Friday, May 7, 2010

"Potassium Bromate?!?!" FRINGE reviewed, plus: COMMUNITY kicks ass

- Happy Friday, everyone. Keep reading for a look at this week's FRINGE, as well as a number of other TV reviews.


- Okay, last night's Fringe is going to be tough to grade, honestly. As a whole, it was a pretty solid episode. Joshua Jackson really stepped up to the plate, and showed that a Peter-centric episode, with minimal Olivia and Walter, could really work well on its own merits. There was a spooky, X-Files-ish vibe to the whole episode - the whole enigmatic-FBI agent-goes-to-a-backwoods-town-to-solve-a-mysterious-crime thing. It was good, well-plotted stuff ... mostly. There were a few oddities that I'll get to in a minute. But, at the same time ... wow. This episode had a couple of all-time classic FRINGE moments - some of my favorite scenes ever on the show. In the end, those scenes helped elevate the episode from merely solid to "ZOMG AWESOME!" levels of badassery. Let's examine, shall we?

Okay, first the awesome: the scene with Walter flipping out in the supermarket was absolutely, 100% kickass. Just give John Noble an Emmy now, please. That scene alone should guarantee it, if his numerous outstanding moments this season haven't already. "POTASSIUM BROMATE?!" Yes indeed. Walter's line about heading for a "delicious, strawberry-flavored death" was just classic. I was dying of laughter and amazement during this entire scene. Just. Plain. Awesome.

Then, you had the astounding cliffhanger ending. Sure, most of us saw it coming, or at least hoped it was. Afterall, even though it seemed likely that the mysterious "Secretary" was Walternate, well, sometimes the most obvious choice is also the best. And the moment of his reveal was suitably intense. Just the whole framing of that entire closing scene was incredible. I loved how we saw Peter settling down on his bed, headphones on, as the show lulled us into thinking we were in store for some sort of contemplative montage-set-to-music to close out the show. The way in which the music was abruptly cut short, as Newton was revealed standing over Peter, with a shadowy figure behind him ... so badass. And then, the figure slowly steps out from the shadows ... revealed as the colder, less insane version of Walter from the Other Side. Hot dayum. Now THAT'S how you do a big reveal, baby.

Those two sequences alone were enough to make this a near-classic episode. Unfortunately, a couple of major plot points still bugged me. Mostly, I just wasn't crazy about the way in which Peter's murder case was resolved. All the build-up to pit Peter against Newton, and then it turns out that some random nutbag was the killer and NOT Newton? And this other guy just happened to share a proclivity for removing brain tissue from his victims? Maybe I missed something here, but it seemed like a red herring just for the sake of it, and really seemed to undermine the whole plot up to that point. Plus, why was the policewoman's partner kidnapped but not killed, and what was done to him? Again, I think this speaks to probably the #1 weakness that Fringe still needs to figure out - how to tell a self-contained mystery story that includes both a compelling villain and a satisfying resolution.

Aside from the weird and puzzling way in which the story resolved itself, I did really enjoy the overall mood and atmosphere of the episode. Again, there was a very X-Files-like vibe (and a direct call-out, with local law enforcement going on a rant about people who "want to believe" in the unknown), and that was cool. I definitely got a fun wave of nostalgia as I got drawn into that familiar, atmospheric type of story that The X-Files used to do so well. Also, as mentioned, Joshua Jackson really did a nice job carrying the episode. Peter never felt so well-rounded as he did here - for maybe the first time, he felt like lead-character material and not just a supporting player.

Man, part of me wants to penalize this episode for some of its shortcomings, but part of me wants to sing its praises for its undeniable moments of inspired storytelling. What the hell, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt - any episode that had that amazing Walter-in-the-grocery-store scene deserves it.

My Grade: A-

- I have to talk about COMMUNITY. Last night's episode was simply awesome - a comedic tour de force, and one of the best and funniest TV episodes so far this season. Community has been on an absolute roll over its last several episodes, and this one was perhaps the best episode yet. Basically, the whole episode was one giant action movie parody, with everything from Scarface to Die Hard to The Warriors referenced, to hilarious effect. At the same time, the ep had some key character moments that sayed true to what the show's been building towards, despite the out-there premise. No easy feat, but Community pulled it off. It's a testament to the show's progression that the long-time-coming Jeff and Britta hook-up felt natural and that it made sense for the characters. When the show first premiered, I didn't like the Jeff-Britta dynamic - it was too forced and obvious. But the show settled into its groove, took its time, and was subtle and smart with how it handled that relationship, and now, this was the payoff. But honestly, this half-hour was just a sublime bit of comedy that flew by, with countless hilarious moments - from Senor Chang's paintball assault on Jeff to Pierce's attempt to loot the candy machine amidst all of the chaos. I think this episode cemented it - Community is officially one of the best, funniest, most inventive shows on TV.

