Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Over and over again, my friends

What a weird night of television for me. First I suffered through the second episode of "Cavemen" just to confirm that it's a blight on society, which it is. (If the actors weren't wearing the caveman prosthetics, it would be a bad Fox sitcom circa 1999.) Then I watched, in rapid succession, "NCIS," "Reaper" and "House" and kept seeing the same things again and again. First, Kathleen York (aka Toby Ziegler's ex) popped up on "NCIS" as one of Gibbs' exes, and there she was again on "House" as Foreman's new boss. First I saw "Chuck" (the night before) do a plotline where its hero is up for the assistant manager job, and then "Reaper" put its hero up for assistant manager. First "Reaper" did a joke about something being nicknamed "Grumpy," and then House assigned the same nickname to one of his fellowship candidates.

Not only are there no new ideas in Hollywood, but the old ones are getting repeated in the same damn night. To quote the great Matt Kennedy Gould, what is going on here?

Anyway, spoilers for "House" and "Reaper" coming up just as soon as I offer Kathleen York an assistant manager job and then ask why she seems so grumpy...

I find it odd that team "House" put out the news of which actors would be sticking around long term -- I'm not going to list the names here, but I'm also not going to stop people from doing it in the comments, so beware -- as it spoils the outcome of the fellowship hunt for anyone who pays a bit of attention to entertainment news. So as this episode was going along and one of the chosen three (assuming only three will stick around) would seem on the verge of getting fired, I shrugged, because I knew that, like Kumar last week, they'd find a way to force themselves back into contention.

Still, an interesting episode -- and a surprisingly busy one for this show's standards. We got the potential cottages working on one patient, but split into two teams in a way that made it feel like two stories; Foreman working through guilt issues and doing his best to resist his inner House with his new team; House doing clinic duty and getting a suicidal impulse from Patient Switchblade; and even some glimpses of the happier, more confident and mature Cameron and Chase. That's a lot going on for a show that's usually content to deal with four people arguing about one patient, but I thought they balanced it all well, which is a good sign for the inevitable point when the original cottages rejoin the fold at the same time that House has picked his new team.

Also, this was one of the few times in the show's history where I guessed the diagnosis early and was right. As soon as the guys came into the patient's room just as Thirteen was about to give him the pills, I had this feeling that he was never going to get around to taking them. There's some rule of drama about that. It's not Chekhov's line about what you have to do if you put a gun onstage in the first act, but something like it, something about how, if a pencil falls off a table in the middle of a scene, the scene becomes about the pencil until someone picks it up, because that's all the audience is going to think about. This is going to drive me nuts until someone puts a name to that in the comments; since several people were kind enough to explain in scientific terms why "doucehbag" is a funny word in my "SNL" post, I know I can count on you again.

In fairness to "Reaper," their assistant manager story wasn't exactly the same as the one on "Chuck," in that Chuck wants the job and Sam doesn't, but the shows are still way too similar -- and based on three episodes apiece, the execution on "Chuck" is much better.

Here, the villain was once again an afterthought. She was thematically tied to Sam's fear of asking Andi out, which I guess is a step in the right, "Buffy"-esque direction, but she still lacked personality, other than being made entirely of bees. Basically, "Reaper" is like all those police procedurals I complain about like "Saving Grace" and "Life," where the characters might be interesting but the episodic stories are too uninspired to care about. I like the banter among the guys (Sock and Ben arguing about Ben's salad order was a nice moment), and I love Ray Wise (his smile as Sam realized Satan was behind the asbestos thing at Andi's school made me laugh very loudly), but if this show's going to have any legs, the writers really need to beef up these Monster of the Week plots.

What did everybody else think?

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused about Chase's job situation. I was still under the impression he was working in Arizona. Can someone fill me in on why he was back at Princeton-Plainsboro?

Mac said...

Arizona was just Wilson doing a fakeout for obscure reasons. He's been at PPTH (in the surgery department) all along.

Less Sock, more Ben.

Anonymous said...

I had high hopes for "Reaper" - the characters are very likable, the premise is good, the cast is good - love Ray Wise... but honestly, it is the same episode over and over again. I don't want to ditch this series, but if the next episode is "Sam receives a vessel - Sam ignores vessel until Ray Wise makes his appearance - Sam and Sock use the DA's computers to find the escapee (as if "the google" did not exist) - then they load up on Work Bench merchandise to catch the escaped soul" than I might have to ditch this series.

Kensington said...

