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TV Rants and Raves 1.31.13: Ain’t Nothin But A G Thing

January 31, 2013 | Posted by Dimitri Dorlis

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Welcome to TV Rants and Raves. I am your host, Dimitri Dorlis.

Sorry about this going up a day late. My original plan was to have this up by the time I got off work, but a change in my schedule led to me working past our normal post time. At least we made it in the same week, right?

Anyone?

Anyway, let’s get into this week, featuring the return of Mr. Rants and Raves himself, Ben Piper.

TV Rants and Raves

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Fringe benefits

Presented without comment, Mr. Ben Piper:

The last time I wrote a loving benediction to a TV show that I greatly treasured, it was for Lost a few years back. I did so because not only was it my favorite show at the time, but also, I was the spearhead in charge of the show’s 411 coverage for the previous several years. My Get LOST column was quite popular with fans of the show, and I enjoyed great satisfaction that not only did the column largely resonated with the 411 fanbase, they paid that back greatly with their kind attention throughout the column’s long run.

However, a little over a year after the last Get LOST column, I took over TV Rants & Raves, and in that first installment, I admitted that Lost‘s showrunners screwed the pooch with regards to the endgame they presented. I mean, I got it, and several long time fans did as well. But for most of the casual viewing audience? It was far too confusing, to the point that it’s now a minor plot point in a Judd Apatow movie. They totally misconstrued the ending to the point that there’s this common misconception that everyone died in the initial plane crash. Which again, is NOT what happened. But that’s another story for another day…

I loved Fringe from the first episode. What initially started out as a potential X-Files rip-off, in that there was the FBI agent being sent out to investigate freaky “cases of the week” vibe, quickly grew into something more. Not only did we instantly like this young attractive field agent, Olivia Dunham, but we couldn’t help but to be drawn in by her counterparts that were quickly recruited to help out on that initial case; There was Peter Bishop, a genius of a young man gone wrong. While he was smart enough to achieve anything he
wanted in any given field he chose, he became a wanted con man instead. And then there was his father, Walter, a certified mad scientist that was locked up in an insane asylum at the beginning of the show. She needed Peter to get to Walter loose to help her investigations, which set up the dynamic moving forward.

What set Fringe apart not only from other network shows, but shows on basic cable in general, is that it wasn’t afraid to let it’s freak sci-fi flag fly proudly, but also while always infusing it with a strong dose of humanity every step of the way. What began as a case of the week mantra investigating initial Fringe events, at first involving & investigating “The Pattern”, before it took a left turn towards otherworldly shape-shifting invaders, not only doled out equal parts overlying mythology, but rather stunning character developments as well, adding a richness and depth to the sci-fi endevour the genre on TV had rarely experienced.

And it was never afraid to get weird, just for the sake of being so. Dear God, any time Walter dropped acid, (or got really high smoking pot) it was a true joy to watch and behold. 20 minute diversions into animation in the middle of an episode? Oh, hell yeah. And it happened more than once. And the last time, Terry Gilliam made his presence felt even though he didn’t directly have anything to do with it.

Over the course of five seasons, not only did we come to care about these characters greatly, but we slowly came to know them as a makeshift family of a sort. Walter, the damaged father figure. Peter, the resentful son that long ago stopped wanting anything to do with him, now forced to look after him; Olivia, whom would later go on to become Peter’s wife, and Astrid, Broyles and Nina Sharpe as well all had an important part to play.

And the acting all across the board was superb for all five seasons. Anna Torv did unsung great work as Olivia, at times balancing two different iterations of the same character, as well as pulling off a third as Leonard Nimoy’s William Bell inhabited her body. (Don’t ask) Josh Jackson stopped being Pacey or the kid from The Mighty Ducks for me once I saw him in this role. Lance Reddick was a solid, imposing authority figure that could also be sympathetic. Jasika Nichole made me fall in love with her as the calm, even-headed Astrid even as most of the time she had to deal with and reign in the usually batshit crazy Walter.

And oh yes. Walter. One of the oddest, quirkiest, funniest, heartbreaking, most driven and relentless, and at times, very much off his rocker characters in all of TV history. In the hands of anyone else, this guy would have been an over the top cartoon. But Australian stage veteran John Noble earns the MVP out of the cast for infusing the madman responsible for so much destruction over the course of the series a believable and palpable sense of humanity and hope for redemption for all his past sins.

