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Monday, November 22, 2010

Last Week In TV #10

Thoughts on what I watched on TV last week. 

How I Met Your Mother: Glitter


This episode underlined the fact that Lily has become far too one-note of late, as there is currently nothing more to her character than wanting a baby. I mean, Marshall wants one too, but he manages to do other things on the show besides talking about it constantly. I'm hoping that by making Lily's baby-mania the catechist for this episode's emotional moments, the writers are acknowledging that they've made this Lily's one character beat of late, and that moving forward, she'll be given more to do (or maybe I'm giving the writers too much credit).

Otherwise, this was a good episode, if only for the The Space Teens (two average Canadian teenagers who solve crimes in space using math) segments, which were hilarious. Yes, it's a bit ridiculous that no one in Canada recognized the blatant innuendos on the show, but that's fairly consistent with how the show has portrayed Canada thus far (as blissfully-ignorant and overly-nice). There were also some enjoyable callbacks to past episodes, like "Slapbet" (the first and best Robin Sparkles episode), when Barney knee slid across the room to slap Marshall, thinking The Space Teens was porn and he'd won the best after all, and Ted's high school friend Punchy, who first appeared in the second Robin Sparkles episode ("Sandcastles in the Sand").  

Speaking of Punchy, while the telephone call between him and Ted was hilarious, his visit later in the episode was far too broad to be very funny, but I liked that he was as worried about Ted's life as Ted was about Punchy's. And I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't make the connection between Punchy asking Ted to be his best man and the wedding flashforward in the first episode of this season until Dr. Bitz pointed it out. It certainly seems more than likely that Punchy's will turn out to be that wedding. 

Ted: 'When Glitter’s womb a fruit did bear, Robin said ‘to hell with this, I’m outta … hare.'


The Event: For the Good Our Country
Once upon a time, Sean was the character that grounded this show. Amidst all the mysterious plots, conspiracies and sci fi trappings, Sean was just a normal dude caught up in events outside his control, trying to find his girlfriend. And I cheered when he found her, because that storyline was definitely wearing out its welcome. But since then, the Sean/Leila stuff has become utterly pointless and rather boring. They are too far removed from the main narrative and the power players (Martinez and Sterling, Dempsey, and Sofia/Thomas). Their interaction with the looney conspiracy nuts seemed like a way to get them re-integrated to the main plot, but they left that behind within an episode. Now, they're just wandering around, dealing with their own problems while far more interesting things are happening in the show's other stories. I like Sean, I really do; I just want the show to give him something more interesting to do.

That said, the continuous shot of the guy falling from the second story while Sean and Leila had their stupid heart to heart mere feet from an exploding building, then the guy rising up and shooting Sean was hilariously awesome. 

Good of the president to call Michael out on his "I had to fly that plane" BS.

There was a scene a few episodes ago in which Sterling and the VP each accused the other via implication of being behind the assassination attempt. Nice to see that payoff.

Speaking of the VP, maybe I've been led astray, but I've always understood that the President and the Vice President rarely hang out together (for security reasons). Aside from things like the State of the Union, they more or less keep to themselves. Yet on this show, the VP has repeatedly been shown to be part of the President's inner circle (which, I suppose, could be chalked up to the bipartisan ticket (an intriguing idea even if it is ludicrous in today's political climate) which makes the VP the highest ranking member of his party, and, of course, to setup his betrayal) and in this episode he seems to have an office right around the corner from the Oval Office.

Nice to see Vicky back (she's easy on the eyes) and for Hal Holbrook to get a name: Dempsey. What do you make of his youthful transformation in the cliffhanger? Is he a rival EBE? Is that stuff he's sucking down some kind of EBE extract that keeps him healthy, and that's why he doesn't want them released?  


Glee: The Substitute


Whenever a TV show does stunt casting involving a big name star, such as Gwyneth Paltrow in this episode, it makes me wonder if, in the world of Glee, is there a Gwyneth Paltrow, and if so, do the kids think their new substitute teacher looks like her?

Speaking of Gwyneth, I thought she did a fine job (though I've always liked her). I particularly enjoyed her Mary Todd Lincoln impersonation (which was hilariously more accurate than you'd think).

Once again, Will was problematic. On the one hand, I enjoyed that the class came around to appreciating him, as well as the show's gentle mocking of his, and by extension, the show's song selection ("C'mon, guys. There's gotta be a Journey song we haven't done yet."; though I do love the Journey songs). On the other hand, he slept with Terry. Seriously, show. Can we just be done with her? Yes, he promptly threw her out again the next day, but he just seems all the more of dumbass for the whole situation. I will say I didn't mind him (and Gwyneth) performing with the kids at the end, since they weren't actually performing in front of an audience, and his motivations for doing so were, for once, not so creepy.

