[Obligatory spoiler warnings for “The Good Wife” and “Downton Abbey.”]
An actor wants to leave a role in a television show because they want to move on to film parts or are disillusioned with their character or are having an internal dispute with writers, showrunners, fellow cast members, etc. Sometimes these are valid reasons. But what about if your show is insanely popular and/or critically acclaimed? Adored by the masses? And most importantly, what if it disrupts the end game of the show’s narrative?
As you can guess, these very questions crossed my mind (and not for the first time) with Will Gardner’s death on “The Good Wife” and Josh Charles’ exit from the show. It’s one thing when a death or exit serves the story being told. It is another thing when a significant character leaves, thus altering the creators’ final vision of the show. I doubt that I’m alone in this, but when deaths or character exits happen for this reason, I don’t get sad. I get ANGRY. After all, they literally brought it on themselves. You chose to leave; and if you fundamentally screwed up the culmination of different character arcs, why shouldn’t I be pissed? We can only hope that the creators and writers can use the exit to inject fresh life out of the unfortunate loss of their (potential) conclusion.
What do I mean by ethics? Well, I mean an implied ethics. An ethics that says, hey I decided to play so-and-so because I wanted a job but more importantly because I believed in the character and hoped the show would be a hit. And sometimes it is. But what “moral” right do you have to say a few years later…I love this show. It’s the hit I wanted it to be. It’s Emmy nominated. I’ve been nominated for my work. But you know what? I’m bored. I want to concentrate on doing other things. No hard feelings guys! Feel free to call me for talk show appearances anytime.
In case you missed the bitter undertones, Josh Charles’ exit from “The Good Wife” has left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. It’s not just that he wanted to leave. Or that for whatever reason the writers chose his exit to be the most schlocky ending they could go with. It’s how vocal and jovial Josh Charles has been about the matter. Reassuring fans on Twitter. Making the talk show rounds. In other words, relishing his moment that torpedoed what everyone expected about his hit show. Will “The Good Wife” still be excellent? Yes, I think so. But doesn’t the idea that whatever the writers planned for their characters was taken away because of someone that was over a job he signed on the dotted line to have? Look, I’m not even saying I expected the last scene to be Will and Alicia going off into the sunset together. I just imagine they had an idea of how Will fit into the idea of a series finale. And that’s gone forever. Hopefully the writers come up with something better and they can thank Josh Charles for abandoning ship early.
This same scenario played out last season on “Downton Abbey.” After spending seasons dedicated to the love story of Mary and Matthew, they finally married. Then Dan Stevens (Matthew) looked around and thought, well that’s that then. I think I’m ready to move to New York, star on Broadway and hopefully transition to film full time. And thus the heart of the series, Mary and Matthew’s relationship, was blown to smithereens. In what seemed like a “screw you” at the time, Julian Fellowes, showrunner, decided to off Matthew in a random car accident and spent almost no time mourning him in the next season. And once again, why not? A primary component of the series known as “Downton Abbey” was now gone forever. Let’s move on with people that want to be here, on a hit show no less.
Of course Fellowes said that Matthew had to die, that there was no feasible alternative to explain his absence from Mary and their newborn. Sound familiar, “The Good Wife” fans? The Kings wrote an open letter that explained the decision for Will’s death the same way. Except, at least in Matthew’s case, the reasoning is sound. I’d argue it makes total sense for Will to decide trying a new life at the proposed Lockhart/Gardner New York offices. But in reality, just as Fellowes chose such a cheap death for Matthew, the Kings chose a cheap death for Will. Get outta here if you want to go! See how expendable you were in the end?
Actors leave long running series all the time. Sometimes their talents are being wasted. Some have no obvious bearing on the show’s trajectory. Some characters are written to be expendable. I’m not implying that actors do not have reasons for leaving or that some exits are necessary. I am implying that when your exit impacts a serial show where you figure into the narrative prominently, a certain ethics should be involved. And maybe these ethics normally work. Do the remaining original cast members of “Grey’s Anatomy” really want to be playing those roles still? Their ethics are likely motivated by paychecks. As was the cast of “Friends” (although “Friends” would have just ended a few seasons early as opposed to Matthew Perry leaving and Chandler leaving Monica a widow). I could talk in circles around this all day. Perhaps devotion to character and story keep many actors in jobs they’d rather leave. And the Josh Charles’ and Dan Stevens’ of the world are the outliers. Bottom line reiteration: if an actor chooses to leave a role you love on one of your favorite shows, don’t mourn. Get angry! And move on. If the writing is good enough, the show will turn their poor judgement into a creative windfall for your series.
Everywhere you look on the internet today (and last night) you will find an article either in defense of “How I Met Your Mother” or an enumerated list of what the finale did spectacularly wrong. In an effort for catharsis, I too need to air my grievances with the finale; after all, what’s the use of a blog if you can’t use it for a good ol’ rant.
