LOST: Season 2

ULTRA-MEGA REVIEW!!!

Note: This review was mostly written before Dan decided to call me out, which is kinda coincidental, but in which case will read less like I’m defending myself (which he pre-assumed I’d be writing in response), and more like a straightforward and attemptedly (yes, I said “attemptedly”) unbiased review. I’ve also written it before the airing of the season finale, which may be unfair (due to possible “wrapping up” of plots, or paying off of loose ends from earlier), but may in actuality be more fair due to the fact that I’m not blinded by my opinion of the single episode, keeping me honest about the rest of the season.Also, I apologize for the extreme longwindedness.


I wonder if their island Abercrombie takes American Express.
I guess I should just be happy that they’re all looking in the same direction in this group shot.

With Dan’s take on “the current TV landscape” overtly lacking any mention of the rise of drama and fall of comedy (only 13 hours a week among the five networks devoted to comedies for next fall, as opposed to 47 for dramas… of course that’s counting Desperate Housewives as a drama), I thought I’d focus on a few hour-long shows in my next set of reviews.

First and foremost, my current favorite drama, and the winner of last year’s Emmy and Golden Globe in the category. LOST’s Season 2 managed to expand the world of the show enormously, but still keep viewers in the dark as to the overall picture, and wanting more answers, sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing.

For those of you who haven’t watched any of the show at all, it’s probably best for you to start at the beginning, partly because there’s so much going on, and partly just because the first season is a lot better. The show revolves around the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. There’s a huge cast of characters, including the doctor, the Korean couple, the fugitive, the con-man, the ex-druggie rock star, the pregnant Australian girl, the rich brother and sister, the mysterious and wise bald man, the black guy and his estranged son, the Iraqi military man, and of course, the fat guy….. Whew, I think that’s all of them. There apparently were 38 total survivors, but these are the only ones we spend any real time with. The other 24 people are usually just random extras walking around in the background, who somehow never have anything interesting to do in the way of advancing the story. While learning how to get along and how to survive together, they encounter various different strange things, including some sort of monster that uproots trees and kills people, some polar bears, a strange French radio transmission that says “it killed them all”, and has been playing for sixteen years… and that’s only in the first two hours.

Whereas the first season included events that seemed strange, and you could just say, “They’re on a strange island”, season 2 tried to give vague answers to the questions about the oddities, and at the same time, keep viewers intrigued by keeping them in the dark, revealing the story little by little. Of course with each “answer” comes at least 3 more questions. It’s this dragging on of the answers that drives most people to keep watching. There are those, however, who are frustrated by the whole thing, and are too cynical, or just would rather watch shows that wrap up nicely every episode. Personally, I’m a fan of the shows with huge overarching stories and cliffhangers meant to keep me tuned in. It means the characters must be well-developed and we feel an attachment to them more than if we just see them solving a case or healing someone. I also enjoy those types of shows, because while adhering to the serialized nature of old-time movies (the ones your grandparents tell you about seeing for a nickel every Saturday), they tend to be the ones challenging the rules and format of television shows, breaking new ground and taking us places we’ve never been. I tend to shy away from cop shows and hospital shows, because in essence, Grey’s Anatomy is Chicago Hope is St. Elsewhere, and it’s been done to death, usually by the same people (cough cough, Steven Bochco, David E. Kelly). Lastly, I’ll just admit that usually when I’m interested in an episode of something and it ends in a cliffhanger, I will be the sucker that P.T. Barnum was talking about, and I will desire to see a suspenseful moment come to its conclusion, whether it be a week later, or after a commercial break. That’s why once you start watching an episode of Law and Order you can’t stop until its over, but you could care less about watching another one.

Getting back to pushing the (for lack of a better phrase) “grammar of the medium” in new directions, the first season was so gripping because all of the characters were interesting and new. Also, it employed a completely unique way of introducing us to their personalities, using intermittent flashbacks that focused on one character each week, and one particular story from that person’s past. Usually, these stories are picked/written to reflect what that person is going through on the island, and to inform the viewer of why he/she is acting a certain way, or making a tough decision.

Oftentimes, and what made the show so intriguing from the get-go, was how they played with the expectations created by our first impressions of characters. They’d go back and show us that certain people led completely different lives than they want others to assume, the lives that they’ve left behind, so that they can start with a clean slate. Also, many of the people had strange instances in their past, and occasionally if you looked closely, you’d see another of the people from the island in someone else’s flashback, or at least a connection to the other person. People (the internet obsessives… I don’t consider myself one, but I’ll look at the evidence they have to offer) started to obsess over why certain characters were appearing in others’ flashbacks and if everyone who was on the plane had some sort of “six degrees”-style connection to each other. Of course, since nobody ever talks about their past either (in addition to not talking about island discoveries), nobody ever realizes, “Hey, that guy in that picture’s your dad? I took a trip to Australia with him and he was wasted. I was gonna offer him some help, but I had to get somewhere. How’s he doing?” “Oh he ended up dead from alcohol poisoning in a gutter in Sydney. That’s actually where I was flying from, when the plane crashed into this island hell. Thanks a lot for ruining my entire existence, you jackass.” One big question that nobody ever really touches on, though: are these flashbacks specifically intended for the viewer, and therefore completely the facts, or are we seeing the thoughts and memories of the specific characters, allowing them to eventually somehow be discredited, i.e. could they be using the faces of people from the island to replace background people from events in their past, just because they can’t remember what those random people looked like, or possibly had their memories tampered with?

While it is perfectly feasible to fill 24 hours of television (with commercials) this way, at some point it’s going to get old, and the flashbacks are going to become insignificant or boring. That’s my first complaint about the second season (over 1000 words in!). While most of the stories in the characters’ pasts were relevant to their present motives and actions, many of them were just plain boring or possibly irrelevant to the big picture. Sure, I can’t expect every one of everyone’s flashbacks to involve something paranormal, but watching the con-man pull off a pretty normal con job, that has nothing of relevance to do with his overall story-arc, and is completely predictable, isn’t the most interesting thing to me… especially if it’s slow-moving. The same goes with watching the blonde rich girl try to get over the fact that she’s “useless”, or the bald guy trying to come to terms with his estranged and ungrateful father, or the rockstar trying to help his junkie brother get clean. I understand the reasons that they were put there in terms of what the characters were going through in the present, but if I want to watch boring melodrama about a whiny teenage rich girl who wasn’t allowed a shot at her dream because her dad left all her money to her stepmother who won’t give her a cent, I’ll go watch The O.C. At least there I’ll learn what “Indie” (the genre) music is hip nowadays. Even WB shows are at least more entertaining than that.


After exhaustive research, I’ve determined the location of the LOST island. It’s the one that looks like a pie.

In the second season they’ve moved away from stories about the survivors trying to get off of the island (save for one episode where one guy justly decides to create a giant SOS sign, and nobody wants to help for some reason), or fighting over food and medical supplies (mysterious food drops keep them supplied, in addition to the island’s staggering amount of mangoes), and basically all of the necessity-type issues, and onto the bigger things at hand. You see, it’s not themselves that they should be fighting with (although that proves difficult due to the incredible amount of stubbornness each character possesses), it’s the group of people on the other side of the island, who were there before the plane crashed and who want something from the survivors but won’t tell them what, instead opting to threaten them, and kidnap some of them. Of course, like with everyone else on the island, I’m sure if they all just talked it out, and thought about things before doing them, all of the conflict and issues with each other would be solved. But this isn’t a show about problem solving. It’s a show about characters acting, usually, stupidly or irrationally, with the only reason being to keep the plot going. After all, if there was no conflict, we’d be watching Gilligan’s Island, and who wants to watch that? In fact, I guess in the simplest terms, the problem is that the show went from having the characters drive the plot forward in the first season to having the plot drive the characters in the second season. Rather than being about what the survivors find, or what choices they make, it becomes about the things on the island that affect the characters, and the “mythology” of the place… how it affects the characters, and not how they affect each other.

