Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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Monday, April 26, 2010

When “The End” Is Too Late

Ah, spring. The time that heralds new growth, the always-popular “break,” the upcoming summer vacation, and of course, that time when TV used to be all in repeats.

Remember those days? I suppose they’re kind of hazy now, but as recently as five or ten years ago, all the major stations would put everything into reruns, which allowed you to go outside once in a while. Or, alternately, catch up on a show you missed.

But the big question is always this: Those shows? The ones wrapping up their seasons over the next two or three weeks?

Which ones are coming back?

And more importantly, are there some shows that just plain shouldn’t return?

I started thinking about this recently thanks to an essay about the “perfect four seasons of ‘Babylon 5.’” Mostly, it talked about how the show ended just when it needed to.

For those of you who don’t get the joke, “5” ran for five seasons. Not four.

As a fan of the show, I saw the writer’s point. When the show was originally conceived, it was supposed to run for five years. And when they got the call that they were only going to run for four, the creator of the show closed off most of the major storylines at the end of the fourth season.

Then? A last-minute reprieve gave them a fifth season, and suddenly a lot of storylines that might have lasted an episode or two became major, major storylines. One of the storylines was pretty much a disaster, introducing a character a lot of fans just plain didn’t like.

But to pretend that the fifth season just didn’t exist?

I thought that was more than a little odd, but the more I considered it, the more I could see the guy’s point.

Two reasons:

First – “Scrubs.” Great show. Introduced us to a collection of characters that fans, including myself came to love. Ran for eight years. So-so ratings. And then? Most of the cast left the show, along with the show’s creator, and the powers that be granted it a ninth season.

Now, the last episode of season eight closed off the last of the major storylines. It even featured a short cameo from the show’s creator. It was clear that the point was, “This is it.”

When the show came back, it returned with a mostly new cast.

So if you’re a fan, and you didn’t like the ninth season, why NOT pretend that the show came to an end after season eight?

Second example – “Supernatural.”

Last year, around this time, Entertainment Weekly ran a very interesting article that said, essentially, that everyone working on “Supernatural” wanted out after five seasons. The show had been designed to last five seasons, the fifth season was coming, and once that was over, the show would have literally dealt with the final battle of good and evil.

And then, a few weeks ago, it was announced that “Supernatural” was going to get a sixth season.

Now, in a couple of weeks, “Supernatural” is going to wrap up all its major storylines, and give us a nice “The End” kind of moment. Only to return in the fall.

So if you don’t like the “last” season, why not just ignore it?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if maybe the author of the “Babylon 5” essay didn’t have a point. After all, a lot of shows wear out their welcome long before someone realizes they need to pull the plug.

Off the top of my head, I remember people really hating the final season of “Night Court.” A lot of fans feel like “Seinfeld” dragged on at least a season too long.

And a lot people who loved “Gilmore Girls” disliked the final, not-creator-run season.

Which brings me to the opposite point: Sometimes, I think the crowd is wrong.

For better or worse, I thought the final season of “Gilmore Girls” was just fine. Not as good as previous seasons, perhaps, and with a few awkward storylines that had to be dealt with before the show could come to its truly lovely conclusion.

So let me put the question to you – if you could pretend any show ended early, which show would it be, what season would it end with, and why?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Damages Season 3, Episode 13

So that’s it.

For those keeping score at home, I started watching and blogging this show juuust before season three began, with a marathon run of each and every episode, complete with full-on blogs handing out every detail. 39 episodes later, we’re at what is most likely the end of the show, and you know what?

I’m okay with that.

“Damages” lived and died on a parlor trick – go back and forth in time, show details, then later, reveal the real, honest truth of what happened, and while it was fun for a season or two, I found myself watching this last episode with a sense of relief that about 90% of the storylines are concluded, hopefully for good.

Being tricked once or twice is fun, but after that? You need something to hang on to.

And as the show came to a conclusion, I didn’t feel like there was anything to hang on to.

Consider the final fates of all the characters:

Patty: Wanted to let the Tobin case rest after forever alienating her son. This leads to her thinking about her dead daughter – who is dead because she miscarried more-or-less on purpose. This also tied up the architect storyline, as it seems the guy was a delusion of some kind brought on by her contemplating her life.

I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for Patty, or somehow get into her emotional realm because she finally realizes all the damage (heh) she’s done. But I just couldn’t. That might be on me. If you’ve got different thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

Ellen: She’s now without a firm, thinking about what to do with her life. The murder of David is finally solved for her, and she can lay it to rest and really move on. But (you’re going get a lot of these, sorry) the fact that she’s still thinking about going back to work for the person who tried to have her killed? Really? And her whole subconscious, “You don’t like bullies?” thing from before?

It just doesn’t work. Patty is as much of a bully as any of these people, whether she’s seeking justice or not. So I’m just not feeling Ellen any more, either.

Tom: Not only is he dead, but the big “surprise” this week is that Joe killed him, and drowned him in his own toilet. Never mind that Tom had already been stabbed, and should really have called 911, or gone to a hospital.

It was a stupid series of decisions that led to his death, after years of him being smart and trying to be a good guy. That kind of hurt me.