But first I’d like to comment on my title’s assertion, that this show will become a case study of the planned narrative versus a show with a more rambling, flexible structure. As intricate as the timeline became on the show, the writers were always pushing toward one end goal, established after the first season. And for whatever reason, deviating from this end does not appear to have been an option for the creators, even though the show morphed into a long running hit that slowly altered the character dynamics. Nowadays writers can go on the internet and get a general feel of what fans are thinking and feeling, but apparently the end game was set in stone and inflexible. This failure to adapt to the changing show dynamics is as disastrous as writing a show with no end game in mind that will inevitably be unable to wrap up a complex mythology. In the end, I think a successful formula is to have a well thought-out idea about your show when you get to your pilot or halfway through the first run of episodes. How do you foresee the plot trajectory? When the series ends, where will a particular character likely be? With these ideas in mind, you can write coherent stories that are true to characters, but at the same time be more adaptable. Do two people have surprising chemistry? See where it leads. Change your ideas just as real human beings change their minds. Obviously the ability to stick to a mishmash of the planned versus flexible is highly dependent on the foreseen lifespan of a show as well as a particular show’s subject.
My Primary Issues with the Series Finale:
- We spent the entire season, not just on Barney and Robin’s wedding, but also reinforcing how much Barney and Robin love each other and were making the right choice by getting married. Never mind the fact that Barney’s elaborate proposal plan was, for me, one of the most enjoyable moments of the penultimate season. Obviously the creators knew that the marriage was doomed to failure and still thought staging an entire season around it, then abruptly erasing the marriage three years later was a good idea.
- One of my biggest pet peeves is recognizing where and how characters react solely in service of an outcome the writers want to reach. The plan here: Barney and Robin get married, freeing Ted from Robin (enough to meet the mother), Ted gets to have the family he always wanted (a point of contention with Robin when they were a couple), Barney and Robin get divorced, the mother eventually dies, and after a tasteful six years, Ted pursues Robin again.
- Barney finally becomes a father. This I have very mixed feelings over. On the one hand, the only reason I was confused over Barney and Robin getting married was, once again, Robin’s stance on children. A few seasons ago made it very clear that Barney wanted to have kids, and that was never something Robin wanted in life. I’ve already struggled with my feelings over the episode where Robin finds out she can never have kids, in a time when Barney and Robin were not even a couple. But the show led me to believe that Barney’s love for Robin trumped his desire for children.
- Speaking of Barney, we as viewers expect (and desire) to see our characters grow, learn lessons, and develop along different paths. Most striking in “How I Met Your Mother” is Barney renouncing his womanizing ways to settle down with Robin. However, and most disappointingly, Barney immediately reverts to his old ways following his divorce. The show seems to suggest that we prefer the old Barney and the reintroduction of the playbook…but I can easily imagine some viewers did get a chuckle out of seeing some new plays. Certainly not this viewer, who saw it as the ultimate backslide.
- Who in the writer’s room thought it would be satisfying to watch the whole friend group fall apart for over half of the finale? The gradual dissolution of the group (which appeared to be accepted by every character except Lily) contradicted the show’s message about friendship and love. Also, how telling is it that the titular MOTHER took a picture of the group on her own wedding day, without anyone saying that she should be included? You’re in the group for life, provided you aren’t written off to be killed in a few years. (Note: See included pictures. While I couldn’t find a screencap of Tracy taking the picture, I found one from right before: even this still is telling. Tracy (in her wedding dress, no less) stands between Robin and Ted, just like the obstacle she ended up being. The other screencap is of the picture taken by Tracy.)
- Anyone that was remotely concerned about the “mother is dead and Ted is going to hook-up with Robin” theory could see from a mile away that it was actually happening almost immediately. Once again the story gears ground toward that conclusion throughout the majority of the finale, particularly with the emphasis on Robin’s absence from the group.
- The finale (although obliterating the friend group for a large portion) was still an exercise in wish fulfillment for the characters. Lily gets to go to Italy. Marshall gets his judgeship after a few years of demoralizing work. The show remembered that Barney wants children so he gets a daughter and is partially cured of his womanizing ways.(?) Ted gets to be with the mother for a decade and then gets to be with the love of his life Robin. Robin gets to travel the world. Tracy is the real loser in this scenario. She loses her first love. She finds love again with Ted only to get sick and die while her kids is still young. What did she do in a previous life to love and lose so much?
- Finally, what happens with Barney? The show implies that having a daughter cured him of chasing younger women and perhaps led him back to the man he was when he married Robin. Does the show have any definitive answer on whether Barney would settle down again, solely concentrate on raising his daughter, or…? He seems to disappear from the narrative. (Of course I could be forgetting any number of flash forward scenes that give a clue to this).
Like I said, there are plenty of articles outlining these points and just how much the finale screwed over the characters, the storyline, and the viewers. This write-up by James Poniewozik at Time expertly examines and expands on many of these same points. His review not only encapsulates the faults of the finale, but also my sentiments in the wake of the end of the series as a whole.
Re-watching “A Scandal in Belgravia” last night, I remembered a critique I initially had upon my first viewing: namely, how the episode begins by showing Sherlock’s catapult into the public eye, along with front page coverage of him in a deerstalker hat. The hat was a nice nod to Doyle’s Sherlock but the notoriety was undeniably Moffat-esque, especially coming off the heels of Doctor Who’s most recent season. I immediately thought (SPOILERS for the rest of season 2): well this season Sherlock is going to become too famous for his own good and the show will end up with him faking his own death to remove himself from the spotlight. (This could have been paranoia from the Doctor doing just that but yet in the end, same thing).