Of course, what second season would be complete without a group of new characters? In addition to the mysterious people on the other side of the island, (who may or may not be running some sort of scientific experiment on the crash survivors), there was a second group of survivors who were in the tail section of the plane (affectionately referred to by the online community as “talies”), that eventually got whittled down due to attacks and kidnappings by the mysterious “others”. These characters were greeted by fans with mixed reactions, some becoming quick favorites and good additions, and others being grating and just seeming like dead weight meant to stir conflict, but not really serving their purpose. By now, there’s only a few left, due to some high profile offings of characters.

This brings me to my second (or is it third? or fourth?) complaint. This season (not just on this show, as I’ll explain if I write something about 24 season 5) has been filled with the killing off of popular characters, or at least medium-sized ones. If it’s done for a story purpose on occasion I don’t have too much of a problem with letting go of characters. The problem comes when a show does it mainly for ratings and once it’s over things don’t change as much as they should, or characters don’t react as dramatically as they should for as long as they should. There was one major death in the first season, and it was used to advance characters’ reasonings, heighten drama, and make a statement to the audience that people are expendable… that “anything” can happen. Then in the second season, with as much advertising hoopla as in the first season, there was another death. This was done in a way that should have heightened tensions within the group and drove the plot for upcoming episodes. Unfortunately, I believe this was mishandled and after 2 episodes (about 2 days time on the show) everyone had pretty much gotten over the fact that she died. The producers contend that they had nowhere to advance the character to, but she had just started two new minor storylines. Near the end of the season they had at least one more major death, and this one finally did what it needed to do, served as a motivation to advance the story in a major way, promising payoffs in this finale, which the producers have sworn will be more revealing than last year’s (generally considered) underwhelming finale, and yet at the same time also leave us with a huge cliffhanger that will set up next season’s major conflict.

Which brings me to a topic that I don’t know how I feel about. Certain TV shows like to set up a goal that characters are attempting to achieve, and with that, payoffs and conclusions to plots for us at the end of the season. Season 1 of Lost had the bald guy attempting to crack open a metal door that he had found in the ground, but lacked a handle or latch, and the black guy, the Korean guy, and the con-man building a raft in an attempt to escape. The finale had each of these characters succeed at each of their goals, only to meet an obstacle afterward, thus setting up the second season. The problem with this season is for the bulk of it, there wasn’t much driving it forward. The characters realized that there’s more to this island than they thought, but they’re not freaked out about it, or anxious to actively pursue escape. They’re not actively seeking anything, for the most part. Sure the first half of the season had the people from the raft journeying back to their own side of the island, and the end seems to have a group ready to attack the other side of the island to get back one of their own, but in between everything was kinda fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants. That’s not to say that there isn’t an overall plan for the show. I believe that the people in charge have an endgame, and a few planned stops on the way. This season, however, it just seemed like the middle was trying to be filler to get to this season’s “stop” and big reveal.

Why I say that I don’t know how I feel about that is because, really, we’re pretty much in the same position as all the people on the island, trying to understand the surroundings as we go along. We know as much as all of the survivors combined (at least regarding the island… not about their pasts), but we don’t know more than that. We hope for them to share information with each other, but know it’s not going to happen. And while this leads to a lack of action, I think I’d rather not know the secrets until the heroes discover them. There are no scenes of the villains in their secret lair planning their shcheme, filling the audience in and making us cringe when we know that the choices the heroes make are wrong. We’re in this with them, and if they make a wrong choice, we won’t know it until they do, and I think I’d rather have it that way. In fact, on a positive note, the season MVP had to be the person who was caught in the jungle… Henry Gale. Why this is important to this topic is that the characters suspected him of being one of the “hostiles” or “others”, when he insisted (through pain of torture) that he crashed on the island in a balloon. We didn’t know if he was lying, just as the other characters didn’t. We found out the truth just as they did, and we didn’t know if we could trust him, just as they didn’t. Every scene that he is in is absolutely gripping, because we know so little about him, and every single word that comes out of his mouth could be a lie to manipulate people, or he could say it knowing the people would think that he’s lying… or he could just be telling the truth in general, with no ulterior motive. This performance and character alone make the second half of season two worth watching, and it’s all because we don’t see his side of the story.

The other thing that was an issue (and not just with me, but with every person who watches every week), which wasn’t the show’s fault, but the network’s fault, was that they would run a string of new episodes for a few weeks, and then a long span of repeats. Viewers had a hard time knowing when new episodes were on, were bored with repeats, and were impatiently waiting for the wrapping up of cliffhangers from weeks previous, usually only to find that they wouldn’t wrap up until a few episodes later anyway. The network has decided to fix things next year by running a few months of uninterrupted episodes in the fall, taking a few months off to debut a new show, and then coming back in February with the rest of the season. After getting the DVDs of the first season, and watching them, I realized that if I had the patience, I’d much rather wait the extra nine months, and just buy the season set, because watching weekly, or however often it’s on, is quite grueling, and usually very manipulative.

With all of these negatives, you would wonder why I claimed that this was my favorite drama on TV. (now comes the part where I justify myself) First of all, I don’t think that this year it was the best drama on TV. It may have been my favorite, but I can’t ignore the huge logic holes, and the few procrastination episodes in the middle. As a whole however, I think it’s the most engaging drama, due to the sheer amount of story and history that not only are contained in the island itself, but in the characters as well.


Just because I thought you deserved a break from reading.

I think that the story and the characters are more realized and well-rounded than most shows are. By allowing us to see the people’s backstories (albeit selectively), we can understand where people are coming from without being bored by endless cheesily-spouted exposition. You can understand each character’s drive and reasoning, oftentimes before he/she takes action, because we know where s/he’s been. Not only that, but their stories are usually more interesting than normal drama fare. It’s not often that you one of your main characters is an overweight man who spent time in a mental hospital where he met a patient who compulsively repeated a set of six numbers that the character eventually used to win the lottery, only to be marred with immense amounts of bad luck for the rest of his life.

I believe that in addition, it is the most creative, engaging, and unique television show I’ve ever seen. Sure, there are those television history enthusiasts out there who’ll tell me that a weird island has been done before on “The Prisoner”, but never with a group of characters this large and diverse, never with a mythology that is expanding to Asia-sized proportions, and never as evenly managed. Some people will say that there’s definitely a few lead characters, and I agree. But this is the largest ensemble show I’ve ever seen where every character is given at least one hour to be fleshed out, and where every character is checked in on on a weekly basis. All this, and they manage to keep the mythology-obsessed people generally happy.

Think about it this way. The X-Files had two characters, and justly used “monster of the week” self-contained episodes to flesh out a season that usually bookended, and possibly “middled” with episodes dealing with that show’s over-arching storyline. There was very little character progression, mainly Scully coming to realize that things aren’t always easily answered, and that didn’t come until like the sixth season… this after having seen all that creepy weird stuff. Yet the first five seasons of that show are considered some of the best of the 1990s, and most people who watched the show continuously are more interested in the conspiracy/aliens story than they are with the repetitive self-contained eps. LOST succeeds at taking that mythology and upping by at least 5 times. There are seven times as many main characters, and they change their perceptions of the events just as we do. The one thing that the X-Files did much better was the self-contained stories, and while I concede that LOST is more about the overall picture, there are a handful of episodes that work rather effectively by themselves.

