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Awake would benefit from fleshing out its secondary characters. This show in particular is at a disadvantage because it’s science-fiction, or science-fictiony-feeling fantasy, so there’s an obligation to world-building that when neglected leaves viewers in the lurch, but all shows create worlds, and therefore all must populate them reasonably. Some shows that’s sort of the premise, like with The Wire. Every minor character has depth, even this hardcore killer Chris — it’s all in the eyes, and the dramatic looks — is more than an archetype, and the show’s lead can take pretty much an entire season off. I think Dexter is a better example because, well that show’s called Dexter, it’s about this guy Dexter. And yet it’s filled with memorable characters who are all given their due.
But Dexter is nearly an hour long, ten to fifteen minutes longer than Awake, and without worrying about commercial breaks and content. But it’s similarly high-premise, and both shows are good. So why aren’t Britten’s wife or various detective partners as interesting as Mesuka, Angel, and even LaGuerta? Awake is also similarly plot-heavy, and it doesn’t have the time to breathe.
I guess it’s all about structure. And… networks. I give credit to a station like AMC, who evidently (well, clearly) has more balls than something like TNT: We Know Drama. Vince Gilligan’ll tell you that he had a great pitch with the folks at TNT for Breaking Bad, and the execs loved it, but knew they’d be fired if they greenlit this show about a man’s spiral into the drug trade. It’s not the direction the network’s going, and as long as there are other networks around, it’s not a big deal.
But NBC? They gotta keep moving, because all eyes are watching.
Return to the Awake Episode Guide
I decided to do this about fifteen days early because the posts have been slow. This year was pretty bad for new movies (Battle: LA, Hereafter I think). Susprisingly though one made the list, and in fact there were quite a few recent titles. There were not however, enough movies, so this list extends to include TV shows.
For a quick recap, I really like the Genrebusters, so I stole their idea for Year End Reviews, where they talk about the movies they’ve seen that year, not the movies that came out. This, in my opinion, serves a better purpose, because these lists are all about recommending titles, and you’d probably have heard of any title from ’11 that I’d recommend. So here we go, with a title from ’11–
10. The Thing (2011)
Maybe not the best movie I saw this year, but definitely one of the most entertaining for my nerd-dollar. It’s sort of like fan-service; I really like the core Thing idea, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite things. Now for more of it, but this time the creature is faster, bigger, more deadly. It actually kills people (not just dogs); it’s predatory. To the rescue is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower, and she goes to town on these gooey freaks.
Yes, you’re free to hate on The Thing just because it’s a remake of a cult classic (wonder what people will say when they redo Buckaroo Bonzai or Big Trouble?), but you’d be overlooking what is a very entertaining movie, one of the best horror movies to come along in recent years, and solid science-fiction entertainment. When it comes out on DVD I urge you to pick it up. Blame me if it sucks, only because I can’t spell the director’s name.
9. MST3K: The Girl in Lover’s Lane/I Accuse my Parents
I just can’t decide. I watched a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the course of the year, including Swamp Diamonds and Gamera, but I’ve discovered that if you want the pure MSTK experience, you have to go for the cheesy black-and-white 50′s movies of questionable raison d’etre. Interesting to note is that The Girl in Lover’s Lane features Jack Elam in pre-Once Upon a Time in the West days, in something of an embarassing role in an embarassing film. Joel and the gang tear into these, and some of the one-liners made me lol out loud. Unfortunately I can’t really relate them because the jokes require the context. So a guy’s walking down the street looking frumpled and Crow says…
8. Clerks 2
This was, if I remember correctly, and if Netflix is to be believed, the first movie I saw this year. I knew while I was watching it that when I inevitably came around to doing this post I’d have to include it. Not only a very funny movie, it’s also a totally bold and necessary film. Indeed Kevin Smith has given us some rough times with movies like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he’s a surprisingly good writer/director, and Clerks 2 is his finest hour. It is also one of the most interesting sequels ever made, because it’s almost as if Clerks 2 should be a stand alone movie, and Clerks a prequel.
The passage of time between films has made a huge difference for the characters, and this is a major (and pretty heavy) theme. We return to Dante and Randall and discover they’ve moved on with their lives, but not up. Well, Rosario Dawson works at the new place, so that’s pretty good, but it still isn’t optimal. This movie’s all about self-actualization and coming to grips with reality. Time to grow up, but we really need to examine ourselves before we do.
If a theoretical Clerks 3 happens, and Kevin Smith has talked about this (in between airplane drama and cameo appearances in Die Hard 4), I can’t imagine it being anything but a retread of Clerks 2–it’s an essential story to… the saga of these guys’ lives, and to Kevin Smith, whose Zack and Miri was even more of a personal story, but unfortunately sucked balls. One good joke at the beginning said by Craig Robinson. And then silence.
7. Dexter: Season 5
Quinn gets an interesting subplot this time around, with Peter Weller no less, Dexter deals with a post-Rita family, and a new character enters the fold. Haters’ll hate, right? This is probably the least popular season, and there’s a reason. This one requires more suspension of disbelief than any other, with escapes and cover-ups that shy from logic. It’s also got that new character Lumen, who you could either see as a good thing like I do, or as a by the numbers revenge movie applied to the Dexter framework. I really appreciated it because I liked the relationship between Lumen and Dexter, even though I knew it had to end. The finale really shows the limitations of television as a medium of storytelling. SPOILERS. We know Lumen won’t last because she’s a movie star. Poor Dex.
