IR Television Review: Continuing Boundaries & The Human Medium: Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part II

The advent of a plethora of continuing animated shows distinctifies the approach of the genre but, beyond the procedurals, there lies a grand amount of live action situations (cartoons if you like) that can get the boundaries bumping on good ol’ Earth. Granted many of these shows that can balance humor and drama are harder to come by but USA tends to keep on top of it as highlighted by their sophomore show “Fairly Legal” while a cartoon like “Bob’s Burgers” exemplifies using the medium to reflect real human intentions albeit with longer foreheads.

Ugly Americans As much as the lead character Mark wants to help people, he ultimately gets sidetracked by the element of pursuit that trumps all others: sex. In expanding their comfort zone outwards, the creators decide to switch Callie for an episode to a guy (ultimately so she can infiltrate the underwater kingdom of Atlantis) which creates an element of unease as Mark’s girlfriend (being a demon) doesn’t understand such things. Ultimately the idea becomes that pollution begets pollution. The aspect of upper and mis-management becomes a more particular case when, through the aspect of a bad stand up routine, Mark becomes the head of the company only to find out a grand amount of misspent money to celebrate employees birthdays. While not as mythological, “Americans” does find its footing but it is becoming harder for it to stay there.

South Park The application of social niceties never quite circled into Cartman’s realm but with the continuing thought here the balance between notions of genre and ripped from the headlines precedence seems to unbalance at the weirdest of times. While the bullying aspect might in fact be explored in deeper structure at a different time, the idea of Cartman as both a would-be emissary as well as the town’s worst nightmare seems to be prevailing whether he is racially profiling a relationship while also posing as gay or spearheading the most simple squandering based episodes about the new trendy kind of streaking to do. Despite this, the extremeness of the novelty is wearing off, even with an intrinsic spot on element about the TSA where inspectors are placed in bathrooms after an over-reactive mother dies on the toilet when her son doesn’t put the toilet seat down.

Thundercats Building the mythology involves the cats moving through worlds and not just staying on the ground. The evolution and pursuit of this is the key in making the series more epic. The use of the different animal classes whether it be dog, cat, bird, rat or beyond start to form an element of the hierarchy which gives the storyline much more gravitas beyond the literal threat of Mum-Ra. What is starting to happen is an evolution into a notion of “Spartacus” with Lion-O acting as that stalwart which has come into more specific focus when a new female cat who is a fighter in the arena becomes part of their clan. The infiltration of this storyline is subtle in the way it necessitates itself. However even the use of Lion-O going through different trials into order to win his life back after he mistakenly dies hints at a notion of theology which crystallizes even more when they have to take to the skies which is where their destiny lies, mystical rock or no.

Fairly Legal The tantalizing effort of mediator Katie seems to grow on a person. She can be a tad annoying but ultimately completely into control of her facilities. Last season seemingly portrayed an idealism of her being the pursuer instead of the pursuee in terms of her imploding marriage because she was so off her rock and focused on herself. There is no doubt that Katie is a selfish person at heart but her flaws (like the characters on many other USA Network shows) points to a fact of redemption. The idea that her resolution would come from a man who just has about enough regret as a spider shows the fire that the writers are playing with. It works in texture enough until it needs to be acted upon. Adding in a political race with Katie’s former husband as running for the contested DA seat creates some extra tension. What wins this viewer is simply Katie’s ability to be herself even in what should be a weighty legal world. His scenario to prove a legal point to her legal partner (and would-be suitor) using sexual teasing to prove a point is both intoxicating and heavily annoying which is what makes it work.

Bob’s Burgers The continuation of such a low-key show defies expectation but this little engine that could has done what “Allen Gregory” and “Unsupervised” cannot: a searing animated show that can still be funny without losing its irony or resorting to overdone sight gags. Whereas in “Archer”, H. Jon Benjamin is the star of the show, here he is the voice of reason; it is the kids with their intensive lack of sense and morality (or, in one case, too much of both) that propels the ideas. Whether it be looking for treasure in a soon-to-be-demolished taffee factory (which makes good reference to “The Goonies” with Cyndi Lauper even singing a modified theme song for the end credits) to Bob becoming a would-be hostage negotiator with his burgers, the irony is all too available. His kids are attention grabbers who will use whatever means they can to hog the high life from Bob who, beyond his simpleton view, means well.

Advertisements

Prevalent Riffing & Inner Focus: Returning Television – Fall 2011 – Part I

Animation and improvisation doesn’t always go hand-in-hand much like live action riffing but this first batch of returning shows highlights the ability to work both sides of the line. “South Park” is the most prevalent of these with the ability to turn headlines within the week though its dramatic subtlety is becoming more defined as time goes on while “Archer” while smaller in its amount of episodes is becoming more highly ironic. “Community” is moving into left field with some great elements of spontaneity but needs to find its inner focus while “Fringe” has purely reinvented itself while keeping everything that has made it an exceptional show.

