Andrew Wickliffe

Doctor Who (2005) s02e06 – The Age of Steel

I had low expectations for this episode, given the first installment was so unimpressed; writer Tom MacRae and director Graeme Harper do not improve at all this episode. The perfunctory cliffhanger resolution does nothing to ratchet up any enthusiasm. The stakes are simple—the Cybermen are taking over this alternate universe and Billie Piper won’t let David Tennant wait it out in the TARDIS because Piper’s parents Camille Coduri and Shaun Dingwall are in danger.

Dad Dingwall works for evil mastermind Roger Lloyd Pack but did he know Lloyd Pack was really a bad guy who wanted to turn everyone into Cybermen? Tennant’s suspicious but Piper’s obstinate and disinterested in finding out the truth. She’s so annoying this episode. Tennant eventually goes to hang out with alternate Earth revolutionary Helen Griffin, leaving Piper with Dingwall. She starts annoying him pretty quick too.

Meanwhile, Noel Clarke is off learning how to be a revolutionary—his double is on a team with Griffin and Andrew Hayden-Smith—and finding himself and whatnot.

The episode reuses action beats from the show’s pilot, which is kind of… well, it’s sad, but it does have the potential for Piper to comment on it. She doesn’t, of course, because MacRae’s disposable (at best) script.

Clarke ends up with better scenes than anyone else as he has to save the world himself for once. Unfortunately, Clarke’s performance still isn’t very good but… the episode’s got a very low bar. Successfully turning Clarke into even a hero in his own mind is something.

What else… bad CGI? There’s some really bad CGI.

There’s also a fairly dark ending with Tennant having to torture a bunch of people. It seems like it’s going to be one of those sobering “Doctor Who” resolutions but somehow it’s not. Maybe because it’s an alternate universe. Maybe because it’s so insincere. Thanks to Tennant, who’s absurdly underused, season two of “Who” has been very sturdy, but MacRae and Harper seem likely to be names to dread going forward.

Frasier (1993) s02e11 – Seat of Power

Steven Levitan wrote this episode. Levitan’s one of the few sitcom people whose names I recognize. I didn’t realize he’d done “Frasier.” Turns out this is his first of four episodes. Recognizing the writer (though not remembering he hadn’t contributed a script to credit level before Seat), I paid the writing a lot of attention. Even when there are distractions like trying to identify the celebrity caller (it’s Macaulay Culkin, it’d be concerning if anyone could recognize him in 1994 when it aired) and then a somewhat funny Roz (Peri Gilpin) scene. It’s Gilpin’s only scene in the episode; it’s memorable enough, I guess.

And it does bury the proverbial lede. It’s going to be a Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce episode and it’s going to involve Hyde Pierce confronting his childhood bully. I’m not sure if the Crane boys going to public school was always canon (it almost seems like it wouldn’t be), but it’s definitely what the episode goes with. The episode’s theme—Levitan gives it a theme—is about the Crane boys trying to feel more manly even if they are snobs with European cars. After John Mahoney heckles Grammer for not being able to fix his own toilet, Grammer and Hyde Pierce give it the Crane Brothers go.

So we get this hilarious scene of Grammer and Hyde Pierce trying to do home repairs—including the first look at the apartment’s gigantic master bathroom (because they need pacing room)—but it’s just a bit on the way to the main event. The plumber turns out to be John C. McGinley, who bullied Hyde Pierce in elementary school.

Hyde Pierce goes through a very physical, very funny meltdown while Grammer tries to contain him. Hijinks and complications and hilarity ensue. It’s a great episode. Nice developments for Grammer, Mahoney, and Jane Leeves throughout. Hyde Pierce gets a bunch of spotlight moments, which the rest of the cast shares. They’re really good together (it’s an apartment-based episode so everyone’s around).

James Burrows’s direction is good. It’s always good. Sometimes you can just tell it’s one of his episodes though, based on the pacing of the actors.

It’s another good exemplar episode.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e05 – Rise of the Cybermen

The cold open of this episode looks pretty bad and the direction on the actors is terrible so I was just waiting to see it was Keith Boak. Then the opening titles rolled and I got a little hopeful upon seeing the writing credit—Tom MacRae, new guy (all the “Who” writers are guys so far), and the show’s done better with new writers than the regular one—then it turned out not to be Boak, but Graeme Harper. Harper and MacRae both being “Who” newbies.

