March 27, 2013

The Big Bang Theory: "The Closet Reconfiguration" Review

The Big Bang Theory has been doing so many things right this season. Yes, sometimes this show goes for the cheap laugh; racial and sexual jokes were a mainstay of the first few seasons. But at it's best, TBBT is about the unlikely relationships among a quirky group of people played by authentically funny actors.

In television, where the future of a show always hangs in the balance of ratings and audience whim, it's character development that really counts. It's the only thing that ensures that writers don't repeat the same plots over and over, boring the finicky viewers who are oh-so-apt to reach for the remote. Season 6 has been chock-full of character development. Penny, although still surname-less, finally professed her love for Leonard and is making strides toward professional success. Sheldon confessed that his relationship with Amy might grow beyond what Season 1 Sheldon every would have allowed. Raj found a new love and planned the cutest socially awkward date ever. And then there's Howard. Darling, creepy Howard Wolowitz. "The Closet Reconfiguration" was my favorite episode so far this season. Dedicated to Howard more than any other character, it confronted his childhood and his father's departure by means of a letter read only by Sheldon.

Howard and Bernadette's relationship has always worked comedically, but now we see that it works dramatically as well. Just in case you didn't catch it, Leonard said it outright: "It's just kind of weird how grown up he is now. Happily married guy, throwing dinner parties." Having Sheldon read the letter from Howard's father was a stroke of brilliance. It balanced the seriousness of the situation with the levity viewers have come to expect.

The episode culminated in this beautiful scene:

See how the viewer is put in Howard's position? The state of both knowing and not knowing? So we viewers empathize. And not with Penny as we're usually prone to, but with Howard.

Unlike most sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory has improved with time. Season 6, and it's stronger than ever. With stronger storylines, and stronger characters. As long as that's the case, I'll keep watching.

March 25, 2013

Better Late Than Never? Part #3 - Revenge

There are a few dramas on ABC which I did not watch from the beginning but suspect might be worth my time. In this series, "Better Late Than Never?" I watch a few episodes of a show and let you know what I think as a latecomer. Was I better late than never?

Part #3: Revenge

From the promos, I gathered that this show was about a woman avenging her father's death. (As it turns out, she's actually avenging the fact that he was framed for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to life in prison.) I didn't know that the show is loosely based on Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. Revenge centers around the main character's duplicity. I joined the show in Season 2, Episode 16, "Illumination" and also watched this past week's, "Victory." In the course of her vengeance, Emily returns to her childhood summer home, takes on a false identity, and things get complicated. At least in the two episodes I watched, her true self seems always to be on the verge of being found out. So I was kept near, if not directly on, the edge of my seat.


The very cheesy intro graphics could have turned me away, but Revenge actually held my interest. The acting is solid - especially Emily VanCamp's  performance. Her "Emily Thorne" brings to mind Jennifer Garner's "Sydney Bristow." Perhaps because "Emily" is an alias, but also because VanCamp,  like Garner, excels at making the smooth transition between her honest serious face and her deceptive happy one. 

What I missed as a latecomer: A whole lot of plot. Who is trustworthy? I'm supposed to be on Emily's side, right? To whom is she telling the truth? To whom is she lying? I'm not sure, and as a latecomer, I'm definitely not sure what I'm already supposed to know. In addition to the vengeance plot line, there's a political plot line, a mob plot line, a business fraud plot line, and none of them seem particularly connected. If that sounds complicated, it's because this show is rife with complications. I have a feeling, though, that that's what makes it good. 

The Verdict: Better Late Than Never?
Maybe. Particularly if you are a fan of soaps, complex mystery plots, or shows about the lives of the 1%. But you'll have to be really committed, because you'll need to catch up. And it might not be worth it, as the critics aren't giving the second season very rave reviews

March 13, 2013

Survivor and the Ethics of Reality TV

In 2011, I read this article by Linda Holmes about the ethics of reality TV. In it, she laid out a proposed code that reality TV producers should follow. Read her article. And if you have time, read the ones she cites. (You can find the Seitz article here and the Dehnart one here.)