Wes: I nice conclusion where he takes down Arthur and himself in one fell swoop, trying to make things right once and for all. Those scenes were crammed with info (more thoughts on that in a second) but it at least brought some major storylines to a conclusion.

The Tobins: Mom is evil. Joe is evil. Carol is missing. The family fell apart, and whatever sympathy you might want to have for them is super-hard to drum up.

I will give it up for the original Tobin, however who got into a financial mess trying to clean up his son’s life. The writers might have been trying to put a message there: Ellen let her sister twist in the wind because the sister needed to learn that people shouldn’t clean up your messes.

Had Tobin done that to Joe, none of this would have happened.

Michael: Stole the car and hit Patty. That relationship appears to be at an end, except he has no job, no money, and a baby on the way.

Which leads us to loose ends:

Arthur and Wes are both still alive, and I’m sure that if the show comes back those trials will reveal more. Carol is, of course, somewhere out there in the world, but she’s also a murderer.

And Patty, of course, still has quite a few things hanging over her head.

Having read a couple of articles and interviews with the creators of “Damages,” they say they have more ideas for the show, and that this show wasn’t any kind of a series finale. Are they telling the truth?

Well, I don’t know. Given the tone of the show, it’s hard to trust them.

Ultimately, I think they could have used another 30 minutes or so to play a few things out. The Arthur/Wes story could have used a stronger conclusion, the issues with Michael have just begun, and like I said, Carol being gone is troubling.

But there’s one character I forgot:

Winstone: Here’s the thing – maybe it was the way Martin Short played the guy, maybe it was how he was written, but this fellow was the hero of the season. He ran from his family, changed his identity, and then spent the rest of his life in the bosom of the Tobins.

And they betrayed him.

As he walked out of the show, money in hand, I had to admit: I was okay with it. It was clear that he had started over once, and he was going to start over again.

Was he a good guy?

That’s just the thing: On this show, he might have been the best guy we had.

I don’t know if “Damages” will continue, or if we’ve seen the last of this crew, but given the option, I’d kind of like to see more of Winstone.

So maybe it’s better to stop now.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Damages Season 3, Episode 12

What caught my ear about this episode was not the episode itself, but the scenes from next week. We’ll be getting a 90-minute wrap-up, which indicates to me that everyone knew from the get-go that they were going to be closing up shop.

And that’s okay.

I think I was more struck by the “90 Minutes Next Week!” only because the first two seasons closed off a lot more plot threads during their respective twelfth episodes. Or maybe it’s just that most of the surprises to be found in this episode weren’t really surprises at all.

We already knew Tom was working with Winstone. We already knew that Tom ended up in a random building – we just didn’t know it belonged to Winstone. And that doesn’t strike me as the kind of shock big finishes are made of.

Joe learned that Winstone had been lying about his identity, and dropped Winstone as their lawyer. A shock? Not really, since we already knew he would eventually work with Tom, and the very fact that he had a secret identity had to come out sooner or later.

Tom forced his own resignation in order to tear the Winstone family apart. That was a surprise, I’ll grant you. And we finally got a couple scenes that make it appear we’re finally going to wrap up the murder of Ellen’s fiancĂ©.

I suspect that next week won’t be filled with shocking revelations, but rather with hideous violence, as we finally learn who killed Tom, and why, and how, and Arthur finally gets his just desserts.

Here’s hoping for a great 90 minutes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cold Case: Free Love

Every once in a while a popular TV show will air an episode with a character who seems WAY more important than they should. They appear, dominate just about every minute of the program and then vanish.

Sometimes they get their own TV show. Sometimes they don’t.

This is called a “Back Door Pilot.”

Watching the latest episode of “Case,” I really felt like I was watching a back door pilot for “Cold Case 2.0,” in which Lilly joins the FBI and the other characters are replaced by newer, cheaper actors in order to get the show made a little cheaper.

A cheaper show just might mean there’s an eighth season of “Cold Case.”

If the networks don’t want it? We’ve got the same-old, same-old version. And if the show comes to a close? Well, then everyone got a semi-happy ending.

With only two episodes left in the season, you could easily see the writers spackling over the sad gaps in the lives of their characters. Nick solved a case in about three minutes and got back in touch with an old flame. Kat seems to be ready to finally make a real connection with her man.

And Lilly, of course, got into fun-and-flirty mode with her future co-star on “Cold Case 2.0.”

The only loser here was Scotty, who found out that his mom’s attacker copped a plea, and might get out early.

I can’t say that this episode would get new viewers on board, as it mostly traded in on some knowledge of the characters to get a nice warm fuzzy for fans. And the main mystery, the first for “2.0” had a cute setup and a so-so ending, mostly due to the fact that there were only two possible suspects.

Would I watch “2.0?” A good question, and one I’m guessing CBS is pondering hard right now. They get the same name, some new faces, and with an FBI link, a “bigger, better” set of cases that they can pull from.

But will fans buy it? Some will. I suspect they’ll lose more than they gain if they push the show as a reboot, but I’ve been wrong about such things before.

