Friday, May 9, 2008

Destiny is a Fickle Bitch: LOST, Office, 30 Rock - Reviewed!

Damn you, Charter Cable! Of course, the one time I have company over to watch some TV, the HD stops working. As Liz Lemon might say: "blurgh!" The most annoying part of dealing with Charter was that, for various reasons, it seemed pretty clear that there was some kind of area-wide issue at play here, and yet ... every single time I called them they said they had no knowledge of any area-wide outages and insisted I do stupid things like reset my cable box and whatnot. Arrgggh. And holy lord, is their phone system ridiculous. When you call, it automatically conencts you to either the East Coast or West Coast help lines based on your phone number. Since I live in California but have a CT-based cell phone, every single time I called Charter (which ended up being like 5 times), I had to go through the whole spiel about how they didn't have my phone number on record and so forth and so on. Are you kidding me? Nevermind the fact that, unless I specifically insisted that someone stay on the line with me, my call would typically drop out anytime I was being transferred. All I know is, Charter had better beef up their HD channel lineup ASAP because, whoo boy, customer service is certainly not their selling point.

Anyways, my traditional post-Thursday TV reviews are mostly intact, though written in mere standard-def. I know, I know, life is hard.

And unfortunately I have not yet seen SMALLVILLE. Check back soon for a review of Thursday's ep. But right here, on this very blog post, let's talk about ...


- Wow, what an episode. Last week, we got a character-driven, psychological episode that was, relative to Lost at least, pretty grounded. This week though, we took a ride on the crazy train straight into the Twilight Zone, and oh man, what a ride it was.

I love how one week, Lost can be an emotional, character-driven drama, and the next it can be a full out journey into Weirdsville. This ep, to me, was just one moment of coolness after another, with so much brain-exploding imagery and innuendo that I imagined Lostpedia imploding and/or going supernova as the events of this episode unfolded.

First and foremost though, aside from all the myth-arc coolness, this episode represented something that's been a long time coming: another great Locke episode. I've said it many times before here, but I'll say it again - while the Lost pilot was an astounding piece of television when it premiered, it was the Locke-centric followup, "Walkabout," that to me truly signalled the level of storytelling and overall quality that the show was capable of. That early episode set the standard for all Lost episodes to follow, and at times the show has struggled to live up to that same greatness, especially when it comes to Locke. Since that first episode, Locke-centric eps have been very up and down in quality, and the character as a whole has sometimes gotten far off course. I think most will agree that the Locke we want to see is that early version - the simple box factory worker who yearns to be out in the jungle, to achieve some greater calling, to be a leader and a hero. At times, Locke has since been portrayed as just plain crazy, a mixed-up dude who has somehow been stripped by the island of all common sense. But man, last night, the Locke of old came back with a vengeance, in what was a pretty deliberate-seeming move by the writers. This was the "don't tell me what I can't do" Locke. The complex, fascinating Locke. For the first time in a while, this was a Locke you could root for.

Getting back to the meat of the episode though, the flashbacks here were downright fascinating. I particularly loved the scene with ageless Richard Alpert visiting a young Locke at home, putting him through a Dahli Lama-style test of some sort. I'm not sure what the signifigance of the six objects were (is the Book Of Laws the book in which the "rules" of the Island are written?), but man, what an intense scene. The biggest takeway from these flashbacks is that Locke was tagged and influenced and monitored from birth by the show's various and mysterious players. Why, and to what end? Are Aplert and Abadon working together or against each other? Was it only Locke they were watching or was it all of the passengers on Flight 815? And what exactly is the nature of Locke's "specialness?" Does he have some strange power or is it merely that his destiny is intertwined with the island in some way, as it was alluded that Ben's had been as well. And who are Alpert and Abadon anyway? Is Abadon actually Jacob, or the Smoke Monster, or both? So many questions ... but again, as I've said the past few weeks, these mysteries feel much more intriguing and less frustrating at this point, because the show has the air of a puzzle being put back together. There is an endgame in sight, so it should be just a matter of time before things begin to fall into place a bit.

Locke and his strange history weren't the only mysteries tonight, not by a longshot. We finally checked back in on the freighter, where Sayid decides to go back to the island while Desmond remains behind, brother. While this isn't an uber-mystery per se, it's fascinating to predict how the whole "Oceanic 6 get off the island" scenario will play out. I mean, what the bleep happens to Desmond, for Penny's sake? I do love all the tension amongst the freighter crew though - Keamy is a great, evil / badass character who has added a great element of comic book villainy to the show these last few eps. I can't wait to see him tangle with the likes of Sayid or Sawyer. I wonder what the device is that's strapped to his arm? Is it a Batman-style "kill-me-and-the-bomb-goes-off" type thing, or something else? You've also got to love Lapidus (yes, I realize how that sounds ...). Loved his line about having signed up to work with scientists, not killers.

Okay - here's the big one: what's up with Christian Shephard, Claire, and the cabin? Are these two dead, like d-e-d dead? Some kind of half-dead zombies? Undead? Mostly dead? And does Shephard's presence on the island mean that Jack and Claire, like Locke, was long destined to end up on the island and pushed into arriving there by outside forces? And how about Claire's baby, Aaron? Once we were told that Claire was NOT supposed to let anyone other than her raise the baby. Now it seems preordained, at least by Christian, that she give up the baby for Kate to find. Last week, Hurley told Jack that Jack was not in fact intended to raise the child. Say what now? What's up with Aaron, who is "supposed" to raise him, and, oh yeah, What the Flip is up with Claire?

