FRIDAY ROUNDUP! (May 2010, wk 4)

Every week, The Signal will be offering up a Friday Roundup: a collection of mini-reviews, TV news, interesting links and varying television-related thoughts that weren’t big enough to merit a full post on their own.

Reviews, Thoughts and Other Ruminations

The Good Wife: The show’s continued its streak as network drama’s most consistently excellent procedural, anchored by strong performances and an worthwhile story following excellent characters. Episode 1.22, “Hybristophilia”, was quite good, but I’m more itching to discuss the finale, “Running”. A new show’s first finale is key for how to judge the series’ first season, as it implies some things about how the show tells its year-long stories.  The Good Wife shows a good sense that it knows you end a first season with an element of closure on this stretch of the characters’ lives without completing their journeys, and each character gets a moment here to prove how things have changed or defining moments.

Of course, the place to start here is with our leading lady, whose life since the pilot has placed her between two men: her charismatic, supposedly-reformed husband and her charismatic, young-at-heart boss. Crucially, the show’s triangle doesn’t devolve into a competition between the men to see who can win Alicia, but rests solely on her own judgement of what her life needs and the decisions she needs to make. She has ambiguous levels of feelings for both men, and each offers something different. Peter, her wayward husband, offers a return to ‘normal’, giving her children an ‘unbroken’ family and allowing her to stay safe with a man who has lived this life with her. However, he is also someone she can’t always trust and isn’t sure wants to. Meanwhile, Will Gardner is her boss and old friend; the potential there is something she’s always been curious about, and their chemistry crackles. However, to pursue this relationship would have consequences for her family, for her husband’s planned career, and potentially her own, due to their work relationship. Neither man does she feel entirely able to trust, and that, not a world-stopping kiss or a steamy sex scene, is the crux of where this season ends: She both informs Will that to be an adequate partner he must show himself capable of offering her some kind of stability in her life, while letting Eli Gold know that, though she may step up beside Peter for now, that it is her decision whom she finds herself with. Though the time-honoured triangle is typically an abuse of the TV dramatic system, I found myself very happy with how the show closed the season: on Alicia figuring out her life on her own terms, not bowing to pressure, as she’s had to do since the pilot.

Before I move on, I want to note that I appreciated how the season closed for each of the show’s other characters. Cary Agos ended with a new beginning, facing off against Alicia in the State’s Attorney’s office; not only does this bode well for a strong Alicia vs. Cary storyline next year, but it means there’s future potential to have Cary working alongside Peter should he be elected. Will, of course, was forced to realise he couldn’t coast on charm and maybe didn’t want to any more; Diane’s romance with Gary Cole‘s fantastic Kurt McVeigh saw her abuse the privilege, choosing work over love to stick it to their opponents, then approaching him for forgiveness; and Kalinda, the season’s MVP supporting character, saw an end to her relationship to the police officer that has made things so easy for our folks when she suspects him of being a dirty cop, while also confirming hints that she’s at least bisexual, sharing a steamy (if unseen) kiss with the flirtatious FBI agent who’s been hounding her all season. All of these moments worked on an episode level, and also felt like a turning point for each to enter into season 2.

The Middle: If The Middle had entered the ring even a year ago, before the rebound of the comedy meant that there was suddenly a lot of flashy good comedy around, it would have likely been TV’s comedic version of The Good Wife: never shockingly good but consistently worth the time, this often being s better deal than most comedy’s around last year. But while TV is suffering from a dearth of decent drama, as its hits are now aging, The Middle premiered alongside a slate of flashier, more easily discussed comedic shows: Community, Modern Family and even Glee spring to mind. But though it’s often ignored, this little show is every bit as good as any of its Wednesday partners (Family and Cougar Town), despite being less flashy. Patricia Heaton makes for a sympathetic, yet enjoyably flawed lead, with the supporting cast just as good: Mike Flynn, transferring his trademark dryness from Scrubs‘ evil janitor to a more understated role here (and every bit as funny), while the kids, Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher and Atticus Shafer, are all hilarious in their own right. In fact, though they get little focus, the kids are the breakouts here: convincingly teenage, and yet all able to anchor funny plots on their lonesome.

