Sunday, February 9, 2014
Is it possible to both love and hate a television episode all at the same time?
That's what I found myself doing with The Walking Dead's midseason premiere entitled "Don't Look Back". Ironically, that's the exact opposite advice young Carl Grimes should have heeded, but I'll get into that in a moment.
For me, this return had a lot of great things going for it, but a few old bad habits reared their ugly heads once again.
First off, the opening of the episode was fantastic. Very rarely are there quiet moments during a zombie apocalypse, but the first few minutes of this episode just focused on the eerily silent nature of what happened after the prison. In fact, I don't even know if a character spoke at all within the first five minutes of the episode.
On another good front, we finally got to see part of Michonne's back story. Her character has remained shrouded in a lot of mystery since her introduction at the beginning of Season 3, and you can tell the writers don't want quite to divulge her complete history just yet.
However, I think the producers missed a huge opportunity here to make this a Michonne-centric episode ... but I digress.
So in between, we were subjected to another "Carl goes off and gets himself into trouble to further the plot" episode arc. By this point in The Walking Dead, I really thought we've gotten past the point of characters doing truly stupid things like walking backwards into walkers, but I suppose there are only a certain number of plot vehicles the writers can use to progress the storyline.
Although I wasn't really a fan of the "Carl in the wild" moments during this episode, I thought the father/son dynamic between Rick and Carl was the best it's ever been. You get the sense that Carl is really struggling with his identity, and trying to be like the man his father was while Rick is struggling to find out the man he is.
"Shane taught me ... remember him?" was probably my favourite line of this season thus far. All too often in shows like these, the producers kill off characters and then fail to acknowledge them ever again. But in reality, these characters would have their fallen comrades on their mind nearly every single day.
Carl acknowledging Shane was a nice homage to arguably one of the most dynamic characters to appear in four plus seasons of The Walking Dead.
Although "Don't Look Back" was an okay return to Season 4, it definitely could have been better. Since the group is almost completely fragmented at this point, it will be interesting to see how the group gets back together over the course of the next seven episodes.
Just remember Carl, like in horror movies, never walk backwards ... ever. It never leads to good things.
Monday, December 23, 2013
"Why don't they just get their own show?"
That's what I found myself saying after watching the highly anticipated Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake appearance on Saturday Night Live. These two performers certainly know how to put on a show, and perhaps they did it better than any duo in recent SNL history.
Fallon and Timberlake brought in huge numbers for NBC on Saturday; it was the highest rated SNL episode since January of 2012, and frankly it isn't all that surprising.
The odd thing I find out Jimmy Fallon hosting SNL is he wasn't particularly revered while he was on the show, and yet now after his stint on Late Night, Fallon is one of the most beloved returnee hosts in recent memory.
Although the Fallon/Timberlake pairing resulted in one of the strongest SNL episodes in a very long time, it wasn't without its faults.
But first, the highlights; overall, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake provided a solid episode start to finish. There weren't really any particularly weak sketches, and even the musical performances were quite entertaining.
The standout to me was the pseudo digital short "(Do It In My) Twin Bed". This was the female cast members answer to "Boy Dance Party", and it was just as good if not better.
My favourite part of Twin Bed that had me legit laughing out loud was when the ladies danced behind grade school pictures of themselves. That was absolutely brilliant, and overall it was a really well written and performed bit.
It may have been buried later in the show, but the "Baby It's Cold Outside" was also quite good and harnessed Fallon's abilities perfectly. He and Cecily Strong managed to pull off a convincing couple who isn't quite on the same page when it came to holiday sleepovers.
Even with those really strong sketches, the episode wasn't quite a perfect ten, so I'll share a few qualms I had. These might be more so to do with the way Saturday Night Live is trending overall, but they were prominently on display this past episode.
Again, SNL is relying extremely heavily on celebrity impressions. Case in point, the Celebrity Family Feud sketch which had nine, yes nine celebrity impressions (including Steve Harvey of course).
