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Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
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Other TV 30 May - 5 June

Posted by The TV Critic on 2 June 2010 | 3 Comments


Breaking Bad - 311 - Abiquiu

While watching Breaking Bad I got thinking about emotional investment. Lost's final season did little for me and I reflected on the fact that my two favourite dramas before Lost came on the scene both had bad final seasons (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape). Now I can argue intellectually that all three had final seasons which were flawed in some way. But there must be a part of it which is just my emotional investment not being paid off. As a fan of a show you get invested in a certain story, a certain character, a certain tone, a certain dynamic. When the show begins to change from what you became invested in, it can leave you feeling bitterly disappointed.

To extend this idea further, how many times have you heard someone say "I loved (insert show name) in the first season but after that it got a bit crap." Now for some shows (Heroes anyone) that is a pretty fair statement. But more often than not a viewer likes the original setup of a show and when it changes they lose interest in the new dynamic. So what does all this talk of emotional investment and changing dynamics have to do with Breaking Bad?

Well I didn't have much of an emotional reaction to Abiquiu. Or at least no reaction of disappointment. It occurred to me during the episode that I have little in the way of emotional expectations for the show. I know Jesse and Walt really well now but neither is the hero of the piece. Nor do I think of Skyler or Hank as the hero either because of their placement in opposition to Walt and Jesse. Normally in a show with no obvious good guys you might lose interest as has been my relationship with Mad Men. But on the contrary the grey world of Breaking Bad I have remained invested and unemotional. Perhaps there is something there for other shows to learn.

So when Jesse buys drugs off Tomas and is shocked to fully realize his part in ruining people's lives - I didn't know what he was thinking. I'm not invested in Jesse as either a right or wrong-doer. So I am fascinated to see his reaction rather than anticipating what it should be. Similarly Gus' rather dark warning to Walt not to make the same mistake twice had me equally intrigued. Is he referring to Jesse? Or to Hank or something else? Again I am intrigued. Finally Skyler steps fully into the dark realizing the benefits which the money will bring her and ignoring the dangers and immorality. I'm now invested in seeing what happens to her but not emotionally disappointed by her decision.

It may not be a formula that it's easy to replicate but Breaking Bad has created such an intriguing web of misery that its final season has a good chance of pleasing rather than disappointing me. That is assuming of course that Season Four is its last. 

The Legend of the Seeker - 101 - Prophecy

The show throws you into its universe without much context to relate to. Though the Lord of the Rings, Moses\Jesus similarities do provide some familiarity it would have been nice to set the show in some kind of context in relation to our world. That context would help us relate to Richard Cypher who is suddenly informed that he is the Seeker and has a destiny he was unaware of till now.

The major problem here is the lack of relatable human emotion. First off we don't know anything about Richard's life which would make us sympathise with him. By the end of the first episode his horse and his father have been brutally killed, his brother has betrayed him, he has attempted to commit murderous revenge, been mystically poisoned and had his whole life turned upside down. To really make us feel that level of upheaval we would need to see tears and anger and other emotions which Richard never supplies. Instead the only time he becomes really emotional is in search of immediate revenge on Fane. Revenge is the most generic of action movie emotions, difficult for an ordinary viewer to relate to, especially when an otherwise gentle person is stirred to brutality instead of shock and fear and misery as one might more easily imagine.

The Legend of the Seeker - 102 - Destiny

Part two continues the generic characterisation with Chase, Richard's brother, Fane and Darken Rahl all following archetypes rather than breaking out as something unique. Richard's sudden sword skills allow him to slaughter a large group of soldiers but the moment is devoid of drama. If his new abilities are just awakening then the direction really missed a trick in showing his surprise and delight at his new found skills. Otherwise it just seems like the gentle bridge builder just slaughtered a bunch of men without it having too much effect on him.

This uninspiring and generic two-parter does not mean Legend of the Seeker is a bad show or that is can't improve. Spartacus: Blood and Sand had a similarly poor start and turned into something very impressive. Interestingly Spartacus' nemesis Claudius Glaber was played by Craig Parker or Darken Rahl. But even in that pilot Spartacus showed immense passion for his wife and the injustice of his treatment by the Romans was easy to understand. Richard Cypher here comes across as bland and generic without characteristics which define him as anything special.

In a crowded TV market place shows do need to start with a bang and capture an audience immediately. Legend has failed to do that with me and though I may watch a few more the show has made it that much harder to entice me to reach its apparently stronger second season. 

Party Down - 207 - Party Down Company Picnic
A very busy episode which neatly encapsulated lots of things I like and don't like about Party Down.

What I like
- This is another episode (after Steve Guttenberg's birthday) where the show had its team not working a function. I like the writers having this flexibility as it helps us get to know the characters as real people.
- Casey and Henry remain the glue which makes the show watchable. With Henry due to leave (now on Parks and Recreation) I wondered throughout whether he was going to ride off into the sunset with Uda.
- Uda's return was nice. I'm a big fan of sitcoms bringing back guest stars to create a real looking universe.
- A few gags worked nicely like Roman explaining that the reason he doesn't succeed in Hollywood is because he's too nice.

What I don't
- Ron is a nice guy who always gets crapped on. In principal he is a character I was never likely to enjoy watching. Seeing him get hit in the back, then in the crotch, falling for a crazy engaged woman and talked into planting drugs on Uda did not help the situation. There just isn't enough of a constitution to Ron to make him a great comedy character. If he refused to be immoral in the end then he would remain admirable. But instead he comes off as weak and pathetic. I can't laugh at someone like that, I feel pity.
- Similarly the old Cheers style plot of the Party Down crew being terrible at their jobs and then being mocked endlessly by Uda's crew doesn't work for me either. Am I supposed to laugh at "our" characters for getting upstaged by a bunch of ass holes?
- Megan Mullally finally gets something to play here as she learns to be a ruthless mom\manager. But seeing her turn from implausibly batty to suddenly immoral and grasping just didn't seem real. It's amazing that Party Down has had Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge and now Mullally essentially playing the same role and none of them has worked. I wish comedy writers would realize that Seinfeld's Kramer was a pretty unique creation and that randomly zany people aren't often that funny.
- Similarly implausible was Garland Greenbush, the overly rude and competitive jerk. Party Down has had far too many of these characters who stick out by their silliness. Rather like How I Met Your Mother, its jarring when you switch from very believable calm dialogue and then have a character playing a broad sit com stereotype. 

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  • Thanks guys,
    I do hope to get there eventually.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 07/06/2010 9:10pm (9 years ago)

  • Sam's right. Episode nine is where it starts getting better.

    Posted by Pam, 06/06/2010 5:12am (9 years ago)

  • Gotta at least make it up to episode 8 of Legend of the Seeker. That's when it truly starts to hit its stride.

    Posted by Sam, 04/06/2010 10:35am (9 years ago)

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