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Minor Nitpicks

Burn Notice (USA) — Last season, I had a minor quibble with this otherwise excellent show: their reliance on have pat, unbelievable resolutions to the problems-of-the-week. They stick Michael with these bad-ass, take-no-prisoners criminals, and then by the end it’s all, “Oh, they’ll be hiding out of state until the heat dies down.” The show hasn’t been on the air long enough to answer the question of what happens when one of these criminals comes back with a vengeance, but that question ignores the tiny problem of mass-communication. These big-shot criminals have no contacts or minions in Miami, and/or no way to contact them? I know Michael assumes fake identities in nearly every episode, but it’s still hard to believe nobody can track him…

…which is why, this season, they’ve solved these problems by, for the most part, killing everyone off. Last week, Andrew Divoff’s human trafficker met a grisly demise at the hands of his former-Soviet comrades — none of whom had seen Michael (the only ones who did see him didn’t live to tell the tale). This week’s arch-criminal — a master thief (Oded Fehr) trying to pull of a big heist — met a similar end at the hands of a surprisingly terrifying Robin Givens, as a gun-nut munitions expert. All of this came as a result of Michael convincing them that Fehr screwed them all over, meaning nobody in the crew has any reason to come after Michael.

The writers are still keeping with the trend of giving the overarching “who burned me?” story more screen time. The closest they came to intertwining it with the heist story is when Michael is pulled away from infiltrating the office of “Carla” — the mystery woman played by Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer — to go back to his safe-cracker cover. I’m still looking forward to the day an entire operation is compromised because of Michael’s obsession with “Carla,” but at least they’re no longer relegating these subplots to the opening and closing scenes of each episode.

Once again, one of the most entertaining aspects of the show is Michael’s voiceover on spy tradecraft — the utter boredom of a stakeout, the complexities of “cramming” to fudge your way as an expert safe-cracker — and they gave a fairly routine heist plot a fresh coat of paint.

Eureka (Sci-Fi) — Even though it did very little to continue storylines from last season, I consider this a massive improvement over last week in almost every way. Okay, maybe the “sleazy dude turns into a snake” metaphor was a little on the nose, but they resolved Henry’s prison problems, so that gets a thumbs-up from me. Also, I found the mystery a tad less predictable than the premiere’s lackluster effort. They gave us a more interesting mystery to ponder, then offered more characters to suspect. The “never-referenced-before biosphere-as-reality-show” subplot kinda reeked of “we have nothing for these characters to do this week, so let’s stick them in a room and make them the Greek chorus,” but otherwise, the episode worked pretty well.

Flashpoint (CBS) — I refuse to go on and on about the nitpicky differences between Americans and Canadians as individuals, but I love Canadian storytelling for including amazing nuance and subtlety (a rarity in American shows, especially non-The Wire cop shows). How many times have we seen the “shrill feminist life-destroying corporate succubus” character portrayed as a ghastly villain? It amazed me, in the best possible way, that Flashpoint’s succubus actually broke down and, with great sincerity, felt a mixture of horror and sadness when she realized she had caused all of this. More than that, the episode’s biggest shock was that the bank-robbing ex-guard and the succubus found some common ground; he realized what a mistake he had made, and she made the rather logical argument that she worked her ass off to save all the jobs, “but it wasn’t enough,” and at least six fired workers was better than 40.

Honestly, we hardly even needed the SRU in this episode. These two guest stars drove so much of the action, and were written with so much depth, that the cops almost feel like a distraction. (I felt the same way about the episode a few weeks ago that guest-starred Jericho’s Erik Knudsen as a recovering addict who ends up getting mistakenly pegged as a narc.) I don’t know if that’s a criticism or not, because I do like the actors portraying the negotiators, and I admire the writers for trying to develop them in organic, interesting ways — they just always take second-fiddle to the “criminals.” That’s not a criticism, either.

To sum up: watch this show if you aren’t already.