On the one hand, Reaper gave me my first genuine laugh tonight, when Ben referred to the Devil, under his breath, as an "ass." For some reason, using such an inadequate term for the Prince of Darkness and then also doing it passive aggressively really tickled me. On the other hand, it was only one laugh, and that's more than the first two episodes managed.

Sock remains my least favorite character, but I only truly, truly hated him during his confrontation with Josie outside her office. Who is it who thinks its funny to put them in this obnoxious situation every week where he says demeaning things about her and acts like an utter douchebag? It's not funny, it's not clever, and it makes me hate one of the main characters, EVERY WEEK. Please, please please, writers: rethink this dynamic.

As for Josie, Valarie Rae Miller is surely beautiful to behold, but could her job be any more superfluous? My God, they didn't even need her this week, just her computer!

And while it's true that the fugitive plot was as pointless as ever, to the point where they even skipped the vessel return scene, I did appreciate the tiny bit of misdirection involving the identity of the villain. It's a small thing, but it's a tiny step in the right direction.

Nonetheless, this thing has a long way to go before it can even be mentioned in the same breath as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With its vapidity, it has more in common with something like Charmed.

Lastly, the salad gag was cute, and it makes me want to see Ben's role elevated above Sock's. I think this show is eventually going to need a death ala Doyle on Angel if it's ever going to develop any chops, and if they ever decide to go that way, I vote for Sock to take that chop.

BigTed said...

The point you made about Chekhov's Gun holds true for every mid-level crime procedural: If you notice something minor that seems either unnecessary or strange, that's the answer. It's why we usually know whodunnit and why long before Monk, Psych, Johnny Deadzone, the Closer, the Medium, the K-Ville Kops or Moonlight Vampire Guy figure it out.

Anthony Foglia said...

First, about "Reaper." This week's was better than last, but still the formula is too strong. Drop Sock's ex in the DA's office. We don't need a weekly scene of exposition. Also, anonymous II, you forgot a step: Sam and buddies break the vessel and need to figure out how to repair it. That's another crutch they could drop. (The equipping stuff was very short this week, except for the Sock-helping-Sam by bug spray scene, but that was more character development.) Ben is still in need of some character.

Oh, and "Chuck" started the assistant manager stuff in its pilot. (Still a toss up as to which is better.)

Now on to "House." I didn't see the neglected pills at all. But does that explain the kidneys? How did he pass the tilt test if he hadn't taken them? And when did he give them to the dog to be lucky enough to die just before Hoover? I know the winners as well, but I don't find it a problem, except at the end. Instead, since my favorite cottage won't make it, and a bland one will, I'm watch it with a hint of sadness.

The clinic story was great. Cameron and Chase were used excellently. (How did the cottage who went to them know they had worked for House? Did she used to work at Princeton-Plainsboro like the woman in the first episode who was the first elimination last week?) Foreman was not quite as good, simply because those scenes were mostly sketched out, and not a fully formed story. (Interesting that Foreman went straight to a teaching dynamic, as opposed to more of a collaboration.) House could get away with that stuff because (a) he's (almost) always right, and (b) he has a boss who's a friend who will let him. Foreman doesn't have either.

Woodrow L. Goode, IV said...

I'm glad House is taking next week off. I can watch Reaper, and if next week's episode is decent, flush House.

The minute I saw Foreman arguing with Mrs. Toby, the last hopes that I wasn't being jerked around expired. You know he's going to pull a House, you know she's going to whack him. Anyone want to guess where he gets hired next?

Two questions: Why would anyone hire a House Fellow if they expected the person to paint by numbers? Who would hire that person and think they would?

That plot device was so lamentably written that they didn't even let Foreman say (as House would have) "If we'd done it your way, she'd be dead." (Which she would have, based on what was said.)

Two other crappy devices: World's only fatal illness that can be cured with one dosage-- and only one-- of pills. That doesn't exist, folks.

Also liked the "Guy with opportunistic infections who still gets his dog in the same room."

These are points that were handled credibly in the first two seasons, when the show was worth watching. They're just being tossed off now, because the show has morphed into "Let's watch Hugh Laurie chew scenery."

I'm tired of House being a jerk for no reason, as opposed to House being a jerk for a reason. Or House being generally annoying, with none of the supercompetency he showed in the original episodes.

My suggestion is that the producers have House treat, and then fall in love with, a woman who has a disease that is in remission when she is breathing the air of her hometown (Beaufort, Kentucky), but virtually paralyzes her when she's outside it.

House can decide to move to be with her, inheriting a broken-down farm and opening a veterinary clinic with Wilson and Cuddy. Chase, Foreman and Cameron can be his hired hands.

