewitt parodying herself?)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: The Event 1.06 "Loyalty"

Loyalty: honorable, and dangerous. At least, that's the concept of loyalty as presented by this week's episode of The Event. It's a very fitting title, considering that those of us who have been loyal to the show for this long have now been rewarded with an actual, watchable show, one that avoids Flashforward's pitfalls, learned just the right amount of lessons from LOST, and has all the high-octane action that 24 delivered for eight straight seasons.

The main story here revolves around Agent Simon Li (not his real name!), the double agent whose story I completely dismissed back in the pilot. I apologize for that -- the revelations from last week regarding Thomas (and how cool it is to have aliens that look like humans who don't age -- props to the creative team for that idea) opens the door to a whole host of new stories involving the extra-terrestrials (henceforth ETs, at the risk of getting sued by Spielberg). For Simon, we get a simple love story -- he loved a woman in 1954, but sacrificed her for his loyalty to his people. They encounter each other again, after "Mason" has changed his name to Simon and gets work as an agent of the government, but she's got Alzheimer's and he's a young whipper-snapper. Ultimately, though, Simon isn't willing to make the sacrifice for his loyalty again; though he lets Thomas and Sophia escape (and smacks his superior upside the head, though I think we all know how inconsequential that was), he also tries to save his field team. Honorable, but dangerous when an entire building is collapsing all around you. For added brilliance: leave his fate unknown until the next episode. I'm hooked.

But let's not forget Jason Ritter just yet! Sean's finally got Leila back... and now Leila gets to find out that her mom is dead, her kid sister was kidnapped, and her dad is who-knows-where. Desperate for answers, they leave behind FBI Girl and return to Leila's house, searching for evidence that Michael Buchanan was somehow involved in something that caused him to submit to a terrorist's will. And then we get Paula Malcolmson, freshly revived from Caprica's demise, playing a crazy journalist whom Michael called when he accidently stumbled upon the Inostranka facility during a re-routing of his flight. It's kind of a cheap way to get Sean and Leila involved with the rest of the characters, and with the plot at large, but I'll take it, if only because not everyone was a fan of the Sean-Leila plot in the first five episodes, and this promises to be a more interesting line to follow.

Most importantly, "Loyalty" showcases, for the first time, the brilliance of the show's title. The Event doesn't just have to be about the game-changing ET crash-landing in 1944 -- it can also be about the events in our lives that shape us to be who we are, and the events that are catalysts for change. Sean's loyalty is noble, if kind of stupidly blind to the person Leila really is, while Simon's is tenuous but brutally honest. It's clear he loved this woman, and it's clear he didn't want to leave her, but his loyalties were torn, and he chose to help his people instead of living the life he wanted. But all of these characters got to this point through various "events" in their lives, and it is these events that are the focus of the flashbacks -- which now fit comfortably into an episode without being intrusive, confusing, or both.

And... I will leave you with the quote of the night, because I don't want to forget it: "Are you an angel?" "No... I'm so far from that."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quickie: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Glee 2.05 "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Remember back in my "Britney/Brittany" reflection post, how I said it was critically a hot mess? Well, if that episode is a hot mess, this one is a scorching disaster. Most of what I have to say reflects the way the rest of the critics reacted, but in brief: it didn't work. Doing themed episodes is fun and all, but it has to function in a way that is logical to the show; predictably for a Ryan Murphy teleplay, the show came second to being completely over-the-top. Though I dug Mercedes as Frank-N-Furter, and Finn's storyline was a neat one, there's just no room for Will/Emma/Carl in the same breath as "themed episode". Everything here was just off-putting and wrong. And yes, that was the worst rendition of "Time Warp" I've ever seen (and yes, I too have seen the Drew Carey Show version).

Reflections: Caprica cancellation


It always sucks to see great science fiction suffer. The one-two punch of losing Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles one year, then Dollhouse the next, was psychological torture to my wounded heart. But not even flowery prose can save Caprica anymore.

I'm really sorry that it has to go -- the show seemed to be on an upswing recently, and despite the slow start, it was figuring out its themes pretty clearly, while differentiating itself as much as possible from parent show Battlestar Galactica. Especially after losing Dollhouse, this show was a welcome presence.

As for the blog: I'll start reviewing Glee by throwing up a quick post covering all the episodes to date. Due to various obligations, it's unlikely I'll be able to watch it live, so my review posts are likely to be up the following day. As for the gap in my Tuesday nights: what better excuse to watch Parenthood again? And when SyFy burns off the rest of Caprica Season 1.5 in 2011, I will review those dutifully.