As annoying as Rachel can be, one of her more redeeming character traits is her relative loyalty to Will, and it was nice to see that on display again.

After Sue's opening exchange with Will ("I thought we were friends." "That got boring."), I was glad that by episode's end their relationship was back, more or less, to where it had been before Sue became principal. Because, frankly, Sue wanting to destroy the Glee club is what's boring at this point.

I wonder if Sue'll be principal from now on, or if Figgins will be back next week with no mention of her promotion? "Principal Sue" has some potential, but it also runs the risk of giving her too much power. She works best when she still has to operate within some kind of limitations.

And yes, the Glee kids were pretty damn awesome. 

Favorite Sue Line: When I showed this to Brittany earlier, she began to whimper, thinking I had cut down a small tree where a family of gummy bears lived.

Favorite Brittany Line: When I go to Paris I'm going to visit the Oeuvre.

Favorite Song: Loved "Make 'Em Laugh", but that was really more of a dance number than anything, so I'll go with the "Singin' In The Rain/Umbrella" mash-up.


No Ordinary Family: No Ordinary Visitors


Well, that wasn't as bad as I was fearing, but it wasn't great. Stephanie's parents were about as cliche as could be, hitting just about every "terrible in-laws" cliche in the book, and everything got resolved a little too easily by the end (her mom's confession especially seemed to come out of nowhere).

I did enjoy Jim letting JJ use his powers to show up Stephanie's dad (even though I still maintain that pool and football are two things where being smart isn't enough; sure, JJ can see all the angles he needs to hit, but that doesn't mean he can physically hit the ball in the correct way). Along with Stephanie letting off some steam by jogging over to a terribly-green screened Grand Canyon, I appreciated seeing the characters have fun with their powers.

Daphne finally found herself in a plot where her telepathy actually helped solve a problem instead of just half-assing it and making things worse. The show has already quietly implied that proximity plays a role in how her power works (the closer she physically is to someone, the more likely she is to read their mind) so expanding that to where physical contact leads to her seeing that person's mental images makes sense. For whatever reason, her character is growing on me; I hope she's given more to do beyond these sorta one-off "reads someone's mind, learns a lesson" plots. 

What is it with this show and crime always occurring in waves? Bank robberies, wedding heists, now home invasions. I suppose it's the only way to get Jim involved in crime fighting without having him going out on patrol regularly, but it's dangerously close to becoming laughable. 

Katie: He's my cat. A-tom. As in, the unit of matter. It's a homonym!


Human Target: Ilsa Pucci (Season Premiere)
Last season, Human Target was a fun, if slight, show, powered by charismatic leads and entertaining action sequences. It got better as it went along, and the best episode was the last one of the season, which delved into Chance's past and developed a good chunk of the show's mythology. It ended on a cliffhanger, and while the show didn't do terribly in the ratings, there was some question as to whether it would be back.

If got renewed, and while Fox originally planned to air its second season on Friday nights (as good as canceling it), the early demise of Lonestar triggered some dominoes that got Human Target moved up to a more friendly Wednesday night timeslot. Over the summer Fox also brought in a new showrunner to tweak the show and, hopefully, increase it's ratings.

So this episode, the show's second season premiere, serves largely to setup the new status quo, which, aside from the introduction of two much-needed female leads and a redecorated office seen briefly at the end, isn't all that different. Anyone who doesn't follow the doings of the shows they watch online (like my wife) wouldn't even notice there was a new showrunner behind this episode (in fact, the biggest change is the replacement of well-regarded composer Bear McCreary, who was nominated for an Emmy for the show's original opening theme, and whose replacement triggered a minor internet storm* over the summer). For the most part it played like any other Human Target episode, and only the knowledge that this week's client, the wealthy and titular Ilsa Pucci (as well as the randomly-shoehorned-into-the-plot thief Ames) would be sticking around after episode's end made it feel like something more than a regular episode.

 If anything, the biggest criticism is the speed with which the cliffhanger from last season is resolved (as in, it's resolved in the cold open, before the credits even roll); hopefully, the quick brushing aside of elements from last season isn't an indication that the new showrunner has no interest in exploring the characters' histories. I'm not looking for Lost levels of mythology here, but little bits of backstory sprinkled in amongst the gunplay and fun 'splosions wouldn't hurt. Beyond that, it remains to be seen how successful the new additions to the cast will be, but for the moment, Human Target is just as entertaining as ever. 