There is no arguing against the fact that Steven Moffat brought a fresh approach to storytelling to the television world, but nowadays even those “twists” seem to be telegraphed. So much so that now I tend to give him more credit than he apparently deserves. The long drawn out nature of Doctor Who Season 6 (spoilers, again) gave plenty of time for speculation; unfortunately, all of my musings skirted around the idea that the River Song/Melody Pond thing was too obvious –in this vein, I read and came up with some pretty fantastic theories. Alas, after the buildup nothing could compare to those intricately detailed theories, especially something River Song related. UGH. I could barely take her in small doses before Season 6 so the emphasis on her (Moffat’s obsession?) recently went into excess. It would be a digression to discuss those firmly against River versus those that love the character so I will move on. (I really think my memory of Season 6 will be helped if I watch it again straight through…to be continued.) I know I can’t be the only one to have seen this parallel between Doctor Who 6 and Sherlock 2. So allow me to pause and do a quick search. (Research on Google commences.) Surprisingly, this quote from Steven Moffat is the most substantial thing my search yielded:
We always knew we were going to have to do Reichenbach, and yes, indeed, I did have the Doctor faking his own death – though by slightly more elaborate means! The problem is, I’m in charge of both shows, and what I can’t ever do is not do something in one show because I did it in the other. Ninety-nine per cent of the audience haven’t a clue who I am or know that I work on both of them, so you just ignore things like that. They are two swashbuckling geniuses; they’re always going to be doing similar things.
Now, this is all well and good except it is complete BS. He is being a bit too modest about how recognizable his name is to the audience. And inevitably when one of his shows is under discussion, that person or article will also link him to both Sherlock and Doctor Who. It is hard to ignore I had just seen the same story arch take place a few months beforehand AND it really doesn’t help that the Doctor and Sherlock share so many of the same characteristics, made all the more apparent by Moffat’s treatment. Another problem? It isn’t just that they both faked their own deaths…it is also the why. The Doctor and Sherlock both reached a point where their infamy preceded them and their lifestyles became unsustainable. To be honest, I love Doctor Who and I love Sherlock: my issue is that Moffat is famous for his “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” plots, and his ability to take that wonky structure from Coupling to the likes of Doctor Who and Sherlock. His results are often brilliant but the way in which the deck becomes stacked is starting to look more and more familiar. To conclude, I guess this is a classic argument against the one head writer format of the UK. There are pros and cons to all formats but maybe a bit more input from other writers could even out all the Moffat-y bits so that his most striking ideas shine through.
If I tried to even remotely write on my feelings about Glee, I think my laptop would overheat and explode – so I have avoided the temptation to rant on, paragraph after paragraph, about all the maddening things this show is now guilty of. It isn’t going to change, so why bother? And anyway, I have Ryan McGee to angrily tweet my feelings and assure me that I am not crazy with his incisive reviews. I watch to maintain my foothold in the cultural narrative, and because of my weekly ritual to “live-text” the show with a friend. But amongst all the negatives that I find, even in the most recent episode, I stumbled upon a glimmer of hope: the legacy that Glee will leave is going to be very positive. (I hope.) More on that in the conclusion.
The Whitney installment, “Dance with Somebody,” exemplified one of my newest pet peeves: it seems more and more obvious that good Glee (or acceptable Glee at this stage) versus not great Glee hinges on the theme of the week. Sometimes the theme is so broad almost any genre or artist can be featured that week. With this range they initially chose songs that reverberated emotionally and with the plot. Nowadays that happens more sporadically, with the larger concern being whatever Top 40 song they can shoehorn into the episode to generate iTunes sales. The Whitney episode bugs me on a larger scale: obviously this episode was in response to very recent event. What theme did this replace? Or am I still showing too much faith in the writers to assume they had these final episodes sketched out around the time of Whitney Houston’s passing? But that would also require me to believe in the idea that any of the plot matters, which it clearly doesn’t, since no strides made by characters carry through to the next week. Did plot points that were going to be addressed already fit so seamlessly with Whitney’s songbook or were events thought up on the fly to fit with those songs? I think it was largely the latter. But I digress.
Before the manipulation of plot for Whitney was apparent, I was employing my snarky, text-y, tweet-reading method of quasi-paying attention to the episode when Glee grabbed my attention. In a good way. In a thought-provoking way, on a personal and universal level. I thought I was fairly detached from Glee at this point, but Kurt so brazenly texting his new “friend”/flirt partner in front of Blaine made me see red. Okay, I realize Kurt is a teenager but it was just so, so hurtful to do that. (Never mind the fact that Rachel appears to be under the impression only significant others text each other…sighhh.) Next, the whole confrontation scene occurred between Blaine and Kurt; I thought Darren Criss was so good here. The whole argument made me upset, and I really needed Kurt to understand that he was acting inappropriately.
