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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Other TV 1 - 7 November

Posted by The TV Critic on 7 November 2009 | 0 Comments

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Curb Your Enthusiasm - 707 - The Black Swan

This was one of the less convincing episodes for me. Larry yells at another member of his golf club who ends up having a heart attack and dying. The man’s friend, wife and Larry’s friends all calmly tell Larry that he is responsible. You can see why that would sound funny – “you killed him!” “No no it was involuntary manslaughter!” and so on. Yes it’s shocking sounding but in reality it just looks so fake. Real people would never talk like that about someone dying. It’s that Seinfeld style social exaggeration but without the zany characters to pull it off. Larry’s friends all yell and swear at each other throughout too which generally irritates me because it’s not fun to watch. The conclusion of the plot confused me slightly, how did the stone mason know Larry killed the Swan? Or did Takahashi suspect and order him to put that on the grave? Which is a pretty horrible thing to do. It all felt very unconvincing.

Mad Men - 312 - The Grown Ups

What marks Mad Men out from most other TV shows is that the writing doesn’t really care about good guys and bad guys. Most people I know, consciously or otherwise, consider the main characters of TV shows to be good guys, people they support. Their reactions are based on wanting their characters to succeed and be happy. I for one get sucked into that emotional state by most TV shows. That is why Mad Men will never be one of my favourite shows, because in Mad Men peoples flaws and self interest are spread so evenly. But despite not winning my heart, it does win my respect.

Here we see JFK assassinated and the thing I liked a lot was the sense of what his assassination might mean. Betty asks “What is going on?” with genuine fear when Oswald is gunned down too. You could sense a genuine fear that maybe democracy and the American way of life was under threat. It’s emotions like that that are completely lost when you read in a history book that Kennedy was killed and then move on to the next page to see that America didn’t descend into chaos. I’m not sure what happens to the show if Betty does leave Don. It could be very interesting, but I’m not sure how to feel about Betty at all. I do admire the whole presentation of Betty because she seems so different to modern people. She seems to keep 90% of her thoughts to herself, she seems to be constantly annoyed by her children and just emotes everything in a quiet, frustrated way. It’s a character that is hard to enjoy but not hard to believe in.

Dexter - 406 - If I Had a Hammer

The psychology and character development of Dexter Morgan is so delightfully simple. I can see why fans of the Sopranos or Mad Men would look down on Dexter for being a lesser show. But TV shows have to find an audience and by making Dexter the most human serial killer they can, the producers have done a fantastic job. Seeing his relationship with Rita succeed in therapy is such simple but clever writing. Dexter finds a way to express his need for a stash of secret murder weapons because “I need space to…keep my stuff.” And so Rita and the therapist are thrilled that he has expressed his need for personal space within the marriage. It’s simple and it keeps the marriage and his secret identity in tact. That is the real story coming out of this episode. So far John Lithgow’s Trinity killer is shaping up no different than Miguel Prado. A killer who manages to live a normal moral life on the surface. It’s enjoyable if predictable fare. We shall see if the producers of Dexter are building toward some tremendous conclusion to this tale.

Parks and Recreation - 208 - Ron and Tammy

This was another really enjoyable episode from Parks. It’s my opinion that the writers of The Office took a long time to realise that Michael Scott needed to have a likeable side for the show to take off. But on Parks, Leslie is a likeable character and in classic sit com fashion her goodness and selflessness is drawing her friends to her. Comedy is so much easier to enjoy when the central character is someone you are rooting for. Also as Parks is centered on a department of government which is trying to do some good, these plots have a real moral centre. It provides a similar tone to Spin City where you can support the “home team” as it were, as they face struggles against outside forces.

Anyway, enough structural analysis. On to Ron Swanson. Again Leslie’s naivety leads a friend into trouble but her goodness gets them out of it. It’s such an enjoyable story because it puts layers onto Ron’s otherwise bare character. He has behaved like such a plausible character that when he goes crazy over his ex-wife it really works. Fortunately Megan Mullally played her role plausibly too so that when the two of them ran naked into a motel it didn’t seem forced. A classic sit com story presented in the modern style.

Community - 108 - Home Economics

Another decent episode which made good use of each character. Jeff continues his journey toward becoming a better person. I don’t have a lot more to say about it. It doesn’t structure its jokes in a way which makes me laugh often but the characters are likeable and enjoyable to watch.  

 

 


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