Television

Frasier (1993) s02e05 – Duke’s, We Hardly Knew Ye

Linda Morris and Vic Rauseo write this one, making it the first episode of the season to have season writers back (credited anyway), and they go in for the laughs from the start. We get Peri Gilpin on a chocolate hunt—leading to a fantastic rant about Raisinets—before David Hyde Pierce shows up to the studio to talk to Kelsey Grammer about an investment in a development company, but with Gilpin and Hyde Pierce banter. It’s constantly funny, like Morris and Rauseo had been stockpiling a bunch of good lines. Appropriately, a little later on, John Mahoney gets Jane Leeves with a British royalty-related zinger and even says he’d been saving it.

So all very funny.

Leeves has this subplot—which doesn’t age particularly well when you think about it for more than eight seconds—about going on a third date with a boyfriend and Grammer and Mahoney giving her knowing looks. Only she doesn’t know what they’re talking about because she wasn’t raised on American sitcoms in the eighties and nineties.

It’s funny—and Leeves—is good, but it’s kind of weird to hear in 2020.

The main plot has Mahoney finally inviting Grammer and Hyde Pierce to his favorite bar, where Mahoney’s never invited anyone, making Grammer and Hyde Pierce feel very honored. Turns out it’s because the bar’s closing. Because it’s being torn down. By Grammer and Hyde Pierce’s development company.

There’s a nice bit of family drama for Grammer and Mahoney eventually, but before that stage, there’s time for some more Gilpin and Hyde Pierce jabbing at each other (clearly Morris and Rauseo like that chemistry), and the episode’s got a fine close.

The episode’s a great showcase for the cast—it plays to all individual strengths (particularly the Mahoney and Grammer dynamic)—and probably an excellent “Frasier” sampler. The third date stuff aside.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e09 – The Empty Child

It’s a really creepy episode. Like, really creepy. Writer Steven Moffat comes up with a fantastic “villain,” this little kid in a gas mask who calls out, “Mummy,” over and over again. And then when he touches you, you get infected with something and eventually turn into a gas mask covered person.

Now, the gas mask is part of the new creatures’ structure. It’s creepy.

The setting is WWII London. The Blitz, which takes Christopher Eccleston longer to figure out than it took me to figure out. How did he not… grok it? Especially since the TARDIS can tell its location in space and time… can’t it? It’s like the show is anti-continuity.

Eccleston and Billie Piper are in town trying to help a crashed rocket in distress or something. While Eccleston is trying to find the rocket, Piper runs off after the creepy little gas mask kid and finds herself on a balloon in the middle of a Luftwaffe raid.

The CGI raid is… not amazing.

Luckily, time traveling scoundrel and dreamboat John Barrowman saves Piper and the two start doing some kind of pre-canoodling while Eccleston is hanging out with teen Florence Hoath. She’s carrying for all the homeless kids during the Blitz, sneaking into houses and getting them food and so on. She’s also got the answers about where the rocket landed.

But then so does Barrowman—he’s going to sell its location to Eccleston and Piper because he thinks they’re “Time Agents” and have money.

Lots of terrifying kids in danger sequences—both in danger in the Blitz (Eccleston remembers real quick because he’s surprised they haven’t been rescued or something) and then in danger from the little monster gas mask kid. Hoath’a really good.

The ending is really good. It’s a really good episode.

There’s a whole bunch of self-anglophila in the episode, an almost overbearing amount, and then some forced “Star Trek” references but they’re little bumps. Barrowman and Piper are great together, Eccleston’s excellent with Hoath and that subplot.

Even if there’s no consistency with the tech.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e15 – Swan Thong

I sometimes forget “Legends of Tomorrow” is at its best when it’s completely unconcerned with continuity. It’s a fun, heart-y, and then time travel time travel show. I went into this season finale worried how they were going to wrap things up in one episode after Greek Fates Sarah Strange, Joanna Vanderham, and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have remade the entire universe… but the show wasn’t worried about it and I shouldn’t have been either.

They open with a quick resolution to the immediate problem and then skip ahead to deal with the fallout. The fallout involves a big fight scene with a bunch of demonic “encores” (human mass murderers or evil folks consigned to Hell but released to wreck havoc again, only demonically), including Courtney Ford, playing Marie Antoinette. Ford was a sort of regular who left a few episodes ago who just happened to look like Marie Antoinette. It’s a pure comedy performance from Ford and absolutely fantastic stuff. Fun.

