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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Other TV 21 - 27 March

Posted by The TV Critic on 21 March 2010 | 0 Comments

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Spartacus Blood and Sand - 109 - Whore

Each episode somehow impresses me more than the last. Though some will dismiss this episode as soft porn, it was actually a quite brilliant dissection of emotional corruption. Lucretia's passion for Crixus overwhelmed her better judgement and she humiliated her friend Ilithyia endangering the ludus. Ilithyia's own jealous rage led her to murder a woman already allowing her passions to outweigh her marriage vows. Crixus' passions allowed him to fly into a jealous rage as did Varro's fear and Ashur's bitterness.

Only Spartacus kept his emotions in check. His submission to Batiatus is impressive. He genuinely seems to have resigned himself to finding honour in his new role in life. By keeping his head he comes across as a true hero, loyal to his friends and his master. His explanation for not wanting to sleep with the slave girl (that she has been commanded to do it, not desired it) was fitting and plausible. Batiatus' own guilt was a very interesting twist. After he killed Sura it seemed that he was destined for a bloody end (and probably still is). But for now he has won Spartacus' respect and vice versa. It's nice to throw in some decency amidst the orgy of sin.

Each week the show builds up a physical confrontation of some kind and then delivers a twist. This was the first "confrontation" to be entirely carnal and what a twist it was. Pairing Spartacus with Ilithyia was horrific for both and exposing her to Licinia was brutal behaviour on Lucretia's part. I loved the final scene where she basically admitted what she had done to the stunned Ilithyia who finally realised that her higher status couldn't protect her from someone prepared to do anything to get what she wants. It was a lovely character moment, the shock of the previously unshockable driving the point home about how evil Lucretia could really be.

A reminder to those who don't know: Crassus is not just a rich man. We are talking about Bill Gates territory here; he was so rich that he could do pretty much whatever he pleased. So the death of his cousin is very serious.

Breaking Bad - 301 - No Mas

I haven't written about Breaking Bad before, so let me just say a couple of things. I have still yet to see either The Wire or The Sopranos which I know sort of refutes my status as a TV Critic in some circles. So Breaking Bad has been my first introduction into really dark and straight drama. I have found it relentlessly interesting to watch throughout. The way the show has rigidly stuck to the actual consequences of the character's actions has impressed me deeply. It's exactly the sort of logic which I preach about all TV shows.

To me the most important development is the way Skyler lost trust in Walt and figured out that he must be a drug dealer. In no other show I can think of has a loss of trust and communication been handled in such a convincing and real fashion. The result of all this reality though is something pretty depressing. There were times when I knew what the show was doing was excellent, well written, gritty and real. But it can be incredibly bleak. There are times when it has left me feeling glum, like there just is nothing redeeming about the whole story. That maybe the show's true strength though. It hasn't attempted to make Walt into a hero the way Dexter has. Only when faced with far greater bad guys does Walt seem like the good guy. That situation with the crazy Tucco led to one of the best episodes of drama I have ever seen (202 Grilled). I was on the edge of my seat genuinely believing that Jesse or Walt might be about to die. Fantastic stuff.

Here in "No Mas" that sense of consequence is firmly in place with Jesse accepting and trying to deal with his guilt while Walt builds up a thick layer of denial. He plays his guilt and frustration so well that he somehow manages to be both the hero and villain of the piece. All that reality makes the appearance of the two Hispanic brothers seem a little too cool for school by comparison. However their brutality looks set to create a No Country for Old Men type hunt and that should be fascinating to watch. 

Modern Family - 118 - Starry Night

A pretty standard episode, good family values, morality play stuff. Not a lot more to say except that it keeps making me laugh at least once an episode which is more than some shows do. Here I loved Cameron stuffing something in his mouth to stop talking and then spitting it out immediately onto Gloria.

South Park - 1402 - The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs

I don't often watch South Park anymore. There's only one reason really. I am a susceptible viewer when it comes to gross imagery. I don't like horror films because scenes get stuck in my head and leave me with unpleasant memories and as silly as it may sound South Park can have a similar effect on me.

But I decided to catch up on where the show was by watching this episode and it captured almost perfectly what I think of the show. The plot was so much fun and so well written, instantly putting Family Guy and The Simpsons to shame. The character of Butters is such a comedy treat and to see him rise and fall is always good value.

The basic structure of the plot is the most simple and valuable part of the show and something which the other animated comedies have completely lost sight of. One is the simple morality play, Cartman and company write a book and to avoid punishment they blame it on Butters. Of course everyone loves the book and so Butters is rewarded. The moral is clear and simple and funny. Then at the end of the episode everything goes back to normal. Butters' second book leads someone to kill the Kardashians, mirroring the murder of John Lennon meaning the world essentially returns to normal with Butters and Cartman and friends returned to their obscure life. There is such a feeling of satisfaction when everything returns to normal, the irony and satire have played out and now that thin veil of plausibility is pulled over their lives meaning next week this episode can have no consequence. It's so sad to see this done well and realise other producers don't recognise its value.

In the meantime South Park produces a typically amusing and withering criticism of the way people behave. Here they all read into a book of nonsense themes and ideas that aren't there. They continue to do so even when Butters produces a follow up book which is even more childish and nonsensical than the first. The criticism doesn't just touch everyday gullible people but lashes out at politicians and the media in equal measure. The satire produces the humour as the boys look on in amazement at the arrogance of the adult world in assuming they understand so much better what the author meant to say.

Not to mention the fact that there is a running gag about frequent target Sarah Jessica Parker which just gets funnier as it goes on. In the end it's a meta joke for why the producers make fun of her anyway. It's not agenda they are just mean.

The final word on this amusing and intelligent piece of television is that it made me feel a little sick. So much vomiting went on that I wasn't endeared to watch any more episodes for fear of losing my lunch. So that's pretty much why I don't watch South Park every week. My loss of course but I do keep my food down.

Community - 120 - The Science of Illusion

The great thing about watching Community is you never know what kind of episode you are going to get. This seemed like a really fun buddy-cop parody until the end when it seemed to fall apart. Somehow everyone blaming Jeff for what happened seemed an unsatisfying finish. Though I suppose it would have been difficult to pull of the actual parody ending which would somehow have involved Britta being punished for her 'crime.' I did like that Jeff stayed out of and above the madness this week. It certainly suits him better to sit back and crack wise about his friends' silliness.

Abed is starting to really standout as a comedy character. I thought his answer to why he was in the Dean's office was the funniest moment "The short answer...my cable went out." The show does such a good job of making the oddball antics of the characters seem believable and Abed treating everyone like TV show characters worked very amusingly here. His presence is unobtrusive and he appears to be helping people so they happily let him play along without questioning him too much.

Credit to the Dean as well. He hasn't always been written as clearly as he could but he has played his role superbly. Always well meaning and always missing the point he is the embodiment of why nonsense goes on at campus and goes unpunished.

Parks and Recreation - 220 - Summer Catalog

A decent formula episode. Leslie is eminently likeable as someone who cares about her job and for whom ambition is a noble thing. The jokes were so so but the episode rolled along nicely with the Summer Catalog as a nice focus. Andy has turned into one of the show's best creations, he is one of the few characters on TV who you could believe didn't realize what was going on with him and April. The scene where she got ID'd at a bar and he decided to back out of their drink was wonderfully, believably awkward. 


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