Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Big Bang Theory – A Year of Laughter

I was looking through my journal, and I was surprised to realize that it was exactly one year ago today that I began watching The Big Bang Theory. The mixture of intelligent insults, social awkwardness, and geeky pop culture references, combined with a huge helping of humor, made me fall in love with the show almost immediately.

The show did have two drawbacks typical of half-hour comedies – a laugh track and crass humor at times. I also wasn’t familiar with any of the main actors (I realized later that Howard also played Moist on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). But I loved the band of misfit guys, and how Penny gradually became an indispensable part of their group.

Out of all the comedies I watch, The Big Bang Theory makes me laugh the most. From Koothrappali’s facial expressions to Sheldon’s take on social norms, the show keeps me in stitches constantly. It’s also very quotable:

Wolowitz: This is the worst cobbler I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like it’s made of actual ground-up shoemaker.

The relationships between the characters are also awesome. Sheldon and Penny’s parent-child dynamic is always humorous, and Raj and Howard are hilarious when they’re acting like an old married couple. And you know Leonard and Penny will eventually end up together, despite all the bumps in their relationship.

The current obstacle, Priya, would be really annoying if you couldn’t see the blaring signs that her relationship with Leonard is only temporary. The one nice thing she’s brought to the show is the creation of the “Hate Priya group” – aka Penny, Bernadette, and Amy. The three of them hanging out together is hilarious. It was made even more fun when Sheldon joined the group in last night’s episode, “The Agreement Dissection.”

Another awesome aspect of the show are the geeky guest stars. From Sheldon’s nemesis Wil Wheaton to Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse), and Summer Glau (Firefly and The Cape), their appearances only heighten the geek subculture of which The Big Bang Theory is a proud member.

And it was this show that caused me to fully embrace my inner geek. To prove it, whenever I get a text message, my cell phone now chimes with Sheldon’s signature “gotcha” phrase: “Bazinga!”

The Office – Goodbye, Michael Scott

Watching the early episodes of The Office, I never really liked Michael Scott. I watched for Jim and Dwight’s pranks on each other, and Jim and Pam’s love story. Michael was simply just the annoying guy who always said and did the wrong thing.

As the show continued, I warmed to Michael’s character a bit. He still could make things as awkward as possible, but he did have moments (rare as they were) where he said exactly the right words at the right time. The rareness of those moments made them all the more brilliant.

While The Office’s sense of humor ranged from spot-on to not even worth of a groan, over the show’s seven seasons The Office has never failed to surprise me. It had perfect episodes that could keep you laughing every minute, and awkward ones that you never wanted to watch again. Most, however, were a mix of humor and cringing – which is why some people hate the show and others love it.

Amid most people’s strong emotions about the show, I feel a bit out of place having only a tentative warmness toward it. It doesn’t make my top ten favorite TV shows – maybe not even my top twenty. I’ll probably never own the DVDs, and I only occasionally rewatch episodes when I’m with friends. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop watching new episodes as long as the show keeps airing. After seven seasons with these characters, I don’t see how I could stop experiencing their lives.

When I heard that this season would be Michael Scott’s last, I immediately guessed that the writers would have him move away to be with Holly – so glad to be right about that! Those two are perfect for each other. I’m still waiting to see if my prediction of the new boss will come true as well.

I thought Steve Carell’s farewell episode was brilliant. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched it yet!) I loved Michael’s recommendation letter for Dwight, and their paintball battle. I loved his fatherly advice to Erin. I love how Jim figured out Michael was leaving early, and their teary-eyed “plans” for a lunch that would never happen. I love that Pam made it just in time to say goodbye.

Without Michael Scott, The Office just won’t be the same.

Detroit 1-8-7 – Tribute to a City

I remember being distinctively unimpressed with the promos for Detroit 1-8-7, especially the pictures of cast members with brief quotes from the pilot. There weren’t any well-liked actors to pull me toward watching the show (I figured out several episodes in that Lt. Mason had been in a few episodes of Dollhouse, but that was it). Location was one of the few unique pulls the show had, since most crime dramas tend to be set in NYC, DC, or LA.

