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Entries in TV (12)

Thursday
Jun172010

Summer TV, or Why I'm Pale

Does anybody miss the days when summer television was purely reruns, when you could casually catch up on the year's sitcoms in between backyard BBQs and late-evening trips to cool down with an Italian ice?  I actually wouldn't mind forgetting about TV for a few months, but instead, my DVR is still working overtime.  With audiences irrefutably fragmented, programming now runs year-round, for better or for worse.  Thankfully, there are a few shows that I don't mind watching while hibernating in the air conditioning. 

True Blood
HBO | Sundays 9/8c

In Alan Ball's hands, vampires don't suck. (Wow, really?)  True Blood is pure campy fun, and there are plenty of hot bodies bringing steam to the screen.  I trust that the overwhelming amount of new characters and storylines will come together in some sort of cross-species orgy. 

Lie to Me
Fox | Mondays 8/7c

Tim Roth is excellent as Cal Lightman, an expert in deception through scrutiny of facial expressions and body language. His skill set makes him a useful asset to the federal government and a frequent target of people he's burned in the past.  A bit far-fetched at times, but sharp dialogue and Roth's work with his co-stars keeps it fresh.  

Burn Notice
USA | Thursdays 9/8c

If you haven't caught on to the sexy spy show by season 4, you deserve to be blacklisted by the government.  The combination of sly comedy, big action, and unfeasible escapes makes for a fast ride agaisnt a sexy Miami backdrop.  And who wouldn't want Bruce Campbell and his chin on their side?

Top Chef D.C.
Bravo | Wednesdays 9/8c

Tom and Padma are back for season 7 of the best competition reality show on the air, this time in the nation's capital.  From the looks of last night's premiere, we have another cocky cook in Angelo.  I'm also happy to see more African American chefs than in past seasons.

Wipeout
ABC | Tuesdays 8/7c

Now here's a lighthearted summer gem.  There is nothing funnier than watching people fall.  Wipeout provides endless belly laughs as contestants try to conquer a ridiculous but difficult obstacle course.  John Anderson and John Henson are alternately sympathetic and sadistic, but the ultimate selling point: Big. Red. Balls.

So, while I will try to cut down on my hours in front of the idiot box in favor of more active summer pursuits, I'm more than happy to trade in my Full House and Seinfeld reruns for some quality original programming. 

What are you watching this summer?

Monday
May242010

LOST: The End

As the landmark show has done for six seasons, LOST's finale left us with plenty of questions.  Thankfully, it also gave us a solid foundation on which to base our interpretations of the show’s core meaning. 

LOST was a show that broke rules throughout its existence, whether it was announcing a series end date, utilizing unorthodox narrative structure, or seriously addressing questions of spirituality, and those risks were part of what made the show great.  The writers and actors of LOST were unafraid to challenge viewers with an uncompromising vision, and that respect for the process paid off in the final product. 

I truly believe there will never be another show like LOST.  It may well be that its run serves as the swan song for network television.  We'll have to wait to understand the show's place in television history, but for now, we can analyze its legacy within the context of its final hours. 

ABC / Mario PerezAs a loyal fan of LOST, someone who has relished the high points and kept faith during the low, I would find it hard to believe that any real fan of the show would be disappointed by "The End."  If before the finale you didn’t accept that the show was not about mythology or science fiction, but rather the journey of its characters, then you wasted 121 hours of your life.  The power of LOST comes from its human element, not the supernatural.  Sure, the setting of the show incorporated many fictional tropes, some of which were pretty cool, but at its heart was a story that addressed the big questions, of love, redemption, and the meaning of life. 

For most of this season, I was among the viewers who were skeptical of the Sideways storylines.  I was unsure why we needed a new narrative device so close to the end, but as I had done for five years, I trusted in the show, and my faith was rewarded in the finale.  The revelation that the Sideways world was not an alternate reality but instead a form of afterlife meeting place was surprising yet satisfactory.  The reconciliation of the timelines provided what I really wanted, the knowledge that the Island timeline was real, and that it meant something.  As Christian Shephard told Jack, "the most important time of your life was the time you spent with these people."  That idea, that individuals can be linked through shared experience, is a fitting end for this group's journey.

This explanation certainly leaves a lot to unpack, and I can understand that some people could be turned off by the fact that the meaning of the Sideways world is ambiguous.  I am left wondering if any of the alternate storylines meant anything aside from bringing the castaways together.  Did it mean anything that they got a glimpse of what life could have been like if they never crashed?  Or, because they apparently created that world, do those speculations only serve as a means to an end, to a remembrance of things as they were? 

Other questions I am still struggling with include why certain people were included or excluded from that final group in the church.  Daniel Faraday seemingly grasped the nature of that world, yet Desmond told Eloise Hawking that he wouldn’t be coming with him.  I took this to mean that he would move on later, perhaps after he helps Charlotte realize her past.  Also, we never saw an epiphany for Penny in the Sideways world.  Can we just assume that Desmond, as enlightenment catalyst, brought her consciousness at some point?  I accept that Michael wouldn’t be there because he was trapped on the island, unable to move on, and I guess Walt wasn't really essential to this core group, so for the most part the right people were in the room.

