TV Talk for Monday, December 5th 2011 - When the comedies were depressing and the dramas were all kinds of light and fluffy. Television is having an identity crisis!
How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 8pm) - S7, Ep 12: "Symphony of Illumination" - Blame my friend Jamie. I know I do. It was because of her asking if I was going to watch and saying she thought it was good that I decided to tune into this show at all tonight after quitting it the way I quit glee. As it turns out, though, I should have stayed away. Because the comedy I once found so fresh and so clever is now resorting to Ringer-like red herrings in order to keep its audience. We can no longer trust anything the writers tell us, whether it comes from "unreliable" narrator Ted (Josh Radnor)'s mouth or was something we saw with our own two eyes. It's episodes like this that really prove why shows need end dates: they need to know what, as well as when, they're writing towards so they don't drag things out or backtrack or rewrite history with a "just kidding!" to fill the time. It's also episodes like this that worry me that the writers no longer know what they want the tone of the show to be. It's one thing to incorporate some natural drama into a comedy (Friends did it with Monica and Chandler's inability to get pregnant, HIMYM did it just last season with Marshall (Jason Segel)'s dad dying)-- that's all part of growing up and developing an "adult" set of problems-- but it's a whole other story to suck the fun out of the series once known for wacky nicknames for smoking pot and characters making "slap bets" and hosting interventions for each other. With Robin (Cobie Smulders)'s pregnancy scare, she should be forced to confront quite a few so-called "adult" problems-- first and foremost the fact that she may not be ready for kids or she may not want to have kids with the man she is currently dating, but she may want them in general. And that's truly a revelation for her. She never thought she wanted them before. But wait, the show told us she actually had them. And all in such close proximity-- ah! A dozen episodes (at least) of absolutely inane nothingness, and now a ton of character crap all at once. I never thought I'd think there was such a thing as too much character development, but this isn't TV time, this is just, well, inane! Give her time to process! Did she end up adopting? That would be a nice assumption, and I would have been content to not know and just assume as much. Instead, the show decided to give us a "Psyche!" moment and explain the kids we saw her with in the episode opener flash forward were just in her imagination. Then? Now? Who the eff cares? They're not real; we were lied to; she's dating a guy with whom she has absolutely no chemistry (sorry Kal Penn, but you're just not a romantic lead). She's sad that she can't have kids and choosing not to confide in her friends and never once stops to think this doesn't mean her future is over. Yuck. Besides, I'm not inclined to even believe she really can't have kids. The show has faked us out and lied to us before, maybe they're doing so again. Doctors can make mistakes. At the end of the episode Ted (Bob Saget) said she was "ever alone" not "never a mother." The show just doesn't want to commit to anything anymore. What's salvageable here? Well, the Marshall and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) storyline, for sure. I still love them and select them as one of my top TV couples currently on-air and perhaps even of all time. But the show is so Eriksen-lite lately, it seems counterintuitive to this stance that the characters are growing up and moving on (while Ted stands still). They're having a baby. Let's see some more of that, not splitting them up while she can make pregnancy jokes and he can bond like a buffoon with a surrogate son-figure, puh-lease! But someone on that crew deserves an Emmy for that holiday apartment lighting design.
2 Broke Girls (CBS, 8:30pm) - S1, Ep11: "And The Reality Check" - Know how you can ruin 'Homeless or Hipster' for me? Don't put it on endless Tumblrs; put it on this show. And so they did, and so I'm annoyed, but this is what happens when you don't have a slingbox or the east coast feed or the moral reprehensibility to illegally download or stream online. So as I waited-- not so patiently-- for Hart of Dixie to start on the west coast, I left my "dial" on CBS and hated myself for half an hour as Max (Kat Dennings) showed no affect at all and the other one (Beth Behrs) dressed up her horse for its first snow in Brooklyn. Yes, seriously. I'm calling PETA. That horse deserves so much better. And that's it. That's all that the episode was about, with all "jokes" pointed at and directly around keeping the horse warm and dry-- and putting it in the fame spotlight for Real Housewives of TriBeCa. Which could be a metaphor for keeping the girls safe during the harsh winter weather, living without money for things like heat, but the show doesn't exhibit that much depth or foresight. Instead we get more "dump" and "pees like a champion" quips. But there was one really sweet and awesome moment at the end when Max said her farewell to Chestnut. Sure, some might say she overreacted, making it sound like he was on his deathbed with the "thanks for all you did for us stuff," but those people would be soulless. Because anyone who has ever loved an animal knew how she felt. It may have been irresponsible for them to keep the horse in the back "yard" for as long as they did, especially in the cold, and I certainly judged them and the show for it, but I know if I ever had to get rid of my "pet" Madison (he's my child, not my property; screw you, laws!), I would be too selfish to be able to do it.
...Caroline! The other one's name is Caroline! Doesn't matter, does it? Also, if Max has two jobs, and Caroline only has one and a horse that draws on their resources, isn't it about time Max whips her into shape so she begins to pull her weight better? Whatever, that doesn't matter either.
