Thursday, February 24, 2005

Well Treat My Williams! (Return to TV, Part 2)

Along with all the other catch-up I've been playing, I've been getting through old issues of Entertainment Weekly, and just yesterday read two articles that relate to the first half of this post. First, Gillian Flynn expressed her disappointment in Alias. Where I see "back-to-basics," she sees "repetition." And while I think they've handled the Sloane situation in a reasonably believable way, she shrewdly observed that "disliking your boss isn't so unusual, but it's often due to a disagreeable management style, not the slaughter of loved ones." Good point. But Flynn and I both liked the episode where Vaughn and Syd went undercover in a training camp for Russian terrorists who were preparing to infiltrate the American suburbs. I meant to mention this but forgot in my rush to get caught up. As clever as Alias can be, it often forgets to bring the funny. In fact, that was one of the biggest problems last season: everything was so heavy and dark and important, it got to be oppressive. And Marshall's twitchy brand of comic relief can only go so far. So I thought it was great to see a comic episode driven by Syndney and Vaughn, and allowing Garner and Vartan to show off their great natural chemistry (curse you, Ben Affleck!!) [I must pause here to tell you how terrifying it is that Microsoft's spell-checker already knows the word Affleck.] I liked the vaguely meta element of Americans playing Russians playing Americans. And that helicopter crash was just cool!

Flynn, like me, is also a Rambaldi fan, and finds the integration of Nadia awkward. The existence of Sydney's sister, you'll recall, was an awkwardly and suddenly added plot device, designed to get the writers of the trap they created for themselves when they decided that Sloane shouldn't be Syd's biological father after all. That's not me being snarky, JJ Abrams said exactly that in the Times last spring. So obviously they have to see her existence through, and just dropping her would only make her intrusion more obvious, but I'm finding it all very very annoying. Mostly all the "I'll risk everything to save my sister!" crap, since these two have only known of each other's existence for a few months.

Ah ha, but I knew it was all building to something. Last night's episode gave us [highlight text to un-spoiler-proof] Rambaldi galore, Anna Espinosa (season one shoutout and the lovely Gina Torres), Sark, and Nadia in a coma! Things are definitely getting complicated again!

Elsewhere in EW, Stephen King used his column to teach us "The 14 Lessons of 24." He, bizarrely, likes Chloe, but he also points out that the ticking clock "rushes us past any inconsistencies," and that "the technology always screws up...those tracking satellites are especially pesky, but the darn computers aren't much better; they always seem to be full of worms and viruses." Hmm...maybe they should use Macs? Huge gaping holes in credibility like these are what really turn me off about the show. King seems to like it, but to each his own, I guess.

Sliding down to the world of teen dramas, The OC is still my favorite of the current crop. I fell a little behind due to a DVR mix-up and I'm still not caught up (I got a tape of the one I missed, but my schedule is all off now), but I've been enjoying the season since Chrismukkah, which may have been the best episode ever (Yamaclaus!). It was a bumpy start this year, with the awkward dating and writing out Jimmy (an odd choice, if you ask me) and Seth being suddenly the most irritating person on earth, but Chrismukkah had the perfect blend of high drama, smart comedy, and Melrose Place absurdity, with equal weight given to the kids' and the adults' stories – in other words, what this show is known for. Since then it's been smooth sailing, though I've noticed that the writers have been taking some cheap and easy approaches lately. These characters aren't exactly rocket scientists, but one of the things I like about the show is that even the "dumb" ones aren't at all stupid. Lately there's been a lot of really lame behavior clearly inspired by nothing more than a writer's need for a plot device, and that's annoying. Ryan leaves his very drunk girlfriend, who wants to go swimming in the ocean at night, inches from the tide line to go get her food? Seth draws (Seth draws? That's convenient new information!) every single character, including Summer, from memory, but Summer has to go pose awkwardly for him? Sandy lies to his extremely perceptive wife about an old flame who happens to be an ex-fugitive and previously believed dead?? Well, I did say I liked the Melrose-style absurdity, so I guess I have to take what I get.

I don't have much to say about the more dramatic world of Everwood, except that after a brief dip I'm really into it again. Once everyone stopped being so whiny and self-absorbed (sorry, Anne Heche, I like you but it was time to go) it got completely compelling. They've suffered a little bit from the same problem The OC has – people doing completely out-of-character things just to nudge the plot along. How dare Dr. Abbot tell Amy about Madison's pregnancy!?! It would be one thing if Ephram knew and was keeping it from her, but to put that kind of burden on your 16-year-old daughter is completely unacceptable. Especially when she already spends all her time acting like the weight of the world is on her shoulders anyway. Oh well, it looks like that whole arc is going to blow up next week, which is good. One thing Everwood has always been good at is consequences. It's nice to see that Dr. Brown isn't going to get away with his dreadfully inappropriate choice, and it's been nice to see Treat Williams getting to play some range. Though what the hell happened to Delia? Did she get shipped off to boarding school with Kaitlin Cooper?

