Same shit, different season. New favourite character / actor: writing team member Frank / Judah Friedlander, who does a fine job blending in with the rest of the team, but turns out to have a surprisingly complex web of thoughts, priorities, types of jokes (physical comedy, one-liners, high emotional stakes). Favourite cameo: tie between Jon Hamm, cherished looks and mocked personality, and Peter Dinklage, cherished personality and mocked looks. Most surprising performance: Salma Hayek, whom I had known strictly as the sexy person of previously seen movies, comes in unassumingly, then proves to fit in quite snugly with the deranged antics of the show. Continued disappointment: Jane Krakowski, who makes nothing new out of the same three jokes she is given. Continued delight: the much-desired platonic chemistry between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Missed opportunity: Scott Adsit, not given anywhere near as many times to shine as he had in the previous season. Who?: Oh god, too many characters to name. Nearly the entire writing room needs a revamp in personality.
Better use of cameos, better ensemble work, better jokes, better character development, sharper satire... Than the previous season. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are still the only people I care deeply about. Tracy Morgan, I'm warming up to; Jane Krakowski, getting more annoyed at; Jack McBrayer, I've always loved; Judah Friedlander, uh... sure?. Lonny Ross is still just a pretty face, not to mention Jason Sudeikis as Liz Lemon's primary love interest. Mo money means more cameos, and I heartily welcome Carrie Fisher, Will Arnett, Jerry Seinfeld, Edie Falco. Unsung hero of the season: Scott Adsit as the mild-mannered show producer Pete Hornberger, who gives his all to combat the typical urges of a midlife crisis.
The consistency of this show is remarkable. What was anticipated in the previous season has come to full bloom in this season: characters sacrificing trust among friends for a great leap towards a better future. We see the familiar cast grasping the coming loss of time in the West Wing, acting in whatever ways to either prolong time there or act radically under the assumption that they have only a year left. We can see that the characters care about humanity as a whole, yet they so easily throw their closest friends to the curb. Come for the politics, stay for the drama.
30 Rock takes some time to show its heart within the satire of mainstream TV broadcasting, but when it's on, it's spot-on. Although I wish that the actors of the sketch show Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski... hm, subtle change on the actress' name) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan... REAL subtle) had more moments of truthful vulnerability, we get to see aplenty from chief writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). All of them are funny though, no doubt. Not to mention other cast mates like Jack McBrayer and Scott Adsit, as well as the cameos from real network celebrities as themselves, doing their job (the best appearance by far being Conan O'Brien). Such crossovers with reality ground 30 Rock as a faux-"Insider's Look" on what happens inside the NBC building, with pretty good results.
What pervades the airs of the West Wing is greater distrust in each other, for accomplishing whatever is on the agenda. Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) bicker more frequently, Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) and Will Bailey (Joshua Molina) are each other's red alert, Abby Bartlet (Stockard Channing) gives close to zero shits about what the public thinks of her, and, generally, no one character seems to be able to find joy, even when the resources are right in front of them. And this is most true for President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who is far less compromising with his staff, Congress, his family, his constituents, in the wake of a family tragedy. Not on the issues you might expect, though. Individual episodes still resound, be it for phenomenal performances by this now all-star cast, compelling topical discussions, or appreciable storytelling techniques. Still a great show, continuing to grow subtler in its development.
The original show had amateurish charm, which helped in overlooking its amateurish jokes. We're talking in the era of creator Joel Hodgson, who plays a role as script supervisor for this revival. Over twenty years since his departure, and over fifteen since the show ended, the jokes have had time to adapt to more modern references, sensibilities, pacing. Not so amateurish now, huh? Fine, but the jokes are equally hit-or-miss. Without amateurish charm, the gap between hit and miss is actually larger. The quick, simple lines are where they stride. The 10+-second conversations, or (worse) singing, are where I beg for them to shut up and watch the movie. As for the in-between skits, eh, I've always taken or left them.
