Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Merlin Season 4: Better than expected

After the truly mediocre season 3, I had little incentive to watch Merlin this year. The first five episodes have been sitting on my hard drive unwatched and I was debating whether I should subject myself to it at all. To my surprise, the first two episodes of the season were very good; mostly due to Santiago Cabrera's Lancelot. The actor managed to make me fall in love with the character; something I didn't think was possible.

The Darkest Hour Part 1 and 2 were probably Merlin's most cohesive episodes since season 1 and for the first time the show has managed genuine character growth and development. By now, Merlin and Arthur must be 26 and 28 respectively and it's high time the show gave them the maturity needed for their age and positions. The bromance factor was off the scale but for once it wasn't of the cheesy slash fan fiction type. The writers are still obviously reading too much fan fiction but at least they're now reading the right ones. The shoe-horned Deus Ex Dragon I could have done without but I guess if you hire John Hurt you need to find a way to use him.

While The Wicked Day made me once again annoyed that Merlin didn't just man up and admit his magic to Arthur, it was nonetheless quite well-executed. Still, like Smallville before it, the show continually shows that Albion's biggest threat is Merlin himself. Are we supposed to cheer on a hero who constantly makes his own enemies through sheer cowardice? First Morgana, now Arthur. Surely he should start to realise that his problems are consistently of his own making?

The season fell down slightly in Aithusa and His Father's Son: a microcosm of everything that can be wrong with this show.  The slapstick, the bad fan fiction slash, the annoying reliance on Deus ex Dragon, Merlin's stupid use of magic to do dumb things and the fact that he doesn't stand up to Arthur like he used to. And Viridis Lupus should demand royalties.

Still, there wasn't a single episode in Season 3 that was worth rewatching so Season 4 is already a significant improvement. Now all I can hope for is that the BBC learns how to write a female character. I will not, however, hold my breath.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Haven: Who, What, Where Wendigo

After last week's D episode, we get another. Poor continuity, poor plotting, inconsistent characterisation: why is this show so uneven?

SFScope has a fantastic review of this episode that is a lot more measured and detailed than I have time to be and which pretty much sums it up. You can read it here

This show has so much potential and there is a part of me that truly loves it. The other part wonders why I keep tuning in to something that's only half good.

After a much stronger start to this season and some truly great episodes, Season 2 of Haven seems to be careening off track; substituting contrivance for craft and using poor characterisation to drive the story forward. It's damn disappointing and I can only hope that the last few episodes pick up.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Haven Lockdown: That made no sense

Yay! Evi’s finally dead!
Is it my imagination or did that episode make no sense?
But yay! Evi’s finally dead.
You know what makes a character’s death more emotional? Not knowing that she’d been brought in to die from the second she walked on screen. I fist pumped the air and my only regret is that it wasn’t more drawn out and painful. Actually, my only regret is that it didn’t happen eight episodes ago.
But apart from that, that episode made no sense. I thought nothing could come close to Roots for contrivance. Boy was I wrong. No one’s reactions to anything made any sense, no one was in character, the entire plotline was driven by convenience, not logic and, just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, they had some sort of “the Rev is behind it all” epiphany complete with slow motion that would have been effective if the Rev hadn’t told us that straight up at the end of last season.
I mean, he sat in Nathan’s office and said “I’m in the middle of all of this”. Then he came back in the first episode of this season and said it again. Then Nathan said it last episode. Then Nathan said it at the beginning of this episode.
And even though it was one of the Rev’s men who shot Evi, the Rev came in and told Duke it was the fault of the Troubled and Duke… thanked him. For what? In fact, if anyone can explain to me why anybody behaved the way they did in this episode, I will give them cookies. Virtual ones but cookies nonetheless.
Oh yeah, for those who want recap as well as review: the police station gets locked down after an outbreak of what looks like a contagion. Then there’s lots of running around. It’s ridiculous.
But yay! Evi’s finally dead. And that almost made it worth it.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Haven Audrey Parker’s Day Off: Best Episode Ever