Hart of Dixie (The CW, 9pm) - S1, Ep10: "Hairdos & Holidays" - All I want for Christmas is Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel) under my tree. Step aside and step off, Zoe (Rachel Bilson)! But before we get there, let's discuss how often people in Bluebell go to the doctor. I mean, for every little thing! I don't know if they have amazing insurance, or if Zoe charges pennies, or if most of them just want to gawk at the flashy city girl-- or even if Nancy Travis told them to mind her before she left, but it's weird. Oh, and speaking of-- I'm glad that if Nancy Travis had to leave Bluebell, her daughter Rose (McKaley Miller) was allowed to stay because she is what the word adorkable is all about. I want more of her and less of Zoe, though I do find it kind of adorable how, little by little, Zoe is getting sucked into actively participating in town events-- first with the pirates' treasure hunt and now with coaching a girl through the Cinnamon Cider (?) pageant. It goes above and beyond just killing time while she does her year in Bluebell; she may have been provoked by a need to beat the Breelands, but really, what Lemon (Jaime King) said to her was spot on and the nerve she struck is going to have residual effects. Zoe doesn't really have anything going on for herself-- above and beyond "just" being single, she has her work and that is it. She has barely made friends in Bluebell-- real friends, ones you have dinner with or spend a few hours on a weekend just talking about each others' lives with-- she has resisted at all cost. She's still resisting: throwing herself into Rose's life is an easy way to keep busy without getting too personally invested, and really she-- and Rose-- should leave it alone. Girls like Lemon and Magnolia need things like winning small town pageants. They're small town girls. By choice or by chance, they're not going to venture out farther. Just let them have this. Zoe-- and Rose-- can have anything. As long as they see that in themselves. I want Zoe to turn the corner, but I respect that Leila Gerstein is taking it slow. I know girls like Zoe-- I am a girl like Zoe-- and even if we really do want to attach deep down, we keep the wall up for awhile, just to be safe. Lemon has her own wall up because of her mother-- but the wall only makes sense now that we, and she, sees where her mother is in life. She's not a big, famous actress, and she's not slumming it still trying to make her way to become a big, famous actress, either. Everything Lemon told herself to feel better was a lie, and now is the time she should lash out and be a frigid bitch because she's hurt. But she's been lashing out for years, so now the only logical step in my mind is for her to spiral. I think she needs a drinking problem. Or to sleep with Lavon (Cress Williams), if they could do that in a way that wouldn't get him hurt. And I'm sorry, but why couldn't King have played her younger counterpart? She played high school age just last year in My Generation and it worked fine; she's only harsh in Hart of Dixie because she's written that way! I like that Lavon and her mother are entangled in her heart in a complicated, kind of twisted way. It feels very much like the type of connection formed out of the intensity of the moment, not necessarily true love, but that doesn't mean it's not real or powerful. If done right, that could be the most fascinating relationship of the series because of the secret they share. George (Scott Porter) is too vanilla. Well, unless he's with Wade, which once again were the moments that won me over in this episode. They fight like brothers, to the point where if they hadn't already clearly set up separate family lines, I could easily imagine Wade to be George's brother that we still have yet to meet. And I'd prefer it if they were because it would provide more opportunities to get those two together and have adventures, and yes, even get arrested from time to time. Wade's a smooth talker, and George is a lawyer; between the two of them, they'll come out all right. And though Wade's motives may not be entirely pure, his points were all valid-- George has to be a man and make a decision: stay committed to Lemon and stop flirting with Zoe, or-- well, he didn't give him an or because he wants to be with Zoe, but George was never going to take an alternative, anyway. He still has the innocent belief of "forever." It's things like that that make this show so simple and sweet.
Castle (ABC, 10pm) - S4, Ep10: "Cuffed" - I'm not going to lie. I fell asleep for what I'm going to call a "power nap" in the middle of this episode. Only I didn't wake up physically attached to my dog, though it felt that way for a minute since he, too, was asleep and on my arm, and I had lost all feeling in that limb. Anyway, the last thing I remember before conking out was how Castle (Nathan Fillion) said "an old lady in a cage, us handcuffed together, what am I supposed to think?" I mumbled "that she was bait for you" and then nodded off. I don't think I really missed much. This episode seemed to be much more about the quirks of relationships-- of all of the various ones, platonic, business, or otherwise-- than any actual case. How could it be anything else with its star detective locked away? Insight into the intricacies and quirks and double entendre dialogue of the pairings is fun for the diehard fans, but clearly it just didn't hold my interest this time. It was "cute"-- however cute keeping people captive can be, but it was a little light-- for such a serious situation, and in plot. And was I still half-asleep when I saw a tiger? Did that actually happen? In New York City? Another reason to call PETA tonight! And the lame "Grreeatt!" jokes. Oy. How do you go from the choppy, uber-"in her head" PTSD PSA that was "Kill Shot" to this? Oh, Castle, you need to decide what you want to be. And fast. Before you have any more bipolar episodes.