But not-so-shockingly this segued into Whitney’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok,” prefaced by Blaine dedicating it to those who had been cheated on. And it felt like the entire plot structure of the episode led to that moment, and to moments later when Kurt sang “I Have Nothing” back to Blaine. This led to Blaine and Kurt in Emma’s office, trying to actually resolve the issue that (shockingly) two Whitney songs failed to fix. Ignoring the fact that Emma is now equipped to be McKinley’s in-residence couples-counselor as well, this scene felt organic. I think one way or the other Glee would have dealt with Blaine’s anxiety over Kurt graduating and heading to New York, and Kurt’s (plot-motivating) lingering jealously over Blaine texting Sebastian. I am less convinced they needed Kurt’s emotional cheating to get us to this conversation. I just hope someone cures Blaine’s melancholy over their relationship (this is high school!!) and that someone makes Kurt realize that Ohio to NYC is probably not going to be a weekly weekend trip that Blaine is going to make.
Blaine: And while we’re being perfectly honest, I don’t like that with every conversation, we end up always talking about NYADA. What song you’re going to sing, what outfit you’re going to wear to your callback, how amazing New York is…In a few months, you’re going to be gone. With this brand-new life, these brand-new friends, brand-new everything, and I’m going to be right here. By myself. You’re right. I have been distant. And I’m sorry. But I’m just… trying to practice what life is going to be like without you. You are the love of my life, Kurt. And I’m pissed off that I have to learn, for the next year, what being alone is going to be like.
Kurt: But you’re not going to be alone. I’m going to Skype you every day, and you’re going to come visit me in New York every weekend as far as I’m concerned. But I promise, you aren’t going to lose me.
On a larger, (slightly unrelated) scale, I left this episode of Glee feeling positive about the show’s legacy. It may be slipping in the ratings with those fans who can no longer stand the nosedive in quality, but it is still widely popular with kids, pre-teens, teens etc. A much younger crowd than would typically be watching a show that promotes LGBT relationships and examines (however, haphazardly re: Santana’s coming out) some worthy issues. Not every parents can be as cool as Amelia and her husband (her 7 year old son refers to Blaine as his boyfriend) but my sincerest hope is that these kids will help to re-orient the world around a vision where the kids at McKinley are the norm. And I think it has the potential to do that. After all, if reigning cool guy Jenko can go back to high school and find that hipsters, goths, and a gay guy can be part of the popular crowd (“I totally know the cause, Glee. Fuck you Glee!”) then I hope we all can.
Hollywood is pretty full of itself this year: The Artist, Hugo, and My Week with Marilyn all harken back to the glory days of film. These choices are the epitome of conventional: no Shame, no Bridesmaids, no Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I feel wholly uninspired by this year’s best picture nominations. In years past I was excited by races like The King’s Speech (vs. The Social Network) and The Hurt Locker (vs. Avatar). I have no such drive or interest to see The Artist or Hugo.
Best Picture Thoughts: This year I have seen precisely 2 of 9 nominated films—and I have no real desire to rush out and see any of the others. Why not just go ahead and have a 10th film if the voters are so divided? Hello, why not throw in Bridesmaids or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Other than the two I have seen, the rest of the nominees are a pile-up of films that I had an excuse to pass on for one reason or another. The Artist: a celebration of old Hollywood that is notable for its nostalgia in this day and age but would be less of a sparkler in 1925. The Descendants: most comparisons likened it to a Lifetime movie. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: simply, got mixed to negative reviews. The Help: did not pique my interest. Hugo: thought it was a kid’s movie? Moneyball: sports movies are my kryptonite. The Tree of Life: history of the cosmos, what? With all the other stunning films of this year overlooked, I might make an attempt to watch those films already out, namely: The Help, Moneyball and The Tree of Life. That would put my count at 5, and I usually push for at least a majority. Right now I am placing bets on The Artist (and I generally make an exception to see what I believe will be Best Picture) but I feel so unmoved in this race. So disappointing. I have been on a streak of seeing and predicting Best Pictures since 2007. And last year was a banner year: I saw every contender except Toy Story 3; can it please be last year again?
The snubbed: Too Polarizing? Young Adult, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Drive, the darker and more groundbreaking films, were all snubbed.
Andy Serkis, Patton Oswalt, and Albert Brooks were all expected to be nominated. But Michael Fassbender wins for most shocking snub. I am still very dismayed over his exclusion. Peter Travers throws in Michael Shannon and Tilda Swinton as well.
Other Category Thoughts:
Best Actor: Seems like George Clooney has the momentum right now; even if Michael Fassbender failed to combat the might of Clooney, he deserved a nod for Shame. I do think Tinker Tailor deserves some love, so go Gary Oldman (in his first nom!). I resolve to check out A Better Life as soon as possible.
Best Actress: So far I have only seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but Michelle Williams is the darling in this category. However, I have a feeling that when Albert Nobbs finally reaches my eyeballs I will be very impressed with Glenn Close. Hell, I already am…she is a fellow alum!
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer all the way. I love me some Beginners. And Patton Oswalt (hooray for another alum!) wasn’t nominated. Sad face. But at least he has a good sense of humor about the situation.
Best Supporting Actress: The GGs seem to indicate Octavia Spencer, but this has been quite the year for Melissa McCarthy.