Harper’s direction is fairly bad, with the show once again looking like it’s a soap opera at best. Poor cinematographer Ernest Vincze, who shoots all(?) of the episodes, yet sometimes outside his control it all looks bad.

It’s an alternate universe adventure with David Tennant trying and failing to keep Billie Piper from hunting down alternate universe dad Shaun Dingwall—it’s incredible what a bad character Piper’s become this season. She nearly broke the universe last time she went after Dingwall. Did she learn anything? Nope.

Then there’s Noel Clarke, who’s sad Tennant doesn’t like him more. There’s this whole thing about Tennant only caring about Piper and not even being interested in Clarke’s (unknown before this episode) backstory involving grandmother Mona Hammond, who died in the regular universe. But the show’s established Piper thought she and Tennant were romantically involved or at least interested so what does she want him to do with Clarke? It’s just bad writing, with the bad production values hurting things even more.

Though I guess it’s obvious the episode doesn’t know much show canon because when we find out Clarke’s alter ego is named “Ricky” instead of “Mickey,” no one remembers how Christopher Eccleston called him “Ricky” last season. It’s this great setup and then does nothing.

The villains this episode are the Cybermen, who are back from the original series, only this time they’re run by brilliant megalomaniac businessman Roger Lloyd Pack who wants to be immortal. Lloyd Pack is extremely bad. Like. Extremely.

Towards the end of the episode it appears he’s doing an impression of Sidney Greenstreet in Maltese Falcon but apparently without coordinating with director Harper.

It’s a slog of an episode. So much of one a particularly annoying Camille Coduri doesn’t even rate mention.

Frasier (1993) s02e10 – Burying a Grudge

David Lloyd wrote a John Mahoney-centric episode last season so he seems the right fit for this episode, which is about Mahoney having to bury the hatchet with his ex-partner and best friend, Lincoln Kilpatrick, as both men have long retired and experiencing health issues. David Lloyd is father of fellow “Frasier” writer Christopher Lloyd (no relation to the other Christopher Lloyd) and the episodes both have Kelsey Grammer very much in the son role… I wonder whose idea it was to have Lloyd père do the father and son episodes.

Anyway.

The episode opens with a long radio bit—and Peri Gilpin’s sole appearance—and the final punchline is only for folks who know celebrity callers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who play a bickering couple, were a night club act, a Hollywood screenwriting duo, and Broadway lyricists. It’s a deep cut, especially when the show aired in 1994 and you couldn’t just Google.

The Mahoney plot line starts off with David Hyde Pierce asking for some emotional support; Maris is going in for some plastic surgery and would Grammer and Mahoney come along. When Grammer gets there, he discovers Mahoney’s old pal Kilpatrick, leading to he and Hyde Pierce figuring out how they can interfere; it’s pretty epical from there.

And quite good.

Mahoney’s great. It helps there’s a punchline to the conflict more than a reveal, even though it takes the combine nagging of Grammer, Hyde Pierce, and Jane Leeves to get it out of Mahoney.

Leeves has a great scene, Hyde Pierce has a great scene or two—lots of just letting Hyde Pierce do a bit but it’s such a good bit it’s a win—and Grammer’s very good at being sincere in his concerns while still annoyingly neurotic.

Nice direction from Andy Ackerman, who gives the episode a relaxed pace but never a slow one. It works quite well with the script.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e04 – The Girl in the Fireplace

The Girl in the Fireplace is an exceptionally affecting star-crossed lovers story, with the Doctor (David Tennant) happening across a portal to 18th century Versailles and—initially reluctantly—becoming involved Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles) as he tries to save her from time-traveling automatons. See, they want Myles to repair their spaceship, only no one can really figure out why they need her, she’s just in danger. And at various points in her life, as the automatons, which have an absolutely fantastic design (they disguise themselves in Pantalone masks and Versailles appropriate dress), intrude and attack. Even though Tennant’s using the same time portals as the villains, they’ve got teleporters and he doesn’t, so there’s a chase to it all.

