Okay- I’m disappearing away from London for the next three weeks to work on the novel, and my chances to access new American TV are going to be quite low. Therefore, one last look at the current shows before we go, with a few major spoilers…
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – S1-E07: “Nevada Day- Part 1”
Amazingly, it looks likely despite all the portents suggesting a swift end, that Studio 60 might make it through to the end of a full run of episodes- although I suspect this has more to do with the massive investment costs, rather than any ratings upswing. The first two-parter has some good moments, but was also the first point where the show felt a little weak, and I’m never a fan of “Let’s start at the end and show how we got there!” storytelling. Oddly enough, despite the fantastic work by Bradley Whitford, I think my favourite performers here are D.L. Hughley as Simon Stiles, and particularly Steven Weber as Jack Rudolph, who’s turning venomous into an art form. It’s slickly made and with some great dialogue- I just can’t shake the feeling that it would work much better as a half-hour, with the pacing sped up and a little of the self-importance trimmed down.
Heroes – S1-E07: “Nothing to Hide”
We’re going through another quiet patch on Heroes, as a little of the sluggish nature of the pilot episode creeps back in. It’s natural that in a show as intricately structured as this, there’s going to be a certain number of ‘in-betweener’ episodes, and here we at least get a chance to find out a little more about Nathan Patrelli’s home life, and some shifts in his attitude towards his powers. There’s also, unfortunately, still a habit towards daft soap opera and melodrama, particularly in the plotline involving Greg Grunberg’s mind-reader cop. They haven’t yet found a way of realising the whole idea of hearing people’s thoughts without it sounding terribly stilted, and I’m waiting patiently for the whole Sylar plotline to start feeding majorly into the main storyline (My money, personally, is on Sylar turning out to be the mysterious gangster Linderman, who still hasn’t been seen despite being mentioned in every single episode). Only a brief appearence from Hiro, but a cool one all the same, even if it did only seem to be there to give an otherwise quiet episode a big setpiece of some kind. The most effective moment turned out to be the scene at the end of the episode, where we find out- as suspected- that young kid Micah has powers, but far more effective was his wonderfully matter-of-fact handling of his conversation with his mother’s violent alternate personality. A quiet ending, but hopefully lining up for something bigger- Heroes may be uneven, but I’m hoping that once the plot starts rocking again, we’ll be back on form.
Lost – S3-E06: “I Do”
And, just at the last moment, the producers of Lost pull out all the stops and remember what makes the show good. Despite the occasional silliness- especially Kate and Sawyer deciding to shag in an open cage in broad daylight- this was a really strong episode, and surprisingly lacking in any mythological weirdness. The best Lost episodes usually throw in major tailspins or new shocks, but here it was all character based, and it all worked extremely well. The jury is still out on Pickett’s motivation, as it’s all a bit too easy and he still comes across as frankly rather daft in his quest for ‘revenge’, but the sight of Dr Jack Shepherd finally growing a pair and using the fact that the Others want something from him to his advantage was a pleasure to see- Jack became a depressingly passive and weak character in the Second Season, so it’s good to see Matthew Fox getting to do something other than his pensive and upset face (I actually hope he doesn’t escape too easily from the Others- he works much better in this environment, and Locke gets to be the Camp’s eccentric Alpha Male without overdosing on his Jack-related insecurities, a la Season 2). Another episode that proves Evangeline Lily is exceptionally good at what she does as Kate, and it also managed to pull out the long-expected Kate-Sawyer tryst, while at the same time making the relationship between her and Jack a hell of a lot more complicated, and in no way conclusively wrapping things up. Michael Emerson as Fake Henry Gale/Ben (I’m not dealing in any of this ‘Benry’ nonsense I’m seeing online) is much better the more he gets to play- away from the silly ‘evil genius’ stuff they were doing in episodes 1-3, he’s extremely good, and we’re certainly getting the feeling that despite their attempts to be menacing and bad-ass, the Others aren’t anywhere near as capable as they want people to think they are. Leaving things on an absolute bastard of a cliffhanger (although I would like some clarification on whether or not Sawyer gets to make a run for it or not), this mini-season of Lost has been a bit up-and-down, but overall it’s still got me urgently wanting to know what happens when the show returns next February.
