Monday, March 31, 2014

How I Met Your Mother "Last Forever" Review

Bloggers and critics spent a lot of time over the past week remembering How I Met Your Mother. Websites posted Top 50 and Top 10 episode countdowns. Interviews were conducted with the cast. There were tours of the set. The AV Club posted a retrospective about the beauty of the series. Years of creatively bankrupt storytelling, disinterested acting, and unnecessarily prolonged storytelling didn’t deter the most ardent and devoted HIMYM fans. Something about the series continued to charm fans and critics. A sense of ‘it’ll be worth the wait’ carried fans through nonsense episode after nonsense episode, through retread of storylines past, through characters dissolving into caricature, and maybe now modern consumers of pop culture will learn an important truth about stories and endings. Do not continue watching a series thinking the ending will redeem a series, because it won’t. Endings are overrated in episodic television. Rarely will you feel happy with an ending after investing so much time into a one-sided relationship.

How I Met Your Mother concluded badly tonight. “Last Forever” spanned years and relationship upheaval. In 40 some minutes, Bays and Thomas told nearly fifteen years of story. Barney and Robin, whose wedding weekend the final season was set during, divorced within minutes of the series finale. Robin embarked on a global career as a news anchor in which her friends disappeared and her husband. By the end, in the year 2030, she’s in an apartment, living with two cute dogs. During those years, Ted had two children with The Mother, named Tracy, who eventually dies and whom no one grieves. “Last Forever” is vignette oriented. Bays and Thomas brushed with broad strokes the last pages of the last chapter of this forgettable and regrettably told tale. Barney’s flirtation with settled married life could not sustain him or the writers, because Barney mostly acted as he did for all the series until the birth of his daughter, the lone love of his life, a daughter whose mother was not named; it was a changed that motivated Barney to shame two women in a bar for doing what he preyed on for the entire series. The scene will probably be read as Barney’s maturation reaching completion, but he was a horrible character, and an example to future comedy writers for how to not write a shticky cartoon. The Barney-Robin storyline reflected the series in the end: the writers were disinterested, not committed, and those characters meant nothing to each other.

Other vignettes included the continued happiness of Marshall and Lily. It included a third child, Marshall achieving his dreams, and lots of Lily sadface as relationships changed around her. Robin, at the last Halloween party that doubled as an apartment goodbye party because Lily and Marshall moved out of it, said the gang was not much more than people who rarely see each other. The rigors of time on friendships and relationship were the reason Marshall compared Robin to a Yetti. The other four stayed in touched. Robin remained apart. She was saddened on the rooftop to see Ted with Tracy and also regretful because she knew he was the man for her. Robin was always the woman for Ted. Years of happiness with Tracy meant little. They married seven or eight years after meeting at Farhampton after having two children. Tracy barely figured into the most important scenes set in 2016, 2018, 2020. “Last Forever” opened with the gang expressing their fondness for the new girl in the city, Robin, and it ended with Robin coming into their lives through Ted.

Ted asked his children at the end of his story about the point of the story. The structure of How I Met Your Mother allowed for stories that commented on stories that commented on stories, stories within stories within stories, the power of memory and unreliability of memory, to trace the themes of one’s life and how those themes inform choices, decisions, happiness and unhappiness. Narratively, the point of Ted’s story was that there was no point. No storyteller should need nine years to tell a story that should’ve ended in the “Pilot.” The kids think Ted used the story to gain permission to pursue their Aunt Robin, six years after their mother’s death. The execution of the ending was horribly telegraphed and recklessly written. Lily commended Ted for enduring emotional tumult before his wedding day, which set up the actual ending of the series: the death of his wife and mother of his children was the final tumult he experienced.

So, this series that loved to play tricks on its viewers through dazzling gimmicks, that venerated its most reprehensible character and his habit of using the long con on those he loved the most, used those dazzling tricks and conning to stretch out a story that should’ve ended in the “Pilot.” How I Met Your Mother was essentially a prolonged short film. Yes, endings in episodic television series are overrated and a poor way to ultimately assess and critique a series because the great big middle sections of a series matter more and mean more.

