2010-2011 TV Talk: Part 1, Hour-Long Shows

 I get a little sad at the end of the TV season.  It feels like a bunch of my friends are all going away for the summer and now is the time for me to look back on each and decide how our "relationship" is going.  I tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to hour-long shows — either I watch each and every episode obsessively or I don’t watch at all.  Here’s where I stand with my current shows:

Shows I Still Love:

Fringe –  took the first two seasons to build its own world with each freak-of-the-week type procedural case adding up to the much bigger war between two universes and even more characters for me to love. In season three, the show got to leap full-on into its world and play in it.  That was a lot of fun!  The finale set up an even more interesting situation for next season.

The Good Wife –  has become a full-fledged dense legal world with a case of the week that dovetails nicely with the personal character arcs and the political happenings of Chicago.  The finale set up some interesting plots for season three.

Being Erica–  manages to up the ante for its main character each season, changing the dynamics of the show in such a way that its story world expands each season and yet manages to stay just as fun and breezy and true to telling Erica Strange’s story.  I love the way the finale set things up for season four.

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Shows I’m Cautiously Hopeful About:

Nikita –  is a bit of a puzzle for me. Whenever I’m ready to dismiss it as just a shallow CW action show, the writers do something to surprise me and hint that its storytelling has more potential than I’m giving it credit for.  So far, the storyline and acting hasn’t completely lived up to that potential, but the last few episodes surprised me again and upped the ante for next season.

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Shows I Can’t Believe I Might Break-up With:

Castle –  is a lot like eating a box of Twinkies. The first couple are excellent and hit the spot.  After that, I can’t help but notice the limitations of this chemically processed dessert. I love shows that do the lightweight murder-mystery with panache.  But having the main characters flirt in a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship gives the show an expiration date for fun. I felt this way about Bones too. That show hit its expiration date, for me, somewhere around season 3 or 4 and I’m starting to feel the same way about Castle

Castle’s premise — where a writer gets to go on case after case with an NYPD detective– was never very realistic in the first place, but I was more than willing to suspend my belief for clever cases and lots of banter between the leads.  The flirtatious relationship feels stale to me now though. It’s no longer believable that the leads would still work together, yet not be romantically involved or go their separate ways by this point.

Like Bones, the more dramatically serious plots aren’t created with as much care as I think they need to be.  If  one of the characters I love is going to betray the team, I’m going to need a strong, believable storyline that’s been slowly simmering over the course of the season, not some quickly pasted together reason.  I  enjoy shows like Bones and Castle best when they stick to what they’re good at — clever, light murder-mysteries and likable ties between their characters.  Sadly, that type of set up seems to have a shelf-life of three or four seasons.

Supernatural –  is a another show that’s overstayed its creative premise, for me. While I liked the direction the finale took things, the premise of Sam, Dean, and Bobby against the world really has no where to go at this point. The show has made it clear that these three aren’t allowed any ties outside of their tight little world, which means they can never have a relationship or lasting friendships or anything but saving the world, dying, angsting, and coming back to life and saving the world and ansting some more.  That only intrigues me for about four seasons.  By then everyone’s died a couple times and I no longer care –even if they are really really pretty.

I Don’t Know Why We Stayed Together So Long But We Really Have to Break-up:

Glee – has become a hot mess for me.  I love Lauren, Britney, and Santana, but the rest of the kids seem to change personality based on what the plot needs.  To contrast that, the adults each seem stuck in the same plot loop that repeats over and over again. While I liked a lot of Kurt’s plot, it often felt like he’d gone from being a real boy to the patron-saint-of-bullied-gay boys and I’m awfully tired of the plots where they just repeat over and over that Mercedes is more than a sassy-black-girl without actually showing her as a real person.  (The end hinted that they may be seeing the light on Mercedes. I hope so.)

The Event – I watched it to the bitter end because I liked a lot of the actors and was intrigued by the aliens at the beginning.  It’s amazing how dull an action-packed tale about aliens can be– that’s certainly a special type of talent. 

What about you?  What shows did you love?  Any you’re breaking up with?

TV Review for: The Vampire Diaries

If you’re looking for a fun show to watch this summer check out The Vampire Diaries.  Yes, really. 

It’s true that back when the show premiered in 2009 I couldn’t even finish watching the boring Twilight-meets-CW-soap-opera pilot.   But I began to hear rumblings on the Internet that the show improved, a lot.  During season two, those rumblings spread until a couple friends told me, "yeah, the pilot was dull, but the show is really fun now."  So I checked it out….

