This week, we've got the season finales of Dollhouse and The Celebrity Apprentice, the first installment in the BBC's Wallander series, and your regular doses of 24, The Mighty Boosh, Lost & Fringe.
24: "5:00AM-6:00AM" by Tucker Stone
Did you catch it? The inside joke. The one about Kim and her 2009 version of cougar problems. Yeah, it wasn't very funny. It was nice to see the coporate bad guy from The Shield show up as Kim's doomed protector, in a subtle tweak on the old "hire a warhorse character actor to trick the audience into being surprised when he's slaughtered in a bathroom", but they blew the trick a bit when they brought in Don McManus as the neck-snapper, who you might remember from Magnolia, The Shawshank Redemption or any of the eighty television shows he's appeared in over the last twenty years. In the battle of "hey, that guy", a friend of Paul Thomas Anderson is always going to be more important to the plot then a grown-up Alex Diaz from 90210. Either way, McManus is a definite step-up in the role of "somebody who will eventually die for the crime of threatening Elisha Cuthbert in an attempt to get Jack Bauer to do something."
Dollhouse: "Omega" by Matthew J. Brady
Thank god for Alan Tudyk; let's get him to star on the show regularly, mmkay? Yeah, that's not going to happen, but he does things right. Last week, he was revealed as the villainous Alpha, a rogue doll who has dozens of personalities sharing space in his head. He plays that craziness to the hilt, flitting between personas from instant to instant, with the help of some skipped-frame editing. It's pretty awesome, especially compared to Eliza Dushku's incompetence when trying to do something similar. Yes, even in what might be the final episode, I can't stop beating that horse. Alpha's scheme involves implanting Echo with a bunch of personalities, hoping she'll join him as a godlike ubermensch and take over the world or something, but she wants none of it. There's probably supposed to be some moral debate going on here, but it mostly boils down to the idea that even with a wiped mind, the dolls retain some of their original character, so this means that Alpha, who we discover was a serial killer in the making, is evil, while Echo is all nice and shit. Simplistic, but it works pretty well. Better still is the moments where Alpha downloads Caroline, Echo's original personality, into a random girl that he kidnapped and forces her to face "herself". That was kinda cool.
In other news, we find out that Dr. Saunders, the Dollhouse physician who got some nasty facial scars when Alpha escaped, is actually another doll who was (permanently?) imprinted with her doctor persona. We get some flashback scenes of her life as a doll, including a nice bit in which she and Alpha play a Mickey-and-Mallory-style pair of psychos (although who knows why somebody would pay for that). Amy Acker isn't nearly as convincing as a blank slate though; that's one area where Eliza Dushku actually outperforms someone. It is kind of neat to see her come to the realization that she's a fake person though, and a scene where she berates poor Victor and calls him useless after Alpha carved up his face is pretty effective.
And we also get a sort of new status quo, with Agent Ballard deciding to work for the Dollhouse for some reason, even though he's highly morally opposed to their very raison d'être. He does bargain to have a doll released, which surprisingly isn't Echo (or not all that surprisingly, really, since they're not going to get rid of the show's nominal star). Instead, it's November, probably because he was guilty about fucking her. He does get a pretty awkward goodbye with her though.
And I guess that's it? Not a bad season-ender, although Alpha just kind of conveniently escaped, able to return and menace people another day. That's going to be the hope for a possible second season: that Alan Tudyk shows up at some point. Let's see more of that craziness and less of Eliza Dushku desperately trying to act her way out of a wet paper bag.Fringe: "The Road Not Taken" by Matthew J. Brady
This isn't the season finale, but it could be considered part one for next week, since it sets up most everything for whatever the big event is going to be. It is a relatively self-contained affair, but a good portion concerns the meta-plot and it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Fun? Well, at least one of the ideas is, with Olivia suddenly having weird visions that don't line up with reality, including seeing two bodies at a spontaneous combustion/pyrokinesis crime scene when there's really only one. As always, Walter guesses what's going on, and gives us a science-fictional lecture while explaining it: she's jumping into parallel universes! You know, the kind that result whenever anybody make a decision, with the other possibility going on to form its own cosmos, like if I forgot to brush my teeth this morning and as a result everybody turned into Nazis. (I'm sorry?) That's of some sort of interest, although it's never explained why this is happening, or why it's happening now. It does help her solve the case though, by finding out the identity of the second body and tracking them down. Also solved: that obnoxious FBI guy who hates Olivia and kept screwing with her earlier in the season. Turns out he's evil (well, more evil), working with the bad guys, but he gets a nice bit of flaming death. And when Olivia confronts Walter about whatever experiments he was up to in the past, he still can't remember the details (because he's crazy, you know), but it was all for a purpose: to prepare for some coming disaster. Ooh, portentous! Walter also gets spirited away by the Uatu-esque bald guy who has shown up previously, so something big is in the offing for next week.
