Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Facts Are These: Keeping Up With PUSHING DAISIES, CHUCK, and FRINGE. Plus: Chinese Democracy Hype.

- If any of you rock n' rollers have yet to check it out, I definitely recommend giving Chuck Klosterman's review of Chinese Democracy, posted on the always-great Onion AV Club, a read. Funny and insightful, the article has actually gotten me pretty excited for the looong-awaited new album from Guns N' Roses.

Appetite for Destruction is one of my most-played albums of all-time - I bought the cassette tape as a kid after becoming obsessed with the GnR videos played on MTV, and it was kind of this forbidden fruit - with four grim-looking skulls on the album cover and a parenta advisory sticker, Appetite was dangerous, to be sure. But it was also just about the most rocking music I had ever heard. And from that point on, I was a GnR fan for life. I've seen them twice in concert over the last couple of years, each time with a different line-up, neither time with the original band intact. But even without Slash and co., both times I saw Axl Rose live, I went in expecting the worse and coming away, well, blown away. The sheer awesomeness of the GnR catalogue was enough to put the concerts over the top of the awesome meter, and it was clear that there was still a spark of life left in Axl and GnR - even the new material had a lot of promise. So, next week, CHINESE DEMOCRACY finally drops. Chuck Klosterman liked it. I'm cautiously optimistic. But at the least, it's great that people are once again excited about genuine, old-school rock n' roll music. AC/DC was recently a chart-topper, GnR is poised to be big once again, and kids everywhere are learning the classics via the magic of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. And hey, our new President is a fan of Dylan and The Stones. Might this be a new age of ROCK?!


- Dayum, I'm actually pretty excited / curious to see tonight's SMALLVILLE. As I said last week, Clark Kent vs. Doomsday doesn't have quite the same ring to it as does *Superman* vs. Doomsday, but tonight's much-hyped Smallville ep will be a real test for the long-running show, which has sometimes struggled to introduce truly epic villains aside from Lex Luthor. And it's rare that the show has delivered a legitimately Superman-worthy super-powered slugfest. We'll see if tonight's main event delivers the goods, but if tonight's ep is a smash, and next week's Geoff Johns-penned Legion of Superheroes-themed episode is as good as promised, then Smallville could be in the midst of one of its best-ever streaks of quality episodes.

- I also really want to point out how fun and entertaining last night's episode of PUSHING DAISIES was - I'd go so far as to say it was, potentially, this season's best installment yet. Again, it's crazy that a show that can deliver this kind of quality week in and week out is on the chopping block. It's hard to imagine many people tuning in to last night's ep and not liking what they saw, because what we got was a fantastical episode of magic, betrayal, and mystery that was a clear reminder of what makes this show work as well as it does. And man, the guest stars last night were absolutely perfect for the episode and the series in general. You had the great Fred Willard playing The Great Hermann, a stage magician who had served as a surrogate father of sorts to Ned's twin half-brothers. You had the great Kerri Kenney (of The State and Reno 911 fame) as Hermann's assistant. And you had typically-great performances from Lee Pace, Chi McBride, Kristen Chenoweth, and Anna Friel. Not to mention Stephen Root, who has been awesome in his recent guest appearances as an old and slighty-sinister friend of Chuck and Ned's respective fathers. This ep really had a great balance between the ongoing familial dramas of Ned and Chuck and a fun adventure / mystery of the week. In this case, the central mystery tied in perfectly with the ongoing storyarcs, so it really felt like a big episode that was jam-packed with plot and new revelations. Visually, the world of magic was a perfect fit for Daisies, and the sets, costumes, etc. were all top-notch. The visual creativity of this show is just unparallelled on TV, and this ep was further proof. So watch PUSHING DAISIES, tell your friends, tell your parents, grandparents, etc. Because the facts are these: this show deserves to thrive.

My Grade: A

- After a couple of weeks of Captain Awesome-level awesomeness, CHUCK got a bit formulaic this week, although a nice reveal at episode's end set up some potentially great plotlines for future episodes. I do think Jordana Brewster has been a fun addition to the cast these last couple of weeks. I do think the show sometimes overdoes it on the emo-ness (Josh Schwartz's THE OC suffered from the same problem), and the mopeyness of Sarah in this ep did get a little grating at times, as did Chuck's constant focus on his re-girlfriend, Jill even in the midst of all kinds of spy shenanigans. But on the other hand - Tony Hale (of Arrested Development fame) is flat-out hilarious, and was great in this ep. His interactions with Morgan were very funny, and I actually almost always enjoy Morgan's scenes and think he's gotten even funnier this season. Speaking of funny, Adam Baldwin letting out a choir-boy high-C note scream was friggin' classic. Likewise, the ending twist actually makes a ton of sense in the broader context of the show's mythology - I just think it was arrived at a little hamfistedly. Still, I have to bump up my grade a little if only for this episode's several shout-outs to Y: The Last Man (which from the get-go has seemed to be one of its creative influences). From mention of the Culper Ring to a big Y poster hanging over Chuck's bed, this ep was definitely feeling the Last Man love. And let's face it, the Chuck-Sarah relationship is very similar to that of Yorick-355. Now Chuck just needs a helper monkey and all will be right with the world.

My Grade: B+

- On FRINGE ... Fringe has yet to have that single, *great* episode that makes you stand up and say "well I'll be damned, this show is the real deal." But with this week's episode, I'll admit, they came pretty darn close. I think Fringe is both benefitting and hurting from the fact that John Noble is absolutely, positively ruling it this far as Dr. Walter Bishop. And this week was Noble's best performance yet on the show - bar none. While Walter had at times been relegated to comic relief in recent weeks, this time Walter was funny, scary, sad, mysterious, and tragic all in the span of an hour. To me, this ep locked-in John Noble as an Emmy favorite, because I've yet to see a better supporting actor performance on TV this season. I loved the scenes of Walter having to return to the institution where he had been confined, and try to prove his sanity to the warden and to his son and to his colleagues. His internal struggle here was absolutely riveting. And, plot-wise, the show just presented its most intriguing mystery yet. It was easy to suspect from the beginning that there was much more to Bishop than meets the eye, but this ep posited that there could in fact be *two* Walter Bishops running around. Was this a clone, a dimensional alternate, a figment of Walter's fractured psyche? Whatever the case, I'm intrigued. I also thought the central mystery here was pretty fascinating - I'm a sucker for the whole concept of some uber-equation that contains the mysteries of time and space within.

But, where this show has faltered is that it can't seem to keep its focus. I wish this ep could have stuck to the main idea of the equation and the villains' pursuit of it. Instead, that plotline was mixed in with a cool-but-random concept concerning hypnotic colored lights, the idea that people were being brainwashed into believing their dead relatives were alive (the villains' preferred method of information-extraction), etc. The show just gets too cluttered sometime with criss-crossing ideas and concepts.

Otherwise, Fringe is kicking ass when it comes to Walter Bishop, but the other two leads stil lfeel underdeveloped and lacking personality. This ep went a long way in developing Walter's relationship with his son though, I will give them that. Still, Ana Torv's character needs some kind of hook other than what's already been presented. Lance Reddick is kind of filling the Fox Mulder role of driving the action forward, but they need to make sure he isn't simply an exposition machine.

That being said, all the Walter Bishop stuff in this ep was awesome, and helped provide a sense that some of the show's lingering mysteries are about to really blow up. Greatness is definitely within reach.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, that's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow with more news and views, so cya then.

1 comment:

  1. but alas, ABC canceled Pushing Daisies...:(