Overall, the show has its faults and I acknowledge them, specifically the leading us on little by little, but the general scope and size of the undertaking, and the skill with which it is pulled off amaze me week after week. There may be better shows out there, (at least this year), but LOST’s labyrinthine story has had me hooked since the day the pilot aired.

***½
LOST’s second season gets a slightly disappointing 3.5 stars. Mostly because of the major issues I dealt with in the first half, i.e. some boring episodes, some plotlines that went nowhere (at least as of now), some frustrations over not getting the answers (but like those adventure-puzzle games, the journey is usually more interesting than the destination), the rather soap-opera-style killings of major characters during sweeps weeks to get ratings and not serve the story, and of course the problem of the repeats, which will be solved next year, or by watching the episodes on DVD. The reason it doesn’t get less stars (those are a lot of complaints) is because of the usually deft handling of the many, many characters (including ones I didn’t mention way,wayyyy back when this review began in the Byzantine era), the extreme creativity of the story, the way they’ve managed to keep the idea of a group of people on an island fresh after two seasons, the way they’re taking their time in giving us what we want, so that they don’t blow it all in one shot, and the way that they pay off minor events or things that they know don’t make sense. They even had a voice for all of the background extras for a few episodes until they exploded him randomly and without warning. That’s right. He exploded, chunks and all. It was great, and is just one of the many reasons why I love this show.

The Current TV Landscape (The Office, Scrubs, and the Ghost of Arrested Development) – Part 3

Part 3 – Scrubs

Keeping the TV theme: a long time ago, I predicted that the Taylor guy would get super far on American Idol, but “America” would never vote for him when he’d be against a pretty girl….well, I haven’t watched since then, but I have it on in the background, and they haven’t announced a winner yet tonight (it’s 9:44 at the moment)…..let’s see if I was right.Uhh..I never said that.

MEGA-REVIEW! (forewarning, it looks like our corner of the internet will be TV-centric for the next while. For those that skim our reviews so that they can say “of course I still read the website,” you’ve got a whole bunch of skimming coming up…)

I’ve realized that I haven’t really discussed “the current TV landscape” in the first two reviews in this series; instead, I’ve just looked through a microscope at individual shows. So, let’s talk a bit about the “current TV landscape.” First and foremost, the fact that I call out only three shows while referring to that “landscape” doesn’t mean there aren’t necessarily other notable shows to be included. Of course I greatly enjoy the three shows listed in the title, but there are some (I’d hesitate to say “plenty”) of shows that I catch either sporadically (House ” probably the best pure “formula show” on TV ” I’m not judging, the show practically addresses the fact that it’s all formula) or never (Scrubs ” before I started watching it ” I guess that doesn’t count). A most notable absentee from this list is LOST (their caps, not mine). I’ll let Nate defend it, then belittle both it and him in the comments.

The three shows I’ve focused on are all critical favorites, but suffer a bit (or a lot) in terms of popular appeal. Arrested Development was canceled/not renewed because of low viewership, The Office gets around 8 million viewers each week (American Idol gets in the mid 20 million), and Scrubs hovers at that same 7-8 million mark, low enough for the show to have been considered “on the bubble” until just a few weeks before the networks announced their 2006-2007 lineups last week. You can’t draw the most profound conclusions from the viewership numbers alone, but in the most general of terms (“single camera,” no laugh-track sitcoms), there’s probably sizable overlap among the viewer groups. (Arrested Development sort of attracted the “martyr fan” ” fans that secretly wanted the network to cancel it so they could say how stupid everyone in America is. The Office gets the hipsters ” notice all the iPod commercials. And Scrubs probably gets the most women of the three, what with the “emotional moment” on/off switch that gets flipped around minute 25 of each broadcast ” not necessarily a bad thing; more about that later). I guess this should’ve been included in The Office review, but The Office won’t last more than four or so seasons; Steve Carell is a movie-caliber star, and considering the ratings the show gets, he won’t be able to get a Seinfeldian movie-caliber paycheck for his work on the show, and just as importantly, being attached to a 22 episode TV show for ¾ of the year doesn’t leave much time for movies. I doubt his leaving (and the end of the show’s run) would end up being an ugly sort of situation considering the ratings and also considering that they ended the second season by moving the ever-present conflict between Jim and Pam (well, it’s not a conflict, per se) in the direction of conclusion.

scrubs
Old Man teeth scare me.

The significance of the three shows is that they don’t exist in that same world in which other TV shows exist. Supposedly the Simpsons was the first show to do it, and like the Simpsons, these three shows exist somewhere between the real world and the “TV world.” Stay with me here. In the most obvious sense, around season 6 or 7, The Simpsons started to make jokes that existed only because it was a TV show, making fun of stereotypical TV camera moves, TV archetypes, and so on (ahh, metahumor). Heck, part of the dynamic of The Office is that the characters know they’re on a show. Arrested Development avoided the cheeky, “it’s funny because we’re on TV” types of jokes which are currently ruining Family Guy (and to be fair, The Office doesn’t point it out more than necessary, and Scrubs walks the razor thin line between self-awareness and self-consciousness quite well.

On the three shows I’ve written up, characters watch TV, and talk about things that “real people” would talk about: last night’s episode of such-and-such, a CD, etc”.in other words, pop culture without it being just product placement. The Simpsons did it first (supposedly”I think Seinfeld probably pushed the concept farther), Family Guy now exists solely because of it, and these shows use it to be better. The characters on The OC namedrop “indie” (the genre) bands, and I do know the creator is a fan of the music, but it’s not the way people talk about it. (Zach Braff ” as positive as my impression of Garden State is, Natalie Portman’s characters “thing” with The Shins is presented like it would be on The OC.) And it’s not just what they’re talking about, but how they’re talking about it. Like real people. Now, for Scrubs, one might say “but that’s too wacky, this that and the other thing,” but considering that I’ve encouraged someone who was in front of a crowd to show off “the bullets” because the people needed to know what “the guns” shot, it’s not really all that out there. Other popular shows have “TV” dialog. People on The West Wing and Gilmore Girls speak entirely too perfectly, the characters on Will & Grace were too “fast” with thinking of jokes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s characters spoke like comic book characters (no, that’s not and will never be a good thing), the only impression I get from Hugh Laurie on House is that I really need a writer, and even successful traditional sitcoms showcase characters (not actors””I’m talking about the world within the show) who seemingly wakeup with outlines of what will happen in their day and what potential setup lines will be tossed up to them in conversation. I don’t hold that against those shows (sort of ” with Arrested Development, I realized shows didn’t need to exist in “TV world”). Is this because I want to relate to the characters, a concept I derided in the first of this series? I don’t know; I guess I’d just rather not have my media completely detached from reality (and yet I watch professional wrestling”regularly). Free Ride attempted to take the “talk like real people” to an extreme, featuring almost wholly improvised dialog, but the only thing that it got was canceled and decidedly unreal (hold on tight as I invent yet another word) “improvspeak,” where the actors (not the characters) forget that there are actual pauses in conversation, and just babble like crazy, each line louder than the previous as they try to “play” off of each other. I hate to allude to wrestling, and as much as he’s one of my favorites because of his legendary microphone work, but The Rock suffers from acute improvspeak when he makes his random appearances at WWE broadcasts, saying nothing, but taking a whole lot of time to say it.