Once I hit somewhere between episode 5 and 8, the plot took off.  Things happened, people died, the main couple went from being another version of Bella and Edward to characters with real personalities. Thankfully,  Elena has better things to do than obsess about becoming the perfect wife, doing her father’s laundry, or worrying about  looking old, and Stefan has no time to watch Elena sleep or fuss at her for wanting to kiss him. This couple has friends to see, town events to help out in, and people to save, and happily they enjoy kissing and more and look very pretty together too.

The show ends up combining the best parts of a small town soap opera– the gossipy intrigues that happen at the town’s weekly festivals and dances– with the fun supernatural action of vampires and witches.  Since each episode ends on a cliffhanger I ended up watching the entire first season in less than a week.  By season two I was completely hooked and talking up the show to others so I had people to talk to about the weekly happenings in Mystic Falls.

The Vampire Diaries is not some great literary show.  It doesn’t have Buffy level dialog or great metaphors about high school.  It’s a straight up soap opera with vampires and a lot of action, but it’s such a competently-plotted soap opera.  Plus, the evil vampires have fun being evil.  In other words, it’s a fun guilty pleasure.  Did I mention everyone is super pretty?  Yeah, that’s a plus too.

[Season 2 is currently rerunning on the CW on Thursday at 8pm.  You can also buy episodes or the whole season on iTunes or Amazon Instant Viewing.]

[Season 1 is available in DVD form on Netflix. You can also buy episodes or the whole season on iTunes or Amazon Instant Viewing.]

Book Review for: Reading Women

Title: Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life
Author: Stephanie Staal
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Feminism, Memoir
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid
Rating: *** 1/2

Journalist Stephanie Staal, the child of a dual-career household, first studied feminism formally in the late 1990’s when young women were confident in a future where they would flourish in their careers and raise their families at the same time.  A decade and a half later, Staal, married and raising a young daughter, feels lost on the path to her envisioned dream.  Like many women, she finds raising a child, being married, working for a living, and trying to keep a sense of self is not so easy in American society .  Though her husband has always expressed feminist viewpoints and the goal of an equal relationship, their marriage has drifted to a more traditional setup than either had planned on.  When she realizes just unhappy she is, Staal decides to retake the course, Feminist Texts, at her alma maters Barnard College and Columbia University to search for answers to her current life problems.

Reading Women is both informative and emotionally engaging.  Staal is an excellent writer. She summarizes the key elements of each of the classic texts of the first, second, and third waves of feminism while weaving through the narrative of her life.  She discusses how each text affected her as a college student and what she thinks of it now as a married mother seeking answers to how to survive in a society with so many conflicting ideals for women.

I got interested in feminism later in life, when I was in a similar situation to Staal’s, so I loved reading her short thoughtful summaries of many of the texts I had heard of, but never had the time to read myself.  Staal is obviously from the upper-middle class and her discussion of feminism deals mostly with the struggles of the upper-middle class. Still, it was comforting to read someone else honestly discussing how hard American society makes life for women– even privileged women like myself or Staal.  After reading her book I felt a little less alone.

Book Review for: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Title: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Author: Tom Angleberger
Year Published: 2010
Rating: *** 1/2
Format: Read hard cover book
For: grades 3-6

Sixth-grader Tommy is trying to figure out the truth.  Eccentric Dwight, who eats lunch at Tommy’s table, swears that the wise advice his Yoda finger puppet is giving the kids of McQuarrie Middle School has everything to do with the power of force and nothing to do with Dwight himself — even if Dwight is the one doing the Yoda voice. 

Tommy’s not sure what to believe.  Tommy’s friend Harvey thinks Origami Yoda is just a wad of paper on Dwight’s finger and that Dwight is trying to pull one over on them.  But Origami Yoda seems to know things Dwight couldn’t possibly know.  Besides there’s no way Dwight has ever seemed wise in his life; he’s the weirdest kid Tommy knows.  So Tommy gets the students at McQuarrie Middle School to each tell their own story about how Origami Yoda helped them.  Now all the evidence is in one place and Tommy can decide once and for all…What’s the deal with Origami Yoda?

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a clever quick read that should appeal to reluctant readers. The case file format divides the book into a series of short self-contained stories that make it easy to read, with enough middle school humor and intrigue to keep a reluctant reader wanting more.