Maintaining a sense of pacing, style, wonder and general creative progression with continuing series is always a path of infinite choosing. With formula-based series like “Royal Pains”, “Justified” and “Human Target”, what made them interesting was the modulation of characters while keeping some elements of their lives a secret. The more one knows, the more the progression of what they will become waxes more defined. With comedies like “Hot In Cleveland” and “Robot Chicken”, the intensity maintains to the fact of how far you will go.
Royal Pains The tendency of a medical show on the road is the aspect that situations tend to dictate the kind of medicine needed. The interesting angle of The Hamptons is that everyone wants to keep a secret. Unlike the earlier intersections of the past two seasons with international dealings and the idiom of Cuba, the new conflicts of the show seem remarkably domestic. Granted Evan, Dr. Hank’s brother, seems to be coming into his own but the respective intentions of their overall experiences (despite their physician assistant’s upcoming nuptials) seem structured and hardly full of tension. The pervasive father/sons dynamic optimizing Henry Winkler has intrinsically run its course with no indicative place to go. While the show’s vibrancy in terms of character is much more eccentric than say “Off The Map”, its narrative progression hiccups in its returning texture searching for a more worthwhile third act.
Hot In Cleveland Despite the farcical interaction of the three leads initially cast led by Valerie Bertinelli, the inclusion of Betty White despite the inherent extremity of the situations plays heartily. While her intention seems to soften a little bit a couple of episodes in, the vigor of the comedy coming fast and furious from the elder partier is refreshing. Though the two-part episode featuring a spot by Susan Lucci seems a bit forced prompting a return to Los Angeles, Cleveland is where the show lives as long as the jokes continue. A great example of the series’ inherent tone personifies itself in the idea of White as a mob wife who in the first episode ends up in the slammer with Mary Tyler Moore as a rival where things get catty. The grand element of these types of shows on TV Land is that you can bring in all the old cronies (like John Schneider from “Dukes Of Hazzard”) into any episode and it still targets the core demographic of the channel.
Human Target The relevance of Christopher Chance angles in allowing him to be an all encompassing superhero with a quick wit and no faults. This season introduces a seductive and all-together unknowing boss who enters into situations without a full perception of their possibilities. It is because of this gumption that she starts to unravel the team. The boys club with the three prism of brutality involving the braun (Chance), the instinct (Winston) and the brains (Guerrero) is tailor-structured as a modern day A-Team but with the addition of Ames (another female – who is a wonderful foil to Guerrero in a much different way in comparison to a similar egghead situation on “NCIS: Los Angeles”), there seems more of a balance of brevity which takes away from the peril of the situation. Like at the end of the Timothy Dalton era where James Bond changes his intent of focus in his job from professional responsibility to personal vendetta, the change of priority is interesting but is not as compelling as the original mission stories.
Robot Chicken The irrepressible ideal to bring the comparisons between “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken” are undeniable simply because the crossover element is specifically created (more recently than not because of their consecutive “Star Wars” homages). What is becoming noticeable is the increasing prevalence of strong, darker and more adult themes in both shows. After surface gags have sufficed for so long what would seem to make sense to the creators (specifically director Chris McKay here) is the certain pop culture references that interact with modern society have to be turned against each other. The result, beginning with the premiere episode’s ode to “Saving Private Ryan” and continuing through many requisite skits reflects a sense of brutality that is much more prevalent than before. Oddly enough still the most satisfying bits are the humping robot because he is a throwback to the less cynical moments. The best bit so far though is the Keebler Elves trying to stop the Cookie Monster in an “Braveheart”-type stand off followed by the requisite trial where his mother attacks the judge. The comedy is funny to be sure but the underlying context moves darker and darker with decidedly mixed visions.
Justified After the inherently resolute finish with last season’s Crowder incident, the specific vision revolving around the price on Marshall Givens’ head would seem to be a resounding voice in terms of dealing with second season structure. In narrative progression, this should have created a less Kentucky-based idealism. However last season’s final incident is glossed over with an uneasy truce that appears to allow for another family of illegal proportions to find their way into Raylan’s life in the form of the Bennetts. This new family, among other things, offers the addition of exceptional actors in the form of Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale who display Kentucky pride with the right amount of deviance. Boyd Chowder, who was the devil incarnate who found God last season, deals with both redemption and temptation which continues to be variant themes in the series while Raylan himself, despite some interesting personal relationships, comes more to terms with his life as a would-be reaper. The tension will continue with enough palpability as long as the drama proceeds towards a head with blunt force.
With his ongoing interaction with George Lucas and Star Wars, Seth Green and his cronies at “Robot Chicken” have been put in the envious position of both admiring the Star Wars pantheon but also being able to make fun of it. With “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III”, the balance becomes more dynamic with the aspect that while the spoof element are distinctly in play, some more dramatic elements of sorts are being explored. Situated almost as a biopic in reverse with the Emperor in addition to the manic channel change progression thrown in, there is more a narrative progression to the proceedings than ever before.
