PARENTHOOD--"What to My Wandering Eyes"--Written By Jason Katims; Directed By Hanelle Culpepper
I don't watch Parenthood regularly. The series premiered four years ago. Three seasons passed without much interest from me. I loved Friday Night Lights, though. Jason Katims brought in many of the FNL writers to work on Parenthood. Why wasn't I watching nor even interested? I don't know. A strange thing happened this fall, which is to say it wasn't strange at all but just a common expression to use, when I'd finish writing my latest riveting review of Matthew Perry's Go On. Parenthood would be on NBC, and I watched more intently each week as I put the finishing touches on Go On and posted it. It just so happened Parenthood was telling a story about a sick parent/wife and I have a personal history with a sick parent. So, I became, as it were, engrossed with Parenthood's cancer story.
Go On didn't air the night "What to My Wandering Eyes" did. I watched the episode without the distraction of the bog post. Monica Potter's Kristina goes into septic shock the week of Christmas and hits a critical point on Christmas Eve. The Bravermans join together to pray and hope for a happy outcome. The episode's no more melodramatic than any episode of Everwood from Everwood's excellently told cancer arc from the end of the third season. Peter Krause and Craig T. Nelson are part of one of the best scenes of the episode, but the scene of the episode features Kristina's Jen-from-the-Dawson's-Creek series finale moment in which she talks to her kids about what she loves about them and imparting words she might never get to if cancer takes her from them. "What to My Wandering Eyes" stuck with me after watching it, which is why I included it. I watch many, many episodes of TV in a calendar year (and even write about most of what I watch), but not many stick with me like this episode did. That means something.
LAST RESORT--"Captain"--Written By Karl Gajdusek & Shawn Ryan; Directed By Martin Campbell
I wanted to write reviews of Last Resort episodes, but its timeslot, plus other stuff, made it quite difficult to watch the show, let alone write about it. "Captain" is a kick ass beginning to the series. Its intense, energetic, and reminded me of Leo Tolstoy's musings on the idea of history and the people responsible for history versus historians who can't always be trusted (it's a good thing). Andre Braugher was terrific as the captain who refuses to obey orders. Scott Speedman portrayed the good old fashioned All American boy that follows his captain without a second thought. This episode's about the consequences of rejecting an order given by the government. The government bombs its own submarine. The crew takes shelter on an island and threatens to launch their nuclear missiles if the government attacks them. At the end of a two minute monologue to end the episode, Braugher menacingly utters, "You've been warned." It felt like a condensed summer popcorn flick but one that wasn't made by Brett Ratner or Michael Bay, because Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek are smart and talented writers who know the value of writing over expensive CGI.
THE SIMPSONS--"A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again"--Written By Matt Warburton; Directed By Chris Clements
The majority of Simpsons fans stopped watching the series a decade ago. I'm one of them. The terrible stretch in the early to middle aughts lost me. The Simpsons I loved disappeared. The movie in 2007 was the best Simpsons thing I'd seen since maybe 2001-02. I watch the random repeat on FOX from a season two or three years ago, and I'm more accepting of what the show is now and aware it won't return to the quality of its first decade run.
"A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again" tells the story of Bart Simpson's boredom and subsequent desire to take a week-long cruise. There's a montage early on of Bart sitting on his couch, watching television, and looking like boredom personified. The screen breaks into five strips, depicting the same thing for Bart. He's in a rut and bummed out by the drudgery of everyday life and wants to have fun. An ad for a cruise ship inspires him to sell all of his possessions to afford the cruise, but his possessions don't sell for the price of the vacation. Marge and Homer sell a valuable item of theirs to make the trip happen. The cruise is everything Bart expected. Near its end, he falsely reports a pandemic so the cruise never docks and he never has to return to the drudgery of everyday existence. The highlight of the pandemic subplot is Treat Williams' cameo as the star of the film. Treat doesn't recognize himself in the movie because he's in so damn many.
Bart's problem is a very adult one. The title pays tribute to the late David Foster Wallace and his essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," (or "Shipping Out") which a 100+ page account of his seven days on a cruise ship. Wallace's non-fiction and fiction dealt the drudgery and tedium of adulthood and how to overcome it. The answer's not simple nor easy nor clear, and it takes a tremendous amount of will-power and mental determination to see beyond the trees in the forest. Bart's sad about coming home because he thinks he'll never get away from the tedium and that he'll never have fun again. Lisa helps her brother feel better by telling him what it takes to have fun in the midst of the drudgery and tedium of everyday life--appreciate the good moments. The coda of the episode is of Bart in an elderly home, smiling back on the memory of all the fun he had over the years. Bart imagined an unhappy and unsatisfying adult life where he's either a stripper, an overweight man who washes himself with a stick, or a wash-out as seen in "Lisa's Wedding." But, here, Bart's at peace and content, and happy most of all.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES--"Bringing Out the Dead"--Written Turi Meyer & Al Septien; Directed By Jeffrey Hunt
For a hyper-insane and intense show about vampires, Julie Plec and staff really nail the human drama aspect of the show, like when Caroline's going to lose her father because he'd rather die than become a vampire. It's not often I'm actually bummed about a review not catching the eye of the interweb, but I was bummed when my "Bringing Out the Dead" didn't catch the eye of the interweb. Meyer and Septien's script depicted approaching death in a quiet and measured way. There were no stirring speeches nor histrionics. Bill was going to die, and Caroline just needed to brace for it. This episode aired two weeks after the wonderful "Our Town," which is another Caroline centric story that's moving.
TVD's amazing when the action never ceases and the writers cover four episodes of plot in four acts. The break-neck pace of any episode helps makes scenes like everyone remembering who they lost in "Memorial" more special; or, in this case, Elena and Caroline's conversation on a porch as her father slowly passes away inside. The writing, acting, and direction was incredibly moving. I haven't been more moved by a scene in 2012 than Caroline's scene with Elena. It hit close to home.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: NO RESERVATIONS--"Mozambique"
Anthony Bourdain announced his move from Travel to CNN shortly after No Reservations opened its season with "Mozambique." Bourdain's time in Mozambique is one of my favorite episodes of No Reservation. Mozambique's a post-colonial country in Africa, which just fascinates me since I studied post-colonial literature in college. Bourdain explores the history of the country and showcases its culture. Let's hope Bourdain's pieces for CNN will resemble the "Mozambique" episode.
We've reached the end of Part 2, but Part 3 will be post sometime tomorrow.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK