Archives For TV

I knew very early on that ‘Dead Freight’ would be one of the most divisive episodes of Breaking Bad in the show’s history. It’s all a question of “reality” and how high the show expects us to suspend our disbelief. I suppose I should say up front that I thought ‘Dead Freight’ was a great episode of television. It’s the kind of episode that comes along only every once in a while; the kind where I can feel while watching it that something special is happening. Could I suspend disbelief? Sure, but not easily, and that’s precisely what the episode was looking for. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble that paid off brilliantly, at least for me.

Tonal shifts are difficult to accomplish, but ‘Dead Freight’ goes a step further by also trying to shift audience expectations of its plot. My experience came in roughly four stages: confusion, denial, acceptance and shock. I feel that was by design. Vince Gilligan and George Mastras, the writer-director of the episode, created, in some ways, the ultimate Breaking Bad story. It was about plans. Plans that seem stupid on paper. Plans that end up working far better and going way further than anyone could have expected. And, of course, it’s about plans that end up going horribly wrong. Click to read more.

If this episode is a sign of things to come, Breaking Bad is going to be knocking out of the park this season. It’s an episode built around one basic plot point, but in leading to that logical end the show examines the true depths of what Walt is now going to be responsible for.

‘Madrigal’ is essentially a Mike-centric episode, which is great because Mike has very quickly become one of the best characters on TV. His quiet seriousness and clear contempt for what he does and a lot of the people around him make him fascinating. It’s alluded to that Mike was once a cop who went off the deep end somehow and landed a place beside Gus. Now that Gus is gone, Mike is forced to take responsibility for his future and the lives of others. CLick to read more.

This time last year I found a new obsession. Back in the summer of 2007, I got into Firefly in a big way. I’m a nerd, but I’m not the type who dresses up or writes fan-fiction or buys lots of merch, but with Firefly I went a little further than I ever had before. I bought any book I could get my hands on. I went to special screenings of Serenity. I bought a Jayne Cobb hat. It was pretty intense for a while, but a show that was already canceled, it wasn’t exactly easy to maintain the fandom. I still adore Firefly to no end, but I’m not totally over-the-moon like I was back then. My new obsession is on a whole new scale. It’s called Doctor Who.

For those completely under the rock, Doctor Who is a science-fiction series on the BBC in the UK. It first premiered in 1963, went on for many, many years, was eventually canceled in the 80s, and then brought back by Russell T. Davies in 2005. It’s about an alien who looks like a man and goes by the moniker, The Doctor. He flies around in an old police box called the TARDIS, which can travel anywhere in space and time. He usually brings along a companion or two from Earth. He goes on adventures, helping people around the Universe and stopping bad guys. It’s cheesy and fun and badass and sometimes even emotional. I love it to death, now let me tell you how I got into it and why you should, too. Click to read more.

(This review assumes you’ve already seen Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 1 and as such SPOILERS ahead!)

Welcome to my weekly reviews of Breaking Bad Season 5. It’s being called the final season, but considering it’s been split in half, with the second half airing next year, and since even the actors have referred to a ‘Season 6’, I’ll refer to this season as the penultimate one. When we left off last season, a lot of things were up in the air, but it had become pretty clear that Walt was now completely and utterly a bad guy. Where this coming season will take the character is a matter of pure speculation, but wherever he goes, it likely won’t be pretty.

With the first episode back, we jumped right back into the classic “SCIENCE IS FUN!” mode for the show. This week’s lesson: magnets. There may be some sort of thematic implications in using magnets, but I think we all know why it had to be magnets. They’re just so cool. I mean, really, did you see the scene where the laptop flew out of Jesse’s hands and smashed against the side of the truck? Pure gold. I was only watching it on TV, but for at least a few seconds I felt as giddy as a five year-old. But maybe we should leave the magnets alone for now and talk about the actual meat of the episode. Click to read more.

Aaron Sorkin has a problem. He doesn’t know when to stop. I love that he’s something of an idealist. I love that he writes dialogue in a way nobody actually speaks. I love the effortless ways he can build tension into a script with nothing but words, as seen during the broadcast of a news program in the first episode of his new HBO series, The Newsroom. The problem is that he has no filter. He has no sense of proportion. He doesn’t understand that the idealism with which he writes is only appropriate in certain settings.

When Sorkin was dealing with a fictional presidency surrounded by fictional politics in The West Wing, it worked. A dash of realistic policy jargon, stirred in with some heightened dialogue, hilarious characters, and a format that allowed for the fantasy of the perfect modern President to take shape on television week after week. Of course, then Sorkin came back with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in which he attempted to bring the same level of social import and awareness to a setting that could never believably call for it. A Saturday Night Live-type show dealing seriously with weighty concerns? It didn’t help that we never actually got to see the fake comedy show being remotely funny enough to justify its own existence. The Newsroom sits somewhere between these two spheres of Sorkin, which makes it all the more frustrating. Click to read more.