For an episode that had as its premise one of the most overused concepts in sci-fantasy – the time loop – ‘Audrey Parker’s Day Off’ is probably the best episode of Haven so far. So good in fact that it may be one of my favourite episodes of television ever.
From the minute Audrey was woken by Chris at 7:32 on her ‘day off’ to the final scene of her hiding - white-faced and shellshocked - from the three most important men in her life, the writers gave us a perfect blend of drama, humour, tragedy and action.
Emily Rose’s performance as the day repeats is fantastic: giving us confusion (first repeat), determination and relief (second repeat), shock and fear (third repeat), and finally sheer emotional exhaustion. That the show gave us a resolution to the main plot that is both happy (nobody Audrey loves dies) and gut-wrenchingly tragic is a tribute both to them and to the performances of the actors involved.
I cannot pour down enough praise on the writers for integrating Chris (the increasingly bemused love interest), Nathan (Audrey’s rock) and Duke (whose man-crush on the Troubled Chris was downright hilarious) so successfully into the plot and for bringing subtlety back into the love triangle (or square as it is these days). After last week’s anvil-fest, it was nice to see Nathan and Duke’s feelings for Audrey telegraphed without being clunky and trite.
The variations of the waffle conversation were some of the funniest Duke scenes since his cupcake and shotgun dialogue from last year’s finale. I’ve been hanging out for a Duke/Chris man-crash scene and this episode gave us that in spades.
Since the show started, we’ve seen Audrey develop an increasingly-narcissistic martyr complex. This was in full force in this episode as she comes to the belief that the tragedy of the day was all her fault, simply because she took a day off. This facet of her personality is nicely represented by the Trouble of Anson Shumway: the OCD man whose need to repeat actions to stop bad things happening causes the day to repeat as he subconsciously tries to stop the deaths he witnesses.
“Just because you believe you’re responsible for these things, doesn’t mean that you are,” Audrey tells him in the episode’s climax. If only this was advice she could take for herself. As she packs Chris off to London at the end and then hides at the Gull, face white at the thought of losing Duke and Nathan, you can only hope that she doesn’t throw off the support the men give her in dealing with the town’s Troubles in some misguided attempt to protect them.
The writers, Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman, didn’t write for Haven in their first season. The only other episode they’ve been involved in, Love Machine, was arguably the second-best episode of the show ever. So I’d like to send a personal message to the showrunners: keep these two on. Jim Dunn, while I love that you helped co-create this show, you should probably let others do the writing. Between Roots and Fur, your batting average is not looking good.
PS - And no Evi. Thank the Lord. My only problem with this episode is the knowledge in the back of my mind that she's still out there, lurking around Haven and manifestly not dead. Is it too much to ask for her to be killed soon? Please. I'll give you cookies.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Haven Roots: Worst episode ever?

There was a point during the episode ‘As You Were’ in Season 1 when I found myself contemplating whether it was the worst episode of television I’d ever seen. It turns out it was merely a small taste of the awfulness that would be ‘Roots’ a season later.
My disappointment then was minimal. After all, I’d enjoyed the show so far but wasn’t invested in it. Episodes like ‘Fur’ and ‘Butterfly’ had inured me to the show being poor and I did enjoy the interactions between the leads. Coming as it was after a couple of great episodes this season, my frustration with ‘Roots’ was somewhat more palpable. 
I’ve noted before that the writing in the show can be somewhat clunky. This episode added extraordinary contrivance to the clunkiness to leave us with some serious cranial damage from all the anvils.
Of course, the main Trouble for this week was always going to be weak. Killer plants have never worked in a storyline. Ever. And Haven does not have the budget to pull off realistic CGI roots slithering out of the forest to rend people limb from limb.
Combine that with poor dialogue, clumsy plotting and inconsistent characterisation and you have a truly abysmal effort by the writers.
When an episode is as bad as this one was it’s difficult to know where to start in outlining the depths of its awfulness. Last week, Nathan was encouraging Audrey to go out with Chris Brody, the new character played by Jason Priestley. This week he’s apparently mindlessly jealous about it. So much so that he fights his way through the plants only to be left standing alone as all the ‘couples’ exit together at the end. And that was only one of the crashing piles of metal descending on me from the sky.
Why was Audrey at the rehearsal dinner? Because she was delivering the marriage license. What on Earth does that have to do with the cops? Nothing! It was in the script.
Parker finds out she doesn’t have mobile phone reception even though they can’t be more than half an hour from town? Does she go to find a phone to call for backup? No. Why? Who knows! It was in the script.
The plants attack and all the guests run. Except for Duke and Evi who stay. Why? Who knows! It was in the script.
The plants attack and Audrey sends Chris to investigate the barn. Why? Who knows! It was in the script.
Parker, who tells Nathan everything, didn’t mention she was going on a date with Chris. Why? Who knows! It was in the script.
Nathan goes out to rescue Vince and Dave from their broken-down van and the plants attack them even though they’re not at the house and aren’t a member of either of the feuding families. Why? Who knows! It was in the script.
Put on top of this the wedged-in joke about the Teagues’ Twitter feud (which would have been funny if they weren’t promoting actual Haven Twitter feeds), the clunky ‘Love Conquers All’ ending (this apparently being the ‘theme’ of this season) and the forced reintroduction of the love triangle (which I believe just became a love quadrangle), and you have the new lead contender for worst episode of television I’ve ever seen.
There were a few positives about the episode of course and this review would not be complete without mentioning them. Firstly, after the introduction of the painful Evidence Crocker, I had considerable concerns about Jason Priestley’s involvement but his portrayal of troubled marine biologist Chris Brody is excellent and I enjoy the character’s storyline. Parker can be (understandably) self-absorbed and I like that he calls her on her crap and questions her methods of doing things.  
I’m also very glad to be wrong about Evi’s storyline and, while I would still like to see her die in some suitably gruesome way that benefits from repeated viewing, having her be evil (or at least evil in a different way) is a nice twist.
This does, however, bring me to my main problem with Season 2; a problem that I hope the writers will overcome in the back half of this season. Duke, Audrey and Nathan are not just supposed to be friends; they’re supposed to be confidants. They’re supposed to be the ones working together to untangle the mystery of Haven. This episode in particular had them all cocooned in their own little worlds without reference to each other. I understand the reasons but this just feels wrong to me.
Audrey and Nathan talk to each other about their romantic entanglements. They always have. And why wouldn’t Duke tell Audrey about his investigation of the tattoo; choosing instead to confide in Evi whom he doesn’t trust? Answer: he wouldn’t.
Or, possibly, it was just that it was in the script.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Haven Love Machine: Season 2 is 2 for 3