Return to the soil, Caprica. So say we all!

Quickie: Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So after doing that "Quick Updates" post... whenever that was (yesterday? Sunday? My days blur together), I was hit with a stroke of genius: why not do a Quickie post every day in order to update my blog readers on my impressions of each episode of each show that I'm watching? Since I don't do detailed reviews of every show I watch, and I don't have a lot of time to get in-depth with Reflections, it's a nice way to throw out my basic reactions to my shows. So without further ado, the first Quickie post of the blog!

Chuck 4.06 "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror"

Robert Englund, Linda Hamilton, and a plot that was simultaneously interesting on its own counts and involved with the overarching plot -- that's the Chuck I love. I really dug how we are never really able to know Mommy Bartowski's true motives, merely following her long trail of allegiances. Casey and Morgan continue to shine together, and we seem to have thankfully gotten past the regular Chuck/Sarah relationship angst. FINALLY. Good episode, minus the forgettable Buy More plot.

How I Met Your Mother 6.06 "Baby Talk"

The wacky Family Guy-esque cutaways worked here, where Lily and Marshall debate over baby names becomes metaphorical for the pounds of responsibility that's gonna slap them in the face when said baby finally gets here (note: soon, please -- this story isn't as interesting as you think it is, Bays & Thomas). Prize-winning story here was the Ted/Robin/Barney stuff, though -- particularly coming back to Robin's fierce independence and the contrasts drawn between Ted and Barney. Not the best episode of the season to date, but a mighty fine one nonetheless.

House 7.05 "Unplanned Parenthood"

Unusual case paired with fun baby antics, House-style. The case was cool -- House has done babies before, but never ones that are barely out of the womb. It is a bit of a rehash (mommy and baby affecting each other was done in an earlier season of House, can't remember which off the top of my head), but the House/Wilson/Rachel story was enough to keep me hooked for the parallels. Less interesting was the on-going search for a female doctor. I liked Dr. Chang, but I once again had the feeling that she would be as disposable as Foreman's pick. The problem with trying to make this story a C-plot is a) we know Amber Tamblyn's on the way and b) we know Olivia Wilde's back soon enough. Spare me the minute details of the in-between stuff, please. Otherwise, solid episode of House, especially that last shot -- I laughed out loud.

Caprica 1.14 "False Labor"

I'll have a full review of this later, but in brief: love the Sam story, digging Amanda a little more, digging Daniel a lot more. I really love seeing how Zoe continues to be the dominating presence of the show even when she's not in the episode -- that her death and subsequent avatar resurrection continues to haunt the Graystones is partially telling of how significant that death was. Even Joe Adama can't let Daniel forget. Another solid episode in the bag -- one more and we might be back to epic levels of awesome for this show.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.04 "Double Blind"

In last week's review, I commented that the show was gaining a greater amount of nuance and subtlety in its storytelling. While the nuance remains this week, particularly in the dialogue, the plot of this week's Lie To Me was remarkably blunt, lacking the subtle brilliance of "Dirty Loyal".

The focus of the episode is a new art exhibit, with the key pieces being a gemstone dug up by archaeologists in 1908 India, and a statue of Osiris from Egypt. When two thieves dressed as cops get shot by the museum guard on duty, the curator blames Torres, who vetted all of his museum employees sometime prior to the events of the episode. Of course, the curator has a drug problem and two regular wall painters whom he failed to mention to Torres at the time of the employee screening. Meanwhile, Lightman gets involved with a woman named Naomi while waiting at the hospital to see if the thief that survived the museum guard's wrath survives. As is revealed through Lightman's flirtations and interactions with her, Naomi used to be involved in the planned heist, but dropped out when her boyfriend resorted to using violence. Now the ex is harassing her, and she drags Lightman into her life. This, of course, is a decoy -- Naomi wanted to steal the gemstone back so it could be returned to its rightful owner. Nuts to her, then, because Lightman had the curator switch out the real gemstone for a fake.

It was hard to really engage with this episode. Part of me thinks that was by design. The title of the episode, "Double Blind", refers to a kind of psychological experiment where neither the test subjects nor the researchers know which test subjects are in the control group (the normal conditions against which a hypothesis is tested) and which are in the experimental group. That may have worked for Naomi, blinding both herself and Lightman to the truth of the events, but it doesn't work for an episode of television; instead of drawing us in, the episode attempts to push us away.