Meanwhile, Noel Clarke is along on his first TARDIS mission as a regular member of the gang and, well, he’s just along. He’s a sidekick for Billie Piper when she’s not too busy pouting about Tennant’s very obvious chemistry with Myles. And since Myles is just the latest in a long line of episode-length romantic interests for the Doctor… you’d think Piper’d be used to it. Even Clarke picks up on the jealousy and needles her a little because there’s no more wholesome a relationship than the one where your disinterested sort of girlfriend leaves you to time travel with another guy and then years later you join up even though it’s only been a few months for her on the outside.

What I’m saying is Clarke’s part is broken. Even if it wasn’t Clarke in the part.

The stuff with Tennant and Myles, which involves Tennant breaking out the mind meld the show hasn’t mentioned until this point, is absolutely fantastic. Great action, great suspense; Euros Lyn’s direction is excellent and Steven Moffat’s script is strong. Tennant’s performance is wonderful, Myles is perfect, and the bad guys are terrifying. What more could you ask for.

Besides Piper and Clarke having something to do except pout.

Becker (1998) s01e22 – Regarding Reggie

I’ve been dreading the “Becker” season finale. I was initially enthusiastic about this rewatch but the first season’s been a slog. I’m not sure why exactly I was dreading this episode—other than the Regarding Reggie title being a little ominous—but it was the appropriate expectation.

If this episode, which is about Ted Danson daydreaming about how if he asks Reggie (Terry Farrell) to a fundraising benefit she’s going to fall madly in love with him and it’s going to ruin his life. Even though the entire show’s about how Farrell can’t stand Danson.

And there’s really nothing else to the episode. Just Danson and this date. There’s Hattie Winston telling him to ask Farrell, Shawnee Smith telling him to ask Farrell, building super Elya Baskin telling him to ask Farrell. The show’s got an experienced writers room. You’d think someone would’ve told writer Russ Woody the joke wasn’t getting funnier the more times he made it. It’s more appropriate as maybe the second episode than the season finale.

There’s also the optics to it. Sure, former supermodel Farrell is thirty-six or whatever, but she certainly doesn’t look like she wants or needs definitely fifty-something Danson serenading her from across the lunch counter. It comes across as this weird ego trip from the show and Danson.

Like the painful flashback to his childhood when he’s too spectrum-y for a girl in elementary school. And it’s like, yeah, Farrell would at most be a newborn while Danson was already creeping out the ladies. They’re perfect for each other.

Whatever the show was trying to do with the first season and its finale—like, you know, encourage the network to pick it up for a second season—it doesn’t. The episode doesn’t just not compare to the season’s best episodes, it doesn’t even compare to its most middling ones. Woody’s script is… well, it’s actually not wooden so much as rotten.

Way to not leverage your show’s cast in your show.

Blah.

Hitman: A Rage in Arkham (1993-96)

Hitman A Rage in ArkhamA Rage in Arkham is the first Hitman collection, but it’s not all the first Hitman stories. There’s his first appearance, during the Bloodlines crossover—which I can’t forget to address, in a Garth Ennis and John McCrea Demon annual, then a Contagion tie-in with Hitman and Batman, then the first three issues of the ongoing, an arc titled… A Rage in Arkham.

But there’s more Hitman before Rage in Arkham; I’m guessing the most informative would be the other Ennis and McCrea Demon comics. Who knew.

Because Rage in Arkham (referring to the collection from now on) makes some fast moves. Not just when considering it with Hitman (aka Tommy Monaghan) in mind as the protagonist. Because in the Demon summer crossover annual written by Garth Ennis, words I never expected to type… it’s still all about Tommy. It opens with him getting his powers after being hit with an Alien inner mouth only not dying. It’s not an Aliens crossover with Dark Horse—did people mention at the time the villains, “a race of monstrous dragon-like aliens who killed humans for their spinal fluid” (thanks Wikipedia)–were unintentionally absurd and generally terrible. It’s like they were trying to come up with transforming action figures but gross or something. Is there a good behind-the-scenes story to Bloodlines?