The issue I have here is the same thing that's been happening the past few seasons; the celebrity impressions may be extremely accurate, but they're not particularly all that funny.
"Hey, that guy sounds like Ashton Kutcher!" ... aaaand that's where it ends.
The audience and viewers chuckle initially because they recognize the impression, and then they just move onto the next character without any sort of set up or payoff.
These are the particular kinds of sketches that seem like ones that constructed solely for cheap laughs.
I fear that Celebrity Family Feud will eventually evolve into this cycle's version of Celebrity Jeopardy. What I mean by that is Family Feud is heading down the path as becoming a recurring sketch with a rotating cast of celebrities every 3-4 episodes.
Celebrity Jeopardy developed funny caricatures of its celebrities, while Celebrity Family Feud is just trying to mimic their celebrities as closely as possible. And if those impressions are funny in the process ... that's secondary.
It's the very same issue with the "Now That's What I Call Christmas" short. I think I liked it better last year when it was "Michael Buble's Christmas Duets".
Again, nothing really funny here, just cast members that looked, acted and sung like the musicians they were portraying.
While it was great to see Justin Timberlake reprise his role as the (blank)-Ville performer, it seemed kind of odd to have it as the cold open sketch.
Wrappinville probably would have been better suited to run directly after the monologue or the second sketch, but obviously there was a lot of content to squeeze into 90 minutes.
This is a growing problem SNL has suffered from in the last few weeks; not exactly putting the correct sketch in the cold open slot. It's usually reserved for political or current event sketches, but lately it's been a free-for-all.
The Barry Gibb Talk Show was okay; it took me a few minutes to register that it actually was Madonna in there, and not just one of SNL's often-forgotten cast members. The actual Barry Gibb cameo was great to see, although I'm sure there were lots of people who thought "who's the guy with white hair?"
Overall, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake and the supporting cast provided a very strong SNL episode going into the holidays. It was by far the best of the season, perhaps the best in the past few seasons, and it certainly set the bar high for any other subsequent hosts in 2014.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Well, that was quite the gut punch, wasn't it? I swear, The Walking Dead always has a way of stringing together a couple of mundane episodes and then following it up with a right hook right into the stomach.
Spoiler alert if you haven't already watched the midseason finale of The Walking Dead, but here are a few assorted thoughts.
Poor, Mr. Hershel. Considering his increase in screen time the past few episodes, it seems like he was earmarked to be axed in the midseason finale. And if it wasn't him, it almost certainly was going to be somebody in his family.
As Chris Hardwick said on Talking Dead, Hershel really has been the moral compass of the group since Dale's passing in Season 2. Now without Hershell, this could be somewhat of a rudderless ship when it comes to determining what's wrong and what's right.
As a character, Hershel has kind of grown on me since Season 2. At first, he seemed like a very strong-willed man, but as he watched the ones he love turn into walkers, Hershell came to grips with reality and yet still maintained a sense of clarity that not many people in the zombie apocalypse possessed.
Hershell also had a way of not coming off too preachy or sanctimonious when giving advice (which Dale was often guilty of towards Andrea), and also his medical expertise will be sorely missed by the group.
Out of all the deaths in the midseason finale, this is definitely one I did not see coming. The Governor was the go-to villain on the show in Seasons 3 and 4, so it seems odd to picture Rick and the group not fighting an enemy.
Unlike Hershel, The Governor had a very odd arc this season. He was all but absent in the first five episodes of Season 4, and then there were two back-to-back Governor centric episodes.
Just when you thought he was turning the corner, he slipped back into his old ways. And then the next episode, he was gone.
There was really no indication or hint that The Governor may be a casualty in the midseason finale, which is why it was so surprising.
In the first five episodes of Season 4, the "villain" so to speak was the airborne virus and and characters were focused on that. Then The Governor came back and there was suddenly somebody to hate again.
I really believe that a show like The Walking Dead is only as good as its best villain; and although the walkers may seem like the real enemy, the true villains in the show are the people themselves.