I did appreciate the butterfly metaphor. The subplot involves Torres dealing with the fact that she may have screwed up when vetting the museum employees. In response, Lightman asks her to look up the difference between a Monarch butterfly and a viceroy butterfly. Loker provides the explanation: "They're nearly identical. Predators can't tell the difference between the two, they just know one is toxic, so they leave them both alone." (This is kind of misleading; viceroy butterflies can still upset a predator's stomach -- not as dangerous as being poisoned by the Monarch, but still not very preferable, and therefore a good deterrent for predators.) The idea is that Torres and Lightman work together, against the curator, in order to confuse him, make him unsure whether Lightman or Torres are the more dangerous prey, so that he'll leave them both alone. Lightman later invokes the metaphor after Naomi reveals her cards, telling her, "Viceroy butterfly" in response to a dinner proposal. It's a nice touch of subtlety in an otherwise unsubtle episode.

The season's extended metaphor of "Lightman Group as family" played less of a role here, but was still invoked. The Torres subplot definitively places Foster and Lightman in parental roles to Torres -- it works within the family metaphor, but as a stand-alone plot, it irked me from a feminist point of view. Foster is once again left out of another Lightman sleight-of-hand, having not been told about the fake gemstone. When she confronts him, he tells her, "It's called 'cat-and-mouse', Jill, not 'cats-and-mouse'." Lightman's ego seems to be an on-going problem this season as well; when he and Naomi go for coffee, he asks her to call him Lightman, which for me invoked the first episode of the season: "Let there be Lightman!"

Overall, "Double Blind" was not as strong as the previous three episodes. Though there were some great ideas at play, the execution was by-the-numbers procedural work -- which, admittedly, is more interesting under the lens of the Lightman Group, but within context, this episode was not a particularly strong use of Lie To Me's greatest strengths.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Quick Update: October 25 2010

Greetings! I know there are quite a few readers out there reading this blog now. Thank you so much!

I've been doing my best to come up with ways of spicing up the blog a bit, making sure it isn't always just reviews and reflections at random times. It's a challenge working around a college student's schedule, but so far I've been making it work pretty well.

I just wanted to quickly inform readers that tonight's review of Lie To Me will be a tad late. I probably won't be able to watch it until much later tonight, and I won't be able to get a review up until tomorrow at noon by the earliest. In related news, because I'm also reviewing The Event, and because Fringe is not on this week, I'll be reviewing The Event on Thursday this week, same as I did last week.

In really cool news, though, I would like to prepare you for something I cooked up this weekend. Because it's the week leading up to Halloween, I wanted to do something horror-related. And what should I watch but "Blink", one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who? I remembered how I got there (via Myles McNutt, who called Buffy episode "Hush" the equivalent episode in that series) and decided that I could easily do a special "Horror TV" series of posts this week, analyzing these two both separately and in relation to each other. So look for that in the coming week.

I've got to dash now, but keep watching those RSS feeds -- I'll be around!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: The Event 1.05 "Casualties of War"

This week's episode of The Event reminded me very strongly of the Battlestar Galactica movie-episode "Razor". That story focuses on Admiral Helena Cain's theory of war: at one point, she tells new arrival Kendra Shaw that "sometimes we have to do things we never thought we were capable of, if only to show the enemy our will." This concept was at the heart of "Casualties of War" -- in war, sometimes you have to commit fully to inhumane acts in order to regain your own humanity.

The main plot focuses on a fully developed razor of war -- Thomas, a leader hand-picked by Sophia to be a sleeping dog inside America's fence -- and President Eli, a razor-in-training. Their conflict starts with the fates of the passengers of Avias 514 at risk. Thomas is unrelenting, almost eager to execute the passengers, but he reveals to Simon that he believes Eli will cave. But Eli doesn't cave -- instead, he flips the script: if the passengers of Avias 514 (who are all dying by some non-terrestial agent which only Thomas can cure, by the way) die, then Eli replies in turn by executing Sophia and all of the detainees at Inostranka. Flashbacks reveal the nature of Thomas's character: he's a soldier, through and through, and he'll follow his orders even if they're no longer coming from the same woman that he received orders from so many years ago. But this time, it's too much, and he caves. The negotiation is this: put Sophia on a train to him, and Thomas releases the passengers from their torment. So in the end, Eli gets what he wants -- but his wife questions whether or not he really would have gone through with his genocidal threat, and frankly, so do I.

