Thoughts on what I watched last week (I did watch the first episode of Once Upon A Time, but I'll save that for next week's post).
The Walking Dead: What Lies Ahead (season premiere)
Well, that was quite an ending...
No returning show other than Glee had a more tumultuous offseason than Walking Dead, with showrunner Frank Darabont kicked to the curb for unspecified reasons (though the parting is generally considered to have not been amicable) and its budget cut. After a killer debut and quick renewal, the show churned out a short six episode season, with few of those episodes living up entirely to the premise of the pilot (though I liked the CDC episodes a lot more than most people). So with the show poised to return for a proper (well, 13 episode) second season lacking its initial showrunner and having never quite clicked, there are a lot more questions surrounding the show than AMC would probably like.
The season premiere was, fortunately, very reminiscent of the pilot, interspersing some strong suspenseful set pieces (the passing of the zombie herd, Rick's rescue of Sophia) with some decent moments of character development (I particularly liked Andrea's verbal beat down of Dale, Sophia's mom's (I honestly don't know her name) scene in the church, and Laurie's verbal beat down of everyone else, whereas I could have done without most of the Laurie/Shane business and Rick's scene in the church). My only concern with the show, long term, is that while we know it can do suspense and action pretty well, there's little hint of a long term narrative (aside from the vague "we're going to Fort Benning") now that the CDC is gone and it appears there's little hope for a cure (that's why I liked the two episode CDC arc; it teased us with the idea of a narrative arc). I'm fine with little arcs occurring along the way (like this episode's "find Sophia" plot, and presumably next episode's "save Carl" plot) but to keep me interested long term, the show is going to need to tell some kind of story along with the big suspense/action set pieces bigger than just "surviving".
But that's all down-the-road, big picture concerns; for now, Walking Dead is back, and for all the behind-the-scenes tumult, it looks to be better than ever.
More on the character stuff: of the two prayer scenes in the church, the one with Sophia's mom worked better for me, as we know she's fairly religious (we know that, right? Or am I just reading into the character?) whereas Rick's turn seemed born more of desperation for the character and the writers taking further advantage of their set piece. As for Laurie, all the stuff with her and Shane, blegh (seriously, he tried to rape you. End. Of. Story), but I really liked her lashing out at the group and being an active character for once, instead of just telling people not to do something or to be safe.
Darryl, who grew on me with each subsequent episode last season, remains a favorite. I know Rick views Shane as his second-in-command but it should really be Darryl. His quiet efficiency is very cool. Also, Dale continues to rock. Love that he's faking the repairs to keep everyone looking for Sophia longer.
It seems pretty obvious Sophia is with/was captured by whomever shot the deer, right? Probably the people living in the house we saw in the sneak preview for next episode?
This was the first episode where I really liked Carl, and not coincidentally, it was the first episode where he was something more than an object to be protected/fretted over. His budding friendship with Sophia was good to see, as was his contributing to the greater good of the group by finding the pack of weapons. And as stupid as it was to let him go off zombie hunting with his dad and Shane (and subsequently get shot) it was nice to not see him automatically left out of the action. Yeah, he's just a kid, but this is the zombie apocalypse. "Kid" doesn't mean much anymore.
Speaking of those weapons, this episode addressed several of my concerns about the way this group goes about moving through a zombie wasteland. Guns are great and all, and come in handy when a herd is attacking, but it made zero sense that Rick and Shane hadn't yet gone out of their way to scavenge some kind of silent melee weapon for every single person to always carry. Shane's comments about getting people trained up in the use of guns was also nice to hear, as every single person in that group (including the kids) should be getting some kind of defensive training.
Along those lines, I chuckled at some of the inappropriate footwear some of theses people wear. If I was in a zombie apocalypse, the first thing I would do is try to find some kind of silent weapon (baseball bat, machete, etc.) then a good pair of boots and clothes that can cover my entire body. Then a gun.
How I Met Your Mother: Mystery vs. History
Okay, so how eerie was it that after I complained last week about Barney and Ted arguing about Edward James Olmos in the age of smart phones, this episode is all about how smart phones have ended bar arguments and changed dating? Are the HIMYM writers reading this blog (of course not; this episode was written months ago)? Are they sloppy for even using that argument last week when clearly they're aware it never would have lasted that long (possibly)? Or do we just chalk this up to eerie coincidence (yes)?
