Monday, August 20, 2007

I'll stop the world and melt with you

Time for a round-up of thematically-unrelated weekend programming. Spoilers for, in order, "Doctor Who," "Kill Point," "Entourage" and "Big Love" coming up just as soon as I play a few rounds of pub trivia...

I realize that the current incarnation of "Doctor Who" has certain episodes it has to do each year: a trip to pre-20th century England, a trip to New Earth, the Daleks show up, etc. I just hadn't realized that "trapped on a spacecraft orbiting a dangerous spatial anomaly while members of the crew become possessed killing machines" was one of them. If "42" wasn't a direct remake of last season's two-parter with the Ood and the Satan pit, it was a little too close for comfort. ("New Earth" and "Gridlock," to pick another pair of same-locale episodes, felt very different.) There were some nice moments here and there -- the Doctor's silent "I will save you!" screams as Martha's pod jettisoned, the Doctor's fear of being possessed (and him trying to explain regeneration to Martha), and Martha finally saving the day and being rewarded with a TARDIS key -- but I like my time and space travel with a touch more variation. (Also, as others have pointed out, watching this one with commercial interruptions wasn't much fun; even though I could fastforward with the DVR, it really interrupted the flow.)

The penultimate "Kill Point" had some problems, notably the cheesey, '80s TV show production quality-level gun battle in the tunnel, where of course the only people who were going to get shot and killed were the two redshirts from the platoon. Can't do with bumping off a significant character before the end game, can we? Also, the razor product placement was one of the clumsier bits of its kind I've seen in a while. (Maybe I just noticed it more because Spike sent out samples of its razors with the original DVD screener; become a TV critic, boys and girls, and you too can live this glamorous lifestyle!) I'll reserve judgment beyond that until we see how the two-hour finale plays out. When you have a show that's almost all plot, the payoff's going to matter a lot more than on, say, "Big Love." All I know is that Omar the Sniper better get involved at some point, because while I won't complain about Michael K. Williams getting a paycheck, I'm going to feel awfully teased by his presence if he's just window-dressing.

After a few weeks of even lamer-than-usual celebrity fantasy camp hijinks, "Entourage" gets back to the business of show, with Ari being directly involved in Vince's career in the first time since forever, E's second client distracting him from his first, Walsh causing headaches for everyone, etc. On paper, that sounds much better, but the execution was as lacking as it's been on everything of late. The plot with E and Anna Farris' boyfriend could have been a great opportunity to show why Eric's useful as a manager beyond being BFFs with Vince, but he was beyond clumsy in solving that problem. Why not show him figuring out how to successfully push the boyfriend's buttons to get him to lay off Anna? Oh, that's right: because the plot isn't really about E the manager at all, but setting up some kind of lame romantic tension between him and Anna by getting the boyfriend out of the picture as quickly and rudely as possible. And for the 7,000th time, Walsh is a complete lunatic and yet everything works out fine for Vince and company. I know it's just masochism to expect anything else from the show by now -- wish-fulfillment is what they do, and the only thing they're interested in doing -- but I'm barely even amused by Ari's plate-spinning anymore because I know nothing's going to get broken.

Speaking of plates being spun, there's quite a lot of china in jeopardy as "Big Love" zooms towards next week's season finale. As I've said before, I find Alby and the rest of the Juniper Creek crew too cartoonish and two-dimensional to make interesting villains, and as with my hopes that Vince and E might lose on occasion are pointless, so too is my hope that this show might ever leave those characters far behind. (I see that Alby's keeping Roman alive, albeit sedated, for reasons unknown. Does he fear eternal punishment should he murder his daddy?) It is what the show is, unfortunately for me.

But stories like last night's wedding scandal are, too, and they're the reason I stick around. (That and my wife's fierce devotion to the show.) It was an outstanding bit of casting (both for acting chops and genetic resemblance) to bring in Ellen Burstyn as Barb's disapproving mom, and I liked watching her presence at the wedding bring up all kinds of wounds from every branch of the family: Margene resents being viewed as a baby-maker by Barb, Nicki resents Barb's constant angling to get out of the principle, Sarah bluntly tells Bill that she will never pay attention to anything he has to say on the subject of relationships, Barb's family judges her left and right, no one seems able to penetrate Ben's two-for-the-price-of-one adolescent horniness. A lot of outstanding performances all around, but particularly by Jeanne Tripplehorn and Amanda Seyfried.

What did everybody else think?


Nicole said...

I agree that 42 was very similar to last year's Satan Pit/ Impossible Planet, but I think the idea behind this episode was to make a real time thriller, which doesn't work when there are commercial interruptions. And since the BBC doesn't air any, the episode didn't have the 24 clock for the breaks. Sci-Fi should have aired it as a whole and placed the commercials before and after... it was 42 minutes long so there was definitely time.

I have to admit that at this point I was not entirely thrilled with this third series because outside of Smith and Jones and maybe Shakespeare Code the episodes were okay, with some good moments, but nothing that blew me away.

But, it gets so much better. Not that I want to raise expectations so high that viewers are disappointed, but if the upcoming two parter doesn't make you a fan of Tennant, and Who in general, then nothing will.

Anonymous said...