Now with all this praise out of the way, I must admit that the show did have a steady list of shortcomings, as any show, no matter how high quality they may be, is bound to have. At first when the show runners started getting into the meat of the thing, they didn’t seem to know what exactly it was that they were attempting to do. Thankfully they figured it out by the end of the first season as they decided that “The Pattern” that Fringe Division had been in investigating was an insurgent war on our reality by an alternate parallel universe that had felt that they were “attacked” first.

And the next two seasons of the show produced great fruit as a result, not only resulting in the best episodes of the series altogether during the run thereof, but also solidifying it as an excellent cult sci-fi series that would be talked about for years after. It was the trippy “holy shit where did that come from” aspect of the introduction of the alt-verse that sent tongues wagging, but it was the execution of what came after that elevated from being just another sci-fi show into truly something special from a mythology standpoint.

What I greatly liked about it was the fact that for a while, the entire alt-verse was treated as the “big bads” of the show trying to destroy our reality. But as time wore on, were became more sympathetic to their plight, as we greater understood their reasoning and motivations behind their ulterior motives. I won’t go into details here, as I’m being too long winded already. It was fantastically brilliant all the way around, and it was Fringe executing at the top of its game.

But then Peter had to climb into the doomsday machine at the end of season 3 in order to build a bridge between the universes in order for them to work together, and as a result, he was wiped away from ever existing in the first place. Okay, wha?

Which led to a season four, that while it had its high points (“She is your Olivia”) was doomed to disappoint due to the rebooting of the universe(s) in which Peter never existed. While he did manage to manifest himself into reality again, (and don’t get me started on that head scratcher) on the whole the season felt largely uneven because of the large memory wipe that took place. While seeing the two universes working together closely with each other in order to heal all the damage they had done to one another was both fun, (Astrid’s initial reaction to seeing her doppelganger, Olivia and Fauxlivia getting to know one another) and at times poignant (when they decided to destroy the bridge between them to save both universes and had to say goodbye to their other selves) it was lacking in comparison to previous seasons. On one hand it as saying that the previous three seasons in fact never took place (as season one big bad David Robert Jones, played by the magnificent Jared Harris returned from the dead to threaten once more) but at the same time, not really, as Olivia began experiencing memories from a life she never lived (i.e. the previous three seasons) and it wound up being a confusing clutter of the show wanting to veer drastically one way before backing off.

That’s not to say that season 4 flat out sucked by any means, but having come off what came before? Yeah. We’ll just leave it at that.

However, one of the shows trademarks had become that in a late episode of a season (season 2’s noir infused musical episode “Brown Betty”, season 3’s fun acid trip “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”, and season 4’s “Letters Of Transit”) they would greatly step outside the box of a usual episode and present something different. In terms of the latter two, they were essentially forebears of what would follow the next season.

In “Letters Of Transit”, the main characters were mostly nowhere to be found. In a dystopian 2036 a young woman and a colleague (Lost‘s Henry Ian Cusick) from “The Resistance” worked to find and rescue the characters we all know and love from Amber to help turn the tide against humanity’s oppressors; the previously benign and at times benevolent Observers. They managed to find Walter fairly quickly, but he seemed more addled than ever. (though at one point he was clear headed enough to look upon the young woman and recognize her, resulting in a befuddled “You?”) After her counterpart sacrificed himself to help free Peter from his Amber prison… Well, just watch…


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YOU RAT BASTARDS!

Fringe‘s final season all in all amounted to a veritable scavenger hunt for vital parts to build a machine to defeat the usurpers. But what it did effectively is play off the emotional aspect, not only of the characters themselves (Walter doubting himself, and fearing becoming the monster he once was. Not to mention Peter and Olivia doubting themselves, each other and their relationship.) as well as our expectations for them. Once Etta was killed off? Peter got all vengeful to the point that he killed an Observer, took his tech and fused it into himself, at which point both Walter and Olivia feared for his humanity. Ultimately she talked him down, as it was her love that ultimately brought him back from the brink, and he stepped back from the precipice.

And while the journey up to the ultimate finale in the final salvo was fun & enjoyable, it still didn’t hold a candle to when the show was truly firing on all cylinders creatively. Things were rushed, to be sure, seeing as the final season was only 13 episodes and not the full season pick-up the showrunners were seemingly hoping and planning for. On my end, it seemed like plot points, characters and ideas they wished to tackle and explore were given short shrift as a result. So I couldn’t help but to be worried about the final two hour installment given the memory of the show I started this long-winded rant about.