Anyways, while the bulk of this episode centered around both Ted and Marshal & Lily resisting the urge to learn significant information, and the various pros and cons inherit thereof, it was also clearly designed to help integrate Kal Penn with the cast. While I'll give the show credit for making more of an effort with him then they ever did with Don (or, so far, Nora), it's always problematic when a new supporting character is introduced to the main cast and that character proceeds to point out all the flaws of the other characters. Yes, the joke was made about Kal Penn refusing to do that for awhile, and yes, nothing he said was off the mark, but at the same time, the audience has been watching Ted, Marshall, Lily, Barney and Robin for over six years now; we're as predisposed to like them and overlook their flaws as they are to do the same for each other. Having Kal Penn waltz in and point out how messed up they are just makes us not like Kal Penn, and if the expectation is to have him stick around for awhile (it was one thing when one of Pheobe's one-off boyfriends did it on Friends), that does the character no favors.
I was several-years married before I first got on Facebook, so I have no idea what effect it actually has on dating, but aren't most people's pages so locked down that a prospective date wouldn't be able to learn much of anything just by glancing at their page? I'm not saying that in this day and age one couldn't do the kind of intense internet research Barney and Robin apparently do to find out about someone for Ted, but I'd think it would take more than just their Facebook page to really ruin "the mystery".
The flashback to Robin's Hatchet meets Man vs. Wild birthday was pretty fun (though I still prefer Eric Braeden over Ray Wise as her dad).
Considering what a big Star Wars guy Ted is, I'm a little surprised he doesn't share my irrational dislike of Annie Hall, born of it denying Star Wars the 1977 Oscar for best picture.
Lily: Boys can do ballet, girls can play football.
Marshall: The Green Bay Packers have been proving that for years!
(Oh Marshall, after this weekend barbs like unfortunately ring more false than ever...)
Barney: Little Fran is sure to be the laughingstock of the playground in this hermaphroditic burlap sack.
Barney: They’re six minutes into the date. Ted’s probably already told her that he loves her!
2 Broke Girls: And the Rich People Problems
Another improved episode which gave Max some much needed appreciation of Caroline's skills and situation. It was also nice to see the both of them put in a situation (the seedy dentist's office) where they were grossed out, instead of the usual routine of Max being coolly detached while Caroline freaks out. Unfortunately, everything at the diner remains problematic, with all the characters therein still nothing more than (bad) one joke caricatures. Which is a shame, because there really is potential to do something cool with the diner setting, but for now, the show absolutely dies whenever it goes there.
Community: Remedial Chaos Theory
While not as consistently stellar as Park and Recreation, it's episodes like this that make me consider Community the best comedy on TV. Taking the idea of a dice roll determining who goes to get pizza, this episode manages to tell seven complete stories, each filled with jokes and character bits, in the course of 22 minutes. That's pretty damned impressive. Without a doubt, it's not just one of the best Community episodes, but one of the best episodes of a TV show I've ever seen, period.
Of the various timelines, the most intriguing, in terms of what means for the show, was the final "prime" timeline, in each Abed realizes Jeff has devised a system that denies him the chance of having to get the pizza, and thus makes him do it as punishment. As that timeline unfolds, we see that Jeff leaving results in the best possible outcome: everyone back at the party ends up singing, dancing and having a great time. At first, the implication of this (that Jeff is the worst member of the group/the most damaging) was unsettling, and smacked entirely too much of the previous episode, in which the show basically told us all these characters are assholes. But it's possible to read the ending as meaning that while Jeff has the potential to be the most dysfunctional member of the group (and take them all down with him), it is the group itself which keeps him in check. It's not necessarily Jeff's absence that makes everything better, but that Abed managed to call him on his BS and make him atone for it. By keeping Jeff from spinning the situation to his advantage, Abed allowed for the best possible turn of events. That's still a somewhat unsettling reading of the situation regarding the character who is, for all intents and purposes, the show's protagonist, but it's at least a bit more intriguing and complex than "Jeff's an asshole".
I'm not entirely sure what it says that Troy's absence triggered the worst timeline, the one to which we briefly returned in the end tag (Todd VanDerWerff over at the Onion AV Club believes it suggests that Troy is, unknownst to everyone, the best possible father figure for the group, the one best able to prevent catastrophe).
Speaking of Evil Abed and Evil Troy, I would not be opposed to seeing them again. I can't imagine this show ever going so far as a straight up Star Trek "Mirror, Mirror" situation, but I've learned not to put anything past them.
