Sunday, February 27, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe "Subject 13"

I haven’t watched a lot of science fiction on television over the years (I mostly hate the SyFy channel, I thought Heroes was horrible garbage, you know my feelings on V, and if you post a comment in this section about how I should watch Firefly I will block you from this blog completely), but I think I’ve seen enough of it here and there to appreciate Fringe for its impressive ability to be an outstanding genre show while building such strong emotional attachment to its characters that it can do an entire episode like “Subject 13” which is really just about human beings suffering from things caused by both their own choices and situations entirely beyond their control.  It’s a great episode dramatically, and the emotional resonance was so strong that I didn’t really realize how light on Fringyness the episode really was until I started writing about it.  It wasn’t really un-Fringe like, though, since being a show with strongly written characters is ultimately as much a part of its charm and (to fans, at least) success as any of the science fiction or supernatural elements.
The episode opens with that wonderful 1985 throwback opening with the Max Headroom (many of you won’t even know that reference, more’s the shame) style font and computer-grid graphics and tosses us back onto the frozen surface of Reiden Lake, where Walter first crossed over and brought back a replacement Peter, who, we learn for certain this episode, he never really intended to keep, however painful it was.  That young Peter, now healthy, is busy dragging a cinderblock out over the slushy lake, seemingly to drown himself.  His mother, Elizabeth, rescues him in a stretch of verisimilitude that I’m happy to forgive, but what’s really interesting is the truth we learn later:  Peter was really trying to turn back to the world where he came from, which in his disorientation he believes to be at the bottom of the lake (close, sort of; it seems he might at least remember a bit of the incident which brought him across).  It turns out Elizabeth and Walter have been struggling since Peter’s return to health with the boy’s increasing suspicion (or we might say confidence—he seems more convinced than suspicious) that they are not his parents, and the fact that they know the wrong answers to as many of his questions as they know right ones doesn’t help much.
Fringe does a great job making his tip-offs childlike and believable (his childlike worldview becomes important to the episode’s overall story as well, given his eventual rendezvous with Olivia among the white tulips):  He knows that the Dodgers play in Brooklyn not LA (which was true at one point for those not into baseball), The Red Lantern is NOT supposed to be green, and he certainly never owned a baseball mitt.  Walter and Elizabeth insist to him that he’s just confused from his sickness, but the stubborn refusal to be sold an alternate reality (quite literally) which he knows is not his own is true to the form of a stubborn, strong willed child.  Watching Walter and Elizabeth try to love a child they know is stolen, but who in at least some sense truly is their own child is something well beyond heartbreaking, as are Walter’s struggles to remain ethical in his studies of the children (I know that’s an odd word to use for a man drugging children, but clearly he doesn’t want undue harm to come to them and doesn’t think the study is dangerous) even though he knows it’s the key to correcting the wrong he’s done and the danger he’s placed our universe in.
Which is not to say Walter is harmless and lovable in this evening’s proceedings, however.  Watching the group focus experiment he’s conducting at the beginning of the show, we’re immediately reminded of the suffering that these experiments will eventually bring upon this entire group of children as they mature into adulthood permanently damaged.  Worse, when Walter is suspicious that his star test subject, a young and resilient Olivia (who he lovingly calls “Olive” here, nice touch) is being physically abused by her stepfather, he sits on the knowledge and pretends his suspicion is off-base and then wonders at least briefly whether sending her back into that environment (or simulating it somehow) might be the key to getting her to cross over. 

Before he gets that far, though, he puts her through a series of cruel experiments wherein Olivia is subjected to various emotional extremes inflicted by Walter from happiness to anger and frustration, and finally abject horror as Walter cuts out the lights and then brings them back on to reveal a fellow test subject’s dead and bloody body on the floor (it’s a fake, and the boy was told it was a practical joke, which elevates the ick factor) which also doesn’t get her to cross over but does cause a small fire when she flame-bursts the entire room (okay, so there was a BIT of Fringeyness tonight).  Taken collectively, the episode does show us that Walter was never entirely without limits or a code of ethics, however.  The experiments clearly go too far and put children at risk, but he seems to believe what he’s doing is relatively safe and not damaging in the long term, plus he’s operating under the (correct) assumption that these children may be the key to undoing the damage he has wrought to two universes through his meddling.  Even with that much on the line he is clearly hesitant about sacrificing Olivia outright (though he does say it must be considered).  Most heartening in terms of knowing Walter as a human being is the fact that when his wife asks him if he would trade Olivia’s life for Peter’s he says, convincingly, “Of course not.”  It’s an important moment to knowing Walter’s essential humanity that whatever love he has for his own child (which we’ve seen endless evidence of since episode one of this show) it will not allow him to take another child’s life to protect it.
Tonight’s magic touch, though, might be its ability to sell us on the emotional devastation brought to both Walters and Elizabeths by our version of Walter.  When we see Walternate (Safety Czar back then) listening to another TV report about his missing son as he downs drink after drink and argues with Elizabeth it’s impossible not to be on his side regarding where Peter belongs, and yet our emotions swing easily back to our own Walter once we’re with him again.  But when we consider what recent episodes have brought us, the boundary of where our sympathies lie becomes even more blurred:  Walter has now faced many of the same moral decisions Walternate was forced to make far earlier in his universe’s timeline, and Walter has mostly made the same tough decisions that he once thought Walternate monstrous for making.
Meanwhile Peter and Olivia have their original “meet cute” as Peter shows up at Walter’s work one day and, well, as Walter charmingly puts it, “The beguiling Olivia Dunham beguiles.”  Indeed she does, to the extent that Peter is curious enough about her to peek through her sketch book when Elizabeth brings him back to the lab after the fire.  What he discovers there is both horrifying, and to a brilliant child, more than revealing:  the horror of her home life is captured in a demonic image of her father (for a moment we wonder whether the drawing represents Walter, but it’s soon clear that Olivia trusts him quite extensively), the blimp from the other world which Peter quickly recognizes, and the field of white tulips which is the only happy drawing in the bunch, and which Peter knows from the story his mother pointed out to him as they drove past it earlier in the episode.  Peter sets out to find poor Olivia, who fled in horror after her uncontrolled reaction to Walter’s cruel experiment.  Arguably the night's saddest moment is when she reveals that she fled because she was afraid she had disappointed Walter who she clearly looks up to and cares about.  When she asks how he knew where to find her, he points out that the picture was the only happy thing in her book, but more importantly, he tells her that Walter is trustworthy and that she should tell him about her stepfather.  It’s a melancholy moment where we see Peter starting to let go of his correct belief that he’s from somewhere else and accept, for better or worse, that he’s stuck here with these parents.  Later, he tries Elizabeth one more time, and when she sticks to the lie again—it looks for a moment like she won’t—he seems to relent in his protests and accept defeat (he doesn’t accept that he’s where he belongs though—that must come sometime between then and now).
The entire episode really burns (no pun intended) its way towards the final few minutes where we’re treated to a great deal of wonderful and horrible revelation as well as some nice understated touches.  “I think I’ve cooled off by now,” Olivia says to Peter as she offers him her hand amidst a swath of charred tulips.  It’s a gorgeous little moment not for the clever little line, but for the clever bit of imagery:  two delicate children, like flowers, where they don’t belong (for reasons each their own), sitting amidst a field of beautiful and delicate flowers, which Elizabeth has already explained to Peter also don’t belong here.  Yet here they are, growing and thriving, except for those few unlucky enough to be burned by Olivia’s presence.  When they get back to the lab, Olivia runs to Walter’s office to confess about her father.  Walter is unreadable, which makes sense because we’re actually looking at Walternate—Olivia’s emotional high at finally getting her secret off her chest popped her over to the other side again, where she has given away everything, most especially that Peter is in another universe with another Walter.  It’s a huge piece to the show’s puzzle—we know how much Walternate knows, and how deep his loathing of our world must be once he realizes that all of his grief is caused by a kidnapping by his own otherworldly doppelganger.  It’s also interesting that the show lets us see so much of his and Altlizabeth’s (the nicknames have to stop) misery leading up to this moment—it makes it hard not to feel he’s justified in whatever actions he takes to get Peter back.
It’s what makes it so important that we get a chance to see our own Walter in a redemptive moment before the episode leaves us hanging for two weeks (what’s with the break, Fox?).  The moment comes when Olivia is so jarred by seeing another version of Walter that she fails to report her stepfather to the Walter she should trust, and then it’s too late because stepdad is there ready to take her home, and clearly angered at what he sees as her embarrassing behavior.  But Walter’s wishy-washy attitude towards Olivia’s abuse is gone and he confronts her stepdad with threats of “government friends” who can make his life miserable if Olivia is ever touched again.  Whether it represents a turning point for Walter in terms of what he’s willing to let children go through in the name of science (or personal gain, or whatever other motivations he now faces) is not quite clear, but it certainly seems like an affirmation of his essential goodness, which is a nice thing to have reaffirmed after such a traumatic and emotionally powerful hour of television.

