Friday, 30 September 2011

TV Week in Review: 25th-29th September

Let's get right down to the recaps, with two stellar season premieres...

Boardwalk Empire: “21”; Season Two, Episode One [B+]
It’s a sombre episode, and a low-key one but the production values, the taut direction, precise writing and excellent acting ensures that it’s a good one. It’s setting us up for what is sure to be an explosive season and the arrest of Nucky at the end is especially interesting. Jimmy is dealing with his dual alliances – for his father and Nucky and it’s going to be interesting watching him juggle those allegiances. I’m especially thrilled seeing Margaret comfortable in her new role even if she’s still troubled by the little things like the way the nun looks at her. Van Alden’s storyline felt a bit strange, and I’m not sure what Paz will be doing this season. The tense opening with the Klu Klux Klan was stunning, though, as was watching Nucky speaking to both aggrieved parties. It’s that sort of troubling duality which this show examines so well.
[Writing: B+; Directing: B+/A-]

Breaking Bad: “Crawl Space”; Season Four, Episode Eleven [A-]
I admitted last week that I was feeling something akin to a disconnect for a few episodes of the season which last week’s stellar episode eviscerated, and this week we get what I believe to be the finest episode of the season which develops plot points and points to some catastrophic fallouts in the final two episodes of the season. As annoying as I find Walt generally, this is one of those episodes where I’m somewhat firm in my sympathy towards Walt. It’s something terrible watching as everything unravels around him, and there’s something especially sad about that confrontation he has with Jesse, overemphasised by the way that Jesse has hardened towards him – with reason of course. What makes the situation even troubling is the disappearance of the money, only because Skyler is trying so hard to help her family and I’m glad that her arc will end up having ramifications for the final two episodes.
[Writing: A-; Directing: A/A-]

The Good Wife: “A New Day”; Season Three, Episode One [B+]
I’ve always griped about the way in which the series discerns Alicia, always seeming to sweep her less than lovely attributes under the carpet. And, it’s not so much that this episode delves into a darker side of Alicia, so much as Julianna has managed to find that lilt in the character where she’s less good and more conflicted and it offers a nice beginning to what I hope will become a brilliant third season. The episode is about setting up the season, but not in a pedantic way. We’re seeing how everyone is adapting to the new state of affairs. Cary and Eli seem to be thriving best, with Eli doing well with his consultancy firm and Cary forming an interest bond with Sophia. Kalinda and Alicia, naturally, are still at odds and Will is being deliberately cold to Alicia because of their continued liaisons. It leaves Diane as the only member left to her usual sagacity and it suggests an interesting direction for the season to take. I can’t wait for some good Peter/Alicia drama (I’ll always prefer that admittedly dubious coupling to Will/Alicia.)
[Writing; B+/A- ; Directing: B+]

The Big C: “Crossing the Line”; SEASON FINALE; Season Two, Episode Twelve [B/B+]
Continuing on the starkly dramatic turn the show has taken recently this second season finale ends things off suggesting even more drama to ensue when the third season returns next summer. Cathy is making her preparations to run the marathon that Lee was never able to complete as Paul tries to get a refund on those plane tickets – money they desperately need since he’s quit his job. The drug use precipitated by Mick always seemed like an oddity and though it’s been a great season for Platt who has a powerful final scene, it felt a bit too deliberate. It’s nice, though, how everything has sort of come full circle as Adam has softened a bit, and Cathy’s old doctor turns back up. It’ll be interesting to see where next season takes us.
[Writing: B+; Directing: B/B+]

Gossip Girl: “Yes, then Zero”; Season Five, Episode One [B-/C+]
I decided to catch up on Gossip Girl, and I can’t be certain if I’ll be watching avidly this season but I tuned in nonetheless. It’s a shame that it’s lsot that acerbic bite that used to make it so much fun for the first two seasons, even if the characters are well established enough for you to at least appreciation thew hijinks they get themselves into. I still can’t surrender to the concept of Blair and Dan, even if I’ll admit that Penn Badgley has matured past the initial boorishness in his acting. I’m not sure where that pregnancy storyline will go, an abortion would seem like a copout. More importantly what would Blair do with a baby? Serena’s machinations continue to be terribly trite, although I’m not sure if it’s the machinations as much as lively – but I can’t spend five years arguing the same point. Even Chuck seems freakishly toned down, for all his fatalistic behaviour. Maybe I’ll tune in next week to see what becomes of these arcs…
[Writing: C+; Directing: B-]

