Friday, May 18, 2007

Update on TV Shows, part 2

I've had the third season sitting, unwatched, on my hard drive for months. In spite of that, I think this show is completely, sublimely thrilling. Even though the filth and profanity might lead one to assume it's supposed to be gritty realism along the lines of The Wire, Deadwood is actually much more theatrical. The dialogue is so complex that it often hides hilarious jokes, and Al Swearingen's soliloquies are profanely melodious.

The Office

The third season ended last night on a quieter, less surprising, note than last season (which ended with Jim declaring his love for Pam and kissing her). The subdued climax, a surprise, and brief, interruption in Pam's talk to the camera, is better suited to the show (it also recalls Tim's interruption of his own interview that ended the second season of the BBC original). In other plot developments, Jan's meltdown at the corporate office was certainly excruciating to watch, and I trust that it'll develop into something compelling next season, but it changes the dynamic of her relationship with Michael (which had been predicated on their mutual fear of being middle aged and lonely).

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
I liked this show pretty well, but I guess nobody else did. It threw down a gauntlet for itself in it's first episode that it couldn't pick back up, but it still had writing that could be both clever and sad. It's also nice to see any television made with a cinematic sensibility. I don't have any innate sympathy for the travails of people working in network television, but this show made a good case for taking politics very seriously.

30 Rock
Alec Baldwin is hilarious on this show. He plays an absurdly confident, and absurdly condescending, network Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming. He delivers business jargon meaninglessness like "we have to synergize backward overflow" with utter, preposterous conviction.

During a recent Fresh Air interview, Garry Shandling reflected on a conversation he had with Alec Baldwin. They were discussing insecurity, and how it informed their acting. Baldwin said he always plays his first few takes big and loud because he's afraid of his costars crushing him.

This might explain something of why Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey, likewise great on 30 Rock, have more screentime than Baldwin but seem like supporting characters. Morgan a late night comedy star whose movie career (thanks to hits such as Who Dat Ninja? and Honky Grandma Be Trippin', not to mention Fat Bitch, in which his character somehow inhabits a dog) has taken off. Fey's character more neurotic and confused by the world than either of her male costars. She also doesn't speak gibberish as much as either of them. She'd be a Woody Allen character, if Woody Allen characters were slobs and obsessed with Star Wars rather than Bergman.

The Sopranos
It's not clear to me if the Sopranos episodes airing now are really a continuation of the episodes aired a year and a half ago (which would make them parts 1 and 2 of season 6) or if they should be considered a new, 7th season unto themselves (since they pick up about a year and a half after the previous episodes, a time lapse that makes them consistent with previous new seasons, not continuous ones).

At any rate, in the last set of episodes, every other one dealt with Vito Spatafore's homosexuality, his flight to New Hampshire and the power struggle between Tony and Phil Leotardo over whether he should be killed. The other episodes, as I recall stand-alone episodes dealing with members of the rest of Tony's biological and professional families, felt like interruptions of the much more interesting story. The story lines the did introduce in these off-weeks (like the Middle Eastern men hanging around the Bada Bing having strangely conspicuous conversations around Christopher about buying weapons) didn't go anywhere. The whole stretch of new episodes, particularly for having some so long after the fifth season, left me frustrated and underwhelmed.

Now that I've begun watching the last batch of episodes, though, that 6th season is paying off. I'm not up to date, but the first few hint that there is fall-out to come from both the Vito storyline and the other, smaller ones. Moreover, Tony is seeming more melancholy. The first few episodes of the last season have returned to one of the show's best tropes: Tony's sense of powerlessness over shaping his own life. It looks like Tony is going to be brooding a lot about his parents, and about being a man, and about his mortality.

This final stretch is totally enthralling, but I don't expect to miss the show when it's gone. I've never felt a desire to start over with it, and I'm fine if I don't catch some of the oblique references to past and minor characters in the Sopranos mythology. What I will be grateful for after the Sopranos is retired is its legacy of better shows, particularly The Wire and Deadwood.

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