Friday, November 13, 2009

"Frankly, I wasn't convinced. A lot of the evidence seemed to be based on puns." A Friday the 13th TV Wrap: THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, FRINGE, GLEE, and V!

Well, it's almost the weekend, and even though it's been a short work-week for me due to having Monday of, I'm more than ready for a much-needed break. It's been a crazy week here at the office, and so I'm hoping that tonight's viewing of Roland Emmerich's 2012 will be a semi-catharctic moment of calming via multiple acts of mass destruction. Sure, the movie is likely to be absolutely ridiculous and mildly-retarded, but few filmmakers are as blatantly gleeful in their cheesiness as Emmerich. The fact that he has that whole European thing where he seems to take himself and his movies 100% seriously, despite their total absurdity, makes a movie like 2012 that much more potentially insane and entertaining. We shall see. Stay tuned for the full review, coming soon.


- Over on The AV Club, they've started running a massive Best-Of-the-Decade series of features, counting down the best in TV, movies, and music from throughout the 00's. The first batch of lists focuses on television, the highlight of which is a big list that counts down the best TV shows of the decade. Very interesting stuff, although to some extent I think there is something of a consensus when it comes to TV, at least on the best of the best TV series. Still, there is room for individual taste to come into play, and that's why I'm considering doing my own Best of the Decade list. The main problem? As I always say, I am but one man. For all my TV-watching, I still have many gaps in my viewing, from The Wire to Dexter to Breaking Bad ... so it would be hard to call a list that I come up with definitive. Still, it could be fun to look back at some of the series that have, for me at least, defined the 00's. Once again, stay tuned ...

- I was optimistic about V after seeing the pilot episode this past summer. Sure, it was somewhat cheesy and felt a little rushed, but still ... it just had an overall sense of fun to it that made it seem like a must-watch come Fall. Even with its problems, the groundwork seemed to be put in place for a series that could, eventually, become pretty epic. So I can see how many felt somewhat let down by Episode 2. I mean, rather that really escalating the brewing conflict between the humans and the visitors, this one sort of took a step back and felt very much like a typical second episode of any given serialized drama. We got a little plot-progression, a little who-can-you-trust paranoia, and a bit more insight into some of the characters for good measure. But this ep did feel a little like treading water. We still haven't gotten too far inside the head of Elizabeth Mitchell or Scott Wolf's characters, for example. Wolf's storyline in particular really seemed to drag a bit - it suffered from Smallville-itus. You know, like how on Smallville, mild-mannered country boy Clark Kent would always get wrapped up in the schemes of globetrotting billionaire Lex Luthor? It would often seem like it was too much of a stretch for their worlds to so often collide. Same with Wolf and the leader of the visitors, Anna. For an alien leader hellbent on conquering earth, she seems to be spending waaay too much time pondering her relationship with a single TV reporter. Similarly, there's the already somewhat annoying relationship between Elizabeth Mitchell and her teenaged son. Why doesn't she just tell him more concretely that the V's are dangerous lizard-people?! I mean, sure, there's the danger that her son would spill the beans to his friends, but this is her son we're talking about! Maybe be a bit more concerned that he's spending his afternoons spreading propaganda for reptillian extraterrestrial conquerers?! Anyways, this was an only-okay episode, but for some reason, I still feel somewhat into the show. Despite everything, there is still that feeling that this could get pretty awesome when the $&#% really starts to hit the fan.

My Grade: B-

- After a couple of really fun, well-done episodes, I'm not quite sure why, but I wasn't 100% feeling this week's GLEE. I think it just felt way too ... traditional ... for a show that, at it's best, is really subversive and darkly funny. It once again speaks to the fact that Glee is, still, completely all over the place in terms of tone. I mean, compare this week's after-school-special-ish vibe to the awesome Slushie episode from the other week. Whereas that one felt fresh and funny, this week's ep was oddly sentimental and preachy. I mean, they gave Sue Slyvester a huge, emotional beat, for crying out loud! What! I'm not saying that Glee shouldn't have emotion or heart, but I feel like it's way too early to humanize the show's greatest comic villain at this point. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable episode, for the most part, and I liked the central plot of of raising money to buy a wheelchair-accessible bus for the glee club's trip to sectionals. It just felt like this one had lost some of the show's edge from previous weeks.

My Grade: B

- Argh - no MODERN FAMILY this week. Damn you, CMA's. It speaks to how much I am liking MF that my week felt somewhat emptier without it!

- I thought that, overall, both THE OFFICE and 30 Rock were pretty strong last night. (Go NBC!). Seriously though, I was kind of iffy on The Office at first, but it slowly but surely won me over through sheer persistence. There were just too many moments of hilarity. So let's see ... things I loved:

The random flash to Ryan in yet another hipster d-bag outfit. The little snippets we've gotten of the painfully self-aware and tragically cool Ryan this season have all been gold.

Creed fleeing what he thought was a real murder scene.

The Mexican standoff to end the episode ... freaking hilarious.

Dwight's level of commitment to solving the murder-mystery.