A good ending is always better than bad ending, but no ending would’ve saved HIMYM from itself. HIMYM was long finished before tonight’s misfire.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Vampire Diaries "Rescue Me" Review

So, “Rescue Me” is one of those transitional episodes. You’ll read a lot of comparisons to chess if you’re the type to read numerous reviews after watching an episode of television. “Rescue Me” also subsists on narrative convenience the way a vampire subsists on human blood. The habit is very bad and nasty for vampires. It creates villains and all sorts of interpersonal problems for when good vampires don’t want bad vampires to feed on innocent humans. Narrative convenience is very bad and nasty for any writer, but especially professionals. Any person has the sense of what feels right during any story and what doesn’t. Some writers speak of characters moving them rather than they moving their characters. Character movement is necessary in every aspect of the story for the sake of the story or else it becomes a tuneless beast, a long unchanging note that drones on and becomes piercing noise. Damon reacting to a break-up by murdering Aaron Whitmore, though redundant, is an example of natural character movement that will serve the plot and the character when that decision ricochets off the wall and hits him in the face. Forced movement—narrative convenience rather—is everywhere in “Rescue Me.” Perhaps the unexpected prolonging of Katherine’s story necessitated the messy maneuvering in tonight’s episode.

The Travelers are most effective when chanting in unison in a junkyard with wildly fanning flames. The group adds a creepy atmosphere to the scenes. Large groups of people standing still, staring blankly ahead, and chanting, is effective. Sloan tortures Stefan. A mysterious man named Marcos is intimated in conversations, foretold of in chants, and seems best avoided by the gang. Late season introductions of Big Bads are the norm for The Vampire Diaries. Marcos forms out of shadow at episode’s end after a regrettable story involving Stefan and Caroline. “While You Were Sleeping” set up Caroline’s murderous mission to Atlanta where the do-gooder human, Tom Avery, would fall victim to Enzo. Stefan asks Caroline not to kill the guy for him. Tom saves lives. He’s more valuable to society than a vampire that needs on that society to live. He’ll die, though. Aaron Whitmore just died. The innocent humans always die in The Vampire Diaries.

Enzo snaps Tom’s neck after Tom enjoys a hearty breakfast. Caroline resolved to kill Tom because she made the deal for her friends. The day wears on. Caroline can’t kill Tom. Underlying her hesitance and indecision is Tom’s resemblance to Stefan. She’s feeling something for her best friend’s ex-boyfriend and cosmic soul mate. Enzo and Stefan read her hesitance and indecision differently, as a sign of her eternal and enduring character. Enzo spews out a story about why he wanted to be around Caroline that involves a woman who saw the good in him, which connects with Klaus’ attachment with Caroline. She radiates goodness and forgiveness. These bad, bad boys need a woman to tell them that they’re not all that bad and that, despite the horrific actions, one woman’s affectionate attitude towards them can redeem. Enzo’s actual murdering of Tom takes Caroline off the hook. She’s innocent, though she made the deal (and the Travelers didn’t honor it). Stefan consoles her at the junkyard. Caroline expresses frustration about weird flirting, charming English vampires, and Stefan uses her frustration to help her feel better about herself, emphasizing her goodness. Last season Caroline was responsible for the third massacre of twelve witches that seemingly began the present Traveler/Witches/Doppelganger nonsense. Caroline saved Stefan’s life when she set off the third massacre. One wonders why Tom became symbolic of Caroline’s goodness because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when it should matter. Life and death mean nothing on The Vampire Diaries.

The PTA storyline that inevitably meets with the central narrative was among the worst B stories in the series. School means less than human life for the kids. Jeremy’s greatest line in the series explicates why he missed eleven days of school, cheated on math tests, and fought three guys. The characters’ lives are different from everyone else’s. Liv’s line about the world actually revolving around Elena was half-right, but the writers should’ve included every character. That’s why it’s frustrating to watch a story about Stefan helping Caroline maintain her morality, her goodness or her light (or whatever), because it’s been established every season, multiple times, that any action-good or bad—is justifiable.

Elena and Damon wander around the high school on parent-teacher night. Damon bothers her about their relationship. Elena ignores it to worry about Jeremy. The writing’s heavy on Elena and Damon as mom and dad, and Jeremy as this pimply-faced high schooler even though Steven R McQueen could crush Rhode Island with his pinky. Both treat him like a child up to the point he decides to move out. While his sister and her psycho love interested debated him and their relationship at school, Jeremy tried to handle Liv. He tried to anticipate, and to create a plan to save his sister from whatever the witches planned as plan B after Haley’s death. Jeremy decides to move out. It’s a less major thing than it written and acted because Jeremy’s one of those convenient pieces moved around for the sake of another character or a story.

All of ‘Rescue Me” is frustrating. The important plot points are hit and others are set-up for the final five episodes of the season. It’s all rather poor, though. Season five’s been the best during the Katherine stretch. Anything without Dr. Wes, Silas and Tessa, vampire torture, and any other serial plot elements, have been the worst parts of the season. Now, at the very end of the season, tangential parts of the entire season are thrown into this blender. Liv and Lucas are more nuisances than threats. Marcos will overstay his welcome. Honest writing would’ve dulled the bitterness and frustration, but dishonesty is paramount to the show’s couplings. And, yeah, everything was a mess tonight.