For some reason, I decided to give the show a shot and watched the pilot. It didn’t wow me, but I enjoyed the realistic slant and some of the characters. It became a back-burner show, one to watch when I had time.

Detective Fitch and his distinctive personality was one of the things that kept me watching. I enjoyed the slow unraveling of the mystery behind his departure from New York and the hints of romance.

But the main aspect of the show that I loved was how the Motor City permeated every episode. There was a weighty sense of place and history throughout. As the season finished, I felt like I’d gotten to know and respect Detroit, yet at the same time there seemed to be so much left to learn. This is most clearly felt in the tenth episode, “Shelter,” which delves into Detroit’s past.

It’s uncertain whether Detroit 1-8-7 will be picked up for a second season, but the first season wraps up most loose threads for a satisfying conclusion, whether it returns or not.

Bones vs. Smallville – Initial Thoughts

I know two episodes isn’t always enough to find out whether you’ll like a show, but since pilots often differ from typical episodes, I think most shows should be given at least two chances to hook a viewer’s interest (of course, some shows are so terrible they don’t deserve even one full episode, but I’m more talking about a “meh” reaction to a pilot). I know I wish I’d given Buffy more episodes to grow on me, though the fact that I sought out other Joss Whedon shows right afterward hints that it simply was vampires creeping me out.

With my supernaturally-inclined shows all over for good or for the season (The Cape, Merlin, V, No Ordinary Family, and Being Human), and having finished my Buffy/Angel marathon, it seemed like a good time to try out Smallville. So I watched the first two episodes. And yawned.

To be fair, it probably wasn’t a good idea to watch Smallville so soon after falling in love with the Buffyverse. Smallville had big shoes to fill, and true to its name, it didn’t measure up. It didn’t have humor. Or suspense. The dialog was stilted and predictable. Good characters had no flaws and bad ones, no virtues. The country setting didn’t appeal to me either.

Since I’d watched one Superman movie, I was able to pick up on the hints of mythic origin, and thought they were rather well done – until they decided to paint them bolder as if screaming “Get it?” at me. And since I didn’t really care about the elements that would make up Superman’s future (unlike the elements in the Star Wars prequels that made me enjoy them – R2D2, C-3PO, Palpatine’s rise to power, meeting Lars and Beru), I lacked a sense of wonder at their arrival.

I liked the music. Lex and Chloe seemed like they could become interesting characters. But that was it. I may try to make it to a third episode, if only for the fact that James Marsters (aka Spike) will eventually show up on the show. But considering that won’t happen until season 5, and he’s only in there for 14 episodes, I doubt it. Maybe if I’m really, really bored.

To make up for the disappointment of Smallville, I decided to try watching Bones instead. Yes, I already was watching eight other crime dramas, but only one of them focused on the FBI. I’d heard Bones was good several times. It starred David Boreanaz (aka Angel). And Netflix had every past season on watch instantly.

A few minutes into the pilot, I knew I had found a gem. The chemistry and arguments between Brennan and Booth reminded me of Castle and Beckett. The humor and camaraderie of Brennan’s team made me think of NCIS. (And Castle and NCIS just happen to be my two favorite crime dramas.) I watched the second episode just to make sure this show wasn’t too good to be true.

Already, with her brilliance, beauty, and social awkwardness, Dr. Temperance Brennan seems to have so many layers waiting to be uncovered. I love her “I don’t know what that means” line. And she’s a writer!

Seeing David Boreanaz in a different role is nice (since as Angel he tended to live in a perpetual state of angst, with brief periods of dorkiness and pure evil). Many shows tend to paint FBI agents as “by the book,” so it’s refreshing to have the cop being the one who goes by gut instinct.

Four episodes. Two shows. One clear winner.

TV Trends – Online Fandom

This post about online TV show fandom caught my attention – mostly because of how many shows I love are on the list! A university student surveyed more than 3,000 people to determine which shows have the most ardent fans, as far as online activity goes. The survey was only for shows currently on the air (if they did ones that have been canceled, I’d wager Firefly as #1), and the results were:

1. Supernatural
2. Castle
3. Smallville
4. Community
5. Hawaii Five-0
6. Chuck
7. Bones
8. Leverage
9. The Vampire Diaries
10. Fringe
11. Burn Notice
12. Glee
13. Mad Men

I thought I’d take a look at each of them in turn.