Overall Rating:  9.5/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:

The attention to detail for the time period is a nice touch, most especially in the toy store.  I think I owned half of those Ghostbusters toys on the shelf above the Battlestar Galactica ship Peter looks at.  Only flaw:  the Joust sound effects aren’t authentic.
Interesting word choice when Walter tells Elizabeth that the Cortexiphan kids are the key to Peter getting home.  He says Peter can go home “standing on their feet.”

Here’s a sign the showrunners are confident in their fanbase:  the only evidence we get that Olivia has popped over to the alternate universe is the sound of a blimp overhead.  Of course we’d assume that’s where she went anyway, but the subtle confirmation confirms how well they’ve defined Earth 2 for us.

How did Walter make the paper bird explode in a little flame?

Walternate’s angry assertion that “Nothing is inexplicable” is a nice character touch—he’s a man who relies so thoroughly on science for his paradigm of how the universe functions that he literally cannot live with the unexplained.

Walternate’s company has designed the space defense program for Earth 2, and is called “Bishop Dynamic”.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community "Intro to Political Science"

Tonight’s episode of Community played as a bit untimely, and a bit unclever, unfortunately.  It took some sufficiently funny jabs at politics, and in true Community form it didn’t limit itself to the predictable directions you’d expect such an episode to take, but overall it lacked a certain something that has set apart the last few week’s episodes in quality.  There was certainly some inspired comedy on display, most especially in the “Decision Gate” community television coverage of the student representative elections provided by Troy (“Butt Soup”) and Abed, but overall the episode didn’t seem to reach any sort of dramatic or comedic crescendo to send it over the top.  Part of the problem seemed to be the half-baked premise of Vice President Biden suddenly announcing a casual drop-in as part of some tour he’s on.  Abed has already noticed the secret service roaming the campus, but I find it hard to believe an event of this magnitude wouldn’t be planned and announced far in advance.  As a single element of the show, I wouldn’t really consider it worth mentioning, but as the dramatic push leading to the frantically organized elections of a school representative, it made the whole proceedings seem wonky and unnecessary (I know, it’s a goofy show, but the whole ordeal seemed like the last thing the school would waste a day on given the type of rare guest they had the honor of hosting.).
The political satire was a bit uneven as well, which is fine, but the broader jokes about muck raking and other unfortunate elements of politics and campaigning just felt below this show’s writers at times.  Jeff offering platitudes about his favorite colors being “red…white…and blue” to win roars from the crowd felt stale (I won’t bore you by naming other shows that have already gone the same route in skewering empty political rhetoric, but it’s been done a lot).  Most of his speechifying ultimately felt flat and uninspired, to be honest, with the notable exception of the very clever moment where he seems to be pointing out imaginary figures from the audience to exemplify true Americans, including the inspiring “latina from Nicaragua working in the cafeteria.”  It’s a clever mixture of lampooning the “Joe the Plumber” ploy of the last presidential elections and the absurd rhetorical devices regularly employed to create memorable but meaningless sound bites for media replay.  And it’s what I’d hoped this episode would have been packed with more of.

Troy and Abed’s use of the proceedings to get themselves some airtime on the heretofore unknown campus TV network were mostly inspired and really carried the episode through some dry spells (most notably the B-story of Abed and SS Agent Robin and the dull emotional redemption between Annie and Jeff).  Their infographics about each student running for election required constant pausing, to the point where I feel sorry for any Community fans who don’t DVR the show—these were an absolutely hotbed of comedy tonight.  The overarching joke was a poke at election-night infographics in general, as well as the very concept of trying to present a candidate in any meaningful way with just a few bullet points and a head shot (Troy and Abed’s valiant efforts to do so included listing Annie’s ethnicity as “Hot” and Leonard’s as “non-Hispanic” and for poor Garrett providing nothing but a list of his allergies and Troy’s observation that he’s such a mess, “It’s like God spilled a person.”).  The sequences of them anchoring from the news desk also had more scrolling news jokes than I cared to try and keep up with typing, but most of them were clever references to past issues on the show, including the troubling news that chicken fingers are still in shortage.

