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Qualler's Episode of the Month: February 2011

I begin February's TV highlights post with a caveat: I have not yet seen the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights, which originally aired on DirecTV 101 this Fall and completed its run in February. From what I gathered peripherally from the internet, the series finale, "Always", was an exceptional episode to an exceptional season for an exceptional series. Hell, just having seen a picture of Coach Taylor putting his hand on Vince's shoulder and seeing the title "Always" had me on the verge of tears. Note to self: invest in Kleenex stock when FriNiLi season five comes out on DVD. And there is still no lack of FriNiLi coverage for the past month: three of the five nominees have some serious FriNiLi connections!

Anyway, February brought us the premiere of some new shows, season premieres of new favorites, and episodes of other shows that helped put those respective shows into higher viewership categories for yours truly. Apparently many watched a certain neighboring state's professional football team win some grand prize this February on television, but I'm going to assume that, and the entire NFL season in 2010, were just horrible dreams.

First on the list of potentials was the season premiere of FX's Justified. Titled "The Moonshine War" and written by showrunner Graham Yost, the premiere reminded us all in its extra-long cold open all the things we love about the world of main character Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant). The slippery, elusive Boyd Crowder (winningly played by Walton Goggins) slips away from Raylan's grasp while we are introduced to a new set of Kentucky-area baddies, the Bennett family, led by the sweet-on-the-outside, purely-evil Mags (Margo Martindale, aka the records woman on Dexter) and her son Dickie (Jeremy Davies, aka Daniel Farraday on Lost). But what we love about this show, besides the sticky, sweaty sense of place we get from watching these folks do their business in Kentucky, is Raylan going tete-a-tete with some dumbass who doesn't realize how awesome he is. This happened at least twice in the premiere, and while unfortunately there are no clips of it, the commercial that ran during the aforementioned Super Bowl is a great example of the awesomeness that is Raylan Givens, and the show's perfect balance between meta-badassery and actual badassery.

Next in consideration is Community's 14th episode of its second season, "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons", written by Andrew Guest. This is the episode that finally converted me from a "m'eh" to "I'll watch it" opinion, which should surely please DoktorPeace and Chris. What was uproariously funny about "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" was the wickedly sharp interplay between the cast of characters and the straight-up nerd touches they added. I have never played myself a game of D&D but now realize the appeal, thanks to this episode. Abed as a dwarf and Britta a human conversing with each other was priceless.

A brand new show premiered after much hype in the aforementioned (twice, now) Super Big Football Game titled The Chicago Code. Its pilot episode (titled "Pilot"), written by creator Shawn Ryan (Terriers, The Shield, Super Good User Of Social Media) strongly introduced some very appealing elements of the cop (while trying to avoid inevitable comparisons to that other cop show from that other pay cable network) show: lightning-quick dialogue (the type that seems completely unlikely to survive long-term on a major network like Fox), gritty action police scenes, and Scorsese/Tarantino-esque directing. Add to it some excellent work by TV vets Jason Clarke (Brotherhood), Matt Lauria (FriNiLi) and Jennifer Beals (The L Word) and some excellent and you've got all the elements of a show that seems miraculously well-formed at birth. Even the only troublesome element of the series, the voice-over narration shortcuts for character development, were put to rest by a wicked, gut-punching twist in that pilot episode. Here's to hoping this is a show that can develop and live up to the promise of the pilot.

Even more miraculous, in some way, is FX's little-watched Lights Out. In its fourth episode "Bolo Punch", written by Carter Harris (a vet of the FriNiLi writing staff), raises the stakes in title character Patrick "Lights" Leary's life considerably. When his wife Theresa donates $50k to her church to support their kids' mission trip to Haiti and then finds out that the money is dried up, the results, like the scene at church where others excitedly pledge to match part of the $50k is gut-wrenching. Patrick's brother Johnny (played by Pablo Schreiber, aka Nick Sobotka of The Wire) gets the crap beat out of him and gets forced to put Lights himself in a Mixed Martial Arts fight with a guy who had a beef with him. This comes after a scene where Lights and his Pops (played by Stacy Keach) spend an evening at a bar, where Pops asks the bartender to "turn it to the fight" -- which, she points out, is on...it's an MMA fight. It's a perfect metaphor for the economic collapse the Leary family starts feeling -- an ex-boxer who continues to tell himself that he's "good for it" money-wise is passed by because his own sport has been made him irrelevant, much like the lavish lifestyle they've been living has been made irrelevant by the collapse of the economy. (Meta-commentary on the inevitability of collapse in our capitalistic society? Perhaps.) At the end, when Lights gives the money to the boxer who is owed cash from his last fight and mentions how they could "climb back up the ladder" after his loss last week, he hauntingly replies, "We both know I could have gotten back up again. I just didn't want to. I'm not a boxer." See, if the show was pitched as a show about the collapse of the economy, set to the backdrop of boxing, even fewer people than are already watching it would have started from the beginning.

