According to last night’s Golden Globes broadcast, people are no longer allowed to criticize Tina Fey (and, one assumes, 30 Rock) because she won a major award. I know Fey was speaking about anonymous Internet nerds, but it kinda chapped my ass. Not just because I don’t like 30 Rock, or because Fey is the primary reason why I don’t. It’s mainly this notion that nobody’s allowed to criticize anybody else for [insert reason].
I understand the difference between “I don’t like 30 Rock, and here’s a 30-page explanation of why,” and “OMG I H8 TINA FAY HER SHIT SUX!!!!” But is it really that difficult to separate valid, well-written criticism from trolls and flamers? It’s entirely possible that the 30-page explanation might be a rambling, incoherent mess about the problems plaguing industrial societies. That, too, can be dismissed as bad, invalid criticism. If, however, it’s well-written and/or thoughtful, does that mean those receiving the criticism should automatically dismiss it because some random, anonymous or semi-anonymous person on the Internet wrote it?
24 (Fox)—I gave the prequel movie, Redemption, a major beating on account of 24‘s increasing emphasis on the political potboiler elements of the show. This has been a slow build since episode one, but if Days Three, Four and Six taught us anything, it’s that 24 is a thriller with elements that affect the political world. This should not make it a “political thriller.”
That’s why Sunday’s episode, the first night of this season’s two-night premiere, worked so well. It didn’t eliminate the political elements completely—and it shouldn’t—but it downplayed them to something like a scene out of a goofy action movie like Executive Decision or The Sum of All Fears. They haven’t repeated last season’s big “nothing but political yammering” mistake, even though Redemption insinuated that this year would feature more of the same. The Oval Office scenes were minimal and relatively subdued, while the subplot with First Husband Colm Feore focuses on the personal instead of the political—the very reason Days One, Two and Five succeeded.
But we didn’t come here to talk about Colm Feore or President Cherry “Sinister Horror-Movie Grandmother” Jones. What’s Jack up to?
Starting where Redemption left off, we first see Jack in the midst of a grilling by That ’70s Dad, Kurtwood Smith, veteran bad-ass second-banana villain in no fewer than 80,000 great, schlocky action movies. I’d like to believe he’ll be around more, but I have my doubts. Nonetheless, it was fun to see him here, but the FBI whisks him away from his hearing almost immediately because Tony Almeida is back from the dead and trying to do…something…with planes. I don’t really understand it, but he kidnapped Dr. Phlox and forced him to rejigger…something to take over air-traffic control. One of the nice things about 24 is their technobabble barely makes sense, but you never have to understand anything beyond, “He almost made two planes crash into each other.”
Consequently, the bulk of the two hours is spent introducing us to the FBI crew before Jack wanders off to track Tony with his new pseudo-partner, Renee Walker. I don’t know how I feel about this. I was a big fan of Jack’s one-man army. A two-person army could be a hinderance more than a benefit, although it might give Kiefer’s material some extra heft now that he’ll spend his time yelling “Dammit!” at someone in the room instead of just yelling “Dammit!” into his cell phone as he stabs the OFF button.
Unlike previous seasons, these two episodes didn’t quite start with a bang. It had a cool car accident and some nice shootings, and they managed to keep the pace up despite the lack of thrilling action scenes. The fistfight with Tony near the end was pretty well-choreographed, and the occasional location shooting in Washington, D.C., is integrated pretty seamlessly. I guess now’s the time to mention my thankfulness for a location change. The Los Angeles setting was never the worst part about 24, but it does kind of feel like a breath of fresh air to see something a little different.
Still, for all its good points, I’ve come to expect more manic craziness and explosions from a 24 premiere. Maybe we’ll get that with tonight’s episode.
Damages (FX)—So, we have new characters: William Hurt as a high-strung, possibly crazy scientist with a deep history with Patty; Timothy Olyphant as a mildly creepy, stalkerish dude from Ellen’s trauma support group; and Marcia Gay Harden’s as-yet-unseen Patty nemesis. We have a new “six months later” mystery: Ellen’s…somewhere (a bar? a fancy hotel room? somebody’s apartment?), with a drink and a gun and a lot of threatening words, talking to someone we’ve not yet seen. We also have new contemporary mysteries. It’s hard to talk about this episode because it revealed so much and yet so little—we have inklings of the story to come, but the bigger picture has yet to be revealed.
This will be the challenge of looking at a show like Damages, with its dense stories, complex characters, and nontraditional dramatic ebb and flow. Like The Wire, it has little in the way of a “standalone episode” component—nine times out of ten, individual episodes don’t stand out. Individual moments, definitely, but the episodes of a show like this function like chapters in a novel. It’s different from my other serialized favorites, Lost and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in that those shows are more like individual issues of a comic book—each tells something akin to a short story while adding depth to more complex overall stories.
Shows like those bring out the nerd in me, and not just because of their sci-fi components. They raise questions that make me speculate on the answers; somehow, a show like Damages or The Wire raises questions in such a way that I don’t want to guess—I just want to breeze on to the next chapter and let the answers wash over me.
For instance, we’re shown Arthur Frobisher in a hospital bed, still possessing his toxic combination of desperation and arrogance. Ellen pays him a visit—pretending to be his wife—and silently contemplates killing him. I have no idea how Frobisher will tie into the new story, if he will get a story of his own, or if Ellen will get her revenge. Damages doesn’t drop hints that allow for speculation—it just shows individual pieces that will, eventually, add up to a greater whole.
For this reason, and the reason that covering The Wire turned into a major pain the ass (and a mild embarrassment, since I was wrong about nearly everything when I tried to make speculations), I may not cover Damages on a weekly basis. I’ll play it by ear; if it starts to decline in any significant ways, or if the story takes a turn that warrants something resembling insight, I’ll write about it. If not, just keep in mind that I’m watching (and probably loving) this show.
Flashpoint (CBS)—CBS’s Canadian-based surprise summer hit returned for a pseudo-second season. Like USA’s “chop a completed season in half” philosophy, this “premiere” didn’t quite feel like a premiere. It leaped somewhat recklessly back into the SRU, assigned to protect a successful international businessman (Colm Feore) from a fairly bizarre terrorist plot. This episode didn’t provide the usual level of empathy for the “villains”; instead, they concentrated more on the relationship between Feore and wife Wendy Crewson. It had a few absurd moments—Jules’ inept handling of Crewson, the fact that they couldn’t figure out the one Latino guy in a room full of whiter-than-snow Canadians might have something to do with a terrorist threat that ties back to Chilean nationals—but it was pretty solid and suspenseful. I want more episodes like last season’s finale, but Flashpoint is still a cut the other schlocky CBS procedures.
Leverage (TNT)—For all my past ranting, this show has started to jell over the past few weeks. I did notice that TNT has opted to play the episodes out of their production order, which might explain some of the wonkiness in terms of how the characters relate to each other—one week, they seem like effortless friends, and the next they seem distant and discompassionate toward one another. This show doesn’t rely on continuity or serialized storylines, but it would be nice to see a more natural build.
Last week’s bank-robbery episode might have been the series high point (so far), if only because it put the same characters into a different context. I hope they keep doing episodes like this once in awhile, to keep things fresh. I primarily liked this week’s issue-tackling Serbian orphan story because it went back to something that sort of frustrated me in the pilot. The joke about Parker blowing up her parents to keep a stolen teddy bear sort of amused me, but it spoke to…serious issues that have only been dealt with in a jokey way, until now. Parker finally opens up and cares a little bit about something other than money, stealing, and blowing shit up. It’s a nice, new dimension to a character who pretty much requires more depth. I’ve complained about this show and its throwaway jokes in the past, but it appears they’re going back and filling in the cracks. Well done, Leverage writers.
Monk (USA)—I love Steve Zahn, but I’m not sure Monk needs more family members coming out of the woodwork. I was half-convinced he was making up the family angle just to get Monk to help him, but I’m glad they didn’t. I don’t mind them mixing up the formula once in awhile, either, but did they forget this was a pseudo-premiere? The episode had barely a speck of Natalie, Stottlemeyer, or Disher (was Disher even in the episode)—not exactly a warm return to characters we know and love. Don’t get me wrong; the episode worked pretty well, but it just didn’t feel like a premiere. By this point, the writers should realize that USA splits up their seasons and should write something resembling a “second” premiere.
Psych (USA)—It started to occur to me with this episode that Psych has just gotten sort of bizarre. It’s clever, fun and funny, but the plots this season have been weird—ghosts, treasure-hunting, daredevils, a spoof of ’70s cop shows, a roller-derby episode… And now, they’re solving the murder of a sea lion. I don’t know what to make of it, because the inconsequential nature of the plotting allows for an entertaining hour to drift by, but I still can’t ignore the fact that the plots are inconsequential. How do you analyze something like that? It’s like writing a Masters thesis on “Weird Al” Yankovic lyrics—funny, occasionally brilliant, but not really amounting to much.
I don’t mean that to sound harsh to Psych or Weird Al, but doesn’t it feel like the tone of the show has changed? Last year had some ridiculous stories (Shawn starring in a telenovela, for instance), but the show still seemed to take itself seriously. Now, it’s like anything goes. I don’t know if I like that, even though the show is still funny and the cast is still great.