The Walking Dead was arguably at its best when the villains were at their pinnacle; Shane in Season 2 and The Governor in Season 3.
So at this point, I'm having a real tough time picturing the show without a villain like The Governor for the protagonists to feed off of. Although I'm sure the writers will come up with some new tasty bad guy for everybody to hate.
What About Bob?
There's still something very unsettling about Bob. I'm starting to think that he may in fact be the mole inside the prison that was feeding rats to the walkers. He's also extremely suspicious and it feels like he's not telling everybody everything.
In the comics, new characters develop to become the new "bad guy", but I think the seeds have been planted here for Bob to do something very diabolical to his new group. We've only scratched the surface with this character, and there has to be many more demons in Bob's past than he's letting on.
But one of the remaining unanswered questions of the first half of Season 4 was who was the culprit that fed those rats to the walkers. It could very well be a red herring (not unlike what Lost did many times), but it could be something ... right?
Don't Wake the Sleeping Mud Zombie
This may just be a bit of nitpicking, but how did Meghan pulling up a sign out of the mud suddenly re-animate a sleeping walker? That was a bit of a stretch to suddenly thrust her into danger without any sort of set up.
Although the walker was dormant in the mud, wouldn't it still be moving somewhat? It looked like it was sleeping and then suddenly woke up after Meghan unearthed that sign. Weird.
Monday, November 4, 2013
I feel like the show is stuck in neutral; the characters are struggling to gain some semblance of traction or character development as it builds up to the eventual "mother moment", but right now it's failing miserably.
Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother is very unique in the fact that viewers sort of already know how it ends. We know that Ted meets his mother, they get married, have kids and live happily ever after.
But what we don't know ... is how we get there.
In an attempt to progress the storyline towards its eventual crescendo, the show has actually been stagnant for a good 3-4 episodes now. As the season progresses and we're still leading up towards Robin and Barney's wedding, I just keep wishing I could fast forward towards the end.
Miraculously, the season is already eight (yes, eight) episodes deep and the plot and characters have barely progressed at all. The same tired backdrop of the Farhampton Inn has overstayed its welcome, and plot points which could have been touched on over the course of two to three episodes has now been stretched out over nearly half a season.
The lack of differentiating set pieces is one qualm I have in particular this season on HIMYM, but the other one and more importantly is the lack of character development. Namely, the fact that there have been hardly any redeeming qualities of the main characters in Season 9.
Ted has been neurotic and as depressing as ever. Lily used to have extremely endearing qualities about her character, but this season she's just coming off as an angry alcoholic. Barney and Robin still have yet to resemble a legitimate "couple". And lastly, Marshall has been sitting in a hummer for the better part of 6-7 episodes.
So basically, the qualities that made viewers develop a connection to these characters over the course of eight seasons have been completely abandoned in Season 9 in an effort to stretch the series for one last year.
There's no "Barney being Barney", no Ted being his typical hopeless and yet hopeful self, and Lily has almost transformed into Robin 2.0.
Not every episode and not even every season of a television show will be memorable. But in a network sitcom, there is at least some form of progression. Characters grow and evolve as seasons progress, and that's part of the reason why people are drawn in; because they come along for the journey with those characters.
Right now on How I Met Your Mother, there has been nearly no progression in Season 9. It feels like things are going nowhere, while at the same time you know there will be some sort of a conclusion by season's end.
The writers have sprinkled a few payoff moments here and there throughout the first eight episodes of the final season, but they have been few and far between. And they haven't been nearly poignant enough to make it worth sitting through everything else.
I have my own theory as to what the writers have planned for the end of the series, and I have no doubt that it will eventually be a satisfying end to what has otherwise been a great series with countless memorable moments.
But at this point, it feels like I'll take another nine seasons before we finally find out how Ted met his eventual wife.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
I remember it felt so exhilarating to stay up "late" and watch SNL. Yes, late being midnight on a Saturday.
In fact, I used to tape the episodes on my parents VCR, watch it over and over on Sunday, and then recite the punchlines from the best sketches for my classmates the following Monday.