I don’t really know my stuff well enough to pass judgment on the other categories (how great would it be if Bridesmaids won Best Original Screenplay!? Or Midnight in Paris.) But as someone else pointed out, no Art Direction nod for Tinker Tailor? If I hadn’t watched the HBO First Look on TTSS, I wouldn’t know about how many meticulous ideas came together to create that stunning 1970s atmosphere of dread.
(Not actually the nominated song, but ya know, wanted Bret)
Best Song: Apparently only two songs were up to snuff this year. The day Bret McKenzie wins an Oscar will make this girl very happy; and I haven’t even seen The Muppets. Here is a glimpse at how insane the voting rules are for the Oscars (and why only two songs made the cut): Songs are watched in the context of their films (during scenes or even the credits) and academy voters rate them on a scale of 1-10. Those with an 8.5 or higher are nominated. So apparently out of the 39 eligible songs, only these two scored higher than an 8.5. Thanks, Entertainment Weekly!
I have already reached a state of denial: how can we fix this year’s Academy Awards? Seems like I am going to have to ride out this storm of disappointment.
It may seem that by simply choosing to be a viewer of Pretty Little Liars I should take my medicine when it comes to its faults. But the issue is that while it is definitely a guilty pleasure show, it was fairly decent. Storylines/characters showed promise and a girl could always admire the Liars’ wardrobe selections. But then PLL got too impressed with itself; it asked, how can I trip up the viewers and make as many suspects as possible for A?
The strength of the show, for me, will always lie in the first 7-10 episodes. Those were the ones I marathoned when I discovered I actually enjoyed the show. The mysteries, and characters, were fresh. Since tuning into the second part of the second season, the show seems more dubious to me. And the show continues to expand its universe, probably in an effort to create a wider field for potential “A”’s in future plots.
The past two episodes have made it blatantly obvious what the twist they are building toward will be (although not as blatant to some: fangirls on Twitter were very quick to cry out to everyone that Lucas was A). In the first episode back, Emily and Spencer are at an impasse, angrily arguing to the point where Hanna and Aria are also ostracizing Emily. At first I was confused: I couldn’t really remember what all went down in the mid-season finale, so I searched my brain for the cause of it. But as soon as A reached out to Emily I guessed the ploy: the Liars were playing A in order to trap him/her/it/them. That didn’t bother me much since it is a typical movie/tv trope.
However, in last week’s episode, a similar “hoodwinking” occurred. I already feel the writers have screwed the Lucas character over in the past. (Not to mention I don’t like the Caleb character or his hair; there I said it. In fact, I thought his name was Tyler as I typed a draft of this post, that is how little I care about his presence). First Lucas became the geeky friend to the hot, popular girl Hanna who would never have a shot. When he is rejected, not only does he “de-friend” Hannah, he becomes one of the first red herrings for A when they show his muddied shoes after the destruction of the memorial to Allison.
Then they remediated his character by having him go fetch…Caleb from wherever it was he went. End of story. (Except the guys are now roommates since Caleb is homeless in Rosewood). The past two episodes have displayed Lucas and Hannah as the best of friends again. I understand that him getting Caleb was a friendship-repairing act but us viewers did not get a taste of that until now (or an even gradual return to hanging out). Now, (rant time) it seems those feelings for Hanna never went away and he cannot juggle their friendship, his friendship with Caleb, and Hanna and Caleb’s omnipresent relationship. Never mind that he is the one that fetched Caleb back into all of our lives.
So clearly Lucas has issues; I get it. It makes sense that he would need to call a crisis hotline to deal with his problem since it is so all-consuming. But can we please have an intervention when it comes to the Liars jumping to conclusions? I am trying to rationalize it by blaming it on enhanced paranoia, but seriously? If Ezra was calling the hotline, would they all (minus Aria) j’ accuse him as well?
There was no suspense. I get that we as viewers have more insight into what Lucas is thinking but that knowledge combined with the Liars penchant for going on witch-hunts was just too much. But I never thought for a second that Lucas meant hurting Hanna in his cryptic calls. I mean, I do find it odd he may have been calling about either admitting his love or his inability to be friends but that leads me to my next point: this was straight-up character assassination. If he isn’t A, he was either painted as mentally unstable, suicidal, or just plain creepy to-serve-the-storyline. Having the Liars run around frantically screeching their heads off did not help the situation nor did its effect on Hanna’s demeanor. Meanwhile, Lucas is side-paddled into the lake. Not sure how this will be resolved vis-à-vis Lucas’ explanation for going MIA afterwards but at this point, I am not sure it matters to me.
UPDATE: The rant continues…instead of using the plausible storyline of Lucas being upset over the Hanna/Caleb of it all, no, too easy…Surprise! Lucas is into gambling? And gambled away Caleb’s “money.” Did viewers know of this secret stash of moolah? Obviously he makes bank by doing whatever he does with technology but did we know there was a physical stash? I could have used a bit of foreshadowing on this, I mean, this is a complete contrivance that also effectively assassinates the character via a different means: now he is a creepy, closet gambler. If the writers at all alluded to this reveal, they sucked at it. And finally, the nerve of Hanna and Caleb! Poor Lucas (or the person played by Brendon Robinson who used to be Lucas and is now a caricature of his former self). Lucas is basically attacked by Hanna and goes into hiding, attempting to regain some money that no one really knew existed. He then makes some of it back, only to have Caleb say, “It is a start.” Isn’t Caleb’s new found family loaded or something? Remember, Caleb, how you were frantically searching for Lucas over half of this episode? Hanna only offers up the phrase “You’re not who I thought you were.” So, he isn’t A? Or it turns out he is the type of person that takes financial risks? Or both? Does the show even know?