Unfortunately most of what surrounded this concept just wasn’t going anywhere.  Pierce has just returned from rehab for his pill addiction, but it hasn’t improved his more pressing problem of the past few weeks, which would be being an insufferable bastard towards everyone.  Tonight his victim was a girl named Vicki who suffers his wrath because she wouldn’t loan him a pencil.  It’s a mistake she rectifies by inserting a pencil into Pierce’s face off-camera, but the joke is played in a really lame way and just falls flat.  Pierce deserves the face-stabbing, given all he’s done the past few weeks, but I still think the show is making a mistake in how they’re allowing him to get away with so much excessive cruelty and unacceptable behavior (even by a goofy comedy’s standard of reality) without having to face any meaningful comeuppance.  At any rate, he’s used to no great effect here.
Meanwhile Annie and Jeff go through another crisis of conflicting worldviews which feels redundant and results in them coming to terms again with the fact that each should be more respectful of the other and so forth, but it all seems dull and pointless, especially since they don’t end up kissing again when they reconcile.  The one pleasant surprise was Annie pulling a political coup by throwing up Jeff’s 19-year-old Real World Seattle audition tape—where he energetically performs his best rehashed rendition of “Faith” in full George Michael attire—on the big screen for the whole school to witness.  The video is a riot, and it’s funny that Jeff is finally outdone in the election by a play that you would expect only Jeff would consider, but it’s in keeping with Annie’s excessive sense of competitiveness.

Meanwhile Abed gets his own side story (“Do you constantly have your own side adventures?” Troy asks him suspiciously tonight) in addition to the cleverly titled “Decision Gate” (I love that the show takes a subtle poke at the fact that the media now declares every news item some sort of Gate-ian crisis now as a matter of course).  When he notices that the secret service are crawling around campus, he catches the attention of an agent named Robin because of his own attention to detail.  It’s a clever enough premise, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.  The agent can’t find a way to be with him unless she’s investigating him, so their relations go nowhere until he makes a suspicious remark on camera to bring her back to check him out (wouldn’t that become the FBI’s baby based on his remark, especially since it diverts VP Biden to a new location anyway?) more closely.  The follow up scene of her watching him watch a movie through binoculars is an odd joke that doesn’t really add much to the proceedings, so I guess it’s a good fit for the subplot in general.

In pointing out how much didn’t work for me, I might be overselling the episode’s failures at the expense of fairness.  There were a lot of funny lines and a few clever little jokes (especially great was the perfectly believable fact that Abed notches the table in front of his seat every time Jeff lets loose a “classic Winger” and Troy just keeps a collection of notches).  I think we’ve (or at least I’ve) gotten used to episodes which match a machine-gun pace of one-liners and pop culture gags with monstrously clever wrap-ups or meta-concepts that heighten everything and make everything else resonate harder (including the laughter).  Tonight amounted to a solid collection of jokes that didn’t congeal into anything more insightful or clever, which I think, given the standard the show has set for itself, is just not going to cut it for the shows biggest admirers.
Overall Rating:  8.0/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:

Pierce met Tom Sizemore at rehab and compared penis sizes.  His conclusion:  "More like SizeLESS."

"Eat that city college and wash it down with a tall glass of suck it."

The Dean plans to wear his sister's Uncle Sam outfit which looks like some sort of stripper version of what Uncle Sam would look like, but the Dean can't think what else to do on short notice.  Jeff's suggestion:  "You could not dress up like Uncle Sam."

"I wonder if that’s the same sister who tweets me to see if I think her brother’s cute."

"I could issue a warning about this bootlegged copy of The Last Airbender."
"Where were you a week ago?"

Other highlights from the infographics:
  • Leonard "remembers all wars" and is a member of the Whig Party
  • Starburns DJ name is "Sparkles" and he's affiliated with the Legalization Party
  • Garrett is allergic to water, among other things.
  • Pierce's favorite Roman Emperor was Cagilula.
"Pull up Abed, you're in a nosedive."

"For my closing statement I was thinking of smashing a watermelon with a hammer."


TV Episode Review: Justified "I of the Storm"

This week’s episode of Justified did a nice job of reaffirming my pre-existing feelings about this season, which in a nutshell would be “more Boyd, more Bennetts”.  Boyd got more screen time here than he has in the rest of this season all together, but it still felt like we were only getting a taste of what’s going on behind that hollow voice and slumped demeanor.  He’s a fascinating character study at this point—how he’s fallen so low is clear, but what’s going on inside his mind is still mostly a mystery (I mostly believe him when he tells Raylan he’s not involved in anything, but his fierce warning to Dewey to steer clear of the Oxy situation still had me wondering whether he’s back into the criminal world).  His actions are largely unexplained at this point, which made for some really great drama in this episode since he certainly did become a man of action by the end of it.  He feels like a ticking time bomb for the majority of the evening, but it’s very unclear what’s making him tick.  Even more intriguingly, I’m not exactly certain what it is that eventually set him off, either.

The Bennetts played a comparatively minor role again this week in the proceedings, at least in terms of what we got to see.  The hijacking of a load of stolen Oxycontin (that’s right, a robbery of a robbery) turns out to be the work of Dickie and Coover who are right proud of themselves until Doyle gets wind of it in the worst possible way—through the two men Dickie hired, just before Doyle kills them both to cover his moron brothers’ tracks.  It’s an interesting development not because it’s any sort of surprise, but because the family dynamics are becoming clearer.  There was no doubt that mama was in charge of things, but Dickie’s wry, off-kilter demeanor when we first met him made me think maybe he was the decision maker among the brothers.  Clearly I was wrong about that (it’s still pretty clear that Coover is nothing but muscle though).  Doyle certainly doesn’t take his role as an officer of the law seriously, but he also doesn’t appreciate having to kill men in cold blood just to cover his family’s tracks because they can’t resist an “easy” cash in when they see one.  Doyle warns them not to do anything like that again without consulting him first, and they look frustrated but unlikely to disobey him.  I’m wondering whether the family’s ultimate undoing won’t be the rivalry between caution, organization and a very, very weird code of ethics (Doyle and Mags) and recklessness, short-sightedness, greed, and very, very weird behavior (Dickie and Coover).

