The state of ‘The state,’ 2009

I have high hopes for Party down.  Not because I’m a Veronica Mars devotee — apparently there’s a significant cast overlap — but because I have a soft spot for weirdo American comedy.  Ken Marino, the horny, be-afroed, gum-chewing counselor from Wet hot American summer, as the team leader of a catering crew?  Great!  Bill Haverchuck, the single most pitifully endearing character in all of television history, as a science fiction-writing server?  Even better!  [That scene in front of the TV is guaranteed to choke me up, every single time.  I love you, Bill Haverchuck.]  Other regular cast members include Jane Lynch, the square-jawed father-to-be from Tell me you love me, and crazy Lizzy Caplan from True blood.  You had me at “Party.”

Two episodes in, though, I’m not sold yet.  There were a few GOL moments, a few good one-liners, but otherwise the interactions felt kind of forced.  The danger for the show, I think, will be to drift too far in the direction of American pie, to favor goofy jerk-off jokes over genuine awkwardness or absurdity without reserve.  Fred Savage’s directorial stint during season four of It’s always sunny in Philadelphia corresponded to a general slump in the hilarity (the season premiere excepted), so I wonder if his hand on Party down is what’s keeping things too conventional.  Maybe David Wain should direct an episode or two?

Yes, *this* Fred Savage.
Yes, *this* Fred Savage.

Meanwhile, Reno 911! has also just started an unexpected sixth season, with a couple notable additions to the cast: Joe Lo Truglio (also with The state pedigree) and surprisingly hefty Upright Citizen Ian Roberts.  I stopped following the show after Reno 911!: Miami — great title, mediocre movie — but the season premiere shows promise of reinvigorating the series.

One final State-related observation: did anyone else ever fall in love with Stella and watch the “Office party” episode over and over and over?  Wednesday’s season finale of Damages felt a lot to me like the climax in “Office party,” when the CEO of the company fires Michael, David and Michael, who are then reinstated by the Chairman of the Board, who is then arrested for “corrupt business practices” by the District Attorney, who is then fired by the Mayor, whose authority is trumped, we learn, by the citizenry.

“O beautiful, for spacious skies…”

– J.C. Freñán

Déjà vu. No, for real.

Why on earth do I keep wasting my time with Damages?  Is it because seeing Timothy Olyphant makes me wistful for better days in the Western Territories?  Is it because cameo appearances by Baltimore PD heavyweights Lou Rawls and now Lester Freamon will inevitably bring a tear to my eye?  (Thank you, Lester, for keeping it real.)  Is it because I have pronounced OC tendencies?

This week’s episode — directed by none other than Orange County’s number one dead-beat dad, Jimmy Cooper, and presciently titled “I agree, it wasn’t funny” — actually felt like something of an insult.  The deliberately cryptic flash-forwards are just SO GODDAMN TIRED.  At least on Lost there’s a coherent (albeit wacky) justification for the flashes; on Damages it’s just an empty gimmick.  And worse, it’s wasteful of some considerable acting talents (Numbnuts Donovan notwithstanding).  Weak, FX.  Y’all need to get Charlie Kelly to fix the rest of your programming.

Ich liebe es wenn man mir sagt dass was nicht geht.
Ich liebe es wenn man mir sagt dass was nicht geht.

TV pet peeve #1: “6 months earlier…”

I can’t figure out if I should direct my ire at scriptwriters or editors for a pox that is infecting contemporary television narrative: the Totally Gratuitous Flash-Forward.  (I do think we can safely blame J.J. Abrams for popularizing chronological monkey business like this.)  An episode begins with a visually or narratively provocative scene, the viewer is presumably overwhelmed by the totally banal question “How did we get here?” and suddenly we cut to a title screen that re-directs us some hours/days/weeks earlier in the story.  The following is a running list of programs that have resorted to this lamest of storytelling devices.

Battlestar Galactica: season 1, episode 4 (no time elapse specified); season 2, episode 12 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 14 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“94 hours ago”); season 3, episode 3 (“1 hour earlier”).  BSG is the worst offender, by far.

Breaking bad: pilot (“2 weeks earlier”); season 1, episode 2 (“12 hours earlier”). I’m otherwise enamored of this show, so it was disappointing to get two consecutive flash-forwards like this.  Season 2 plays with this device a little in the pre-credits sequences, but for the most part it’s not over the top or obnoxious.

Capadocia: pilot (“16 horas antes”).  (Was I really all that surprised?  No.  Not really.)

Damages: pilot (“Six months earlier”).  They built the whole goddamn show on this device.  WEAK.

Dollhouse: season 1, episode 9 (“12 hours earlier”).

Hustle: season 1, episode 3 (“1 week earlier”); season 3, episode 3 (“2 months earlier”); season 3, episode 4 (“a week earlier”).

Prison break: season 2, episode 3 (“12 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“six hours earlier”).  (Must be Michael Scofield’s brain tumor keeping him from telling time properly.)

Shame should also be directed at the directors of Michael Clayton (“4 days earlier”) and The illusionist for resorting to the flash-forward.  What is this, your seventh-grade Creative Writing class?

*ANY* fucking story becomes provocative when you cut a slice out the middle and show it first. Writers, editors: if you can’t figure out how to make a story compelling without dangling a little taste of what’s to come at the beginning, you’re in the wrong line of work.  The flash-forward is NEVER A GOOD IDEA.

– J.C. Freñán