But thankfully, Fringe ended resplendently, with several callbacks to the show’s previous history.

In the first hour, Olivia made the hard choice to dose herself heavily with Cortextiphan, so she could cross into the alt-universe in order to rescue Michael, the Observer child that was the key to their master plan. It was great to see a now older Fauxlivia and Lincoln Lee again, and to learn that they now had a family together. Cue misty eyes once the two dopplegangers reunited. Plus, the funniest line of the finale: “Stop staring at my young ass!”

But into the final hour it was on to business at hand; Saving the world. Resetting the timeline. Getting Etta back. And come on, we all really knew that this would play out exactly. But again Finge did it so resplendently by falling back on what made the show so great to begin with. First off, when invading Observer Headquarters in order to save Broyles, using fodder from previous cases throughout the shows run. (Although they did that previously in this final season, it was still pretty great.)

But what really resonated for me and elevated things were the emotional character moments that we were given. The characters we came to know, love, and care for came full circle.

To begin with, Peter finding the videotape of Walter saying goodbye. Don’t give a shit if you know it, but my eyes poured buckets. Again, going back to my Lost days here at 411, instead of simply trying to write about how great it was, I’ll transcribe it instead.

Walter: Peter, I sent you a letter. It contains something of mine.

Peter: What letter, Walter?

Walter: I imagine you called to ask why I sent such a strange letter. And when you called I didn’t answer, so you came to find me in the lab. But I was not to be found. I was here one moment, and vanished from the face of the Earth the next. I want you to know, I’m fine. Living many, many years from now.

Peter: What is this, Walter?

Walter: You’ll never see me again. You’ll never see me again, because it had to be this way. To ensure the future of our humanity. Your future. The future of Olivia. And the future of Etta. I don’t want you to be sad. The time we had together we stole. I changed fate to be with you. And we shouldn’t have done that together but we did. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t want to say goodbye…. But I will say; I love you, son.

Both Walter and Peter are tearing up by this point watching the tape, as are we. It is here that Walter admits that he’s planning on sacrificing himself. Peter asks if it has to be this way, and gets filled in on yeah, pretty much.

Walter: I know in my soul that this is what I have to do. I want you to give Olivia your daughter back. I want to give you your life back. As a father how could I not do that for you? What I said in the tape, about stealing time with you, I meant it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world…

At which point a tearful Peter steps forward to lovingly embrace his father, both full on verklempt. Me? I’m a mess.

Walter: You are my favorite thing, Peter. My very favorite thing!

And then there was sweet Astrid, showing Walter his Ambered pet cow Gene one last time. In this brief interaction between them, and in between the lines that were spoken, through body language and eye contact alone, Jasika Nicole and John Noble phenomenally demonstrated the great love that the two characters have for one another. Superbly acted by them both, and for the cherry on top, paying a compliment to his female counterpart, Walter finally, and very sweetly, got her name right after mangling it after five years. Awesome.

Everything that followed was just gravy afterwards. But it was kinda the best gravy tasting ever. Olivia still exhibiting Cortextiphan powers to squash Agent Smith from the Matrix Widmark between two SUV’s like a bug? Donald/September willing to take Walter’s place because he now knows the lengths a father will go to protect and love his son, only to fall? Michael briefly mourning the loss, only to look up and see Walter offer his hand? “I love you, Dad”.

And then, that incredible ending. All is right in the world. Peter and Olivia have their young daughter Etta back, unaware that she was ever taken from them to begin with. Once they get back home? Peter finds the letter which Walter promised in the videotape; a simple drawing of a white tulip, a symbol of faith, love, hope, and in this instance, redemption for past sins.

It was a great finale for a great unsung TV show. While I know and am well aware that I should be thankful for being given a five year long run of a show that I loved tremendously? It’s all that much better that when it came down to it, it stuck the landing. Firmly.

After 100 episodes, (admittingly, some better than others) Fringe went out on its own terms. It did so spectacularly. As a fan, that is all that one can really hope for.

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Can you keep a secret?

FYI, that was the first image when I GIS’d Pretty Little Liars, and I couldn’t not use it. I’m sorry.

I have a friend who is very into Pretty Little Liars, and she kept trying to get me to watch it. But enough about my terrible friend, let’s talk about another ABC Family show, because that really drives readership. That and arguing about Glee.