To me, that was the “Golden Era” of Saturday Night Live. The Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Tim Meadows, Darrell Hammond era … that was the Saturday Night Live I grew up with. So keeping this in mind, that is the benchmark that I hold all subsequent SNL eras against.
The current incarnation of Saturday Night Live simply doesn’t hold a candle to the old casts and writing teams. That’s one topic that could open an entirely new can of worms, but I decided I would focus on what’s wrong with Saturday Night Live today.
The problem is impressions.
Right now, SNL relies way too heavily on impressions for their laughs. Take for example last night's episode; four of the first five sketches had some sort of celebrity impression. The "50 Shades of Grey" had a laundry list or rapid fire impressions, none of them that particularly funny.
And if you look at the bulk of the recurring sketches of SNL, most of them are based on celebrity impressions.
It amazes me how someone like Jay Pharoh has the exact tone and speech pattern down pat on so many celebrities. I can appreciate that certain cast members can mimic celebrities’ voices and mannerisms to a “t”.
While his impressions are almost always dead on, the problem is ... within the context of the sketch, the impression isn't all that funny.
What made that sketch funny wasn’t that the impressions themselves weren’t necessarily all that accurate, it’s that those cast members transformed those celebrities into caricatures. The focus of the Celebrity Jeopardy sketch was about the cat and mouse between Trebek and the contestants, not even necessarily creating an accurate impression.
In fact, Norm McDonald’s interpretation of Burt Reynolds seems almost nothing like what he’d be in real life. But Norm McDonald created a caricature out of Burt Reynolds and made him one of the most memorable characters on Saturday Night Live.
I guess a large part of that has to do with the writing. If the writing of the sketch isn’t particularly strong, then the impression itself has to carry the load. And aside from the initial laughs, I think an impression on its own wears off pretty fast … let alone into a four or five minute sketch.
From the writer’s perspective, I can understand why they would write a sketch anchored by a cast member doing a celebrity impression; the viewers can easily latch onto it, and the impression is typically very recognizable out of the gate.
The audience can adopt celebrity impressions very quickly, whereas they have to warm up to entirely new characters. A sketch like the “Spartans” isn’t going to gain notoriety right out of the gate. It has to start at the back end of the show and slowly gain traction and work its way into that coveted spot within the first 30 minutes of the show.
With the departure of Kristen Wiig, the show suffered a huge blow in the way of original characters. While some will say many of Wiig’s characters were just rehashing of one another, at least she provided something different than just a gambit of impressions.
The other issue I have with SNL’s recurring sketches at the moment is they really don’t offer anything new from week to week.
For example, just look at “The Californians”; while the first few occurrences of this sketch were new and original, it’s now basically the exact same rehashed jokes told over and over again. To be honest, it's probably one of the unfunniest recurring sketches on the show.
At least with Craig and Arianna aka the “Spartans”, they had a new cheer and dance routine every time they performed. Sure, the tone and style of the sketch was essentially the same from week to week, but at least the jokes were varied.
"Whats Up With That" should have been a one-and-done sketch, instead it jumped the shark long ago.
Again, I think part of the blame here lies on the writers for not branching out, but it also goes to the very top with Lorne Michaels. In many instances, Lorne is guilty of casting “impressionists” rather than “performers”.
For example, I am very much in awe of Jay Pharoh’s abilities as an impressionist, but I have yet to connect with an original character of his on the show. I love Pharoh’s impressions of Denzel Washington, but without context, it just isn’t all that funny.
I think what it all boils down to is I want to start to see more original sketches on Saturday Night Live. To me, sketches that are based on impressions are just a rehashing of something that’s already happened or already been said. It doesn't lend itself to being funny beyond the first one or two laughs.
When sketches on SNL are dominated by celebrity impressions, there is no surprise whatsoever. Give me something I haven’t seen before; give me a new character in a new situation in which I don’t know how it’s going to end or where I can't predict what the character is going to say.
To me, that's what makes a sketch funny … not that fact that somebody can act like Denzel Washington.