Also of interest regarding the Bennett clan is just how widespread their reach and power seems to be—they hire a couple of men to knock off the “Oxy Bus” (Ava sarcastically tells Raylan she knows what that is—am I supposed to be familiar with these?  The South continues to bewilder and charm me with its mysteries.  I still don’t want to live there though.) without getting their hands dirty, Doyle has at least one CI working for him who tips him off immediately about Dewey’s hilarious escapade, and Doyle feels confident enough not only to try and redirect the blame for the bus heist towards Boyd, knowing his past and Raylan’s suspicion of him, but he also feels momentarily emboldened enough to reach out to Raylan when he believes (based on bad CI info) that Raylan stole the Oxy from Dickie’s hired hands and that maybe he can bring Raylan’s criminal interests into the Bennett fold.  That last item is a big, bold move, even given that he had reason to believe Raylan actually was guilty—you’re talking about sweet talking a US Marshal whose word will carry a lot more weight than yours will and who brings a lot of leverage with him if he turns down your offer.  The fact that Raylan clears up his worldview quite quickly (and with his usual deadpan humor—it’s a great moment when he opens up the back door of the cruiser, asks the CI if he’s the man she saw, and slams the door on her before she can even finish responding, and then repeats the whole act again when she provides more info than he needs on Dewey Crowe) puts Doyle on his heels, but Raylan isn’t ready to bark up that tree just yet.  It certainly puts Doyle on high alert though, and will certainly change the precautions he and the fam have to take against Raylan going forward.  Raylan does go at least so far as to point out that it’s pretty clear that Doyle’s mistaken intention was that of one drug pusher reaching out to what he thought was another one in order to make some sort of connection, possibly of the business variety.

It’s a wonderfully clever twist which keeps with the show’s tightly knit collection of rogue characters that dumb, ne’er-do-well Dewey Crowe can be the catalyst that changes the entire relationship between the major players with a single, moronic act.  It lends a bit of uncertainty to the meaning of tonight’s episode—I had assumed that Raylan would be the “I of the storm” since, well, he pretty much always is at the center of whatever shitstorm is raging in the criminal world of Kentucky.  But Dewey really proved to be the key element that set things off tonight:  He’s a part of the initial stealing of the Oxy from a “pill mill” in Florida, he witnesses the killing of the ringleader of that charade, and then he steals the same Oxy again from Dickie’s crew, making it thrice stolen goods by the time he feeds it to two floozies at Audrey’s bar in exchange for a personal show.  All of that wouldn’t amount to much in the course of the show except that his interference leads to Doyle shooting two men his brothers hired (which I don’t think will just go away for good—Raylan witnessed it, after all), alerted Raylan to Doyle’s involvement with drugs indirectly, and brought Boyd into a clear state of heightened distress which eventually leads to him taking all that pent up tension out on Kyle, who looks harmless enough but claims to have killed people himself because some people are expendable, for some reason he doesn’t get a chance to explain.  In other words, Boyd reaching a tipping point with Kyle, possibly because dealing with a dummy like Dewey all day tends to grate on one’s nerves, has clearly put Boyd in a very bad place by episode’s end.

Kyle and his buddy, Pruitt, have apparently had their eye on Boyd ever since he got hired at the mine they work at.  At shift’s end they play a little game of good miner/bad miner to try and get Boyd to have a drink with Kyle and then remark that he’s going to be a “tough hog to tie” when he tells them he prefers to drink alone.  What they want him for isn’t clear, except to say that they clearly have heard about his exploits as a master criminal who also happens to be a master organizer, whatever other exaggerations of his legend they may have heard along with it.  Boyd’s practically imploding into himself in a state of depression by the time Kyle tracks him down at the bar, and for me, at least, it’s a hard thing to watch—Boyd is nothing if not spirited and self-sustaining, so it’s odd to see him lethargic and shrunken as a human being.  It makes it cathartic for Boyd and viewers when he responds to Kyle’s adamant desire to make Boyd some sort of offer by headlocking him through the window of his car and driving down the road a piece with Kyle’s head pinned in his lap and his legs trying to keep up with the pavement rushing by beneath his feet.  He finally gives Kyle a good elbow out the window on a tight turn and has the humanity to stop and check on him.  He looks torn in that moment, but what he’s torn between or deciding about is a mystery for now—he looks a bit regretful, but something has also clearly awakened in him and that thing might not be something someone like, say, a US Marshal would completely approve of.  It’s a tantalizing place to leave us for an entire week, especially given that Boyd is screaming with the sudden release of pent-up frustration and at least for a moment seems murderous as he offers to introduce Kyle to Jesus Christ personally before throwing him free of the car. 

So it seems like Raylan has his work more than cut out for him from here on out—Doyle has exposed the Bennetts just enough so that they’ll be extra cautious from here on out (judging from the preview of next week, I don’t think Mags is too pleased about any of this week’s developments in the family business), Boyd is off and running in an as-yet unknown direction and could have Ava tied up in it before all is said and done, and meanwhile it turns out Wynona doesn’t have much faith in the long-term viability of their relationship, just when poor Raylan was starting to feel comfortable that things were on the mend.  He takes it all in stride, but that’s just his way, and as a collective whole it all seems to suggest that he really is the essential “I” in this week’s title, and that it’s a storm he’s going to have his hands full riding out.  It seemed like a bad omen, too, that Raylan was without his hat quite often this week, although I hear (thanks for the heads up, AV Club) that could be because Elmore Leonard isn’t such a fan of it.
Overall Rating 9.1/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 

I love that Dewey is not too proud to pay for a shot with coins "there's some pennies..."

He also gets an uncharacteristically observant shot in at Boyd:  "For a guy who's supposedly changed, you sound an awful lot like you always did."

Tim's explanation of why he took the shot on Jess Timmons last week is outstanding:  “I can’t carry a tune, don’t know how to shoot a basketball and my handwriting is barely legible, but I don’t miss.”

"That's why I don't go to church," Raylan says when Arlo tells him there were some bodies found on a church bus.

Arlo's pleasure at discovering Raylan is running around with Wynona is a hoot--the characters have such a natural chemistry that the ribbing Raylan takes at the hands of Arlo here is a blast to watch.  

Dewey's stupidity in buying a ski mask is a nice little humorous aside for the show--they continue to find such natural, realistic ways for Dewey to exhibit his low IQ.

Great moment when Raylan Givens announces to Dewey's two lady friends that his name is Raylan Givens.  One of them says "Another one!"

