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Monday, September 27, 2010

Last Week In TV #2

Thoughts on some of what I watched on TV last week.

The Venture Bros.:  Pomp and Circuitry
Hank is probably my favorite character (at least amongst the main cast) so I thoroughly enjoyed what was essentially a Hank-centric episode, although the secondary plot featuring Phantom Limb escaping Guild captivity and teaming up with Professor Impossible, while funny (I always appreciate a Professor Impossible appearance, mainly because Reed Richards is such fertile ground for comedy), felt more disconnected from the main plot than with most Venture outings. Amongst the highlights were Hank and Dean's list of career choices, Brock's fight with the Vatican's karate gorilla Swiss Guards, the Venture Bros. take on the slow clap, and Doc Venture's take on college admissions ("he's a legacy").

Dean's Career List:
1. Boy Reporter
2. Boy Detective
3. Marine Biologist
4. Husband
5. Retiarius-class Gladiator (and later crossed off and replaced with Super Scientist by Doc Venture)

Hank's Career List: 
1. Drifer (like the Red Shoes diary guy (who couldn't have been a drifter since he got regular mail) or David "The Hulk" Banner)
2. Owner and operator of a chimp Eden
3. Golden Age Batman
4. Post-Crisis Batman
5. Secutor-class gladiator

Hank: I dare you to find someone more qualified than me! I've been training under Brock my entire life! I've traveled to every continent on the globe, including Atlantis and outer space and Brigadoon! I've been shot at, poisoned, stabbed, cudgeled, crocodiled, king cobraed, red anted, you name it, and I'm still standing! Now if that's not the resume of a top-notch superkiller secret agent, then I don't know what is.

The Event: Pilot (series premiere)
After hearing SO MUCH bad stuff about this pilot, I was expecting it to be terrible, but maybe because my expectations were set so low, it turned out not half bad. Not great, mind you, but watchable, intriguing in places, and worth sticking it out for a few more episodes.

Granted, I'm a sucker for these kinds of shows which feature big conspiracies, temporally-jumbled narratives and meetings where the army and the CIA try to convince the president of something. Basically, if you have files folders and someone saying "that's on a need-to-know basis", I'll at least give it a look. Besides, TV has GOT to get one of these plot-focused mystery shows right eventually, even if by accident (Lost has probably come the closest, though it still missed the mark), and there's usually enough fun plot stuff going on to make them entertaining to watch even if they are failing.

As for the first episode of The Event, it definitely felt like the first part of a two part pilot (I wonder why NBC didn't premiere it a week earlier as a two part event for The Event). The audience is clearly supposed to like Jason Ritter's character and I do, largely because the freaky scenario of finding his girlfriend missing and all record of his existence on a cruise ship wiped out is so freaky it's easy to empathize with him, and the ominous-from-the-get-go hipster couple that befriended him added to the freakiness. Some of the temporal jumping around was unintentionally comical (I especially laughed after they gave us the "Thirteen Months Later" timestamp, which ended with the president saying he wanted to go to the prison and cut to the plane landing; I wondered where the "Twelve Months, 3 weeks ago" stamp was) but it was easy enough to follow.

Much has been made in the pre-premiere reviews of how weak the character work in this pilot is. The argument is that character has to come first in order for the audience to then care about the plot*. While I certainly wouldn't argue that the character work in this first episode is pretty thin on the ground, I would argue that it's okay. There IS a contingent of the audience (myself included) for whom the plot of a show like this is the appeal, for which the characters involved come second. I LIKE vague conspiracies and dense mysteries, answers that lead to more questions (as long as the answers make sense and the questions serve a purpose other than artificially prolonging the narrative) and I'm okay giving the characters some time to grow on me while I enjoy the plot elements.

*The most oft-cited example is, of course, Lost, a show which put its characters first, especially in the first season (when the mysteries were limited to a polar bear, weird monster noises, a hatch in the ground, and a couple island inhabitants) and the last season (when the producers desperately backpedaled in order to cover for their incomplete narrative), but I would argue that while Lost was a great show, it's "character first" approach wasn't 100% universally appreciated (or right), as I always remained as invested (if not more invested) in the plot as I was in the characters, an investment which led to great frustration when it became clear I cared more about the plot than the writers.