Beginning with the song “Teenage Wasteland” as Palpatine is being thrown to his death, the episode takes on a vast gamut. The great homages are there. One particularly reverse engineered one is a take off from “A New Hope” where Ben informs Luke after his Aunt and Uncle died that he has a new Sandcrawler. It cuts to the Crawler jumping a chasm just like the Ferrari jumped a hill to John Williams’ music in “Ferris Buellar’s Day Off”. Another that definitely works to this aspect is when Vader gets his suit at the end of Episode III. Instead of becoming melodramatic, it turns into a disco across the Death Star with some new music cues which plays undeniably funny.
Some of the more dry and dark somber comedic tones plays in three separate sets. One involves two Stormtroopers accidently setting fire to Owen & Beru’s place on Tatooine. Luke’s relatives come out engulfed in fire, screaming while the guilty stormtroopers try to sneak away. Another is when Luke is filling up at a space gas station. The person pulling in next to him is the Ice Creature whose arm he cut off during the Hoth Excursion. The use of moving cameras and POV is the most advanced element of technical work yet. It is also very Stephen King-ish in its delivery with some actual emotional connotations. The last segment of note in this pantheon is when a Stormtrooper accidentally kills an Ewok in the forest. When he tries to put the bear out of its misery, he causes it more pain. It turns out all his friends walk in on the violence. Again very interesting dynamic which hopefully translates to the “Star Wars” project Green and Lucas are developing for future production.
At nearly an hour long, the project is undeniably ambitious. The addition of actual Star Wars cast members like Billy Dee Williams and Ahmed Best obviously adds credence in addition to Seth McFarlane (who creates his own odes on “Family Guy”) who voices The Emperor with a bit of Stewie to boot. The third special of Robot Chicken in its ode to “Star Wars” is both interesting and flawed in a great way which makes its intent all the more realized.
The aspect of mythology within some shows can often create a weight that they are unable to pull out from. While the ideas might be just, sometimes a simple idea combined with a cinematic superlative can be much more effective. The balance of this can be found in the latter two shows below on Cartoon Network which while not always on the mark are riveted by moments of brilliance. The key as always is balance.
Heroes The reflection of last year’s Jekyll & Hyde solution to the Sylar Problem created more plot holes than deemed inherently necessary. Despite this, the opening elements of Season 2 seemed to have a bit of epic in them before the progression reconstituted to a more “Carnivale” setting which was less than impressive. All the characters save really for Claire have undergone so many changes that their intentions and wants are quite unnecessary at this point. Sylar’s consciousness and mind grabbing in the life of the all powerful Matt is almost reduced to mere melodrama which doesn’t not intensify the viewer. The writing tends to be on the wall and the reality is that if one can see the lines then the possibilities of the show are in trouble. Despite its lore and the greatness of its first two seasons, unfortunately “Heroes” seems to have worn out its welcome because it didn’t make the stakes high enough. Disasters need to happen and villains (and heroes) must fall.
Dollhouse The conception of where the series leads depends on its ability to show a rebellion of sorts. The mythic conception of the show requires that there be inherent risks. This possibility begins but its outcome is unsure. The inception of this season begins to show the cracks in Echo (played by Eliza Dushku) as well as the false back perceptions of characters like Madeline and especially Sierra. The stakes start to be elevated in terms of having something to lose. The motivation of this series is that control will eventually be lost causing something undeniably bad to happen. However, the story progression still has not reached full stride despite the fact that its potential continues to grow. The problem becomes time because despite fan support, the maintaining of such a complex show is sometimes a quandry in itself.
Batman: The Brave & The Bold The continuation of this play against the norm works because it is a little out there. To initiate the season, a musical episode both made fun and embraced the zany element with Neil Patrick Harris guesting as “The Music Meister”. Actually the execution wasn’t too bad and offered an interesting dichotomy within the structure not unlike “Dr. Horrible” by extension with a bit of the old Warner cool look. The obvious parallel works in “The Phantom Of The Opera” while in the second episode the intent of a “Death Race” places villians and heroes in an all new structure. The genre game begins in earnest but unlike stayed and true formats, Batman overall has been done before. However, this new approach offers something quite niche but ultimately creatively inventive as the long as permission holds.
Robot Chicken The interim of this popular stop motion series depends greatly on being able to make fresh elements without retreading too much ground. This becomes more difficult over time as the creative team must bring into being new and decidely different comic approaches to material. Granted “The Dark Knight” is referenced more than a couple times in the first episodes and the Thor entry, only in play because of the impending movie, misfires. However a “Dark Crystal” rap parody despite being a bit outside the collective consciousness is surprising fresh. The banging robot and Stallone hitting the head with a girly magazine mumbling “Here we go!” still gets great response. The aspect becomes how far do you push? The Dr. Suess parody involving a blue elephant and crackhead kangaroo is gut busting but undeniably might run too far while Captain Kick Ass cleans up shop. The series is touch and go but still has a consistent funny.