But, February's Episode of the Month prize goes to Parenthood, with its episode "Amazing Andy and his Wonderful World of Bugs", written by Kerry Ehrin. Sure, it only took a truly wonderful guest star spot by Michael Emerson (Ben from Lost) to put this show up a notch from "I'll watch it in the background" to "Appointment Television" for me, but this episode, tenderly written by Ehrin (she, also, was a writer on FriNiLi, as is most of the writing staff of Parenthood, also helmed by FriNiLi showrunner Jason Katims) gave the show its first honest, heartfelt appraisal of Max Braverman's Aspbergers Syndrome. Emerson played Amazing Andy, an adult with Aspbergers who performs at Max's birthday party. When dad Adam (Peter Krause, Six Feet Under) gingerly asks Andy, "Are you happy?" after the party, all of the annoying, jerky, self-serving things Adam has done this season get swept aside, and we remember that Adam is just a scared parent who wants what is best for his kid. It also helps that at this point of the season, it seems apparent that the writing staff who was doing double-duty between the final season of FriNiLi and this season of Parenthood are now applying the lessons they've learned from the Texas-based drama that we all love so much. The same naturalistic overlapping-dialogue, at this point of the season, is more fully utlized, and the same humor-combined-with-heartbreak seems to be developing more and more. Sure, Parenthood still has times where it feels slight (like the episode with my all-time favorite TV Guide episode description, "Crosby helps Jabar clean his room") and there are still a few things they need to iron out. But make no mistake: in a post-Friday Night Lights world, Parenthood is now appointment television.

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  1. Blogger chris | 5:29 PM |  

    Your post inspired me to convince Jerksica to get back into Parenthood last night. I'm not caught up, so maybe my mind will change, but while I enjoy it I find the biggest hurdle that that show has in getting me invested in the characters' problems is exactly what FNL doesn't have any issue with: eclecticism of characters' backgrounds. All of the FNL peeps came from very different places and thus, so much the drama feels varied and engaging, whereas we're just dealing with the Bravermans here, and they're all basically neurotic middle class hosers, which is interesting to a point, but just not enough to get me to fall in love with any of them. The person I'm most interested in seeing how their future plays out is Haddie, and yes it's largely because of her relationship with Alex, someone who actually has an interesting and complicated past.

    Super glad you included the Community ep!

  2. Blogger DoktorPeace | 5:48 PM |  

    Every time I stop flipping on Parenthood, I see some intense conversation being had with/about kids. At this point, I have absolutely no interest in the whole spectrum of "raising children," personally or entertainment-wise. I don't even care when children get kidnapped (in fiction). Maybe someday that will change and Parenthood will be the perfect show to catch up on, and I have no doubt it's well-written and I hope it does well, but I'm out for now.

    Also Dax needs to give me his girl.

  3. Blogger qualler | 10:32 AM |  

    Chris, I'll be interested to hear when you get caught up what your thoughts are. I can see what you mean, as it is (mostly) about one family, but their personalities are so different that I'm not sure I see that their plots/difficulties/issues are all that homogeneous.

    Doktor, if all you've seen of Parenthood is "flipping (it) on", then your opinion ISN'T valid! (p.s. Can you Skype in with us again tomorrow?)

  4. Blogger Lane | 5:35 PM |  

    Still think parenthood is an odd show....I really like Chiacgo code, the ending was stellar (in love with plot twist like that) Plus Vonda (aka Devin Kelly was pretty good) :) Good review

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