The heart comes from everywhere else. There’s Tala Ashe, who’s playing time twins (one from one timeline, one from another), and the original character’s been gone a season and everyone forgot about her. So Ashe has got to resolve things with beau Nick Zano, who gets to be sincere for the first time all season and it’s nice, and bond with brother Shayan Sobhian, who doesn’t even know this version of her. Not to mention Ashe’s other character is just trying to get Matt Ryan alone for some smooching.

Then there’s Dominic Purcell and daughter Mina Sundwall—I really, really, really hope Sundwall gets to come back next season, especially since she gets to pull off the emotional deus ex machina with Richardson-Sellers.

Oh, and then there’s Olivia Swann coming to terms with not being a hellspawn if she doesn’t want to be. She gets an arc. Richardson-Sellers gets an arc. Ashe gets an arc.

Plus Ramona Young and Adam Tsekhman are around—not a lot—but enough.

“Legends” ends the season in fairly good shape. It’s been a transformative season, though it’s usually a transformative season with this show… but they’re on firm ground. Certainly firmer ground than they went out with last year.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e08 – Father’s Day

I went into Father’s Day with high hopes; Joe Ahearne directing, Paul Cornell writing. I remember hearing about the episode (albeit vaguely) when it first aired because I knew Cornell’s comic book writing. So I went into the episode full of goodwill.

It’s all about the obvious kid going and saving their dead parent thing the show somehow pretends isn’t obvious. The episode opens with a flashback to Camille Coduri telling a young version of Billie Piper, played by Julia Joyce, about how her dad died when she was a baby. Then it cuts to this truncated cold open with Piper now asking Christopher Eccleston to take her to her parents’ wedding. Or something. To at least see her dad, played by Shaun Dingwall.

Once Piper’s seen the wedding, she wants to go hold Dingwall’s hand after he’s been hit by a car and is dying. Coduri’s already established Dingwall dies alone and it’s something Coduri’s really sad about her entire life apparently.

Except Piper’s not going there to comfort dying Dingwall, she’s going there to save him, which eventually results in time demons attacking London. The show hasn’t done the “don’t un-kill people” warnings, which has been kind of nice, but the pseudo-rift Piper’s action causes between her and Eccleston is one of the episode’s many fails. There’s a lot of crisis stuff with the cast, as Eccleston and Piper help the eighties folks barricade themselves into a church while Dingwall slowly comes to understand what’s going on.

But there’s also… Eccleston getting to needle Coduri in the past, which doesn’t play, Eccleston being nice to new bride and groom Natalie Jones and Frank Rozelaar-Green, which does play for some reason, in addition to Eccleston being mad at Piper, Piper being weird around Coduri (and Coduri hating Piper), and then the obvious Dingwall and Piper stuff.

It’s packed.

And none of the important threads connect.

The time demon sequence is intense and Dingwall’s excellent, but whatever they thought they were doing, they don’t. It should be a singular and instead it’s pedestrian.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e07 – The Long Game

This first half of this episode is really strong. The second half, not so much. Even after stunt guest star Simon Pegg gets better in the second half it’s not any better. Writer Russell T. Davies doesn’t have a good resolution for the episode’s intrigue and no matter how effectively executed the suspense gets—Brian Grant’s direction is quite good—it has a very soft landing.

Especially thanks to Bruno Langley, who’s back from last episode as Billie Piper’s “love” interest. Given the episode starts with her deciding he’s not a suitable love interest, it’s hard to see why Piper would care if he’s around. Especially after she and Eccleston team back up, meeting future humans—the year 20,000 or something—Christine Adams and Anna Maxwell Martin. Eccleston thinks he knows where they are in the future, but things don’t seem to be just right. Humanity’s not meant to be living in crappy conditions on satellites with data ports built into their brains to broadcast the news or whatever. They’re supposed to be all about the arts.

The most successful plot thread involves Eccleston upset Adams honest care more about her profession and tries to get her to think like a reporter; Adams is good. She and Eccleston have the chemistry Piper and Langley need.

Except then it turns out Langley’s got a subplot of his own, involving second stunt guest star Tamsin Greig, and Langley proves to be just as much of a drag solo as when in a group. The subplot’s entirely predictable and sort of surprisingly well-intentioned but it’s a not executed well. Langley’s either miscast or Davies doesn’t have the story down.

The ending is pretty funny though.

Not the big action-packed resolution—which is visually a fine spectacle, though it does seem like a distraction from the lack of a good story—but the postscript, where it turns out Davies has been building up to a joke most of the episode.