Certainly be more interesting than the long, slow rotation back to the status quo.

jim treacher said...

Reaper should do an episode where Sam has to Hellify an escaped soul who's a jackass doctor with a cane and an attitude problem.

"Ass." I'm with Kensington, the more I think about that, the funnier it is.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Reaper pilot, but Chuck has definitely surpassed it, and I think it has to do woth the main characters. Chuck has a bit of mystery and pathos in his backstory -- getting expelled, losing the girl, getting betrayed by his friend. I mean, it's a comedy, but there's some emotion there. Meanwhile the Reaper guy is nice enough, but there's just no conflict or depth to the character ... and I LOVE Ray Wise, but they need to make the Devil a little more threatening, or at least more than a minor inconvenience.

Bruce Reid said...

Woodrow: "I'm tired of House....[displaying] none of the supercompetency he showed in the original episodes."

As in the premiere, House's diagnosis was entirely correct from the start; the error derived from non-medical (wrong patient; thinking a treatment had been taken which hadn't) factors. I can't comment on the accuracy of the medicine--I'll take your word on the impossibility of curing the parasitic infection with one treatment--but dramatically it works fine for me.

As to the ongoing jerkiness, I think one of House's great strengths is its commitment to the status quo of its central character. I know the Vogler and Tritter arcs frustrated many, but I kind of respect the show for allowing House to respond to every challenge by digging his selfish, arrogant, pill-popping heels in even further. Tonight's final line epitomized the appeal: by the third season of pretty much any other show I can think of, an atheist hero would at least be acknowledging the limits of his philosophy and granting others the consolations of theirs, not validating himself with a blunt kiss-off to a corpse.

memphish said...

Both Chuck and Reaper are villain du jour A stories with possible romance on the side B stories and both remain for me innocuously entertaining. At least they don't take themselves too seriously like that bloated disaster that currently follows Chuck. I like Sock. I like to see what they'll rip off from work each week and what the vessel is. But I'd like even more of the devil. More Ray Wise!

jcpbmg said...

i too noticed the patient not taking the pills (and as a result guessed the diagnosis early on), however there was enough going on in the other storylines to still keep the show entertaining

and we got our first al gore reference last night. it only took you 3 episodes eli attie

Alan Sepinwall said...

I didn't see the neglected pills at all.

Thirteen places the pill cup on the patient's table, then is in the process of getting him some water so he can take them when Kumar and the other guys come in to take the patient away for more tests.

As Cuddy pointed out, if House hadn't created the stupid competition, he would have taken the pills and both master and dog would still be alive.

TL said...

I finally watched the Reaper pilot last night. It was OK, but I can't help feel like this idea would have been more suited to a 2 hour movie rather than an on-going series.

The Sock character is too forced; that he's written as a stock Kevin Smith wacky sidekick and performed as a Jack Black impression doesn't help. I'm also not sure that the concept has enough legs to make it a Buffy-esque exploration of young adulthood ennui.

I'll probably give this another shot, but life's too short for something I feel this aggressively meh about.

Anthony Foglia said...

Alan, when I said I didn't see the neglected pills, I meant I didn't see the neglecting plot-wise. I saw the actual pills, but I didn't register the lack of taking them like you and others did.

As for the quantity of pills, Polite Dissent's medical review says for Strongyloides infections, "Most experts recommend at least two doses of Ivermectin, if not more." Could the patient hide two doses? Probably.

Anonymous said...

I didn't pick up on the fact that the guy didn't take the pills until it was revealed. But I'm also not clear on why he didn't take them. Was it because he wanted to die? At the point at which she gave him the pills it still seemed like he wanted to live. Either way, you can't blame 13 when it was the guy's own fault.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't think he chose not to take them, but rather that, in the confusion as the guys came in to take him for the test, he never got around to taking them, and then the dog ate them while he was gone. Everyone assumed he had taken them, and he probably didn't remember that he hadn't.

dez said...

I like Sock and I like "Reaper" as a pleasant diversion every week. I'd like to see it grow into something more, too. And definitely: More Ray Wise (kinda like screaming, "More cowbell!") :-)

Kristen said...

I too guessed the forgotten pill scene would be the answer to the patient's illness. I admit to liking some parts (like the shocked look on the girl's face, when House names her "fat twin"), but last night's episode seemed lacking. Not bad per se, but not really engaging.

I watched the first ten minutes of Reaper and now have permanently taken it off the DVR. I feel you'll let me know if it's worth watching, again.