So the Demon annual is just Demon and Tommy teaming up to take on the bad guy who attacked Tommy in the first pace. Lots of good writing from Ennis, who loves doing the Etrigan stuff, and good art from McCrea. They sort of do it as a spoof of gangster comics. And the humor’s very obvious but also way too dry for American comics. I think I’m going to read that series too.

Anyway.

Then there’s the Contagion crossover story, which just introduces Tommy and Batman. It’s all about Ennis’s characterization of Batman, who comes across like a really dopey jock. It’s awesome. Because Tommy’s can read thoughts and has x-ray vision—he’s also just an awesome shot, which is why he’s a hitman already—we get to hear all of Bruce Wayne’s thoughts. Again, awesome.

And really nice art from McCrea, whose style for the comic seems to fit Tommy a lot better. Glen Murakami’s colors are a nice compliment.

And it’s immediately rough going from those nice Murakami colors to whatever’s going on with Carla Fenny’s colors in the first issue of the ongoing. Fenny’s doing a lot of the shading work, so McCrea’s art actually regresses a bit. It gets better immediately on the second issue and then is fine for the third; what happened? Issues two and three have a Heroic Age color separations credit supposedly.

Because when the colors are doing the light angles… they’re a lot more important.

The Demon annual opener is only ten fewer pages than the “feature” story and with Ennis’s excellent pace, the arc is a bumpy—though sometimes entertainingly so—ride. The last part has a somewhat clunky wrap-up, which Ennis is able to save at the last minute, but only because he’s been doing so much background character development. The issues also might seem clunky because we’re jumping ahead in character development whereas Ennis at least wrote that progression.

Tommy in story one isn’t Tommy in story two isn’t Tommy in story three. So the first issue of the ongoing is coming with a different set of baggage. Might explain for the bumpy.

But, again, Ennis makes it work. He’s got a particular humor about Hitman and, once he gets comfortable narrating with the character—the first arc in the ongoing is basically a pilot for this character as narrator, a newly created DC antihero guy. There’s a lot of smart commercial decisions in Rage, though I’m not sure Batman as buffoon was going to ingratiate the book. At least not at the time. But even as a buffoon, Batman’s still Batman. It’s a very awkward characterization and always intriguing.

Tommy’s a good lead. The arc introduces some supporting cast, including a non-hitman sidekick, and the villains (literal demons trying to hire him for hellish purposes) are excellent.

It’s a lot of fun. Even when Ennis pushes too hard trying to qualify an assassin protagonist in a mainstream DC comic. I’m also curious how they decided the main bad guy would have a swastika tattoo while in Hell but not while on Earth. I’ll bet there are a lot of interesting notes from Hitman.

So. Really good comic. This time—the third time I’ve started it—I’m definitely going to finish it.

Frasier (1993) s02e09 – Adventures in Paradise (2)

I wonder how this episode would play in one sitting. Even just marathoning it (as opposed to cutting out the recap at the beginning of this second part, which Kelsey Grammer performs quite well). Because writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs still have an odd structure. They had an odd structure last episode, as they built to the reveal of Bebe Neuwirth also on vacation in Bora Bora to interrupt Grammer’s romantic getaway with new girlfriend JoBeth Williams.

The cliffhanger resolve introduces Neuwirth and Williams then Grammer and Neuwirth’s fellow, James Morrison. They make dinner plans to resolve some of the oddness of them being next door neighbors on their respective sex vacations.

We don’t get to see the dinner, just to see how Grammer’s going to obsess about it and make some really poor decisions. Those poor decisions start to ruin the trip and end with Williams not talking to Grammer. Can he fix the new relationship or is Neuwirth’s proximity going to screw things up?

Meanwhile, David Hyde Pierce has gotten Jane Leeves and John Mahoney to attend the ballet with him, where ever unseen wife Maris has a role.

There’s good quick material for Hyde Pierce, Leeves, and Mahoney, including some great punchlines, and Levine and Isaacs give Peri Gilpin a great bit, but it’s all about Neuwirth, Grammer, and Williams.

The episode gives Grammer some very broad physical comedy to do and he’s fantastic, it gives Neuwirth this detached dramatic and she’s fantastic. Williams is fine, but never gets anywhere near the material she’d need to make as much of an impression as Neuwirth or Grammer.