Doyle mentions to his brothers that their little stunt could shake up a "hornet's nest" with the "boys up in Frankfort".  I assume we'll get to know more about them soon...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code "Gillis, Chase and Baby Face"

Tonight’s episode answered two immediate questions for me, neither of which was nagging, but both of which bode well for the show given that the answers were positive ones.  First off, I’ve wondered whether the fun, energetic chase scene from the pilot (the one where we meet Jarek Wysocki for the first time hanging out a car window and get to see his odd and fascinating style of police work) was a standard the show was going to live up to throughout the season or whether it represented a big budget “wow” scene to draw in viewers (Lost and Flash Forward both used a similar technique to lock in viewers early on—though nothing could stop Flash Forward from sucking itself to death).  Based on tonight’s effectively shot mini-chase through the L train in pursuit of a psychotic bank robber, I’d say the show has the chops (and budget) to continue to produce high quality action sequences which I’d expect we’ll continue to see scattered throughout the season.  The chase was somewhat low key, but it was punctuated by some beautiful sweeping overhead shots of the city and one nice helicopter shot of the train racing into the next station that reminded me of Raimi’s excellent work during the train scene in “Spiderman 2”.  

 My other question was how complex the show was going to be, given that it has the extra-coat-of-wax shine of over-produced moron programming that’s all flash with little substance.  I didn’t think this show would go that route given its creator and a cast that really seems ready to get after it in terms of compelling drama, but it was in the back of my mind as a possibility.  This week provided some pretty reassuring plot twists suggesting things are going to get right messy before Superintendent Colvin can clean up anything in this city, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.
If looks would kill, they would be this look here.

But let’s get back to that suspect pursuit for a moment.  This week’s in-episode drama emerges in the wake of a bank robbery gone (seemingly) wrong with a security guard bleeding to death in the lobby and the robbers on the run headed for the L  train (and neatly tracked by the latest in anti-bank-theft technology:  a GPS tracker tucked into one of the bill stacks).  Wysocki and Caleb pursue, but the trail ends at a messy head wound which looks grotesque enough from behind, without Caleb later pointing out that there IS no face left to ID.  The body belongs to one of the bank robbers and the GPS-stuffed stack of bills is lying next to him.  Wysocki and Caleb spend much of the remainder of the episode tracking him down, which accidentally reveals a much bigger issue:  Wysocki’s entire department, at the instruction of Moosekian, the head of organized crime (and you know what I think of that guy—he thought Isaac deserved a promotion.  Psh), is “freezing him out” for a couple days to let him know they don’t approve of him ratting out bad cops to his buddy Colvin in the city offices.  Of course, he’s doing no such thing, but since Colvin has taken it upon herself to name good-ol’-boy Jonesy as the next crooked cop to get the boot, every boy in blue is under the impression Wysocki is passing names along to Teresa based on their past together.  It’s narrow-minded thinking (not to mention that it ignores the fact that Jonesy was pretty clearly on the take), but Moose isn’t much of a thinker (or a looker).  

Unfortunately for Moose, Wysocki and Caleb need backup against Robbins, the bank robber who, it turns out, is armed to the teeth with an itchy trigger finger.  After he unloads an automatic weapon on the two of them in his driveway, nearly killing a young girl in the process, backup arrives from all the way across town (that would be the town of Chicago, you realize) which infuriates Wysocki.  He takes it out on Colvin first, since she didn’t bother to let him know she was busting another guy from his unit (which he should have known about if only to make it clear that he was NOT the one who ran Jonesy’s name up the ladder).  But that anger is misdirected and he knows it.  He knows who’s behind the freeze-out but it seems like he’s prepared to just sit on it until he ends up having to kill Robbins (surprise!) to save Moose from taking a good amount of automatic weapons fire to the face.  It’s a bit of a melodramatic moment, mostly guilty of falling back on the old cop show cliché wherein two men who dislike each other have to get each other’s backs and one inevitably fires past the end of the other one’s nose in order to kill the villain who was about to kill him.  We’ve seen it too many times and it just doesn’t work well in a smart drama—what are the odds any cop discharges his weapon in a chase like this at all, let alone in order to save the life—oh irony of ironies—of a man who just hours ago did him egregious wrong?  
Mr. Hampton, Superintendent Colvin, and who cares who that other guy is.

However the entire subplot wraps up so excellently that the transgression seems forgivable.  Moose, predictably humbled and guilt-ridden, tries to apologize to Wysocki in the locker room; he obviously didn’t think the freeze-out would put Wysocki or Caleb at risk, which is as dumb as Moose looks given that the whole idea behind a freeze-out is that you leave a guy hanging when he needs backup which he would only call for if he’s in danger.  At any rate, he explains himself and apologizes sincerely and Wysocki says nothing, but you can see fury behind his eyes (Jason Clarke could carry this show by himself with his presence, but it’s been great that he doesn’t have to).  When Moose nervously asks if they’re “cool”, Wysocki explodes in a moment where I, at least, expected him to maybe say some stern words and then offer a handshake.  “We could have arrested that guy and instead I killed him because you’re playing games,” he screams between punches, and he’s right and every other uniform watching knows it.  Whether he did it as a calculated move is hard to say (he’s certainly sharp enough for such strategy), but the impact seems like it will fix his insubordination problem.  

So things were pretty heated and violent at street level today, but at the managerial level even bigger power struggles were afoot.  Colvin’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Hampton, is a bit frustrated with the fact that she seems to keep him slightly out of the loop (“the loop” being “any conversation with Wysocki”) and is more than ready to put himself on Gibbons’ payroll once he realizes Colvin and Gibbons are at odds over a construction project run by Danforth Construction, which Gibbons has a crooked finger in (and which is a subsidiary of your friendly neighborhood Irish mob).  Meanwhile Gibbons and Killian, who runs the Irish mob, are also at a crossroads in their relationship because Gibbons is supposed to be protecting Killian’s business from “that bitch” Colvin, and he’s doing a poor job of it given that she’s shutting the Benton Street Project down completely (and she’s only doing that, of course, to try and flush out Gibbons and his connections to the money trail).  Confused yet?  If you are this show might not be for you, if you’re going cross eyed with it all but still want to keep up, good for you and welcome aboard.  

Now buckle up:  Gibbons doesn’t take well to being threatened by Killian, who points out that he has more leverage in their relationship, given that he doesn’t have a good name to sully like Gibbons does.  So to gain a bit of leverage of his own, Gibbons uses that nastiest of all crowbars, child pornography, planted in Killian’s garage to drum up a false arrest with the help of Lt. Kelly, also on Gibbons’ payroll.  Once Killian is sufficiently aware of who really holds the power in the relationship, Killian is released back onto the streets of Chicago, and Gibbons can turn his attention back to the generous offer of Mr. Hampton (that is, to provide Gibbons with tip-offs any time Colvin makes a move against him).  It’s an interesting proposition for Gibbons, given that this is exactly what he needs, but you have to assume he wants that type of info from a man he already has in his own back pocket.  So he sets up a meeting with Colvin the very next day and tells her that he’s uncovered corruption right under her nose and regrets (such a slimeball—Delroy Lindo is phenomenal in this role) that he’s going to have to go public with such disgusting dishonesty in a public office.  Her fury is barely contained, but things get worse when Hampton’s replacement is rushed upon her pretty quickly, and it’s none other than Lt. Kelly, smiling and playing nice.  It looks like a major coup for Gibbons until Colvin asks Kelly to excuse her while Wysocki fills her in on “that one file” and proceeds to explain to him that Kelly is definitely Gibbons’ man, and now they have exactly the man they need to feed Gibbons whatever bad intel they want to.  Did I mention that this show is getting awesome?