How about you? Would you watch “Cold Case 2.0?”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Damages Season 3, Episode 11

For those of you clinging to the hope that “Damages” will rise up and live for a fourth season, the rumor around the campfire is that they’re trying to cut a deal with DirecTV. Basically, subscribers would get first crack at seeing it, and then it would be broadcast elsewhere.

“Friday Night Lights” cut a similar deal a couple of years ago, and it seems to have worked out.

As for the episode itself? I don’t know. I guess it says something that the scenes that interested me most revolved around Arthur, as his comedian buddy slowly started pulling the dark side out of Arthur. How much is Arthur going to reveal? Will it kill his movie?

And when are we going to hear back from that DA with the dirt on Arthur? The stuff that will completely destroy whatever he’s built in the meantime?

I suspect that might all be coming down the pike.

I guess we should get Ellen out of the way next. She went to the person she thought might be her birth mom, only it turns out that her mom really is her mom. It seems that things got “bad” at Ellen’s home back in the day, and the babysitter almost adopted Ellen. This sequence is followed by another where Ellen is put on suspension for working behind Gates’s back, and then she finally goes and talks to “David.” Or the David in her head, at any rate.

Her talk with David tried desperately to put all the bits together and convince the audience that Ellen and Patty both hate “bullies,” which is why Ellen still wants to work for Patty despite, you know, Patty trying to have Ellen killed. I’d love to say that it worked on me, and that all the parts fell into place for me, but mostly I was struck by how much I missed David, the only really nice person on the show.

Then there’s Patty, who fired Alex pretty much for not being Ellen. And Tom admitted that he screwed up with Tessa, and refused to apologize for it.

Finally, it’s time to talk about the Tobins. Turns out that Tessa is Joe’s daughter. Which doesn’t stop him from having her killed, primarily because his mom doesn’t tell him that Tessa is his daughter.

More surprising, to me, was not that Tessa was killed, but that Patty’s never-fail bodyguard/researcher also met a grisly end.

I’m not sure why these plot elements failed to engage me as much as Arthur’s story, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I feel like I got ahead of them a long time ago. Tessa being Joe’s daughter didn’t feel like much of a shock, just because it felt like an obvious twist. Along the same lines, the fact that Ellen was almost adopted isn’t ever going to be all that important.

And Tom standing up to Patty? Eh. We already know that he’s resigning at some point in the near future, so it’s hard to be shocked.

I’m willing to concede that the problem might be me. TV shows thrive on formula, and the “Damages” formula is “everything we tell you is a lie.” The truth should come out in the next two weeks. Let’s see what they’ve got for us.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Cold Case: Bullet

Before diving into the meat of this episode, I had something else I wanted to talk about. Generally, when a show gets a “final-season” time-slot swap, it pretty much indicates that a show is done for. A few weeks back, “Cold Case” got moved back an hour, with another show taking its slot.

And lo-and-behold, a miracle occurred. “Cold Case,” in a new slot, in its seventh season? The ratings actually went up.

Never happens. Ever.

So if you’re a fan, hoping for a last-minute renewal? You just might get it.

Unfortunately for the show, the time change didn’t manage to fix the problems with tonight’s episode. Namely, that it had a lame-duck story, “surprises” I could see coming a mile away, and it ended with a soft slap to the face instead of a gut punch.

Generally I try to avoid spoiling episodes in my reviews, but here I have to make an exception. So if you don’t want to know what happens, walk away now and come back. (And when you do come back, feel free to disagree with me. Or agree with me.)

I wanted to start out by saying something positive about the episode, but I can’t think of anything. All the regulars do good work, I suppose, and I guess that’s something.

But the rest? Here we go:

The plot: The end of the last episode told us who the real bad guy was. Which was, I’ll admit, a nice twist. I think if you ended the two-part episode there, as a one-part, it might have been a nice kicker. The bad guy gets away (more on that in a second).

Instead, the whole thing becomes a chase sequence as everyone tries to figure out who the guy is going to kill next. The only problem is, they’re always one step behind, and we’re meeting people who die before we even get a chance to care about them.

Additionally, the reason for the killings was kind of weak – this guy carried on a years-long agenda wherein he killed all the people who hurt his dad’s feelings and drove him to suicide.

Once that was done, he waited until he was the same age his father was, and then he killed people who followed a direct corollary to his dead dad’s feeling-hurters.

Impossible? Maybe not. But highly, highly, highly improbable, and I just couldn’t make the leap.

Topping this off, the big “reveal,” where we learn that the FBI agent has gone rogue (not really a surprise either) was “The Girl In the Car” just seemed so obvious to me from the word go that the reveal didn’t interest me. More to the point, the reason her not-boyfriend got killed (He wasn’t paying attention to the movie!) just made me go, “Eh.”

Even worse, we got a nice dramatic moment where we learned that the killer’s wife was pregnant – something he always wanted. There’s some real heartbreak to be had there, the sad wife discovering the man she loved was a killer, and now they’re going to have a kid together.

There’s also the killer, discovering too late that he could have had what he really wanted.

But no. Turns out she wasn’t pregnant, and so whatever emotional draw this show might have had? Nothing.

Ah well. There’s always next week.