Toby said...

While I was watching the "Reaper" episode this morning, I got to wondering about Andi's Dad when she brought him up. What do we know about the guy? Andi sounds like she loved him, but he still could have done bad things in life.

What got me thinking that way was an idea that maybe Andi's Dad ended up in Hell, and Sam would be forced to capture his soul and send him back....

Just sayin' is all. They've probably already thought of it anyway.....

jcpbmg said...

also it was nice seeing andrea wyatt again. it's a shame forman got fired as i would have liked to see a little more of the her handling him vs. cuddy handling house

filmcricket said...

I'm tired of House being a jerk for no reason, as opposed to House being a jerk for a reason.

I'm the opposite. I came closest to ditching the show when they gave House an abusive father - I think the leg and his lover's betrayal are more than enough to explain his jerkiness, and want them to stop trying to justify it or explain it. They should take their cue from The Simpsons: "Some people are just jerks."

What I liked most about last night's ep was that the show often lets us think that House runs away from Wilson's (and Cuddy's and Cameron's et al) psychoanalyzing when they're getting close to the bone. Wilson asks what House saw while he was dead; House basically says nothing; so we're to assume he saw something and doesn't want to admit it.

But he didn't. So does he keep mum just to screw with Wilson, or does he do it so as not to destroy Wilson's beliefs, thus showing himself to be a decent friend (at least once in a while)? I like that it could be either or both, which is why I still like the character.

Andrew said...

God bless you, Alan Sepinwall, for referencing a four year old cable reality show no one but, apparently, you and I watched.

As for Reaper, I didn't mind them not going back to the DMV. If anything, I was dissapointed they went back there in episode 2. I thought the concept of "Anywhere that seems like hell on earth IS hell on earth" was a set up for some fun moments of "beat you over the head with the obvious" social commentary.

Frankly, Reaper has squandered everything from the pilot that made it intriguing. The hell on earth bit, the lying to the mother (which was the shows only genuinely emotional moment thus far) and the idea that Sam would take some pride and maybe gain some confidence from his demon slaying have all been relegated to afterthoughts. There is basically no conflict in Sam's life other than the demons, expecially now that Andi has declared that she wants everything to stay as it is (in one of those speeches that only get uttered when the listener is about to declare his love, only to be interrupted by the last thing he wants to hear).

At this point, there is nothing compelling in his personal life for the demons to represent. There needs to be some major complications for him and quick.

As for Sock, I think if you liked him from the start, you still like him, but if you didn't, you never will.

Anyone else think Sam will wind up reaping Andi's dad in the season finale?

Karen said...

I've been watching "Reaper" and "Chuck" from the beginning, and "Reaper" is about to get its plug pulled on my DVR series manager. For two shows that are so similar, it's the little things that end up counting. Sock and Morgan are both irritating sidekicks, but Sock is WAY more irritation--and has more screen time. Ray Wise and Adam Baldwin both bring the awesome, but there's more Adam Baldwin awesomeness than there is Ray Wise--and I'm talking quantity, not quality. And of the two leads, Chuck is much more appealing than Ben. So, I'm in.

Which is a shame. I hate to have to choose! But that DVR is pretty clogged. At least the "Eureka" finale cleared up my Tuesdays a little.

As for "House," I realized that 13 had been distracted from the pill-giving, but I confess it didn't joggle at me until the solution came at the end. I thought it was interesting--it always is when the patients actually die. I still love this show, not least because I am constitutionally incapable of disliking anything with Hugh Laurie.

I do think Wilson is still sadly underused, though. The guitar-napping of the premiere was lovely, as was his emergence from his office last night to a yelling House: "Good times!" And the mutual Cuddy ogling. Surprised there hasn't been more of that, given how she dresses. (Not a condemnation, necessarily, because God bless her, but she isn't always...professional.)

I haven't allowed myself to be spoiled on the three winning Potentials, so I find myself more engaged. I do hope Amber aka Cutthroat Bitch) doesn't get it, though, because I don't find her a pleasant character to spend time with. Unlike House, who is, despite his innate unpleasantness.

Nicole Marie said...

I found the whole pill issue a bit silly. Those service dogs are really well trained--would a dog who'd face down a car coming straight at him knock pills off the patient's tray or eat them if he found them on the floor (service dog aside, what dog voluntarily takes a pill!?)? Plus, why wouldn't the guy have remembered that he had pills to take once he got back from the bathroom since they were supposed to save his life. Kind of a disappointing plot device for House. Normally, they try and make things at least seem like they might happen.