And that raises the question of the cabin itself, and by extension Jacob. Did Horace have some further signifigance beyond just appearing in Locke's dream? What's up with the cabin - how can a cloth map lead to it if its location always changes? And the biggest question of all ... who / what is Jacob?!?!

Yep, this episode was veritable Lost-geek overload. But like I said, there was still plenty of great character stuff. Locke's flashbacks were compelling, intense, and a reminder of what made the character so cool and unique in the first place. Ben had some classic, scene-stealing moments - him sharing a candy bar with Hurley for instance. And Ben had not only the line of the night, but maybe one of the most memorable lines ever on Lost: "Destiny is a fickle bitch." Wow, if ever the entire premise of Lost could be summed up in a single sentance, that might be it. And on top of all that, we end with one of the most intense setups ever on the show: Keamy and his crew poised to descend on the island and blow it to kingdom come, as the islanders coalesce for what may turn into all out war. Yes, I think it's safe to say that business has picked up.

My Grade: A

Okay, onto NBC's Must-See Comedies ...


- Well, this wasn't a bad episode of The Office ... it was entertaining, at times pretty funny. But honestly, this one just felt pretty flat overall, with a couple of plotlines that had some interesting potential, but that never really took off. Most importantly, the humor was just not clicking as it should be. It's hard to talk about The Office this way, I realize, because some people are simply content to watch, see the latest developments with Jim and Pam, and follow the characters as if they were watching a soap opera. But I don't buy that as a way to look at the show. The Office is first and foremost a comedy, and it's established a particular style of humor and comedic tone. Sure, moreso than many comedies, The Office has pretty complex characters who go through nuanced arcs from episode to episode. But still, if the humor just isn't clicking, if the jokes just aren't funny, then something is wrong. In this ep, I think the main plotline of Michael setting up a Dunder Mifflin booth at a local college job fair ... well, it ultimately fell pretty flat as a comedic premise. The highlight was, I think, the interaction between Michael and Pam - Michael's line about Pam being a wonderful and talented person, but that he'd never say that to her face, was a great little bit that illustrated to a T just how backwords-thinking Michael is and how juvenile he can be. Similarly, Pam's drive to ask around about jobs in graphic design was some nice advancement for her as a character. Ideally though, those interesting character bits would have been accompanied by some great jokes. But when, for example, Michael got up on the microphone to address the crowd, what could have been a classic Office moment of hilarity was instead a little bit awkward and not particularly funny. Especially when you draw the inevitable comparisons to David Brent's classic on-stage moments in the British Office ("simply the best!"). Meanwhile, Ed Helms had a few funny lines in the golfing subplot, but the storyline seemed so concerned with showing Jim's persistance and rededication to his job that somewhere along the way it forgot to have much in the way of humor. Still, I give this episode credit for tying together its various threads nicely. This was especially true in the great ending where Michael observed that someone like Jim can do anything they want with their life, yet they choose to work for Dunder Mifflin, in paper - this, of course, being more a sad commentary on Jim's lack of ambition than anything else. I really admire The Office in that it's perhaps the only comedy on TV that can weave together so many complex character themes in a way that really does make it watchable even when the comedy isn't clicking. But for a truly great Office ep, the funny must be brought.

My Grade: B -


- This week, we saw the season finale of 30 Rock, and it's hard to believe that this is already the last episode of the season. We've only had a handful of post-strike episodes, it seems, and I still have that feeling that the show was juuuuust on the verge of really getting into its groove. I don't know if the show ever matched its early-season levels of greatness during its midseason second-act, but even so, week in and week out, 30 Rock was the funniest, most quotable comedy on TV. Last night's episode was almost overflowing with characters, jokes, and plotlines, so it packed in a ton of comedy into a single half hour. That meant that even when some jokes missed the mark, seconds later something elsewould happen that was downright hilarious. However, two things happened in this episode that tend to get me a little nervous about the show ...

The first is this: to me, the show is at its best when its funniest characters, like Tracy and Jenna, are incorporated INTO the main plotlines. The trend of late though seems to be to relegate the wackier characters to the background, letting them have their own little wacky subplots so that the bulk of the episode can focus on the slightly more straight-laced Liz plotlines. To me, this hurts the show - put the funniest players front and center, and spread out the absurdist humor. Ghettoizing the craziness makes offbeat storylines like Tracy's porn videogame feel rushed, and gives less screentime to talented cast members like Jane Krakowski.

The second issue is a direct followup - sometimes, the Liz storylines get too sitcom-ish and cheesy. That isn't what 30 Rock is about, and it's not where its strength lies. I realize the show is trying to find some kind of happy medium between the absurdist, detached humor of Arrested Development and the soap-opera-y storylines of Friends, but I think it's hard to have it both ways. When Liz's boyfriend is a Beeper King-sized walking punchline, for example, it's hard to really get too emotionally invested in the is-she or isn't-she pregnancy game.

That being said, overall I really liked this ep of 30 Rock. My favorite plotline was probably the Kenneth the Page stuff. Any time the show has shown the rivalry between the Pages, it makes for awesome humor! The closing Olympic-style montage with Kenneth was flat-out hilarious. Alec Baldwin had some fun moments while working for the Bush administration, and Matthew Broderick was fun even if his Broadway-ish acting seemed a little too broad for a show like 30 Rock, no pun intended. As usual though, there were tons of classic lines strewn throughout, and, to top it off, a classic closing sequence that flashed to 3 Months Later as hilarity ensued. Kenneth as an international man of mystery? Genius.

My Grade: B+

- And that's all for today. Have a great weekend, and check back soon for a review of SPEED RACER.

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