The secondary plot, meanwhile, focuses on a tense conclusion to Sean's search for Leila. Just as Sean gets Leila's message from the police department, Leila discovers that the cops aren't all they say they are ("celebrating fifteen years this January" my ass). She makes another poor escape attempt (no, seriously, Leila is just bad at escapes -- or maybe her captors are just really good at coincidence) and is locked inside a room again. Sean arrives at the station just as his buddy gets him the location of Vicky's cell phone number -- which was just turned on inside that very station. But Sean has a plan -- he logically assumes, based on what he learned about Vicky's "son" Adam last week, that she obtained him through less-than-typical means, and uses this information as blackmail in order to safely get Leila out. It works -- Vicky lets Sean and Leila leave, and she covers for them and takes out all of her once-partners (save one, whom Sean, Leila, and FBI Girl kidnap for "further questioning"). Flashbacks reveal the mission in which she obtained Adam, showing her to be a solider willingly following orders, but unwilling to shoot a baby in cold blood. Like Thomas, she gives in -- some emotional connection prevents her from committing to her orders, just as Thomas was unwilling to have genocide on his hands via President Eli's threat.

I really dug this episode. It wore its theme will, executing a miniature version of "Razor" while using the show's previously established mythology to build to the all-important choices Vicky and Thomas have to make at the end. There was generally a lot of creativity in the writing and structuring of this episode, and much of my attention came from the emotional tensions rising between the characters as opposed to the adrenaline rush of a good shootout (only one this time, and it was in the police station in order to save Leila). A real show is starting to emerge here, and with news this week of a full season pickup, I hope there's as much narrative strength in the rest of the season as there was here in this episode.

In other words, "if you can be this... for as long as you have to be, then you're a razor."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Caprica 1.12 "Things We Lock Away"

What are the "Things We Lock Away"? Memories, secrets... even human beings. That we can call them "things" and lock them away implies that we have power over them, that we can oppress them. It is the nature of this relationship between the thing in the safe and the owner of the safe that is at the heart of tonight's wonderfully engaging episode of Caprica -- and with three loaded stories to boot.

Let's start in the V-World. Picking up from "Unvanquished", Zoe finds the gladiator-esque arena where Tamara's been killing time and confronts her. Thing is, Tamara's kinda pissed about that whole MAG-LEV bombing and how it killed her and her mom, and she and other family members of MAG-LEV victims want revenge on Zoe for her terrorist ways. At first, Zoe is compliant, but over the episode, she recovers memories from Zoe's life that lead her to a simple conclusion: she is not Zoe, and she does not have to follow the path that Zoe laid out for her. This all culminates in a fantastic fight sequence between Zoe and Tamara that ends with Zoe lending Tamara a hand, then they look upward at their captors.

Lacy, meanwhile, is having less of a good time. Clarice locks her up in her attic while she brings Amanda back to the Graystone residence (sans Daniel for the brief time she's there, so no reunion just yet). Oh, sure, Lacy's got some food and water, but it's drugged, and Lacy isn't happy about that. Finally, after much psychological torture, Clarice visits Lacy, and Lacy reveals that, while Zoe's original files are all fried, she may have had a backup in the STO infinity symbol she used to wear. Satisfied that Lacy is now under her thumb, Clarice ships her off to Gemenon for STO training. It's only after this that Clarice brings Amanda to live with her at her home. Clarice is quite the puppetmaster -- she knows how to hide the strings.

The final plot deals with Daniel Graystone. Predictably, he is voted back as CEO of his own company again. However, Joseph lays down basic Tauron beliefs upon him: Vergis will never stop coming after Daniel, so the only course of action left is to end him. Daniel disagrees. He thinks he can play the business game with Tomas, boxing him into a corner, locking him away so he can never really fight Daniel with any power ever again. But Tomas is a proud Tauron, and in a brutal final scene, he forces Daniel to thrust Tomas's own blade into his chest.

The illusion is that we only think we have power over these things we lock away. But Zoe and Tamara subvert the gladiator spectators' expectations by extending a helping hand to each other in the end. Lacy will no doubt be back for Clarice (as one of Clarice's husbands notes as she is chauffeured away), ending the reign of terror she has exerted over Lacy, Amanda, and her immediate family. And Daniel's own illusions are falling apart: he is beginning to realize that violence, not business, is truly power, and he has crossed the Rubicon in that arena.