Glee: “I Am A Unicorn”; Season Three, Episode Two [B/B-]
I swear, Kurt will eventually exasperate me to the point where I can’t enjoy the show anymore and I’m sure it’s not Colfer because I didn’t find the character that annoying in the first season, and I can’t pinpoint what specifically the writers are doing – but it’s just not work. Idina Menzel’s return is strange, since it’s buoyed by Sugar Motta’s dad forming a second Glee club at the school (although I LOVED her irked “I am a shining star.”). It’s odd, because if one club can’t twelve members I wonder how two will. I suppose we shall see. All of Idina’s scenes succeed – the duet with Rachel, the precise and vaguely talk with Quinn, and the rather sweet one with Puck. Quinn’s wanting custody of the child is a bit of an about-face considering everything, but I suppose drama is necessary. The episode still feels filler-ish. I suppose I understand the point they’re trying to make with Kurt, but it’s wise to note that no actor can play every role and it’s hard for me to feel truly bad for him – even if the judges were a bit unprofessional with that second audition.
[Writing: B ; Directing: B ]

Parenthood: “Step Right Up”; Season Three, Episode Three [B]
This is an especially low-key episode and when it ends I sort of think, hmmm, that was slight. But, it’s not necessarily a poor episode. The arc with Crosby and Jasmine is a vaguely problematic for me because it’s such a well-worn arc that I doubt true life can be breathed into it. D. B. Woods appearance is nice, even if I’ll always remember him trying to kill Spike on Buffy which is a not insignificant no-no…but, I digress. Even though it felt a little too schmaltzy it was nice having Adam approach the boy’s parent to drop the charge against Alex, and it’s sweet things like that that always underscore how pleasant a show this is. Sarah and her daughter sorting out their issues is getting a bit overly trite, but perhaps things will get better.
[Writing: B; Directing: B]

Revenge: “Trust”; Season One, Episode Two [B/B+]
It’s another deliciously devilish and vaguely ridiculous episode of a fine drama. I’m getting into Emily Vancamp’s performance. It’s easily the best work I’ve seen from here, and she’s managing just the right amount of meanness and poignancy for the character. The way she’s managing one life destroyed per episode is a bit troubling, because I still wonder how the writers will keep up the arc going for an entire season and more. Gabriel’s Nolan is still the show’s most interesting character and it’s a nice touch him paying Jack just to be friends. Declan’s arc, longing for the rich girl with the violent boyfriend, is a bit tired but Paolo is a good actor and it manages to work. The afternoon with Victoria was a nice bit of acting from Vancamp and Stowe, even though I still feel that Stowe hasn’t been given as much to do as I’d hope.
[Writing: B/B+ ; Directing: B/B+ ]

Modern Family: “Phil on Wire”; Season Three, Episode Three [B]
This episode is a bit odd, it boasts some great performances but it feels much to on the nose for me to love it. The families each are up to their own machinations, and it’s the Gloria/Jay arc which falls the flattest. The two are dealing with the dog which Jay favours, and though Vergara puts in good work it feels a bit too tired. Burrell hasn’t been given a great arc yet, and his man-on-wire act doesn’t quite land as well as I’d hope although his interactions with Gould are – ahem – gold. Alex, Sarah and Claire fare much better even though I’m beginning to get worried with the vaguely harridan ways Claire keeps being painted. Mitchell and Cameron have the strongest diet going on their juice fast, and it’s goodness until the final moments where it just becomes a bit too ridiculous to be sincere. Still, it’s a fairly good episode. So, no huge complaints.
[Writing: B ; Directing: B/B+ ]

Community: “Geography of Global Conflict”; Season Three, Episode Two [B/B-]
The minor arc of Britta trying to be revolutionary came off as completely preposterous for me. It’s become almost desperate the way the writers are trying to keep Jeong as part of the fabric of the show. Annie’s UN machinations, though, are interesting to watch and it returns to one of the show’s interesting dynamics – the relationship between Jeff and Annie. Annie II was a lovely addition and it’s great seeing Brie have these episodes where she gets to go through the gamut of silly emotions. [Writing: B/B- ; Directing: B ]