1. Supernatural

I really don’t know much about this show at all, other than it stars Dean from Gilmore Girls, and I’m guessing it fits into the speculative genre. I’m kind of curious now.

2. Castle

One of my favorite shows ever – consistently good in every way. I love that it’s about a writer. I love that it stars Nathan Fillion and that Firefly references pop up all the time. I feel that if someone took all the TV shows I love and found one that encompassed them all, Castle would be it.

3. Smallville

I’ve always been more of a Spiderman rather than a Superman fan. I did enjoy the main character’s acting on movies I’ve seen him in, but I never had a chance to watch the show. However, after finishing watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I watched a couple of James Marsters’ (Spike) Q&A sessions. He has a reoccurring role in Smallville and he talked about the story of Superman being a Christ story for an atheist world. That really interested me in watching it and with No Ordinary Family and The Cape being likely out of the picture for next fall, I’m looking for a good superhero show. I plan to start watching it soon.

4. Community

This little half-hour show is just hands-down funny. I loved it from the first episode, and while I don’t think the second season is quite as strong as the first, Abed will keep me watching for many years to come.

5. Hawaii Five-0

The main reason I don’t watch this show is that I’m watching too many crime dramas already. Since it airs in the same time slot as Castle, there was little chance I’d watch it live, and since it’s on CBS it’s harder to catch up on old episodes (I’m a big Hulu fan, especially when it lets me watch the whole current season). I did watch one episode in the middle of the season when there wasn’t a new Castle – I thought it was good, but not great.

6. Chuck

Action, humor, romance – what more can you ask for? Oh, just Jayne from Firefly. I sometimes let to-be-watched episodes of this show pile up when I’m busy (usually in a lull between several cliffhanger episodes), but I always watch them eventually. I’m a bit surprised that a show this well-liked is consistently on the bubble for renewal.

7. Bones

Thanks to Netflix having all back seasons, once I recover from my Buffy/Angel David Bornanaz deluge I plan to check out this show. Despite it being yet another crime drama, I’ve heard good things about it.

8. Leverage

Another one of those rare shows that’s “practically perfect in every way” and that I’ve loved from episode one. The concept of modern-day Robin Hoods, the tight-knit team of great actors, engaging plot, witty dialog, and explosive action. If you’re not watching Leverage you’re really missing out.

9. The Vampire Diaries

I’ve only caught half an episode while waiting for another show to start, but I wasn’t impressed. If I start to go into vampire withdrawal I’m more likely to try out True Blood instead.

10. Fringe

This is another of those “waiting for a chance to try” shows. I’ve heard it’s good, but not much else.

11. Burn Notice

Love this show, for three reasons. 1. Michael. 2. Sam. 3. Fiona. Easily one of my favorite summer shows, and more consistently good than even Psych.

12. Glee

I’ve watched 10 or so episodes. Love the music, hate the soap opera.

13. Mad Men

I’ve heard it’s good, but I haven’t heard anything that compels me to watch it.

 

So, out of the shows I’m not watching yet but thinking about, which do you think I should watch?

Supernatural, Smallville, Bones, or Fringe?

No Ordinary Family – Superheroes

I can say with honesty that I began watching No Ordinary Family last fall because I was bored. I was caught up on the regular shows I watched, summer shows had ended, and I was looking for something different than crime drama (the two other new shows I picked up that season were both crime dramas – Blue Bloods and Detroit 1-8-7).

I’m only a casual fan of superhero stories. I’d enjoyed movies like Spider-Man (1 & 2) and Hancock, but I hadn’t been overwhelmingly pulled into the mythos of any of them (I haven’t even made it past the pilot of Heroes). No Ordinary Family seemed like a pleasant enough mix of The Incredibles and the Fantastic Four (and even starred Michael Chiklis from the latter). I figured I would give it a try.

The show was decent, but didn’t grab my attention. I left it in the “wait and see” category, as something to watch when I didn’t feel like watching anything else. It had plot holes and cheesiness, but good acting and visual effects. Gradually the show began to shift focus, from the family dynamics of dealing with superpowers to the wider story of others with powers and where they came from.

