Grimm, 2 Broke Girls, Once Upon a Time, Boss (31\10\2011)
Technically Grimm was on last week but I figured you might miss it if I put it in the previous blog...
Grimm - 101 - Pilot
It's always interesting to see two shows with a similar premise or concept side by side. Last week I watched Once Upon a Time and felt that it wasn't likely to be a success. I feel similarly about Grimm but for different reasons.
Grimm's take on the world of fairy tales is that the creatures from that realm, in the pilot it's the Big Bad Wolf, are real and do attack humans from time to time. The Grimm's are like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a line of humans whose job is to defend humans from what is lurking in the shadows. Although the Grimm's only super power is the ability to see the fairy tale characters behind their human masks. The actual task of defeating them has to be done with a gun or other weapon. So our main character is cop Nick Burkhardt who is shocked when his Aunt turns up and begins telling him about his destiny. When girls in little red riding hoodies go missing he jumps on the case.
Ok so the good part of Grimm is that you can imagine this being a fun show at some point in a way that Once Upon a Time feels too predictable. Grimm is helmed by David Greenwalt who worked on Buffy and Angel and so perhaps he will find a way to make the show dramatic and entertaining in a similar way. Certainly the early appearances and attacks on Nick were interesting and entertaining. The sense that anyone could be hiding a secret identity certainly lends a sense of tension to the show.
The bad news is that the episode slowly turned into a predictable police procedural. The first seasons of Buffy and Angel certainly had similar problems but this was a somewhat dull version of that. There was no real emotion in Nick's story, no sense of humour and Nick himself (David Giuntoli) was pretty bland.
I won't bother jumping to conclusions just yet. The Buffy Rewatch has been a wonderful exercise in reminding me what makes a show tick from the start. In the pilot of Buffy we are immediately told why we should care and like Buffy. We haven't yet been given those same reasons for Nick but perhaps they will come. If they do then this could turn into something. If they don't then this won't.
2 Broke Girls - 107 - and the Pretty Problem
The quick news is that this was the same as usual. Max and Caroline remain strong central characters you want to root for but the comedy is lousy.
However I want to talk a bit about Whitney Cummings. She is one of the main writers on 2 Broke Girls and obviously stars and writes over on Whitney. I'm always wary of attributing particular bits of writing to one person because it will always be a collaborative process. However after having watched about 12 episodes of television heavily influenced by her I'm afraid I have come to the conclusion that I don't think she is funny.
I am not a fan of 30 Rock and have long suspected that Tina Fey just took what she thought made for funny sketches and wrote them into a sit com. Most of the time I don't think that works and I sort of suspect that Cummings is doing the same. In her case it's her machine gun style stand up routines that she seems to be trying to channel into the mouths of Whitney (the character) and Max.
A brief Youtube search for her stand up content brought no surprises. Women are crazy, men are sleazy, people of different types are annoying for various reasons. That's pretty much what comes out of Max and Whitney's mouths. They both define themselves against society.
People who are different to them are idiots. They are either posers, creeps or idiots.
Romance has warped the feminine mind and it's better to stay insular and be cynical about all men and their level of interest in you.
Beauty is skin deep only and should also be treated with cynicism.
This week on 2 Broke Girls the usual racial stereotypes were joined by two hateful New York Italian girls and some fairly useless gay me. As I said I'm not sure Cummings is responsible entirely for these characters but her general anger at the world must be in play.
It's all fairly revealing of the neuroses which have driven Cummings toward a career in comedy. Whether because of her or in spite of her two sit coms now exist both of which have potential and both of which are not funny. Whitney has failed to make the audience care about the characters while 2 Broke Girls has. Perhaps that's because by letting Kat Dennings (Max) bring a sympathetic character to life the edge has come off Cummings' abrasive comedy style.
She clearly needs more help in finding where the real laughs are. Right now she is falling prey to insult-based comedy. Raining insults down on people may work at a comedy club but on a sit com there needs to be more context. In this week's episode Max lays into a group of old ladies for being bitchy. The problem with that is they were asking for better service. They were complaining about the tables not being clean. Instead of doing her job Max dressed them down for daring to complain. Then she and Caroline bitch about the Italian girls behind their back. The comedy there would have come if we had seen Max' anger boiling under the surface rather than allowing her to vent it all under her breath.
2 Broke Girls needs a different writing structure going forward. Sadly that probably won't be till next season. It would be good for the show if the girls moved out of the diner and the offensive characters they work with could all be eased off the stage. Cummings could then use some more experienced sit com writers to take her anger at find a way to channel it through Max in a genuinely funny way. I believe it could all happen but we will have to be patient. As with Fey, I don't think Cummings lacks talent or shouldn't be in the business of sit com. But I do think people need to realize that comedy aint easy. It takes a lot of effort to make funny sit coms and it would be nice to see someone not settle for the style they have but seek to improve. 2 Broke Girls is a commercial success but very far from a critical one. I'd like to see her try for both.
New Girl - 104 - Naked
I'm officially checking out on this show. By which I mean I won't be writing anymore unless things change. I will keep watching though because I'm a comedy addict.
I think Scrubs did a lot of damage by pioneering this modern style of incredibly self aware comedy. I know Scrubs wasn't the only show to go this way but it was a high profile and early adopter. What I see is writers trying to jump ahead of the audience and begin talking about the psychological makeup of their characters without doing the work to get there. We, the audience, need to get to know these characters as they present themselves to the world. Not as they are in their very private lives.
For example, here we have Schmidty asking to see Nick's penis because everyone else did. Nick is his best friend, Schmidty is insecure and stupid and so he suddenly thinks he is missing out by not seeing Nick's parts now that Jess has. It's an idea that definitely has comic potential. But it's not really funny, as presented, because Schmidty doesn't come across as a real person.