Other Thoughts:

-I resisted drawing comparisons to Unwritten Law’s “Rescue Me.” Had TVD aired 12 years ago on TheWB, Julie Plec wouldn’t have resisted using “Rescue Me” during the Caroline/Stefan car scene. “Seein’ Red” was quite the hit in 2002.

-Every random character introduced to die has an impeccable wardrobe.

-Brett Matthews & Neil Reynolds wrote the episode. Leslie Libman directed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Arrow "Birds of Prey" Review

The Huntress returned for a straightforward adventure involving hostages, threatened loved ones, and a healthy sense of, ‘you do what you need to do to survive or to save someone you love.’ The latter is Sara’s motivation throughout “Birds of Prey.” She thinks back on what she did to save Oliver when Slade had him, and she opts to follow what saved Oliver when confronted by threats on her sister’s life. Threats transformed Sara from wide-eyed to myopic. She will kill to save her sister’s life. And she’s not portrayed differently from Helena Bertinelli, that transfixing yet deadly Huntress. Helena Bertinelli’s been motivated by the desire to kill her father for killing her fiancĂ©. Whatever she needed to do to come close to shooting an arrow through her father’s heart she did, which corroded her soul and eventually tore it away from her. Helena’s biggest line of the episode is about one not coming back from complete darkness. Sara touched that darkness when dealing with Slade, but five years later, with the help of Oliver and also the love of her family, she can be pulled back from the abyss. Helena cannot.

“Birds of Prey” isn’t overly involved or highlighted by a thrilling fight sequence. The central tension, and the central action, of the episode took place in one location where the hostages are along with Laurel Lance. The writers introduced a combative SWAT leader, portrayed by the legendary Lochlyn Munro, to make one aware that not all uniformed police like the vigilantes roaming about the city. The Huntress travels to Starling City after her father is arrested. Soon she walks into a trap, but not really, because she anticipated the trap and thus set her own trap that powerful legal folk and police were caught in. It created the hostage situation and a tense standoff that would end only when Helena had her father in her sights to kill. Stories for Helena may be a little thin because of sole motivation to kill her father, so the writers turned that motivation into a trap that sets off different events for the rest of “Birds of Prey.”

Choice and free-will are not readily embraced by any character except for Oliver. Oliver works to resolve the hostage situation without anyone’s death, which ultimately fails because of the combative SWAT leader portrayed by the legendary Lochlyn Munro. Oliver’s role in Helena’s life, beyond gentleman lover, was to help her let go of anger—similar to his role in Roy’s life as the mirakura works on him. Helena killed McKenna and then he let her go for she was beyond him. Oliver hadn’t found himself as a hooded figure wandering the night in season 1. He didn’t become something different until late in the season. Something different means hero, though he’s not a hero yet. This is his journey. Helena’s journey was different, though not foreign to consumers of comics or genre television over the years. Her obsession cannot be sated through physical violence. What ailed her was not her father’s existence, which when exhausted does not change her inside. Clouds do not part. The sun doesn’t rise earlier than it did the day before. The saddest truth for The Huntress was that the darkness settled in her soul the second Michael passed from her world.

Sara represents Helena’s opposite. There’s a little bit of the trope of the current girlfriend showing she’s better than the ex. Sara expresses a faint jealousy of Oliver’s ex-girlfriend during exposition about The Huntress. Circumstances changed both girls’ lives. Sara survived on an island, battled Slade, and somewhere aligned with the League of Assassins. The idea of choice falls through one’s mind like water through a strainer in a survival situation. Oliver learned the value of choice last season and tries to impart that to the women in his life. There were different ways, he said, to deal with an issue. Violence and death needn’t happen when there are many possibilities. Oliver spares lives through practicality and reason. Bertinelli’s killed by the combative SWAT leader portrayed by the legendary Lychon Munro. Sara doesn’t kill Helena. The actual plan involves ‘trapping’ Helena, but that plan is shot to hell. The bird theme, intimated in the title, reaches its neat completion. It’s followed through using Helena, the bird caged by her anger, resentment, and ‘darkness,’ and then the bird still caged after the cage opened.  She is the bird of prey, preying on herself, doomed to do so because of that damned darkness that inspires Laurel.

