Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Time travelling

Spoilers for, in order, "How I Met Your Mother," "Heroes" and "Studio 60" just as soon as I have a flashback, a flashforward, an in media res opening and then another flashback...

Fun With Unchronological Storytelling #1: "How I Met Your Mother," which is already one huge flashback, sneaks in a "one year later" coda that, among other things, establishes that Marshall and Lily will be married and Ted and Robin will still be dating a year or so from now. The former's not a shock at all, while the latter is a mild but not unpleasant surprise. Since this season has been consistently funnier than season one, it's fair to say that Ted and Robin as a couple hasn't hurt the show at all, and keeping the focus of Ted's mopey quest for The One leaves more room for Swarley and slap bet-style hijinks.

Overall, this one wasn't as legendary as the last few weeks (after "Slap Bet," I was starting to wonder if it had eclipsed "The Office" as my favorite comedy), but a nice spotlight on Barney that wasn't really awkward even with the NPH's recent uncloseting. Frankly, I was more distracted by flashbacks to Wayne Brady threatening to choke a bitch. "Singles stamina" was another good, observant concept, though I wish Marshall could regain his stamina just long enough to dance again, dammit.

Fun With Unchronological Storytelling #2: When TV shows do flashback episodes to events that happened before the pilot, there's a tendency to cram every significant event in each characters' backstory into the span of a couple of days. ("The Shield" did this a few years ago, and it was one of the few bad "Shield" episodes ever.) "Heroes" was definitely guilty of this, but it was still a very strong episode, arguably better than last week's This Is The One You've Been Waiting For confrontation between Peter and Sylar.

Sylar's origin story (and confirmation that Sylar does, in fact, steal people's powers along with their brains) and Hiro realizing the limits of his powers were obviously the big events, but I feel like we also filled in some good blanks about Nathan (who once upon a time was capable of doing the right thing without too much agonizing, and who flew for the first time as a literal flight-or-fight response that he couldn't control) and Niki, and continued the character rehab Claire started getting last week (showing that she never wanted to be a bitchy cheerleader).

(One completely anal fanboy nitpicky question that nagged at me as I tried to fall asleep: if Hiro teleported back to present-day Tokyo and had to take non-super transportation back to Texas, wouldn't someone in airport security or Customs on either side of Pacific at least raise an eyebrow over him making two Japan-->America trips in a short period without any record of his return to Japan? Again, not a big deal, but it kept me up a few minutes, so I felt I had to share.)

Not So Much Fun With Unchronological Storytelling: "Studio 60," which trotted out one of Sorkin's more tired narrative devices of beginning in media res, then skipping back to show how we arrived at this pivotal moment. John Wells has beat this one into the ground, too, and Sorkin just did it with the first part of "Nevada Day," and unless he finds a way for the flashbacks to completely alter our interpretation of what we saw in the present, I don't want to see him do it again for a long, long time.

On the plus side, it looks like Sorkin finally found a way to use Mark McKinney as something more than a glorified researcher. I liked him as the unfunny comedy guru, though the contrast would have been more effective if the Matt or Lucy or Darius ever seemed remotely funny -- or even just excitable -- most of the time. (Among the many "Studio 60" elements I've grown to hate: the way that characters will read scripts completely stone-faced, then declare, "This is really funny." If you want to demonstrate how funny it is, have you thought of laughing?) The decision to keep working on a hostage-themed sketch even as the Grosse Pointe thing kept going and going and going felt odd -- even if the situation ended without bloodshed, why did the cell phone minutes story have to be done as a hostage situation?

Elsewhere: The Howie Mandel monologue wasn't significantly lamer than your standard "SNL" monologue that has no joke outside of using elements of the host's famous show/movie. Suzanne the PA continues the transition to NewDonna that a lot of the Sorkin-ites assumed when she asked Matt in the pilot if he was here to save them. Sorkin again loses any credibility on his "these characters aren't really based on real people" story by making Jordan the victim of a newsmagazine takedown that sounded an awful lot like Lynn Hirschberg's "Jamie Tarses' Fall, As Scheduled" from the NY Times Magazine.

And we discover that Harriet Hayes, comedy goddess, whose role as co-anchor of "News 60" is entirely dependent on her ability to deliver a basic punchline, cannot, in fact, deliver a basic punchline. Sorkin, he of the plagiarism-is-evil attitude, owes either an apology or some royalties to Dennis Palumbo, Richard Benjamin, Mel Brooks or whoever wrote the scene in "My Favorite Year" where Benjy the Jewish comedy writer tries to teach K.C. the uptight WASP how to tell a joke, including the use of the "the duck says 'Get this guy off my ass'" gag. (And the next time, Sorkin may want to pay closer attention to that scene, as he uses "A man" and "a doctor's office" when Benjy clearly explained that "This guy" and "a psychiatrist's office" are both funnier.)