I noted that last week's Caprica seemed to be spinning its wheels -- now it's easy to see why. This episode, like Zoe's memories or Lacy, was locked away, waiting for the right moment to exert its influence upon the series. What this episode did so well is that it incorporated the show's strongest elements into a cohesive story with a strong thematic heart that kept each scene alive with meaning, with purpose. This is Caprica at its finest.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.03 "Dirty Loyal"

Dare I detect subtlety and nuance? This week's Lie To Me takes an old procedural trope -- dirty cops -- and twists it into a story about loyalty, and the pitfalls thereof. It also layers the show with the issue at the heart of the Lightman Group in this season -- "A house divided cannot stand."

Tonight's episode, "Dirty Loyal", deals with Lightman's new girlfriend/connection to the cops, Wallowski, and her connection to a dirty cop (her partner, Detective Farr) and the gangs she watches as part of her job. When Prince John, a Ninety-Sixer, winds up dead, all fingers point to Wallowski being dirty, thanks mostly to an eyewitness. But Loker and Torres pull some science on that eyewitness by pointing out "change blindness" -- we see what we want to see, blind to any subtle changes that might occur. Meanwhile, another Ninety-Sixer kicks the bucket, and the truth comes out: Farr's been getting some "off-duty booty" which resulted in a son, Suarez. He was trying to be a good father, Wallowski was trying to be a good partner, and because of that, the two got caught up in a bloody battle for gang leadership which ultimately brings the truth to Internal Affairs.

The episode felt a bit dragging, especially with one act devoted exclusively to the shootout at Wallowski's house, but it ultimately offered a lot of commentary on the values and dangers of loyalty. By the end of the episode, I felt kinda sorry for Farr: he was really just trying to be a good dad, and the system responded by kicking him in the ass. Same for Lightman and Foster, each attempting to be loyal to the same thing for entirely different reasons.

This episode is definitely the beginning of a series of introspective pieces involving the Lightman Group. With Loker on his way out, a new set of interns on their way in, and Lightman and Foster literally divided by a woman (loved the shot of the two walking away from the IA agent in opposite directions), the show is open to new thematic stories to tell based on these characters.

Most of all, I appreciated the subtlety of the episode -- the Group has stopped with the lengthy, wordy explanations of their science, instead letting Wallowski's facial expressions betray her for them. They've also lost their ability to communicate -- Lightman bounds away as soon as Foster and Wallowski start talking about him. At first, I was a bit thrown by how different this season is in comparison to the previous season, but now I'm all in, if these are the kinds of stories we can expect this year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: The Event 1.04 "A Matter of Life and Death"

I always feel exhausted after watching an episode of The Event. I think it's just my suspension of disbelief faculties working overtime. I was never a 24 viewer, so this kind of high-stress plot involvement is a new thing for me.

This week's episode, "A Matter of Life and Death", flips the script, relegating last week's cliffhanger to the B-plot while we deal primarily with Sean and Leila. Sean and his new cop buddy (yes, I did already forget her name) are hunting down Vicky Roberts while, in Snyder, TX, Leila attempts to and succeeds at freeing herself from her captors, only to get caught in the web again -- one of the cops she finds after escaping is working with Vicky in order to capture Sean. Interspersed in this story were flashbacks to Thanksgiving dinner five years ago, when Leila's parents meet Sean for the first time. The flashbacks were great in this episode, but they added little to the situation at hand, which was a little disorienting.

So, those airplane passengers? They're alive because of this Other named Thomas, a rogue who would prefer to use means of terrorism (as opposed to diplomacy, Sophia's preferred method) in order to free the prisoners at Inostranka. He makes a menacing(?) threat to the president that unless Sophia and the other Others go free, more people will die. And then their noses start bleeding -- because LOST didn't make that piece of business scary enough already.

All in all, this episode was weaker than last week's, but still stronger than the first two. The show has definitely figured out how to balance the time between flashbacks and present-day stories, but there hasn't been an attempt to make a thematic connection. When that spark hits, I'm bound to give a glowing review. Until then, The Event continues the mighty first-season struggle to find itself. Lucky for them, I'm a patient man.

Review: Fringe 3.04 "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"

I had a moment, at the commercial break with Walter and Ray the shapeshifter in the elevator together, when I realized that absolutely anything is possible on this show. (It was a horrifying revelation at the time. Walter could have died!) As Walter himself says, there are no limits except what we impose on ourselves. Such is the beauty and power of "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?" an hour of television that is essentially indescribable because to do so would be imposing limits on a show that believes in the endless impossibility.