Haven is two for three after this weekend’s fantastic episode; arguably the best of the show so far.

Admittedly the main ‘trouble’ – about machines coming to life to kill anyone who might come between them and the man who fixes them – was in some places hilariously ridiculous (the first scene had a fisherman being pelted by a load of dead fish by a homicidal boat), the rest of the episode was a nuanced and emotional study of the way in which the troubles can ruin ordinary people’s lives.

I’ve loved every bit of screentime we’d had of Audrey 2 (or the Faudrey as some, rather inaccurately, call her) and so the unexpected and poignant exit of the character was downright tragic.

Whether Howard wiped Audrey 2’s mind to ensure Haven’s secrets stay in Haven, to protect our Audrey’s cover, or for some other reason we’re not aware of, the final scene where ‘our’ Audrey realises that she’s lost not only a valuable ally but the one person who can ever truly understand her was played perfectly by Emily Rose and brought a genuine tear to my eye.

Heartbreaking too was the tale of Louis Pufal; forced to stay isolated in Haven to tend the machines that refused to let him leave lest they kill anyone who might distract him from their needs.

The image of the crockpot sitting alone in front of the locked warehouse – that single image of love and loss – will stay with me and perfectly represents the true tragedy of the troubles for the afflicted of Haven.

If I have one criticism, it’s that we once again had to endure scenes with the ludicrously-named and shockingly miscast ‘Evidence’. Not only is the character painful (no fault of the actress BTW) but the plot line is boring.

Duke Crocker is by far my favourite character and his potential within the show is limitless. Weighing down his scenes with this insipid garbage just detracts from the show, particularly when he’s the link to the Colorado Kid’s murder and the one pursuing the mystery of the Haven tattoo – seen at the end in a file Audrey 2 procured for him from the FBI. I can only look forward to the day when they finally kill her – hopefully horribly – and trust that it will drive him closer to Audrey not further away (as the writers currently seem to intend).

All in all, the show just seems to be getting better and better at the moment. Let’s hope it continues for the rest of the season and that the promised Jason Priestly episodes are better than I fear.

Best moment: Duke and Faudrey bonding on the boat. Duke declaring at the beginning of the episode that she was "not as nice as the blonde one".

Second best moment: Nathan getting shot in the back by the possessed nail gun and running around for the rest of the episode with the nails in his back.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Haven Fear and Loathing: What a difference a week makes

Dear writers of Haven

I apologise profusely for last week’s rant. After the awesome season finale last year I was, I’ll admit, slightly disappointed in the big sloppy mess you served up to me last week. But this week you’ve really come through and have given us one of the best episodes of the show so far.

Firstly, Evidence was not in it (hallelujah), you had both a victim of the Troubles and a villain of the Troubles, which was a welcome duality, and your main plot was gripping, compelling and not marred by a sudden inexplicable insight by Audrey at the end (e.g. I know, it’s reading!).

Fauxdrey was so well used in this that I hope she sticks around for a whole season. She and ‘our’ Audrey work really well together and it’s amazing how convincingly the actors are playing the same character.

Duke was well-integrated into the plot and we finally got some payoff from his tattoo assassin (you remember Duke… he’s the character you didn’t know what to do with last episode).

As for Nathan’s quiet and pragmatic sacrifice that was ultimately truly heroic, brava. We’ve seen Nathan’s struggle with forgiveness; the natural repression caused by his condition leading him to be insular and slightly self-absorbed. We’ve always known he has the potential to put this behind him and start to live life again. Now we know he’s also willing to sacrifice his own wellbeing for others.

All in all, this episode was tight, enjoyable and expanded our knowledge about Audrey’s past. I would probably appreciate a little more mythology being worked in to keep the momentum from last season but hey, I’m not complaining.

Keep making more like this and I’ll be staying tuned.