What did everybody else think?

42 comments:

KristenKP said...

re: HIMYM

I liked the one-year flash-forward at the end because it kept the status of Ted-Robin nicely vague; they did stay out and dance, which could be a clue that they were no longer a couple and no longer in couple hibernation, but they also danced more closely than people who are just friends. So it could go either way, which leaves it more open-ended then the pilot did.

Also, the bit about why the two "suit up" was great.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I should add, vis a vis Jordan on Studio 60: if the audience is as smart and media-savvy as Sorkin thinks it is, either everyone has heard that Amanda Peet is pregnant or they can tell from the weight she's put in the last few episodes. So why spend so much time this week delivering sledgehammer hints about it, then using the non-revelation as the big climax?

And Danny's explanation to NewDonna of her duties as the gatekeeper sounded an awful lot like the scene from the West Wing finale between Debbbie Fiderer and her replacement.

Anonymous said...

this is my first time posting but i love this blog!!


okay how awesome was hiero's saying great scott when he realized that he was speaking to himself on the phone!!

Niffer said...

RE: Hiro's non-super international travel

Do they really track international travellers that closely? Or only travellers of certain nationalities/ethnicities? I.e., those folks from places like Jordan, Syria, etc.... :P

Further, I have a friend who has dual US/UK citizenship. When entering the US she uses her US passport to get in the US Citizens Only line. Likewise, when travelling to the UK, she uses her British passport to get in the UK/EU/No Americans Allowed line. Thus, there would be a lopsided trail for her travels, unless the US and Britons have systems organized enough to track someone with dual passports. I kinda doubt it, personally.

As for the rest of the show: Nathan's flight response during the car crash does shed light on his guilt over his wife's injury and his aversion to embracing his ability.

Nicole's father (or step-father since she kept calling hum by name?) also supported my theory that Nicole suffers from multiple personality disorder. But, I don't know if adopting her dead sister's persona is a likely part of the disease. Hmm.

And, it was interesting to see Tori Spelling's gay Persian friend from So Notorious as Sylar, the scary super serial killer.

Finally, I'm totally bummed out that Hiro didn't get to kiss Charlie, and that Charlie is still dead :( They would have been an adorable couple.

Marsha said...

Alan, I know you have some level of influence here (at least, more than I do). Can you please yell at whoever writes the descriptions of shows for my TiVo? Not that I cared about the revelations on S60, but if the big cliffhanger for the ep is that Jordan's pregnant, then the description on my TiVo for the ep shouldn't say "Jordan tells Danny that she's pregnant." Ridiculous.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Niffer, you're probably right.

Another Hiro question: since he can't change the past, what does that mean for Hiro and Ando's initial meeting with Charlie? She had learned Japanese, obviously from him, and I vaguely recall her planning a trip to Japan, also from Hiro, yet she didn't recognize Hiro as the man she once loved who disappeared.

Time travel makes my brain hurt.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Marsha, the listings don't ceom from TiVo, but from a media listings service like Tribune.

And my influence generally tends to be on little things. For instance, in the "Scrubs" season premiere, Turk dances again, and I'm pretty sure that the hour of lunch I spent in July extolling the virtues of Turk's dancing to Bill Lawrence and two of his writers had something to do with it.

R.A. Porter said...

I thought, as KristenKP caught, the fact that Ted and Robin stayed after 9pm to dance was a clue that they might not be a couple in a year. Plus, I took a look at Marshall's finger after his wife comment and saw no wedding band. That could have been a wardrobe oversight, though.

Anonymous said...

'Among the many "Studio 60" elements I've grown to hate: the way that characters will read scripts completely stone-faced, then declare, "This is really funny."'

This is one of the things that actually rings true to me; I don't know about SNL, but that probably comes from McKinney's experience with KITH. From everything I've heard, it was extremely difficult to make the five of them laugh at table reads.

And speaking of owing royalty cheques: the Heroes writers should be paying J.K. Rowling. We finally know who Sylar is - he was born Tom Riddle and grew up to be Voldemort.

Dan Coyle said...

I didn't read that scene with Jordan and the Time reporter as more Sorkin grinding his axe, though it may well be (IIRC Tarses got a "special thanks" in the pilot credits) but a pretty pointed middle finger to the hackery that passes for journalism in some quarters these days. It worked for me, as, surprisingly, the rants about the Internet from Danny. But I don't like Martha to begin with (like I said, post- Jack and Bobby I find Lahiti frightening).