On the debit side of the equation, there's a pretty ridiculous bit of pseudo-science in one scene, even more silly than the usual stuff in this show. We hear details about a secret project Peter is working on, providing some not-very-subtle foreshadowing that he's going to reveal it at a key moment. It turns out that he was building a device to digitize Walter's records (which is pretty fucking overkill; you don't need an electron microscope for that sort of thing, you just need a turntable that you can connect to your computer), which he uses to read the audio that was melted into a pane of glass when a character burst into flame (I would say that it makes sense in the story, but it really doesn't). This involves cutting a circle of glass from the window, taking an image from it, then somehow playing the grooves in the glass to hear what was happening at the time. And for some reason, he has to spin a turntable like a DJ to control the playback. Good god, that makes no sense whatsoever. I blame Akiva Goldsman, who has apparently stuck his fingers deeply into this show; he didn't completely write the episode, but he's credited with "story".
I guess we'll see if anything interesting is going to come of all this next week in the finale. But given the trend of increased stupidity in the show, I don't know if I'll bother sticking around next season. Fuck you, Akiva Goldsman, you ruin everything.
The Celebrity Apprentice: "Season Finale" by Martin Brown
The first season of The Celebrity Apprentice was revelatory; the second was a mess. But this season, which concluded this week with Donald Trump hiring Joan Rivers over Annie Duke, seems to have created more hype than any season of The Apprentice since the first. Mostly, that’s because it did the same things most VH-1 caliber reality TV-shows do—the screaming matches, and the self-parody, and, you know, all the Bad Girls Club shit, just cleaned up a little for NBC and with “celebrities” competing for “charity.” When it comes down to it, Joan Rivers is not a whole lot different from Tykeisha Thomas (AKA “Somethin” from Flava of Love 2), except that she didn’t shit on the floor in the first episode THAT WE KNOW OF. Rivers treated her competitor Duke like absolute garbage, berating her at length, and not allowing her to speak in her own defense—or even wish Rivers good luck—and Trump refused to acknowledge a single bit of it. Even his response to Melissa Rivers’ conniption fit in Week 9 was a muted “That wasn’t your best moment.” It’s possible that Trump didn’t know going into the season that he was going to pick Joan as his apprentice, but it’s likely that he knew he might pick Joan as his apprentice, which is more than could be said for 75% of the others—including, apparently, Annie. Hence, his absolute unwillingness to say anything remotely negative about or around her. What probably happened was this: Joan picked up on, or already knew about, Trump’s fondness for her, and instigated a fight with the best player in the game, Annie Duke, in order to ensure her spot in the final two (Trump picked the finalists last season based on the fact that he wanted to see Piers Morgan and Trace Atkins face off.) That’s why the inciting incident behind Joan and Melissa and Annie’s feud was a supposed conversation that took place off camera.
I’m harboring no illusions that Annie Duke is anything remotely resembling a good person. It’s pretty easy to pin her right off the bat as a self-obsessed, narcissistic egotist—and, yes, those all mean the same thing, and, yes, Annie Duke is all of them. Damn it, though if she didn’t play the game perfectly. She knew exactly what she had to do to win—raise money, win challenges, bring in celebrities—and she did it 300% better than anyone else on this season. However, while Annie played the game, Joan played the show. By actively breaking the glass ceiling of decorum that usually accompanies these shows and these celebrities trying desperately to enhance their self-images, she created some incredibly compelling television (if not qualitatively good television, which I remember the first season being, though now I might have to rewatch it to see if I was right)—and she was rewarded by Trump and producer Mark Burnett for it, just as they were rewarded by NBC for it. Season 3 airs next Spring.
The Mighty Boosh: "Mutants" by Sean Witzke
"Look at your face - ambient, pure ambient. It's like The Orb's third album."
So this week, "Mutants". This is the second episode of the series, and while it would be nice to see a season run in order, it's kind of pointless now that Adult Swim started off with Boosh season 3. That season, the latest, is definitely the most weird and dark that the show has gotten. It was a strange decision, and I had assumed that Adult Swim had only been able to clear the overseas rights for S1 and S2. But here we are, "Mutants" immediately following "The Chokes". Six episodes in, and suddenly Howard and Vince are much younger. Everyone works at a zoo. Richard Ayoade is completely gone. Howard's crazy after a lady who looks like Sara Palin only w/ a french accent. Vince has terrible hair. Matt Berry is here as the scenery chewing karate-chopping billionaire bad guy. No crimping, and Bollo doesn't talk. It's a good thing that this show has absolutely no continuity episode to episode or season to season. People might get confused.
Stuff that's cut - the Kenan and Kel variety show opening with Howard and Vince giving introductions is out. That's a shame, those are the funniest parts of these early episodes. Bob Fossil dealing with a class of kids, trying to convince them there's an elephant in front of them but it's camouflaged. The credits skit is actually a payoff for a line that's been cut between Vince and the cobra. Relatively little compared to the Argento film that was the American edit of "The Chokes" last week.
