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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (10/11/10) 5:12pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  Burn Notice [3x13-3x16] [spoilers], Glee [1x21-1x22] [spoilers]
Books:  <none>

Burn Notice [3x13-3x16] [spoilers]
Season three of Burn Notice finishes pretty strong with  the episodes "Enemies Closer", "Partners in Crime", "Good
Intentions", and "Devil You Know".

Sure, some things didn't get fixed.  For example, even when they take Gilroy out of the story, the main arc is still a retread of season two's "Michael has to pretend to work with the bad guys in order to discover their nefarious plan."  But yet, when they finally make that storyline relevant to the main "Management" arc, it felt very satisfying.  Simon's revelation that "those weren't things you did... *I* did them" answered a neat question that I hadn't even thought to ask (so who *did* all those nasty things on Michael's rap sheet, anyway?), and then discovering that Simon's scheme all along was to kidnap Management... well, it was still a retread, but it was a retread that felt like it was moving the main, multi-season story along.

And yes, they're still doing the same character conflicts:  no, Sam and Fi don't like Gilroy.  They don't wind up liking Simon, either.  They point out, sensibly, that Michael doesn't need to go to these great, morally-dubious lengths to sort out what the bad guys are doing.  But this time, they finally decide they've had enough.  When both Sam and Fiona bail on Michael because they've been pushed too far, that feels like the payoff to these dozen episodes of "Michael's friends are annoyed with him."  The story finally lurches forward.

Of course, they then immediately cancel this action -- everybody makes up, Sam and Fi are Michael's helpers again -- but for a moment there's a real story there, and you're wondering what will happen next.

So the main story engine ("Ooh, will Michael compromise his morals while trying to take down these baddies from within?") feels pretty played-out ("Um... no, he won't.  We know this guy pretty well by now."), but they're finding little touches to maintain at least superficial interest.

Other bits and pieces go well.

I loved Gilroy as a character.  I loved that he was gay, but that wasn't what his character was *about*.  It was just a quality that added a vague sense of predatory menace to his interactions with Our Hero.

I loved the bits of humor in "Enemies Closer".  While it wasn't a hundred percent credible, but the running gag about Michael not knowing a word of Spanish was priceless.  ("Seriously, Michael.  *How* long have you lived in Miami?")  I'm surprised the show hasn't gone to this sort of joke before, because seeing Michael Westen, super-spy, getting frustrated by some simple, banal deficiency?  ("'Too... air ess?'  What is this?")  That's hilarious. 

Frankly, I'm surprised that they haven't gone to this well before -- I guess if you lean on it too much, then the audience no longer believes Michael is a super-spy.  In fact, that was my only problem with that joke -- it felt out-of-keeping with the overall tone of Burn Notice.

Lastly, I do like the stunt work on this show.  The disc includes as a bonus the Burn Notice panel at San Diego Comic Con.[1]  Among other things, Matt Nix makes a promise:  "no digital explosions on Burn Notice".  And you look at the show, and it makes sense:  yeah, it's not the expensivest show in the world.  There's not a ton of money on the screen.  But at least it's cheap *real stunts*, and not cheap CGI.  A car flips over and smashes into another car, and you see all the random bits and bobs fly off -- the sort of things a bottom-of-the-barrel CGI animator would never think to put in.

It's visceral.  You feel it.

The last episode included one of the best action sequences I've seen in some time -- it opened with a grisly, you-are-there car accident.  Michael smashes a utility truck into Simon's ambulance.  And then the two badly injured men stagger out of their vehicles for a very, very painful, nasty fistfight.  It's not cutesy, shiny, cheap computer effects.  It is two guys on their last legs beating the crap out of each other.  And if that doesn't hold your attention, you have no business watching actioners.

So that's it for season three.  It had its moments, but it generally feels like the show's central conceit ran out of gas.  They cast about in one direction, then another, and then they defaulted to doing the same plot they did in season two.

Perhaps this show could use an end date.

Glee [1x21-1x22] [spoilers]
With this last disc, Glee finishes up its first season with "Funk" and "Journey".