That final scene, and the episode as a whole, just felt right.  It was great how the show essentially came full circle, referencing the past in a way that allowed the characters to move forward.  The recreation of central moments of their Island life was fun for the audience and a fitting way for the characters to receive their epiphanies.  And to have Jack be the last to understand, to be the conduit for the explanation of the Sideways world, as we simultaneously see him dying in the Island world, was as well-planned a sequence as you could ask for, culminating in the perfect symmetric image of his eye closing.

Some extra thoughts before I conclude.

Scenes I love from the finale:

  • Charlie: "I was shot by a fat man."
  • Ben’s look of gratitude when Hurley asked for his help.
  • Juliet and Sawyer’s shared epiphany.

Some more lingering questions:

  • Did Desmond truly serve his purpose as failsafe on the island?  Well, he did serve a purpose; it just wasn’t the one he, Jack, or Locke thought it would be.  He survived moving the rock, temporarily making Locke mortal.
  • So why were Desmond and Jack able to survive being in the heart of the island, and MIB suffered "a fate worse than death"?  Perhaps part of the fringe benefits of being the Constant. 

I could write pages more, but I think I got to the heart of my opinion on LOST’s final chapter.  It was a rewarding experience to go on this six-year journey, and I truly feel that the finale fulfilled the spirit of the show.  I look forward to talking it over for a while longer, and then, when I’m ready, to let go and move on.  

Thursday
Apr292010

TV Guilty Pleasures 

I watch a lot of television.  I’ve always had an affinity for the “idiot-box,” which puts out a constant stream of comedy, drama, and a warped version of “reality.”  Now, between my current unemployment and my long-established status as a night owl, my TV intake can sometimes hit 4-5 hours per day.  I know, I’m not proud.   

I tend to be in the camp of critics who proclaim that we are in a new golden age of television, and I think many lists of the best television series of all time will soon be rewritten yet again.  But amidst the cable renaissance led by shows like Damages and Breaking Bad, there’s still plenty of fodder for the masses.

So, without further justification, here is my personal list of television shows I regularly watch but would not normally admit in polite company.  

Ax Men | History

Laughable

  • Animation of possible deadly accidents on the mountain
  • Constant admonishing of Rygaard’s two greenhorns
  • Toothless wonder D.J. Jeremiah of Browning Logging
  • Shelby the Swampman.  ‘Nuff said.

Redeeming

  • Highlights the precarious and long-storied industry of logging as well as modern conservation concerns.
  • Roots family relationships and company rivalries on the backbone of pride and hard work.

 

American Pickers | History

Laughable

  • Back road hillbillies and their rusty gold.
  • Homoerotic overtones of Mike and Frank’s relationship.
  • Constant making fun of assistant Danielle. 

Redeeming

  • Respectful portrayal of both avid collectors and borderline hoarders.
  • Glimpse into American treasures of the past, including fun facts about items that forged the popular culture of this country and confirms they “don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

 

Dinner: Impossible | Food Network

Laughable

  • British Chef Robert Irvine yelling his head off for an hour. 
  • Ridiculous themed challenges.

Redeeming

  • Highlights teamwork in the name of a good cause under tough circumstances.
  • Sous chefs George and Dave working their asses off while giving common cooking tips.

 

Spartacus: Blood and Sand | Starz

Laughable

  • Sam Raimi adds his campy take on the Roman drama, complete with 300-style bloodshed.
  • Completely gratuitous nudity and sex.

Redeeming

  • Complex character development and purposeful plot twists with rewarding reveals.
  • Completely gratuitous nudity and sex.

 

NCIS | CBS

Laughable

  • Typical procedural with inexplicable coincidences and unrealistic time management.
  • Mark Harmon’s character name – Leroy Jethro Gibbs. 

Redeeming

  • Great team chemistry with supporting cast.
  • Excellent balance between crime of the week and overarching story arcs.


Well, there you have it.  A glimpse into the dark corners of my DVR.  Some reality, some drama, mostly man-centric.  I can at least breathe a sigh of relief that there is no Jersey Shore or Rock of Love lurking in there.  My geeky tendencies instead lead me to the History, Discovery, Food Network, and National Geographic channels.  If I’m going to lose hours of my life to the time-suck of the boob tube, I should get at least some trivial knowledge from it. 

One of the major problems about television is the passive nature of the medium.  We sit like blobs as the images wash over us.  Thankfully, new shows are inspiring us to engage with the art, as water coolers and message boards light up with talk of the latest episodes of the top shows out there.  And while for every LOST there are five Happy Towns, there is ample evidence that the TV renaissance is here to stay.

What are some of your TV guilty pleasures? 

Friday
Apr022010

Fringe Solidifies Must-See Status with "Peter"

Fringe

FOX

Thursday 9/8c

Spoiler Warning: This article addresses plot points of the Fringe episode “Peter”. 