If I’m forgetting some great moments here amongst the hubbub of major twists and turns this week (and I’m sure I am), feel free to hold it against me, but think about what that really says about this show’s potential—I could name other shows that almost overwhelm you every episode with phenomenal scenes AND big twists AND broad storylines, but I’m sure you already watch them and you know how rare they can be, and now it looks like we’re going to have another one to fit into our weekly schedule.  Scootch over, Southland, Chicago Code is going to be hanging out with us for a while.

Overall Rating:  9.2/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 

For a minute I thought the dead bank robber’s shoes were going to be some original, rare artist-designed numbers that would help ID him, a la Turtle from Entourage.  God, I hate Turtle.  And Entourage, now that I think about it.  Why do I watch that show again?  Oh yeah, it’s on HBO.

Liam’s voiceover this week isn’t very interesting or insightful, but I really hope they stick to this multi-perspective method of storytelling and find some way to use it to better effect than they have been.  It’s a simple yet novel idea.

“You’re always chasing people off, you ever notice that?” Wysocki asks Colvin jokingly.

The rock guitar providing the soundtrack to the brief shooting scene outside the liquor store was an unusual choice.  I’m not sure it worked, but I like that the show is going unorthodox so often.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe “6B”

I’m going to go ahead and take advantage of the easy joke here:  Tonight’s episode of Fringe was earth shattering in the most literal sense.  Whatever hangover the show was suffering from for a couple episodes was more than shaken off this week with the most drastic revelation in the show’s run:  Our universe is beginning to destabilize the same way Earth 2’s has.  If a few cracks in the side of an apartment complex leaking supernatural light aren’t enough to send you into panic mode, seeing Walter going into panic mode certainly should be.  By the end of the episode he’s prepared to hand over the controls to Broyles which will freeze Olivia and his beloved Peter in the suspended-animation amber we know so well from the other side.  It’s heavy stuff (the episode’s content, not the amber, which actually looks rather light and easy to work with) and Fringe made quite a compelling hour of television out of it, hopefully permanently reining in an increased audience in the process.  For fans who have been around for the long haul, the episode offered up a few additional surprises too—most notably that episodes as far back as the second episode of season one have all been part of the master plan (the bus load full of people frozen in jelly may have actually been victimized by the FBI trying to contain a vortex situation) which changes all of your future repeat viewings.

The episode begins outside of an apartment complex called “The Rosencrantz”, for reasons I won’t begin to guess at because my Shakespeare is a bit rusty (if you’ve got that allusion figured out, enlighten us all in the comments section, please).  Turns out there’s a heckuva party going on in 7C tonight, despite the fact that most tenants aren’t in much of a partying mood these days (Mrs. Marcello tells two guests that the elevator is working but wishing them an ominous “good luck” as they step aboard—you’d think she might have warned total strangers that the building is a death trap and the elevator isn’t an ideal place to be, but sarcasm works too, I guess).  In 7C things have been as weird as they’ve been everywhere else in the building lately; the oven turns itself on, blenders leap to life by themselves, oh, and, once in a while the balcony’s concrete becomes so infirm that everyone standing on it drops to the sidewalk and their deaths directly below.  It’s an effective opening, especially the literal rain of bodies as doorman Jimmy looks on in horror.  

When the Fringe team arrives to investigate, an old woman, Alice Merchant, peers from her apartment window with interest at them before withdrawing in that mysterious way that people who are involved in something unsavory tend to do.  But it turns out she’s not really doing anything unsavory, she’s just an extremely distraught woman who can’t move past the loss of her husband.  Thanks to the intensity of her grief and the weakening boundary between the two universes, she hasn’t really had to.  Her husband, Derrick, has been paying her regular visits to the delight of both.  Peter and Olivia guess “ghost”, even though it seems suspicious that Olivia can see Derrick along with Alice while Peter sees nothing (at first).  

Walter dismisses ghosts quickly, to Peter’s surprise, but his theory is obviously much more frightening and makes tons more sense—this is the beginning of an instability that will become a full-blown vortex like that whopper we saw on the Earth-2 newscast in the middle of the water off New York’s shoreline.  It’s a frightening revelation and an escalation of events for the show akin to the episode last season where the Fringe team actually crossed over, setting in motion events that changed everything the show was about.  “6B” has that same feel, especially as we watch a building in our reality begin to splinter and crack with rifts of light before the “leak” closes in the nick of time. When Walter is quickly forced to come to terms with the same morally devastating choice Walternate made and can’t even allow his feelings for Peter and Olivia stand in the way of it, we know the game has changed.  It all leads to one of Fringe’s best closing segments, beginning with a gorgeous shot of the city at night—bathed in a purposeful amber hue.  Walter is in despair that the night’s events are a harbinger of things to come, but Nina points out to him that he’s going to have to be what Walternate was not:  A great enough mind to figure out how to stop the universe from unraveling.  It’s a challenge even Walter may not be up for, but it gives the Fringe team a new goal unparalleled by any of their earlier dilemmas.  

It all ends with a glimpse into Earth 2’s parallel (since Derrick Merchant was the other half of the instability) problem, and it’s sort of fun to see the other Fringe team wrinkling their brows in confusion as to how a “class four event” just quietly resolves itself.  But the scene, I would argue, is not only meant as a fun coda to an otherwise stressful episode.  I think it’s more than a bit significant that we see tonight that one side’s containment or prevention of a vortex stabilizes the other side as well, at least with this sort of a breach that spans both universes (not all of the others have, at least as I understand it).  Could this be the clue to the resolution of a war between the two universes?  It’s too simple to work at face value, but it certainly seems important that if the source of the instability can be stopped in either universe, then neither of them suffers consequences.  I’m sure it will play out more complexly than that, but mark my prediction in the books:  This week’s final moments will matter to the end game of Fringe, as will the fact that these rifts can be opened up by excessive emotions between related individuals on both sides.  