*Minor because Human Target doesn't have an enormous fanbase and even fewer of them are score geeks like me...


Top Chef Just Desserts: Black and White
A quickfire challenge in which the contestants can only use one pot because the sponsor's soap will allow them to rewash it as often as they'd like and not dry out their hands is, perhaps, the most hilariously obvious sponsor-inspired challenge in Top Chef's lengthy history of hilariously obvious sponsor-inspired challenges. 


The Big Bang Theory: The Boyfriend Complexity


See show, you CAN do an episode in which Sheldon is featured in neither the A or B plot. And it can even still be funny!

Much of the laughs in the A story came from Leonard's sheer giddiness at playing along with Penny's ruse that they had gotten back together and getting everything he could out of it, and it was infectious. The B story, involving Raj and Bernadette bonding while Howard and Raj monitored a telescope had it's moments but, as usual with Howard, the humor got pretty broad (and seriously show, can we can put an end to this ridiculous "Raj only talks to women when drunk" schtick? It ran it's course seasons ago). Still, it was enjoyable to see an episode thrive without thrusting Sheldon into the spotlight, allowing him to flit about the edges and making his jokes all the more impactful for their relative scarcity (I particularly enjoyed his long theory involving the Thinkatorium and highly evolved dolphins).  

Penny: Get over yourself. I whistled. You came running.

Raj: My only friends would be a genetically engineered monkey butler and the little people I hire to be my living chess set.


Burn Notice: Eyes Open (Mid-season Premiere)


In a lot of ways, Burn Notice is like Glee, in that both shows exist a reality similar to but distinct from our own, which then asks viewers to accept those deviations. With Burn Notice, there are suspensions of disbelief you just have to accept in order to enjoy the show: that Michael can somehow afford his loft and all that yogurt despite rarely taking payment from the people he helps, that Miami is one step removed from a Mad Max-ian wasteland littered with explosions and roving street gangs, and, in this episode, that Michael can walk out of a hospital three days after receiving a gunshot wound to the chest and, more or less, resume business as usual.

Another thing you have to accept is that the show cares less about its overarching plots as it does its cases of the week. As each half season premieres, the stakes of the forthcoming season are usually established pretty clearly (in this case, Michael is after a NOC list containing names of the people who were involved in burning him). What the show does less well is connect the arch of the season to the arch of the show; I really have no idea why Michael wants this list (especially since, as I recall, he was working for the people who burned him in the first half of this season for reasons that...the show never made quite clear (there was something about the lesser of two evils, I think)) but fine, I accept that the NOC list is the Macguffin that will be driving the ovearching plot of this half season.

The case of the week in this episode was an interesting one in that it carried over from the previous episode, a relative rarity. It also showcased a much darker, more irredeemable villain that usual, which, in hindsight, seems to have been done simply to somewhat absolve Jesse of his apparent dark act at the end of the episode.

Ah, Jesse. Look, I like what Jesse brings to the group dynamic, and I don't have a problem with him being angry at Michael while continuing to work alongside him, but the fact is listening to him whine petulantly isn't very entertaining. The whole "lie to him for his own good" is one of my least favorite storytelling devices to begin with, and thus far, Jesse's reaction to it has been way overblown. Basically, I'm with Fi: I just want them back to working together on cases. Sure, Jesse can have a little more edge now, but let's cool it with the "woe is me" crap (and, as Dr. Bitz said, the whole "blow up the bad guy" bit at the end was problematic for two reasons: was it even that bad, and if it was that bad, should Jesse being lied to by Michael and company really turn him into some kind of ruthless vigilante, especially against someone who wasn't a part of the lie in the first place?)


Saturday Night Live: Scarlett Johansson & Arcade Fire


I love me some ScarJo, but unfortunately all she was asked to do, it seemed, was slot herself into some one-joke, largely unfunny recurring sketches (like "Hollywood Dish" and "The Manuel Ortega Show"). Also, her hair in the opening monologue was atrocious.

I've never seen "Millionaire Matchmaker" but I can get behind anything that makes fun of the host; my first thought when seeing ScarJo playing her was "wow, Scarlett Johansson is, like, 1,000,000 times hotter than the actual host." I also liked the line, "She's like Oprah, if Oprah were white and was horrible to be around."

The TLC "Stars of Tomorrow" sketch was pretty funny too. It pretty much just had one joke (young girls perform material well beyond their range in the manner of hammy young actresses, but everyone loves it regardless) but it was a funny joke, and Scarlett and Vanessa Bayer nailed their parts.  

Will Ferrel's George W. Bush is a tough act to follow, but Jason Sudekis acquitted himself well in the role on "Weekend Update".