The parallel plot in the flashback does not end neatly, without hurt feelings and bloodshed, because Sara ties up the man Slade wants. Sara’s confronted by a gun to her body and a refusal to return to the boat, but one man’s life is important than another, and so Oliver’s life will be spared at another’s. Sara needs Laurel’s support to stop her from repeating what she on the freighter. There are other parallels throughout the episode: Roy/Slade; Roy/Helena; Helena/Sara; Slade/Helena. Sara lashes out at Oliver when he tells her to back off during Laurel’s prosecution of Helena’s father by reminding him about Slade. There’s a lot of repetition in the episode, too. The shape of the episode is a circle, but variation of theme and expansion of theme

Other Thoughts:

-Truth’s another matter in the episode. Thea rants about untruth around her, praising her brother for his honesty, right before Slade takes her to destroy that trust she thought existed between her and her brother.

-John Behring directed. I didn’t catch the names of the two writers of tonight’s episode.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How I Met Your Mother "The End of the Aisle" Review

Barney and Robin married. Nearly an entire season happened before the wedding, but Barney and Robin ended “The End of the Aisle” triumphantly married, despite the odds, and the doubts each had. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas seemed to overtly address the criticisms of the couple in their wedding episode. Barney and Robin was a welcomed coupling four or five seasons ago (whenever it was) until it wasn’t because the boys bailed on the romance before the end of November sweeps. Barney and Robin interacted as friends between seasons. Barney was engaged to two women. Robin dated cardboard cutout characters. Ted fell in love with her again at season’s beginning, season’s sweeps, in between failed romances. Each time she rejected him until eventually loved Barney for a second time. Remember that Barney and Robin loved each other again when the writers decided to love each other again. The basis of their relationship has been telling the audience what it is rather than showing the audience what it is.

Showing versus telling is a basic rule in creative writing, and something Bays and Thomas don’t willfully ignore Barney and Robin are juxtaposed with Marshall and Lily throughout the episode. Barney overthinks his vows. He wrote potential vows down on many pieces of paper. Marshall and Lily volunteered to help him write his vows because they consider themselves the masters of marriage vows. The second act consists of Barney using examples of their wedding vows made in 2007 compared to how those vows fell apart over the years of marriage. The Marshall/Lily coupling has been the consistent model for ‘great couple’ in How I Met Your Mother. Barney wants to model his marriage after them. Ted thinks reverently of his best friend’s marriage. Through the years of How I Met Your Mother, the writers showed the audience what worked in their marriage, why they’re happy, why they’ve been consistent and loving, without pandering or writing short-cuts (okay, there were short-cuts; this is HIMYM, let’s remember).

Robin brings many of the Robin/Barney criticisms up during her wedding day freak-out, which was first shown nearly two seasons ago. The locket—that damned locket—becomes a focal point for her on her wedding day. Barney didn’t find the locket for her; the locket is gone; therefore, she should not marry Barney because he couldn’t find the lost locket. Robin remembers Barney lied to her during their lone romantic evenings—the proposal and the wedding rehearsal. Barney carried on lies and manipulations for weeks and months. Robin thinks, “Why would I want to marry the guy?” She’s finally in sync with a small section of the audience. Robin wants to run away with Ted. Ted tells her she doesn’t and then unleashes a small monologue about why her and Barney will work in the long-term. “The End of the Aisle” is the conclusion of the Ted/Robin story. Robin tells him what he wanted to hear for many seasons, but he’s not that man anymore even after going out of his way for the locket not more than a week ago. Whatever--the show’s ending in a week.

Ted explains why Robin needs to marry Barney, why she needs to discard her reservations about his personality, his entire essence, and it’s because love doesn’t make sense. Indeed, when love doesn’t make sense is when it makes sense, and one wonders why anyone would invest nine years into this show with gems like that. Robin and Barney are the worst couple, nonsensical, but it’s that lack of sense between them that makes them make the most sense together. The real kicker is Barney’s on vow to Robin after she tries to run out on him and then runs into the mother who calms her down. Barney learned that honesty is the best policy and vows to be honest with her. Robin swoons. The series concludes next week, so the writers needn’t bother with writing an honest Barney. It’s all telling and no showing. The story of Barney and Robin meeting at the end of the aisle on their wedding day was a failure and definitely not ‘legendary’ as Future Ted tells us.

“The End of the Aisle” is momentous for Ted because he ceased comparing Robin with the stars. The Robin of it all won’t deter him when he sees his future wife waiting for a train at the Farhampton inn. Whether or not Ted’s romantic journey has a happy ending is unknown. Marshall and Lily have a happy ending and reaffirm their love for each other before the wedding. Ted’s most important message he shares with kids in “The End of the Aisle” is that love is the most important thing people do in their lives. So, whatever happens next week, happy or sad, triumphant or tragic, Ted will have done the most important thing in his life, which was love his wife, and tell their story.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Grimm "The Show Must Go On" Review

Grimm’s been on a hot streak lately of showing the many sides of Wesen life. “The Show Must Go On” heads to the carnival, which seems so obvious a setting that one would think season one would’ve had a carnival episode. Of course, Grimm’s a constantly evolving show. Discovery’s a constant, consistent theme in the show. The traveling carnival continues Nick’s discovery of the many ways of Wesen life, and it continues our discovery of Wesen as individuals, as complex and complicated as human beings.