I saw a few episodes at the beginning of Pretty Little Liars run. I was young and naïve and Lucy Hale was an attractive prospect at the time, but I still watched the first episodes. And then I stopped watching because I couldn’t get into the show. PLL really struggled to find a voice in those first episodes, and I’m almost depressed that I didn’t stick with the show to this point. I say almost because I also would have had a brain aneurism if I had stuck with it.

So let me start by making a simple statement: I have no idea what is going on, and I love it.

At its heart, Pretty Little Liars is a mystery show wrapped up in sparkly dress. The show follows the lives of four teenage girls as they try and navigate the waters of high school life. Oh, and their mutual friend who knew the secret of everyone in the town was murdered and the possible killers are now tormenting the group. You know, simple stuff.

Liars is in love with the mystery and treating everything like a big deal, which is great because this show is basically a soap opera anyway. It also loves playing coy. From what I’ve gathered in talking to my friend, there are multiple A’s on the show, but only one (ok now two) have been revealed. And yet that’s fine, because it fuels discussion amongst fans that would rival Lost. Ok, I’m being hyperbolic there, but the point remains that this show refuses to put all their cards on the table, instead only showing bits and pieces as it moves along.

But even though I’m finding myself enjoying Pretty Little Liars more and more, I’m also finding fun in pointing out all the problems in the show. For example, everyone in the show is crazy. For example, we just got done with a two-episode arc involving a character named Meredith, who went from helping out the group in hiding some secrets to drugging Aria and locking most of the group in a basement. It gets to the point where I’m more shocked when I see sane people on the show, like the pharmacist who refused to give the crazy lady pills without a prescription. I’d almost bet that the show’s average amount of people doing shady things in a single episode would be around 4.

Pretty Little Liars also falls into the ABC Family trap of everyone being good-looking. Case-in-point, take the second episode of this winter season, where Spencer and Mona had a quiz bowl against each other, and we were introduced to the leader of the club, who is some random nerd. And, to quote a friend, “totally bangable”. I’ve never understood this show’s, and really most of ABC Family’s infatuation of having everyone be good-looking. I can understand not wanting to go with a stereotype in some situations, but you can have some normal-looking people on your television show (maybe that’s why I like Bunheads so much).

Make no mistake about it, this is a trashy show. But at the same time, everyone behind this show seems to recognize that fact, and are more than willing to play up that level of trash to the point where it seems to come around to being good. I’d say that Pretty Little Liars is trying to make a point about the genre, but that’d be giving the show way more credit than it deserves. Suffice to say, there is a winning formula that the show has mined into a sizeable following, which I somehow find myself a part of. God help me.

Strange Thoughts

– Literally the day after I posted, a bunch of networks bought up pilots. I’m not going through them, but the most intriguing pilot in my mind is an adaptation of the Sixth Gun that is being produced by Lost veteran Carlton Cuse. Yeah, the SyFy adaptation never came to fruition, and yeah this is for NBC, but I have high hopes.

– HBO did decide that Girls had earned a third season, which is surprising, mostly because HBO usually takes its time before it decides to go steady.

– Fans of Dancing with the Stars, rejoice! Lindsay Lohan will not be appearing on the show. Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong and his steroid-riddled testicle will also not be competing.

– Glee recently decided not to credit Johnathan Coulton after they used his cover of “Baby Got Back”, saying they were within their legal right to do so and that Coulton should be happy with the exposure, even though they didn’t advertise the fact that his version was the one used.

– In other news, Glee is now awful.

– And now Young Justice gets cancelled. Honestly not surprised, considering how much Cartoon Network loves to dick around with their critically-loved TV shows.

– Finally, here’s a look at what the newly-revived Powerpuff Girls may look like.

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– There just went your childhood.

– NEXT WEEK: I guess we cover the 30 Rock finale. Still haven’t come to terms with the fact that I have to put 30 Rock and finale in the same sentence. Also maybe we’ll talk about the failure that was Last Resort, and maybe realize why it wasn’t all that bad.

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The Non TV Segment Of The Week

I just saw this for the first time, but god damn this seems cool.

It’s good to laugh sometimes.

And I just got into My Brother, My Brother and Me. May be one of the funniest podcasts I’ve ever listened to. Here’s what turned me on to them.

Enjoy.

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That’s all for this week. Leave a comment or something, and we’ll see you all next week.


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Dimitri Dorlis

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