Other TV 14 - 20 March

Spartacus Blood and Sand - 108 - Mark of the Brotherhood

Another strong outing for this surprisingly effective show. This episode dealt far more effectively with the sense that time was passing at the ludus. We saw new recruits arriving and being put through the rigors which Spartacus and Varro went through. We have Spartacus fully trained, at the peak of his powers and assuming Crixus' role entirely.

One of the strengths of the show is the demonstration of how each character really feels about those surrounding him. Crixus is true to form, thinking only of the Gladiator life and still having a lesson or two to pass on to Spartacus in that regard. While Spartacus tries to help all those around him including Varro whose recklessness continues unchecked. But the best example of these very real bonds was between Lucretia and Ilithyia. What started out as a purely business relationship has turned to somewhat genuine friendship. Yes Lucretia is still trying to use Ilithyia to gain political favour for her husband but her genuine concern for her friend when she was embarrassed was good to see. They shared the burden of being looked down upon by the haughty aristocratic women. Lucretia is a tremendous character (and well acted) because her relationships with Batiatus, Crixus, Ilithyia and Naevia are three dimensional.

Spoiler alert: do not read past this point if you don't know the historical story of Spartacus. This episode was also valuable in looking forward. You may have heard the name Marcus Crassus mentioned several times. Crassus was indeed one of the richest men in history and helped bankroll the career of one Julius Caesar. But he will also lead several armies against Spartacus as our story unfolds. The brutal crucifixion of the Gaul (whose name sounded like Segovax) was also a sad moment because that is the fate for many who will follow Spartacus toward rebellion. If you would like to know more about Roman history and hear the story of the real Spartacus I cannot recommend this podcast highly enough - The History of Rome http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/

How to Make It in America - 105 - Big in Japan

Well that's it, I'm out. I just have too little time to spend on every show I would like to watch. Despite its engaging lead actors and excellent opening credits, there just isn't enough here for me. HTMIIA has followed Entourage's model of being neither a comedy nor a drama. But so far this show doesn't have Entourage's compensating strengths. Instead I just don't know these characters and am not sufficiently interested in their lives.

Community - 119 - Beginner Pottery

For the third straight episode Jeff was an emotional wreck for one reason or another. Considering his whole character is built around being laid back and cool it's a strange choice. And that's not to say it ruined the episode, his realization and admission of his weaknesses was a logical and pleasing conclusion. The real problem would come if the show continued to make Jeff out to be easily wound up and riled all the time. It would both lose its significance and the sense that he was a consistent character. You can only stop being cool so many times before you aren't cool anymore.

The show still made me laugh though which is sadly rare these days. It took me a second to understand Jeff's Jeff Goldblum impersonation but it was pretty funny and fitting. I laughed hard at Troy's desire to develop multiple personalities because "I get lonely in long showers." On several levels it's a great line but once more it reminds us that Troy is the closest thing we have to one-track mind Joey Tribbiani (from seasons one and two of Friends only, I hasten to point out). I enjoyed the "Titanic" and "Ghost" references and think they are sufficiently famous to be solid gags too.

The parking lot sailing lessons were typically creative and unusual and the show also experimented with a somewhat dark ending where they flipped the inner monologue script to show Rich's inner turmoil. All in all this episode made me feel that Community hasn't quite settled on a formula yet and that ability to surprise me is still appreciated. 

Men's Workout

Parks and Recreation - 219 - Park Safety

A really strong episode of Parks on every front. First thing to praise was the focus on one character and their story. It fleshed out Jerry's character and that allowed Leslie and Ron to both stand out as decent people for their refusal to continue making fun of him. I was particularly pleased with this development because the mocking of Jerry occasionally became cruel and this episode dealt with that in an enjoyable way. Not just by shining a spotlight on Leslie's decency but also showing that Jerry brings some of it on himself and can look past it in the end. The singular focus also gave the episode a logical feel as Jerry was "mugged" on government property and gave an excuse for his story to become Leslie's latest project as well as spin off into a self defense side plot.

Once more Andy was well written managing to be endearing and entertaining in a believable manner. It was simple stuff but showing him buying food for April was an excellent idea. It focused in on one of the major issues in his relationship with Ann and clearly made her wonder if he has grown or if maybe he just didn't like her enough to do nice things for her. Clever stuff that people can relate to.

Ultra loud Park Ranger Carl was annoying and unsubtle for much of the episode. But he played his role convincingly enough and it was almost worth it for the punch line when he went all quiet around flirtatious anchor Joan Callamezzo.

There were only two bad things about this episode really. One was Leslie being essentially rewarded for bad mouthing the government on TV. Really she should have been punished and probably could have lost her job for that. The other was Mark pointing out the real moral of the story which was that Jerry lied to avoid bullying from his co-workers. Mark of course was right and it temporarily raised hopes that the show might be about to hit a real artistic high point in addressing that very real issue. But that moral was actually out of place here. The writing did a good job of establishing that Jerry brought mocking on himself with his gluttony and in the end was happy being a whipping boy with his money saved and retirement in the offing. They might have been wise to leave Mark's comment out as it was too insightful for its own good.

Let's try not to think about that though, this was great stuff.

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