Review Grab-Bag ’11: TELL-O-VISION

The Wire It has its flaws: meanderings, points of oversimplification and sheer unbelievability, and a four-season struggle to reach the tightness of the first season’s monumentally successful story arc. Yet it’s still probably the best thing that has ever been on television. Ever. So there.

Boardwalk Empire Contrived, constructed, with little insight and no particular sense of agency. It is, not epic, but An Epic; it is, in short, really very dull.

I would also like to say that the idea of “we will show people doing something in time X that did not cease to be taboo until sometime-after-X” is just, not, interesting. At best it requires us to wonder if there are really any people left in the world who think that they invented the blowjob. At worst it is steampunk, and fuck.

Dollhouse Oh, good God, it’s actual science fiction. I recommend it highly. Even though, when it’s bad, it’s fucking painful… when it’s good, it makes a Philip K. Dick get his wings.

First off, the bad:

-The opening scene is stupid. People doing 20mph on motorbikes do not grab the gonads. They tickle them. And then I start laughing. And then I change channels.

-Many of the subsequent scenes are just as corny.

-And subsequent episodes.

-Oh jesus.

-Many of the Things attempted by the show – locales, actions, etc. – were clearly done on a very constrained budget. Considering such constraints, they should not have been attempted. When they occurred in the Dollhouse, as in the bay of the good ship Serenity, they worked well enough; at worst they were campy, and made you want to pull for poor-them (and their poor producers). When they occurred outside, they are juvenile in their lack of completeness; without proper resources (or a sufficiently able director), they should not have been undertaken. They are juvenile for the one prime reason that an adult should have known better.

-In Medias Res is well and good, but only to define a metaplot. Introducing characters through monster-of-the-week episodes does little when the characters have no real raison d’etre. Echo doesn’t begin to get interesting until after she’s had several episodes entirely about her. During each of them she is exposed to some form of Mortal Danger; during most of them, I rather wished she’d succumb.

-Actually, I’ll just go ahead and say that most of the first season’s “assignments” were quite a-dry, Bob. They felt less like constrained narratives and more like bland-ass digressions. Which is what happens (say it with me now) when you don’t have a strong metaplot.

-The overarching “Alpha” arc of the first season is a little flat. It isn’t enough to drive a whole series, but beyond that: it comes to a head predictably, and it ends flat and unsatisfying (and that tired sin, open-for-sequalization). I will say this: if it hadn’t been for Ala Tudyk, the fans would got up and walked out of their own living-rooms. And rightly so.

-Several of the plots of the second season are resolved with eye-numbing rapidity. In attempting to condense several seasons of bible down to one episode, dullness was very much eliminated… but at the expense, at times, of reasonable duration and of continuity.

-The Season Two Twist made me want to take the writing team out behind the woodshed. Where I would then administer a paddling. With a chainsaw.

-Tamoh Penikett is like the Keanu Reeves of scifi TV shows. THAT’S NOT A COMPLIMENT.

-Joss Whedon should probably not be allowed to direct things. (He and George Lucas can commiserate over this)

-As the series progressed, I cared about Echo less and less.

-The retconning of Echo’s past was about as forced as the insertion of a colorectal probe

-Rossum’s status as Purveyor of Evil was heavy-handed. More than that: it was unnecessarily. They could have brought down the Four Horseman through greed or hubris. Instead they did it because they wore a black hat: a waste.

But let’s be fair: I only really beat up on things that I love. So let’s take a look at the (mostly) good:

-Eliza Dushku can really and truly act. (To the extent that sometimes I wished she would ham it up a little more, in accordance with the remainder of the series.)

-Fran Kranz is DELIGHTFUL. I want to see him play Puck. Possibly Hamlet, while we’re about it.

-Harry Lennix can act. When he’s not being made part of the most r-tiddly-tarded plot twists in the history of all the things.

-Amy Acker can act. When she’s not having four seasons worth of plot development crammed into three episodes, she is exceptionally sympathetic.

-It goes without saying that Olivia Williams is a pleasure to watch. Even if she does look from time to time like she’s wondering what the ass she’s doing in such a show… which rather fits with her character.