I can buy Matt not laughing when he looks at the script because he's an egomanical Serious Artist who probably thinks laughing is beneath him. Everyone else... not so much.

I liked the episode a lot overall. Even Harriet bits weren't annoying, but oh-ho, next week she and Matt might get together PLEASE KILL ME NOW THEY HAVE NO CHEMISTRY.

McKinney was great, too.

Heroes- I hate flashback episodes, because they read like placeholders or as Alan pointed out in the cast of Shield's "Co-Pilot", backfire spectacularly. This, however, worked quite well for the most part, though I found the Parkman sequences tiresome, like I find all Parkman sequences. Claire's conversation with her dad at the end was classic hero comics stuff. Mr. Bennet's ability to be very nice yet very horrible and sincere both times makes him my favorite character on the show.

Hiro's failure to save Charlie was another classic hero comic moment- the hero's first big humiliation. That for all his ability, he wasn't able to alter the past and blah blah blah... but he didn't realize he helped Charlie live those six months stronger than she might have otherwise. He may not have saved Charlie but he was... her... HERO.

Roper said...

I agree that the HIMYM writers did a good job of keeping Robin and Ted's relationship vague. It gives them options either way they decide to take the series. Good episode but Slap Bet was just too hard of an act to follow.

I keep watching Studio 60. I'm not sure why. I think it has become my trainwreck show. It's just gotten to be fun to see how Sorkin is taking this show down episode by episode because he is too arrogant to get any help whether it be making the sketches actually funny or taking more subtle shots at his real-life foes. I still think Matthew Perry is good but I am dreading next week because the chemistry between his character and Harriet is terrible.

Manuel said...

This week's Heroes did absolutely nothing for me. Really, really boring. What has been bugging me: how did Mohinder's father manage to locate all the "mutants"/"heroes" since most of them are not exactly advertizing their abilities?

DonBoy said...

I think Ted and Robin are broken up, but obviously non-bitterly, in the one year later bit: Marshall and Lily say "we have to go home"; Robin says "I'll stay later" and Ted says "me too". I may have Ted and Robin reversed there, but I'm pretty sure that's the sequence.

Marsha said...

OK, then the next time you talk to someone at the Tribune service, give 'em hell for me, ok? ;-)

And if you have anything to do with more Turk dancing, you rock. If you're the one who got them to bring in Stephanie D'Abruzzo for a musical episode, you are my hero for life. Can't wait for new Scrubs!

undercover black man said...

I took a pass on the last two weeks of "S60." And frankly, the only reason I watched this week was so I could participate in the discussion here. Because while the show rarely entertains me, the post mortems on this site always do.

Notwithstanding what anonymous says about "Kids in the Hall," it bugs me also how Matt reads a script stone-faced and says, "That's funny." I mean, shit, the man doesn't even crack a smile. Funny side-steps the intellect and goes straight for the laugh reflex... funny is about surprise. You read something funny for the first time, dammit, you're gonna crack a smile. Otherwise, how can you even say it's funny?

But the big thing that bugged me was writing a brand new sketch DURING THE LIVE SHOW, and putting it on by the end of the show. Leave aside the pragmatic realities that'd make such a thing impossible (set? wardrobe for five? rehearsal? most importantly, camera blocking? How the hell is the director supposed to shoot the thing?) What really bugged me was Sorkin's presumption that such a "race against time" is, unto itself, dramatically compelling. When, in fact, it's just bogus jeopardy, a lot of wasted motion that has nothing to do with anything truly dramatic. Just like the B-12 shots. It fills the hole, that's about it.

While watching Sarah Paulson plod her way through the "can't-tell-a-joke" runner -- which was bullshittily written in the first place -- my mind wandered to thoughts of recasting. Would this show be a little easier to bear with a more gifted comic actress as Harriet Hayes? A young Shelley Long, maybe? A young Jan Hooks?

The Evacuee said...

What, pray tell, was wrong with "Co-Pilot," the Shield episode you mention? It was novel, both for its character development and resurrection of Reed Diamond, killed in "Pilot." To portray events which occurred almost immediately, a day or two before, the events depicted in the pilot is a bit different from last night's "Heroes." There, we got an origin story of sorts which, as we know, took place six months prior to the pilot. Seeing this approach so soon in the dawn of a new series made me wonder if the writers simply didn't know what to do after saving the cheerleader.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Evacuee, as even Shawn Ryan has said, "Co-Pilot" tried to cram way too much into an episode that spanned a very short period of time. In particular, having Reed Diamond's character join the Strike Team only a few days after the others made no sense; in the real pilot, Terry was kept on the outside looking in because he had joined much later than Lem or Ronnie and was trusted accordingly.