I only write this in the hopes that PLL stops playing these games once they supposedly reveal A later in this season. Where the show goes from there, I have not a clue. But hopefully it will rely less on toying with the audience and more on staying true to the characters they have created.
P.S. If I tried to write a similar rant about Glee, I think my head would explode.
Unfortunately, this blog has become a place ideal for rants. But everyone needs an outlet. The latest rant? Dexter. Dexter, Dexter, Dexter. The criticisms leveled against Dexter this season, in my opinion, are not unfounded. The show lost its bite around the time that it became a standout hit. The fourth season was fantastic and demonstrated that the show was still willing to go there. But since then its storytelling has been tame and riskless. It leaves the viewer with little concern that Dexter’s quiet existence will be interrupted and that anyone in his life will discover his secret. And six seasons in, that’s surprising. The show needs a radical overhaul but with two more seasons on the way, I have little faith that the show is willing to divert from its formula. Michael C. Hall’s acting remains a reason to tune in, while the rest of the show crumbles in his wake. While many people have abandoned the show for all of these reasons, I still find glimmers of the show that I used to like in this incarnation.
From the very beginning of this season the show beat viewers over the head with the season’s premise: “Dexter tackles religion, both at work and personally.” And for me, this just failed. I’m not sure if it could have been addressed better or if they did too much at one time. Dexter questions religion not only to get Harrison into a good school, but also because as he investigates Mos Def, he finds in him a spiritual guide. At the same time, the big bad(s) of the season is convinced that the apocalypse is nigh.
Last night’s episode in particular, is probably the closest the show has come to jumping the proverbial shark. It seems inevitable that a show on for this long might be tempted to re-examine the relationship between its leads, namely Dexter and Deb. Friends eventually explored Rachel/Joey for lack of other pairing options. Who hasn’t dated who on Gossip Girl? But the creep factor here is a little much. First, the therapist was pushing the idea too hard. It was almost like she did a waking-style Inception in Deb’s mind. So I was hoping that this was the catalyst for Deb quitting that crazy lady’s care and possibly realizing that she should go down a different avenue with men (not her brother). Second, I feel it odd that shows tend to develop romantic relationships around characters almost immediately after their real life relationships fall apart, and for me that is every bit as distracting as the incestuous vibe. (Examples: House’s Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer, arguably Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki when Leonard and Penny inevitably get back together). If this wasn’t bad enough, Deb starts actually having dreams about Dexter. The show needs to put the kibosh on this…stat.
Then, to be nitpicky over something I don’t normally pay attention to: the show decided to dumb Dexter down A LOT in this episode. Honestly, I think they did a disservice to his character. It is established that when Dexter is on the trail of someone he wants, he tends to ignore people, logic, and pressing events in his life outside of the kill. He will sneak away at any given alibi (including camping trips) to do a quick kill n’ dump. But in this episode he gets exposed to poison gas and is then warned by the paramedic to go to the ER because the side effects will present themselves, especially during physical exertion. I suppose Dexter believed his Dark Passenger would help him rally? He continues on with a plan to eliminate Travis, luring him to the docks. Right before he attacks, he is hit with a bloody nose. Nevertheless, unstoppable Dexter charges and is subsequently overtaken by Travis and is left in a canoe full of gasoline canisters; Travis was just moments away from setting the swamp, and Dexter, on fire. For some reason, he allows Dexter to fully regain his senses (and tells him off like so many Bond villains). Somehow Dexter has regained his superhuman adeptness and manages to untie his hands and leap from the canoe, all the while holding his breath as he swims underneath the swampy ring of fire. I guess adrenaline counteracted the poison’s side effects…unless they miraculously disappeared. Even this I could have chalked up to Dexter’s never-ending bouts of good luck. But attacking Travis after he refused to go to the ER and also refused to acknowledge that physical exertion was a no-no, was an insult to the character’s supposed intelligence.
As Alan Sepinwall tweeted today, last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother turned out to be a very polarizing episode, one that I have yet to sort out my feelings about. Initially, I completely agreed with Alan’s review: pulling the rug out from under us viewers should have been expected, but was infuriating nonetheless. I keep expecting the show to do something radical; to make all of the beating around the bush worth it. Don’t get me wrong; I love Ted, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and Robin. I even understand that, given the show’s increasing popularity, the creators may be prolonging the reveal of the mother (although couldn’t they eke out endless seasons on dating the mother/drama? Cue the “It isn’t called “How I Met Your Mother…and Then This Happened” naysayers). The show only feels like its dragging its feet when it churns out less than stellar episodes (like the majority of last season).
Last night’s episode, for me, was a thought provoker instantaneously; by that I mean the plot got the wheels in my head going, thinking about all the different avenues they were opening up to take the rest of the season and move forward with the show.