More than "The Box", this episode convinced me of the awesome factor of the myth-alone as it functions within the Blue Universe. The teaser begins with a couple of nice, early-Fringe-esque scenes, particularly the lemonade stand sequence, but by the end we know three things: Broyles has a semi-personal connection to this person, Newton has been called in to interfere with this guy, and, oh yeah, the senator's a SHAPESHIFTER. Of these three things, only the Broyles connection gets short-changed, but at this point I'm so used to it happening that I didn't even notice. So Senator Van Horn gets transported to the new Massive Dynamic labs, where a self-medicated Walter attempts to find his brain. He and Astrid finally figure out that having fake emotions eventually leads to real emotions replacing them, thus the senator's wife is the quickest way to locate the data center. They find it at the base of the spine -- his ass -- but Walter thinks that's impossible until he remembers the stegosaurus (through conversation with Astrid).

The rest of the episode's stories connect at about this point in the show. Newton is the mastermind of the episode; he is quick to point out how Fauxlivia is becoming attached to our team, and he discovers the reason Ray the shapeshifter is so reluctant to perform his duty of recovering the data center from Van Horn at Massive Dynamic. Ray manages to slip in and out of Massive Dynamic with the data center, but only just (and I won't lie, I was scared stiff when he and Walter were in close proximity to each other)... only to be shot by Newton outside of his house. Fauxlivia, of course, wants to have her cake and eat it too; after a harrowing car chase, she recovers the data center and doesn't tell Peter about it... and then she calls him over to have sex. (A clear and present danger, or the best spy ever?)

There was definitely a meta-fictional vibe to this episode. I've always loved J. J. Abrams' TED Talk, particularly the way he describes the function of mystery in storytelling. Mechanical plot business is just that: mechanical. "It's a machine!" declares Walter at one point. But in order for a machine to complete its mission -- at least, for our shapeshifters to do so -- it must learn how to emulate emotions. And for shapeshifters, who are part organic, this can lead to real emotions. The mystery, the science, the mythology all fall by the wayside when Walter's life is threatened by an emotionally compromised shapeshifter.

This is televised storytelling at its finest: a show with an overarching mythology crafts an episode that plays to the hardcore audience while providing easy-access emotional through-lines to help guide them through the myriad of twists and turns. I feel like a little kid again when I'm watching this show -- and I mean that in the best way possible.

Review: Caprica 1.11 "Retribution"

"Spinning its wheels" is a phrase I hear bandied about from TV critics when a show takes an episode to put its ducks in order, maneuvering pieces to the right places in the plot in order to make real progress later on in the story.

Such is the case with this week's Caprica, "Retribution". It's not a bad episode of television, but it has the challenge of following up from last week's incredible "Unvanquished" and having to handle a character most people thought dead after "End of Line" -- Amanda Graystone. In attempting to handle each character with care, the episode fails in comparison to other, more focused episodes of Caprica.

The real lagging piece of the episode is the Daniel storyline. Sure, we get it -- he's going to be working with the Adamas in morally grey areas in order to get his company back. Cool. Can we not pretend that the Adamas don't have their own motives, though? It's a real shame to see sparkling characters like Joseph and Sam made out as little more than gangster pawns in Daniel Graystone's master plot. Worse yet, with the dynamic between Daniel and Zoe temporarily unavailable, why are we supposed to care about what Daniel does? I get the feeling the episode wanted us to connect with Daniel in the sense that his master creation is being used as little more than weapons, but, well, he's no Tony Stark or Mark Zuckerberg.

If we could just cut out that plot and focus instead on Lacy, Clarice, and Amanda, the episode would have been much better. The episode's basic premise is this: what would you do in the name of retribution? Daniel leans on Taurons and spies to get his job done, but Clarice prefers a more personal touch -- as Barnabas fatally discovers this week. Caught in the middle of everything is Lacy, whose life is now forfeit to Clarice for attempting to bomb her plane (and failing, thanks to Lacy's sudden lack of a backbone). Meanwhile, Amanda is debating whether or not to spy on Clarice, who may or may not be an STO agent; she's also reflecting upon the events after her bridge-jump suicide fail via a series of flashbacks and dreams that remind me of that knock-knock joke about the interrupting cow.

So yes, this episode is doing a lot of wheel-spinning. I still think Caprica spins wheels better than most shows (LOST and parent show Battlestar Galactica did it better; high praise, no?) but mechanically moving characters from Point A to Point B in a single episode is boring. My favorite quote from the episode sums things up well: "You're a disgrace. / That's not the point."