Of course with all of this master story advancement, it’s easy to overlook the reuniting of Peter and Olivia during a couple of very sweetly shot scenes this evening.  In the coffee shop across from a potential universe-ending catastrophe, Olivia tells Peter that she wants to experience that “beautiful” relationship that he said he had with Fauxlivia (thinking it was Olivia, obviously) and they kiss, but then Peter starts doing that glowing thing like he’s Edward Cullen on a sunny day in July and the moment is ruined.  But then she witnesses a wonderful moment between Peter and the grieving Alice Merchant in which he begs her to let go of the “ghost” of Derrick not because he isn’t really her husband, but because “You’ve already had what most of us only dream of; a lifetime with a person you love.”  It does nothing to sway Alice (who eventually realizes Olivia told her the truth about Derrick when he makes a reference to some “girls” of Alice’s who don’t actually exist on this side), but Olivia is listening and she understands not only what Peter keeps trying to tell her about wanting to have something meaningful with her, but learns it (so clever, Fringe!) by watching the same “love triangle” play out right before her eyes:  Alice mistakenly invests the love for her husband in a man from the other side, and when she realizes he isn’t her husband her voice quickly becomes distant and she dismisses him without a thought.  It’s vindication for Peter and eye opening for Olivia in terms of what it can be like when you actually let another person deeply into your life.  That night she visits Peter at home and their kiss is as easily a candidate for the season’s best moment as anything else I could offer.  She pulls away briefly and Peter asks if he’s glowing again.  She says he isn’t, but as she takes his hand and leads him up the stairs I think it’s safe to say he will be soon (wink).  

I have to commend the Fringe writers in one other respect tonight, and I recognize that this probably belongs in the “what not and what have you” section below, but I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to pay it some due here.  Tonight’s episode, dealing as it did with what at first appeared to be “ghosts” seemed to pay an awful lot of homage to that greatest of all ghost movies, “Ghostbusters”.  The similarities begin early on with the glowing doorframe of 6B and the familiar looking translucence of Derrick’s ghostly apparition, but the subtle nods add up even more richly as the episode rolls on.  The architecture of the building is sneakily similar to that of Dana’s haunted apartment complex in “Ghostbusters” and the intimidating low-angle shots capturing it are clearly borrowed from the film as well.  Finally, and this is a rimshot, but I found Alice’s overall appearance to be oddly akin to the ghostly librarian the Ghostbusters first encounter in the film.  I’m willing to be told I’m a fool for that last one, but the rest struck me as pretty clear and enjoyable homage for fans of ghost-related cinema and TV.  One more reason to love tonight’s episode and feel good not just about an uptick in ratings, but a big uptick in how much we have to look forward to the rest of the season.

Overall Rating:  9.8/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 

The overhead shot of the bodies on the sidewalk was pretty graphic—Fringe does a nice job of making these events sufficiently gruesome as to stick in your head.

I love it when Walter cooks.  This week he has mischievous intentions with it, but he’s always in the best mood when he’s cooking something up.  It’s so Walter to believe that a candlelight breakfast will help Olivia and Peter get back together.  “Would you believe it slipped my mind?” Walter says innocently when Peter asks why he wasn’t told about the little get-together.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—which Walter apparently proved in 1973.

“Perhaps I should have made a frittata,” Walter says to himself when Peter says things are worse now with Olivia.

Nice little touch when Walter is worried about Peter leaning too far over the balcony.

I like the nifty twist that Walter flipping a coin and getting heads ten times is not really about physics unraveling but Derrick losing a coin toss on one side and Alice losing it on the other—there’s meaning to it, but not what Walter thinks.

“Is it ‘Second Guess Everything I Do Day’ because I haven’t been informed.”

Walter once sang Barry White wearing nothing but his socks.

Knowing J.J. Abrams and company have an affinity for The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, I couldn’t help but think about the “thinnies” from those books with tonight’s episode.  Anyone else get that vibe?

Friday, February 18, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"

In retrospect tonight’s episode seemed inevitable—Abed has tried his hand at documentary filmmaking before, but never had the show utilized this to create an entire episode that carried the look and feel (and tropes) of a documentary “reality” show.  As usual everyone was up to the task of genre mimicry, from writers and director to cast.  The worst I could say of this episode is that I don’t think the show should get in the habit of going high-concept every week; they’ve done well with most every genre they’ve played with, but part of the fun of these explorations is that they’ve been occasional changes of pace.  I know that none of Community’s episodes are what you’d really call “normal” as it’s a show built around turning sitcoms and pop culture on their heads, but consider that this season we’ve already had a claymation episode, a bottle episode, another bottle episode that also incorporated a fantasy game, a space-movie parody, a Halloween episode which went all sorts of goofy directions, and now a documentary episode.  I’m content with all of them, in love with many of them, but a bit worried that the show is starting to steer its course towards trying to pull this type of thing off every other week, where I’d rather spend the occasional (comparatively) quiet episode just hanging out with the study group.  But like I said, that’s the very worst I could say about this episode—the best is that it was consistently hilarious, clever in further revealing the nature of several characters, and clearly having some fun sending up the never-ending parade of reality television we’re all guilty of letting rot our brains for a few dozen hours a year.
Abed was the obvious choice as creator of the documentary, so I liked that they added a twist in making his motivation a bit less expected; Pierce has asked him to basically document the end of his life.  He claims he’s on his death bed due to his addiction to pills, which led him to see horrible things like “demons, aliens, ‘Critters 3’, and something called ‘Bruce Willis “Surrogates”’.”   I’ve never used that many quote marks in a single sentence before.  He tells them that he wants them all to be there to witness his final words (which Troy takes to mean Pierce is going to kill them, which, hey, you gotta love how Troy’s brain works).  Everyone is instantly suspicious, but reluctantly caring enough not to say much about it.  Enter dramatic irony:  Pierce tells the camera that he’s actually using this to “exact his revenge” for the group failing to respect him (which would also be situational irony, given that this is a ridiculous way to gain respect).  His “confessional” to the camera is the beginning of the shows’ many interesting examinations of how documentary reality is never entirely honest or real—for Pierce, the presence of the cameras are serving a dishonest purpose; he’s altering the behavior of his friends by making them believe they are witnessing his final moments, when in fact the cameras are there to witness the humiliation of each member of the group as they receive confusing and cruel gifts from him one at a time (except for Annie, who gets a nice Tiara because she’s Pierce’s favorite).  As Abed explains though, it’s always easier to tell a complex story when you’re just talking to the camera (which in the era of Michael Moore and other subjective documentaries, I think we have to take with a grain of salt entirely intended by the writers). 
Pierce begins the bequeathals (and a great running gag making the verb ‘bequeath’ seem filthy) with the gift of a “compact record” to Shirley which supposedly contains a recording of the group talking about her behind her back.  Britta gets a $10,000 check with the recipient line conveniently left open for her favorite charity (which might be herself), Jeff gets the promise of his long-lost father paying a visit to him right there in the hospital (an interesting follow up to the joke back in the D&D episode which names Jeff’s father “William the Unknown” within the game), and Troy gets a personal day with his idol Lavar Burton, which seems like a wondrous gift indeed until we see Troy weeping in the snack room and screaming about how Pierce knows that the one thing Troy never EVER wanted was to meet Burton in person (he wanted his autographed photo because “you can’t disappoint a picture”). 