Archer Coming back with an abridged mini-season in a three-episode arch entitled “Heart Of Archness”, our oft-maligned and inspid hero has vanished for a couple months after the death of his Russian fiance. We find him on an island screwing newly honeymooned women until Rip (played with Peppard accuracy by Patrick Warburton) comes at the request of his mother to take him back. Archer makes the seaplane crash and they are capture by pirates. Archer ends up killing alot of them on an ambush back to their fortress island and he becomes “Pirate King”. The progression of that is what we come to expect from Archer: ideas that might work in a feature film but perverted to a point as to make it totally ludicrous.

South Park The continuing intensity of off-shot humor especially where Cartman is concerned knows no bounds except when it takes a toll on his mental health. Whereas Kenny will always be the poor kid, Cartman is coming face to face with his own mortality on more than one occasion. While Kyle is dealing with a more homeward-bound problem, Cartman is having to deal with more deep seated personality issues. While this element of poverty, reliance issues and “Assburgers” are all done in jest, the intermittent darkness seeping through the cracks is making the show all the more dexterous in its ability to tackle pretty exceptional drama under the guise of comedy.

Fringe Perceiving the idea of life without Peter Bishop does alot to reset the stakes of what is possible in the universe, even parallel ones. In creating this new paradox, the series has done something undeniably clever: reset the clock in terms of mythology as well as romantic and dramatic tension. The alternate universe creation might be resolved but the problems within the personal structure in terms of Walter and Olivia are not because they don’t understand or embrace what Peter is. Meanwhile new alliances are formed and Fringe level events still go on without the worry of disbelief. Peter Bishop is the man out of sync with the world and yet he is the only one who knows what is going on. Succinct storytelling is exampled but with an innate sense of keeping the audience on edge.

 

Community The team seems to innately run more in the stratosphere but not with the same creativity they have showed in the past couple years though the moments of levity still come quick and unabated. It is almost as if they know how far they can go so the line isn’t as much of a taboo thing anymore. Consequently the stories tend to lean more towards morality tales which the participants perceive as “dark” though the climactic paintball episode last year stretched the limits. The series has undeniably set characters now that the audience can run with but without a structured base of where they need to go, their lives may or may not be complete.

Underlying Ideas & Conceptual Reintegration: Returning Television – Summer 2011

Human fallacy and the thematic machinations of animation rarely move hand-in-hand except in the process sometimes of summer. Affecting a change in structure especially within drama and comedy is tricky, especially if one is not sure about the outcome. Staying with the norm only can work so far before the entire concept has to be thrown on its head, not in terms of tone but in the breaking point of the characters and what they consider as normal.

Penguins Of Madagascar The leftovers continue with their intensive functionality despite a bit of overactive silliness. The episodes are not as much spy-oriented as they are situational with the exception of the mythology-based Uncle Nigel episode though that ends with the emasculation of Private. The best revolves around Rico when the other three compadres end up stricken by herring food poisoning. The pacing becomes more reminiscent of a “Tom & Jerry” cartoon while an episode with King Julian being moved to the petting zoo for a bit is nothing if not funny as the lemur provides the inherent balance of the show which still has a fresh functionality.

Burn Notice Heading into the summer, just as Michael Weston was about to insure himself within the FBI, his handler in Max turns up dead. In between maintaining different possibilities for his friends and dealing with everything from militia to Serbian smugglers, the trails keep leading in and out from who he thinks actually is trying to subvert his reintegration into the CIA despite the fact that the “company”, especially his new contact Agent Pearce, thinks his crew is a detriment to him. The notion of reveal, especially in Michael’s misguided focus and perception, threatens to undo everything this burnt spy has worked towards. While last season seems to indicate a lack of vindication on the burn notice, its possibility and the double-cross element here rises the story structure back to its necessary level to keep the series both critical and entertaining.

Futurama Finding new and interesting ways to interact the space-time continuum is timeless for these characters. Ever since returning, they have 10 years of odd technology and pop culture to catch up on. Unlike something like “The SImpsons” plus with the allure of basic cable, the series can go as far as it wants to but smartly keeps in touch with its core audience of smart but still dumb. The aspect of the Fry/Leela relationship is placed in a contextual space which allows it to grow but, as usual and to great avail, whether it be increasing his processing power to become godlike to cloning himself and drinking all the alcohol on Earth, Bender is still the man, or clunker (as he would enjoy).

