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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Other TV 16 - 22 May

Posted by The TV Critic on 17 May 2010 | 2 Comments

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Breaking Bad - 309 - Kafkaesque

Another terrific episode. So many things to like about this show and so many things to comment on. So little time.

Again the wide shots of conversations (Skyler-Ted in the house, Walt-Gus in the office) are so different to most TV shows. On a practical level they show you a whole room and the absence of cameras in it adding to the sense of reality. I also love the money laundering idea. One of the best things about Breaking Bad is how the drug trade is broken down and the viewer gets to see how it goes unnoticed in society. Those details are what build a sense that this is a real world we are watching and that adds so much to the emotional investment of viewers, even if they don't consciously think about it.

Walt and Jesse both have trouble dealing with their new status as employees rather than kingpins. Walt seems genuinely scared of Gus now but instead of getting out, he wants more work and more money. He then almost gets himself killed as if he needed to know he could still be in control (or out of it temporarily). Meanwhile Jesse doesn't seem to care about money or security. He is motivated by the desire to stick it to authority and society. He seems so content with being the "bad guy" that he tries to screw over his recovery group by selling them meth. That's an act so cruel and so callous that all the drama shows that allow bodies to pile up need to watch and see what real villainy looks like.

What makes that scene even more amazing is that Jesse just opened up to the group about his desire to do some kind of more satisfying work. In a fantastic scene he manages to hold your attention with a beautifully written story about making a box. He pours the simple emotion into that scene and is so true to his character. Yet the moral he seems to take from the story is that his life has been given over to drugs and he is not going to try and get out. It's the kind of characterization that makes Breaking Bad a very special show indeed.

Skyler too had an impressive scene where she outs Walt in an unusual way. This scene had me once more thinking of the show as a black comedy as you could see Walt's exasperation and fascination with her cunning lie. It also seemed like she was justifying what he did and giving him respect. But once more she stuck to her guns and pulled the rug out from under him - making it clear that she still (rightly) blames him for everything that has happened. Her breakup with Ted was sad; he played his desire for her in a really believable way, not wanting to make a scene but desperate not to get dumped.

The show continues to amaze. 

Modern Family - 124 - Family Portrait

The jokes were once again slightly off but the sentiment was dead on. It's been a strong first season for Modern Family. It's a show with a huge depth of strengths to draw from which will keep it going for some time. I would simply offer the same advice I do for every show: find the reality, find the emotions, focus on one character at a time, build up jokes, sell them, milk them. Sometimes the show tries too hard to fit in all of its characters into every story. I think almost any of the characters is strong enough to carry a plot on their own. And the show would just feel more real if we didn't have odd couple interactions every single week.

But the show has done a great job of being a main stream comedy. And let's not forget Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in all this. Their documentary \ interview style comedy idea is now a mainstay in (arguably) two of America's biggest five comedies. 

Community - 125 - Pascal's Triangle Revisited

A middle of the road episode to end an up and down season for this highly promising comedy. Next season Community will go up against The Big Bang Theory which is a real shame because although both shows are good, it means Community may take a kicking.

To see Jeff the object of three different women's affections was an interesting move. Unfortunately I don't think it will go anywhere interesting. Despite some attempts the show has steered away from having the kind of soap opera style personal developments which are the hallmark of shows like Friends or The Office. You can see that clearly in this episode where Slater and Vaughn return to our screens and you could be forgiven for having forgotten they existed. Annie chooses to leave and then returns just as quickly. Britta admits her love for Jeff and somehow the moment passes into anticlimax.

My belief is that the show likes its formula too much to change. For Jeff to pick Britta or Annie would upset the dynamic of the show, where each week the cast can be moulded to fit whatever parody Dan Harmon has in mind. So I don't see this as a big cliff-hanger. Jeff already slept with Britta and immediately pretended that it hadn't happened, so what's to stop him doing the same now. I guess I have become a little cynical about Community because it looks like the character development hasn't been thought through as well as the parodies.

Parks and Recreation - 224 - Freddy Spaghetti 

Where as I thought Parks nailed their season finale, right down to Mark and Leslie back at the pit. Leslie really does standout as an admirable character when she can make government bureaucracy look like heartwarming charity work. Seeing Ron switch from slashing the budget to demanding Leslie keep her job was excellent stuff.

Andy's naïve honesty kept things with April on hold, though I hope they don't try to drag that out for another season. Tom with a girlfriend worked really nicely. I could see his relationship with Lucy going great places both comedically and for his character. The little twist at the end with Ron sleeping with Wendy was good continuity and could also be fun.

This will be the last we see of Parks until 2011 which is a shame but hopefully the new budget cuts will drive a season worth of plots. And maybe, just maybe Parks will get to go on after The Office and win over some new fans. 

Party Down - 205 - Steve Guttenberg's Birthday

If you know anything about Steve Guttenberg beyond his movie roles, I imagine this hit a whole different level. For someone who doesn't know any more about him this was ok. It's the same issue I had with the whole concept of Extras, if you as a viewer know that the celebrity is just pretending to be weird, then it negates all the comedy value. What was good was that Guttenberg was used to shine a light on the Party Down crew turning the episode into a more personal glimpse at their personalities than we are used to seeing.

I really enjoyed seeing Roman's work put to the test and improved. I liked how Roman was really too chicken to have his work read aloud and would clearly prefer to hide behind his hatred for the mainstream. Casey's attraction for Henry coming to the surface was really nicely written. His acting talent was brought to the surface subtly and then it became clear what had attracted her to him in the first place. I also absolutely loved the final line where Guttenberg claims that 9 out of 10 times talent will see you through. It left Henry to ask the personally poignant and perfectly Party Down encompassing question of "Yeah but what about that one guy?" It's moments like that that make me love TV shows. 


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Comments

  • Glad you've been watching, I will be interested in your thoughts once you've seen the finale.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 14/03/2011 10:36am (9 years ago)

  • I have been catching up on Breaking Bad, and I just watch 309.

    It's been a good season, although the first few episodes were a little slow, and last four episodes have been amazing.

    Posted by Ben F. , 14/03/2011 2:40am (9 years ago)

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