The Office: “The Incentive”; Season Eight, Episode Two [B/B-]
I appreciate this episode much for the plot development, but a number of the actual issues don’t land as resoundingly as you’d hope. I like Ed Helms, but I’m already getting a little bit annoyed with his shtick although the idea for the incentive is inspired and it’s great watching the team come together to do this sort of silliness. I like that Jim, although not the official right hand man retains his position as advisor. I’m still trying to discern just what California’s role on the show is, Spader is amusing when he appears but he’s not made a decisive contribution to the show yet. The ending hook with Angela and Pam was lovely, tough. Angela will always remain as an insane harpy, which is precisely why I love her.
[Writing: B ; Directing: B]

Parks and Recreation: “Ron and the Tammy’s” Season Four, Episode Two [B+]
I had thought it would be a season long arc, Ron getting audited; but Tammy I pops in and out but she leaves a wreck behind completely eviscerating the memory of the Ron Swanson we know and love. The shaved Ron is weirdness, and Patty Clarkson is loveliness even though I wish that my darling Megan Mullally could have appeared for more than a few minutes. It was great watching the office gather round to see the drinking contest and drunk Leslie is never not humorous. The Ben/Tom arc was a bit strange, and a bit unrealistic but it’s proof that Scott can make even the strangest of things work. Ann dealing with Chris’ craziness wasn’t exactly new but I don’t think we’ve ever realised just how ridiculous he can be.
[Writing: B+; Directing: B+]

Grey’s Anatomy: “Take the Lead”; Season Eight, Episode Three [B/B+]
The show has entered this vaguely innocuous lilt where everything is nice enough, but sort of lacking a potent drama…and it’s making for a good TV, but not GREAT TV. Still, three episodes of fairly good, if not quite riveting stuff, is not something I care to complain about and hooray for plot development. Owen takes over as Chief of Surgery, and Bailey still bristling from Richard taking the fall for Meredith is not quite pleased. April is still getting acclimated to her Chief Resident status, and the two power couples Owen and Cristina and Meredith and Derek are working through their issues. No significant actor shines, but those cute ensemble moments work and even if April and Jackson are not quite Izzie and George the rapport between the quintet works. Having the generally douche-like Derek remind us of their wedding voice was a lovely beat, and was a fine example of the subtle continuity this show sometimes goes for.
[Writing: B/B+; Directing: B/B+]

Random Thoughts
  • How cool was Alicia and Kalinda out-bitching each other?
  • In an episode of startling images, Skyler watching Walt lose it at the end was just powerful.
  • One of the most interesting facets of the premiere was watching the characters’ transformations – just look at how worldly Margaret is now.
  • So, wasn’t Platt the best in show for this past season? just superb for me.
  • As silly as it was, how adorable was Lauren Graham lifting Mae Whitman out f the room with the rat. Adorable.
  • Holy crap, Kurt. You sang “The Greatest Star” as your audition song. Can you blame them for not thinking you’re a fit for Tony?
  • I suspect that we’re back to last season this time in terms of an April/Alex liaisons. Let’s see if it happens this time around.

Standout Performers
Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad A-
Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire B+
Anna Gunn in Breaking Bad B+
Jesse Tyler Ferguson in Modern Family B+
Oliver Platt in The Big C B+
Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation B+
Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire B+
Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife B+
Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire B+
Eric Stonestreet in Modern Family B+
Laura Linney in The Big C B+
Alan Cumming in The Good Wife B+
Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife B+
Alison Brie in Community B+
Nolan Gould in Modern Family B+
Julie Bowen in Modern Family B+


Greg Boyd said...

Glad to see I wasn't the only one unimpressed by this week's "Community". And that "Breaking Bad"... just magnificent.

Actually liked "The Office" quite a bit this week. Nothing brilliant, but thus far it hasn't fallen apart the way I think most (myself included) expected it to.

Paolo said...

I actually agree with how Claire is being presented, although I don't know if this is weirder/more machinated than what would happen if each of the Dunphys took turns on becoming the miserable one.

And this Modern Family episode is funnier than the one coming up.