WEEKLY ROUNDUP: Feb 6-12, 2011

Every week, The Signal will be offering up a Weekly 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. R. Lackie takes point for this week’s roundup…

Reviews, Thoughts and Other

Fringe 3.12: “Concentrate and Ask Again” was another standalone story with hints of the greater mythology. This one felt plucked straight out of late season one, with a generally non-fringe science story being solved with the help of a fringe science aid – that is, a mind-reader who shares Olivia’s past as one of the Cortexiphan subjects. I enjoyed it for what it was, thought I can’t say it enters my pantheon of the great Fringe episodes that season three has mostly composed of. Looking forward to more experimental tales soon.

Parks and Recreation 3.03 and 3.04: “Time Capsule” was great fun. The best use of Will Forte I’ve seen, though my only other real knowledge of him comes from How I Met Your Mother. While being the weakest of the season’s first four episodes, “Time Capsule” was also a solidly funny half-hour servicing the entire cast and giving Amy Poehler some fun notes to play. It’s rarely that Leslie Knope gets frustrated about things without it being over the top, so her struggle with being surrounded by Twihards was both low key and very fun to watch.  Meanwhile, it was followed up with the brilliance of “Ron and Tammy II”, where Ron’s terrifying ex-wife Tammy (played wonderfully, again, by Nick Offerman‘s real-life wife Megan Mullally) once again ensnares him with her charms. Whenever you get Ron Swansom and Tammy in a scene together, be prepared for twisted, horrifying comedic brilliance. I wouldn’t say this was as good as the first “Ron and Tammy” (2.08), just because the rest of the plots weren’t quite as hilarious, even as they endeared me much more to Ben. Watching that poor guy stumble through every conversation with the police chief in the most embarrassing manner was painful, but it made me feel some sympathy for a guy who entered the series as a strong black hat role. I just wish we’d gotten more of Tammy and Tom trying to make Ron jealous, because that was also some gold that was hardly touched.

Community 2.14 and 2.15: “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” was the strongest episode they’ve had since the break, and falls squarely in line with the morose, realistic tone they’ve gone for this season without sacrificing the laughs. Alison Brie and Danny Pudi killed it in the sex-scene-montage, and Chevy Chase was wonderfully awful as the scorned and dastardly Piece. The backstory, in which Jeff tries to stop ‘Fat Neil’ from committing suidice because he feels guilty for applying the nickname to him, was both dark and yet led to som very funny things. A very good episode. “21st Centrusy Romanticism”, meanwhile, felt very much like season 2 Community (known for its morose moments, its depiction of its characters at their worst and their fractured friendships) doings its best to go for a heartfelt season 1 episode. Season two has very much declared itself the season where this cast is in conflict, where the bonds developed in season one will be constantly tested and in question, and where the themes are generally darker and more depressing. So to see it doing some very season-one plots, like Britta and Paige’s enjoyment of having a lesbian friend and Troy/Abed’s competition over the librarian, is kind of odd. The ending, while still like season one in everyone (minus Piece) uniting together, ends pretty much on a unilateral downbeat rather than the victories of season one (such as Britta helping Annie in the bathroom or Pierce helping britta qwuit smoking). This episode solidified a lot of my issues with season two and its differences from last season. That said, it took these thematic changes and did good things with them, like in “Cooperative Calligraphy” (2.08) and last week’s D&D episode. The laugh mileage I got out of the Britta and Troy/Abed plot, and even Jeff’s apartment of horrors party with Duncan and Chang, all ranged from amusing to laugh-out-loud. So, I thing these two weeks were a successful rebound of the first two back from hiatus.

Chuck 4.13 and 4.14: Chuck finished one arc and starts another. “Chuck vs. the Push Mix” was a fun episode, closing off the Volkoff arc while still (like Brandon Routh‘s Shaw) leaving him to return at some later date. And Mama Bartowski is implied to return to spy work after 3.14, with Ellie, satisfied by her mother’s engagement within the family since Volkoff’s takedown, gives her mother her blessing to go back into spy world. So it seems the two key players of the opening arc have exited, readying us for a new beginning: leading up to Chuck and Sarah’s wedding, with plenty of Sarah family fun along the way.

I want to take a bit of time discussing “Chuck vs. the Seduction Impossible” (4.14), because I’ve say its the strongest episode they’ve had since last season’s “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” (3.14), which itself was the best since season two. They don’t have many episodes that, to me, consistently amuse and engage as much as that holy season two run, which included classics like “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer” (2.05), “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” (2.11) and “Chuck vs. the Best Friend” (2.14). This episode had as many classic moments, and just the consistent feeling of fun, that those had, particularly in the side-romance of Gen. Beckman and Roan Montgomery (John Larroquette) and Chuck and Sarah’s ‘discussion’ about their potential elopement. Best of the season, and I hope more like it are coming.

Off the Map 1.03-1.05: I don’t have much to say beyond the fact that I’m enjoying “Off the Map” so far. I’ve yet to be particularly blown away or drawn in by anything in it, so for now its harmless evening watching. Enjoyable, with a very good cast and a good grasp of what it wants to be, even if that’s not as ambitious as I think it should be. Let’s hope that once it gets settled, the show starts taking some risks.

Raising Hope 1.12: In “Romeo and Romeo”, Jimmy finds another single dad whom he has a lot in common, though their families clash. Though the first half of this episode felt awkward to me, it really redeemed itself in the back half when it put the two families together. First with the intercut family dinner: it uses one joke just enough before it wears out its welcome (each family does the same thing with the same script), then uses that intercut format to turn two perfectly innocent work stories into something that sounds very dinner-inappropriate, and very funny. The two families, once in the Chance living room, also build a great dynamic, with both sets of parents having come from similar background. This, of course, just incenses Virginia and Burt more, because they both went through the same situation and Jimmy’s parents still ended up poor. Of course, the moment everything starts going right, Jimmy and his new friend clash over something: Sabrina. I have to say, this plot worked because it was funny, but also because of the sterling work done by the guest cast. Particularly Brandon T. Jackson, who was perfect as Jimmy’s wealthier alter-ego Justin. I’d love to see these characters return, as they all had great chemistry as a group.

Glee 2.11 and 2.12: “The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle” was pretty good, very reminiscent of the show’s other ‘event’ programming (the Rocky Horror and Britney Spears episodes in particular), and it did some strong work with Max Adler as closeted football/hockey player Dave Karofsky. The more notable episode to me, however, is “Silly Love Songs”, which shares a lot of similarities with “Duets” (2.04), the season’s other best episode so far. If you’re someone of the three Glees theory, then “Duets” and “Silly Love Songs” are definitely kin: the scattering of plotlines amongst the Glee kids while de-emphasising the teacher cast, the attempts at emotional realism and the resulting lack of Sue Sylvester. Despite Jane Lynch‘s brilliance Sue doesn’t belong in these episodes, and that’s a shame because they are my favourite kind of Glee. The music was fun, the cast all got something to do, and I largely enjoyed the difference stories told here.

News and Notable Links

CBC Renews 17, Adds 2: Canadian network CBC has renewed a large portion of its shows, seventeen to be exact (TV Eh, 11/02/2011). Of note to me are scripted shows like Being Erica (considered by some a long shot to return), Republic of Doyle, Heartland, InSecurity, and Little Mosque on the Prairie. Also of note: scripted contenders not on the list are newbie Men With Brooms and comedy 18 to Life, still airing its second season as we speak. It also offered full-season pickups to new comedies Mr. D and Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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