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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Other TV 28 Feb - 6 March

Posted by The TV Critic on 2 March 2010 | 0 Comments

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How to Make It In America - 103 - Paper, Denim + Dollars

Another slow burner. So far each episode doesn’t seem to have much of a hook to it. We see Rachel and Rene’s characters get fleshed out a bit further here. But the show is grounded in realism, which is very interesting to see but it means there is little in the way of humour or drama to hook you in. The key is whether this slow build leads to moments later which really engage the emotions. 

Spartacus Blood and Sand - 106 - Delicate Things

Another terrific episode. Again I suggest if you can get past the blood and boobs this is compelling storytelling. It is building on the best elements of both comic books and professional wrestling. I don’t say that facetiously just because gladiator fights look like pro wrestling. But because each episode is building up to a physical confrontation with consequences on the line. Again the writing did such a good job of building up anticipation for Spartacus being reunited with his wife.

This episode featured like a great prison escape with Spartacus not content with living as a married slave but still dreaming of his freedom. At each stage he gathered the weapons, the means and the distractions which would allow him to kill the guards and escape. Even the seemingly redundant sequences where we saw him killing the guards in his mind served a purpose. They showed the plan taking shape, they fed the imagination of the viewer to anticipate the scene which would eventually unfold. Even the simple fact that Spartacus was willing to risk death in order to gain freedom was good to see. You could well imagine him being happy to settle for having his wife safe and fighting for a year or two more to earn his freedom. But no, what hero would he be then? He was taken and made into a slave and he is refusing to accept it.  

The Barca storyline was crucial too in that it showed how truly cunning Ashur is and how little loyalty really means to Batiatus. After all Barca had done for him he showed no mourning at his death. Even when he realized Barca had done nothing wrong he essentially shrugged off the murder as noe might the destruction of any property. That of course foreshadowed the ultimate betrayal as Batiatus had Sura killed (allegedly by some random attacker) to prevent Spartacus from further defiance.

Initially I was disappointed by this moment as I felt Batiatus would play a more intriguing role in the coming rebellion if some of his gladiators respected him. But soon I realized, no, this was the episode when the rebellion truly begins. Now Spartacus has no reason to trust Batiatus and be loyal to him. Now thoughts of escape and freedom will be joined by revenge. The intrigue now is how Doctore and Pietros and company begin to see their master and how Spartacus can mass his new allies together to form a plan to break free.

Fans of Mad Men may look down on such a show but again I say, it’s simple, it’s effective and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Modern Family - 116 - Fears

Modern Family tends toward some pretty broad humour at times. I am far more forgiving of it because it’s such a family show that by design it needs to aim for the middle of the road. But there were moments here where it crossed a line. Cameron and Mitchell are understandably upset when Lily’s first words are “Mommy.” But having Cameron claim “She’s made her choice” seemed a ridiculous statement. To then have Dr Miura turn out to be a terrible driver who takes no responsibility for what she hits was really annoying. Asian people being bad drivers is one of those baseless stereotypes, to further it seemed beneath a show like this. But worse was just that a competent professional could knock over everyone’s trash cans and not offer to help pick them up.

Anyway, otherwise this was a decent episode, nothing remarkable but just fine. I liked Claire yelling “like” at Hayley, talk about realism. And Mitchell and Cameron’s genuine joy at realizing why Lily had said “Mommy” was a lovely moment.

Community - 117 - Physical Education

The Abed storyline was very interesting. We've known all along that Abed was pretty happy with his life and it was others who worried about him. Again that understandable concern from his friends was used well to set up several fun jokes, like him impersonating Don Draper from Mad Men. But in the end Abed explained himself in compelling fashion. I really liked the way he explained how people try to "help" him, as in try to make him normal. But then when they can't they stop talking to him altogether out of frustration. So he went along with the charade of changing himself in order to keep his new friends happy. It was a very mature way to explain Abed's behavior though in future episodes it would be good to see his actual emotional interactions with women explored in more detail.

As for Jeff's battle with his pool coach, that was...ridiculous. But ridiculous in a thoroughly Community style way. Instead of annoying me with its implausibility it just kept surprising and entertaining me. Not that it was very funny but it was so committed to the silliness that it was engrossing to watch. I did though feel like I missed a scene which could have explained exactly why both men were taking the argument so personally.

Parks and Recreation - 217 - Woman of the Year

The Leslie and Ron story didn't reach an especially satisfying conclusion for me. I have been very wary of whenever the cameras head out to an independent organization on Parks. Be they Venezuelan, politician, doctor or sweets manufacturer the show's tendency is to satirize in a very unrealistic way. While the IOW were actually presented pretty well and the point about awards being political well made, the comedy just didn't get me going. Leslie and Ron were almost too reasonable and kind to one another to find the laughs. But that's not a big deal, the story was fine. Elsewhere Andy giving Tom all his money was an interesting development. It almost fits his character perfectly because it's a dumb thing to do, especially when Tom isn't really a good friend. But it is selfless and thus serves the purpose of making him more likeable to the audience and to April. I suppose it stayed just on the right side of implausibly foolhardy.



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