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.

IR Television Review: Hidden Masks & Pushing Characters – New TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part I

Continuing the mix with pushing animation and eccentric characters, using tried and true methods sometimes works with mixed results whether it be sketch comedy gurus attacking the tenants of high school or a succubus finding her way in a coven of vampire. The shows structured here explore the hidden masks between the ideas of identity and coming to terms with who people want or expect you to be.

Unsupervised The only problem in being the second animated show at FX is that you have to be compared to “Archer”. While the series functions as a modern day “Beavis & Butthead” with heart, it comes off less snarky and more white trash than its older brother. While this undeniably is the background of the show, its insistence feels too earnest. The overweight side friend is too cool for school and the home-bound desolation of the kids is almost depressing. One light within the circumference of the series is the pyromaniac special needs kid, who it seems is based on one of the creators’ friend. He is snot nosed and hilarious. At one point in an episode which involves the lower echelon of students whose classroom is represented by a cargo container, his screams for help are both funny and slightly sad, so the connection is made. The balance of crash and temperament is a “touch-and-go” policy here so the line tends to manipulate the audience week to week.

Napoleon Dynamite The animated continuation of the popular independent movie by comparison plays much more innocent but with a texture of knowing on network. The fact that it is the exact same cast from the movie definitely distinctifies it. The difference is the kind of weird stuff Napoleon talks about in his head which before were only spoken daydreams are now adventures he can actually have whether it be a full-blown wrestling match or leading an army into battle. The texture seems to play with the right sense of tongue-in-cheek angle and the banter is every bit as witty though like the film, Kip steals the show because he is the most unlikely hero that has the cahones to start trouble even if it causes him pain. It always makes his “Hey!” and “Owww” even funnier.

The Finder Creating another private eye in Miami but one without the same charm or social interaction as say Michael Weston in “Burn Notice” or the lead investigator on “The Glades” pushes a little bit of credibility within this yarn depending on his level of clearance. Headquartered in a bar off the edge of the Everglades with a chaperone and omen like Michael Clarke Duncan wearing his best tropical shirt can brighten any day especially when cocktails are added into the mix. Like “Unforgettable”, this investigator uses a sixth sense to permeate his clues which distinctly don’t work in the aspect of modern forensic crime fighting because guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The ladies within the cast give some gusto from a Federal Agent who finds the investigator irresistible (if not a little weird) to a female juvenile delinquent the crew takes under their wing because she has something to offer. The narratives which include girls in trouble at local clubs mixed with NASA scientists and long-festering betrayals have their moments but the building of attachment to characters which continues as a plot ploy when the FBI sends a psychologist to gauge the importance of what the lead protagonist does seems more to engage the audience than the character itself.

Lost Girl Mirroring notions of “Being Human” whereas monsters exist in the real world as roommates just trying to get by, here the lead character is a Succubus set out on her own trying to survive until people begin to take notice of her special talents. The humor reflects more to a show like “Warehouse 13” in the aspect of an eventual sidekick/roommate who is not part of the clan but can offer a viewpoint of this world where throats are slit but the people don’t die. Our succubus keeps below the radar for the most part but brokers her deals as she can. At times, it seems all too domestic which makes sense if the series is trying to connect with alienated younger viewers. The forbidden love of sorts between a vampire and our lead character is one of mutual lust and energy. Only at full potential can a succubus fully work her magic. While there is not an overwhelming tension that creates an unbending mythology, the series does deliver on its seeming underworld, lurking just below the surface where, like in the real world, people are just trying to carve out (literally) their own slice of life.

Creating Identity & Mysterious Energy – New Television – Fall 2011 – Part II

Creating characters with a sense of self and putting them in a mileau which puts the notion of identity to the test is the landmark of any great new series because personas need room to grow or else they are of no consequence to the audience. Whether it be secret computers, new roommates or traveling 85 million years in the past, if the mystery and energy is not there, no narrative can save a misguided concept.

Person Of Interest Melding ideas of “Big Brother” with a vigilante intention has different angles to pursue but only with the plot device to push it forward. A supercomputer which configures possible motives insinuates the plot. With exceptional actors like Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson [of “Lost”] there is always interesting character work but the line that the creators want to create between reality and high drama is short lived. The comparison can be made to “Life On Mars” which, while still trying to be grounded and slick, varied because of a sliver of disbelief that creeps into the progression (much like “Unforgettable”]. Uncovering a secret past in the gist of Caviezel’s soldier character keeps the intrigue going but the mythology of Emerson’s eccentric billionaire needs to be expanded because without the mystery and stakes, the series feels simply like another procedural with a couple new neat toys.

The New Girl Throwing a girl (and a weird one at that) into the mix always makes for interesting television if the actress can sell it. Spinning a reverse “Three’s Company” in an age of cynical relationships and quick bedding with a sense of innocence though is not an easy sell. Zooey Deschanel has the ability to play out the backstory of eccentric and uncool while still being cute and likeable (which is helped by her friend in the series who happens to be a hot model). The key is watching her extrapolate the indiosyncracies of the men without losing her own identity which she does by forming a relationship with a similarly weird violin player. The series works in its quirky way because of its relatability whether being at a wedding or picking up stuff from an ex’s house. Add to this essence a killer music supervisor who can mix nostalgia with a sense of new and that gives this show a consistent spin.

The Secret Circle Making a witch’s haven comparable to the “Buffy” universe is always a difficult persistance especially if humor cannot play as much of a placement in your arsenal. The idea of high school witches unable to Cope with an onslaught of demons threatening their town feels like an ode to “Witches Of Eastwick” more than anything else without the comedy. The angle here is to key it into CW’s young demographic and make it slick while also vivid enough to appeal across the board. While the soap essence overwhelms the show at times, the characters are aware enough to make their dire circumstance personal to the audience depending on the interrelation of what the characters actually want to accomplish.

Terra Nova The big wait is over in terms of this highly anticipated series that has been watched for like the second coming of “Lost”. The problem is that no series can live up to that type of scrutiny. Granted the pilot is impressive but it is necessary to sell the world. It is not so much the element of the dinosaurs and the prehistoric period that the money was spent on as it is the future world coming to ruin. One can tell that the latter angle took most of the special effects budget there but as the series progresses into subsequent episodes, it becomes truly “Swiss Family Robinson” with some high tech gadgets. While the family is interesting, it doesn’t carry the cool attitude or simple energy of say the family from “Lost In Space”. The addition of Stephen Lang as the commander of the post keeps the tension running as an ongoing feud between him and a rebelling faction keeps the ammo firing as does various prehistoric creatures. However, the immersion factors feels both authentic and yet fake at the same time despite the modern family take.

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.