This version of the Boosh is a lot more like a children's program, only written and performed whilst fucked up on mushrooms. Howard and Vince work at a zoo, animals talk, and the stories are more adventures than situations. This time, zoo owner Dixon Bainbridge (Matt Fucking Berry) is kidnapping animals and people to create multi-species mutants, supposedly to drive up zoo attendance. Whereas in season 3 it's less Scooby Doo, more standard sitcom, only both formats processed through the Boosh's ramshackle Douglas Adams/Muppet Show aesthetic. It's also a lot less packed with jokes - by the time they got around to "The Party", these guys really knew how to cram in the gags, callbacks, and extended conversations that are in themselves funny on top of the silliness and crazy costumes. Coming off of their radio and live shows - of which I am sorely ignorant - they took some time to figure out the pacing needed for episodic TV. Matt Berry is a fucking force of nature, as one who knows his work cannot deny. Dixon Bainbridge doesn't have much to do here other than be a mad scientist and a dick, he doesn't even have much dialog, and he still owns this episode from start to finish. If anything, the man becomes a star when you see him in full surgical scrubs holding a beaker full of scotch. The mutants are appropriately hideous and noticeably handmade, which is fantastic. The Mutants song that closes out the episode is one the Boosh's best songs - up there with "Love Games" and "Tundra" for pure children's TV simplicity and pop song catchiness. The problem with S3 is it's the least musical, and the great music in it is mostly crimps. Of course, a full fucking minute is cut of "Mutants" for the US airing, which is just a fucking slap in the face for anyone who'd actually wanted to listen to the songs on this show. But of course, I don't think they give a shit. If they do, they've got a mean way of showing it.
Next week "Bollo". Only it's the first season, so he's not funny, because Dave Brown's not in the gorilla suit until season 2. But we do get to spend a lot of time with Death, who talks like Alan Ford in American Werewolf in London.
Lost: "Follow the Leader" by Zeb L. West
Is Lost Fantasy or Science Fiction? Although any savvy TFO reader already knows the difference, there’s still some people who think they’re just one big lump category involving dragons or space or some shit. So what’s the difference?
The simplest I’ve heard it laid out is in terms of the plausible vs. the impossible. If you show a viewer a dragon, they say ‘okay, that’s impossible’ because conventional wisdom says that fire-breathing serpents don’t exist. But if you show them a space ship moving faster than the speed of light the viewer says ‘okay, that’s plausible.’ Even though they know it’s impossible according to current scientific theories, if they had to go toe to toe with a Trekkie at a SciFi convention, they wouldn’t be able to prove that it might someday not be possible.
So where does that leave Lost? Time Travel, teleportation and even psychic activity are usually dropped in the SciFi category depending on how they are treated. If you time travel by making a wish, teleport by wiggling your nose, or read minds through the use of a mystical crystal, you’re in the realm of fantasy. But if you bend the laws of physics to visit the past, listen in on the thoughts of others through a chemical imbalance in your brain, or teleport by molecular deconstruction and reconstruction, then suddenly we’re in the realm of SciFi!
There’s no doubt that Lost is laying a heavy foundation of pseudo-science involving the Dharma Initiative and a massive magnetic disturbance that sucks down airplanes. But the nagging fact remains that there are also elements of the fantastical everywhere! At this point it seems that Richard Alpert is immortal, Jacob is a ghost that haunts a shack, and that the island has an anthropomorphic will! Although each of these may eventually be given the pseudo-scientific treatment, at current count, Lost has one foot planted in each genre!
Don’t worry faithful reader: although I’ve appreciate you allowing my philosophical indulgence, I won’t forget to speculate on why it even matters if it’s SciFi or Fantasy! It matters because viewers who have been strung along with the promise of plausibility will probably be sorely disappointed if everything is chalked up to the magical. If it’s all a dream, if religious mysticism plays too large a part (i.e. Locke turning out to be Jesus), or if Atlanteans appear to explain everything, then we’re going to have quite an ugly Deus Ex Machina on our hands.
So if you watch the finale in a couple years and feel like it was all a bit too easy, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the red flags.
The major revelations of this week’s episode:
- The quaint little valley where the Dharma Initiative chose to build their suburb is unfortunately placed directly over the hydrogen bomb that Jack, Sayid and Eloise intend to detonate!
- Juliet and Sawyer are just about to happily accept exile to the mainland via the submarine, when their lovey-dovey session is rudely interrupted when old third-wheel Kate plops down between em!
- And my favorite musical theme returns this week as Locke leads an exodus of Others on a march straight to Jacob's cabin, where we get our final and biggest reveal of the episode - that Locke is so adamant about seeking out Jacob because he intends to kill him!