Although the recent trend of broadcast television shows going on hiatus mid-season is a bit frustrating, the excitement of their return offers an opportunity for a big payoff.  Fans of Fringe had their anticipation sated in dramatic fashion with Thursday night’s episode, “Peter.”

FOX“Peter” is the best episode of Fringe to date, largely because it emphasizes the characters’ humanity, and the drama comes from personal tragedy instead of sci-fi mythology.  John Noble’s Walter Bishop is regularly the best thing about Fringe, and this is the first time we’re seeing him in the past, fully confident and aggressive in his scientific beliefs.  We finally get to witness firsthand the event that has shaped so much of the present tensions between the parallel universes.  We see a father whose sorrow drives him to rip the fabric of space-time to save his son. 

I loved watching Noble as a younger, arrogant Walter.  The performance served as a great counterpoint to the sweet, damaged man we’ve come to know in the present.  Unyielding in his mission, he would let no one stand in his way.  The tongue-lashing he gave Nina Sharp was so satisfying, as he railed against the absent wunderkind, William Bell.  And we learned how Nina’s arm was injured, seeing it pushed out of phase by the window between worlds.       

But Walter’s arrogance is not the only agent in this ethical quandary.  The Observers play an integral role in facilitating the potentially catastrophic events.  It was an Observer who distracted “Walternate” from realizing he had found a cure, and later saved Walter and Peter from the lake.  Was this the same compassionate Observer we saw in “August”? 

I am very intrigued by the Observer characters, especially when they cease to be solely that.  We get a sense of larger forces at play, that Peter “is important.”  Where do the Observers’ loyalties lie and what is their investment? 

The family scenes with Orla Brady as Elizabeth Bishop contributed to the success of this episode because of their subtlety, the interactions truly conferring their love for Peter (well acted by Quinn Lord) and the pain they feel at his death.  The husband and wife relationship was summed up when Walter tells Elizabeth, “I need you to not doubt me.”  The power of this request in its first utterance is painfully subverted in its later use to deceive the alternate mother. 

Fringe has taken a season and a half to really find its stride, and can now truly be considered a successor to The X-Files because it has successfully merged character drama with an overarching mythology.  “Peter” gave us beautifully acted drama while also filling in the puzzle piece we had been skirting around for so long.  Show runner Jeff Pinkner has said that the remainder of the season will be filtered through this secret between Walter and Olivia.  I can’t wait to see what happens when Peter learns the truth about his past, and how he and Olivia utilize their uniqueness to face the coming fight.  Fringe has solidified its must-see status for the rest of the season.   

Monday
Mar292010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

ABC

Friday 9/8c

While many are praising the tumultuous passing of the health care bill, the cauterized media coverage and public opinion polls show all too clearly that America does not know how to have a civil debate about the most important social issues.

ABC / Holly FarrellPerhaps they need to be driven to dialogue and change through a more familiar avenue, like reality television.  Let’s hope that medium is more palatable to Americans as they watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a six-part series on ABC that documents the British chef’s attempts to change the life-shortening eating habits of America’s least healthy town, Huntington, West Virginia. 

Having watched the first two episodes (available on Hulu), I can say that Food Revolution falls into the same trappings as many reality shows – painting people as caricatures of themselves, pitting heroes against villains, and squeezing raw emotion out of its stars.  After all, the series is produced by Ryan Seacrest. 

The message behind the series, though, is anything but trite.  Obesity is one of America’s leading health problems, and there is no reason that an overhaul of the health-care system should not also include food industry regulation and nutritional education.  Jamie Oliver has experience with enacting real political and social change through his whole foods educational approach. 

Oliver achieved success with program like Jamie’s School Dinners and Ministry of Food in his native England, which highlighted the dangers of processed foods in the school system and encouraged a community effort to rediscover the joys of home cooking.  His efforts raised public awareness and secured funds for an overhaul of the school lunch system, even earning praise from Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Just this year, Oliver earned a TED prize for his programs, an award shared previously by people like Bono and former President Bill Clinton. 

I feel strongly that regulation of the food industry and nutritional education need to be addressed hand-in-hand with the future of health care in this country.  Oliver gets it right by starting in the schools, with the children.  Food Revolution shows him battling a population entrenched in their habits, a school board system concerned with budgetary constraints, and a student body incapable of recognizing a fresh tomato.  By engaging real families simultaneously with government officials, Oliver’s efforts have a chance at making a real difference. 

Parents should absolutely watch this show with their children.  It will serve as a wakeup call to the type of food we put in our bodies every day.  It’s also great motivation for young, single people or couples to get into the kitchen and learn a few new recipes, so that we don’t pass on the same bad habits to future generations.  All of us can take more notice of the food we eat, and Jamie Oliver gives us an example we can proudly follow. 

Links

Sign Jamie’s petition for an American Food Revolution

Top Chef’s Toby Young on Jamie Oliver