Parenthood (2010)

I’d intended to touch on this week’s topic much closer to when it ended, but unfortunately I felt it was necessary to let a few other things through first. This series holds a very special place in my heart, so please excuse me in advance if you feel like I’ve gotten up onto the proverbial soap box.

Parenthood

Parenthood aired its final episode on January 29th, 2015 after a six-year run. Based very loosely on a 1989 film by the same name, it tells the story of the Braverman family living out their day-to-day lives. It had a large ensemble cast that would be too cumbersome to list here, but everyone was really good, and they worked well together through the happy moments, the sad moments, and every time in between. At the beginning of the story, the grandparents Zeek and Camille, who had been empty-nesters up until that point, found themselves housing their daughter Sarah again with her two teenage kids Amber and Drew after her marriage failed. Their son Crosby’s life was about to change drastically with the introduction of a son he didn’t know he had, along with the boy’s mother. Their son Adam and his wife Kristina were on the verge of finding out their son Max was on the Asperger’s spectrum, which would throw theirs and their daughter Haddie’s lives for a loop. It seemed for a while as if the only stable situation in the clan was their daughter Julia, with her husband Joel and their daughter Sydney. At this time I wish these great hoverboards for kids existed, it would´ve been much easier to control the little ones while checking up on the others who were playing with their crazy fast rc rank cars.

Once the wheels were set in motion, it was truly amazing that nobody fell through the cracks. Every character had part of their story told every week. Of course, it helped that it was all one big extended family, which allowed a lot of threads to overlap or run together or run at odds. With characters entering and exiting the picture at varying intervals, there was never really a dull moment, and they had the courage to touch on a lot of sensitive subjects. I admit I started watching this show as a knee-jerk reaction to the distaste I’d felt from watching “Brothers and Sisters”, but as events unfolded I realized it was well worth the effort. Where the other show was about politics and trickery in addition to family, “Parenthood” was purely and simply about communication, and it was refreshing.

Even if you’re not necessarily into watching slice-of-life dramas, I encourage you to give this one a chance. It was a relatively wholesome hour of television every week that it aired, and with such a large cast there’s bound to be someone you’ll find yourself identifying with. In fact, watch it with someone, because you’re likely to get different things out of it.

Rating: 5th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A First Look at The Odd Couple (2015)

[Please note, this was written before episode 2 aired]

In this era of remakes and reversionings, it seems like it was only a matter of time before someone started looking at the old sitcoms. What better way is there to tap into nostalgia than in half-hour comedic bite size chunks, after all?

This seems like a slightly different case, though. The Odd Couple was originally based on a stage play by Neil Simon, even as it was made into a movie in 1968, a television series in 1970, and then a sequel movie in 1998 (and a couple other unsuccessful versions along the way). This new television series stars Matthew Perry (Friends, Mr Sunshine) as the generally unkempt Oscar Madison, and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Sean Saves the World) as the super-tidy Felix Unger.

odd couple

Right up front, this show presents a lot of opportunities that it doesn’t seem interested in banking on, especially with respect to gender identity. Oscar and Felix are recently separated from their wives (the latter being quite a bit more recent), and Felix shows up at Oscar’s apartment looking for a place to stay and a shoulder to lean on. Upon seeing the state of the living space, he immediately goes about working his magic to make it presentable. He even endeavors to cook for Oscar’s friends when they come to visit. It’s sadly at this point when the writing slides distinctly into catering to stereotypes, no pun intended. Felix’s gravitation towards tasks that in the past would have been dominated by women, along with his choice of foods to serve, cause Oscar’s friends to question Felix’s sexuality. Oscar takes steps to brush it off with the line “he [seems] like it, but he’s not”. In the multitude of productions over the years, Felix has been played with varying levels of flamboyance, so it really felt like they dropped the ball by addressing the issue with anything other than a defensive “well, why does it even matter?” The fact that it was followed up by a mention of the “token” minority member, didn’t help either. Luckily, Felix was out of the room at the time, so he may be able to salvage it in the future. It would have meant more coming from Oscar, though.