This focus change improved my opinion of the show. While Blue Bloods succeeded as a show because they blended family drama with crime drama, No Ordinary Family put too much emphasis on family drama at the beginning of the season, alienating many viewers who tuned in for the supernatural aspect. Once the balance improved, I began liking the show more, and eventually watched the entire season.

The side characters’ stories also increased my interest in the show, especially since they seemed to demonstrate more character growth. Joshua’s character was the first to emerge as neither all good or all bad, and the effects of his relationship with Katie changed the show from a may-watch to a will-watch. And I identified with the character of Katie on many levels (plus, she shared my name!).

Unfortunately, a second season seems unlikely for No Ordinary Family. But the first season is still well worth watching, especially after you make it past the first cheesy episodes.

Bonus for Joss Whedon fans: the show stars Julie Benz (Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) and has a brief appearance of Amy Acker (Fred on Angel and Dr. Claire Saunders on Dollhouse). And I didn’t realize it until I looked it up, but Kay Panabaker (who stars as Daphne) played the creepy girl in the white room on Angel too. (I could keep going, the show has 20 or more cast and crew in common with Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse according to IMDB.)

Merlin – Magic and Anthony Stewart Head

A friend of mine linked to an interview about the upcoming season four of Merlin, which gives a few hints about what’s to come (and mentioned news I hadn’t heard yet – season four will have a full 13-episode run instead of the 10 originally slated). It got me thinking about how much that show influenced my diving into the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

For one thing, it made me more comfortable watching a show about magic. I grew up in a house where The Chronicles of Narnia were just barely on the side of good, and videos were stopped or gotten rid of if the magic got too black (sometimes even if it was just the bad guys). I realize everyone has their limits and convictions (and even my parents have gotten less restrictive over the years), but it wasn’t until lately that I discovered how slow I was to try out shows with speculative elements.

Much in the way the first season of Angel and the show Being Human sparked my interest in redemptive stories about vampires (too bad Twilight doused that interest for a time), Merlin showed me how magic could up the stakes of stories since it could be a powerful force for good or evil. Big, scary monsters and spells mixed with comedy and growing up – it worked for Buffy and it’s working for Merlin.

The other push Merlin gave me towards watching Buffy was the actor Anthony Stewart Head (who plays King Uther on Merlin and Giles on BTVS). I still find it hard to believe he’s the only common denominator between the two shows. It’s kind of funny to contrast his anti-magic stance on Merlin with him owning a magic shop and doing spells on Buffy. But on both shows he’s a respected father figure. Giles’ dry wit and exasperated looks are missed, though, as Head has to be a far more stoic king (and almost a villain at times). I’m looking forward to what Merlin’s writers will do with his character in season four, after the traumatic events at the end of season three.

NCIS: Los Angeles – Kensi and Deeks

Since I’m a huge fan of NCIS, it was only natural that I’d try out its spin-off show, NCIS: Los Angeles. The two-part “Legend” intro on NCIS held a lot of promise, but an additional nudge toward the show was that it starred Chris O’Donnell. I’d really enjoyed his acting in movies like The Three Musketeers and The Bachelor.

The show got off to a bit of a rough start. Oh, sure, the acting was decent, the plots had plenty of twists, and there were lots of “cool” extras like high-end equipment, action scenes, and undercover gigs. But the chemistry between team members felt awkward and forced, and backstory details seemed invented specifically for each episode instead of building on each other to create full characters.

Now that the show is wrapping up its second season, both individual characters and the team as a whole seem more unified and realistic. And through some casting changes there have been some pleasant surprises, one of whom is the character of Marty Deeks.

Deeks, played by Eric Christian Olsen (who I recognized instantly as Vaughn from Community), entered the show late in season one and eventually became Kensi Blye’s partner. Pairing the two of them up was brilliant. The contrast of strong, confident woman who gets the job done and doesn’t put up with shenanigans with the playful, annoying, yet always has her back guy reminds me of other crime show partners,  most notably Tony and Kate from the early days of NCIS, and Castle and Beckett from Castle.

