Monday, 31 May 2010

Things I Love about NBC's "Parenthood" and One Tiny Thing I Don't

I haven't written about this show yet, but I've been raving about it since its premiere. I finally watched the finale this afternoon (Only six days after it aired, but give a girl a break. I'm writing a PhD thesis, after all), and, not surprisingly, was happy with the way it left things for the summer. Before I dive in to the things I love about it and all of it's boundless potential, can I just ask, what is going on with Craig T. Nelson's hair?? I was so distracted by his comb-over/curl-under look that I couldn't really quite get into Zeke's scenes this week. Has the hair gotten worse? I think the hair's gotten worse.

Moving on. Some of the biggest surprises for me during this first season have been the acting chops of both Dax Shepard (who knew? Kristen Bell, that's who) and Monica Potter. During these first thirteen episodes, we've had the opportunity to see both of their characters grow a little bit and in very different ways. Potter has a way of making her character Kristina understated but effective, and I loved the way Kristina got all suburban housewife passive aggressive with Sarah last week in defense of her daughter. In her scenes, there's a sense that she's keeping everyone together whether they realize it or not. I doubt that she'll get award recognition this year, but I think her performance is one of the best on a show of really good performances.

I think Dax Shepard, however, might get an Emmy nomination this year. Who didn't get a little misty when Jabar (who is officially the most adorable child actor on TV, displacing the increasingly awkward kid who plays Jamie on One Tree Hill) asked if he could call Crosby "Daddy"? Yeah, I know, it's a little emotionally manipulative, but in this case I'm okay with that. Shepherd has done a great job with a character that might not work as well in the hands of a less capable actor (that right, I just used Dax Shepard, who started his career on MTV's Punk'd, and "capable actor" in the same sentence. Seriously, Kristen Bell has good instincts). I'm looking forward to seeing how his character develops in the future.

There's so much more to rave about: there's the overlapping dialogue, the actors' chemistry, the fantastically moody teenagers, Peter Krause not playing a total d-bag, but the last thing I want to mention is the relationship between Lauren Graham's Sarah and Mae Whitman's Amber. I'm pretty sure that in the last 10 years (anyone else miss Gilmore Girls as deeply as I do?), Graham has solidified herself TV's best single mom with an edge. She's said in interviews that she was nervous about playing another single mom on a TV show because of the inevitable comparisons, but that she liked the idea of playing someone who makes a lot of mistakes as a mom. During the scene when Sarah told Amber that Amber "brings everyone down", it was heartbreaking and entirely authentic. My impression of the character is that she's been burned a lot, she's totally broken, and she really makes a lot of mistakes, but that she's trying to be better just like anyone who sees how her mistakes effect others. I love that Sarah is imperfect and that we get to see her mistakes! But the forgiveness at the core of her relationship with Amber is beautiful, because even when she royally messes up like in that scene, Amber knows that she's one of the few people that believes in her, despite her mistakes. Constant grace and forgiveness is what makes that relationship beautiful.

My theory for why this show works so well is because it respects its actors. Its executive producer Jason Katims has a history of being on shows that respect their actors' talents (My So-Called Life and Relativity, among others), and he's currently the head writer of the best show on network TV Friday Night Lights. NBC gets hard-core redemption points for keeping this show on the air. Don't know about you, but I'm loving Parenthood, and hoping we get to see it for years to come.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Revelation about the 'LOST' Finale

My big revelation about the extremely good LOST finale comes via a great assessment of the finale on The Rabbit Room website: Sideways world is like a postmodern Graytown from CS Lewis' The Great Divorce, where people don't leave until they're ready. Lewis wrote about God's love like this: "God cannot ravish; He can only woo." Such seems to be the experience of the characters not just in sideways Los Angeles, but throughout the series, as well. During the years that we followed them, they weren't ready to know everything about the island, themselves, each other, etc. They needed the journey. Some weren't ready to leave the Graytown hell (Ana Lucia, Michael, Ben), perhaps because of a refusal to peer past the filth of their sins. The ones that were ready, though, experienced true, eternal love and light, the light that Jack glimpsed just before he died on the island. The show pointed to the beauty of free will, what GK Chesteron called "the valour and dignity of the soul."

Say what you will about the show failing to wrap up lose ends or answer all the questions, but ultimately the show was about characters, not mysteries. It asked the big, humanistic questions, and avoided cynicism. The finale was about the triumph of love -- not merely romantic love, but agape love. It was the perfect ending.

We are just pilgrims
Of the great divorce;
I am witness to the light
And I am captive to my own remorse.

And the weight of glory, if you held it in your hand
It would pass right through you, so now's your chance
Would you fall to the high countries?

Out on the green plains
I am but a ghost
Bound up with all that I call mine
Still the light grows.

- "The High Countries" by Sandra McCracken

Thursday, 27 May 2010

I Love/Hate American Idol Voters

Okay, I have a little bone to pick with the American Idol voters. For years, yes years, I have defended the voters of my favorite singing competition. It's true, we've had our ups and downs, but it was the voters who gave Ms Kelly Clarkson the win over that curly-haired fellow in season one, bestowed on Reuben the rightful talent victory over the lovable underdog in season 2, rewarded Fantasia for the best single performance in Idol history ("Summertime", duh!), showed us that country music singers deserve a shot at Idol stardom, too, and gave David Cook the ultimate points for originality with his victory over the pin-up worthy little teddy bear with the heart of gold. Sure Idol voters have royally missed the mark, too. The premature eliminations of a long list of talent from Elliot Yamin to Melinda Doolittle to Michael Johns and Carly Smithson (during dream season 7!) to Lilly Scott from this season show that voters are capable of both underestimating the staying power of talented front-runners, and totally ignoring said talent because they don't fit into the image of the winner that they want. And Taylor Hicks' victory was just wrong.

