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Tag Archives: Season Premiere
The Simpsons is a television show that will forever be chasing its own shadow. I firmly believe that if your average viewer were to watch the episodes produced over the last five seasons or so, the general consensus would be that it’s generally a pretty good show. Unfortunately for showrunner Al Jean and the rest of the current Simpsons’ staff, their modern day output will always be measured against the seven or eight years when The Simpsons was one of the best shows on television, or to go one step further, if the good people at Time Magazine and your humble narrator are to be believed, the best show of all time. It can be a difficult task to live up to your own legacy.
Despite this challenge, Season 21 of The Simpsons produced a number of very good episodes, some of which even stack up pretty well against the episodes of the “Classic Era.” As has become customary, the latest season of The Simpsons consisted of a few big hits, a few big misses, and a large quantity of solidly enjoyable if unspectacular episodes in between. First and foremost, “O Brother, Where Bart Thou?” a tale of Bart’s quest for a younger brother, attained a level of quality that I did not believe the modern day Simpsons staff could reach anymore. Even with the proliferation of guest stars, usually a telltale sign of a weak episode, the story and the comedy fired on all cylinders the whole way through. It was touching, it was funny, it was well-constructed, and most of all it was entertaining from start to finish. Though Season 21’s hits managed to be a notch above those of prior recent seasons, this episode in particular stands apart as the best of the bunch.
Season Six of The Office was, at best, hit or miss. At times the show felt schizophrenic, with stories being picked up or dropped seemingly at random. What exactly was the point of the co-managers story arc? It was unceremoniously abandoned before it had even made it off the ground. Similarly, Michael dating Pam’s mother could have been an interesting storyline, but it went from zero to sixty and back to zero in such rapid succession that the audience never really had the chance to take anything away from the characters’ interactions. To the same end, Dwight and Angela’s “love contract” had potential, but it went off the rails so rapidly and was so completely ignored and revisited at random intervals that it left us simply scratching our heads, wondering what was happening.
Additionally, we have played the “Scranton may be closing” game on the show several times in prior seasons, and the sudden presence of “Sabre” did not do much to spice things up. I love Kathy Bates, but her character just feels out of place on this show, and Gabe was little more than window dressing. Season Six was almost wholly unable to maintain any sort of momentum. Storylines were starting, stopping, and disappearing altogether at such a rapid pace for seemingly no rhyme or reason, and it kept the show from establishing any sort of rhythm. The biggest fault I have with Season Six of The Office is a lack of any sort of consistency or continuity for the season as a whole.
Season Five of How I Met Your Mother had some bright spots, but overall it did not match the level of quality of prior seasons. The relationship between Barney and Robin showed some promise, but after a year-long build up to the storyline, the payoff underwhelmed. While eventually we might enjoy a happy ending for these two, for the week-in week-out story of their lives, they’re both more interesting characters when they’re apart. Also, while occasionally enjoyable, the numerous celebrity cameos like Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Lopez, Alan Thicke, and Jim Nantz just felt overly gimmicky. Reliance on guest stars was a crutch The Simpsons used all too often in the midst of the show’s decline, and it may be a sign of the times for HIMYM. Similarly, while fun as standalone bits, scenes like Barney’s suit song, his and Ted’s dueling Sexless Inkeeper poems, and the sign at the Superbowl all smacked of the standard sitcom decline into cartoonishness and caricature at the expense of good characterization and storytelling. After five years, the main characters and basic premise of the show cannot, on their own, have the same impact they once did. It feels as though the writers have to resort to more and more outlandish stories and ploys to keep things fresh.
That said, Season 5 did have a number of enjoyable bits and storylines, and the fun of the underlying friendship between the main characters still continues to keep the show moving forward. One of the show’s best qualities is its ability to incorporate the quirky and creative into its episodes. The parallel blind date from “Double Date,” the “but um” drinking game from “Jenkins,” Barney’s inability to take a bad picture in “Say Cheese,” and the skewering take on romantic comedies in “The Wedding Bride” were all highlights. The season also managed to get back to some nice, down-to-earth topics amidst the wackiness. Ted and Marshall attempting to maintain their “bro-ness” despite Marshall’s married life felt like a true to life issue resolved in a entertaining, self-contained manner. Though at times it felt a bit forced, the rise and fall of Robin’s budding relationship with Don generally worked well. Most of all, the doppelgangers were a thread that ran throughout the season and not only provided a number of laughs (stripper Lily) but paid off in a big way in the season finale. Lily’s reaction to the not-quite Barney lookalike was a superb way to resolve the story arc and it started the show down the path to Marshall and Lily trying for a baby.
Note: the rest of this review contains spoilers.
Season Six of House M.D. was assuredly a step up. The season opening mini-movie and the final two episodes alone boosted the sixth season ahead of other recent offerings. Moreover, throughout the season, the show’s producers demonstrated a willingness to play around with or even completely abandon the usual format. These departures resulted in some of the most interesting episodes in recent years, if not the series as a whole. The episode “Wilson” shined a spotlight on House’s constant companion in oncologist Dr. James Wilson, giving us an entire self-contained story from his perspective. The episode not only showed additional depth in an already well-explored personality, but proved that the Wilson character might have been able to carry a series on his own. Similarly, the episode “5 to 9” gave us a day in the life of Lisa Cuddy, from her struggles to renegotiate the hospital’s insurance contract to her frustrating run-ins with House, to the difficulty of balancing her personal and professional responsibilities. Again, this opportunity to take an in-depth look at a character whose day-to-day life the audience has only seen brief glimpses of in the pastwas a welcome change of pace. Finally, the episode “Lockdown” broke the format by forgoing a medical mystery in favor of seeing the characters separated and thrown back together in random pairs. The episode gave the audience closure to what was an otherwise abrupt departure for Dr. Cameron, and the pairings showed us some interesting new dynamics between characters we had rarely seen interacting.