Monroe and Rosalee drive the action. The pathos of the episode goes through them. The viewer relies on Monroe’s and Rosalee’s reactions to the carnival dilemma, the umkippen. “The Show Must Go On” begins in typical Grimm fashion. Two gorgeous ladies attend the carnival, take in the Wesen monsters/man show, and delight in the fear they felt during the performance. Max, the increasingly sickly Wesen, the star of the show, who breaks through the bar of his cage before being shot dead, runs into the women. The women flirtatiously invite him for a drink. Drinks lead to their place and sexual innuendo suited for the 9PM hour of a network TV show. Death then ensues. So, it’s a typical Wesen murder case. Nick and Hank investigate. Wu helps them get started with the pertinent details, and the investigation is under way.

Nick and Hank become secondary characters in the plot halfway through the episode. Their visit to the carnival fills in some details the viewer probably picked up earlier: don’t trust Hedig, the whip-wielding boss of the Wesen Carnival show, and follow the crumbs of bread the writers continued to drop along Max’s sickly, potentially murderous path. Focusing on the murder for an entire episode most often leads to a third act twist (though this is television so it’s really a sixth or seventh act twist, depending on the show and the network’s obsession to squeeze every last advertising dollar). I recall a Victorian novella that set the precedent for procedurals that also dwelt on the monster in man. Max can’t remember his actions after he involuntarily woges. He woges frequently, with less control than before, because doing it too much removes that thing in their heads that stops them from acting on primal urges. He’s involuntarily abusive towards his girlfriend. He’s possibly committing murders he doesn’t remember. Nick and Hank know little of the specifics of the situation. After Rosalee dumps the information on the two, her and Monroe attend the carnival to help.

The brutalizing atmosphere of Hedig’s show is juxtaposed with Rosalee’s concern for those Wesen working in the show. The council doesn’t frown on traveling Wesen carnivals because of the idea of illusion of carnival acts. I don’t know. The Wesen council’s very similar to that other council I mentioned last week. The council (I think I remember right) expects local Wesens to intervene if an abuse of power exists within the carnival, an exploitation more severe than the day-to-day exploitation of Wesen. So, Rosalee and Monroe head to the carnival to intervene. Rosalee’s excellent when she’s compassionate and actively involved in consoling those who hurt or those who are sick. Rosalee joins the act very quickly. Again, Grimm brings Rosalee and Monroe to the carnival halfway through the episode, but the ending isn’t rushed or abrupt. Nothing especially important happens after Rosalee joins the act. She connects with Genny, learns that Max is sick, and, later, hears Hedig admit to framing his stars for murder. So, yeah, she’s there for especially important plot developments. She finds a sexy outfit to wear for Monroe before bed. The best part of the episode happens at the end. Hedig’s been burned alive by his employees in the mirror maze. Before that, Max lost his cool and attacked Rosalee. Monroe attacked Max. Rosalee stopped it, reminding Monroe about Max’s sickness. And there follows a moving scene about Wesen taking care of each other in a civilization that won’t. That’s why Hedig’s monstrous. The murders he committed exist for the procedural element, but his most severe crime is exploiting his own, destroying them when he should protect them. Hedig said magic explained his show to Hank and Nick, but real magic is love and kindness.

Other Thoughts:

-Adalind and Meisner escape Viktor with the help of Sebastien. Sebastien gives his life to the cause. Alexis Denisof plays villainy wonderfully. I felt revulsion and dread when he stood before a beaten Sebastien and shot him dead. Adalind used her powers on one of Viktor’s men. The man aimed his gun at Meisner. Adalind’s powers forced the man to use the gun on himself. There’s a plan waiting in Northern Zurich that’ll take her to Nick’s house in Portland, accompanied by a woman I was convinced the writers forgot (I jest).

-The pending marriage of Rosalee and Monroe might be spectacular. Nick had a dream after he agreed to be Monroe’s best man for the wedding in which the guests freaked out when they woge’d and saw a grimm beside the bridegroom. I’d like to see the wedding played as a comedy rather a horrific encounter between worlds.

-Marc Gaffen & Kyle McVey wrote the episode. Paul A. Kaufman directed.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.