You’ll notice I’m completely glossing over the Laws & Orderseses, CSI’s, and other crime shows as well as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and their accompanying medical-related programs (I’m not sure I’d include Scrubs in there). I’ll act like I’m not lumping all those shows into one giant “current TV landscape” category, but I just did. These shows are all practically interchangeable. Writers make medical or crime shows because plots are Easy with a capitol E. Doctors and people in the field of justice (ha!) potentially lead interesting lives just because of their jobs. Interesting things will happen to them before the writers even decide which one will be the divorced loner, the bright-eyed, naïve beginner, the jaded veteran, and the sex-crazed comic relief. People get out of jail and go after the cop that put them in there, doctors are exposed to unknown pathogens, you name it. The plots are Easy. It’s just about this simple: men like watching bad guys get their butts kicked by police officers, women like watching good, but sick people get cured by attractive doctors. What makes the show compelling (or not) is how well the writers handle the 20% of the story that doesn’t have to do with the characters’ occupations. Grey’s Anatomy is a medical show because the writers needed somewhere to place a female-centric love mess, and suburbia had already been taken. House stays pretty close to the medical-centric thing, but most fans’ favorite episodes involve big revelations about the main character. These shows are all fine, but as complicated as the plots might be, there’s really not much to them at the end of the day. They’re doctors, nurses, police officers, prosecutors, and that’s about it. The better shows, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, the first seasons of ER raised the bar, and there are still “better” examples of this genre (the hospital/crime genre) on the air, but in the end, it’s all about how successfully the writers twist the formula. Look at Nip/Tuck: it combines the “helping people” of the hospital shows with the “hurting people” of the crime shows; that math would make it practically perfect. In fact, come to think of it, I guess one could consider CSI and its children and imitators to mix crime-solving with medical know-how. Darn you Jerry Bruckheimer, ripping off my half-invented idea!

All this, and I still haven’t talked about Scrubs. Well, I warned you at the beginning there’d be a sidetrack.

I fell into Scrubs similarly to how I fell into The Office. No less than three people had recommended the show to me since its debut in 2001 because it seemed like the “wacky” sort of thing I’d like (well, the USA Today critic didn’t tell me personally that it’d be the type of show I like, but close enough), and each time, I watched the show (I even watched it twice for one of them), I just didn’t get anything out of it. It was a bit too “out there,” and I didn’t like the ambitious emotional montage with navel-gazing that seemingly ended each episode. The most recent of recommenders was friend of the Bookshelf and noted ginger ale enthusiast Josh Calloway. I include that if only because he likes to see his name in print”spelled incorrectly. We happened to be in a social setting and a group of us watched it the next time it was on, but I still wasn’t “getting” the appeal. I saw why and how other people would like it, but it didn’t sit well with me. Fast-forward about two weeks and I happened to be flipping on a Tuesday night and I landed on Scrubs and decided to give it another try. It was pure awesome. I wish I remember which episode it was, but suddenly it all just fit together and became “appointment TV.” Needless to say, bittorrent and a lot of free time later, I’ve seen all of them.

It’s really like a live action version of Family Guy. Of course fans from both camps would probably be offended by that comparison, but they both are very close to pop culture and showcase usually successful throw-away gags. Of course, Family Guy relies on them to the point of failure while Scrubs merely uses them to embellish the existing, coherent story (and yes, I believed this before South Park went after Family Guy under almost that exact same reasoning).

The casting is perfect; I feel bad for all of the actors as, even including previous work, they are the characters as far as I’m concerned. I saw an ad for a movie (Hoot, maybe) featuring Janitor (who cares what the actor’s name is), and all I could think was: Man, I hope he gives JD a hard time in that movie. Really, for the younger actors, it’s probably all downhill after Scrubs is done, and for the older actors, this is the “sweet role” that you’ve worked for mostly resolved, and ends with JD narrating over a montage and appropriately moody music. But I’m not complaining. The show is consistently hilarious, inventive in its approach to “the sitcom,” and has created likable, interesting characters out of normal TV archetypes. It’s not above its genre; it’s just at the top of it. All that, and that wasn’t even a “negative.”

I’ll nitpick: as much as Dr. Cox is the typical “frazzled veteran,” he’s one of the most entertaining characters on a show filled with them. After the first two seasons established him as 90% evil, 10% heart of gold, he was presented as someone who just plain old wouldn’t have any friends. Then, wham, in season 3, they show him and Carla having “friend moments.” Being that they established that he had a thing for her in the past, that’s completely ignored; she just laughs at what he says, and not in a flirty way either. I guess the writers got tired of all the teenaged girls writing angry letters because “Dr. Cox harasses JD in every episode! Gawd!” and needed a different wall for the character to talk at. In light of the “it’s still a sitcom at the end of the day” argument, Turk and Carla’s relationship, being the most lasting and normal-ish of the relationships on the show is leaned on to create most of the typical sitcom stories. The writers can’t base a normal story on Cox and Jordan; it’s just not believable that they’d have relatable “couple-problems.” They’ve relied on every stage of Turk and Carla’s relationship for plots, if not longer reaching story-lines (in this order): flirting problems, dating problems, long-term relationship problems, engagement problems, engaged problems, wedding problems, marriage problems, conception problems, pregnancy problems and soon, baby problems.

Ahh, well, I think that’s the negative off my chest. It’s frustrating to like something so much but find it so much easier to complain about. Considering that the section of this review that actually deals with the show is taken up more by these complaints, I feel like I’m giving it the short end of the stick by having a rather brief “overwhelmingly positive” section. So here goes.

Scrubs is significant not because it has great moments, but because it has perfect moments. Times when you watch and just say “wow.” Watch the episode, “My Screw Up” from season 3, and realize how perfect the moment where Dr. Cox admits his brother-in-law is dead on the way to his funeral and wonder how poorly almost any other show would handle it. I don’t mean to turn it this into a bulleted list of those moments, but I’d be doing future viewers a disservice to not mention how JD’s break-up with Kylie was edited together, every scene with Tara Reid, most anything with Todd, “are you sure you don’t have a dead cat in there?,” Turk’s dancing, Elliot’s (a girl) latent bi-curiousness, Dr. Acula, Janitor and Dr. Cox bonding over a shared hatred of JD, most of Michael J. Fox’s two episodes, Dr. Cox’s illogical hatred of Hugh Jackman and on and on.

Guest-casting, some sitcoms’ downfall, is used perfectly on Scrubs because the producers don’t focus on getting a “name” on the show, but getting actors that will create a (here’s that word again) perfect character. The most notable example of this is Tom Cavanaugh as Dan, JD’s (Zach Braff) brother. JD is all about quirks: conversational, physical, you name it. If this were a lesser show, someone like David Duchovny (nothing against the DD thank you very much) would simply mimic Zach Braff, “Hey, they’re brothers. I’ll just copy him.” But Tom Cavanaugh puts his own spin on it, simultaneously creating someone who’s obviously related to JD, but also an entirely different character. I’ll include a note here that John Ritter was equally amazing as JD’s down-on-his-luck, sort-of-estranged father, and for my own selfish reasons, I’ll say that it’s a real shame he died before appearing in more than just that one episode in the first season.

