May 22, 2014

Finale Reviews: Hart of Dixie Season 3 - "Second Chance"

Hart of Dixie, how you surprise me in the ways I least expect! Seriously, of all the twists and turns the Season 3 finale brought us, the resurrection of Season 1's secret love affair was the one that nearly knocked me out of my chair. I literally gasped. Audibly. Ok,  I guess if I had seen this post on Facebook, I'd have had more of a clue: 

Lavon and Lemon - Will they get a "Second Chance"?

But I was unusually absent from social media in the days leading up to "Second Chance," and I'm sort of glad. It was a fun surprise to hear the choruses of "no, no, no!" in that Southern drawl and that beautifully staged and filmed moment. Two men, united by the woman they love, separated from her by what's about to be miles of open ocean, face each other against a backdrop as blue as their spirits. I am so thrilled with this show, which continues to improve as the seasons go by. I'd say it deserves a better network, but hey, I love the CW, and what I'd actually mean is that it deserves more viewers. Now that we know Hart of Dixie will be back this fall, I have all the more reason to be excited by the finale - its romance, its surprises, and its quirky, hiccuppy charm.

Rachel Bilson's characters sure do have bad luck with coffee cart moments. She opens her heart up with confessions of love and what does she get? Squat. But Zoe isn't Summer. Even better, Season 3 Zoe isn't Season 1 Zoe. This time, she's not giving up. And thank goodness. Sometimes a show has to just go for it with the characters played by the actors who have the most chemistry. Even though I think it was clear from the pilot that it was Wade, and not George, that Zoe was destined for, any hope for George went out the window once Bilson and Bethel began their banter. (Fun fact - Wilson Bethel features in the original coffee cart moment.)

But on to the cliffhanger - let's address the love triangle from Season 1. The beauty in that final missed opportunity, as the "S.S. Desperation" pulled away from from the dock with the love of these two men's lives, was that it set up next season to tie up a loose end that's been buggin' me for awhile now. Earlier in the episode, when George and Lavon sat sippin' beers and then galavanted off on a guy adventure to meet Don Todd, I had a fleeting thought of, "how the heck are these two men friends?" They weren't really friends before Lavon cuckolded George by his affair with Lemon, and that certainly didn't bring them closer. It took awhile, but the Wade/Zoe/George love triangle worked itself out into the beautiful Zoe/Wade relationship that clearly had to happen (and will again, I'm sure.) The George/Lemon/Lavon triangle, on the other hand, was never worked out at all. George left Lemon at the altar, only to be rejected by Zoe and spiral into despair and also the arms of Tansy. Lemon was upset, at first, with Annabeth for dating Lavon, but rebounded remarkably quickly to a host of Southern gentlemen, as well as gardeners, in the second and third seasons.

So do these characters move on from romantic relationships remarkably and perhaps unbelievably quickly? Sure. Here's why I think that's ok. This show isn't about bitterness. This show is about happiness. And I love that it shows that forgiveness is a step on the road to happiness. Still, leaving the George/Lemon/Lavon triangle unsettled would have been too unbelievable, and bringing it back now is a fantastic story choice.

You know what else this show isn't about? Villains. Yes, I've said it before and I'll say it again. What I love about Hart of Dixie is that it proves when you write honest, flawed characters, you get a honest feeling from a show. And it won't matter what situations are contrived for them, they'll seem real. That's why Lemon couldn't remain a villain for more than the first few episodes of the first season, and it's why the audience will care about the next choice she'll have to make. This show is just about people trying to make it work despite the fact that they get in their own way. Ok, I'll say it. On the whole, Hart of Dixie is about second chances. What happens when you get them, and what happens when you miss them. Am I getting a little sentimental? Eh, ok. I don't care. That's what finales are there for. Hart of Dixie gave us a great one. A finale that was complete in and of itself, as well as a reflection of the show in its entirety. I watched it twice in two days. I don't know how I'll make it through the summer without Bluebell.

May 15, 2014

Finale Reviews: Community Season 5 / Series Finale

"We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year…"

A good friend of mine and fan of Community pointed out to me this week how poignant the show's theme song was on the day its cancellation was announced. Apparently, all the reasons NBC kept this show on the air one by one just faded away.

Consequently, "Basic Sandwich," which aired on April 17, 2014, constituted not only the end of the fifth season of Community, but will also (probably, although I suppose not certainly) serve as the series finale. Darkest Timeline, indeed, for a show to end just one season and one movie short of its catchphrase.

13 episodes does not constitute a full season in my book. And it's equally a shame that "Basic Sandwich," which stood alone on its air-night but so obviously should have been the second half of an hour long episode - will just have to do for a finale.

Not that the episode wasn't good. It was. Did it have some plotholes? Sure. Some frighteningly melodramatic moments? Absolutely. For example, take the conclusion. How does having Russell Borchert as Vice Dean solve all of Greendale's problems? Chang has diamond teeth now, so it isn't even as though they got his money. And melodrama? Out the wazoo. I mean, the emphatic shushing would have been expected from the Dean, but was overkill from the group at large. It did not elicit a laugh from this viewer.

But in spite of all that, it was a solid episode. And it spite of its worst episodes and its low fourth season, Community was (is? sigh.) a solid show. And it's a show I'll miss. Maybe not as much as I miss The Office a year after its finale, but I'll miss it.