Devin McCullen said...

Actually, while Sorkin might not know much about comedy, getting the script in at the absolute last minute is something I think he's familiar with. And I didn't actually feel that much tension over it (especially because they could always pull something from dress if they came up dry).

Actually, that was kind of how I felt about the whole episode last night - there were too many narrative strands, and none of them had any real pull. Plus, could it have been more padded? I know you need to give musical guests/"hosts" some face time, but 2 numbers? And the lame monologue twice?

Still, it wasn't terrible or really annoying (OK, except for yet another edition of "The Internet sucks"), it was just a collection of interesting bits that didn't really go anywhere.

Heather K said...

Skipping back to a show I enjoy watching, HIMYM's Neil Patrick Harris is kind of brilliant at the comedy, and I think Megan Mullaly was the voice of the mom on that episode.

Also, at the one year later toast, Lily was drinking water--pregnant?--while everyone else had champagne.

I love how purely happy that show makes me.

Dark Tyler said...

Re: HIMYM

So, this was not a One Year Later permanent jump, a la Battlestar Galactica? Because at first I thought it was just that; a way for the writers to show us that Ted/Robin and Marshall/Lilly have been in happy relationships for more than a year but without having to actually follow them throughout the whole year. (it would eventually get pretty boring, no?) But then again, maybe I watch too much sci/fi :P

And, as many here have pointed out, maybe Ted and Robin aren't even a couple at this point. Oh well. I hope we get to see Wayne again in the future!

Lizbeth said...

Last night's Studio 60 was just clunky storytelling, start to finish. The flashbacks were really confusing and poorly executed.

Harriet is annoying. She's not as adorable as Sorkin seems to think.

Danny is a whiny old lady. And I can't stand Matthew Perry in this at all. Their effeminate "banter" is neither witty, nor interesting.

And the whole "pregnancy reveal" was anti-climatic since we all knew it was coming. Plus, who SWOONS when pregnant? What is this 1840? Nobody swoons with the flu either unless this is "Outbreak."

It would be great if Sorkin did an episode where the entire cast has laryngitis. Then we wouldn't have to listen to endless preaching and lecturing.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if on HIMYM, was Amy Sedaris the voice of the mother? I thought it was either her or Megan Mullaly. It was a familiar voice but I couldn't exactly place it!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Definitely sounded like Megan Mullally to me.

Anonymous said...

I guess I need to give HIMYM another chance. As a big fan of Alyson Hannigan from her Buffy days and Jason Segel from his Freaks and Geeks days, I watched a few episodes last season and was very disappointed, even uncomfortable for the actors on this show, because I thought the material was downright leaden, the laugh tracks annoying, and the lead actor boring with zero charisma... but I value your opinion, Alan (been reading your stuff since early NYPD Blue years), so maybe it's time I give this show another shot.

doogald said...

I thought Hiro recognizing that he cannot go back into the past to change events himself as being pretty important. That's why future Hiro came back to tell Peter to "save the cheerleader"; he cannot do it hi,self by traveling into the past, but he can get others to do so if he gives them warning, and clearly only Peter was cognizant and accepting enough of his power to actually save Claire. Now that Sylar cannot heal himself, since he did not absorb the powers from Claire, he cannot set off the bomb in NY/open the head of the nuclear guy/whatever set off the NYC explosion. Pretty clever that (if that's what happens...).

the2scoops said...

Mom on HIMYM was definitely Megan Mullaly. I think it was mentioned on TV-Tattle.com or TVGuide.com.

HIMYM was good last night, with some good Barney insight. It would be hard to top "Slapbet". The ending flashforward gave us alot to ponder too in terms of where the couples go from there. And was there any particular reason Wayne Brady's groom was blocked out of that shot? Future stunt casting?

And if Barney went Greenpeace and granola back in the day, did his brother help him be the man we know today?

Kristin said...

lizbeth,

I felt very faint my first 6-12 weeks of pregnancy--light-headed, black sparkles in my eyes like I was about to pass out. Couldn't stand up for very long without needing to sit down, that sort of thing. Yes, women still 'swoon' when pregnant.

Dante Hicks said...

It surprises me that no one's pointed out the Sylar could have taken on the waitress' cancer, as well as her abilities.

Classic comics, give the "Big Bad" a reason to be angry at the heroes. Following the comic model, they'll be plenty of other "Big Bads" for the heroes to fight later.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you noticed the "My Favorite Year" homage. While, I thought it worked in "Studio 60," it's much funnier in "MFY," particularly because he gives her money for accordian lessons. -- Paige

filmcricket said...