At the moment, I'm most intrigued by the detainees in the Alaska camp: are they super humans? Aliens? Time travelers? Something else? I want to know. The speed with which we find out, as well as what, exactly, they're ultimately revealed to be, will largely determine whether or not I keep watching. One of the admitted problems with a plot-first show is that without strong characters, it lives or dies by its plot, and in this case, if the detainees are revealed to be something cool (ie science fiction-y) but then the show is too afraid to fully embrace and explore such a concept, I'm outta there.

Castle: A Deadly Affair (season premiere)
Castle isn't a show I'm likely going to write about very often. It's fun and enjoyable (largely on the strength of Nathan Fillion) but it's very much a case-of-the-week procedural. I'm not a huge fan of those, though I do watch a few (this, The Closer). They're entertaining, but without much substance. Which is fine, but makes writing about them hard.

I will say, the least engaging element of Castle is the damned will they/won't they relationship which every show with an otherwise-platonic male and female lead feels compelled to do.

For the most part, Castle does a good job of keeping that stuff in the background, but with the show obligated to address Castle's in-show absence over the summer (which was brought about in the previous finale by one of those oh so "classic" mistimed moments will they/won't they stories thrive on...) it took center stage in the premiere. I found myself mainly impatient to see the regular status quo restored, and largely indifferent towards the means by which that came about. Now that things are back to normal, I hope the show lets the Beckett/Castle "romance" lie for a bit.   

Glee: Audition (season premiere)
Random thoughts:

1. The cold open, in which Jacob catches the audience up with what happened over the summer, was clearly a fourth wall breaking wink at the audience, incorporating many of the things fans and nonfans said about the show over the summer. My favorite was the assertion that Will never rap again (something I heard A LOT online over the summer).

2. I like the introduction of Coach Beiste as an adversary who can play different notes than Sue, but I'm not gonna lie, when I first saw her sitting in Figgins' office, I wondered if they were doing a "Coach Tanaka had a sex change operation" storyline.

3. Santana's boob job plot seemed very...random, even for a show that throws LOTS of stuff into any given episode, but I loved Sue's reaction to it ("Oh and Boobs McGee: You’re demoted to the bottom of the pyramid so when it collapses, your exploding sandbags will protect the squad from injury") as well as Brittany's quiet and serious "stop the violence" when Santana and Quinn threw down.

4. Finn looks like he lost some weight over the summer.

5. I wish Sue and Will had stayed frenemies longer. It's an interesting and different dynamic for them (I especially liked their discussion of how no one wants to join something that everyone can join; she was still being Sue, but she had a point), and I'm bummed that we're going back to more of the same "Sue hates Will and wants to destroy him" stuff instead of "Sue hates Will but has grudging respect for him".

6. Favorite musical number: Probably "Empire State of Mind", though Charice (who is apparently somebody I should know, but don't, because my contemporary, non film-score music fu is very weak) sang the hell out of her audition song as new girl Sunshine Corazon. 

7. Favorite Sue line: "The two of you are making a very serious mistake today, the likes of which have not been seen since the Mexican Indians sold Manhattan to George Washington for an up-skirt photo of Betsy Ross."

Running Wilde: Pilot (series premiere)
It has potential, but it's also more likely to really, really suck. I'm an easy mark and even I barely laughed at much of this. Gob Steven, as the main character, is just too unlikeable to carry the show, and the supporting cast around him is just too weak to make up for it. The Arrested Development alums involved means I'll give this a couple more episodes to see if it improves, but even if it doesn't get canceled sooner rather than later, I doubt I'll stick around.

Top Chef: Reunion
Andy Cohen is still a douche. That is all.

Community: Anthropology 101 (season premiere)
Being that Community is one of my favorite shows on TV right now (if not my absolute favorite), I wish I could write more intelligently about why I like it so much and what it does well from episode to episode. As it stands, I just end up laughing my ass off through each episode, eager for more.

The second season premiere was no exception. I appreciated that Betty White was given an actual character to play, and didn't just repeat the "old lady says something crass" schtick which, while funny, has gotten a bit played out recently. Her reveal of the correct answer to the anthropology assignment was one of the highlights of the episode.