Anonymous said...

HOUSE is getting really off-the-wall. Why would Dr. House care about the clinic patient's belief in his afterlife experience if he (House) seems so convinced there isn't one? And didn't Dr. House already have a near-death experience? Why would he risk it again? And wouldn't any doctor who did that be fired immediately? I know about artistic license, but this show is taking it too far. Oh, and dogs (smart creatures they) will not go anywhere near pills. Try getting your dog to take his medicine. Takes forever.

Jeff said...

Andrew -- you can count me among the few who got the Joe Blow reference. :-)

As for Reaper, I'm pretty much with everyone on it -- more Ray Wise, try to spice up the formula a little bit... it shouldn't be so predictable after 3 episodes. It's still amusing enough to keep it on the TiVO. Ditto Chuck... but Chuck has enough variants on the formula that it's not as predictable as Reaper.

Dark Tyler said...

So, House's boss is Lisa Edelstein, Foreman's boss was Kathleen York, maybe Chase can transfer to another hospital and work under Janel Moloney...?

Kristin said...

Woodrow,

Maybe the infestation could not have been cured with one dose, but since they thought the first dose did not help him (which was never taken), they abandoned that theory early on. Why give him a second dose, if he was not getting any noticeably better from the first?

Service dogs are allowed anywhere...including hospitals. They can't be forced out of somewhere just because they are dogs. Plus, the guy could barely do anything for himself. Yes, there is medical staff there, but the dog would be instrumental in helping the guy. I don't see a problem with the dog being there. There was no family or friends that showed up (that we saw), so I could believe the hospital would let him have his only 'friend' there as comfort. Especially if it were a trained service dog.

Woodrow L. Goode, IV said...

For the purposes of disclosure, I should acknowledge that I'm not an MD or nurse. Two sisters-in-law are nurses, my college roomie is a doctor and so is a close friend.

We trade post-show e-mails about various things after the show, and they all flagged the point. Parasites (like germs) can have different degrees of resistance, which you can't predict-- so you would never give just one dose. You would give a course of treatment, usually a week, and monitor results.

The people who make House know this-- a regular plot twist of the show is "House, he's not responding to treatment-- you're wrong. We need to try something else..." "Give him MORE!!!!". This time, they decided to ignore plausibility to come up with a new denoument.

Paying attention to plausibility produces stronger drama. The more creators choose to flout/ignore conventions or reality, the more arbitrary and unrealistic the plots are likely to get.

When you allow (say) CSI to possess a "Bat Anti-Crime Virtual Reality Reconstruction Camera" (which can be pointed at a bloody footprint and show the face of the killer), you lose suspense and cleverness. Everyone just waits for the trick.

Also, when I said "being a jerk for a reason", I meant "taking steps that seem cruel or arbitrary, but turn out to make very solid sense.

In the first few seasons, House would do elaborate schemes designed to get the patient to accept a treatment-- or reveal information that he suspected was true, but the patient denied. They've gotten away from that.

A related issue is the end of his clinic duty, merely because (a) they reminded the audience that House is really good and (b) they let the creators tell stories that are interesting and true, but not full enough for a plot.

Cameron's riff on the battery last episode was an example. Smartly-written, funny, almost certainly true and infinitely less fey a scene of House dissolving Ex-Lax in Wilson's Cafe Mocha.

I'm not saying "let's show House as a victim of his upbringing or make him warm and fuzzy". Yuck to that.

Ted F. said...

A related issue is the end of his clinic duty, merely because (a) they reminded the audience that House is really good and (b) they let the creators tell stories that are interesting and true, but not full enough for a plot.

House had clinic duty in this episode, which is how he met the guy who was trying to kill a wall.

But I suspect the reason we see less of House in clinic duty is because of the need not to kill Hugh Laurie by including him in every scene. The reality-show competition is a nice way to have some entertaining House-related conflict with House physically present (and I love the Amber character), but that obviously has to stop at some point, and there's going to be more deadweight in each episode. As it is, I fast-forward past the cold open, since they're invariably redundant.

PamelaJaye said...

I realize this is a pointless question - but that the hech is Chase doing in Surgery? Ge had a (residency? I don't know if it was here or Oz) in Intensive Care, and then a fellowship in Diagnostics - and that qualifies him for Surgery, how? Cameron in the ER I can understand. Obviously in the ER you tend to at least try to diagnose... (I always though Diagnostics was an odd department to have anyway. Do they have a department of Treatment too?)

I'm sorry they have released the names of the new fellows but happy I haven't heard them yet.

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