A few recent episodes underscore how the two of them are growing together as a team. “Personal” showed it in an overt way, with life-threatening obstacles. “The Job,” while containing danger as well, focused more on the underlying emotional stress of the work done, and how partners can and should support each through that.

Oh, and I can’t post about NCIS: LA without mentioning Hetty. She is the heart of the show, and I hope rumors about her being replaced aren’t true. I loved the episode in season one (“Brimstone”) where she quotes The Three Musketeers as the credits begin to roll: “Go home, find a wench, raise fat babies, live a good long life.”

Angel – Outlasting Buffy

Season five of Angel is a bit of an oddity. Since Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s end (at least on TV) coincided with the end of Angel season 4, the show finds itself in the awkward place of trying to wrap up two shows at once. This is heightened by the appearance of Spike, arguably the most popular character of Buffy’s final seasons.

While most viewers seem to enjoy both shows, from reviews I’ve gathered that many Angel-only fans really resent Spike stealing the limelight. It doesn’t help that Spike is given more of the interesting character development in the early half of the season, while Angel just seems grumpy – all the time.

Though Angel captured my interest as a show far more quickly than Buffy did, for quite some time I’ve preferred Sunnydale to LA. So every allusion to BTVS on Angel brings a wave of sweet nostalgia. I only wish they could have incorporated more characters and storylines, or better yet, simply merged the two shows. As entertaining as Angel and Spike’s arguments over Buffy’s affections are, wouldn’t they have been more fun if Buffy was actually there? But since BTVS’s end seemed to be a mutual decision with the cast (especially Sarah Michelle Gellar) and crew wanting to end on a high note, I can see why more Sunnydale characters didn’t migrate to Los Angeles.

I didn’t realize how much I missed the whole Scooby gang until Andrew showed up in episode 11, “Damages.” I hadn’t been fond of Andrew’s character in BTVS, though by the end of the show his geeky ways had grown on me a bit. But as soon as he appeared on Angel I realized that I’d actually missed his character. And I loved that he shared what everyone from Sunnydale was up to. The best part was his weeping, hugging, Lord-of-the-Rings-quoting reaction to Spike being alive. That was really needed. Everyone on Angel either didn’t know Spike before he showed up or didn’t want him alive. Andrew managed to sum up all the feelings of the certain Scoobies who would have loved the news, plus all the fans’ joy at Spike’s return.

Episode 12, “You’re Welcome,” continues the walk down memory lane, this time focusing on the early days of Angel with Cordelia’s reappearance. Again, this was a character I hadn’t been fond of but had grown to like, and having her show up for one episode brought a warm feeling of homecoming.

The episode also addressed Connor’s removal from the memory of Wesley, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne, which had really been bugging me. In a way, it’s the opposite of Dawn’s appearance in Buffy season five. But while the addition of a side character didn’t change past events much in Buffy, the removal of a central character in Angel leaves way too many dangling plot threads. For example, why was Wesley with Lilah? If Connor hadn’t been there, Wesley would have stayed with Team Angel and never gotten all dark and broody. Episode 18, “Origin,” did clear up a bit of the confusion, but that aspect still bothers me.

I really would have hated “The Girl in Question” (episode 20) if I didn’t find out from the comic that it wasn’t even really Buffy in Rome and dating The Immortal. It seemed out of character for her (unless she was getting close to him for a mission). She’s already kind of in love with both Angel and Spike – throwing in an odd character who happens to be the nemesis of both would be way too melodramatic. But it just adds to the hilarity of the episode to find out the whole cover story was Andrew’s idea.

What I’d really like to know is when does Buffy discover Spike’s alive? I’d thought Andrew might have spilled the beans after “Damages,” but since Buffy’s not even in Rome with him it’s unlikely. Giles might have overheard Spike when he was on the phone with Angel in episode 15 – at least, at that point it didn’t seem like Spike or Angel was trying to keep the info secret. And in “The Girl in Question” there is no mention of the fact that Buffy doesn’t know yet, and if she didn’t, wouldn’t Spike still be dealing with the awkwardness of all of it? Maybe the comics have the answer – I’ve only read the first so far.