Other highlights:
  • The escalation of Jeff and Britta's fake relationship, especially that kiss. 
  • The alternating screams of joy and despair from Shirley and Annie when said fake relationship reached the point of a marriage proposal.
  • Senor Chang: "Do you have room in your pocket for a little spare Chang?"
  • Abed, Troy and Betty's White rendition of Toto's "Africa" in the end tag. I wonder if it's on iTunes...
    The Big Bang Theory: The Robotic Manipulation (season premiere)
    The A-story, of Penny accompanying Sheldon on a date with Amy, gets an A. The B-story, in which Wolowitz gets his penis stuck in a robot hand, gets decidedly lower than that for being fairly obvious and one note.

    Also, this premiere continued my growing sorrow for Leonard who, after being essentially the protagonist early in the show's run, has, with the rise of Sheldon, the ending of his relationship with Penny and, especially, the sublime Sheldon/Penny friendship, become probably the fifth most interesting character on the show, and seems to get less to do in a given episode more and more often. Every show needs a straight man, and it's not easy being one, but it's still kinda sad to Leonard fading more and more into the backgroun

    Favorite Lines
    Sheldon: You have broad hips and a certain corn-fed vigor. Is your womb available for rental?

    Leonard: I'm not touching another man's honeypot*

    *Look, just because the penis subplot was obvious and one-note doesn't mean I'm not going to laugh at penis jokes.

    30 Rock: "The Fabian Strategy" 
    Just some good lines:

    Liz: You sound weird. Did you grow a beard?
    Jack (on getting domesticated): Before I know it she’ll have me wearing jeans and reading fiction.
    Pete (worried about losing his job): I have five kids! That I don’t want to be at home with.


    1. YAY! I LOVE this new series of posts! Don't ever stop them.

      and yes, that is a threat.

      Let's see:

      holy hell i Love Venture Brothers. So. Hard. Also i loved that Hank took everything they threw at him and then says he's done it all before and is still standing, which is, of course, not true since he's a clone
      I also like how Dean's list mostly involves him still being a child. Except that he has marine biologist on there which is kind of legit

      Haven't watched Castle yet.

      Glee was pretty good. I, too, am sad that the short friendship of Will and Sue is over, since i love Sue, even though i should probably hate her.

      Are you as excited about Top Chef All Stars as we are?

      And also, why the hell are you not watching Fringe??!

    2. My favorite part of Glee was when Coach Bieste would say something in retort to Sue and Sue would just mumble, "that doesn't make any sense." LOL!! I'm laughing now just thinking about it. That was cracks-in me up!

      Castle is much of the same...awesome!! Like one thousand times better than the Closer. BOO! Stupid Kyra Sedgewick and her stupid southern accent.

      I was kind of half watching The Event because I have nothing at 8pm on Mondays I found out. I did not like Jason Ritter's character. That's what turned me to checking my email ten minutes in. I did come back for the plane disappearance which will have me watching a few more episodes.

      I loved Big Bang Theory but I just love that show. I do wish there was more Leonard. He's by far my fave in front of Sheldon...who doesn't love Sheldon?! I'm less fond of Blossom being added to the show. I just don't like her take on the character and why do I feel like it was a different character last season?? To sum up, penis jokes are right up there with poop jokes for me, always hilarious and guaranteed to make me roll with laughter. RWL.

      Also, I wish you watched Supernatural because I would love to read about Supernatural because I love that show because it's awesome and I love to used the word because. That is all.

      Wait, I'm not done yet. I agree with Sarah. You must do this always.

    3. My watch list right now:

      Sunday: Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, Eastbound & Down, Venture Bros.

      Tuesday: Sons of Anarchy

      Thursday: Fringe, It's Always Sunny in Philadelpia

      Friday: The Soup

      Venture Bros. is amazing. I am loving Phantom Limb's new rival guild. I hope we get a lot of it before it ultimately fails (because everything on this show fails at some point.) Also, is Hank actually starting to become mildly competent? He's still really dumb, but he does seem to be able to handle adversity better than Dean.

      Boardwalk might be the best looking TV show ever created and Buscemi is really knocking it out of the part.

      Really enjoying these posts!

    4. There's a couple shows on here i haven't even heard of...wierd.

      Sarah said all of what i wanted to say pretty much. I also want Sue and Will to be grudging friends. But when they made Beiste cry i was really sad

    5. @Falen: I LOVE this new series of posts! Don't ever stop them.