-Whiskey in a necktie. Jesus fucking ERECTION.

-Enver Gjokaj performs admirably – as well proving himself an exceptionally versatile actor. I’d be very curious to see him in another performance. And what is a Joss Whedon show for, if not to launch your career?

-Dichen Lachman performs admirably – as with Enver, her portray of (in essence) another Topher is just mind-bendingly charming. She is also, for all intents, the star of the series finale. Also she will always be what I think of when I hear the phrase “a fox.” So there.

-Alan Tudyk acts more with his body than many actors do with words or faces. He also managed to bring doubt to a particularly obvious plot twist – and that’s not nothing. His performance in the final episode helped take what might be considered cliché summations and make them into a rising crescendo of catharsis and satisfaction. Also: that three-piece suit.

-The conceit of having every character play every other character… was more enjoyable than a butterscotch blowjob.

-It managed to raise questions without delving into pop philosophy or gooey spirituality. For that, I give it the name: Science Fiction.

-The post-apocalyptic plotline was captivating. The unaired ‘post-final’ episode of Season One made me want to watch Season 2 in a way that all the episodes of Season 1 had not. The finale of Season 2, and of the series as a whole, made me want to watch an entire series based thereupon. It wasn’t particularly new, perhaps… but it was well done.

-The series finale, in all its comic-booky melodramatic Fallout-lovin’ glory, was some of the best media I have ever enjoyed. Topher’s last scene brought tears to my eyes. Big ones. Big hairyball fanboy salty tears.

-I cared about the fates of several characters. I can’t think of two other series where this was true. I was engaged in their lives. I felt agency, agency in sympathy with theirs. I… no, I think that’s about all that needs to be said. That’s all that needs saying. That’s all that a TV show needs to be…

…good.

Breaking Bad An interesting plot is used to catalyze a near-infinite amount of faffing about. And the faff is flavored by suburban existential despair. All in all, I’d rather smoke meth.

Battlestar Galactica It had a little energy… but it suffered, rather, from being unremittingly bad.

Mnad Mnoob The energy of the final episode of Season 3 of Mad Men was perhaps the highest I have ever seen in television. It was righteous and riotous and desperate and dirty and glamorous and gritty and you really felt that the characters were fighting. That they were controlling their destiny. That you wanted to jump in and join. Then in Season 4 they made waffles until Matt “The Puppetmaster” Weiner showed up and stuck his dick in everywhere. And they were so close.

Community, Big Bang Theory, et. al. I can only imagine how hard I would have to work at my job, how much stress I would have to have in life, how much my life would have, in short, to stink, before I found any of these shows actually funny. Watching them, I can only think how very lucky I am. (Doubly so, for then I can TURN THEM OFF.)

The Walking Dead The first season (okay, the first five episodes) were especially tight, fast-paced, urgent, imminent, immersive in their audience-including sense of agency, of surmountable desperation. The final episode of the first season was that vague pseudo-philosophical kind of ‘interesting’ that gets lacquered onto a certain type of Mainstream Media the way God or Titties go onto other kinds. But I’m just going to pretend that S1E6 didn’t exist because E1-5 were by-and-large delightful, their flaws thoroughly excusable by virtue of the fact that they made me want to experience the collapse of civilization so that I could run for my life and THAT’S REALLY RATHER IMPRESSIVE now isn’t it?

But then Season 2 decided to dip itself so deep into Pop Existentialism (to say nothing of the other members of the Axis of Banal: Deity, Dismemberment and Dicks) that it drowned for episodes at a time. It lost much of its urgency; the dialogue became an exercise of freshman-level pedantry, and it was cable so there weren’t even any good tits. I am worried that the series will be unable to rediscover the urgency experienced in the first season. (This could probably be cured by having condensed the second season, as the first, into fewer episodes. But this is network TV, so clearly that’s crazy talk, not worth even discussing.)

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~ by davekov on 24 December 2011.

One Response to “Review Grab-Bag ’11: TELL-O-VISION”

  1. My solution to this problem: I do not own a TV.

    Also, regarding, “Joss Whedon should probably not be allowed to direct things. (He and George Lucas can commiserate over this)”:

    YES

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