Now that Sylar cannot heal himself, since he did not absorb the powers from Claire

Again, I don't think Sylar needed Claire's power. We've seen him get shot and run off all "La la la, nothing's happened" already, so unless Matt is a really bad shot and totally missed him that time, Sylar doesn't need that particular power. Unless Sylar's powers can only resist bullets and Claire's can resist radiation, which is possible but kind of silly. If that turns out to be the explanation I'll be disappointed.

However, Sylar's obviously not invincible, since Eden was able to persuade him to take a nap. Maybe all that was needed was for Peter & Claire to resist him for long enough for him to run into Eden.

davesboa said...

Didn't Barney start suiting up because his crunchy granola girlfriend left him for a suit right before they joined peace corp?

Good show, but Marshall should have taken one of his slaps midway...

Joel said...

That My Favorite Year reference was bugging me until you pointed it out. Thank you. It's been too many years since I've seen that movie. And I think that Marshall should have slapped Barney after congratulating him on his toast, and then Barney could have said something like, "You waited a year, but it was worth it." Future slaps are a tantalizing reason to keep watching...

rick said...

Because where else can I talk about The Shield in December...
...but if I'm not mistaken, wasn't "Co-Pilot" placed in that weird post-arc chunk of the second season? I watched almost all of the entire series back-to-back-to-back a year ago so I might be mistaken, but if I recall correctly there was this incredibly brutal story-arc about "Armadillo" (the guy who would tattoo the dove or star or whatever on his victims faces) that ended (for some reason) eight episodes into the season.

It always seemed to me like they weren't sure if the show was going to last for the full 13 and then had to scramble around and fill out the season when it turned out to be a hit.

Just a theory... but yeah, that episode was odd.

M. A. Peel said...

I have only laughed once since Studio 60 hit the air--and that was this week when Danny was lamely trying to dispel Martha from the floor, saying she didn't have access, etc., and then that there was no place for her to sit, when someone brings her a chair with her name stenciled on it. Over at 30 Rock, on the other hand, there is much actual comedy and laughter . . .

Anonymous said...

"Heroes" continues to own TV.

Here's my question. What were up with those Christopher Eccleston rumors about him being Sylar?

Here's my other question, Alan, what do you think are Masi Oka's chances at getting a Best Actor in a Drama Series nod?

Matt said...

Oka's got an uphill fight because that category is ugly. Assume Hugh Laurie and Keifer Sutherland as locks. Sopranos will have new episodes eligible, so Gandolfini is in. Chris Meloni is a probable. That leaves you with one really open slot for, inter alia:

Matthew Fox
James Spader
Patrick Dempsey
Matthew Perry
David Tennant
Sam Waterston
Anthony LaPaglia
Jeff Goldblum ("Raines")
James Woods

Oka may have a better shot in supporting, since the category got less nasty with the departure of "West Wing," and only Holloway has stood out on "Lost" so far.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Here's my other question, Alan, what do you think are Masi Oka's chances at getting a Best Actor in a Drama Series nod?

If he submits himself in that category, somewhere between slim and none, both because of all the higher-profile competition Matt lists, and because the Academy in all its permutations has always been snobby towards sci-fi shows.

He has a slightly better chance as a supporting actor -- break-out character on the season's biggest new hit and all -- but even there, I'm skeptical.

TomV-PiscatawayNJ said...

You know what line really bugged me on Studio 60 this week? When Matthew Perry told the writers that they "hit a solid double up the middle". What the hell does that mean? Did the centerfielder fall down? Who doubles up the middle? Stay away from sports terminology if you don't know how to use it!
Overall I did find it interesting this week. I liked the sass that Jordan showed.I'm dreading the whole pregnancy slant in the upcoming weeks.
The "Harriet can't tell a joke" scenerio was painful to watch. Anyone that knows anything about SNL, knows that all of the cast are well-seasoned comedy players.They dim-witted Harriet this week, and I didn't like it.
I loved McKinney's character. I hope they keep him around for a while.

TomV-PiscatawayNJ said...

One more thing..
Did anyone notice that Matthew Perry's hair is starting to look more and more like Elvis every week?

undercover black man said...

Nice post, tomv. A solid double up the gap.

TomV-PiscatawayNJ said...

Right on man...now you're talkin'!!
Tom

BF said...

filmcricket,
you may not be far off re: radiation immunity. IIRC, the train wreck from the pilot involved some nuke material.


I know I'm late to the party, and it may have been so obvious that it went unsaid, but it appears Soorkin is still cribbing from his old material. The unexplained "cut sign" Danny gives to Matt was eerily familiar to the unexplained "shuttle takeoff" sign from the 1st Season Finale of West Wing.