The show also loves breaking down illusions about motherhood by showing exactly how much work it is to be a mother: Frankie Heck is overworked and underpaid, and struggles with the same things most mothers do: trying to give her family a good life even when both parents work and “naturally” it falls to the mother to do everything else. And despite having characters with some very basic traits (Brick is bookish and ‘odd’, Sue is desperate to land on a team and Axl is lazy and entitled), the show still does fun things with them, like compare Brick’s lack of social skills unexpectedly to his laid back dad’s (in 1.23, “Signals”), or show how Axl cleans up when trying to impress a girlfriend (in 1.21, “Worry Duty”). A genuinely funny show that I’m happy to say will be reaching season 2.

Supernatural: I’m a few weeks behind, having just watched 5.20, “The Devil You Know”, yesterday afternoon. A frustratingly talky episode thing week, with some interesting issues around trust that I couldn’t focus on because I was hoping for, to quote a famous face, a little less conversation and a little more action. That said, Mark Sheppard is doing well as Crowley, and Eric Johnson was very charismatic as Demon of the Week Brady; as this episode was so conversation-based, if either of these two had been miscast (like last season’s Genevieve Cortese), this episode would have been like watching paint dry. Happy to see the Yellow Eyes’ plans still resonating even now, though; a reminder of that is good right before the big finale in two episodes’ time. Here’s hoping Bobby escapes with his soul intact.

United States of Tara: I wrote longer reviews of the show earlier this season, but the show’s changed so much so quickly that I honestly lost interest in doing the weekly big reviews. Still enjoying it, but watching this family I have such fondess for fall apart so spectacularly isn’t usually on my ‘crazy funtimes’ list. That said, the cast is still fantastic, and I was happy to get some Alice time in “Open House”. Pretty intrigued by the mythology that’s building behind Tara’s DID. If only Pamela Reed‘s mother character weren’t so broadly awful to her kids; it was much more subtle back in season one.

How I Met Your Mother: I do want to step in here, briefly, to talk about one of my former favourite shows. “Doppelgangers”, the show’s fifth season finale, was just the last in a long season of weirdly bad episodes. The show hasn’t done an episode I’ve really loved since halfway through last season with 4.14, “Benefits”, and even that was only on par with most season one/two episodes. Since, the show has been largely forgettable, which in the face of its former quality is almost a weekly slap in the face (oh, how I miss thee “Slap Bet”!). This season, the show’s almost been impressively bad: the doppelgangers runner was just as awkward and unfunny as I’d hoped it wouldn’t be when introduced, the Robin/Barney arc was a study in how to completely fumble an arc you’d been building to for over a year, and their recent trick of episodes where people yell a phrase over and over to fill time (“He got mugged by a monkey!” “It’s Robots, vs. Wrestlers!”) is the most obnoxious of time-filling tricks. Continuity, once their strongest thing, is mishandled or forgotten (I still can’t believe that, in the montage devoted to Marshall accidentally injuring Lily, they completely forgot the conclusion of one of my favourites, “The Duel”), and episodes sometimes now feel like rehashed episodes from seasons past (“Homewreckers” is the new “Dowisetrepla”, the plot of “Say Cheese” was adequately covered in “Slapsgiving”) or tired beating-the-joke-to-death (please don’t bother with the Alan Thicke / Robin Sparkles variety clips unless you have something damn good up your sleeve, show!). This is also, oddly, the season where a supporting act starts eating the show, sadly during the season where he’s running out of funny things to say: not one but two episodes were from Barney’s perspective here (“Perfect Week” and “Of Course”), and yet most of his quotables are still from the first three seasons. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed this season – when I watch an episode, I usually laugh a few times and don’t regret it – but I still get a sinking feeling in my stomach that things should be different. I hope, next year, things are. You guys will be getting a full overview of the series from Gabriella Goutam this summer, by the way, so look forward to that!

One Response to “FRIDAY ROUNDUP! (May 2010, wk 4)”
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  1. […] Plimpton as the opposing counsel and dynamite movement in the central love triangle (which, as I noted elsewhere, is a far cry from the awful love triangles of other shows) made this one to […]

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