Well, at least the show stays true to itself to the end.

We get yet another arbitrary, bored-fanfic-writer[2] pair-up:  Will seduces Sue, and in so doing loses his last shred of credibility as an upstanding teacher and role model you'd want around your kids.  We get an attempt at a 'theme show' with "Funk", where various characters explore the things they're depressed about.  The problem, as usual, is that the show has no continuity[3], so they're *suddenly* depressed at things that weren't really part of the show's fabric before.

And I really didn't need to see any funk numbers given the shiny-Glee treatment.

Then, on to the finale!

I liked the finale best when it was doing callbacks to earlier in the season.  Bringing back Josh Groban and Olivia Newton-John was a nice touch.  I loved having the students talk about their lives *before* Glee Club.[4]  Those were the parts that made me feel like the season had a real arc and a real story to it, instead of just being karaoke porn.

Other parts of the show impressed me less.

The big show-stopping presentation of "Bohemian Rhapsody" left me underwhelmed.  It seemed odd to give the biggest musical number of the season to a supporting character (Jesse St. James) who was surrounded by extras.  And the style of dancing, while it certainly looked difficult -- lifts! twirls! aerials! oh my! -- didn't match the song.  The musicality was off.

In the DVD extras, the choreographers talked about the difficulty in creating an elaborate dance to a single that's essentially a ballad for most of its running time, and I think they came up short.  "I can hear the song they're playing, but... um, what song are they *dancing* to?"

And of course, the finale does answer the big questions of the season.

Will they win regionals?  No.  Duh.  If they won, then they'd go on to nationals, and there weren't any more episodes in the season to depict that.

And then:  will the Glee Club survive for another year?  Yes!  Because... um, because Sue thought they should.  Like I said last week, if you could remove all the middle scenes from your A-story, just leaving the opening and closing scenes, and still have an arc that makes sense... then there's something wrong with your A-story.  Instead, your last scene should *need* that middle bit for setup.  Everything that happens along the way puts the characters in a place where that last scene can happen.

The same is true for season arcs.  We could have just started with the conflict between Sue and Will, and cut straight to Sue somewhat arbitrarily deciding, "Eh, you get a one-year reprieve."  They never earned that outcome; it just happened.

And that's, in the end, what's so deeply disappointing about Glee:  stuff just *happens*.  It's one arbitrary plot move, then another, and it can never build up any momentum, or build up a credible, convincing world.  When something happens on Glee, it lives and dies purely on whether that particular speech, that song, that fight is convincing in that single moment.  In other, better shows, you feel that moment, but you also feel the hours and hours of hours of stories that have come before.  It has weight.  It matters.

But hey, Glee is still a wildly-popular, money-churning juggernaut, so what do I know?

For next time, I'll finish watching In the Loop, finish reading that book about first impressions, and listen to a bit more of American Psycho.  Also, I might watch Sherlock Holmes and start in on the BBC romantic comedy Gavin and Stacey.

[1] ... and why did a spy show do a panel at Comic Con?  Two words:  Bruce M*********ing Campbell.

[2] I'm a prude, of course, so I'm a bit weirded out by this fascination with "let's try hooking up every possible dyad of characters."  You see it in fanfic all the time, but I guess it isn't just the purview of tween girls in the fanfic community.[2b]

[2b] ... although if arbitrary pairings are a fixation of tween girls, that might just explain middle school.

[3] In fact, "Funk" was switched out at the last minute with "Theatricality" in the running order.  Who noticed?

[4] Though in some cases, it was (as usual) arbitrary.  Mike says, "I was afraid to dance outside of my own room."  Really?  Okay, then.  News to me.

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Date:Tuesday (10/12/10) 7:11am
Not that it changes your conclusion about Glee in general, but wasn't the somewhat-middle part of Sue discovering that the judges were unfairly voting against the school crucial to her decision to deciding to let them have another season? I felt like without that trump, she still wanted to destroy glee at the school. A minor counter to a still valid point.
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[User Picture]
Date:Tuesday (10/12/10) 3:23pm
Interesting point -- when was the unfair-judging part? around mid-season?
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