****½

Scrubs receives four-and-a-half stars due to the sheer quality of each and every episode. Casting, guest casting, all of the minor roles, most all of the writing, the attention to detail: it’s all perfect. The show has absolutely perfect moments, as I incompletely detailed above. But that’s why it also gets docked half a star; the show has those perfect moments, but there aren’t perfect episodes. Where Arrested Development had multiple perfect episodes, Scrubs has had five seasons and hasn’t done it yet. They will one day, but it will probably the last episode. There aren’t many seasons left for the show; aside from the fact that its ratings aren’t the best, January 2007 will mark the beginning of the sixth season. Seven or eight years is about the maximum for any TV show; the viewers have matured into a different age bracket, the writers “aren’t where they were” when they started, and actors begin to get antsy. Friends lasted to ten seasons, though 8 and 9 were considered the weakest seasons and pure cash is what kept the cast from leaving. And The Simpsons…well, let’s not even look at that one (but let’s remember that season 9 is the first one where the bad episodes outnumber the good). The next season of Scrubs will be a pretty “busy” one, with JD having decided he was looking to settle down (and probably becoming a father-to-be), Jordan is pregnant (again), and Turk and Carla are about to add “baby problems” to that list I made above. I’ll predict that Jordan and Dr. Cox’s pregnancy will end in a miscarriage, if only because they haven’t done that yet on the show, and the writers aren’t afraid to pull emotional punches (does everyone remember when they had JD and Elliot [that’s a girl] “finally” get together, only to have him universally decide it wouldn’t work not even two episodes later). With Arrested Development gone, that leaves The Office and Scrubs to stand for “the current TV landscape.” Steve Carell’s “brink-of-superstardom” position makes it so The Office will probably last two more seasons at most. In fact, assuming Scrubs gets to seven seasons, that brings it to a close at about the same time. But this is all negative stuff; these are the best shows on TV. TV shows are a lot like dogs; you get attached to them, and when everything’s good you forget that you’ll be around a lot longer than they will. It’s always sad to think of the end when everything’s still good.

The Current TV Landscape (The Office, Scrubs, and the Ghost of Arrested Development) – Part 2

Just in time for the second season’s final. Also, look for part 3 of this series of reviews “soon.” It will look into Scrubs and address the actual “current TV landscape.”

Part 2

As I alluded to in the previous entry, the length of time between Arrested Development’s last regular airing and its finale of four episodes in two hours opened a door in my TV watching schedule. Not a door in terms of having that time to watch new shows, but looking for other shows to watch now that whatever my subconscious limit for TV was unmet. I had “heard” the “buzz” about the British version of The Office, tracked down an episode online, and was thoroughly unimpressed. It wasn’t that I had an issue with the writing, the casting, the presentation style, etc., but just that I couldn’t understand what those crazy British people were saying. With respect to the mass of people proclaiming how great it was, when the American version first aired, I set aside time to watch it. And I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it.
The Office

I still hate the internet.

I couldn’t (and can’t) put my finger on exactly why I didn’t like the pilot, but I never gave the next week’s episode a chance. TV shows generally get one chance with me. Of course, The Office and (as you’ll learn later) Scrubs are the reason I now include the “generally” in that statement. A random Thursday night of flipping almost a year later landed me at NBC once again. (Actually, I think it might not’ve been the most random flipping. If I remember correctly, friend of the Bookshelf and all-around-good-guy Josh CallOway insisted on putting it on. This time it was HI-larious. I later learned from an …can’t think of a condescending adjective man that the pilot of the American series was identical to the British pilot, and in both cases, the show picked up and was no longer teh suck.

Arrested Development wasn’t the first mockumentary-type TV show (or was it? I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia). It also wasn’t the first comedy to not have a laugh track, but on both of those counts, I’ll say that it was one of the highest profile examples in terms of TV critics pointing it out. That’s related to The Office because its presentation emphasizes the documentary part, with snippets of the characters talking to an unseen interviewer laced between the filmed action. Arrested Development’s characters never acknowledged the cameramen, but on The Office, the characters make faces “for” the cameras, knowing they’ll be seen. The only aspect other than “shaky-camera” and a breaking of the traditional TV sitcom and drama grammar that pulled viewers into “I’m sort of watching a documentary” was that the camera people sometimes made their presence known (being kicked out of the courtroom, a most notable example). (See, I like Arrested Development so much that I even talk about it when I’m specifically reviewing something else).

Simply, The Office offers much of what Arrested Development didn’t. There’s something more there. Every character (except for Dwight, maybe) has shown vulnerability, and for the ladies (and lady-men), there is a complicated and disturbingly accurate sort of love story between two of the more likable characters, and for the jackasses, there’s an accurately disturbing romance between the two least likable characters. The show is really awkwardness on the screen for 22 minutes at a time. It’s like watching George Michael Bluth for an entire episode. Every character is either awkward or are so out of touch that the other characters are forced to be awkward around them. There’s nuance in the show that, my limited TV watching habits aside, is lacking in most shows (except Six Feet Under, of course — no, I’ve never seen it, but I’m working on being more pretentious).

Case in point: watch the second season’s Halloween episode. Michael (Steve Carell), who is normally presented as a completely out-of-touch doof, tries to play tough guy all day about having to fire someone for budgetary reasons (well, he actually tries passing off the responsibility to someone else), but is completely torn apart at having to fire someone he considers a friend. (The genius of the show is that none of the workers want him as a friend (except Dwight, and ironically, Michael thinks he’s too cool to be Dwight’s friend).) At the end of the work day, Michael quietly removes the pumpkin the fire-ee smashed on his windshield and drives home, trying to keep up the tough guy persona. As established earlier in the episode, Halloween is Michael’s favorite holiday, but as the episode ends we see Michael sitting in his condo just starting at the floor, still affected by the firing. The doorbell rings, he walks to the front door, and is greeted by trick-or-treaters. In a very real way, you can see just how this is exactly the thing that whatever the character’s “real” self (meaning not the “cool boss” that he thinks he is in the office) needed to get himself out of drowning in the feelings of having to fire someone. It’s all a very “real” moment. The type of emotional moment that Arrested Development would make an inside joke about, then reference two seasons later. To top it all off, the whole sequence was obviously filmed with heavy zoom, giving the impression that the “documentary crew” isn’t allowed inside his house, so they’re filming from across the street. It’s attention to detail that makes the show “work.” There are rarely any huge, obvious punchlines (critics said the same of Arrested Development), and Steve Carell’s schtick would get old if that’s all it had going for it. Which reminds me… the Emmy’s have this habit of giving Best Actor/Actress awards to actors that play completely off-the-wall characters. I’m thinking how John Lithgow won three (3!) of them for bouncing around like a moron on 3rd Rock from the Sun (no, it doesn’t deserve a link). Steve Carell won 2006’s for six episodes of The Office. He won the award before I had seen any episodes, and I figured it was more of the same: actor plays completely unrealistic, “zany” character and whoever gives out the Emmy’s awards him annually, and this was year one for Carell. But if Jason Bateman hadn’t been nominated , Carell deserved it. And he deserves it next year, too.