I felt the force of the opening scene like a bomb: the show, seemingly, nonchalantly revealed that Barney and Robin would be raising two kids in the future. I did grow suspicious after the initial shock, since Future Ted has revealed that Robin never had children of her own. I used that emphasis to justify that if Robin cannot have children of her own then surely she may end up adopting in the future. So with that thought, I figured this episode was showing me that Barney and Robin end up together and, one way or another, Robin raises two children with him, biological or no. (While apparently, all of the viewers who staunchly support Robin’s decision to never have kids were letting out a collective “NOOOO”). So, I figured (even with Becki Newton coming in as a love interest for Barney) we would spend the rest of the season finding out what happens to get Robin down the aisle to Barney.
Then the show put the kibosh on that. The children Robin was playing “How I Ended up Raising You” with were fragments of a life that no longer existed for Robin. And in that moment I felt my hope for this show go out the window. What a teaser with no payoff (other than an amazing performance by Cobie Smulders). I felt like once again, the show made me feel like something monumental happened in the series, when really it was only reinforcing the idea that Robin will never have kids. I wanted to write an angry letter; I wanted to say, “You think you can arbitrarily mess with the viewer experience and it will have no impact? I have been getting to know these characters for 7 years, I care for them. And I feel like that isn’t acknowledged by you.” And because I care, I am going to keep watching no matter how much I feel jerked around. And the episode where Robin decided to stick with Kevin over Barney was already a struggle for me this season; another example of the show presenting an opportunity to change the formula but lacking follow through. Alan Sepinwall’s review echoed my sentiments and of course I took to the comments section to see other reactions. While some comments defending the episode failed to sway me, others did make me lean more towards the idea that the show was effective in making a statement, transcending the necessary role of the sitcom to make us laugh. I understand that we are supposed to see Robin’s total despair in imagining kids that for her will never ever exist. And Cobie did a great job. I truly felt that a woman like Robin, who was adamant against having kids, would feel utterly different if she realized her choice wasn’t a choice at all, but a twisted turn of biology. And I think I have to applaud the show for demonstrating her heartbreak in this manner.
I think the best solution to avoid this backlash would have been to show Robin having a thought experiment at the very beginning of the episode while she stressed out in the bathroom: what if I had to tell this story to my kids in the future? Therefore, the structure would already be slightly different from normal; we wouldn’t be surprised by the same narrative structure used by Future Ted being used by Robin (I mean, what are the odds that Present Robin would employ in her fantasy the same formula of Future Ted?). As Robin found out she wasn’t pregnant and eventually, unable to have kids, of course her fantasy would change in her head. After she discovered she wasn’t pregnant the “sorry” to the kids could have been merely, “Sorry that this story makes it sound like I didn’t want you.” Thus the kids fading at the end would still be sad, but not as shocking. I suppose the writers were looking for the emotional impact; I understand.
The issue: people (me) who are invested in the Robin/Barney relationship were easily led astray by the beginning. We focused much less on the idea of Robin having kids and much more on the idea that Robin’s raising kids with Barney in the future. Our minds churned with the implications. And when the kids faded, so did our dream of that future. We were back to reality, where not only was Robin still with Kevin, but she had also just rejected Barney and found out she can’t have kids. Dark.
I think I am sad because the storytelling and the character development was so, so good; but the structure of the episode made me concentrate on other things that cheapened what the creators were trying to convey…
I have had the entire weekend to process this and I gotta say, ABC’s decision about Cougar Town is still a slap in the face to fans. If critics are panning Work It! before it even airs, and it takes precedence over a show that counts a decent amount of fans, including critics, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with network television. I can even understand pushing it, more so than Community because at least Community has already aired a decent amount of episodes so far this season. But to cut the episode order to 15 when, with 10 episodes already filmed, the writers clearly had a plan for an order of 22 episodes, is the epitome of cruel not only to fans but also to the writers, crew, and my dear Bill Lawrence. Woe is 2012 for decent comedy on network television.
My twitter feed blew up today after Variety initially reported that David Yates is planning on bringing Doctor Who to the big screen in three years time…as a stand alone, alternate Doctor, if you will. WHAT?! I honestly can’t even wrap my head around how this movie will work. Presumably they want to re-work the story to somehow have broader appeal to Americans. Which to me seems completely odd because Doctor Who’s popularity here in the States has been on a continued rise. And also, I can’t help but remember the Eighth Doctor’s television movie that was supposed to relaunch Doctor Who for an American audience: didn’t that incorporate things meant to Americanize the series? The Doctor was literally, more human and the action took place in a familiar US city. And even then it continued the mythology, especially with the inclusion of the Seventh Doctor regenerating and The Master! (While also taking it a bit too far with its own mythology…half-human Doctor…because we couldn’t bear for him to be full “alien”). It got me to thinking (at work no less, when I feverishly started writing down notes for this blog underneath my notes for you know…Libya) about this trend toward reboots, “reimaginings,” and just plain remakes of things that have maintained popularity in their own right. And even then Doctor Who is different from the rest in that it is still on television! Unlike the time in between the Seventh and Ninth (where the Doctor Who television movie clearly had an “in”), how can this movie be promoted alongside an existing television series? “Oh no, it is about the same thing essentially, but the show exists in one universe and the movie another.” Which is all well and good for most reboots, but in the world of Doctor Who, the movie could be in another universe and the show another, and yet they could meet. (Sounds like something the daleks would want to royally screw up…wait will daleks exist?!). When I think about how SyFy acquired the rights to air Doctor Who but then subsequently dumped it due to lack of interest, I wonder what in the world makes these people think they can find a massive audience in the US unless they make something that can no longer be recognized as Doctor Who?