PS - Oh, and Dave Teague's revelation that his worst fear was the return of a so-far unmentioned third incarnation of the Lucy/Audrey line was just great, even if half the internet misunderstood this as him fearing Lucy (just look at the clothing and awful hair - she's from the 60s or maybe the early 70s). I've often wondered if the show were setting up Nathan/ Duke as the new Dave/Vince and this adds weight to that theory. Hope they develop this more soon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Haven starts second season off with a clunk

So, Haven is finally back on our screens and the first episode can be summed up in one word. CLUNK.

Not to say the first season was a thing of wonder and beauty because it certainly wasn’t. It had its flaws but they weren’t the mythology, direction, acting and characterisation. Plotting? Yeah. But the fundamentals of a show - the things we tune in for every week even if an individual episode is bad – were all there.

So, the main plot of the first episode of season two was poorly-conceived and executed (It's biblical plagues caused by literacy! Quick, stop teaching people how to read!)  but… whatever. That’s not why we’re here.

The problem, for me at least, was that there was almost no payoff on the reasons we were there and most of the revelations in the last episode weren’t mentioned at all or were totally glossed over.

So, let’s recap: the end of the first season left us with a blast of twists and turns to navigate that left us on the edge of our seats waiting for them to be resolved. This episode picks up exactly where we left off last year in a standoff with the real Audrey Parker. And here we have my first nitpick.

Firstly, they reshot the scene. Why? I have no idea but it looks disturbingly like they had to because they wanted the actors to wear more makeup and because whoever directed this episode can’t handle a shot wider than a closeup. Honestly, if I had to watch one more scene of bunched up actors trying to make hand gestures in a box I was going to have to jump through the screen and tell the cameraman to pull the f**k back.

And I can only assume it was the director who insisted that everyone deliver their lines rrrreeeealllly sloooowwwly, so they all had to drag their words out and pause inexplicably in the middle of sentences.

Secondly, this entire episode happened in one day; by definition the same day that the whole of the last episode happened in. Now, I’ve never been to Maine so I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty confident that even that far north they don’t have 40 hour days. And that can’t be blamed on an idiosyncratic director or a poorly-conceived freak of the week: it’s just plain sloppy.

So, here we have a day where: Max Hansen showed up and died; Nathan found out he’s his father; the Chief has exploded; Nathan and Audrey had a massive fight and fantastic reconciliation; Audrey admits she thinks she’s Lucy and Nathan admits he can feel her; and we’re supposed to believe, only ten minutes later and after the appearance of another Audrey Parker, that Nathan’s response is “So, lunch?”

Duke’s revelations were no less painful and we last saw him scribbling names on a blackboard like some sort of half-deranged conspiracy nut after finding out there's an entire graveyard of headstones with the tattoo. But now here he is bouncing around between the boat and the Gull like he wasn’t cooped up terrified with a shotgun that morning. Or afternoon. Or whatever the hell time of day it was supposed to be when Max Hansen managed to have at least two meals in the first half of the last episode.

This is the same day where he ran careening to Audrey in terror the minute he saw Max Hansen’s tattoo, had a belligerent Nathan accuse him of murder and expressed quite a considerable amount of jealousy over Audrey’s relationship with her partner… but now, on seeing the blood outside the church, it’s Nathan he calls and his reaction to Audrey is “oh hey, bud!” *not his exact words*. 

“You could have told me about your Dad,” Duke says in the otherwise-lovely last scene between the two. It’s a shame we have no idea of when Nathan was supposed to pull off this miracle of communication. I was hoping Nathan would point out that he only died two hours ago and he’d been kind of busy since then but the writers seemed insistent that the ten seconds between last season and this lasted several weeks.

“You could have told me about your wife,” Nathan countered, a nice little segue for me to launch into a rant, for a total of only one paragraph I promise, on the bizarrely named Evidence Crocker.

Maybe if she’d been introduced later in the season I would not have reacted so strongly to her but honestly, there were so many things they needed to do with Duke’s character this episode (the tattoo, Julia Carr, his desire for Audrey to confide in him, his investigation of the Colorado Kid murder) and instead we had him mouldering away in a painful B plot with his annoying, improbably pneumatic, totally miscast, con artist ‘wife’. (Dear Duke – it’s called divorce. People do it all the time).

The fact that she’s obviously been introduced so they can kill her off and drive Duke to the Rev’s side is as contrived as… well… the Rev’s whole part in this episode. Knowing that the Rev sent Max Hansen to shake Duke up so he could recruit him was obvious from last season and done with a great deal of subtlety. Having the Rev state his plan to recruit Duke outright after ranting about God and sinners and lions and lambs for 45 minutes? Like I said… CLUNK.

I can handle a lot from this show, particularly when Emily Rose's last scene with the 'real' Audrey Parker was emtoinally pitch perfect and wonderfully acted, but there comes a point when even those of us who are genuinely intrigued by the mystery behind Haven start to get annoyed.