My Grade: A

- PARKS AND RECREATION had a pretty decent episode. The late-night telethon premise was funny, and I was cracking up when Mouse Rat performed their new single, "Sex Hair." That said, I feel like Parks tends to really excel when an episode features the whole ensemble equally. This one was a bit Amy Poehler-heavy, and I feel like her character is sometime better when she's just one of a large supporting cast and not necessarilly the focal point. Still, the show continues to be immensely funny - maybe my biggest overall laugh of the night was the revelation that Ron Swanson "sleep-fights." Awesome.

My Grade: B+

- THE OFFICE last night was really funny - although I think this was one of those episodes in which Michael may have just plain been too over-the-top. When Michael is actually calling meetings to discuss his sex life, you have to wonder if the show has gone a little overboard in terms of making Michael just completely clueless as to how to run an office. So yeah, Michael's suspicions that his new special ladyfriend was cheating on him gave us some funny moments, but were ultimately a bit much. On the other hand, the scenes with Daryll and Andy were pretty awesome - I'm really curious to see where this whole whistle-blower storyline goes, with Andy finding out that Sabre's printers are faulty and tend to, well, explode. This season of the show has lacked some of the great work-related storylines of last season (i.e. The Michael Scott Paper Company), so I'd love for them to get back to that side of things a bit. Oh, and Creed's talking head, in which he kept calling Daryll "Darnell", was awesome.

My Grade: B+

- 30 ROCK I thought was decent, but not up to the high level of comedy that we've seen from the show in recent weeks. The mother's day themed ep brought back Jenna's scheming mom, Verna, and the whole thing, I thought, fell a bit flat. We spent a ton of time with all these random guest stars playing various characters' moms, and while that paved the way for some amusing moments, it meant less time for Jack, Tracy, Liz, and the usual supporting cast to do their thing. Now, Liz's fantasy of meeting her almost-dad Buzz Aldrin was basically worth the price of admission alone, as it was an absolutely hilarious sequence. And a few other moments were similarly great. Overall though, not the best ep of 30 Rock.

My Grade: B

- I've been feeling a little up-and-down on MODERN FAMILY lately. The show, to me, is now firmly in the realm of comfort food, in that I watch it, am entertained, chuckle a few times, and that's that. I don't know, the show is always well done, but it's just gotten increasingly saccharine. Sometimes I think what the show would be like if it was shot like a more traditional sitcom, and I realize that certain lines and moments could be real groaners if not for the show's unique, Office-like style. Phil is almost always able to steal the show, but it's amazing - the show sometimes gets to Full House-like levels of life-lesson dispensing and aw-shucks sentimentality. That's okay, but I'd like the show to get a bit of its edge back from earlier in the season. It seems like the show has gotten away from randomness and settled into a much more traditional groove. And what's more old-school sitcom than the time-honored "family trip to Hawaii" storyline? Again, some funny / fun moments in this one, but nothing too memorable or amazing.

My Grade: B

- I do want to give my support to HAPPY TOWN, ABC's oddball mystery-drama. I know the show has been critically-panned and underperformed in the ratings, but what can I say, I enjoy it. It's one of those shows that is kind of semi-self-aware camp - it's over-the-top and cheesy, but doesn't apologize for it or wink at the audience. I like that. I'm on-board with the show and curious to see where it goes. Sure, I'm a sucker for the whole "small town with dark secrets" subgenre, but even so, I think Happy Town is worth checking out.

- I also want to give a shout-out to INSIDE THE UNIVERSE WITH STEPHEN HAWKING. I really enjoyed the show's short run on Discovery, and really appreciated the insight and perspective that the Hawking-narrated series brought to fascinating issues like time-travel and the possibility of life on other worlds. Some of the concepts discussed on the show are likely old hat for those who have read up a bit on these subjects, but still, watching the show was like sitting through a really awesome college lecture. I know, that might sound weird to some, but to me, the fun of this series was that Hawking's awe and exuberance for the topics at hand carried over into the tone of the show. You can't help but get caught up in the possibilities along with the professor. Great stuff - I'd recommend checking this out for anyone with an interest in high-concept science fact.

- Whew, alright - it's the weekend, baby! Headed off to see IRON MAN 2 in just a few short hours, so stay tuned for the big review.

1 comment:

  1. I've got to start watching the show!