Reflections: 30 Rock 5.04 "Live Show"

The first thought that came to mind when I heard that 30 Rock was doing a live show was: "hey, what a great idea considering what the show is built upon!" I'm guessing I was in some sort of minority, because in reality, doing a live version of a scripted show -- any scripted show -- would be impossible if not ridiculously difficult to pull off. And yet, because of the show's concept, and because the show has Tina Fey -- whose writing exploits I frequently adore -- 30 Rock was in a unique position to do the impossible, Joss Whedon style.

And do it they did. Though the plots were skeleton sketches compared to a typical episode of the show, they necessarily had to be in order to allow the actors room to sketch out the jokes for themselves. I was delighted at the wonderful amount of soul-searching occurring in the episode -- by going live, the show and its creative team was forced to find out just what was so gosh darn funny about the show from the beginning.

For that, I can at least mostly credit the cast. I'm among the legions who has a major screen crush on Tina Fey, but everyone was on their A-game in this one, from Tracy Morgan's hilarious attempts to sabotage the show by breaking character to Jack McBrayer's Kenneth constantly cracking up at an "I'm with stupid" shirt to Alec Baldwin for, well, being Alec Baldwin. I'll admit freely in this reflection to not being a regular 30 Rock viewer, so I'm not entirely sure if Baldwin's Jack character mimicking his wife's inability to drink during pregnancy was part of an on-going story involving his home life, but the various failures at being off alcohol led to him sticking his nose down Jane Krakowski's mouth. That was more than enough to convince me of the humor in the situation.

The final touch that I really enjoyed about the episode was the meta-humor. I'm going to touch on meta-fictional television sometime in the future, but for this episode in particular, the meta-humor is what really helped the show transcend both pre-taped/scripted and live television and gave it a flavor that makes me pine for more live scripted shows in a way that reality television could never do. It was also a very convenient way to slide a viewer into the show by subtly pointing out right from the beginning that something was "off", then send us back home with a final taped shot of Tina and Alec.

Given the heavy SNL leanings of the show, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that this episode worked as well as it did. But it's still an accomplishment, and I'm willing to grant it that. So this post is one big kudos to the 30 Rock cast, crew, etc. not only for pulling off a live show, but for reminding me why this show is funny and fun to watch.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.02 "The Royal We"

In the opening of this week's Lie To Me, "The Royal We", Emily quotes Tolstoy: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Though not obvious at first, this is the core theme of the episode. While Lightman has to handle writing a new book, ejecting Loker, and inducting the new employees into his service, he also has a deadly family situation at his fingertips.

Beauty pageants come up a lot in procedurals; I even have vague recollections of one in an episode of Numb3rs, one of my all-time favorite procedurals in the past decade. A lot of them tend to focus mostly on the innocence of the little girls, the sacrifices the families make so their little girls can be successful and blah de blah. So it was nice to see Lie To Me take the extreme psychological route in order to highlight more subtle nuances to Lightman's work. In this case, the little girl is far from innocent; she's sadistic, cutting herself on the thigh while reading her mom's diary from her own pageant days. See, she gets off to pain, which her mom has a-plenty, and then little Megan takes it upon herself to extend that pain to others, resulting in a sexual assault charge against Mr. Fletcher, soccer mom-widow extraordinaire. But Megan also has the usual pageant girl issues -- the scene in the rafters where Lightman belittles his own mom's suicide is remarkable, not just for the shocking truths that Lightman and Megan lay bare in the conversation, but for the continuity of Cal's character bringing new emotional weight to a worn out procedural plot.

Somewhat less impressive, but somehow still very humorous, is how Cal and Loker are handling each other now that Loker is on his way out. Cal throws Loker's stuff onto the floor; in retaliation, Loker steals a pen, then helps Cal out during a particularly difficult point in the case. They're both awfully like children, aren't they? But the real stinger comes at the end, when Torres finds out that Loker has applied for a job at The Pentagon -- Lightman's old bosses.

The episode has some issues. Notably, it's becoming more difficult to see the thematic connection between the main case and the drama within Lightman Group. Sure, I get that they're supposed to be family, but especially within the past few episodes (and I'm including the end of S2 in this), it's been hard to really make that familial bond clear. And I don't think I have to tick off the list of reasons why relating to a sadistic pageant girl with mommy issues is a hard thing to do.