When I think about remakes, I think about all the movies coming out recently that decide they want to crush my dreams by making a mediocre re-enactment of a movie that may or may not have been good to begin with. This trend is not new and it only tends to hurt when it is something I cherished: Footloose, Fright Night, Halloween, Friday the 13th (actually think of the list that Hayden Panettiere rattles off in Scream 4 to get an idea of all the horror remakes). And lest I forget anything, there is a list on Wikipedia. Of course. I do enjoy some remakes over the originals and sometimes am more familiar with the remake. If anything, the field that the remake has been abusing most is the horror genre, going after movies that are cult classics as well as ones that were better left forgotten. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Fright Night (and the script’s ability to translate to today as well as veer off in its own direction) and yes, I couldn’t bring myself to see the new Footloose because the hurt was just too deep.
Reboots and Reimaginings
What comes to mind first in this category is J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie series. This is the closest comparison I have in my mind to how a movie can exist separately from a television series with established events. This is a personal example but not being a Star Trek fan, the reboot had all kinds of success with me. And I think that is because what I was experiencing was equally as fresh to the fan from back in the day; the franchise needed that. However, it wasn’t conflicting with any current running version of Star Trek and it still worked with established characters! Kirk and Spock et. al. may be on a different timeline from the originals but we recognize the parts of them that we are meant to. And the new franchise gets to play around with established characters in different ways without infuriating the longtime fans (in theory).
What about Battlestar Galactica? Moore’s reboot deviated drastically from the original series (which had been off the air quite some time and I obviously had no exposure to it) and by most accounts is vastly superior. And now Bryan Singer is set to helm a movie version that may or may not follow the same reboot formula as Star Trek. While I am not quite sure how I feel about this, and I think I will largely decide on my feelings once I get an inkling of how this film will play out, BSG has been off the air since 2009. And I don’t think stories depicted on Caprica will in anyway affect this film; so in a way I am ready for this reboot. I miss BSG, and maybe a movie version will help others discover Ron Moore’s series.
This topic also reminds me of the last reboot news that angered me to my very core: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, minus Joss Whedon. Buffy, the show, was leaps and bounds beyond what we got with the original movie version. Joss took the bare minimum of what the movie had to offer (and even incorporated it into Buffy’s lore) and turned it into a generation-defining hit. The Buffyverse and the larger, more active Whedonverse is still active today. In my opinion, it is too soon for a full-fledged reboot. Joss is an inseparable facet to what made Buffy so great; I would much rather see a Buffy reboot many more years down the line.
Both Ron Moore and Joss Whedon took passable universes and made them into pop culture icons. Arguably, Russell T. Davies did the exact same thing with Doctor Who. I started Doctor Who with Davies and easily got sucked into the series without any knowledge of Doctors 1-8. Most of the things I didn’t understand (Time Wars and the Doctor being the last Time Lord) were things I chalked up as mysteries I would one day solve NOT KNOWING that this was part of Davies’ rebooted mythology. As I delved into the earlier Doctors and saw Time Lords running amok and no mention of any sort of Time War, I started to get the genius that was the rebooted Doctor Who. Somehow Davies knew exactly how to tweak the long running series into something for the contemporary world, and created a compelling storyline when, lets face it, the show was a fairly typical sci-fi show at its beginnings.
What will the big screen Doctor look like? Younger or older? Quirky or more human? What of the Time Lords and Gallifrey? Any reboot would have to significantly establish its own history or else leave us in the dark like the show tends to do. Would Americans even accept a time travelling alien whose spaceship is a blue police box? And here I mean the majority of Americans who are not exposed to Doctor Who and who will also be completely clueless as to why he is in a police box. Will the reboot choose some other sort of cloaking device for the TARDIS to get stuck on? I shudder to think. A big budget movie could allow for the TARDIS to actually morph into its surroundings, thus eliminating the police box and one of the most recognizable features of Doctor Who. Argh. Are there any other implications of rebooting something that is already running other than we want to make money? Doesn’t seem like it.
All of this to say, this is the strangest, most unexpected reboot that I think I have ever heard of. And the fact that I can see no way of them feasibly creating their own version makes me queasy. When we look at Matt Smith (and as the show constantly reminds us) we are seeing the sum of 11 Time Lords worth of knowledge in one person, who is also the same as those men. We know how his companions have helped shape him and what motivates his actions. The learning curve for that is substantial. I can’t imagine looking at a stranger, called the Doctor, and having no indication of who this man is or who he has been in the past (other than whatever backstory this movie can throw at me). That may be exciting for some people but for me, losing that air of familiarity that is present throughout its near 50 year run is a depressing thought.