08 August 2012

The Watcher: July 2012

Awkward, Season 2. Episodes 2-5
I fell in love with Awkward. back with the very first episode, and as I said before, it's absolutely fantastic seeing it back on my screen. Well, computer screen. Don't have cable. It sucks. But even though I'm over the moon with its return, five episodes in, I'm just not loving it nearly as much as I have. And I can't pinpoint the culprit. The writing is just as strong and full of zingers and new words describing human genitalia, the actors are just as funny and angsty as before, and Ashley Rickards is hotter than ever. So where's the problem? Right now, the one thing making rounds in my head is the Jenna/Jake dynamic, that is so full of Jenna second-guessing herself and her feelings that the pair never seem to really 'click' for us. In season one, he was that fantastic, special Prince Charming that genuinely cared for Jenna, and this year, he's still the guy who cares for her - perhaps a overbearing too much - but the fireworks just ain't blastin' and blowin' as they have before. Amazingly, despite how nice of a person Jake is - and I can't believe I'm thinking this - I'm becoming more and more a fan of Matty. Blimey! And I would like for Jenna to assert her independence more, show that the letter her mom wrote has made a substantial, life-altering impact, that she's a better person because of that letter. She's no longer the awkward girl who wouldn't stand up for herself, but she's not as strong as I would like her to be, either.

Luckily, Ming and Tamara are given substantially more time to develop as characters, and they've been a blast. Tamara is still boy obsessed and fast-talking, but she's coming into her own. Ming was the most underdeveloped of the friendly trio, and this year she's maturing into a gal who is very forthright in what she wants and what she says. It's much appreciated.

Season two doesn't have the beat-by-beat comedic and dramatic brilliance of its freshman year, but it's still fantastic to have Awkward. back, and with its recently renewed 22-episode third season, the show isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So for now I'll sit back and enjoy the ride, because we have more of Jenna Hamilton and her voice overs to look forward to, and I'm absolutely giddy bout that. Grade: B

Breaking Bad, Season 5. Episodes 1-3
With season four ending with a literal bang, a jaw-dropping collection of episodes that became increasingly more and more intricate and compelling, Breaking Bad's final season was one of my most eagerly anticipated shows of the summer. Three episodes in (four as of the time of this writing, but three in July), that same intense speed of the previous arc has been expunged for what is, understandably, a slow build. The season begins with a year jump ahead, as a bearded and disheveled Walt purchases a machine gun from Jim Beaver at a Denny's, apparently running from something, or perhaps towards something. As for the present, Walt is soaring on a ego-trip from his dispensing of Gus Fring and, with the assistance of Jesse and Gus' previous right hand man Mike, slowly starts up the methylamine business again. Estranged wife Skyler silently accepts the reality of her situation, but the mute exterior is slowly eroding as she's reaching a breaking point. There's a inevitability of badness coming, but right now creator Vince Gilligan and the writers are content with building this new arc of Walt rising to the top and the family complications that come out of his status.

Only eight episodes make up this half of the shows final season in 2012, and with that knowledge, I'm holding out hope that that same intensity of the previous year and promised villainy of Walter White comes into play. Many commentators have said that Walt has already passed the Point of No Return, and although I do agree with them, I don't exactly feel Walt's darkness or the Heisenberg persona coming through too powerfully. We see Walt as a intelligent man who thinks every action through several steps ahead, but as far as a man who could convincingly take over a drug empire, just don't see that yet. But as for what we do have here, there's three exquisitely written and performed episodes. Bryan Cranston no longer has the strut of a man who displays nervousness or fear, he walks like he owns the ground he walks on and is in complete control of every situation and word. Aaron Paul is obviously relishing going back to the calm and easy going Jesse from the earlier seasons, though in episode two his acting chops are on full display as he breaks down in front of Walt over 'locating' the cigarette full of ricen that resulted in a sticky situation last season.

Walt and Jesse are currently buddy buddies, and with Mike in the mix - a excellent addition, I must add - these are the Three Amigo's who are keeping the meth business alive and lucrative. Already, however, we can see the cracks in Walt's readiness to part with a substantial amount of money, hungry for more. Equally as engaging is Hank's vindication in his search into Gus Fring and his newfound celebrity status at his department. I am so very eager for the time when Hank faces off against Heisenberg, only for the face under the black hat to be revealed as his brother-in-law. At least, here's hoping. And finally, the looks and movements of Skyler and all the unspoken feelings beautifully portrayed by Anna Gunn. Now, with the addition of a new female co-star with Lydia, a tightly wound, paranoid gal, the series is expanding its universe to what will either be Walt's impending partners or adversaries.

It's exciting times being a Breaking Bad fan. We're still in setup mode, with the best yet to come, but these amazingly talented writers and actors who never settle for anything less than a perfect note continue to create some of the most compelling television ever made. So here's me not complaining. Breaking Bad is back - for a truncated period, but still - and I couldn't be happier. Excited to see where this all leads... Grade: A-

Bunheads, Season 1. Episodes 4-7
Three fantastic introduction episodes, and a handful of so-so episodes, I'm still at the 'I like it, but it has its problems' phase with Bunheads. Naturally, as a Gilmore Girls fan and overall digging this series, I want it to succeed creativity and with its ratings, but there's less and less appealing elements of the series to make it appointment television. With the first three episodes, a lot was accomplished - there was a wedding, a death, a inheritance, and a introduction to several supporting characters. Now that the world is, for the most part, established, it would be expected that Michelle would begin to gel and assert herself in that world. Seven episodes in, after some rather directionless installments with her revising the past and uncertain about the future, I think it's time for Michelle to make a decision and start a new chapter in her life. Of course I'm rooting for the series to be picked up for a second season, but if that's not the case, I want Michelle's arc to be as developed as it possibly could be in these circumstances.