I'm pretty damn sick of Kristen Wigg, but she did nail Paula Deen's voice and cadence (and love of butter and oil).

Favorite Sketch: Easily the Unstoppable trailer, with more of Jay Pharaoh's spot-on Denzel and Scarlett Johansson's escalating horror at the situation.

11 comments:

  1. i tried to give Burn Notice a shot and watched it on my lunch breaks for half a dozen episodes, but i couldn't do it. Not even Bruce Campbell and Michael Shanks could save it for me.

    I thought the Glee episode was too much Gwen and Will, not enough Glee kids. But lately that seems pretty par for the course. Still, Mary Lincoln Todd was awesome!

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  2. Not even Bruce Campbell and Michael Shanks could save it for me.

    It's like Glee in that way too: not for everyone.

    I got into gradually as Mrs. Teebore watched it and I'd kinda half pay attention to it while doing something else, and eventually it grew on me to the point where I was watching it right alongside her (this is also how I ended up watching the Closer).

    I think that warming up period enabled me to accept some of its foibles better.

    And if the Michael Shanks season didn't work for you, I'm not even going to try to convince you to give it another shot, as that's generally considered the show's best thus far.

    I thought the Glee episode was too much Gwen and Will, not enough Glee kids.

    I will say that I appreciate it when a show gets a big name guest star (like Gwyneth Paltrow) and actually works said star into the story of the episode rather than just dropping the star in for a random scene.

    So that said, I didn't mind the Gwyneth/Will focus as much even it did cost the kids some screen time. It also gave us some great Sue material, and she's been quiet the last couple episodes.

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  3. i'm also curious to see what happens with Figgins

    and how are principals chosen? Are Superintendants elected? do they hire the principals?
    I'm not sure, but i don't think you need a sub-principal if he's out sick

    a little behind on top chef there, are we?

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  4. and how are principals chosen? Are Superintendants elected? do they hire the principals?
    I'm not sure, but i don't think you need a sub-principal if he's out sick


    It probably various from state to state (if not city by city or even district by district) but I'm pretty sure the principal is appointed by the Superintendent. Not sure where he comes from.

    And, at least at my high school, there were several vice-principals and other, non-teacher administrative positions, any of whom, I assume, were fully capable of filling in for the principal should he or she be sick (and, let's be honest here, it isn't like the principal really does much on a day-to-day basis that would grind a school to a halt should he be absent).

    Basically, it's just one more example of how Glee operates in a reality similar but not identical to the one in which we operate.


    a little behind on top chef there, are we?


    Oh yeah. And we're even further behind on Hawaii 5-0 (which I'm not missing...), Nikita, and Blue Bloods.

    But we're trying to get caught up before Top Chef All Stars kicks off.

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  5. Whenever a TV show does stunt casting involving a big name star, such as Gwyneth Paltrow in this episode, it makes me wonder if, in the world of Glee, is there a Gwyneth Paltrow, and if so, do the kids think their new substitute teacher looks like her?

    Yeah, I've thought about that too. But then I remember that Ocean's 12 actually used that idea as a plot device and I also remember how very, very lame it was. Thus, I hope it never happens again.

    ...so expanding that to where physical contact leads to her seeing that person's mental images makes sense.

    Listen, all I know is when I was in high school if a girl laid her hand on me...uh...well...let's just hope she couldn't see what I was thinking...

    *sigh* And yes...you can probably take the "when I was in high school" part out of that sentence.

    Frankly, it's probably in everybody's best interest to not know what I'm thinking....provided you care to keep your sanity.

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  6. i cannot freaking wait for top check all stars

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  7. @Dr. Bitz: But then I remember that Ocean's 12 actually used that idea as a plot device and I also remember how very, very lame it was. Thus, I hope it never happens again.

    Oh, god, yeah, that was awful. I don't know want shows to actually DO anything about it, I'm just always curious about it.

    Listen, all I know is when I was in high school if a girl laid her hand on me...uh...well...let's just hope she couldn't see what I was thinking...

    Let's be honest here: if the show was going for straight up realism, that poor girl should probably be in an asylum, driven mad by the depraved and perverted thoughts of all the guys at her school.

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  8. Space Teens was (1) over the top; (2) totally inappropriate for its time slot, as HIMYM often is; and (3) very funny.

    it makes me wonder if, in the world of Glee, is there a Gwyneth Paltrow, and if so, do the kids think their new substitute teacher looks like her

    I've mused on that, but it's really only any kind of distraction if the show is set in or otherwise discusses pop culture to a significant degree. Not long ago, actually, I found it weird that a series that had referenced a celebrity had that celebrity guest star (not as him/herself, and likely not knowing during the mention that the guest spot would occur), but I don't recall which series. I have a half-written blogpost on fun "continuity" geekitude along these lines to finish one day, prompted by characters on Chuck watching Spies Like Us last season — after Chevy Chase had appeared in a significant recurring role.