The laboratory scientist lifted all the essential components/tropes of a superhero TV show, including particular names/faces of the DC Universe, and said, "There, that's my act." Unlike in the DC Universe, however, magic does not exist in ours. Lovelorn, broody teenagers get my empathy, but where's the entertainment in return? Regarding character development, Megan Martian may be the one exception, despite an especially tiresome catchphrase. ("Helloooo, Megan!", which turns out to be a mock-1980s sitcom phrase.) None of the catchphrases stick. "Feel whelmed"? "I hate monkeys"?! Give it a rest, please. The overarching drama too smells a little rotten, up close. Each filler episode pretends it's not filler, and that every single villain-of-the-week defeat somehow plays into the greater scheme of the true Injustice League. There is no substantial evidence to support these claims. They just say it, and pretend the next episode will elevate the drama. Maybe in the last six or seven episodes, that is true. Otherwise, stop kidding yourself. You're a mediocre superhero show, albeit more mature than Teen Titans. Not by much, though. I imagine Teen Titans was written for 11-year-olds, while Young Justice was written for 15-year-olds. And you know what? 11-year-olds are more fun. They can dig Yellow Submarine acid trips, Scooby Doo chase sequences, Bond-esque theme songs, anime-esque emotional displays, all the while keeping their lame romances, failed catchphrases, each small success leading the team deeper in the clutches of some villain.
And this is how you ruin a great show. Not to say that David Lynch's surreal tastes and heart for the simplicity in life do not win me over in moments. And the last twenty minutes of the season are phenomenal, up to and including the very last frame. Still, consider what drama was packed in the first season's eight episodes, versus what is spread around in the second season's 22 episodes. Twin Peaks has become the supernatural soap opera it has wanted to be, but what that entails is a great lack of focus. It shows. So sadly, it shows. Once Laura Palmer's murder is solved, you may not even want to pick a story to focus on. Most of the roads are either dead ends or endless highways. Docked a half-star for turning out to be the final season, disappointingly leaving the show at an unintended 25-year cliffhanger.
Ooh. This season sure is sappy. There is still some cheap satire for the ages, and for those who are invested in this show, I recommend capping your dedication with every last episode of the show. Otherwise, this season plays out like an extended epilogue, with the last episode an entire epilogue to the epilogue. Again, if you had been watching this show for a while, there is great merit in watching the final hijinks of this lovable, sweet cast. And they are especially sweet here. For newcomers, go back. Far back.
They sure knew how to write themselves into a corner. The grim humour of the previous season still holds, but the drama has lost some of its flair. And now that *SPOILERS* all major characters are in the drug business, and the entire town has been set ablaze, the show does not have anywhere to go. Judging from the ratings of the later seasons, that proved to be the case. Still, it was fun while it lasted.
You know how most horror/science-fiction/fantasy shows have a season where our heroes have made some grave mistake, or pissed off the wrong people, and are unknowingly sending themselves into a trap that will inevitably give evildoers the upper hand? Imagine this trope within a reasonable alternate reality of U.S. politics. Not to say that this season is full of gloom. Implicit gloom, yes, even after the election is over. It's a season that specializes in building hope it plans to destroy by the end of the episode, a different approach from its previous seasons. Each season feels closer to the post-golden age we live in now, and I imagine matters are not going to look much brighter by next season. (Although *SPOILERS* with a missing daughter to the President and John Goodman as Republican Speaker of the House in temporary charge of the White House, it would HAVE to look brighter soon.)
Not all elements of Twin Peaks hold up as well today as they probably did at 1990, but the heart and atmosphere of the show do, and fortunately, they carry the greatest weight in the first season. Twin Peaks: what first appears as a well-knit middle-of-nowhere community stricken by the tragedy of the murder of Laura Palmer, quickly busts its seams into a town where no one is a true friend to anyone. The most stable friendship in the entire season is between local Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) and FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), the lone outsider. Director David Lynch had an easier time in directing movies than TV episodes, but he paces his strange mannerisms carefully in this. The townspeople manage to keep a non-ironic sense of humour throughout the semi-supernatural murder mystery, and the mystery itself is never played for laughs. In some scenes, the horror of the unknown can be downright disturbing. Lynch had already mastered that in Blue Velvet with Dennis Hopper. In Twin Peaks, a more monumental mystery is at hand, so while single characters may not hold much singular weight in terror, the cinematography and editing sure do. The dream sequences, the visions, the jump cuts to birds, the repeated use of the same three dream poppy songs, and particularly the gut-wrenching moments of the pilot episode, where we experience nearly the entire town realize that Laura is dead, for much longer than we ever could bear in real life. The acting is soap opera-y now and then, as is the story. Additionally, while the season starts off remarkably, it ends in this middle point that may not have been the intention of the writers. Still, however muddled I found plot development to be, Twin Peaks sells its characters in a way that had me care enough about Laura Palmer to keep watching. And the atmosphere. Mmm, I eat up that introduction, every episode.