We sat through approximately ten episodes of mediocre television last season because we were intrigued, the interactions between the characters were spot on, and they got the Audrey/Nathan/Duke pairing exactly right. If you lose that... you got nothing. It's certainly not the 'freak of the week' that we're tuning in for, even if your guest star's performance in this episode was extraordinary.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Haven for Audrey Parker Theories

With the supernatural mystery series that is Haven returning to our screens on July 15, it’s inspired me to start some speculation on the surprisingly-interesting Stephen King inspired programme.

Haven’s first season aired last year and did not exactly send the airwaves buzzing with excitement. It has most noticeably failed the YouTube fan video test of new cultural zeitgeists. Its final episode should, by all rights, have spawned a great deal of internet excitement and speculation about the twists and revelations it contained. That it did not serves to demonstrate the extent to which the show has failed to grip the popular imagination. For this reason, we’re lucky to have a season 2 at all.

Haven follows FBI agent Audrey Parker, sent to the titular small Maine township to track down an escaped federal prisoner. Following the revelation of the town’s strange supernatural happenings and of a 1983 photo that contains a woman that looks remarkably like her, Parker decides to stay in town to unlock her own past.

She is helped (or is she?) both by local Haven PD detective, Nathan Wuornos and by local smuggler and rackish bad boy, Duke Crocker.

The first few episodes weren’t particularly exciting and so many viewers had already left by the time the show began to pick up its pace. In retrospect, the initial two or three episodes weren’t boring or derivative. Like many well-planned story arcs, they were only the first few bricks in a rather impressive building.

In fact, this show distinguishes itself from other ‘outsider in a small town’ series by its genuinely stunning twists and revelations. The writers have also avoided the clichéd ‘will they, won’t they’ meme with their lead characters and have managed to set up a nice love triangle without it being painful or unnatural. The subtlety of the character’s interactions is one of the programme’s greatest strengths.

Last year’s season finale was genuinely gripping and managed to include twists that were both well-telegraphed but also surprising; no mean feat.

As to the town's legendary secrecy about the death of the Colorado Kid and Lucy Ripley, this is something I was finding frustrating until I considered that, maybe as Audrey discovers more about who she is, everyone in town remembers more about what happened. That Audrey's search is quite literally uncovering the truth, not just for herself but for everyone.

Now that would be a twist.
So, if you’re a Haven fan and have any clues, thoughts or speculation on the show, meander on over and let me know.

What’s the secret of the Haven tattoo?

Is the ‘real’ Audrey Parker really Audrey Parker?

Was Max Henson lured back to Haven just to drive the Chief over the edge, rattle Duke, and make Audrey and Duke aware of the tattoo? If so, who was manipulating him? The Rev?

Who are Vince and Dave and what do they know?

Is the Rev really the bad guy? How did he know the Chief was gone?

If Nathan is Max’s son, does it mean he’s one of the tattoo people? How does this relate to his antipathy toward Duke?

And most of all:

Why is Audrey on Duke’s chalkboard?

Sure, you can also comment on if and/or when Audrey may or may not hook up with either of our male leads. But to me, that‘s not the most interesting part of the plot.

Friday, 13 May 2011

What have they done to my shows, Ma?

Supernatural is boring, Doctor Who is goddawful, Sanctuary is enjoyable, Chuck has started retconning itself at land speeds so far unrecorded by man and is fast becoming a ludicrous, meaningless mess, and the Vampire Diaries is fricking awesome. How the hell did that happen?
What planet have I moved to? Can I get home? Is there a bus? A super sonic jet?

I mean, seriously. The highlight of my viewing week at the moment is the Vampire Diaries. I repeat, the Vampire Diaries. Tortured vampire romance with meaningful looks and soapy close ups and convoluted interpersonal relationships and it just had the most kick-ass penultimate episode since Supernatural Season 4.

I maintain that the secret of this show is to introduce some ludicrous mythology or crazy dialogue and then, just as you’re willing to grudgingly accept it in a spirit of ‘suspension of disbelief’, have the viewer find out that it’s made up or the person was lying.
I give you: the Aztec Sun and Moon Curse. Totally ridiculous. Made no sense. Nearly made me throw something at the TV. Turns out, Klaus and Elijah made it up and we have a scene of them laughing about how gullible people are. How awesome is that?

And Sanctuary! Three seasons in and they’ve finally worked it out. It’s never going to be great literature-on-screen but this low-budget green-screen sci-fi show has finally come up with some interesting storylines and has pinned down its characterisation.

Meanwhile, the shark Chuck jumped in Season 3 is back and it’s bigger and badder than ever. How can geeks do this to their own show? They’re geeks! They’re supposed to care about continuity, consistency, characterisation and their show’s mythology. Don’t these people watch their own show?

Over in England, the first three episodes of Doctor Who for this season were a convoluted, disjointed, poorly-written mess that was barely watchable, thus proving that even seemingly great writers like Stephen Moffet can still only pull off one good season of the show. RTD’s reputation has never been given a greater boost.

