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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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First Week of TV

Posted by The TV Critic on 1 September 2009 | 0 Comments

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Hey everyone,

The site is nearly ready to be refreshed. As some of you have heard, hackers destroyed the servers which the site was on back in June. It’s taken a long time to get things sorted out and hopefully if anything like that happens again, no content will be lost. By this time next week the podcasts will be back and there will be a forum setup.

In the meantime I am reviewing away and you can read my Entourage and The Office reviews as usual. But as “The TV Critic” I watch all the shows which fall under my comedy and drama (non-procedural) umbrella. Many I don’t have the time to review, some I just wouldn’t. But I will comment on them here in the blog and by all means comment on them as well.

Watch this space…

Mad Men (305 – The Fog) demonstrated one of its strengths this week. Even if the story itself isn’t particularly compelling (and I’m not saying that this wasn’t), the viewer can be easily engaged by just watching how much the world has changed in forty years. The way Don and Betty were separated at the hospital was pretty sad. What came through loud and clear from the way Betty was treated (and even the way Miss Farrell behaved around Don) was that emotional outbursts were thought of as an embarrassment. The undertone of course implies that women’s emotional outbursts clearly make them inferior. From these pictures it’s easy to see the culture of today, where people are encouraged to show their emotions (particularly over things like giving birth) as progress.

Parks and Recreation (201 – Pawnee Zoo) was pretty fun this week. They found a very likeable note for Leslie to play as she endearingly hopes everyone will just agree with her that penguins are cute. It’s still unnerving how similar to The Office that the show is. I’m not just talking about the camera setup and the silly semi-real characters. I mean the joke structure is so similar. You can almost predict exactly where the joke is coming from and half the cast seem to be giving the camera “the Jim look” all the time.

The new kid on the block Community (101 – Pilot) was a mixed bag but there was plenty to enjoy. I felt the show finished on too predictable and too obvious a note. It felt very much like a pitch to the network: “Jeff Winger, formerly a sleazy lawyer, ends up at Community College and learns a surprising lesson about life!” I wouldn’t argue for a minute with the wholesome message but the setup just seemed too sweetly contrived. I do like the idea of the show though, especially as it gives you a nice three or four season story to tell. That gives the show a potentially pleasing end date and a nice sense of time passing for the characters. Speaking of the characters, that was both a strength and weakness from my point of view. While the study group were nicely defined as stereotypes, they did seem a little too much like stereotypes. Throw in a British professor camping it up and there was a definite spoof like feel to the story. I’m of the belief that shows which veer toward spoof like My Name is Earl, Third Rock from the Sun and That 70s Show ultimately stop being funny when viewers stop taking it at all seriously. But that’s an argument for another day. For now I will close by saying that Jeff Winger was an engaging leading man, with good comic timing and I hope the show surprises me with its direction.

Now I wait for Curb Your Enthusiasm…

Uh, why was I waiting? Curb returned (701 - Funkhouser's Crazy Sister) and I pretty much hated it. It's one of those shows that I just can't review because I am so ideologically opposed to its guiding principles. I do watch it though for the occasional brilliance, but this had none of that for me. The reason I don't like Curb nine times out of ten is the arguing. The show is built around Larry falling foul of people's social conventions and getting into unscripted arguments over life's minutiae. But you know me, what I don't like on TV is a lack of reality. And ironically by trying to simulate these arguments, I think Curb comes across as the most contrived show on TV.

In my experience people avoid arguments the vast majority of the time. Especially if they are in front of other people at the time or indeed in your home. To see Larry launch into shouting matches with relative strangers is unpleasant to watch. I understand those scenes when he provokes people by being unduly selfish but in the case of the lemonade he clearly had a point, which makes it even harder to watch. New characters being completely unreasonable is just not fun for me. Finally I didn't enjoy the ending where the big joke seems to be all the horrible things which Larry will have to deal with as Loretta struggles with cancer. I know the joke is meant to be about Larry's selfishness but I can't bring myself to laugh at a list of debilitating symptoms that a cancer victim has to go through. Don't even get me started on Jeff's morality either.

Let's move on to Mad Men (306 - Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency) which will always be remembered as the episode when Guy MacKendrick got his foot shredded to pieces. This was a classic case of Good\Bad for a TV show. The scene itself was so shocking and unlike anything else the show has produced. Of course the reaction of Guy's bosses was typically un-PC, seeing a man who can't walk as incapable of working in an ad agency. It's another thank-god-the-world-has-matured moment. But the really real part to me was the way the Americans managed to joke about the situation. In real life that kind of indifference to another's suffering is how most people react when it is someone they don't know or don't care about. I was very pleased to see the show write the characters that way. The bad side to this was the entire episode felt like a completely needless plot device as a result. Don and Lane had their wings clipped and were upset only for a violent incident to restore the status quo. It reminded me of an episode of Prison Break (309) of all things. It just seemed like such a TV show way to go about telling the story. And Mad Men has done a good job being its own kind of art for a while now.

Parks and Recreation (201 - The Stakeout) was kind of fun again. Sit coms work so well when a plot covers one small period of time. This was no exception and the hernia story really grew on me and made me smile the longer it went on. The cop not wanting to be interviewed was a nice twist on the usual interview cut away. As for Community (102 - Spanish 101), it really fell flat for me. For me it has made the classic mistake of making every character stupid except for the two leads. Already I don't buy into any of the smaller characters for their lack of reality. As for the ridiculously long Spanish presentation, well I am dead against jokes that the audience can't see or in this case hear. It just makes it clear to the audience that the writers didn't think of something actually funny.


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