Girls: Finale Sadness

June 18, 2012 — 7 Comments

I’m not sure what the production of Girls was like, but I have to imagine the episodes were written mostly in sequence. I say this because the season quite remarkably got better as it went. Now, I still think the best episode was ‘The Return’ from right around the middle of the series, but in terms of the series’ arcs, it really did find a footing over time. When the show first premiered there were a lot of online discussions as to what Girls was actually about. Was it supposed to be some New Age feminist tract, or a representation of the modern young female? Was it just a new version of Sex and the City, or was Lena Dunham trying to do something completely different? By the end of the finale, none of these things are true (though in a way they all are). Girls, instead, is a show about its characters, plain and simple. It goes where the characters need to go, and where that is is anyone’s guess.

The season finale also confirmed the tone Dunham has crafted. Very much influenced by producer Judd Apatow, the series takes wild swings at small emotional moments. This isn’t Mad Men, where a single shot can be filled with meaning and mystery and allusion. But it is the kind of show where a shot of a girl sitting alone on a beach eating a slice of wedding can breathe emotion and wisdom. It’s also the kind of show where ending a season on such a shot, sad as it is, feels completely appropriate and satisfying. Click to read more.

The season finale of Mad Men‘s long-awaited fifth season was a levelling off. It was a reflection on the events of the preceding 12 episodes, a mourning for for the events of the previous episode, and a look forward to a future of repeating cycles. The fascinating thing about the characters on Mad Men is not that they do crazy or unexpected things, but that no matter how hard they try they succumb to the malaise of the American Dream.

It’s instructive to look at Pete’s journey through the season. Here’s a man who should be more than comfortable with his position, both at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and at home. He should be happy and content and feel accomplished, particularly for his age. Except he’s none of those things. He looks upon his success with disdain for the emptiness of it all. A marriage he has no heart in and a job where nobody truly respects his talent. Of course, he doesn’t help himself by wallowing, and instead of working on bettering himself he merely digs himself further and further into scumbaggery. Click to read more.

A Mission to Expand

June 9, 2012 — 6 Comments

I’ve decided to take my blogging to the next level. Well, another level. Well, a level. I’ve decided to take my blogging to a level.

Let me start over.

I’ve decided to improve this blog by blogging more, and more consistently and with a more coherently wide range of content.

Does that make sense? I hope so. And if not, I trust you’ll keep reading and continue enjoying my bloggery. For those that do understand what I’m talking about, I hope this will sound like good news. This week I asked you, my dear readers, to help me get an idea of what you, my dear readers, would be interested in seeing on this site. I asked for some tips on how to get my blogging into something that’s nearly daily, as well as put up two polls on the topics of movie and TV reviews.

Well, the results are in and there’s gonn’ be some changes ’round these here parts. Click to read more.

Spoilers! for Mad Men Season 5 up to Episode 11!

Mad Men’s central character, Don Draper, used to be the coolest guy in the room. That may still be the case for the most part, but Season 5 has painted Don in a new light: the out-of-touch, middle-aged businessman. The generational gap has been a major running theme this season, embodied most clearly in the age gap between Don and his new wife, Megan. But while this theme has been played in the forefront, in the background we’ve seen a more subtle change in Don which came to a head in last night’s episode, “The Other Woman”.

In the past, Don Draper has been defined by his relationships with women. Specifically, Don has been the great philanderer. His approach to the women in his life has been primarily one of domineering, almost always sexually. Don controls the women in his life, or at least, he used to. The first break in this trend was marrying Megan. Not only are they far apart in age, but Megan represents the opposite of his previous wife, Betty. Where Betty was quiet and obedient, Megan is loud and upfront. Both characters often act like petulant children, but Betty usually displays this trait by being cold selfish. Megan is more primal, prone to lashing out in fits of rage. Don could control Betty. He can’t control Megan, and he doesn’t totally seem to want to. Part of what seems to appeal to him about their marriage is Megan’s unpredictability. She adds spice and vigor to his otherwise dry life. It’s not just Megan, though. Click to read more.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about whether this New Golden Age of TV has surpassed cinema as the best, most important mass art form. I can understand the arguments. While I don’t think there have been nearly as many great TV series as there have been films, the great TV shows of late have been quite extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that did for me what HBO’s The Wire did. There wasn’t a single film last year that had me gasping for air like Breaking Bad‘s fourth season. Neither of these comparison’s are fair, though. First of all, these shows are exceptional. They’re also long form fiction, which allows much more time to build stories and develop characters. Film just can’t do that, but it does do other things well. There’s a benefit in the short form. The precision of storytelling in film almost always surpasses what’s possible in a TV series over multiple episodes.

Arguing which format is better is essentially pointless. We can all agree that they’re both capable of greatness. That said, that movies and TV are very different doesn’t mean they have nothing to learn from each other. I think that TV has done a great job of adapting the qualities of cinema. Shows look grander and more cinematic, a direct result of widescreen and HD. Series have also become more serialized, which isn’t really a cinematic technique, but the approach of essentially making a movie that happens to be cut up into 10-20 hourlong acts is distinctly a response to how films are crafted. Click to read more.