6. Lust, Caution
This movie is long, but stick with it because it’s absolutely beautiful. I suppose that when you hear about Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, you hear about the sex scenes, and they are quite graphic, but that’s really not a big deal. They serve a specific purpose, and this whole movie is a tragedy, so I can’t imagine being aroused by it and its sombre mood. Tony Leung’s totally awesome, and if you like this movie I’d recommend checking out the movies of Wong Kar Wai like Happy Together and Days of Being Wild. Also, great music.
5. A History of Violence
I was none partial to Eastern Promises, but I really dug A History of Violence. It’s violent, and it’s a really cool story. It’s David Cronenberg at his most entertaining; this may not be his best movie, but it’s his most enjoyable.
4. Party Down
The cast and writing of a sitcom make all the difference. Premise is usually inconsequential, and in fact some of the more high-concept stuff I usually don’t like–Parks and Recreation, which is the direct opposite of high concept (and will be mentioned again regarding this show’s cancellation), is a great show, very funny. Anyway, the cast and writing of Party Down really shine. In terms of premise, we have these caterers working in LA–it’s essentially a retread of Clerks 2, because most of them aspire to higher things. Romances come and go, parties are ruined, profanities fly–wonderful. I also really like Adam Scott; he’s one of those actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Nathan Fillion that I just really like seeing in things, even if it’s Pirahna 3D. I’m sure you have a few of those. In fact, I went out of my way to watch an indie movie that really wasn’t my style just because he was in it (also JK Simmons, who’s awesome), called The Vicious Kind and I even kind of enjoyed it. Party Down streams on Netflix–highly recommended.
It’s also not a major time investment, unfortunately. Like another TV show on this list, it was cut down in its youth. A lot of it had to do with casting issues–Jane Lynch left after the first season to be on Glee, which is really sad because Constance was one of the best characters, and Adam Scott left to be on Parks and Recreation. I like Parks and Recreation, it certainly picked up steam after an okay “well this is sort of like a watered-down version of what The Office (US) was before it started blowing assholes” first season, but I like this show a whole lot better. The characters are so memorable and the things they do can be so self-destructive but it’s alright–it’s a lot like Trailer Park Boys in this regard.
3. Dexter: Season 3
Another reason why people probably don’t like Season 5 so much is because it followed Season 4. I feel the same way about 2, but I totally understand this because 4 was probably the best season. My favorite however, has got to be 3. This year I saw 3 and 5, having seen 4 last year… that’s what not seeing TV live does to one, I suppose. The stakes in this season are at an all time low, nothing major happens to any of the characters, and we get a new guy Quinn who doesn’t do much and for now isn’t an adequate replacement for the dearly departed Doakes. (That’s what the last book’s gonna be called, Dearly Departed Dexter, I’m calling it now).
However. A new character is introduced, a fellow named Miguel Prado, and the friendship that he and Dexter cultivate that eventually turns dark was very engaging. Some of the exchanges, like the rooftop scene, were extremely memorable. Dexter’s created a monster, and the show did fool me for a moment there–I thought Dexter might have actually cared for this guy, and that idea rang true with me despite probably being false. Even though I knew what was going to happen in this season before it did (he mentions Miguel once in Season 4, a minor sidenote; his absence was somewhat noticeable in retrospect), it was classic suspenseful Dexter at the top of its game.
Like number one on this list I started watching Arrested Development on a lark. I had seen the first two episodes a long time ago (a friend of mine always pushed this show), and thought they were okay, but never ventured beyond that. In fact I believe I decided on Arrested Development because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World–I actually just wanted to see more Michael Cera (and I wasn’t gonna watch Year One). It’s funny because Arrested Development in turn made me start paying attention to Jason Bateman, which drove me to Extract and Paul, and after it was over, I needed something to ease the pain, so I tore through as many sitcoms as I could, which was only really two, and two short ones at that. Spaced and then Party Down, with their powers combined could help me stop being sad that Arrested Development was over and not coming back.
A few months later I’d find out that it was in fact coming back, and I just about pissed in my pants. Arrested Development is not only the best sitcom I’ve ever seen, but the best TV show. It was so goddamn funny I want to fill this paragraph with expletives for no reason. But I won’t. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again; I got my sister to watch it (work in progress), and my roommate, who was hooked and we started marathoning episodes–like ten episodes a day.
It’s so layered, so rich, so… post-modern. You can go on Wikipedia to learn about all the in-jokes and hidden things, there’s too many to list. Season 1 was good, like pretty funny and effective in setting up characters: Michael is the perfect straight man, his son is awkward and in love with his cousin, his brother GOB is an aggressive moron, his sister a selfish airhead with a closet homosexual husband, his younger brother a motherboy. His dad’s in jail, his mother probably should be. It works, but this is the weakest season and kind of a slow start.
Stick with it, seriously. Season 2 starts out strong, and lever lets up. Recurring jokes are abound and always rewarding: Tobias is gay gives us some of the most quotable lines in network TV, Maeby as a studio executive reveals the absurdity of Hollywood, Buster losing is hand (foreshadowed like crazy throughout the whole season ["Never thought I'd miss a hand so much" is in Episode 3: Amigos]) is classic, Michael not liking or remembering George Michael’s girlfriend Ann clues us into his flawed-father character, and Oscar being Buster’s secret father is probably my favorite recurring joke. Something like Buster announcing “I guess my father’s not here,” will prompt the camera to zoom in slowly on Jeffrey Tambor in a wig and cue the dramatic piano for him to say, “Maybe he is.” Cut to Lucille rolling her eyes.
You could just go anywhere on the Internet and people talk this show up like I’m doing. They’re not afraid. You can’t oversell Arrested Development. You either love it or you’re trying to hate it. Don’t try to hate it. Do yourself a favor.