TV EYE – The Roundup

It’s been a while- and with the Writer’s Strike still ensuring that the US TV schedules are pretty damn light, it’s time to look back (and forward). Fear the spoilers…

Plenty of shows have come to a halt in the last couple of months- and one of the few deliberate endings was Dexter, which brought its second season to a halt with episodes that once again showed why, for me, the show borders on being astoundingly good, but resolutely refuses to pitch itself over the edge. After some mid-season jitters, the story gained lots more momentum and shape, and peaked with the inevitable showdown between Dexter and the hilariously macho (yet also tragic) Seargent Doakes. It’s here that the show’s writing was at its best, equally matched by a pair of fabulous performances, and by episode 11, the show seemed to be heading in some wonderfully dangerous directions. Sad to say, episode 12 dropped the ball a little – while Doakes’ final fate was cruelly ironic, Dexter’s decision not to turn himself in felt a little too arbitrary, and the whole Lila plotline never quite dealt with the fact that the character felt like a construct rather than a person (in a way that, bizarrely, Dexter never does). Of course, it didn’t help that Jaime King still feels like the televisual equivalent of scraping nails down a blackboard, but the child-stealing and the very gothic touch of Lila starting the fire (Was I not meant to have a flashback of Hitchcock’s Rebecca at that point?) felt a little overblown, and certainly didn’t have the emotional impact of the first season climax. I think part of my disatisfaction is that when Dexter gets it right, it’s amazingly good, and I take my hat off to them for finding new places for the show to go (Heaven only knows how the hell they’re going to generate a third season without retreading old ground)- but it feels like the show is almost suffering from the same problems as something like The X-Files- the real suspense comes from the possibility that the fabric of the show could be shaken up at any moment. While there’s the possibilty of major, life-altering change (such as Dexter almost giving himself up in Episode 11), the engineering of the show won’t allow it, and although the writing is good, it’s not hiding it well enough (at least, not well enough for me, but then I am a notoriously picky bugger…)

Elsewhere, the last two episodes of Pushing Daisies continued its run of winners, with the final episode particularly showing how exceptional the show is capable of being. Balancing genuine warmth with some splendidly black gags (it took me a moment to realise that yes, they actually had done a shattering corpse joke), it’s also done an amazing job of allowing the characters to progress and evolve over the first nine episodes. It may be structured as a standalone procedural (admittedly, a totally barking one), but the running story threads are so well designed, almost every episode features some kind of pivotal event. One of the best written shows on television, it’s quirky to the max- and hopefully we’ll get the chance to see if the production team can keep the standard up for at least another 13 episodes…

I’ve sensibly jumped ship from both Moonlight and Reaper, but while Chuck may have wobbled on a couple of occasions, the daft spy caper has actually succeeded in working its way into my heart. While never managing to be outstanding in the way that Pushing Daisies manages, Chuck’s mix of silly espionage hi-jinks and loopy comedy has found the right balance, and it’s helped by an excellent cast alongside a ‘will they, won’t they’ romance that’s both engaging and sweet. Adam Baldwin continues to be the snarkiest man on television, and episode 11 ends on an absolute horror of a cliffhanger, but the show is delivering the correct level of pop thrills, and more than deserves its full season order, even if (when it comes to the crunch) it’s as shallow as a puddle.

It may be shallow, but at least Chuck is aware of it- and it’s not beating us across the head with a serious agenda in the way that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has managed in its first three episodes. After viewing the original pilot and hearing rumours of reshoots, it turns out there’s only been small tweaks (and one recast role), meaning that it’s still a mix of aspects both promising and desperately clunky. The writers are managing to find plenty of mileage in the concept, as well as new ways of making the issues of the Terminator series relevant (in a way that the future-set upcoming new Terminator films are unlikely to), they’re just not always good at executing these ideas. It doesn’t help that the TV budget means that Terminator-mashing action needs to be kept to a healthy minimum, but all it’s been mainly replaced with is lots and lots (and lots) of angst. It also doesn’t help that the writers don’t seem to want to follow the rules that have been set down- let’s ignore the continuity-bending shift of T2’s events from 1994 to 1997, and instead ask how the pieces of the destroyed Terminator were able to come through time when it’s been firmly established that nothing metal can go through time (hence the whole point of the cyborg), or why Cameron was able to convincingly pretend to be a normal teenager in the pilot episode, and is now incapable of doing anything but sounding either brain-dead or stoned? (She is, lest we forget, supposed to be an infiltration unit) There are some grand wrinkles being added to the Terminator mythos, and the sequence with the damaged Terminator regrowing flesh managed to be genuinely impressive, but for each moment that feels promising, there’s another that feels painful. And then, there’s the pretentious and portentous voiceover- used very sparingly in T2, and done to death here to the extent that I think I’d enjoy the show 50% more if they stripped the damn thing out. Yes, it’s actual science fiction, but it’s also in need of a serious shot of adrenaline, and is definitely still some distance from being a genuinely good show. There’s still promise there, but something pretty impressive will need to happen soon…

And finally, there’s the return of Lost for its truncated 4th season, and any worries that the flash-forwards were either going to be negated (or, like season 2’s big finale twist, not dealt with for weeks) were thankfully blown out of the water. Given that much of this episode dealt with the aftermath of the S3 climax (particularly the death of Charlie), there maybe wasn’t as much punch as there could have been- but the show still pulled off an admirable number of dark and creepy moments. The flash-forward filled in much more detail about what’s going to be in store (and how many people are going to escape the island), while Michael Emerson is proving to be better and better now that all his character can do is snipe and make pithy comments from the sidelines while being imprisoned and beaten up. It’s horribly frustrating that we’re only going to get half of the story that’s been structured, but at least from the first glimpse, the 48 episode countdown to the finale looks very likely to give Lost the direction and momentum it needs. Here’s hoping they don’t slip up again, as from here on in, every episode is going to have to count…

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