And elsewhere on The WB, Jack and Bobby continues to perplex me. Mostly I'm perplexed by why I'm still watching it. It's gotten better, I have to say. They've toned down Grace's bipolarity, making her more believable and likeable, and they've made the teen stories more interesting. I like the new girl and guy Jack and Courtney are seeing (respectively, not like some kind of weird high school orgy), and there's less of Missy's whining. They've also laid off the whole "Bobby got a wedgie when he was 12 and that's why he brought about peace in the Middle East" thing, which is a relief. Still, though, the documentary sequences are the most interesting thing about the show for me. On the one hand, it's clever how the story of Bobby's presidency unfolds in tiny bits and pieces, but on the other I'd rather see West Wing Futurama with these people than watch the modern-day plots. This week's big mystery is why they cast an actress so much less attractive than Courtney to play Old Courtney. And more importantly, why they lit her so she looked dead, then put whore red lipstick on her. Very distracting. Anyway, it says something, I guess, that I didn't delete it in DVR cleanout. I figure I'll finish out the season and see where it leads. Obviously, I do enjoy it. A little bit. It's fun.

And then there's HBO (it's not TV, remember), where nothing is fun at all. I hate hate hate Unscripted. Hate it. First off, I liked Waiting for Guffman as much as the next guy (if not a little bit more), but I'm against the trend towards semi-improvised shows. The thing about improv is, it's often not funny! True, when you're doing it on film you can keep trying until you find something why is nothing funny about Unscripted? More to the point, to we really need another show about actors? Oooh, actors are wacky! Actors are stupid! Actors are self-involved! Most of the actors I know (and I know a great many) are none of those things. Okay, maybe self-involved, but who am I to talk, I have a blog! Granted, the actors who I hang out with outside of work aren't overly wacky or stupid or self-involved, or else I wouldn't be hanging out with them, and LA is a different world from New York. But come on, making up something absurd on your resume and then bringing it to the casting director who cast the film you made up a credit for? And I'm supposed to feel sorry for these people? The show is just a series of awkward moments. Is it a cautionary tale against going into the entertainment business? These are fairly likeable, charming performers, and I can only hope that the versions of themselves they're playing are heavily fictionalized. Though that seems like a bad career move, since people will assume they're just playing themselves. Mostly I just don't give a crap. Maybe it would be more illuminating if I weren't in the business myself, but I'd rather watch The It Factor, or even Fame for a more entertaining look at what performers go through. Gillian Flynn in EW again: "Perhaps the crew behind Unscripted believes we'll find the mechanics of acting enthralling simply because it's about acting. The theory is both smug and wrong." I watched the first week of the show and promptly canned it. I've been told it's picked up some momentum, but I can't manage to care even a little bit.

Carnivale, meanwhile, has even less momentum than Lost. What's more, it's apparently necessary to read the website to fully understand what's happening on the show, and that's unfair. Maybe I just don't pay enough attention, but I still don't understand who the tattooed man is, who Scudder is, who the hell is "the Russian" they keep referring to, what the bear and Lodz have to do with any of it. The dream sequences are obviously important, but they're edited so choppily that I never know who anyone really is. Plus, they took a break of almost a year between seasons, so how are we supposed to remember anything? Meanwhile, there are weeks where nothing really happens, which is tedious, and, like Lost, new cans of worms are opened without answering any of the existing questions. I like a good moody/quirky/supernatural/complicated mystery just fine, but come on! Of course at this point I'm so invested in the damn thing I have to keep watching, but I have a feeling the big reveal, if there ever is one, will just be a big What the Fuck. As long as Ben doesn't whack his head into a mirror and start saying "How's Annie" over and over again.

To end on a positive note, everyone MUST watch Robot Chicken, which may just be the funniest, most brilliant 11-minute TV show ever. It's a little hard to explain. Well, no it's not: Seth Green and some of his friends got a bunch of money from the Cartoon Network to take toys from their childhood and use stop-motion animation to put them in bizarre situations. The first episode featured Optimus Prime getting a prostate exam, Cylons from Battlestar Galactica falling down for no apparent reason, and the Scarecrow in Oz...the prison. There's plenty of non-referential material too, that doesn't involve referencing other shows/toys, but still features very odd use of action figures. Trust me, it's brilliant. And at only 11 minutes, there's no time for the joke to wear thin. You must check it out.

Aaahhhh... it feels good to be caught up! Coming soon: games, music, movies, and gadgets (hello, Roomba!).

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