Shirley, Hickey, and Duncan really drew the short straw on this episode, didn't they? Well, either that or they took one for the team. But honestly, keeping Shirley upstairs excluded her from Jeff's emotional, door-opening, life-saving, flashback moment. And that's a real shame, because the Shirley/Jeff dynamic that was solidified in the season 3 episode "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" is one of the deeper, more meaningful connections I've seen on the show.

Speaking of Jeff's big moment, it was beautiful. Fantastical as the plot setup was, Jeff's experience of emotion was as perfect a conclusion to his character arc as we could hope for. Well, actually his speech at the conclusion of season 3 (found ridiculously in five parts here, here, here, here, and here) more accurately bookended his character by echoing but refuting his speech from the pilot. I still loved his emotional moment with his friends - his community - in the sealed off, dusty, forgotten Greendale Computery College. Even though Shirley wasn't there, and even though the audio flashbacks weren't quite as powerful as actual visual shots would have been. Despite what Abed says, I'll contend that this show really was about Jeff, and to see him grow to the point where his love can solve the problem instead of his arrogance creating it? That's beautiful.

Community ought to go down in history as the anti-TV show. Consider the finale episode's anti-love story between Jeff and Britta. They begin the penultimate episode of the season with a decision to be together forever, and in the critical moment of the adventure, Britta and Jeff don't grasp one another's hands, they let go. The friendships on this show are anti-friendships. Or at the least, unlikely. And not the kind of unlikely that sitcoms usually pretend are odd couples but are actually as common as bad reality shows on cable. This was a show about a group of authentic misfits. Moreoever, Community made fun of itself and of TV in a remarkably funny way. Honestly, the fact that it lasted five seasons is unreal and something to be celebrated.

Now, this post would not be complete without a shoutout to Subway. Oh, Subway. You have done so much for my favorite NBC comedies. You helped Chuck out when times were tough for the Nerd Herd, allowed your slogan to cameo with Ryan Howard on The Office, and now, allowed your company to be the villain of Greendale. I'll get a five dollar footlong this week just to say thanks.

So let's talk about Abed for a bit, and all his meta-commentary on what this episode and show are and mean. "This show, Annie, it isn't just their show. This is our show," he reassures her, and launches into a hurried analysis of spin-offs and sitcoms and all that we who love TV love to hate about TV. It was one of my favorite moments in the episode. But it wasn't the moment that had the most to say about the show itself. That award goes to Annie and the line, "We were driven down here by sellouts with crappy values. Since when do human beings decide which dreams are worthwhile?" If the sellouts doesn't accurately describe the network execs who'd cancel Community, I don't know what word would.

Of course, I'm going with Abed on this one. Community has ended because, in that universe, an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization. That's canon. But Community will always be a show I can return to. And I will, if only in my head every time I hear "Roxanne." And now, every time I hear "Ants Marching."  Community has made an incredible impact on television, particularly network television. I'm convinced of that. It mobilized its fan base like no show before it, and it was always in on the joke. The NBC joke, the sitcom joke, the fact that it was the butt of the joke. Community was possibly the most self-aware television show there ever was. As evidenced by their credits roll coda "Coming Soon to NBC." After all, what airs always does depend on what fails. Sorry to see you go, Community. Whatever new show takes your time slot has a tough act to follow. Maybe now the networks will get better at taking the advice from that theme song

"So watch what you throw away; And be here to recognize; There's another way." 


May 4, 2014

May the 4th Be With You: A Star Wars Day Review of The Big Bang Theory's Star Wars Day Episode

Clever of The Big Bang Theory's writers to pen a Star Wars Day episode, wasn't it? Would have been even more clever if it actually aired today, but then again, like many viewers, I'm sure, I watched on days after the original airing anyway.

"The Proton Transmogrification" brought back Bob Newhart in his role as "Professor Proton." While his lines didn't quite keep up with TBBT's quick pace, the 85-year-old actor proves that he's still got it when it comes to effective comedic delivery. Unfortunately, this may be the last we'll see of Newhart on the show, since this episode focused on his death (and subsequent Obi-Wan Kenobi-eqsue reappearance.) Of course, the character's demise was not in vain, as it served as a device for the character development of Sheldon Cooper, who grieved his hero's death in his own way.

Sad to say, though, what disappointed me most in the episode was seeing one of the other characters grow very little. Is it just me, or does Penny become more of a brat with every passing episode? She no longer merely makes fun of the nerdy interests of the "boys," but also expresses an unattractive anger at herself for her own participation in their interests. Sure, Penny's had her moments - like her accidental I love you - but this season, I sense an unfortunate stagnation in her character growth. Or worse, alongside characters making meaningful changes, Penny has simply become a caricature of all the worst aspects of the girl next door trope.

Meanwhile, the Star Wars references continued throughout the episode in what I found to be a perfect combination of homage and teasing. After all, you need to get in a few jabs at Jar-Jar on any Star Wars Day. I particularly liked the abundance of Star Wars apparel, the funny, punny names for the gang's Star Wars themed fare, and the mention of the recently viral "machete order" of marathoning the films.

Other than the aforementioned character development problem, The Big Bang Theory gave us a great Star Wars Day, and I'm hoping this holiday - and maybe even Sheldon's new Obi-Wan - returns in some of the many future seasons TBBT  has already secured.