HIMYM – The Exploding Meatball Sub

Now that I’m caught up with How I Met Your Mother, I really miss being able to watch half a dozen new episodes all at once. And tonight’s episode was only the second new episode airing since February, which made me even more eager to laugh at the gang’s continuing adventures (especially since the last one was more serious).

After my recent Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, it was almost shocking to see Alyson Hannigan playing a character other than Willow (I guess 7 seasons of a 45-minute show outweigh almost 6 seasons of a 20-minute show). Maybe I’ve just overdosed too much on Joss Whedon lately, because Barney made me think of Dr. Horrible in nearly every scene, and I haven’t watched that in months (though the lab coat and safety goggles in this episode of HIMYM were a fun nod to the character).

All that aside, this episode hit all the right notes. (Spoilers follow!) From the dreamy nostalgic “I Will Remember You” moments to Robin’s harrowing tale of the clock and the secret grave, the laughter never stopped coming. The contrast of Marshall and Lily’s relationship with Ted and Zoe’s was great, and I loved when Ted and Lily finally shared their difficulties with each other (the show really does need more Ted/Lily moments – it’s rare that we see them together without the whole group anymore). And of course Barney’s seemingly emotional meltdown over Marshall leaving the company was only regret at the delay of his overblown revenge plot.

The differing views on Tommy Boy were also fun.

Angel – Brooding Older Sibling

Even though I’ve unintentionally seen quite a few spoilers regarding the Buffyverse (and watching season one of Angel first didn’t help), I am still trying to watch both series “in order” as I progress. I’m following the Buffyfest episode order list, which has proved very helpful. I even watched season one of Angel again. (And in case you’re wondering, I highly recommend watching “Fool for Love” before “Darla,” to better get the full impact of Spike’s backstory.)

Near the end of the list, you can start watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel without having to worry about crossovers for a season and a half. When episodes ended on cliffhangers or with a bunch of unresolved questions, I tended to stick with that show for another episode or two. Or dozen.

The end result was that I was a full season ahead watching Buffy versus watching Angel. It surprised me. After all, I’d given up on Buffy after only two episodes the first time I tried watching, while for Angel I’d watched every episode I could at the time on Hulu.

Why did Buffy grip me when Angel didn’t? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas. Yes, it was seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy versus seasons 3 and 4 of Angel, but I’d “known” the core characters (Angel and Cordelia) of Angel for the same amount of time as the core characters of Buffy.

Spike’s story arc was one aspect that pulled my interest toward Buffy. I never expected to like his character so much. I was a huge Buffy/Angel fan, so I expected to hate Spike. But his humor, British accent, and hopeless romanticism won me over.

Connected to that is the type of humor found in each of the shows. I laugh far more often watching Buffy than watching Angel. Angel isn’t a lighthearted spin-off show – it’s a brooding older brother to the more carefree younger sister that is Buffy.

Consider two similar episodes – “Tabula Rasa” on Buffy and “Spin the Bottle” on Angel. In both, the memories of most of main characters are wiped away for a good portion of the episode. “Tabula Rasa” is hilarious, with everyone screaming at the sight of vampires and Spike thinking he’s Giles’ son. While “Spin the Bottle” does have a few lighter moments, such as Fred thinking aliens caused the confusion, I didn’t laugh once.

Since I’m so far behind on Angel, I have to watch a bunch of episodes before I have the luxury of watching another Buffy episode. And the dark angst can get so overwhelming that I long for one of Buffy’s witty retorts, Xander’s jests during awkward or dangerous moments, or Spike’s cutting repartees.

In relation to Joss Whedon’s other works, I’d have to say that Buffy is more like Firefly with its blend of varied senses of humor, while Angel echoes the darker edge of Dollhouse.

Would Angel have been a lighter, more humor-filled show if Doyle had been able to stick around? I believe so. While I love Wesley’s character, most of his laughable moments were in his early incompetent days. Gunn is stoic. Angel broods a lot. Even Lorne, who seems to be put in as a “lighter” character, has a dismal outlook far too much of the time. Fred is more cute than funny, and Cordelia lost most of her ditzy ways early in the show.

I am looking forward to watching season five of Angel, and finding out how Spike’s addition to the cast will change things. Hopefully he’ll bring some of the humor from Buffy with him.

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