Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson

I’m coming to this a bit late, but The People v. O.J. Simpson is masterful television. Not only does it manage to nail the drama of the trial itself, including all of the blunders of the prosecution and the ingenuity of the defense, but it also manages to address the many, many larger issues surrounding the trial, and that made it such a phenomenon in the first place.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Girls Season 5, Episodes 9 and 10, “Love Stories” and “I Love You Baby”

What a marvelous pair of episodes to close out this season of Girls. I was particularly moved by the penultimate episode, which had emotional breakthroughs for both Hannah and Marnie, and to a lesser extent Shoshana, but the finale was also excellent, particularly Hannah’s open mic story and Adam and Jessa’s scary fight. Each of the characters did a lot of growing up this season, courtesy of a series of experiences each of them had that made them reflect on the choices they’ve made.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 9, "Nailed"

It’s been an interesting experience to watch the creative team behind Breaking Bad apply the same storytelling acumen and suspenseful trappings to a story with significantly different premises, particularly Breaking Bad’s slow, deliberate pace and attention to detail. In both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, these qualities often manifest in an emphasis on processes, particularly characters concocting and executing plans, and then dealing incrementally with their ramifications (or perhaps more accurately, their fallout). Rather than Breaking Bad’s drug world, in Better Call Saul it’s (mostly) the legal world; in season one, rather than showing the humble beginnings of a meth empire and drug kingpin, instead it’s the origins of crooked lawyer who cuts corners and is “colorful,” as Jimmy McGill has described himself.*

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1, Episode 11, “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!”

Some quick thoughts on this week’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which was in top form. First off, the episode managed to breathe new life into the relatively tired trope of the errant text message by having the strangers surrounding Becca (including a lawyer working on the opposite end of Becca’s case) not only adamantly agree about the severity of her blunder, but gladly put off the their work so that Becca could rush off to remedy the situation. Also amusing was the argument those ancillary characters get into over whether Becca is having a “textmergency” or a “textastrophe” ("textastrophe" is way better).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I'm in awe over how much I enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I feel awe not because my expectations were low given how bad the three prequels were, and not because I hold the original trilogy in such high esteem that I think nothing can touch it (I don’t). No, my awe is a product of how impressed I am that the new film managed to be so enjoyable while also being so derivative. The Force Awakens contains so many references, parallels, callbacks, rehashes, and remixes of the first film in the series, and to a lesser extent the second, that it’s not a stretch to say that the plot of The Force Awakens is essentially a (superior) repetition of the plot of A New Hope, but with some of the pieces rearranged, with greater immediate emotional investment courtesy of our familiarity with returning characters, and with some of the best bits of The Empire Strikes Back thrown in for good measure.Yet for all of its repetition, it's still a fun film nonetheless, more so than A New Hope, which has long seemed to me like a rickety bucket of bolts.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Catching up with You're the Worst

I just caught up with the most recent three episodes of YOU'RE THE WORST, which has improved mightily over the course of season two. I attribute a lot of this improvement to creator Stephen Falk toning back the overly-broad sidekick characters (Lindsay and Edgar), and to his making the two leads Gretchen and Jimmy have things that they actually care about (and realistic problems). A large part of my gripe with season one was that Lindsay and Edgar seemed like cartoons; they were too-broad characters whose tired, sitcom trope problems we were invited to laugh at, like Lindsay's crumbling marriage and Edgar's crush on Lindsay. This approach has largely disappeared in season two; now, their problems are taken more seriously, and we’re invited to celebrate with them during their moments of triumph rather than laugh at them for their failures. For instance, it's nice to see how proud Lindsay is when she gets her electricity turned back on (as meager an accomplishment as this might be), or to see Edgar’s PTSD no longer be a source of humor for the show, but instead a source of sympathy for the character (although Jimmy and Gretchen are still amused by it, which is fine, as these two have little empathy for others).

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Leftovers Season 2, Episode 3, “Off Ramp”

Season two of The Leftovers just turned in a superb third episode. I went into it dreading it: the “previously on” bumper featured a lot of Laurie, so I knew she would be heavily featured, and I was really uninterested in a full episode immersed in the world of the Guilty Remnant, but by the midway point, I was completely invested. It was very smart to turn her character from a cult member into a cult liberator and recovery therapist. Rather than a morose, impish (if conflicted) nihilist, she’s now a crusader against an organization that has rather clearly taken on an air of menace beyond the cruel pranks they played on other characters last season. This character turn is a smart move not only because it makes Laurie more sympathetic and interesting, but also because it helps us see the Guilty Remnant as a disease preying on people either too empathetic or too traumatized to get on with their lives after the departure, rather than a curious or perhaps even valid response to the departure’s devastation. Moreover, Laurie’s recovery also provides her with great motivation for her intense reaction to the Guilty Remnant: searing, poorly-concealed rage.