All of the gifts are as ill-intentioned as Troy’s, meant to reveal weaknesses or, more simply, create misery.  Shirley is wringing her hands (and purse handles) endlessly trying to decide whether she needs to hear whatever is on the CD, Britta eventually signs the check to charity but admits, miserably, that the only reason she did so was because the cameras were in her face (another point in the “win” column for the episode’s dismantling of the “honesty” of documentarianism), Troy wears a look of rigor-mortis shock for the duration of Burton’s visit, Jeff walks through several stages of denial before deciding to confront his father after all, and poor Annie draws a false conclusion about her shortcomings which Pierce doesn’t bother to tell her wasn’t his intention with her gift at all—it really was just a beautiful tiara for his favorite.
Even if this was as far as the episode had gone, it would have been a strong one with some nice character moments—like Britta relieving Shirley of her stress by making her listen to the CD which contains nothing but audio of the group calling Pierce out for trying to get them to speak ill of Shirley, which they don’t.  But, as usual, Community isn’t content with anything unless they can exceed the standard.  It’s not unpredictable that the group falls into infighting as a result of the stressful gifts, but some of the emerging revelations are wonderful touches that continue to build these characters into very complex figures for a comedy show:  Britta has a moment of redemption when she volunteers the last money in her checking account to buy Burton another plane ticket so that he can get a chance to see the real Troy.  Burton tells her she’s a wonderful friend but a financial fool, which of course is exactly what Britta wants to be (plus she didn’t actually have the $261 she offered him).  Jeff and Britta role-playing as one another’s moms is a great stand-alone moment in the episode, but it also seems to be a small part of what makes Jeff change his mind about what to do about his dad, and Abed does the rest by shoving a camera in his face and cutting together a nice montage of him freaking out on camera to reveal to us (and remind Jeff, who tells him NOT to do it) that Jeff isn’t nearly as dismissive of the issue as he would like us to believe. 
Again, the moment is handled nicely as a send-up of the documentary camera’s supposed omniscience, revealing “secret” and “private” moments that characters don’t want us to see.  Jeff shoving the camera away is a requisite part of these moments in reality television and it compliments nicely the other staple of the revealing of private moments in a documentary, the camera-through-the-window gambit, which tonight was used to capture Troy’s hilarious freakout about having to face the real Lavar Burton.  The trump card tonight is the parking lot scene, though, when Jeff steps outside to meet his father, who pulls up in a black sedan which is, of course, hiding Pierce trying desperately to get himself out of trouble.  The scene is captured in perfect reality-TV format with Abed manning the shaky camera; the sound of the car approaching is over-emphasized on the soundtrack, the camera bounces around like it’s an episode of Cops when Jeff chases after a retreating Pierce, and the physical altercation looks so perfectly like an actual reality-TV fight straight from The Real World that the line blurs for a moment.  The entire farce draws to a close with Pierce making his final confessional to the camera while his injuries from Jeff and the car accident are stitched up.  Exhibiting the true egocentricity of a reality TV star, Pierce takes full credit for the success of his mostly-failed escapade, most especially helping to bring Jeff to face the facts about his father.  While Pierce isn’t entirely wrong about that particular point, the subtle jab at reality TV is that the whole exploit was unethical and immoral and disgusting, but like most reality television “stars”, Pierce is too lost in the gazing eye of the camera lens to consider anything but the “victory” he’s won with his childish behaviors.  It’s phenomenal commentary on the genre and played so lightly as to slip past almost unnoticed.

Community is on a great run right now, finding incredibly strong moments for existing characters to excel in, and bringing in a variety of new characters and actors and giving them room to shine as well (Neil a couple weeks ago and Lavar Burton tonight both got some fairly meaningful screen time without seeing gimmicky or stealing the proceedings from the primary characters).  The cast is reaching a point where their interactions feel so organic as to seem ad-libbed (they could be, but the wit and pop culture riffing still seems so sharp as to require scripting), which bodes well given that the writers continue to give them such great situations to bounce around in that there’s barely time to catch your breath between laughs.  More’s the shame that it continues to rank low enough in the ratings that my local affiliate pre-empts it every time they have local programming to air—which is why you didn’t hear me weigh in last week.  Here’s hoping the show’s ongoing excellence eventually leads to a ratings boost; meanwhile you loyal viewers should continue to condescend viciously to anyone who refuses to add this show to their weekly list of comedies. 
Overall Score:  9.7/10
Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 
The subtlest pop culture stuff on this show is the best.  To wit:  Troy’s reaction when he realized he can’t make himself feel better anymore by laughing at Pierce because it makes him sad now is “It’s Gregory Hines all over again.”
I love that Abed cuts to an autographed photo of Burton to illustrated for viewers what Troy’s wish would look like.
“Mr. Hathorne is requesting sour face.”
Britta:  “You know what Dylan Thomas said about death?”  Pierce: “No, what?”  Britta:  “Okay, bluff called.”
Troy and Abed both plan to make their deaths look like suicides due to grief over Firefly being cancelled.  What does everyone SEE in that show? 
Britta’s contributions to the English Dictionary:  complisult and an explanabrag.  I plan to use both as often as possible.
“I’ve thought about this day for a long time but I pictured it differently.  For one thing, I thought you’d be the one in the bed and I’d be hologram.”
“My father held grudges…I’ll always hate him for that.”
I think Jeff wins the “dad” dialogue with “I dunno, I was drunk, I didn’t have a condom and her mom gets freaky when she hears Oingo Boingo.”
“Are these blood diamonds…(whispers) are they holocaust diamonds?”
“Thank god he didn’t take it—can you imagine bouncing a check to Kunta Kinte?”
Troy’s unending terror at being faced to face with Burton wears thin by the final moment of the show, but the joke is saved when he flees in terror, leaving his salmon behind, to which Burton:  “Well, more fish for Kunta!”