I had some trepidation when Supernatural was renewed for a sixth season despite Kripke’s original five-season plan. I had hoped to be proved wrong but here we are. Supernatural season 6 isn’t bad per se. It’s just pointless and incredibly boring. They stopped the apocalypse. Why do we care anymore? Sam lost his soul? Yawn.

At this rate, the mid-year shows are going to roll around and I’m going to be wretchedly disappointed in Dexter, True Blood, and Breaking Bad, while discovering that… no, the brain can’t even compute the end of that sentence.

I may not be able to count on my viewing mainstays over the past few years to be any good but at least I can count on Fringe, Smallville and Stargate Universe to be consistently bad. So the bottom hasn’t completely fallen out of my world. (Does SGU’s cancellation mean we finally get the third Stargate SG-1 film we’ve been waiting forever for? Please).

NOTE: Apparently not. The lack of success of the awful SGU has meant the end of the Stargate franchise for now. Thanks ever so much, guys. Well done.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Break Up

Chuck versus the Break Up
Score: B-

‘Chuck the painfully and embarrassingly jealous’ is rolled out for this episode, which has Sarah and Bryce posing as an overly-affectionate couple for a mission.

The good
Casey. I love how the guy wanders around listening to everything but just pretends he doesn’t see or hear it. His digs throughout this season about Chuck and Sarah’s relationship are hilarious.

Chuck’s conversations with both Bryce and Sarah throughout this episode were wonderful, culminating in the powerful and beautifully-acted ‘break up’ at the end. I really think they needed to spend more time developing Bryce and having Chuck move away from the ‘nemesis’ conception of the guy before *spoiler alert* killing him off at the end of the season. 

Ana (remember Ana?) beating Mitt to a pulp was awesome.

The bad
A TWOP reviewer once said of Chuck that he found it strange that he hated 1/3 of his ‘favourite’ show. In this, I can relate. I both love and hate this episode and it’s why this review is oddly choppy.

Firstly, ‘Jealous Chuck’ is painful. While writing this review, I rewatched the episode and found myself fast forwarding through ‘Jorge’s’ stint as a waiter. And the B(uy More) plot, where Morgan has to deal with a gang of bullies was ludicrous and unwatchable.

The Chuckalicious
It’s so very Chuck that he needs Bryce to tell him that Sarah has feelings for him and to point out that maybe that’s not such a good thing. Chuck acts with such maturity at the end; a beautiful contrast to the moron he is at the beginning.

Bryce slipping Chuck the ‘real spy’s’ sunglasses was just fantastic. After all, if he hadn’t have wanted to be a spy, he would never have put them on. And to go out on Chuck’s “I hate Bryce Larkin” gave me a giggle.

The geekalicious
This trio of stories were more concerned with character rather than plot so there are very few moments of “geekaliciousness”. I will, however, mention ‘sweep the leg’ from the Karate Kid because they use it quite a bit in this season.
And - my personal favourite - the Grosse Point Blank reference to Paraguay

Monday, 21 March 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Seduction

Chuck versus the Seduction
Score: B+
Team Chuck have to get the real intersect cipher from former KGB agent Sasha Banacheck (the always-underrated Melinda Clarke ), something that apparently can only be done by having Chuck seduce her. Honestly, they couldn’t come up with a better plan? A solid episode with lots of laughs and the odd embarrassed squirm as CIA super seducer Roan Montgomery (John Larroquette) tries to teach Chuck to be a seduction master. No, really. And if you can come out of this episode not craving a martini you’re a better woman (or man) than I.

The good
There's so much going in this episode that I'm bound to have missed something in this review: Chuck's growth as a spy, real development in his and Sarah's relationship, Lester's surprisingly-amusing stint as Assistant Manager (including the 'Ass Man' sign), the subtle implication that Roan and Beckman are involved, a nice tie-in between Awesome and Chuck's seduction techniques (or lack thereof), and Bryce Larkin's surprise arrival at the end.

Awesome’s “evening of intense seduction” designed by Morgan was hilarious, as was his “I’m going to kill the furry little bastard” when it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. The fact that Awesome is as bad at seduction as Chuck is a nice touch by the writers.
John Larroquette’s Roan Montgomery is an appealing character and his interactions with our own Chuck are surprisingly poignant considering you’d expect his portrayal to be “walking Bond cliché”. I remember when this show got a lot of mileage out of burnt-out agents learning something from the simple honour of Mr Bartowski and this is one of those episodes.
The bad
There’s a fine line between ‘dopey and adorable’ and ‘dopey and painful’ and some of Chuck’s “seduction” scenes (and his Buy More scene) fell of the edge they were dancing on. Also, as far as the CIA’s plans go this has got to be the worst. Why on Earth would they use a clueless, untrained, yet vital intelligence resource to seduce the “Black Widow”?
The Chuckalicious
Once again, the show gives us a smoking-hot kiss that puts even “Chuck versus the Imported Hard Salami” to shame. Number 1 TV kiss ever. I've even put this episode on just to watch that kiss. Again and again. And again. And if that’s not enough to establish our titular hero’s true romantic credentials, getting the CIA to help Awesome was… well… Awesome.