    "C'mon, guys. There's gotta be a Journey song we haven't done yet."

    As much as I appreciated that, I thought it was maybe a tad too on the nose, although the fact that the whole episode was a mite surreal and meta, even for Glee, made it sit better. I really appreciated Holly telling it to Rachel like it is. I also really liked Paltrow's turn in general, and you can count among the apparent minority with a soft spot for her, what with her seeming reputation for having an "Oh, I'm such a normal person with such an awesome life thanks to my famous friends!" attitude.

    though I do love the Journey songs

    You lost me there. 8^)

    since they weren't actually performing in front of an audience, and his motivations for doing so were, for once, not so creepy

    During fantasy sequences, which I take a lot of those production numbers to be (if only to appease corners of my own brain), it's much more excusable, although I still think it's a little weird whenever they perform for and/or with one another as a "treat".

    I really liked the "Singin' in the Rain" / "Umbrella" mash-up too, but also thought that the rendition of "Forget You" was surprisingly respectable.

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  9. I'm not reading your No Ordinary Family comments because I might catch up with the show down the road. While the pilot had potential, I was already a week behind when I watched it and I have a full TV plate — I'm trying not to get behind on serialized stuff that I really want to see first-run. The friends of mine who watch NOF and are surprised that I don't are more "How could you not be interested / not support this?" than "You're missing out."

    The full plate (and blunt logistical problems like one TV, one VCR, haphazard Internet) kept me from staying with Human Target last season for more than the first couple of episodes. I almost didn't even check out the new-season premiere for the same reason, plus my general hesitancy about joining shows in progress; when I did, I liked it enough to tape the next episode, but after the announcement of Nikki's Buffy Rewatch I decided to bag it — yet there I was, up one night, glad I'd kept it, and so far it's remained in my diet. Modern Family is my only other show on Wednesdays, so that helps, although ultimately it still might become a casualty of overall crowding. I kind-of think of it as my escapist basic-cable stand-in, since I can no longer watch Leverage (which has a similar concept) or Eureka (which stars Mark Valley's clone).

    I know Bear McCreary's name from BSG, but didn't realize he'd been scoring this show or that he'd been controversially replaced.

    Maybe I should've held off on my little discourse about suspension of disbelief for this post, since you mention it here, but your remarks on Glee didn't prompt them the way last week's did. I've never seen Burn Notice, mostly heard good things.

    I was disappointed in what SNL gave (or didn't give) Johansson to do too, especially in light of the Emma Stone episode and remembering Johansson as having the chops for this show from her last hosting gig. Agreed on the Unstoppable parody, disagreed on Sudeikis as Bush...

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  10. @Blam: I really appreciated Holly telling it to Rachel like it is.

    Ditto. Rachel, as a character, annoys me less than some people, but I love it when she gets put in place.

    During fantasy sequences, which I take a lot of those production numbers to be (if only to appease corners of my own brain),

    Again, ditto. It's the only way it works. I mean that Umbrella/Singin' In the Rain mashup? No way a school with the kinda budget problems this one is shown to have could afford those water effects, especially for what is, essentially, a rehearsal.

    Bam! Fantasy sequence.

    The friends of mine who watch NOF and are surprised that I don't are more "How could you not be interested / not support this?" than "You're missing out."

    Yeah, that's kinda been my take on it (at least so far; I've fallen a bit behind too): it's in my wheelhouse, and there's good stuff in it, but it's not quite essential, can't miss TV yet.

    I kind-of think of it as my escapist basic-cable stand-in

    Yeah, Human Target definitely has the modern basic cable sensibility about it. In fact, it would probably do very well on USA or even TNT.

    I know Bear McCreary's name from BSG, but didn't realize he'd been scoring this show or that he'd been controversially replaced.

    And now he's scoring Walking Dead, so maybe it all worked out for the best.

    Maybe I should've held off on my little discourse about suspension of disbelief for this post, since you mention it here, but your remarks on Glee didn't prompt them the way last week's did.

    Nah. If nothing else, Glee will always provide plenty of opportunities to suspend our disbelief and prompt discussions thereof.

    remembering Johansson as having the chops for this show from her last hosting gig.

    Exactly. I remember her doing quite well in previous gigs, and was disappointed she didn't get to do more this time around.

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