These articles, although they are two years old and mostly refer to non-competitive non-network reality shows, say most of what needs to be said in response to Brandon Hantz's breakdown on tonight's episode of Survivor

After last week's episode, when the promo for "Persona non Grata" came on, I was a little worried. Worried that I'd lose my willingness to watch this show if the outburst wasn't dealt with well. But all in all, I think the Survivor crew dealt with it ok. Even though a vote technically took place, it was clear that Brandon was being removed from the game. Twitter is scattered right now with snide comments - from fans and former contestants - that Jeff's physical calming and restraint of Brandon in the midst of his tirade was awkward or strange. I don't think so. I think it was necessary. In that moment, I almost wondered if Jeff Probst is a trained crisis counselor.

This episode was unquestionably hard to watch. And the producers probably could have more responsibly and ethically handled the unstable state of things on the Caramoan islands. Perhaps by not bringing back a contestant who proved himself not fit for the task the first time around. But before we blame CBS or anyone else, consider something Rebecca Hertz once said about a show she produced. "There are no victims in reality TV, only volunteers."

The ironic part is that Brandon was right about so many things. About Phillip's egomania, the childishness of Stealth R Us, and the fact that Boston Rob is the only reason Phillip made it to the end of "Redemption Island." He was right about so many things. His mistake was pointing them out. 

The only other thing that needs to be said was articulated so well by Dawn when Jeff asked if the Bikal tribe was better off. "Brandon is better off, and that's better for the tribe." I hope so.

March 12, 2013

Better Late Than Never? Part #2 - Once Upon A Time

There are a few dramas on ABC which I did not watch from the beginning but suspect might be worth my time. In this series, "Better Late Than Never?" I watch a few episodes of a show and let you know what I think as a latecomer. Was I better late than never?

Part #2: Once Upon A Time

I joined this show in season 2, episode 15, "The Queen is Dead." I had high hopes, as I am a fan of all things fantasy. A world where multiple fairy tales collide sounded right up my alley.

Alas, my first impressions weren't very positive ones. I found that the acting was overdone, the effects were cheesy, and the plot moved incredibly slow. Soap opera slow. Here's a recap: The wicked stepmother and her mother sought out and eventually found Rumpelstiltskin's dagger, while the rest of the characters, who I gather are the good guys, tried to stop this from happening. I say "gather are the good guys" because I was inclined, as I watched this episode, to side with Regina, the wicked stepmother. This was primarily because Lana Parrilla delivers better than anyone else in the cast. Which is in itself confusing, because all of these stars are fine actors. This leads me to believe that the problem is with the writing. Take Sunday night's episode, "The Miller's Daughter," for example. How on earth was Jennifer Morrison supposed to deliver the joke about the invisible chalk without sounding corny? "I drew the invisible line - I think." Really? Episode 16 was supposed to be a big one, judging by how ABC marketed it. They got all #OneWillDie hashtag happy.
Frankly, I wasn't very concerned about the impending death. I was too distracted by the spinning wheel scene - à la Ghost. Was it supposed to be evil and frightening? Sexy? Whatever. The plot device that characters can live with their hearts outside their bodies was equally distracting. Because I'm not sure why that worked, I'm also not exactly sure why or how Cora died.

What I missed as a latecomer: Everything, it seems! But most importantly, the timeline. It was difficult to follow what was happening in the present and what was a flashback. (Or are they flashing sideways? This is, after all, another show from the writers/producers of Lost - but not the ones you'd remember - this guy and this guy.) While the exposition delivered in Lost's flashes back or sideways serves to further the plot, these fairy tale flashes in Once Upon A Time only serve to slow it down. The timeline was made even more confusing by the fact that four women who looked to be not fifteen years apart on age are, in fact, four generations of the same family. (Am I wrong, OUAT fans?) 