You've definitely been choosing the right BIG LOVE episodes to single out this season, Alan. I found the meat of this week's episode-- the wedding, basically-- to be the most powerful material since "Kingdom Come"; it almost hurts to think about how great this show would be if Juniper Creek didn't figure into it at all. Season Two has been all about Barb's misgivings about her lot in life; I believe that Nikki's worries about Barb's love for Bill and the family not being enough (voiced at the end of an early episode, maybe the first IIRC) has been borne out. She seems doomed to pay forever for indulging her husband's need to bring on more wives in the first place-- Burstyn questioning what kind of man doesn't think such a beautiful family was enough was a real stinger-- and the addition of these sister-wives and their kids has sealed her fate in an Ibsen-esque fashion. It's been interesting to see her kids head down separate tributaries, with the son embracing the principle (albeit in a perverse interpretation that lays bare Bill's selfish, compromised version of it) and the daughter rejecting it brazenly. That scene with her father on the dance floor was just a jaw-dropping repudiation of his values.

Riveting stuff. Can't wait for the finale.

Unknown said...

What Nicole said. You should post a bulletin that anyone who's been scared off by the quality of the third series should definitely rejoin the show this week for "Human Nature."

Toby O'B said...

And I'll back up Nicole and J as well concerning upcoming episodes. From 'Human Nature' on through 'Utopia', the ride is intense. Enjoy!

Edward Copeland said...

I know how you feel about Big Love. I sort of compulsively watch it even though I like some parts better than ever. (Truth be told, Ginnifer Goodwin is the glue that keeps me watching.) It was great seeign Ellen Burstyn and Philip Baker Hall as it was with Bonnie Bedelia earlier this season. I will miss it once HBO goes away at the end of this month.

Anonymous said...

Really, what I would like to see on Big Love is the destruction of the only thing that truly holds the polygamous family together: Bill's money. To live the lifestyle, one has to either live on the commune or be independently wealthy. Bill and Co. could not live, thrive, and survive without his income. I'd like to see them try.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that Omar the Sniper better get involved at some point, because while I won't complain about Michael K. Williams getting a paycheck, I'm going to feel awfully teased by his presence if he's just window-dressing.

Speaking of window-dressing: Dana Ashbrook better have a bigger role in the finale, too. What's been the point of having him locked up in the mechanical room with the girl if he (and/or she) isn't going to do anything else except give Wolf two more hostages? I hope he's not being wasted (especially just to get wasted at the end so at least one of the hostages dies).

Otherwise, I've been thoroughly enjoying this show. I even put off watching "The 4400" until tonight so I could see "The Kill Point" first.

Anonymous said...

The product placement was annoying, but at least they didn't actually have "Horst Cali" (worst name ever) use the razor and convert his SWAT leader comrade to heterosexuality with his close, smooth shave. That woulda been overboard.

Anonymous said...

I thought it odd that Donnie Wahlberg was shaving but didn't catch on that it was a true product placement. (I didn't notice the brand.).

You are correct that this episode was lame in that only the minor bit characters were slain in the gun battle (which, by the way, illustrates that no one on television can aim very well or hit a target with automatic or semiautomatic weapons).

This episode also convinced me that Dana Ashbrook's character is surplussage and he should return to Twin Peaks immediately.

afoglia said...

There was a razor placement in "The Kill Point" an episode or two ago when Horst's wife visits. It wasn't quite as obvious as this one though. But as blatant as this was, it only gets second place in the most blatant product placement of the night following "The Dead Zone's" big, honking Visa ad. Nothing like turning your characters into brain-dead spokespeople for a few second while displaying a huge product logo to ruin a show.

afoglia said...

BTW, the voice-over for the trailer called next week's episode the "season finale of 'The Kill Point'." Has Spike commissioned (or is considering) a second season? I can't imagine how that would work. If it follows the cops, it could work, except they've already gone through nearly every cliche in the book. If it follows the cops and the robbers, it'll quickly become another "Prison Break." Have you heard anything?

Anonymous said...

I may be imagining this, but it seems like HBO and the producers have really pushed for viewers and critics to portray "Big Love" as heir to "The Sopranos." (Middle-aged suburban guy dealing with family/Compound rather than family/Family).

Amazingly, I think the writing and acting of the "family" portions are comparable. The wedding scene had so much going on, it reminded me of the "Great Room" scene after Livia's funeral. The interaction between Bill and Sarah was every bit as powerful as the "College" episode.

On the other hand, the Soprano mob scenes contained similar drama and depth of character. If Vince Curatola and David Chase decided to make a series about the backstory of Johnny Sac, I'd watch every episode.

You can't say that about any of Bill's Compound foils (including the Greens and the Weber Gaming folks). There, it seems like the writers are just trying to pile up oddities in order to break the "Twin Peaks" record.

Sadly, most of the compound stuff is not necessary, except as a way to show Nicki and Bill's background. There is enough drama for the Henricksons just in dealing with "everyday life" such as Barb's family, neighbor Pam, etc.

Tom O'Keefe said...

Amen. The compound seems contrived to me. And it seems like they are using it as way to make the show more like The Soprano's. Which it doesn't need. The family politics are more than enough for me. I think the compound would be more interesting if we saw less of it.

What I'd like to see are flashbacks that show how Nikki & Margene came into the family. I thought we were going to get that. HBO had a special about BL that showed a flashback after Nikki had her first baby. I thought we might get glimpses into that world but we didn't.

I'd also like to see Bill try and bring in a fourth wife. The politics of that would be interesting. I thought we were getting that with the waitress story line but they kind of copped out.

I agree with Curious George that seeing bill without his money would be fascinating. I hope the writers think to take that route. Right now I think they are laying the foundation of mechanisms that would (ironically) put Bill in charge of the compound. But I could be wrong.

On a slightly different note, has anyone else noticed that the promos are trying harder than ever to make this show look like The Sopranos? It's like they took the Soprano's promo template and plug in Big Love clips. Which is crazy since this show reminds more of Six Feet Under than The Soprano's.