Just the expressions Neuwirth makes while listening to Grammer blather on, you wish director James Burrows had just focused on her instead of cutting to Grammer, no matter how funny he got.

Celebrity voice guest star this episode is Kevin Bacon, who doesn’t get a lot but does get to play into Gilpin’s very funny bit.

And the ending is perfect too. It’s a big swing episode and it’s a hit.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e03 – School Reunion

They did a CGI werewolf episode, so why not a CGI vampire episode—except the vampires are aliens who can’t really turn into humans except Anthony Head (get it, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” non-vampire, playing a vampire, get it—also, he plays the headmaster of a school; headmaster; get it). They kind of look like the flying Gremlin from The New Batch but darker and without as much personality.

Because budget. They do pretty well with all the CGI, going for an exaggerated realism, which serves them well at the budget. Especially with David Tennant mugging opposite the CGI.

Despite Head being a stunt guest cast—and not a bad one at all; he doesn’t manage to mug or chew the same way Tennant can with the material, but he’s fine. If I cared about a “Buffy” stunt cast, I’d be happy.

A meteor lands and then strange things start happening at an elementary school where Head’s… headmaster. Tennant and Billie Piper investigate at Noel Clarke’s request, leading to a fun intro to Tennant as a teacher and Piper as a lunch lady.

There’s a lot of Clarke in the episode. Tennant does temper him; writer Toby Whithouse does an amazing job with everything except Clarke. And not even because it’s Clarke. Whithouse just gives him strange characterizations. I suppose it’s been however long since we’ve seen him but still.

Turns out Head’s just a MacGuffin, albeit a dangerous one, and the main plot of the episode is about bringing Elisabeth Sladen back to the franchise after thirty some years.

She happens to be investigating the same mystery and meets up with Tennant and crew. It’s a great combination of humor and character drama, with Sladen and Piper doing really well together as they bicker. Tennant’s outstanding with Sladen.

Seems weird the Doctor never talks about the companions and there are some new questions about his relationship with Piper. Also… don’t go down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what’s up with Tennant and Sladen’s break-up thirty years before. They change it up. Just watch the episode. It’s stunning how effective Sladen’s story plays out given I’ve never seen the original series with her on it.

I hope Whithouse writes some more episodes.

Devs (2020) s01e08

With “Devs,” writer, director, and creator Alex Garland manages to be at least twenty-one years late to be original with what he’s going for. Though he’s also apparently in the zeitgeist because the big twist is also another show this year. Does he bring anything new to the table? Not really? It’s not the point. The big twist comes about halfway through the episode, which is only fifty minutes but feels three times as long, and it’s fairly predictable stuff.

Though, kind of not. It requires a technology reveal deus ex machina but whatever.

The beginning of the episode has Nick Offerman and Sonoya Mizuno’s big showdown—though last time she had to talk to Alison Pill about all the hard stuff because Offerman wasn’t qualified but this time, this time, she’s going to talk to the man. “Devs” ends with its female characters being all about the boys. It’s a non-ha ha funny.

Before the episode changes trope lanes, there’s this possibly suspenseful suspense sequence with Offerman, Mizuno, and Pill where Garland gets to do more in the Devs laboratory—where the Kubrick-y production design allows for a lot of portentous shots, but to a point, all the action is fairly mundane. Garland’s amping them up for the viewer’s experience, totally detached from the characters. On the long list of “Devs”’s problems, I’m not even sure narrative distance makes the top ten. Garland’s able to get away with the problems with it through the sci-fi-ish gimmicks and the oddness of Offerman’s performance (more than the performance itself). Though the oddness of Offerman’s performance is another gimmick on its own.

In the end, Garland manages to have a last slip with how he tries to balance the big twist and but also the philosophical murmurings he pretends are important to the show.

“Devs” somehow manages not to come off pretentious—sometimes because of Garland’s abject ineptness, other times because he’s so desperately aping Kubrick it’s impossible to take seriously—but it’d probably be more interesting if it were….

“Devs” starts mediocre in one way and ends bad in another.

Though Jin Ha is absolutely fantastic. Nothing else about “Devs” is anywhere near as good.

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