I’ve been down with a nasty cold this weekend, so I’ve had some time to devour large amounts of television. In the past, The Office and LOST have been my weekly television mainstays, but LOST is in it’s final season, and I’ve completely stopped caring about The Office, so I’ve been looking for things to get into. Here are my thoughts on three shows that are in their first season:
I know people with good taste that like this show. I don’t. In theory, I don’t mind a show that derives most of it’s comedy from ensemble interactions and ceaseless pop-culture references. My problem with the show is that it tries to be a fast moving, zany comedy, but it often has a problem with maintaining a consistent pace. In every episode that I’ve watched, there have been incredibly funny individual moments, but very few episodes maintain that level of comedy (in a case of bad timing [for me], the most recent episode, “Physical Education” does maintain that pace, and is a very good half-hour of television).
I think the ensemble is strong, and I can appreciate that there are things to like about it, but I probably won’t watch it unless there’s a really good review from the AV Club.
United States of Tara
I’m not actually sure what the critical consensus is on this show. I wasn’t really aware of it, and I only checked it out because I was interested in watching a Diablo Cody-penned TV show. Fittingly, I am incredibly divided about whether I like this show.
Lets talk about the good things: This show has an incredible ensemble. The nature of Tara’s mental illness is that she is at home most of the time. This means that a lot of the drama is powered by the family. John Corbett plays Tara’s husband, and he’s doing better work on this show than I thought him capable of. Brie Larson is very good (although not plausibly 15) and I’ll probably watch the second season for Kier Gilchrist. Even though multiple personality disorder sounds like the zany mental illness you might find on a television show, the dramatic strength of these actors reach a real place.
Toni Collette is very good. She’s just not this good (and I don’t think that there is a single actor or actress that could pull this concept off). The “alters” –the other personalities that she exhibits– are really annoying to watch for long periods of time, and the show hasn’t spent much time establishing Tara’s character as anything but a “normal” foil for her wacky and zany alters. There are two problems here:
1. I’m not sure that Diablo Cody and company want to make any grand dramatic statements about mental illness, but it seems like the show is taking it seriously. Some set pieces in the show are confessional-style video diaries from Tara and her alters, as well as visits to Tara’s therapist and scenes in a mental institution. At the same time, the alters, and especially the way that they are differentiated from “normal” Tara through costume and accent give the show a tacky, cheap, sketch-comedy feel which undercuts moments of sincere drama.
2. This is a structural problem as well. Unfortunately, the engine that drives the drama on this show has been revelations and betrayals on the part of one of the alters. They have written themselves into a corner; there is no way to keep up the drama while quietly retiring the original premise of Toni Collette portraying 5 characters.
Like I said, I’ll probably watch this when the second season starts at the end of the month, but it probably won’t be an essential part of my week.
Caprica is a show that’s become an essential part of my TV week. I could never get into Battlestar Galactica (although I think I might try and watch it over the summer), but this show hits all of my buttons. I like shows with ambition, but that don’t take themselves too seriously, and everything about this show is well thought out and stylish. I think I might try and recap the episodes after they become available on Hulu this season.