Archive for April, 2009

Monday tv, 4/27

Very quick takes:

Chuck–that’s how you do a season finale. My recent gold standard is Burn Notice’s finish, which resonated emotionally because

1. it made excellent use of what we had learned, piece by piece, about the characters

2. it built the action up to a previously unrealized level

3. it suggested new horizons for future episodes, which require significant changes to how characters relate to each other and to how they move in the world

Chuck passed all of these goals with flying colors, although I’m nervous about what will come out of #3. Our feel for the characters tinged what would otherwise be fairly rote exercises (of course Chuck is going to re-do his sister’s wedding) with significance. Much of the credit has to go to Zach Levi for elevating the material. Not sure I like the replacement of Fulcrum with this new, larger villain (especially as we never got to know what Fulcrum wanted besides the intersect). And I too wonder whether Chuck would have a cover, have handlers, be reduced to an action cliche, although my fears are less severe than those of others.

Big Bang Theory–This is the second straight week in which the bulk of the storyline is built around Leonard and Howard pursuing women, even though this week involves a prostitute, and we’re led to believe Howard has sex with her. That could be slightly interesting, as it gives prostitution a normativity not often witnessed on television. But that’s nearly all that’s interesting about the Vegas plot. What a missed opportunity! I find it hard to believe that Sheldon is not interested (in an anthropological sense) in the workings of Vegas, and BBT could get a lot of mileage out of Sheldon counting cards, getting in trouble, and having to actually deal with Vegas enforcers. But the Sheldon/Penny storyline was definitely a winner. This pairing is consistently entertaining, because Penny is the character least willing to let Sheldon have his way, and she continually acts perplexed at his inquiries.

How I Met Your Mother–I miss Lily. I miss Robin, too, even though she did technically appear in this episode. As the opening scene played out, Robin kept looking and listening, but not responding or interjecting into the boys’ conversation. Has this show gotten a little too male lately? Sure felt like it, although the ending seems to point toward the resurrection of sympathetic Ted.

Crank High Voltage

Crank: High Voltage (hereafter Crank 2) was not screened for critics, but they take their roles as cultural gatekeepers very seriously, and voluntarily produce assessments. Crank 2 has received mostly favorable reviews, with Salon and the New York Times among the dissenters. Neatly all of the reviews agree that the film is violent tripe, but the positive and negative reviews break on whether the films’ acknowledgment of its cartoonishness makes it safe for consumption.

This movie is not safe for consumption, and that’s what makes it great, one of the best theater experiences I’ve had in a very long time. To use a blunt and cliche comparison, the film is so punk. But let me elaborate on how it’s punk. The plot of the first Crank: this world is so boring that if I don’t get some excitement I’m going to die. I don’t care about anything so I’m going to kill until I do. Chev Chelios and co. have got no feelings for anybody else, are pretty vacant, and want to destroy passers-by. They may do so smirking, but don’t let that fool you–they mean it, man.

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catch-all catch-up

Things I’m enthusiastic about:

1. Growing a beard.

I am working on a “playoff beard.” I haven’t shaved since I turned in my thesis, and don’t plan to until the day of my defense (next Tuesday). I’ve never gone this long without shaving before, and I’ve just reached the point where itchiness gives way to gentle fuzziness, food lands in it, and the wind blows through it. Instead of a bunch of hairs collecting on my face, it’s become a separate facial entity. New experiences!

2. Last night’s Lost. We’ve gone beyond the point of needing the show to fill in every little question we might have, but when they do let us in on secrets like why Miles demanded 3.2 million to help Ben in Season 4, we still appreciate it. It’s not a waste of time because the mysteries and the characters are finally aligned. Many feel like the show is about the battle between free will and destiny, but as the time travel storyline points out, this is simply a matter of perspective. Learning how our characters develop their perspectives is a pretty enriching experience.

3. New music! Loving two albums in particular right now: Jewellery by Micachu and the Shapes, and Bitte Orca by The Dirty Projectors. The first has its lineage in british independent post-punk (Swell Maps are an obvious point of inspiration), but the noisiness is deceptive. Every piece of every song is vital. This is my favorite pop record this year. Bitte Orca still needs to be digested a little bit. I love the nod to Nico in “two doves” and feel like the arrangements on every song sparkle with life. If their previous two albums were marked by, respectively, lackadaisical creativity and exuberant slightness, here they’ve managed to combine the good qualities while excising the bad. Nothing as poppy as “Knotty Pine,” their song with David Byrne on the Dark Was The Night, compilation, but what is?

TV Tuesdays

In which I discuss “Unleashed”, a fine showcase for Kirk Acevedo’s grimaces but formulaic episode of Fringe

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TV Mondays-4/13/09

Brief takes on The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and Chuck after the cut!

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Parks and Recreation, “Make My Pit a Park”

Maybe the initial reviews lowered my expectations to the point where they could be easily met, but I really enjoyed this pilot episode.

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Thoughts on The Unusuals

If I were a betting man, I would wager that Disney read the pilot of The Unusuals, a new cop show airing wednesdays at 10/9 central, and messed heavily with it. The same unintentional awkwardness that marks all ABC comedies is here in spades. It’s overproduced (without appearing slick), full of infodumps, and can’t stick to a genre. The latter could become a boon in the right hands, but the show doesn’t yet demonstrate the needed confidence to pull it off.

There are several nods to David Simon’s work in print and on television (the look of the bullpen, the love of cop lore, the photocopier/lie detector gag, casting Dukie in the small part). Being a big Simon fan, my immediate wish for the show is that it explore the precinct and give it personality (instead of what is presented here, which in contrast we might call color). The setting has a rich history. While Simon’s task to represent an entire city was certainly ambitious, there’s a lot of Baltimore we never got from The Wire. Lowering the sights on a relatively limited amount of terrain has a lot of potential. We could get to know the beats, meet reoccuring figures and district power brokers. And we could certainly slow the flow of information about these characters to give them a little more intrigue. Who knows, the show might be setting out to do all of this.

But the immense genre distortion taking place here, while keeping the viewers on their toes, also means that tone becomes very difficult to establish. It’s a procedural, a quirky comedy, and a longform suspense show in turn, and the whips from one to the other are jarring.

A lot of this stuff is fixable (although Tamblyn is a FLK). I need more to hold onto.


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April 2009