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, 10pm) - S2, Ep11: "Pahele" - If every show looked as good as this one while staying as true to its themes and genre, television would be a better, brighter place. There's something to be said for being able to go into a show and know exactly what you're going to get with the broad strokes but still be taken on an emotional, twisty rollercoaster ride of plot, intrigue, and yes, often murder. Watching little Aimee Garcia take a turn as a ruthless drug-dealer-turned-kidnapper who hijacked a school bus full of kids was oddly thrilling; they never given her anything to do on Dexter! I criticize shows that put their detectives as the targets of major crimes because on TV that happens about once a month (maybe twice for Sweeps), but in real life? Maybe once every ten years in a squad. But they did it right tonight. Criminals wanted their stash back, so they made a big, bold statement to get Five-0's attention and assure they'll play ball. It's personal, but not too personal; putting Danny (Scott Caan)'s kid on the bus, for example, would have been overkill-- schmaltzy melodrama just to raise the stakes. Incorporating the newly rogue Terry O'Quinn, who is always unmatched and now on a mission to take out some old foes, as well as another criminal tie (Rick Gomez), added extra layers, teasing how deep this thing could run. Seeing Gomez pop up again just reminded me I want to see him work with his brother soon, too. All of those amounted to distractions, though, for the audience, as well as the team, to hopefully ignore some of the tell-tale rules of procedurals, and you know what? They worked! Ingo Rademacher as a concerned parent seemed like it could actually be just a device to drive home what was at stake, but the devil's in the details. You don't notice that if you're not deeply invested in the performances, and admittedly I'm usually not. But this show moves at such a brisk, exciting pace, I can't help but get swept up in the moments, turning off the part of my brain that has trained me to try to be three steps ahead of the story, to see all the angles-- where it could go, where it should go, where it will go-- at least until the next commercial break, when I have a few seconds to reflect. This is just another example of how Hawaii Five-0 keeps getting better and better. It was my most pleasant surprise of last TV season, and I'm thrilled there is no sophomore slump. I'm also thrilled Jenna Kay (Larissa Oleynik) is finally dead. But that was last week, and there's no need to regress.
Rizzoli & Isles (TNT), 10pm) - S2, Ep12: "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" - Colin Egglesfield returns! True story, that's the reason I tuned in. Generally I find Jane (Angie Harmon) too abrasive. Yes, yes, I know women in a man's workplace often toughen up just to fit in, but that's not what I'm talking about. She is so snide with her so-called bestie Maura (Sasha Alexander), always dismissing her with a roll of the eyes or frustrated retort, I honestly don't know why those two are so close as the show wants us to believe they are. It bugs me, and every episode is the same, and I just want to yell "Have some self respect!" at Maura the way I do to those girls on The Secret Circle. Especially tonight when she just allowed and accepted Jane's anger and outrage towards her for doing her job. Though this relationship may be platonic, there is no cause for ever making someone you care about feel like crap. But I digress. The bank robbery turned homicide case here that Jane and Maura were called in on seemed to scream "personal" from the minute the man in the mask took pause with a sack full of money and then shot the bank teller. And whenever things get personal, so do they for the detectives on the case. It was only a matter of time to get Jane and/or Maura emotionally involved in a case again, and it had been a long time coming for it to be with Tommy. Like ever since he got out of jail in the first place long. I think it would have had a stronger meaning if this had happened sooner because it was the perfect catalyst for Jane to realize how she really feels about her little brother. She judged him harshly when he got out of jail; she didn't trust him, didn't think he wouldn't screw up right away, and didn't want him around her friend's (see what I did there?). But in the time that has passed since he first got out and this episode, that has dissipated a bit. I think it would have been a stronger effect for her to be judging him and criticizing him and then to have him arrested by the FBI and her instinct is to go to bat for him, to investigate on his own "not as a cop but as Tommy's sister." She may not fully believe him, but she can't deny how much she loves him and wants to see the good in him. And since so much time has passed between Tommy's release and his re-incarceration, the impact dissolves because it just makes me sad that Jane has spent all this time not rebuilding her relationship with her brother. Without the Tommy "twist," though there wouldn't be enough to sustain. These were the dumbest bank-robbers-slash-murderers for a number of reasons. First of all, they gave up too much information unprompted. The minute a witness, a family member, or a suspect gives the cops something personal about themselves (in this case the "I had to quit hockey when I ruptured my Achilles tendon"), that's an automatic trigger of importance, of something that will come back and close the case later. But also, after they killed their patsies, who the hell did they think they were going to frame for the third bank robbery? They were panicked; they were falling apart; they were so easy to catch even a child could do it. And that's probably a good thing because that FBI agent who had a history with Frost (Lee Thompson Young) was a child.