****½

The Office receives four-and-a-half stars due to its receiving of the mantle of “awesome TV” from Arrested Development and completely trashing its British forebears. It loses half a star due to how it sometimes relies on sitcom norms to keep the viewers interested: the intern claiming his “voicemail’s been spotty” after his non-mutual sort of girlfriend says he never returns his calls – comic gold, feeling sorry for alcoholics instead of laughing at them – sounds like something I’d see on Frasier…if I had watched it (I’m serious about that whole pretentious thing). But hey, I can’t complain too much about a show where one of the characters considers it a real honor to be sworn in as a member of the office building’s previously one-bored-man security team, and really believes that there is an oath required to take the made-up job.

iwry

The Current TV Landscape (The Office, Scrubs, and the Ghost of Arrested Development) – Part 1

Part 1 of 3

With the all-but cancellation of my second loudest talking point three months ago, my TV habits have unexpectedly and ambitiously changed. For many years, the only section of calendar showing “appointment TV” was Fox’s Sunday night from 8-10. Initially anchored by The Simpsons and The X-Files, over the years I’ve regularly watched Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hill, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Futurama, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Arrested Development, and most recently Free Ride. I never watched most of those shows again after either a move to a different night (That 70’s Show, Malcolm in the Middle) or before 8 on Sundays (King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle [again]). The Simpsons’ decline too many years ago makes/made the 8:00 slot more of a sentimental appointment with some memory from my past (maybe), but it’s rare that I don’t catch at least some of the Sunday night shows. (Most recently, I’ve watched Family Guy and Free Ride.)

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I hate the Internet. (click the image for full-size)

Arrested Development, originally airing at 9:30 was the best show to come out of the Fox Sunday night, even better than when The Simpsons was what we remember it being like “when it was good.” Generally I’ve found that of the people to whom I recommended the show, it’s pretty easy to pick who will like it and who won’t. Plenty of people are on the record extolling it as the best show ever, and while I’d agree, I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by that community. Oddly enough, Arrested Development has very much become similar to one of those things that I don’t really have a problem with, but the fans are just so obnoxious that I think even more negatively about the item/object/concept than I normally would or should. In the case of Arrested Development, I’m so positive about the show, that the fandom merely tarnishes whatever memory I might have of it, not the actual show itself, if that makes sense. I don’t think that it “revolutionized” the sitcom (it was sort of on for only three seasons) as some claim, it was just the shining example of a different way of presenting 30 minutes of comedy.

For the three seasons it aired, my routine was watch it when it aired, download the widescreen rip on bittorrent, then watch the bejesus out of it until buying the DVD’s the day they were released. The airing of the last four episodes (all shown in a two hour block one Friday night in February) after more than a month of knowing those would most likely be the last episodes of the show hit some note with me in that even though I downloaded the episodes, I have yet to watch them a second time. Considering that I’ve watched every other episode of the show between three and too many times each, I realized it was odd I had/have no desire to watch the last four again, especially considering that they were some of the best episodes of one of the best shows in the history couch-potato-ery. I’m not sure it takes too much effort to correctly read into it; similarly, I own all of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but I’ve never read the last one though I’ve owned it long enough to have read it many times.

For a solid two months, there were continual rumors about where Arrested Development might end up after that Fox made it obvious it wasn’t wanted by shortening the season to 13 episodes. “The Internet” held out hope, but “the internet” ignored the fact that any channel picking up an expensive-to-produce, bottom-of-the-ratings-heap show must not enjoy making money. It was a sad time for many, with (literally) the best show in the history of ever wrapping up. Fox showed the last four episodes in a two hour block directly against the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, almost two months after the most recent airing of the show. In other words, lots of time to “discover” something new.

As great as it was, Arrested Development was not “perfect” in terms of 30 minute television. As widely reported, practically none of the characters were likeable (Michael Bluth was dysfunctional in his own, realistic sort of way, and heck, even Annyong was a jerk to Buster). That’s not what I look for in a show, but there are plenty of lady-folk who need to empathize with characters and figuratively “hug it out” with their TV icons. I don’t know if it was searching-for-ratings-related, but the first episodes of the show established that Michael Bluth had relatively recently become a widower, and the show touched on the challenges of that situation in terms of how it affects teenaged children and the dating process for said widower. Of course, the show still packed in the zaniness, but there was something more there that from the second season and on was ignored. One could tell the writers avoided detailing the how and why of Michael’s wife’s death (she was said to have cancer some time in season 2 or 3), leaving the issue wide open for future episodes, but it was left unaddressed as the show moved toward (admittedly HI-larious) wackiness, zaniness, creative wordplay, and, uh, whimsy. Again, I didn’t need that “emotional resonance” from the show (or any show for that matter), but lesser men consider it a requirement for their TV intake.

Some fault the show for its reliance on jokes that only dedicated (meaning, weekly) viewers would get. That’s not a fault; that’s putting faith in your audience. Of course, it makes a niche show even more niche by creating both a high learning curve and too many inside jokes, but that’s more of a problem with what I’ll say is the “concept of the show” instead of the show itself. Returning to its problematic fans, they’re super-quick to say, “you don’t ‘get’ it, so you’re stupid” completely ignoring the fact that much of the humor depends on earlier episodes and the fact that some people just don’t get much out of the site of a grown man in a mole suit destroying a model train village in front of a group of “Japanese investors” in an homage to Godzilla. The fact that someone might not think something like that is funny doesn’t affect that I still think it’s the best show ever; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but many of the fans use their opinion of the show (of it being the best) as a reason why everyone should think that jokes like that are funny.

*****
The Ghost of Arrested Development receives five big stars. Sure, the body’s still warm, but with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator, saying he wouldn’t want to be involved even if it picked up by a (fiscally irresponsible) network, it’s gone for good. And I’m ok with that. The time before the last four episodes were aired provided an opportunity to sample other channels’ wares (which we’ll look into later in the week). The series finale was just about perfect, and as I watched it end (into the sunset, of course), as much as I complained that it was no longer going to be on the air, I didn’t want there to be any more episodes. It was that good. It was Arrested Development.

The Fact that “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” is not on DVD yet


In an attempt to get women to notice him, Andy imagines himself wearing a suit full of puppies. Unfortunately, he probably didn’t take the drycleaning bill into account.

I keep holding out hope. I don’t know why I do, because I never hear news about the possibility of this happening. Maybe it’s because every week I see that studios are releasing vast quantities of television shows that have no other value because TV stations won’t buy them in syndication. March 28th alone has the DVD releases of such blockbuster TV shows as American Muscle Car 1.x, Andy Milonakis Show 1.x, Astro Boy: Ultra Collector’s Edition,Avatar: The Last Airbender: Book 1, Vol. 2,Danger Mouse 5.x/6.x, Dark Shadows Vol. 23, DeGrassi: The Next Generation 3.x, Doctor Who: The Beginning, Dog the Bounty Hunter: Best of 2.x, Three Friends Theme Box Sets with episodes that everyone probably has already,Godzilla: Monster Mayhem, Godzilla: Mutant Madness, Highway to Heaven 3.x, The Invisible Man 1.x, Knots Landing 1.x, Little House on the Prarie (2004 Miniseries), Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns, Masters of Horror: Dreams of the Witch House, Merv Griffin Show: 40 Most Interesting People, Modern Marvels: Extreme Gadgets, Modern Marvels: The FBI’s Crime Lab, Modern Marvels: Great Inventions, Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World, Northern Exposure 4.x, Not the 9 O’Clock News: Best Of, Planet of the Apes: Ultimate Collection, Quantum Leap 4.x, Return to the Planet of the Apes, Robot Chicken Vol. 1, Six Feet Under 5.x, Super Mario Bros.: Super Show, Tales of the Unexpected Set 4, and The Triangle: The Complete Miniseries. Isn’t that an obscene amount of mostly obscure television series? How many of them do you think will even be on the shelves of your local Best Buy? In fact, by June, you’ll be able to buy the entire series of The Adventures of Superboy, something called “Odyssy 5”, “Tommy Lee Goes to College”, all 13 episodes of “Law and Order: Trial By Jury”, and the first seasons of “F-Troop” and “Power Rangers Mystic Force”. In addition, every time I walk into Best Buy I see the set for “Wonderfalls”, a completely interesting show, but one that only ever aired three episodes. Heck, even the live-action “The Tick”, which only aired like two episodes and made all of six got a DVD release.