Overall, though, "The Royal We" is on par with some of the darker episodes the show has ever done -- quite an achievement for an episode about pageant girls. The only thing I could really request of the show right now is that we get more Foster and Torres moments. Cal and Emily are great, but they're the core blood family of the show, and at some point, we know what to expect from them (not unlike the Taylors in Friday Night Lights). The Lightman Group is peppered with wonderful characters, and I'd like to see them in the spotlight more. There's no need to always say "Let there be Lightman."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Fringe 3.03 "The Plateau"

Patterns are consistent and predictable behaviors. They can be found in math as in human beings, and are based primarily on what can be known about the real world. But what happens when you break the pattern?

This week's Fringe, "The Plateau" attempts to answer that question on multiple levels. In one sense, the episode is about our Antagonist of the Week, Milo, who's been jacked up with so many intelligence-enhancing drugs that he can predict the patterns of human beings, enabling him to commit multiple murders simply by setting off a chain reaction using ballpoint pens.

Sounds like a Herculean task, taking him down. But nobody counted on Olivia -- and that's our Olivia, though she's having a hard time remembering that. With Olivia's story, the show also makes a meta-fictional appeal to the fans of the show. Remember "The Pattern"? It's OK if you don't; the phrase hasn't been used in connection to Fringe Division cases since at least late season one or early season two. Instead, we have alternate universes, which have shattered the pattern of television episodes. On Fringe, the "myth-alone" episode prevails, and it is presenting a fascinating challenge to the hybrid procedural/mythological television shows in the landscape. Our Olivia's memories are bleeding through, even guiding Fauxlivia's actions, to the point that she does not recognize a sign indicating lack of oxygen in a given construction site and instead plows ahead to tackle Milo -- an action that is outside Fauxlivia's normal patterns, and is ultimately Milo's downfall.

The other major theme of the episode is perception. How does Fringe Division perceive Olivia? How does Olivia perceive herself? Everyone's feeling a kind of cognitive dissonance here in Red Universe. Today, that dissonance saved Olivia's life. In two weeks? It could be her undoing. It's no accident that submerging Olivia in water was brought up again -- the show reaches back into its past (the pilot episode is likely the reference here, and it's definitely no accident that the word "pattern" was used specifically) to generate a new future, one that is outside the pattern of regular television, even the previous pattern that Fringe developed over the course of its first season. It also makes Broyles uncomfortable -- outside of the pattern means outside of control, and he doesn't want to risk losing another agent.

And that makes for one hell of an hour of entertainment. I need no further evidence of the show's alternating between universes -- this works on a level far beyond what I previously thought the show was capable of. The impossible truly has become real. But it's all part of The Pattern, now, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Caprica 1.10 "Unvanquished"

Caprica is a show that shares its parent show's ridiculously complex topics for stories. Fortunately, both shows also work well when they zero in on a particular topic and examine it from a variety of viewpoints.

This week's episode of Caprica, the triumphant return of the show to television, is mostly about the sanctity of human life. Daniel, grieving now for the loss (though not necessarily death) of his wife and his company, is ready to jump into bed with the Tauron gangs -- though not for the life of his mother -- in order to set things right again. Clarice, meanwhile, presents an intriguing use of the V-World to her superiors in the religion (one with a power structure not so unlike the Catholic Church): a virtual heaven, where souls could live on after they had died.

The show's title has a nice ring to it: "Unvanquished". Clarice is unvanquished in her goal to assert monotheistic thought across all the colonies, an ambition she can finally realize now that the only man in her way is dead via Brutus (or Diego -- and I'm pretty damn sure the scene was set up to parallel that scene from the play on purpose). Daniel is unvanquished in his quest to uncover the secret behind eternal life, though he is slowed by the fact that Vergas is putting out chassis of the U-87 that can walk and shoot (which is, of course, good enough for the military). And Zoe is, well, just plain unvanquished -- the U-87 with her consciousness inside was boxed mercifully by Cyrus (going against orders from Vergas to melt down the parts for scrap metal), and her virtual self is a Dead Walker like Tamara -- not a coincidence since Zoe is looking for her.

It's tough to come back from a long break and jump right back into a world as richly detailed as Caprica, but this show remains a love-child of Battlestar Galactica, and that means you can't keep the strongest elements from shining through when necessary. The acting was top-notch (particularly the under-stated emotions in Zoe and Daniel) and some of these shots were just plain gorgeous -- how else would a drunken, grieving man wake up but with the feeling that the whole world is upside down? I will never get enough of this show and what it adds to the television landscape.

(Expect a Reflections piece on this one later on this week. There was a LOT of symbolism and imagery at work here, too much to cover in a single review.)