Andy's dead-on Savannah accent. And his cluelessness about the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.

Andy's awkward attempts at asking Erin out on a date, and her possibly in-character-only response.

Michael's near-insane refusal to break character.

Oscar's awful attempts at a Southern accent.

Tube City.

So yeah, even if the whole murder mystery dragged a bit at first, it ultimately won me over. And the end-tag standoff scene just cemented the whole thing as awesome. Beyond all the zaniness though, this episode actually set the stage for a much bigger overarching plotline - the bankruptcy of Dunder-Mifflin. There are a lot of interesting pieces to pick up from this one.

My Grade: A-

- 30 ROCK last night followed a similar trajectory to The Office -- I was kind of dubious at first, but in the end, the episode really won me over. I think the episode's biggest flaw was the been-ther, done-that nature of the Tracy and Jenna subplot. We've seen similar shenanigans from these two many times over at this point, and while Tracy Morgan is basically always funny, you wish that he could get better and less repetitive storylines. Same goes for Jenna. But ... what made this episode was the central Liz-Jack plot. Their symbiotic business relationship, played out like a romantic comedy, was the source of a ton of humor last night - not to mention some awesome satire of the media business. When Jack offers to help Liz develop her Dealbreakers book into a series, Liz plays hardball and "explores her options," shopping the concept around to other agents. The results of Liz's break from Jack turn out pretty hilarious - a meeting with a way-too-young agent who's just graduated from repping animals to "humans and primates." A power-lunch with Scotty Shofar, a cell-phone-obssessed d-bag who was very reminiscient of a certain former NBC network head. Suffice it to say, when Mr. Shofar had to bail on Lemon because he had Brooke Hogan on the line, I nearly lost it. So yeah, a couple of semi-weak subplots eventually got overshadowed by a memorable and dead-on A-plot. This ep of 30 Rock definitely had it's fightin' gloves on.

My Grade: B+

- Didn't watch PARKS & REC yet. Sorry!

- Oh man, what to say about last night's FRINGE? This was yet another solid but unspectacular episode. But I have to admit, with each successive solid-but-unspectacular episode this season, I lose a little bit more overall enthusiasm for the show. What can I say, I'm nostalgic for the FRINGE of old - the late-season-one era Fringe. The Fringe that kept blowing me away week after week with huge reveals, amazing character moments, and an overarching plotline that was exciting and unpredictable. All of these standalone episodes are okay, but most of them feel like X-Files lite. At least last week we got a focus on Broyles, and therefore many moments of Lance Reddick-infused gravitas. This week, no such luck (though Broyles did have one particularly badass, if not slightly-cliched, moment towards the episode's end ...). Instead, we got a decent plot about a rebellious teen imbued with mind-control powers, who lashes out at his father - a Massive Dynamics scientist - by embarking on a wild crime spree using his psychic powers. The ability to psychically "push" someone is something we've seen before on shows like The X-Files, and the angry-kid -manipulating-others theme reminded me a bit of the classic Twilight Zone episode - you know, the one with the omnipotent kid who wishes people away when they piss him off. Anyways, the plot here was okay, but the real meat of it was how the father-son relationship at the heart of the case reflected back on the fractured relationship between Walter and Peter Bishop. To that end, we got some very nice, dramatic moments from John Noble, in an episode in which Walter seemed to do a lot of reflecting on mistakes of the past. I did really enjoy seeing him step foot inside Massive Dynamics HQ, seeing his mix of wonderment and regret as he saw what might have been had he pooled his genius towards building a company, like his old colleague William Bell. Walter's character moments (not to mention his always-awesome, always-random quips, like "you were abducted, of course you need crepes!") were far and away the highlight of the episode. Especially true given that we got no real new insight into Olivia's condition, the otherdimensional visitors, etc. The big reveal here was that ... (SPOILERS) ... the psychic kid was actually one of many clones bred by Massive Dynamics as part of a larger experiment, confirming that Massive D is up to some pretty shady stuff (although we pretty much knew that already). More shades of X-Files, Eve 6, etc. Yep, let the jokes commence about whether a one-hit-wonder rock band will arise out of this episode of Fringe. Meanwhile, the action leading up to the capture of the kid was not that riveting. As has been the norm of late, the resolution felt pretty rushed, and you never developed enough of an attachment to the kid or his father to care all that much about their fates. Fringe really needs to work on creating episode-specific characters that are memorable, even if they only appear once. Again, not to keep bringing it up, but think of all the classic one-shot villains from throughout the history of The X-Files. Fringe really needs an infusion of that kind of character. So yeah, this episode continued a streak of Fringe installments that had some cool moments, some interesting character stuff for our main players, but that didn't truly wow me as the show has done, on occasion, in the past. For that reason, I'm especially excited for next week's Observer-centric ep, which promises to dive back into the show's unique and rich mythology. For now, I think Fringe still needs to figure out how best to do these standalone, freak-of-the-weak style episode. I don't think they've quite nailed it yet.

My Grade: B-

Alright ... weekend time. And oh yeah, Happy Friday the 13th!

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