I take it you get my point by now; there are a lot of TV shows that are random that nobody would ever buy that are released just to make a few dollars from the few people who want to be able to see shows that they’ll never see again… like “the dog whisperer” or… “Full House”. But why am I specifically targeting the lack of Andy Richter DVDs? Because this is quite possibly the funniest, most offbeat and weird comedies of all time. I’m not taking anything away from Arrested Development, or any of those other shows that I can’t think of right now but probably will be able to by the time I get to the bottom. Anyway, sometimes the stories weren’t great, but that’s not the point. “Andy Richter…” was about all the absurd ideas that went on in the head of a bored instruction manual writer, ideas that popped up “Family Guy”-style, but without all the esoteric pop-culture references that half of the audience doesn’t get, and smarter dialogue, not to mention the fact that he talks to the long-dead, creepy, crotchety old man, former owner of the company. One episode had him wonder what the situation would be like as a musical, one showed what would happen if they were all dogs. It was a completely brilliant premise and the execution was terrific. It’s a shame the show failed after airing only 14 episodes and making 5 that never aired, and it’s an even bigger shame that with shows that have absolutely no market coming out on DVD, that a show this funny will keep those 5 episodes unseen. I mean, heck, I even used it to write a seven page paper on how a specific TV show handles a sensitive issue (in this case racism… specifically against a black man who’s irish… of course the insensitive remarks are made about the irish, allowing them to get across points they wouldn’t be able to do if it was about how he’s black).

There’s nothing else to say. There’s a lot of bad and obscure TV shows out on DVD. This one was very good and I think would get enough attention in the geek community that Fox (at least I’m assuming they would be the ones with the rights) would turn a profit by releasing it…. plus there are five episodes that nobody ever saw… that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why people buy short-lived series like this. This show deserves to be available. End of story.

Meeting/Seeing Celebrities

I want to make this review as “non-braggy” as possible, so I’m gonna refrain from giving a list of famous people of whom I’ve been within 100 feet, but just to warn you all, to give examples, I’m still probably going to have to drop a few names.

naomiwatts.jpg
A picture I took of Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger, back when they were still dating in 2003. Hopefully he didn’t break her nose like he did Jake Gyllenhaal’s.

So, I’m sure you’ve all heard me give examples or tell stories about “When I was in California”, and I’m sure you probably cringe every time I mention it. I actually do when I find myself saying that phrase. The problem is that for people that I haven’t talked to in a while, it makes good conversation, and is probably the most intersting thing I’ve done since senior year of high school. People (who haven’t heard it before) like to hear my “glamorous” stories about the time where I stood in a crowd of hundreds on Hollywood Boulevard, watching dozens of people take pictures of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston making kissy faces at each other at the premiere of her “instant classic” film “Along Came Polly”. Honestly, I was bored. Everyone around me is trying to get a glimpse across the street to the dimly lit figures about as big as if I hold my index finger an arm’s length away from my face and close one eye, and I’m there wondering what the big deal is. I suppose it’s good for “bragging” rights, as anyone who’s seen my “You can kind of make out the back of his crew cut” pictures of the event knows. Yeah, I took some pictures…. yeah, my lense doesn’t zoom…. It was my first time around at an event like that (it actually was the first night I had gone into the hollywood area) and I just happened to have my camera on me. But I was the tourist, and those other people lived there, so I’d hope that grants me a pardon. You’d think that after living in the area for more than I had at least, that the other onlookers would get tired of staring at people for no purpose other than that. Maybe there were a lot of other tourists in the group. I don’t know.

Moving on… working at the tv show that I worked at, I had daily run-ins with notable people… mostly b-list celebrities, and while I was excited going in to see what they looked like close up, most of the time it wasn’t a big deal or I was totally let down. The “beautiful people” as we’re led to believe, usually are no more or less attractive than any moderately attractive person you’d see in everyday life, and in fact, many times are less so. Elisha Cuthbert and Eliza Dushku are the biggest examples of this. Elisha Cuthbert (as well as Avril Levigne) is so remarkably short that you wouldn’t even recognize her if they walked past you. Eliza Dushku just wasn’t very attractive at all in person. Kelly Clarkson looks nothing at all like she does on TV or movies, or album covers without being very heavily made up.

The bottom line is that watching things like red carpet coverage where we learn to worship the idols of TV and film, we de-humanize them, and in that humanizing instance where they’re getting gas at the pump next to us you realize that they’re just above- average-looking people with a good amount of money, and unless they’re total coked out divas, or fried has-been rappers, they’re usually really normal and humble.

**

Meeting/Seeing celebrities gets two stars as the only real positive that can come of it is being able to tell other people and hope that they actually care (and don’t perceive you as unjustly gloating your “fortune”). Expectations usually will not be met because the media have set such a high standard, making people larger than life with us supposed to care about every little detail of their private lives. In the end, they’re just moderately attractive people who like to play dress-up, or dance around like idiots…. Rob Schneider, I’m looking in your direction on this last one.

The Steelers’ Interception

Wow. that was a game saving play if I ever saw one. I have to grade this two different ways.

*****
Steelers get five stars.


Seahawks get none.

update…. steelers just pulled out the five-star touchdown play… i realize i’m just throwing out the five-stars and possibly devaluing them… but whatever… see Dan’s review below about trick plays

The 2006 Puppy Bowl

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Hey, it’s better than watching the Jets

As a warm-up to the Superbowl, Animal Planet is offering a marathon of the Puppy Bowls from years past. For the uninitiated, the Puppy bowl is at least an hour or so of about 7 or 8 puppies running around in a miniature stadium, made of cardboard. Multiple cameras around the “stadium” show images of puppies running around, jumping on each other, or mostly just laying on the turf, all set to zany music. To make matters worse, they spared no expense on the announcing, getting NFL Films, NFL Radio, and longtime Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas to do the deed. Also, this is a big production, probably 5 cameras, including one called the “bowl cam”, placed underneath a glass bottom of the water bowl that they drink out of. At halftime they clean up the turf with a blatantly used bissel vacuum cleaner, and then they bring out the kitty castle for the kitty bowl halftime show. While an interesting diversion for about 5 minutes, it get incredibly boring and repetitive as the animals don’t do very much, other than walk around to wacky music and disco lighting. Also, you can buy the video here

*½

Puppy Bowl II receives 1.5 stars for being a pretty big waste of your pre-superbowl time. I honestly think I’d rather watch a marathon of“The OC”.

The Episode of “The Simpsons” with Three Points of View

Of course, after the long break between this and my previous review, I wrote it the same day that Dan wrote a rather important review, so check that one out. It should be just below this one.


Linguo says “Wassamatta WITH Season 12?”

So tonight on one of the Fox affiliates that we get here, either Fox 5 (NY) or Fox 29 (Philly), they were airing the one episode of “The Simpsons”, titled “Trilogy of Error“. This episode is one of two uniquely structured episodes that I know of, in that it doesn’t just follow one set chronology/plot thread. I guess you could make a case that other “theme episodes” might count towards this, but I suppose the gimmick for these two is different in that it’s not taking the characters and putting them in situations outside of their realities.