Mad Men (AMC) — Perhaps I’m misremembering, but I don’t believe we’ve seen Pete’s family before — and jeez, does it ever explain a lot. Granted, they’re grieving the loss of Pete’s father, but wow… What an unpleasant bunch. I’d say I respect him a bit more, but he hasn’t exactly overcome their legacy of dickishness.

In other news: Peggy is both a tease and a horrible mother. We now know what happened to the baby — her mother and/or sister is/are stuck raising him. I almost wish she’d given him up for adoption; at least whoever got him would want him. Theoretically.

Actually, this episode did a solid job of reminding me how awful everyone is — okay, Paul seems like a nice enough guy, but his African-American girlfriend brought out the absolute worst in Joan. Betty revealed herself to be a mildly terrifying mother. The only one who came out of this episode almost unscathed was Don, but lucky for us, we already know he’s incredibly unpleasant — he just possesses a few noble qualities, like not wanting to sell Mohawk Airline up a river because they can catch a bigger fish. I guess this really is the new central conflict: the way Don does things versus the way Duck does things. I feel like an idiot for just noticing “Donald” and “Duck.”

The Middleman (ABC Family) — After last week’s surprising, poignant ending, we’re back to comic-book insanity — not that I’m complaining. In fact, The Middleman may have hit a stride of sorts. We understand our characters, their connections to one another, and everything that’s at stake. Now it’s time to dilly-dally with relationships (the return of Tyler) and dig deeper into who these people are.

The writers chose an ironic method to reaffirm The Middleman and Wendy’s characters — this week was effectively “opposite day,” as Wendy is forced to impersonate a sorority girl and The Middleman is possessed by an evil mad-scientist-in-training (played in normal form by Growing Pains alum Ashley Johnson, most recently seen in the awesome-sounding horror-comedy Otis). Watching them behaving in such uncharacteristic ways, it hit me how well-developed (and well-acted) these characters are.

Unfortunately, this ton-of-bricks reminder made it even harder to believe the conflict between Wendy and Lacey. Would they really need to fight over Tyler? I don’t think Lacey would go for him in the first place, but to think that she’d take Wendy at her word that it was okay to pursue him? That’s less plausible than thinking Lacey would be rebounding a week after The Middleman ripped her heart out. This was still a fine episode, and they did the best with this conflict that they could, but the whole subplot rang false.

Monk (USA) — The writers did a terrific job of tying A story to B story this week. In fact, it occurred to me that they’ve done a fairly good job of that in each episode this season, but it was especially apparent this week, since the entire climax relied on Monk’s central problem at the start (his fear that he won’t pass the police department physical). Add to that some game guest stars (Robert Loggia as Burgess Meredith in Rocky, and James Lesure from Rocky as a refreshingly pleasant, dignified boxer — a rarity in a post-Tyson world) and an engaging mystery, and it makes for a solid episode. Also, Tony Shalhoub doesn’t get enough credit for his broad physical gags. Every moment of his exercise attempts was laugh-out-loud funny, but not in the usual “nervous-Monk” way, and he never took it over the top (as he has in the past). Well done.

Psych (USA) — I am an unabashed fan of Steven Weber, especially in crazy long-haired Brian Hackett mode. As Henry’s black-sheep brother, he blended right into the Psych ensemble. On a deeper level, the writers did an admirable job of exploring Shawn’s fascination with “cool” Uncle Jack, to the point of pretending Jack was his own father. After meeting his mother, we didn’t have a proper explanation for Shawn’s wild-child attitudes until now. This just continues a trend of quality father-son relationship exploration that the writers have played with this season more than they have in the past.

The treasure-hunting story had plenty of funny and surprising moments, but I’m not sure about the flashback structuring of the episode. I don’t know if I should be impressed that they didn’t do it Rashômon-style or disappointed at the missed opportunity. Oh, and if I’m going to nitpick, what the hell was with the shameless Red Robin product placement? This ranked up with the Dead Zone episode where they did an extreme close-up on a Tylenol bottle while Johnny Smith described how much he loved it as a cure for vision-induced headaches. I don’t mind product placement (it often lends a verisimilitude that can’t be found with fake product names), but don’t draw attention to it.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 10, 2008 12:00 AM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

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