Whatever criticisms I make about the show's previous season must be close to unanimous among critics / fans, as each season seems to be even better, thanks to specific repairs. I have already spoken much praise for Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Rob Lowe, Aziz Ansari, and even Jim O'Heir. The remaining cast members -- Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, and Retta -- have made far greater advancements in character development. On top of that, Councilwoman Knope (Poehler) can now tackle a broader range of political issues, which has actually sharped the focus of the show. In previous seasons, the fact that the show took place in some secondhand city in Indiana seemed trivial. Now, the issues at hand are of a distinctive Midwestern flavour, and Knope and her co-workers are coming to face a worse issue than an incompetent press or government: an incompetent population. I am impressed that the show has held onto its sweet nature, as it delves deeper into no-targets-left-standing satire.
Aziz Ansari's swagaliciousness, Nick Offerman's strip-to-the-bones attitude, Aubrey Plaza's cynicism, and Chris Pratt's dopiness have really grown on me, much like how they have on the entire cast of characters. Amy Poehler's perfectionism and Rob Lowe's tidiness continue to entertain. Even Jim O'Heir's normalcy is beginning to intrigue me. I never much cared for Reeta. More alarmingly, Rashida Jones and Chris Scott are at risk of becoming plot devices. Their main gags are observing other people's quirks. Tsk, tsk. Rashida Jones is doomed to leave the cast soon, but I have higher hopes for Chris Scott. The show already did good work in normalizing the romance between Plaza and Pratt, and they take appropriate steps for doing the same for him and Poehler. The addition of Paul Rudd as Poehler's clueless, highly privileged political opponent added a soft, but slimy bite that I did not know I wanted for the show. Keep up the good work.
The first season was not awful. In fact, it was still very good in establishing our main characters and the most scandalous problems that the executive branch faces. Where it faltered is a rush of romantic problems for, well, every character. Josh and his ex who also worked in the West Wing, Toby and his ex wife, CJ and a Wall Street Journal reporter, Leo and his wife, Sam and a sex worker AND Leo's daughter, President Bartlet and Abby, and Charlie and Bartlet's youngest daughter. Good grief. It was not entirely overwhelming, but in retrospect, it was quite typical of late nineties programming to be sure every character had some romantic interest. The second season slowly filtered out that crap, and at this third season, we are treated to a much deeper focus of our main characters. We know what everyone has to face, and the problems do not go away, no matter how many other large-scale issues arise or how much effort they make in brushing away the problems. Sound familiar? The fine details are even more enthralling, culminating in one of the most intense season finales I have seen in years. The West Wing has greatly distinguished itself from other dramas by not only foregoing the romantic and gossipy garbage that sinks other shows, but also sets up an environment where law comes first. No sudden fits of physical rage, no death threats, no permanent goodbyes. Rhetoric will prevail.
And so, the series comes to a closure. The four main characters try so hard not to be likable, and yet, they are simply too nice to achieve their goals. Same shit, different year, and it remains relevant and consistent. I have a certain favourite episode of the series: "Something Happened," where the writers really know how to test whether or not it is appropriate for the audience to laugh at a serious discussion of sexual assault, through the circumstance of Roy (Chris O'Dowd) getting kissed on his bum by a masseur. The special finale was twice as long as a regular episode, which means twice the number of jokes misfire. All is forgiven. Thanks for the journey, The IT Crowd.
Classical British quirk laces this surprisingly fresh sitcom, whose jokes are odd and contextually funny enough to compensate for the occasional stereotype of what should be a real human being. Be grateful that the writers have moved well past the dreadful pilot theme of "Aah, there's an attractive woman in my office, and I am a dork! Help!" No sexual tension whatsoever, much like all of my other favourite British sitcoms (most notably, The Young Ones, whose diversions into the netherworld have surely influenced this work). Instead, we can indulge in thematically tight strings of episodes, pointed at a new age of activism -- LGBT rights, feminism, kinksters, etc. I look forward to the next season.
More of a trope follower than a trope setter, but I doubt many people watch Parks and Recreation for the story. There are distinctive characters, whose mannerisms mingle together for many amusingly awkward moments, and they are performed extraordinarily well by the cast of Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones, and -- my favourite -- Rob Lowe, whose squeaky clean, by-the-books attitude so drastically contradicts everyone else's attitudes. Heck, everybody contradicts one another. Amy Poehler is more caring, Adam Scott is more realistic, Nick Offerman is more destructive, Aubrey Plaza is more apathetic, Chris Pratt is more excitable, Rashida Jones is more desperate. I will say that the fourth season seems set for a much more compelling complex, in order for the drama of this season to lift to something phenomenal.