The episode originally aired in April of 2001, (Season 12 for those of you who care about such things), amidst such “classics” as the one with Lisa and the Bully, the one where Homer starts a daycare; the one where Homer becomes Burns’ “Prank Monkey”; the one where the kids get snowed in at school (with some akwardly raunchy humor, and one of the ten worst endings ever, in fact, one which was very similar to another that aired that season in which Homer started a website and ended up on a hallucinogenic island like on “The Prisoner”); the one titled “Worst. Episode. Ever.“; and the actual worst episode ever, the one where Homer and Marge build a tennis court in their backyard to start the actual plot, at about 15 minutes into a 22-minute episode.

This episode, however, proved to be the strongest one not only of that season, but one of the best of the five seasons around it. The first third of the episode deals with Homer’s day, in which he meets Lisa’s Science Fair project, a grammar-correcting robot, after which he accidentally cuts off his thumb. He has various adventures attempting to get the thumb sewn back on, including a ride with Cletus, and an explosion at Dr. Nick’s. He’s eventually stranded, walking toward Shelbyville, when out of nowhere the head of Lisa’s robot falls out of the air in front of him. In the second segment, “Lisa’s Day”, Lisa struggles to get to school in time for the fair, since Marge has left to take Homer to the Doctor, and her bike is gone. She winds up at an exact replica of her school, but on the wrong end of town, eventually runs into Marge outside of Moe’s (where Homer’s been distracted while trying to get ice to put his thumb on), and the two speed away, only to almost hit Bart, as he comes out from under a man-hole cover. The third segment chronicles Bart’s day, as he and Milhouse (on Lisa’s bike) go in search of illegal fireworks underground and get tied up with the mob. Eventually all of these stories meet up, and Homer gets his thumb sewn back on by the mob doctor as Lisa’s science project. There are many overlaps in the three stories, with scenarios that have payoffs in earlier segments and setups in later segments, things deliberately left vague early on, so that they can be explained in later parts.

The thing that really makes this episode work though, is the pacing. Right from the start it’s going at a breakneck speed with no pauses for character moments or throwaway jokes that have nothing to do with the main story. The reason for this is that there’s so much plot going on, at the same time as the other characters stories, that it’s essential to get through each person in under 7 minutes, and therefore is more like three short interlocking episodes than one big one that’s all over the place. Granted they have done episodes with three specific separate segments (The bible/literary stories episodes, the Halloween episodes, and this year’s Christmas one), but in those cases it seemed like “Hey, I have a good idea. Let’s make Lisa into Johnny Appleseed”, without thinking through how they would actually fill the time with story instead of just a collection of forced “jokes”. Season 12 is a prime example of the lack of story structure that has plagued the show for the last five years (at least). The story ideas for the episodes in this season aren’t developed enough to fill the amount of time for an episode, so they think of two or more story ideas and figure out how to connect them together, and try to pass it off as one story, usually pretty transparently, and often self-referrentially. But this episode was different. It was well-structured and plotted, and the humor came from having unfortunate things happen to the characters, instead of them causing stupid things to happen. The ending, while a bit rushed, made a lot more sense than nearly all of the other episodes that season, including the infamous “SURF’S UP” ending from “The Great Money Caper“. The 17 fanboys at the Simpsons episode archive gave this episode an average of an A, and I’m inclined to do so as well.

****½

This episode, while nowhere near perfect is probably one of the best, if not most memorable episodes to come out of the series after season 11 (we’re currently in 17). Its use of non-linear storytelling, while gimmicky, allows for a change in the tired Simpsons formula that seemed to be dragging it down that year, and the incredibly fast pace and detailed plot structure keep it from getting sillier than anything in season 7 or 8 or just filled with dumb jokes. Even when it’s not funny, it’s engaging, not annoying, and it never feels like a chore to sit through, which is rare these days. It is nowhere near as good as episodes from six years before or so, but not much is, and with over 250 episodes prior, it’s hard to keep coming up with fresh ideas, something this episode does quite well.

That Episode of Coach Where Luther Sues Coach

I haven’t seen Coach for a very long time; I haven’t watched episodes in syndication, in fact I’m not sure it’s even in syndication beyond non-network affiliate stations such as the Lehigh Valley’s WFMZ. Heck, it might not even be on that channel anymore. Regardless, I watched a whole bunch of the show during some of its later seasons. Being that I really can’t remember any episodes (except one), it must not’ve been very good. If I remember correctly, it was on in a programming block that included Home Improvement and maybe even The Drew Carey Show and Spin City, though I’m probably mixing up the seasons. So anyway, the episode in question.

Coach
Luther Horatio Van Dam’s shirt is green. The same color that his irresponsibility produced. Ok, I’ve got nothing.

The year was 1996, the month, March, the date, Tuesday the 19th, the weather, probably cold. I don’t remember much about that day other than (now) looking back in hindsight and hoping that I was too cool for Home Improvement in 7th grade. I wasn’t, but of course, I don’t remember which episode of Home Improvement was on that night. Beyond TV-related events, it was what I remember to be the middle of the time when people were filing (and winning) ridiculous, common-sense lawsuits. The woman who sued (and won) McDonald’s because she burned herself while drinking their coffee and driving was the most widely covered instance of this, but there were plenty of examples. Whether March 1996 was the breaking point for the “frivolous lawsuit movement” remains to be seen as family-oriented television shows are notorious for being way behind the times with their social commentary (think of the “very special episode” of 7th Heaven
that dealt with huffing considerably after the network news shows all had their own marginally more timely “special reports”).

So, again, being that I saw the episode once and actually don’t remember many details of it (specifically the details of the plot and the ending), I’ll try my hardest to review it as thoroughly as possible. Sort of thankfully, I actually found a mini-episode capsule where I learned the title (“Van Damn [sic] vs. Fox”), the airdate, and a recap even thinner than what I can remember. Roughly, Coach, played by Mr. Incredible holds a barbecue and one of his assistant coaches, Luther Horatio Van Dam (I’m not making that up), grabs a meat skewer from the grill, then severely burns himself as he attempts to eat the meat. Instead of worshipping at the altar of personal responsibility, Luther (played by that guy whose brother’s name makes girls giggle) decides to sue Coach for negligence. They’re good friends, but Luther Horatio Van Dam isn’t the brightest bulb in the box and sees the opportunity for a quick buck all while not being to talk clearly due to the burn in his mouth. Yes, hilarity did ensue. Some other stuff happened between the annoucement and the trial, but I don’t remember what it was. At the trial itself, Luther has hired a high-powered defense attorney while Coach, due to what he considers the ridiculousness of the lawsuit, represents himself. The basis of Coach’s argument was rather simple: it was Luther’s fault for grabbing (then eating) the meat, there’s no way he could be held responsible for someone else’s idiocy.

Needless to say, my dad was rooting for Coach’s populist defense, but the court actually found in favor of Luther. Even more needless to say, my dad was outraged (Outraged!) at the result. Whether or not he threw pizza at me, I don’t know, but it could’ve happened. In terms of the characters, I don’t remember the ending (there was a sizable amount of screentime post trial), but somehow Luther Horatio Van Dam decided not to pursue the money and everyone remained friends.

****

The Episode of Coach Where Luther Sues Coach receives 4 stars due to its handling of a topic “ripped right from the headlines” (just like Law & Order!). Granted, I’m sure it hasn’t aged well, but one more time, I haven’t seen it since that day in March 1996, and being that I remember it at all means it did something right. Of course, it probably missed the “sell by” date for jokes about frivolous lawsuits, but I think I was at the age where my media expectations were a bit less sophisticated than they are now (and yet I still watch wrestling). 1996, those were the days.