Michelle's growth is getting there, but the most rewarding part of the series has been the cast of teenage characters at Fanny's dance school. Boo, Ginny, Sasha, Melaine - these four teenagers have their typical teen angst and problems, fantastically executed by these tremendously talented actresses and great scripts. I love these characters, and if the show doesn't move past season one, the real shame will not be seeing these girls grow as individuals and actresses. Kelly Bishop's Fanny is slowly coming to terms with the death of her son and moving on with her life. She's still not the biggest fan of Michelle - the two of them bicker constantly, and not in the fun, entertaining way.

Overall, I still quite enjoy Bunheads, it just seems to be in a holding pattern right now. Well worth the time of any interested viewer, I believe in the show and hope it hits a second season. Just right now - I want more. Grade: B+

Parks & Recreation, Season 4
This will be, perhaps, a sort of cop-out review of Parks & Recreation, a claim I won't entirely refute, but this series doesn't need reviewing. What I will say is this: I have avoided this series over and over, never one to be all that interested in that sort of Office-documentary style sitcom. Through happenstance, I saw a episode. This lead to renting the first three seasons from the library. In one week, I watched every episode. I laughed and laughed and, most importantly, I fell in love with this show. With 22 or 24 episodes each season, there were maybe only one or two that didn't hit all the right notes, and for a sitcom, that's fantastic (by comparison, 24 episodes of The Big Bang Theory, I loved maybe no more than 5, mildly enjoyed 12, and strongly disliked the rest). I immediately downloaded all of season four, and just a hour ago I finished my obsession.

This is comedy gold. If anyone is unsure of pursuing this show, I present to you the above screencap. Ron Swanson (standing) and Chris Traeger (meditating) are the two single most funniest characters in a sitcom I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Rob Lowe has literally had me laughing at his speech patterns and obsessive behaviors, and Nick Offerman has forever redefined my ideal boss. Lovely, lovely show. Watch it. Now. You'll literally love it. Grade: A+

True Blood, Season 5. Episodes 4-8
Getting weirder and weirder and more interesting and interesting. Sure, there are still those subplots that simply annoy me with their idiocy or irrelevance to everything else in the narrative, but that's small potatoes compared to the multitude of very interesting ideas that I hope pay off big by the finale. In succession, I'll just quickly say the stories I dig: (1) Sooki's arc this year has nothing to do with men and romance, it's her confronting her inner faerie abilities and that really weird world which opens one gigantic question, what really happened to my parents? They didn't die as reported, instead, the culprit is a vampire who latched onto the scent of Sooki's faerie blood. Cool. Now, where does this lead? (2) Tara as a vampire working for Pam and adjusting to her new station in life has been fantastic, especially when Pam captures a woman that ridiculed Tara for far too long, allowing the newly turned vamp to exact her revenge. For four years Tara has been hit and hit and hit with nothing but tragedy, and now, through tragic circumstances, she's for the first time strong and in charge of herself. It sucks what happened to her, but I've never liked Tara more. And that's not just because of the pole dancing. (3) Jason Stackhouse is all over the place this year, but his digging up the murder of his parents and really messed up dynamic with Jessica has been well worth watching. (4) The Authority, run by several old vampires who worship the old vampire god Lilith of whom all vampires originate. Their politics and religion has been quite interesting, and with Russel back in a prominent way leading the Authority, it's really compelling drama.

(5) Eric is beginning to suspect something's up, thanks to a visitation from ghostly Godric, and I can't wait to see where this leads, while Bill allows himself to fall deeper and deeper off the wagon, into this belief of Lilith. At one point, Bill, Eric and all members of the Authority look up as a bloody, naked figure rises from carnage - Lilith, the original God reborn on earth. Ultimately, it's revealed to be nothing more than a hallucination, but imagine how utterly fantastic and interesting having Lilith, a God, walk on this earth again. Now that would be a season-long arc worth exploring alone. (6) It has its ups and downs, but Terry's thing with the vengeful spirit has promise.

Now, for the shit: (1) Lafayete. Just leave the show already. You suck and have overstayed your welcome. (2) Hoyt, grow up. You suck and have overstayed your welcome. (3) The Obama Patrol, these group of thugs who hunt and kill vamps as a political statement. Ties into the Authority storyline (barely), but not worth it. (4) Everything Alcide and werewolf and shapeshifter. Pointless.

Overall, though, the positives outweigh the negatives. This fifth year has by far been the most intriguing, with the fourth right behind. I like where most of these characters are going, and showrunner Alan Ball has concocted quite the story to leave the show with. Honestly, it sucks that there's only a few episodes left and then we have to wait a whole 'nother summer for more, but until that unfortunate hiatus, I am genuinely enjoying the ride. Grade: B

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