The voters really let me down this season. Don't get me wrong: it's not that I don't like the dreamy paint salesman from Chi-town. On the contrary, I think that he deserved to be in the final two this season bar none. He has a pleasant tone to his voice, a nice-guy kind of personality, and an ability to make songs "his own" (to borrow an overused term from the Idol dictionary). He also showed oodles of growth and an occasional tear in his puppy-dog eyes. But let's be honest here: Crystal won the season from the very beginning. She still showed growth, but not as much as Lee. She didn't need as much growth as Lee.

Case in point: remember Lee's cover of "Chasing Cars" during the semi-finals? I didn't either until I looked it up. But that same week, Crystal busted out the Bob Dylan harmonica on her well-rounded cover of Alanis' "Hand in My Pocket", followed by CCR's "Long As I Can See the Light" the next week. It's hard to show a lot of "growth" when you're already pretty good from the beginning and you have a strong sense of who you are as an artist. Crystal Bowersox goes into the Adam Lambert/Melinda Doolittle file of contestants who won based on talent, but lost in the final vote to contestants that showed more "growth" and, let's be honest, physical attractiveness. (Not that I'm ragging on Kris Allen. He's more my type of singer than the Glambert, but he's boy-next door cute and straight up not as technically good as Adam Lambert. Just keeping it real.)

I don't want to dwell in the negative, though. It's pretty exciting that a folky, singer-songwriter like Crystal Bowersox could make it to the top 2 on a show as "poppy" as Idol! She gave us a mini concert every week and never lost who she was in the Idol machine (I'm so talking to you, Siobhan). Doubtless, I'll be one of many buying her future records and making arrangements to see her in concert. She also (to my knowledge) introduced both Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morrissette to the Idol stage and actually performed a Patty Griffin song during a voting night. All very good things! This was a fledgling, lackluster season at best, but Crystal, and quite often Lee, as well, were bright spots. Lee shouldn't have won, but it was not the worst possible outcome for this season!

Hopefully, the voters and I will be friends again after So You Think You Can Dance this summer, or after next year's Idol. It's starting to seem like a streak to elect a "cute boy" the winner three years in a row, so here's to hoping that the most talented will win again in the near future. If Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have proved anything with their post-Idol careers, it's that voters are more than capable of recognizing talent when they see it. Oh well, maybe next year.

Some things about the finale episodes worth noting:
- "Up To the Mountain" has been my dream Bowersox song all season, and I thought the final product was her best performance of a season of very good Mamasox performances. Could not have been better!

- Why did they make Lee sing a song that U2 actually charted pretty high?? The by the book arrangement did him no favors. It seemed like he was drowning in a sea of sound. I'd much rather buy a cheesy original song written by Kara than a recycled U2 mess!

- Remembered just how mediocre the other contestants were this season during that atrocity of a group number. It felt like it took a long time to get to the finals this year!

- I've never been a fan of "roasting" Simon during results shows. Glad that tradition is ending.

- Did Paula make things a little awkward with the judges not named Simon, or was that just me?

- When Mamasox introduced Alanis onto the stage for a duet during her magical cover of "Ironic", I actually squealed with delight. I may have jumped a little bit, too.

- Carrie Underwood ALWAYS brings it.

- There was an audible inhale by my Idol buddy and me when Kelly Clarkson appeared onstage for the reunion number. We love her so.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Renewal of "Life Unexpected" and "One Tree Hill"

Good news: both Life Unexpected (or Life Unleashed, as my Mom has renamed it) and One Tree Hill have been renewed for next season!

I have to admit that I'm pretty excited about both, which I find myself a little surprised to say. Life Unexpected is a creative no-brainer, I think. The characters are interesting, fairly consistent, and sometimes they even make good decisions for their lives (I'm looking at you, Cate Cassidy!). The broken family at the center of the drama trying to figure out how to fix itself is compelling and occasionally heartbreaking (that is, the two elements necessary for good characters to thrive in a TV family drama). They've barely begun to scratch at the surface of Lux's foster baggage, but we see glimpses of how that experience shaped her. I'm excited to see more of those moments. Plus, they've managed to pull off the difficult task of making both men in the principle love triangle sympathetic. Nice.

My self-knowledge surprise for the day was how happy I was that One Tree Hill was actually renewed for yet another season (the next one will be its 8th). Financially, it's a network no-brainer, since the show sells its soul to product placement in EVERY episode. Creatively, though, the show has been running on fumes for quite sometime (let us never forget Millie's cocaine addiction and the fact that Brooke's mom experienced character amnesia this last season). Did you watch this week's episode? Can't remember? Let me rephrase: did you watch the episode where the whole gang (including Chase for some reason) went to Utah and NOTHING HAPPENED until the final 150 seconds of the episode? Now, don't get me wrong: I love a good cliffhanger shooting by a crazy stalker at the end of a season. It's what keeps TV drama fun and ridiculous. But couldn't they have built it up like they meant it?

In spite of a pretty terrible episode, though, there's something about the show that won't quite free me yet. Could it be the fun in watching of a group of very successful 24 year-olds ridiculously living in the random east coast town in which they all grew up? Maybe. Could it be that in spite of all the silliness, Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz somehow grew into pretty credible actors? Possibly. Is it that I found out there was a parkside location near one of the palaces I'm studying called "One Tree Hill"? Most likely. I guess all this is to say that somehow, after seven years of pretty mediocre television (with more than its fair share of bright spots through the years, in all fairness), I'm still engaged with this show. And, yes, I would be a little sad to not have it on TV anymore. There, I said it.