And poor Chuck at the end... damn you Bryce Larkin.
The geekalicious
None. What's going on? 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the First Date

Chuck versus the First Date
Score: A
Team Chuck try to get the new intersect cipher back from awesome bad guy ‘Mr Colt’ (Michael Clarke Duncan) unaware that Casey’s been ordered to kill Chuck as soon as the new computer is complete. Believing he’s about to be free from his spy life, Chuck and Sarah go on their “first real date”/”second first date”.

The good
I loved this episode so it’s difficult to pick out just a few things to rave about. Season 2 was unarguably the best season and everything that was great about it clicks in this episode. The characterisation, the interactions between the leads, the right balance between ‘Chuck the normal, geeky guy’ and ‘Chuck the hero’, Sarah’s perfect mix of bad ass spy and vulnerability, Casey’s duty and loyalty to his country combined with his genuine, older-brother affection for Chuck, and the way the show combines ludicrous spy plots with very real emotion. I very nearly gave it an A+.

The bad
There’s not a single thing I don’t like about this episode: even the clumsy exposition at the beginning and the cage fight for the AM position didn’t bother me too much. It was just awesome.

The Chuckalicious
“Your boss, Carmichael. He’s good.” Mr Colt

I've always loved the humour of Chuck's alter-ego Carmichael being a kick-ass spy so the final scene on the rooftop always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The geekalicious
Lots of Call of Duty references and of course Die Hard.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Marlin

Chuck versus the Marlin
Score: A
Is there a show more blighted by misfortune and network interference than Chuck? Ok, so Firefly got jacked around more but that was Fox and what else do we expect? Just as the show got picked up for a full season, the writer’s strike hit and the season suddenly ended when it was finally starting to pick up pace. As such, “Chuck versus the Marlin” became the season finale and, while it would work perfectly as the mid-season episode it was supposed to be, it’s not quite powerful enough for our farewell to Season 1.
The team find out that a Fulcrum agent has blown their cover just as Awesome elicits Chuck’s advice on proposing to Ellie. He gives our hero his grandmother’s engagement ring to take care of… right before the Buy More is robbed. Having our cast run around desperately trying to find the agent, the engagement ring and Big Mike’s Marlin could have been the kind of “whacky hijinks” I was complaining about in my last review but it actually works. As the CIA order Chuck into protective custody, the gang has to stop the Fulcrum agent before Chuck has to farewell his normal life for good.

The good
Parts of this episode were so funny that listing them all would take too long. Two of the best were Morgan and Ellie’s jealousy over Chuck confiding in Casey instead of them and the hilarious scene with the couch, Casey, a knife and Ellie. And, when given the opportunity, Big Mike can be the funniest person on the show.
While not the explosive season finale you’d expect, Chuck and Sarah watching Awesome propose to Ellie was just lovely and, knowing that Casey is reluctantly preparing to kill Chuck if ordered to do so, his role in the final scene is particularly poignant.

The bad
Noureen DeWulf is so poorly cast as pita delivery girl and Fulcrum agent Lizzie that her screentime verged on the painful. Obviously cast for her ability to flounce around in short shorts, the idea that she could in any way challenge, let alone beat, our ass-kicking Sarah Walker in a one-on-one was downright laughable. Also, she discovers Chuck is the Intersect and… doesn’t tell anybody about it? Seriously?

The Chuckalicious
The scene on the helipad as Sarah farewells Chuck is emotionally pitch-perfect and makes me mourn a little for the Season 1 that will never be. Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski sell their characters 110% and it’s scenes like this that truly make me love this show.

The geekalicious
There were surprisingly-few pop culture references, particularly for the season finale of a show devoted to them. But then, it was never intended to be the season finale so I’ll excuse it. Just this once.

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Undercover Lover

Chuck versus the Undercover Lover
Score: A
After last week’s wince fest, Phil Klemmer wrote this Casablanca-inspired gem that is possibly my favourite episode from the first season.
Chuck flashes on a "douche bag convention" of Russian arms dealers and in doing so finds out that Casey’s lover Ilsa Trinchina is still alive after faking her own death in Chechnya several years before. As Chuck tries to dig up Casey’s inner romantic, he digs up Ilsa’s shady spy past as well.

The good
For once I enjoyed the B(uy More) plot and the show did a good job of integrating Ellie, Awesome, Morgan and the Buymorons into the secondary storyline as well as developing Ellie and Awesome’s relationship. This was the first sign that Morgan could be more than “Chuck’s annoying little bearded friend”.
The insight into Casey’s character was intelligent and consistent and it was great to see him open up to Chuck. Knowing that he’s been tasked to kill Chuck in the near future made their bonding bittersweet: you can see exactly why Casey will find it hard to pull the trigger when the time comes.