      Thanks. I'll keep doing them as long as I can. But not because I'm scared of you.

      i loved that Hank took everything they threw at him and then says he's done it all before and is still standing, which is, of course, not true since he's a clone

      Right. I love that Hank doesn't realize he's actually died numerous times as a result of all that stuff he thinks he's survived.

      Are you as excited about Top Chef All Stars as we are?

      It does look like it should be fun. They managed to put together a pretty good cast, though I'd have liked to see Brian Voltaggio or, even better, Kevin and his beard from the season before last return.

      I'm just glad they excluded winners so dumbass Ilan won't be around, because you KNOW he'd be back if he could be.

      And also, why the hell are you not watching Fringe??!

      Because I didn't start watching it from the beginning, it's the kind of show I feel compelled to start with at the beginning, and I have no time at the moment to catch up on it.

      I do want to watch it at some point though.

    6. @Hannah: My favorite part of Glee was when Coach Bieste would say something in retort to Sue and Sue would just mumble, "that doesn't make any sense."

      Yeah, those were pretty hilarious. "You're all coffee and no almond."

      Stupid Kyra Sedgewick and her stupid southern accent.

      I can't fault you for that. It took me forever to warm up to her character. Mrs. Teebore watched The Closer long before I did, and I slowly got sucked into it, largely in spite of stupid Kyra Sedgewick.

      Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say I like her on the show, but I at least don't actively dislike her anymore.

      To sum up, penis jokes are right up there with poop jokes for me, always hilarious and guaranteed to make me roll with laughter.

      Oh, don't get me wrong, I love a good penis or poop joke. Like I said, I'm not not going to laugh at them, even if I'm still upset a show is going for the easy/obvious laugh.

      Also, I wish you watched Supernatural

      Between you and Blam, I might have to. Consider it on the "to be watched list" but bear in mind that list is long and the time available to wittle it down little.

    7. @Jeff: because everything on this show fails at some point.

      Good point. Someone (maybe the Onion AV Club reviewer?) pointed out that if you really think about Venture Bros., it can be a really depressing show because failure of all kinds hangs so heavily on it.

      Also, is Hank actually starting to become mildly competent? He's still really dumb, but he does seem to be able to handle adversity better than Dean.

      It does seem like, at least since Brock left, Hank is starting to at least reach a point where he can function in the real(er) world a bit better than Dean.

      He's still dumb as a post (he'll never be a super scientist) but he seems a bit more aware and street-smart than Dean.

      I wish I got HBO just for Boardwalk Empire at this point. I've heard nothing but raving things about it. I'll definitely check it out on DVD at some point.

      The Soup is also something I watch every week, but I probably won't comment on it very often as it's already pretty much commenting on other shows (though a particularly good joke might get repeated in one of these posts...).

      Really enjoying these posts!

      Thanks! It's always nice to hear that.

    8. @Anne: when they made Beiste cry i was really sad

      At the time, I thought she was as tough as Sue and was totally playing them, so it wasn't until later that was like "oh, I guess I was supposed to be saddened by that."

    9. I'm with Anne. That was super sad. I used to be picked on a ton in school and so the whole show bothers me too much some days. Oh well, it's awesomeness outweighs most of the sadness.

      I have seasons 1-4 of Supernatural...when you're ready. I will probably pick up five as soon as it's $20 or less. No more.
      I just finished rewatching it. Sigh. So so so so good. Hands down my most favorite outside of Buffy and Stargate.

    10. @Hannah: Yeah, it's definitely a show which speaks to anyone that was picked on in school (which is, probably, most people, to some extent, which may account for it's popularity).

      There's definitely moments that strike a little too close to home for me.

    11. meh, i wasn't really picked on in school. Highschool more or less rocked for me.

      And i think you should hit up fringe now, while it's still in its infancy, before it gets to be like 10 seasons.

    12. @Falen: Oh, don't get me wrong, I had a good time in high school. There was just also a fair amount of high school BS I had to deal with too.

      And i think you should hit up fringe now, while it's still in its infancy, before it gets to be like 10 seasons.

      I dunno, I don't think it's ratings are such that it'll last ten seasons. From what I understand, it's just barely keeping it's head above water in that regard.

      But I could be wrong, as I don't follow it that closely.

    13. true. But maybe that will change now that Lost is off the air.

    14. @Falen: Hopefully. I may not watch it, but the better it does, the more likely more shows like it will get made/do well.


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