If this was just about two very different people trying to figure out how to co-habitate, that would be one thing, so I’m really hoping this isn’t a case of media taking one step forward and two steps back.

I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms because I don’t like being told when to laugh, but I think I’ll try to keep an eye on this one just to see what they end up deciding to do. According to listings, there are only seven episodes, and it says it’s completed.

 

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A First Look At Backstrom, Via Episode 3

You may wonder why this “first look” is coming three episodes in to the show. To be honest, I’d seen and heard ads for Backstrom and was curious enough to take a look, but didn’t get that chance until this week when I saw it was airing in a time slot after something else I was watching.

This review is actually going to go in a slightly different direction than my usual format, because I’d like to compare it to some other shows I’ve watched in the past.

Backstrom centers around a police detective played by Rainn Wilson (The Office; Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), and the other members of the Special Investigations department. As with most stories of this ilk, they end up taking the cases that are either too odd for other departments to tackle, or it will probably also eventually include ones that have been passed down as unsolvable.

BACKSTROM

Everett Backstrom is a jerk. The audience knows it, and so do the people around him. What I see as the biggest problem with this show isn’t necessarily it’s run-of-the-mill nature, but rather the fact that I was watching episode three and I didn’t see the kind of character dynamics that make shows like this successful. Big misanthropes are really only tolerable in fictional media, and for someone to fall into that category as heavily as Backstrom, they need some kind of contextual foil as a counterbalance. Greg House had James Wilson (and to some extent Lisa Cuddy, although that fell apart at the end), and Cal Lightman had Gillian Foster. Even when the main character isn’t really that bad, the writers still use a “buddy cop” type of system, for instance when Patrick Jane has Teresa Lisbon, or Richard Castle has Kate Beckett, or Charlie Eppes had his brother Don.

The literary foil is commonly used across genres as a way to show the audience that someone who would otherwise be unsympathetic actually has some interesting traits to them, and vice versa. Backstrom has none of that, at first glance. It’s a shame, really, because I can’t see past it to appreciate any of the other characters, let alone remember what the “case of the week” was. Premise and/or cast are often what get me started, but character dynamics are what keep me coming back.

I may watch more of this if I remember when it’s on, but I don’t intend to follow it as closely as the other offerings that make up my queue.

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

The Newsroom

It’s a show about a show about the news.

If that reminds you of the tag line from a Comedy Central ad for a weird little two-season ABC network program called Sports Night, you’re not far off. I’m referring to The Newsroom, another (more recent) show also helmed by Aaron Sorkin, which ran for a total of 25 episodes on HBO, the finale airing on December 14. It starred Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, 101 Dalmatians) as news anchor Will McAvoy, and Emily Mortimer (Howl’s Moving Castle, Hugo) as the news show’s executive producer MacKenzie McHale. The Newsroom actually has an excellent ensemble cast, although several of the episodes, and most of season three’s over-arcing thread feature Will and MacKenzie trying to figure out where they stand with each other.

jeff-daniles-emily-mortimer-the-newsroom1-ep-5-550-hbo

Will and MacKenzie

If you’re already familiar with Sorkin’s previous works, like Sports Night or The West Wing, you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect from this series. There’s no shortage of sexual tension or characters moving from one relationship to the next. I don’t know if that’s because of the fast pace and high stress of living in that segment of society, but it seems to get blown out of proportion for the sake of sensational programming.

There’s also a lot of very strong opinions and characters trying to do what they think is right (with varying degrees of accuracy and success). Even in episode one, the viewer sees MacKenzie rousing Will from his highly rated by-the-book, dialing-it-in news show to start taking a stand on issues and making full, well-rounded reports. Usually when a tv show decides to talk about real news events, they do a little rewriting and renaming to make it fit their fictional world. The Newsroom does almost none of that. They leave world events intact, sometimes even using legitimate video from other preexisting news features. It makes for high-impact storytelling. I think one of my favorite story lines was from season three, when the network’s finance reporter Sloan Sabbith gave one of the tech guys a dressing down for developing a mobile app that would allow people to share when and where they saw various celebrities.