The bad
“It’s alive!!!”
This show falls down consistently when it tries to be “whacky” rather than witty (which is why the Buy More plots tend to leave me a little cold) and Chuck’s strange yelling of this phrase is the epitome of this. Still, these moments are few and far between in this otherwise great episode so this section is refreshingly light on.

The Chuckalicious
“You don’t know who’s on top”.
Who doesn’t love some Chuck/Casey brotherly bonding and this episode gave us the best of their relationship. From conspiring for Casey to reconnect with Ilsa to hiding under the bed while she’s rolling around with somebody else, this was Chuck and Casey’s moment to shine. And they did just that, culminating in an awesome (sip) fight scene and plunge to the hotel swimming pool below.
I’ve never been a Neil Diamond fan, but after this episode I downloaded “Love on the Rocks” and play it… a LOT.

The geekalicious
Casablanca reigns supreme. Ilsa is named for Rick's ex-girlfriend in Casablanca and her Russian fiancé’s name is Victor after Ilsa's husband in Casablanca. Casey is even watching Casablanca in the home theatre room when Ilsa comes to see him. And of course, Ilsa flies away at the end, leaving Chuck to tell Casey, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Crown Vic

Chuck versus the Crown Vic
Score: C
Following Sarah’s choice of Team Chuck over Team Bryce, Chuck and Sarah go undercover on a mission to foil a counterfeiter - a mission made more difficult due to Chuck’s jealousy and general all-round idiocy. Meanwhile, Morgan behaves like a dick as well. And if a general sense that this episode was painful bleeds through this review, it’s because it was.

The good
“I hate this assignment.”
Adam Baldwin’s Casey is, as always, hilarious and the car wash scene with his precious Crown Victoria was brilliant. “Carmichael’s” and Sarah’s “fight” at the end is so gloriously overacted that it remains a Chuck highlight for me.
And, of course, the poignancy of the termination order at the end was powerfully done. Poor Casey.

The bad
The ‘B’(uy More) plot. Again.
While slightly redeeming himself at the end, Chuck was so incompetent in this episode that Sarah was doubtless wishing she’d run away with Bryce. From losing $100k at the casino and having an open breakdown about it to behaving like a whingy little child about his nemesis, I’m surprised he didn’t drive Sarah straight to Omaha.
Our hero may be emotional and insecure but he’s also an adult, something the writers in this episode seemed to forget.

The Chuckalicious
Exploding Crown Victoria’s aside, the ‘win’ moment for me from this episode was when Chuck runs around trying to get someone to believe him about his flash on Morgan’s photo and Sarah unhesitatingly leaps to his aid despite all their fights. And the scene at the Buy More Christmas party was just lovely.

The geekalicious
Love Boat references abound and of course Morgan being Morgan has to do a Titanic homage. And dat’s ‘bout it.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Nemesis

Chuck versus the Nemesis

Score: B+

What the world needs is definitely more Klingon.

Bryce Larkin comes back from the dead with the answers Chuck’s been after and he brings a new nemesis with him. Fulcrum is our bad guy. Write it down. Of course, it’s not the only nemesis referred to by the title. Bryce Larkin is, after all, awesome and it's hard not to feel intimidated by the woman you love's perfect ex. Particularly if he got you kicked out of Stanford (sip).

The good

Matthew Bomer. ‘Nough said.

The bad

Pineapple. I know that contrivances are spy movie clichés and that this show glories in them but the ‘pineapple’ Buy More subplot was kind of ridiculous. Not so ridiculous that we didn’t enjoy it, however, and so it’s forgiven.

And sweet potatoes with marshmallows in them? I guess it's the Australian in me but that sounds disgusting. And do Americans really eat icecream on steak? Bleh.

The Chuckalicious

Matthew Bomer. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zachary Levi’s Chuck but how can you go past Bomer’s sexy, perfect Bryce. He’s a super spy with a heart of gold who’s not afraid to geek out with his old friend. And until Bond brings himself to save the world with Klingon, Bryce Larkin wins the spy award hands down.

The Thanksgiving dinner scene with Ellie, Morgan, Anna and the sweet potatoes was funny as hell and Chuck’s Thanksgiving speech that he’s “thankful Bryce Larkin is dead and not in his bedroom making out with his new girlfriend” was hilarious, particularly when followed by Morgan and Awesome’s “Dude, that was dark. And specific.”

The geekalicious

Apart from the Casablanca reference "we'll always have Omaha" there's not much going on in this episode that I saw.

Unless you count the Klingon. Bryce and Chuck save the day with Klingon. Did I mention the Klingon?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Chuck me Tuesdays TBC

So, having been inspired by the significant improvement in Chuck Season 4 versus the generally-awful Chuck Season 3, I've decided to come off hiatus and finish the Chuck me Tuesdays segments. I'll try to do one a week until I catch up to the current season. How Chucktastic is that?