Other TV 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand – 101 and 102

I have no problem with sex and violence and boy do you get plenty of both here. I have no problem with the 300 style visuals of blood being constantly splattered. If anything the visuals are breaking ground on TV which better writers will one day turn into something brilliant. No it’s the characterization I have a problem with. Of course people from ancient times can’t talk about their career aspirations, their mobile phones or anything else which might flesh out a modern character. But what Rome (at least in season one) did so well was find a way to make Vorenus and Pullo the sympathetic common men whose friendship we could relate to. While those above them schemed and shagged, they maintained some virtue. Here after two episodes Spartacus has no real likeable qualities besides a Gladiator or Jack Bauer style moral code. Which is fine but we need more than that to root for him. Instead we get lots of grimaces and determined looks.

I’m not one to normally complain about something like accents. Of course accents on a show about the past are going to be inaccurate. But it helps when certain groups of people at least have similar accents. Having Lucy Lawless (New Zealand) and John Hannah (Scottish) as a married Roman couple seems rather odd on the ear at times. That won’t matter if their characters are fleshed out more but it only added to the superficiality of the first two episodes. 

Modern Family - 114 - Moon Landing

This is such a pleasant show to watch and I enjoyed this episode a lot. I feel the need to preface my comments because sometimes I think people don’t know how to take my criticism. Two things struck me at the end of this episode. First is that we didn’t get enough time with Claire and her old work pal Minnie Driver. We needed to see a couple of scenes with them catching up, recapturing the old dynamic and having fun. Then the jealousy could start to come out. The second thing I thought was that the end of the other two stories were too silly. Gloria crashing her car into the store and Jay rubbing butts with a guy were both old fashioned sit com punch lines. They both felt unnecessarily silly and contrived.

Now with a little tweaking both would have been fine but that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that Claire’s story could have carried most of the episode. If one of the sub plots had been left out than her story would have received the attention it deserved. Modern Family is already falling into the trap which made Friends become more average as it went on. They are forcing all the characters into every episode and that just isn’t necessary. The series of unlikely disasters at the Dunphy household was a really fun scene. Especially Phil looking satisfied, leaning out of a porta-potty claiming he just successfully concluded some business. But think how much funnier it could have been if Claire and Valerie’s relationship had been built up to the point where you could really feel and anticipate her embarrassment and actually cared about it.

Just in case you are in any doubt, I really like this show.

Parks and Recreation - 215 – Sweetums

Another mixed bag from Parks, though I still see the show in a very positive light. I think it’s succeeding despite the things I don’t like about it. It’s not like How I Met Your Mother where I think the show will never iron out its kinks.

I believe that these documentary comedies (The Office and Modern Family too) look so much like real life that they can look very fake when they try to present classic sit com exaggerations. I am not a fan of the way Parks treats outside institutions. This season we have had a talk show with unreal bias (201), completely oblivious dignitaries from Venezuela (205), a ludicrously corrupt politician (212) and now Sweetums. Sweetums’ deliberately shady looking corporate video isn’t the worst part. It’s the idea that they could market a product as healthy when it clearly wasn’t. The FDA are the media wouldn’t allow something like this to be released to the public with such claims attached to it. I would prefer Parks not to go down this route of comedy. The public forums being full of only crazy or ill educated people is running a little thin.

Especially when they do the plausible stuff so well. Leslie believing in rules so much is something you can believe in, it provides easy comedy and makes her a likeable character. Ron’s irritation with this was very funny, especially when she completely missed the point of why he had photographed himself making a harp. Similarly Tom’s laziness and manipulation was good stuff and DJ Rumba a fun idea. Leslie’s ongoing feud with the public libraries was a fun bit of continuity.

Community - 115 - Romantic Expressionism

Another clever episode from Community. The way the writers manage to address every issue by pointing out that this is a TV show but don’t ruin the story is very impressive. The scene where they outright admitted that any of them could be sexual partners with each other managed to be both funny and kind of touching at the same time. It also managed to acknowledge a reality most comedies wouldn’t touch which is that sexual tensions can bubble away even when people are paired off.

Vaughan has never been a bad guy and it was also pleasant to see everyone acknowledge that rather than try to make a character deliberately annoying. Britta is becoming more likeable the more vulnerable she becomes which is kind of what’s supposed to happen when you meet someone who is uptight. Now that she is fighting for Jeff’s attention their dynamic has become more affectionate and enjoyable to watch. I also really liked how she couldn’t keep up the scheming the way Jeff could and just told Troy the truth half way through their deception. The idea of Pierce doing research for spontaneous movie mocking was clever.



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