You can imagine a Joey Tribbiani or a Woody Boyd thinking like that. Or for more contemporary examples an Andy Dwyer, a Troy Barnes or perhaps a Rajesh Koothrappali. Those characters have been established in a way where you could imagine them getting upset at the thought of being left out and getting fixated on something so ridiculous as wanting to see their best friend's penis. It feels like a very John Dorian type emotion which brings me neatly back to Scrubs.
At least with J.D. the first season of Scrubs was superb at setting up who he was and why we should like him. Jess badly needs a season like that to avoid become obnoxious. The show seems more built around Nick right now than her because he is easier to relate to. Her bashful, oblivious, emotionally open but closed personality is a mess of contradictions that we have had no explanation for. I don't see one coming. I think you are just meant to like her and not think about anything else.
Winston has had more development than the other characters but his soul searching was only briefly touched upon in between pointlessly referencing pop culture or predictably bashing Schmidty.
Once Upon a Time - 102 - The Thing You Love Most
I can't see a way this show will make me care about the characters. I don't just mean because the show is a bit childish and silly. I mean because when the writing explores the actual feelings of the fairy tale world you get some very odd results.
In this episode it is the evil Queen whose flashback we see. Ultimately she expresses frustration that she can never win. In a world of happy endings she is destined to always be defeated and have her desires go unfulfilled. That actually made me wonder if she deserved some sympathy! A lifetime of thwarted ambition sounds pretty sad. The attempts to show her being evil (by killing her own father) just felt like the emotionless bedtime story that they have become.
The show is borrowing the Lost format pretty shamelessly. A group of strangers trapped in one place where the plot can't move forward quickly so half the episode is a flashback. The mystery of whether Rumpelstiltskin knows what is going on was a clever note to leave things on but I don't really care if he does.
I can see the show succeeding exactly as Lost did for its first season. I think viewers will tune in to see the flashbacks of other characters and learn what spin on traditional fairytales might come next. And there's always the possibility of a Giancarlo Esposito turning up to play a character completely removed from Gus Frings.
But its Heroes that this show makes me think of when I imagine its future. If the numbers stay strong then a Second Season will be commissioned. However I doubt there really is another story to tell beyond this one. My prediction would be that any attempt to stretch the narrative out will become pretty tedious and the audience will drift away.
Grimm - 102 - Bears Will Be Bears
I don't have much more to say about Grimm either. It remains humourless and emotionless.
So many TV producers just don't seem to understand how to connect an audience with a character. We have to see a character struggle with an emotion that we can empathise with. Nick has had his whole world turned upside down yet there is no moment to let the audience feel his pain. In the pilot of Buffy she snaps at Giles and asks if he can prepare her for losing all her friends or getting kicked out of school? We need a moment like that and plenty more besides if Grimm is going to turn into anything more. I won't write again unless things change dramatically.
Boss - 103 - Swallow
This was a fascinating episode of television. So much happened that pushed my thoughts backwards and forwards. The episode opens with Kane dreaming of a horse struggling to be fed. He wakes up having wet the bed. From that moment on Kane was a wonderful study of a man coming to terms with his own mortality. He considers past Mayor's and their legacies. He tries to reconnect with his daughter. He stairs despairingly at pictures of those who have died, curled up and in pain, from Lewy Body.
Then we see him sitting with two prostitutes cradling a large handful of pills. It's only then that he explains the connection with the horse and how its large throat allow it to swallow much larger pills than he can without vomiting. Whether he had already been thinking about that before the dream or he just reasoned it out afterwards it was one of the most subtle and clever uses of a dream sequence I have seen in a while.
It helped to establish the way his mind was working and how desperately he needed to share the news with someone. Before we get to the meeting with his daughter though he once more visits his Father-in-law and his care giver. She makes Kane feel better about himself and then slowly strips off and walks away, presumably towards the bedroom. It was hard to tell if this moment really happened or not. In an episode that was needlessly sexual already it wasn't hard to believe that this was indeed what was going on. But the more intriguing possibility is that Kane's hallucinations have begun to manifest at times of weakness. She offered him sympathy and comfort and it could well be that his tired mind had just imagined a reaction that made him feel good about himself.
If this were just a TV show about a man coming to terms with a terminal illness it would be pretty fascinating but swirling around Kane are larger problems. His wife and his aides now suspect that he is hiding something big. The journalist from the Sentinel is close to exposing the shady business going on at the airport site. And Kane's attempt to bond with his daughter goes up in flames when she realises that the Lewy Body is the only reason he is there. I particularly liked that moment because it would be hard to accept any rapprochement after years of silence.
The political stories are less interesting to me than the psychological. However the tone of politics in this episode did seem to fit with the tone established by The Wire and now driven home by shows like Rubicon or Homeland. The portrayal of politics as a dehumanising quid pro quo system is pretty interesting. When I grew up my impression of politics from US television was still one that put democracy up on a pedestal of virtue. The realities of shallow press coverage and donation chasing are reflected well here and it would seem we all see politics in an entirely cynical light now.
The violent part of the show's politics is the one I have the most trouble with. I complained in the pilot that a man losing his ears seemed too sensational. Here the poor Doctor and her son are forcibly relocated just to protect Kane from media scrutiny. I'm not saying that this couldn't happen though you certainly hope that it doesn't. What bothers me is that this was presented as just another part of Kane's standard operating procedure. If Kane or his team are terrorising people like this then it should be a major plot point. An action like that is not part of a politicians daily wheeling and dealing. It is a mafia-like act of control and really should be a much bigger deal.
The frequent nudity doesn't bother me but does feel like a crutch. The episode didn't actually need nipples to be as entertaining as it was.