The Verdict: Better Late Than Never?
No. It seems you had to watch this show from the beginning in order to appreciate it. If I had, I might love it. But I don't think I'll watch Once Upon A Time again. Especially since it's up against The Amazing Race, which makes for a more relaxing Monday morning eve.

March 5, 2013

Better Late Than Never? Part #1 - Nashville

There are a few dramas on ABC which I did not watch from the beginning but suspect might be worth my time. In this series, "Better Late Than Never?" I watch a few episodes of a show and let you know what I think as a latecomer. Was I better late than never?

Part #1: Nashville

Overall impressions: I have watched the past three episodes of Nashville, and I'm hooked. In "I've Been Down That Road Before," it was the song Consider Me that glued my eyes to the screen. What's great about this show is the fact that it's willing to take a hard look at the entertainment industry, but in a new way. Not as reality trash, or as a CW soap, but as a well-scripted, masterfully-acted drama. By the time the plot really got moving in "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight," I was invested in the characters' lives. And that's thanks in no small part to the stellar acting from every member of the cast. Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton deserved those Golden Globe nominations. And in my opinion, Nashville is worthy of an Emmy nod as well. You may be thinking that a show about a rivalry between a seasoned professional and a young star isn't for you. What if I told you it wasn't about that at all?

Biggest asset: The music, which is no surprise, since the show's musical director is T-Bone Burnett. Buddy Miller is one of the music producers as well. To be honest, had I known those talents were behind this show, I would have started watching from the first episode. Nashville's soundtrack is already in my Amazon cart. Panettiere and Britton's musical chops make their whole characters entirely believable. But it's Clare Bowen that really wows me. Listen to this:

What I missed as a latecomer: Some relationship set-up. Because I didn't see what held it together in the first place, I lack a little bit of context as Rayna and Teddy's marriage falls apart. Similarly, I'm a little lost as to why I, as the viewer, am supposed to care about Avery's storyline. It seems to be peripheral to the plot that matters. 

The Verdict: Better Late Than Never? 
Definitely. This show has become a staple of my weekly TV schedule. Not only that, but I hope to catch up on what I missed over the summer. I'm thrilled that I found this show during its first season. I'll admit I am nervous to get too excited. ABC is quick to drop shows that are this expensive to produce. I learned that lesson the hard way when I fell for Pan Am. I can only hope that more viewers find, as I have, that this show is worth watching, even if they haven't been watching it up 'til now. 

March 2, 2013

Survivor: Caramoan "There's Gonna Be Hell to Pay" Review

The second episode of Survivor ("Honey Badger") was a bit of a snooze. A lot of focus on the self-elected tribe leaders, Phillip and Shamar. I would have been happier to see a bit more of Gota's cool-kids clique. Was it just me, or did Reynold seem to be holding back tears when Allie's torch was extinguished? And Reynold's last minute idol-find could have been much more dramatic.  

In "There's Gonna Be Hell to Pay," one of the best moments was once again  at Tribal Council. The three way tie was a nice bit of excitement, but ended up only hurting the unpopular foursome. Not enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. I think the problem is with Gota. Yeah, they're bad at the challenges, but also relatively uninteresting. At least, what we're seeing of them. Next week, I might be rooting for the Fans to win the challenge, if only because I'd like to see the Favorites in more than just the pre-challenge half of the episode.

Gordon Holmes's recap of the episode over at the Xfinity TV blog is well worth your time. (As is following him on twitter.) In his recap, he joked about "some crew member named Julia." He's not wrong. Increasingly over time, and more distinctly this season, Survivor has inclined toward a structure of lead and supporting characters. In Caramoan, it's not just Julia who's been cast in a minor role. Brenda, Erik, and Michael seem to be on the outskirts of this season's plots, as well. And Cochran's only shining moment was his mini-commercial for the show within the show.

I'm not sure whether or not I like this new structure. Certainly, there's no point in giving contestants airtime just for the sake of it, and I suppose there are some contestants being overlooked because they won't be around much longer. But I have a feeling the plot could be more interesting if it was less simplified. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, it will be. Otherwise, this might be a disappointing season.