There’s a lot of compelling material to The Newsroom, and I almost didn’t watch it because I didn’t think it would interest me, but Will’s response to the question of what makes America great drew me right in. The end of the series echoed strongly of the end of Sports Night, and I’d like to think that even though Sports Night was entirely fiction, it’s possible they could be set in the same universe. This show may not be deserving of a rewatch in my book, but if asked whether I’d still have made the decision in the first place, I’d probably say yes.

Rating: 4th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

White Collar TV Series Review

After six fun years, the USA Network series “White Collar” aired its final episode on December 18th. Starring Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, Chuck) as the slick con man turned criminal informant Neal Caffrey, and Tim DeKay (Swordfish, The New Adventures of Old Christine) as his FBI handler contact Peter Burke, the show took the buddy cop genre and spun it sideways.

Peter and Neal

Peter and Neal

 

The series started back in fall 2009, with a nearly silent “cold open” (the segment of a program that runs before the opening theme and credits) showing Neal escaping from jail. The effort was in vain, as he returned only to find his girlfriend gone, and was subsequently caught and arrested again by the same FBI agent that had been tailing him for years. He sits despondent in jail for a few days, eventually resolving to negotiate with Peter to be allowed to make his residence outside in exchange for his assistance in helping to solve unusual and tricky white collar crimes. Much to Peter’s chagrin, Neal is able to find enough wiggle room within the terms of the agreement, to live much more comfortably than anyone at the FBI had anticipated.

Over the years that the show aired, it was interesting to observe the effects that Neal and Peter had on each other, as well as the rest of the characters rounding out the main cast. Peter started out a very straight-laced, by-the-book, no-nonsense type, and Neal’s antics slowly wore that away until the viewer would have a bit of a time recognizing his actions at the end as being in character. Neal, on the other hand, seems to have been thinking at least a dozen steps ahead, even when that wasn’t given any focus in the over-arcing story. In any good long-running television series, the characters can’t change too much without ruining the formula that made it so popular in the first place, and unfortunately for the good guys among us, “White Collar” is no exception. Neal barely changed at all, even if there were times he appeared to be turning over a new leaf. His goal from day one was to regain his freedom.

So let’s go back to the final episode. As I sat in front of my television that night, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many events and ideas were recalled from previous episodes, all the way back to the combination lock cracking in episode 1 (the result of which being how Neal got out of jail and onto the tracking anklet). The Matthew Keller thread was resolved once and for all, as was fitting for having him return as a season six regular character. If anyone recalls the series finale of “House MD”, allow me to just say that the ending of “White Collar” was far more satisfying than that was. To be honest, I’m glad Peter made the decision he did after everything was said and done.

It’s unusual anymore for a television series to last six years without going stale, or changing too many things and ruining its formula. The writers and producers made some interesting decisions over the course of the run, in order to keep it fresh, and this show was that much better for it. As with any long-running series, especially one that has hour-long episodes, it becomes a serious time commitment. However, this series rounded out at 81 (episode 1 being extended length as a premiere), so if you do have the time and the inclination, I highly recommend checking this one out.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Blu-Rays To Be Released

Seven Arcs has announced on the official Nanoha web site that Blu-Ray box sets of the franchise’s three TV anime (Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS) will be released in the final quarter of 2014. The sets are being released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the original series’ premiere, in October of 2004. As Blu-Ray Region A includes both Japan and North America, importing the series is a viable option again, particularly since the series’ license was held by Geneon and was one of its final releases (distributed by Funimation) before the localizer’s demise. If the precedent set by the Blu-Ray release of the compilation/reboot movies is followed, all sets should include English subtitles. The dub of the first two series, starring Cristina Vee as Nanoha, is not likely to be included; this will be the first official English-language release of StrikerS if it does include subtitles.

On an unrelated editorial note, the sound that this monoglyphic editor made upon reading the news was something beyond the range of human vocal chords and if you get these for me I will replicate it for you on air which was highly disturbing and may never happen again.