Jericho – S1-E08: “Rogue River”
Gunfights! Home-made ice! Mass-slaughter in Hospitals! It is sentimental, daft and cliched to the nines, but when Jericho goes for the post-apocalyptic feel, it doesn’t mess around. This week’s episode got off to a shaky start with some really, really poor greenscreen work on the car backgrounds that made the supposedly tense driving scenes look more like Xander’s Ice Cream Van dream sequence from the Buffy S4 episode “Restless”, but got its groove back with some nicely done action, and a new set of bad guys in a set of unbalanced mercenaries who now, thanks to one character’s unmitigated stupidity, know where Jericho is, and are likely to come a-knocking in time for February sweeps. The episode also benefits from a tight B-plot, with shadowy ex-cop Lennie James’ family being ‘interrogated’ by appointed negative authority figure Gray Anderson- the whole family tensions plotline was starting to get a bit tired, so it’s nice to see them working together, plus we managed to be thoroughly intrigued as to what James’ real motivation is, despite still not learning a damned thing. Interestingly, Jericho is also keeping to the structure of Lost and many of the other serialised shows this season (like Ugly Betty and Heroes) by splitting the show neatly into two, instead of doing the traditional route of padding out the season with repeat viewings. The quality threshold goes up and down, and the musical montages are really just a little too much, but it’s still frustratingly compulsive stuff.
Ugly Betty – S1-E07: “After Hours”
All I can say is one thing: Kill Walter. Now. The annoying boyfriend is just a little too much to cope with, and possibly the only aspect of the show that I really don’t like, especially in this episode where he’s there just to disrupt life for Betty while she attempts to review a nightmarishly plush hotel. I’m praying that the relationship between the two characters is meant to be heading for a fall, because it’s hard to see exactly what Betty’s supposed to see in such a godforsaken whiner. The point of the character seems to be for us to hate him, but without any of the pay-off of him getting any kind of come-uppance- instead, there’s almost the feeling that while Walter may phrase things wrong, we’re actually supposed to be agreeing with him. I scratch my head in confusion at this. Once again, a slightly more formulaic episode- but this is a show that’s so far made its cartoony nature into an advantage, and it’s such a fluffy, ridiculous mess that it’s even managed to make Vanessa Williams’ hilariously bitchy ‘creative editor’ into something resembling a believable character. The show knows what it can and can’t do, and so far it’s doing it very well.
Battlestar Galactica – S3-E07: “A Measure of Salvation”
I am now, officially, very worried, as the third season of Battlestar Galactica is only showing occasional signs of being able to correct the stumbles that started to happen partway through the second season, and “A Measure of Salvation” is possibly the most disappointing episode so far. After an intriguing set-up last week, the idea of a virus that infects the Cylons is introduced, but what we get is the closest Galactica has come so far to Star Trek: Next Generation storytelling, where a potentially world-changing plot device is introduced, but conveniently gets written out so that the after effects don’t last longer than the end of a two-parter. Again, we’re playing ‘issue of the week’, with Biological Weapons being on the menu- but it almost feels like the writers got greedy by going for the idea of the humans being able to wreak genocide on them, and what that would mean. Considering that they’ve gone to such trouble to suggest that the whole Cylon/Human equation is only ever going to end with one wiping out the other, it seems bizarre to then suggest that the humans would get a major attack of conscience about actually using a weapon which could conceivably solve all their problems. Now, if the virus just killed the Cylons messily but didn’t actually download into the Resurrection Ship, then we would be in a realm of interesting debate- is it right to use a weapon like that just because it gives you an advantage? Trouble is, once Genocide comes into it, it feels like the game is already weighted- we know that they’re not going to wipe out the Cylons in the next episode, so immediately it all becomes about who’s going to stop the plan from happening, and with Helo as the obvious candidate, the question is, where’s the drama?
There were some excellent moments, and the handling of Athena/Sharon’s determination to not betray the oath she’s made was seriously effective– but the whole Baltar being tortured plotline was just silly beyond words, not managing to express anything other than a desire to see Tricia Helfer getting her kit off again. The Baltar plotline is a bit of a weak one at the moment, and I’m hoping it goes somewhere soon, as the show is finding it harder to keep the serialised nature going, and plot threads are being dropped or bungled all over the place due to bad timing, bad choices or post-production issues. Last episode, Starbuck gets virtually banished from Galactica by Adama- now, she’s abruptly back on flight duty without a word of explanation (there was an extra scene with her this episode, but it got trimmed), and don’t even get me started on the silly treatment of the whole ‘Fat Lee’ concept (if you’re going to do a story like that, go the whole hog and have it have major consequences, don’t return him to his ridiculously buff self in a matter of weeks), or the way the potentially exciting plotline involving Caprica Six and Galactica Boomer from last season’s Downloaded was fudged, and then finally forgotten (and what, exactly, has happenned to Boomer?), Giving the impression that your bad-guys are just making it up as they go along is dangerous, as people are going to start suspecting the writers are doing the same thing. What I would say is this- stop concentrating on the issues, focus more on the characters, and stop trying to do stories when you don’t know if you’re going to have to hack half of it out in order to get it down to the correct episode length. It’s starting to look like Season 1 (even with its talky ups and downs) and the absolutely awesome first seven episodes of Season 2 are as good as the show is ever going to get. I hope to be proved wrong, but there had better be some seriously impressive stuff in the upcoming episodes…