Wed, 26 January 2011
After a lengthy hiatus, Gossip Girl returned last night with one of the strongest episodes of the season. That's not to say it was on par with the series' early greats. After all, this is a show in its fourth year - quite a long time by young adult fare standards - and its age is showing.
In fact, it was the recognition of that age that lifted this episode. In a way, most of our main characters (at least the ones that appeared this week) came to conclusions by the hour's end about the things that have long defined them but that they are now too old and too mature for.
Let's start with Blair. I actually found myself thinking, while Blair was using her minions to execute a scheme that would place her in the company of Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo and Fortune magazine's #1 most powerful woman, in hopes of gaining an internship, that this kind of thing should be behind her by now. She graduated from high school over a year and a half ago. Isn't it time she started living her life like an adult?
So imagine how pleased I was when, late in the episode, Blair's mother said almost that exact thing to her. That scene, along with a discussion with Dan, leads her to actually start thinking about what she wants to be when she grows up and and to perhaps stop trying to simply win all the time.
Speaking of Dan, the budding friendship between him and Blair is surprisingly exciting, or perhaps excitingly surprising. For all of her queen-bee bitchiness, the thing that has always stood about about Blair is that she is very intelligent, very well read and possessed of classical but discerning taste in the arts. That she and Dan would bond over French films is not some tired rom-com trope but is, with these two characters, believable and a little heartwarming.
Dan's other sign of growth this week was the admission to himself and to Serena that he is powerless to resist her and has, for the entirety of the series, continuously tripped over himself to place her interests above his. Their decision at the end to move forward with a new understanding likely won't last but it worked in the moment, after Serena was made to see how she had been behaving selfishly and uncaringly, just like she accused her mother of doing. There's a nice running commentary throughout this episode on the pros and cons of turning into your parents. Perhaps Serena will break from the path set by Lily once she stops reacting against her all the time.
Meanwhile, Eric is becoming quite a man, twice standing up to his mother confidently and eloquently; Nate is forced into parenting his own recently paroled father; and Chuck and Lily, one of my favorite developing relationships on the show, are going to have to work together in grudging respect toward a common goal. That should be fun.
Oh, and Jenny and Vanessa are apparently still convalescing at the Home for Boring Characters because they weren't around.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:38 AM
Mon, 24 January 2011
David and Sean discuss the entirety of The Sopranos, covering the two-part sixth season in this week's special episode (part four of four).
Fri, 21 January 2011
The more showy episodes of Modern Family (and these include some of the best episodes, as well) will find a way to bring the three storylines together into a crescendo at the end (think of this season's "Manny Get Your Gun"). While that's impressive and sometimes very effective, it's not what I require from this show. Give me three funny and well-told variations on a theme (last season's "My Funky Valentine" is a fine example) and I'll be satisfied.
That was missing from last night's episode. I suppose there are issues about honesty in the three stories but, at least in Cameron & Mitchell's and in Gloria's case, those issues are little more than an excuse for uninspired farce. Not a lot to hang a hat on.
The standout story of the episode, almost enough to save the whole thing on its own, was the Dunphy kids accidentally witnessing their parents having sex on their anniversary. The fallout of denial and discomfort on the kids' part and the pondering of how much openness is within the boundaries of good parenting on Claire and Phil's part are masterfully executed. The fact that the children work through it without their parents and with each other suggests that these two adults may have done a better job of raising them than their neuroses will allow them to admit. The whole thread smartly and subtly says a lot about families in general and this family in particular.
Gloria's story, the attempt to retrieve a nasty email before the receiver can read it is not only old hat (didn't Seinfeld do the same thing with an answering machine message?) but it also wastes any opportunity it had to say something about Gloria's place in this family, instead choosing to reinforce her position as an outsider. Jay's presence in the Dunphy house, however, did provide a chance for Claire to confront the ways she wants to improve on her father's parenting mistakes. So it gets a small pass for that.
It's the Cameron and Mitchell story (isn't it always?) that really lowers the grade here. Not only is it almost completely not funny - with the exception of Mitchell angrily spitting out, "Anjelica Huston!" - it's a bald-faced retread of a story we've seen before, the one where the status-conscience gay couple attempts to use their cute daughter to move up socially. Wasn't it just, like, a week ago they were trying to use Lily's ethnicity to get into a fancy preschool?
The A story here keeps me from worrying that the writers have lost the thread and, in fact, suggests that they may be capable of growing their characters wonderfully as the series progresses. They just need to get all their engines firing at once.
Category:general -- posted at: 8:44 AM
Tue, 18 January 2011
Earlier this season, How I Met Your Mother gave us "Natural History," one of the show's finest half hours to date. It was hilariously inventive and emotionally hefty, often in the same breath.
Two weeks ago, we got "Bad News," an episode that went overboard with the wackiness (even for HIMYM) and saved its devastating reveal for a last minute gut punch that was cheap and crass.
This week, we land somewhere in the middle. HIMYM has made the integration of outlandish elements into relatably human stories its calling card and that tradition was upheld here. Robin's neverending purse of debauchery; Danny Strong as the diminutive, bullying priest; the cameos by Michael Gross, Chris Elliot's voice and Ray Wise (replacing D-bag Eric Braedon). The only thing of this type that failed was Barney and Ted's increasingly annoying search for crotch-hit YouTube videos (almost a saving grace: Ted asking "Is he laughing?" from the floor).
On the other end of the spectrum, the weightier part of this episode, which takes place around Marshall's father's funeral, was subtle and well-observed, avoiding the play-acting version of grief that lesser shows display. Instead, it focused on the awkwardness and the nervous energy of the aftermath of death. No one knows exactly what they're suppposed to be doing and everyone is uncomfortable, wearing fancy clothes with no reason to celebrate.
"Last Words" will likely prove to be a memorable episode for me. Marshall's story certainly passes the "I went through the same thing" test. But what will keep it from joining the list of great HIMYM episodes, like "Natural History," is the simple fact that it wasn't funny often enough and it wasn't funny at the same time it was sad. This is, after all, still a sitcom. And I don't mind shedding a few tears during a sitcom, as long as I'm laughing through them.
- David Bax
Category:general -- posted at: 11:32 PM
Tue, 18 January 2011
Wed, 12 January 2011
David and Sean discuss the entirety of The Sopranos, covering the fifth season in this week's special episode (part three of four).