There was a ton of great background stuff in this episode, like all the pictures on the wall of Troy and Abed's apartment.
We never did learn why Annie had a gun in her purse...
Hilarious non verbal stuff: Britta's pizza dance, Troy eating the candy cigarette whilst complaining that people don't treat him like an adult, and Troy's scream at the sight of the troll doll after getting the pizza (Troy's screams are always funny).
Britta: You guys look so fancy!
Abed: Thanks. We read a book on how to be the perfect party hosts. Rule #1: Dress to impress.
Troy: Rule #2: Avoid touchy topics, like, "the negro problem"... the book was written in the 40s.
Parks and Recreation: Pawnee Rangers
Maybe it's just because this aired right after "Remedial Chaos Theory" but it wasn't as great as I would have expected an episode about Pawnee's version of the Boy Scouts to be. Which isn't to say it was bad (the worst episode of this show at this point is still pretty awesome, and this was by no means the worst), just...slightly underwhelming.
Ron and Leslie stories are usually a good source of laughs, and this one was no exception, though once again, everything was a little underwhelming. Usually Ron steals the show, but this time Leslie's group, from Ann's failure to keep up to Leslie inadvertently starting a public forum, stole the show (I also think Ron was underselling himself; there's definitely ways to get kids, even kids these days, interested in wilderness survival; it would probably just take more than Ron's laid back, uber-utilitarian approach). The B story was even better, as we got a strong episode for Donna and lots more of the always-good-for-a-laugh pairing of Ben and Tom.
I never would have thought Batman crying could be so funny.
Speaking of Batman, that suit did Ben no favors (and he is by no means a big guy...).
The C-story, with Chris ending up going on a date with Jerry's daughter, was fine. I always enjoy the little glimpses into how Jerry's home life is so much better than his work life.
Tom: Did they cancel Game Of Thrones?
Ben: They would never cancel Game of Thrones! It's a crossover hit! It tells human stories in a fantasy world!
Leslie: I've created a mob of little Leslie Knope monsters. I'm so proud, and a little annoyed, but mostly proud. Well, like, 70/30.
Saturday Night Live: Anna Faris & Drake
Another strong episode, though I was disappointed that it was billed as the Halloween episode, but there was nothing terribly Halloween-y about it (no Vincent Price special!). Has has been the case with SNL hosts lately, Anna Faris was largely relegated to background roles, but most of the sketches were pretty funny, with only one or two hiccups.
One of those hiccups was the opening monologue. My biggest monologue pet peeve is the "let's take questions from audience members who are clearly cast members" routine. It's okay (but not great) when they have writers or behind-the-scenes staffers asking the questions, but we all know that's Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, etc. It's a stupid bit that screams "we have no good ideas for a monologue".
"The Manuel Ortiz" sketch is pretty hit or miss, but for whatever reason, it hit for me this week. The Lifetime Movie game show wasn't as funny as it probably could have been, but had some great lines (I loved Hader's host bellowing, "WHO’S GONNA BELIEVE YOU!" when Faris said he was hurting her). The GOP sketch was brilliant, changing things up and getting big laughs by putting the candidates in locations based on their place in the standings (like Ron Paul in the parking garage). Sudeikis' Mitt Romney continues to grow on me.
Call me an old curmudgeon if you must, but I understood barely a word of whatever the heck it was Drake and Jay Pharaoh were rapping about on "Weekend Update", so I much preferred Drake's work in the Digital Short (“Don’t do it.” “Yeah, not worth it”). In the back half, the "Tell Him" sketch featured some pretty standard stand-up comic bits but was funny enough, and I have to give credit to all the gals for singing the hell out of it. "J-Pop America Fun Time Now" sketch probably worked for me more than most cuz I know people like that (such as my brother), plus Sudeikis' professor tapped into the same exasperation he uses to make Mitt Romney funny. The Cecil sketch was easily the oddest of the night, but I loved it, especially the way it flipped expectations by having Sudeikis end up loving the guy. Finally, that last Ferrari sketch did nothing for me. Reach-for-the-remote level stuff.
Favorite Sketch: Close call between Cecil and "J-Pop America Fun Time Now" but I'll say Cecil. I just about lost it every time Sudeikis ordered Andy Samberg to get him some candy. He's the rare character I wouldn't mind seeing again, albeit in a different setting (he can't constantly be the boyfriend brought home to meet the parents).
Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 2/4
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 2/4