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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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More January episodes

Posted by The TV Critic on 25 January 2010 | 0 Comments

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Modern Family - 112 - Not in My House

Modern Family is aiming for “Middle America” or the widest audience possible or whatever phrase you prefer. So its stories will probably not always be to my tastes. This was a particularly old style sit com episode and I don’t mean that in a good way. The “Dog Butler” story was particularly weak. Jay and Gloria are such a sensible couple, they have overcome issues of age and race to be together and develop mutual respect. For her to walk in on Jay in “compromising” positions with a piece of art was too silly an idea for their characters. Cameron hosting a Mexican wedding was similarly over the top. I think this is the “modern” dilemma with comedy.

The modern consensus is that laughter tracks were the worst thing to happen to comedy. And while I agree with the critics somewhat, the live studio audience aspect of sit coms has largely been lost. But those comedies could do silly plots like this and get away with them. When you set a comedy, visually, very much in the real world. As Modern Family is, then the sillier the plots get the more difficult it becomes to suspend your disbelief.

Scrubs - 905-10

In order to maintain my sanity I can’t start writing about Scrubs again. But I am also too much of a completist not to watch a show still featuring so many characters that I know and once cared for. I would say the show’s new format has made the show more watchable because it isn’t the same group of characters. But at the same time the stories remain almost exactly the same. The reason I want to write though is to comment on Cole. I think he is excellent in his role. There have been loads of “jerk” characters on TV. You can look no further than Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother for a character who behaves immorally and is happy with who they are. But while Neil Patrick Harris understands old school sit com acting really well, I think Cole is something different. Dave Franco (Cole) embodies the role in that wonderful way casting and writing can come together some times. He never seems to be reaching when playing Cole, credit the writing which has allowed him to act like he genuinely loves being a spoilt, lazy, pretentious, slightly mean guy. I think he is one of the best characters to watch on TV right now, at least to those who enjoy seeing that casting\writing magic brought to life.

Parks and Recreation - 214 - Leslie’s House

Leslie seems like a good candidate to take on the Frasier Crane mantle of hosting disastrous dinner parties. There were several strong jokes here including of course the cut to a man giving the guests a comparative demonstration of accounting software. Though she was a little cruel to ask Andy to be the waiter and inviting Wendy without asking Tom.

Mark’s character once more comes under the microscope. In season one he was the former ladies man who took everything in his stride. Now he has to make up stories to seem interesting to the worldly Justin. Even ignoring the inconsistency, it makes Mark seem ever more like Jim-lite. He needs to regain his cool or have his character tweaked.

Ron being a hostile witness was good value. There is so much mileage they can get out of a right wing civil servant who hates the government.

Community - 114 - Interpretive Dance

The opening scenes of Community are rapidly becoming the highlight of my week. Those quick fire group chats are packed with fun moments and witty lines. This is where comedy can go in my mind. Those conversations don’t look like real people talking but it’s perfectly plausible that such conversations could take place and so I am fine with it. The writers are bringing back some of the wit that used to infuse sit coms but which has often been lost in modern “reality” based shows.

I disagree with Alan Sepinwall who claimed that Britta and Jeff have no chemistry and it was sad to see their romance reignited. On the contrary this was the first time I liked Britta’s character and see nothing wrong with her and Jeff continuing to build a strong friendship which will inevitably develop into something more. I thought Britta did a great job with the “fighting back the emotion” scene where Jeff congratulates her on her performance. It was Britta’s best episode all round as her interaction with Troy was fun. Part of the fun was realising all the endless permutations of characters which Community can throw up for years to come.

There is so much you can do with a show like this. In a way the Community College setting is the real genius of the show. These characters aren’t forced to work together (like a job show e.g. Scrubs, The Office), they aren’t all close friends (Friends, How I Met Your Mother) and they aren’t all the same age or intelligence level. It allows for stories like this where Britta and Troy can grow closer as friends without it seeming contrived that they would spend time together.

Chuck 301-04

Chuck is a show which defies all logic and at the same time doesn’t. In many ways it breaks all the rules by which I judge good TV. First off it’s completely implausible and there is often no sense of real consequence to what goes on. Now the implausibility is nothing to do with the intersect or Chuck’s brain. It’s entirely because the spy operations all take place so ludicrously openly that it’s impossible to believe no one would have noticed and equally implausible that Chuck’s nervous charm wouldn’t have got him a bullet in the brain by now.

But more than just its silliness Chuck has returned for a third season and stuck rigidly to its formula. Going against all my desires for TV shows to evolve, show real growth and consequence, instead Chuck is determined to hit the reset button hard. So Chuck is back at his old job, with his old friends and of course with his sexual tension back firmly where the writers like it.

And that’s the problem with Chuck – I like it like that. Chuck is a throwback. It’s a throwback to when Star Trek: The Next Generation was on. Or the show which I think it most closely resembles Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. There each week Lois and Clark would fight a new bad guy, his identity would go ridiculously undiscovered and the sexual tension would play out without going anywhere. The formula works to provide entertaining lightweight television. So congratulation to Chuck and Sarah, who play their roles beautifully (Casey is just fine too) and a hardy pat on the back to Josh Schwartz too. The man destroyed The O.C. as quickly as he had built it into something good but he seems far more comfortable in a reality where nothing much changes. I could never really review Chuck because the logic gaps make it impossible for my review structure.

The one thing I will criticise the show for is Jeff and Lester and Morgan. None of them have ever been well defined as comic foils. Jeff and Lester adapt to whatever nonsense they are involved with each week which is annoying because Chuck and Casey crack the same jokes every week and get laughs because their characters are so consistent. As for Morgan, he is better developed as this self involved slacker but then I don’t think he does enough to become a beloved character, he is too wedded to his own agenda and lack of ambition.

Modern Family - 113 - Fifteen Percent

Another very pleasant episode from Modern Family. The “Claire tries to figure out how to use the remote” plot is about as middle of the road and basic as a TV storyline can be. Yet it was delivered with aplomb, making Phil out to be sweet as well as patronising and Claire as likeable as well as stubborn. The big conceit’s were predictable, Whitney having no gaydar and Shorty not being gay (though possibly in the closet), but still enjoyable. Seeing Jay try to make up for the way he dealt with Mitchell coming out by being kind to Shorty was nice simple character development.

Chuck - 305 - Chuck Versus First Class

Just another episode of Chuck, entertaining and inconsequential. But they do a good job of weeding out the human emotion and making you care. Seeing Chuck have to stay on the plane and not get to set foot in Paris was a touching moment. Simple but universal. Otherwise Kristin Kreuk looks eminently suitable to be Chuck’s next distraction. I think you have to find an actress who can play a moral looking character well because they would be attracted to Chuck’s goodness. Meanwhile it was a bit of a waste of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. His role could have been played by anyone. 


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