In Plain Sight In approaching a life such as those of Marshalls, especially one as cantankerous as Mary, going from 0 to 100 might be a way of life. However in dealing with Mary McCormack’s real life pregnancy, the writers were thrown a curveball. Granted it gives more humor and a distinct push out to the female audience members but it also creates an interesting dichotomy which permeates through different episodes. Someone like Mary would look at all the options but she seems to just let it go like she did the moment of passion she had with the would-be father. While this might be explained later, it creates a paradox of character which in general changes the complete direction of the show. Whether it is for good or bad is simply in reflection more so of the ratings but from a character point of view, its possibility limits the options available.

The Roast Of David Hasselhoff [Comedy Central] – DVD Review

When one thinks of roasts, those old commercials featuring Dean Martin come to mind which invariably speaks to the level of celebrities that were sensibly structured there from Bob Hope to George Burns to Frank Sinatra to Lucille Ball.

“The Roast Of David Hasselhoff” affects no such lofty ambitions, simply a need of comedy wrapped in the notion of a party.

Interestingly enough, the person with the most cache hosts the experience in the form of Seth McFarlane, the creative force behind “Family Guy”, “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad”. McFarlane, as is apparent in person, enjoys this kind of public interaction as he took his big band show on the road similarly.

Getting a person like David Hasselhoff to sit and be counted for his sins is a balance between attacking aspects of life and career head on versus the ultimate publicity such an outing affords. Half the roasters are comedians while others are the best collection affordable.

Pamela Anderson, as evidenced by her attendance at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal last year, knows how to take a joke and likes to dole them out as well, even when many of the jokes involve her sex tape.

Hulk Hogan and George Hamilton are simply out of left field and probably did it for the payday which is understandable but the sheer tele-prompter reading moves it along, especially when Hulk looks over and says “Do I have to say this?”

The great delivery of the evening resided with Gilbert Gottfried. No matter what the guy says, even if it makes no sense, one cannot help but bust a gut because the sheer obviousness of the delivery is so absurd.

Comedians such as Jeffrey Ross and the late Greg Giraldo use it as a great springboard for vicious comedy with the people actually in the room which can probably be both a dream and a nightmare. Roasting works this way though, most of the time, it can come off as cheap laughs with a mean spirited edge. Sometimes it is just off-the-cuff for sanity’s sake.

The bonus features optimize an all-in one-night production schedule which ultimately shows great production efficiency. The Behind-The-Scenes shows the lead up with many of the comedians (specifically Lisa Lampanelli) figuring out their own approach to the material. The Red Carpet interviews using a Comedy Central interviewer doesn’t allow the material to shine since the man with the microphone is trying to one-up the roastees and the roasted which takes away from the function itself (if that is possible). The after-show responses take on the same progression allowing for not as much fun and frolic as might have been possible. Watching however, both on the red carpet and after the show, Hoff’s daughters talking and standing behind their old man is an interesting diatribe of celebrity but also speaks to a different perception of life lived.

“The Roast Of David Hasselhoff” knows what it is: fun mindless banter focused on the throttle of a trainwreck filmed with a certain masochistic vibe. Entertainment has evolved in this direction with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor allowing for a little bit of TMZ in us all. Out of 5, I give it a 1 1/2.

Ugly Americans: Season 1 Volume 1 [Comedy Central] – DVD Review

Creating an animated creature show that has both disdain, sense and humor to its progression while still remaining visually askew is a tall order.

“The Ugly Americans” as an experience is probably more akin to experimentation. Highlighting the programming possibilities of Comedy Central makes this possible because one senses a level of fandom inherent in some of the shows greenlit (including this one).

Each one of the episodes here attacks a different perception of the monster genre while turning it on its head. The lead character (apparently the only normal human) around works for a social services sector of the city which has apparently been taken over by demons and essentially transmogrified into a literal hell-on-earth (through side trips to hell still happen).

The sectors of the monster genre though seemingly surround a more Seinfeld-based trapping which is what makes the show completely relatable in an odd way. The resident human has a roommate who is a newly turned zombie having done so to impress a girl who ultimately likes vampires better while his girlfriend is the spawn of Satan.

The social services aspect of the series structure is what motivates most of the episode narratives. “Kong Of Queens” explores the mammoth ape wanting to do his best to keep the city clean as he obsesses over the “dirt” while “Blob Gets Job” explores the conflicting career possibilities for a creature with no bones. “Demon Baby” meanwhile speaks to the end of the days since the boss of the company can bring about the end of the world if he mates with the spawn of Satan producing effectively what would be the Antichrist.

The special features provide a balanced perception of what the series is. The “5 On” spots structure nicely into the social media perception of this world which is further explored with the inclusion of Facebook photos take by the characters. The art shows a commitment to each individual monster with the notion of continuing seasons displayed with wanton efficiency.

“Ugly Americans” Season 1 Vol. 1 is an anomaly of sorts with an interesting premise, extremeness of art and ultimately unbalanced characters that allow for an otherworldy vision of what life might be like if monsters walked among us. Out of 5, I give the DVD a 2 1/2.