It’s uneven, which is frustrating; it’d have been a lot nicer if it’d been in pieces at the beginning and put itself together for the end instead.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e06 – Dalek

Okay, this one requires some disclaimers. First, when I watched the last episode and saw the preview of this one, I thought it looked terrible. Like, rolling my eyes terrible. Second, I was visually familiar with the Daleks from growing up in the eighties and whatever. I thought they were silly and decidedly not cool.

Having now seen Dalek, I can confirm they are decidedly not silly as well as not cool. They’re also a terrifying, phenomenal alien villain race. And astonishingly bad-ass. The episode’s great—going into Christopher Eccleston’s hatred of the Daleks when unexpectedly confronted by one while Billie Piper’s got sympathy for the alien, so there’s a lot of great character development and so on—but it’s also got a series of amazing action sequences with the Dalek. Even on the reduced budget (director Joe Ahearne does a fantastic job, with the same director of photography, Ernest Vincze, who’s light the worst episodes now doing fine), the Dalek attacking soldier after soldier and person after person… it’s also horrifying. So good.

The entire episode. So good. Robert Shearman’s script is outstanding, finding just the right balances with the Dalek stuff–including humor—and stays strong all the way to the finish.

Eccleston and Piper get thrown off course at the start, finding themselves six years in the future—2012—and in a sort of museum of alien objects. American businessman Corey Johnson—imagine a macho version of Mark Zuckerberg, but filtered through 2006 Steve Ballmer–it’s not entirely successful but it’s interesting while it’s not successful and then once Johnson’s working against his own survival, it’s awesome so it’s all fine.

The “it’s all fine” elements include Anna-Louise Plowman not being able to keep her American accent—new Piper love interest Bruno Langley gets to play a Brit even though it’s set in Utah. The show doesn’t seem to have Piper’s romantic life figured—she’s got zero chemistry with Langley and roll her eyes whenever Eccleston jokes with her about it. But it doesn’t matter because once Piper runs into the Dalek, it just gets great.

There are optics to Piper replacing brown-skinned former boyfriend with nerdy White guy Langley but Piper was so chemistry-free with the last one and even more so with Langley… if it was intentional, it was a fail.

Anyway. So good. Eccleston’s amazing, Piper’s great… Nicholas Briggs is awesome as the Dalek.

Dalek aims high and succeeds over and over. Just fantastic stuff.

Writer Shearman, director Ahearne, Eccleston, Piper, Briggs, they do some superior work here.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e08 – Collaboration

Traditional sitcom writer team—seriously, IMDb them (“Frasier” and “Newsradio”—Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil contribute this episode’s script and… well, maybe things make more sense now. Also they don’t seem up on the show because they don’t know how to use Natasia Demetriou at all. Distressingly don’t know how to use her.

Anyway, the main plot involves Kayvan Novak’s familiar from the seventies (Jack O'Connell) remembering he was Novak’s familiar and showing up at the house, causing some tension with current familiar Harvey Guillén.

O’Connell returning isn’t actually the main plot, but Guillén once again getting upset about Novak not making him a vampire, which drives Guillén to the house of a newly changed vampire (Greta Lee), who promises he won’t have to wait so long to become a vampire.

It seems weird the show never came up for a good reason the vampires don’t want to make new vampires, because this episode just has Novak and other vampires staring blankly into the camera, offering empty promises about vampire-making. It’s completely unthought, not just wishy-washy. It gives Novak and Guillén some rather weak scenes to act through at times.

And O’Connell’s nowhere near funny enough, not as actor or character.

It seems like it should be funny—if they’d gotten Fred Willard or someone—but then they didn’t. They just got a bland guest star.

Meanwhile, Demetriou, Matt Berry, and Mark Proksch have a subplot about how Berry actually wrote all the popular songs in the world and didn’t get any credit for them. He and Demetriou start writing new music and driving each other nuts so, of course, Proksch wants to get them to a live music venue so he can feed off the discomfort of all involved.

It’s sporadically funny thanks to the actors and the actual singing is funny but… it’s like Johnson and Marcil didn’t know Berry could do singing and so on. Or, worse, they did and this subplot’s the best they came up with.

It’s not bad.

It’s just nowhere near as good as the other episodes this season. It feels very season one.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e05 – World War Three

Digital video in the mid-aughts was still very rough. Around the time World War Three came out, some of the best DV cinematography wasn’t being done in film or television but in art and technical schools, as creatives were figuring out how to best light for the medium.

In other words, I understand why cinematographer Ernest Vincze shoots such an ugly hour of television. I don’t understand Keith Boak’s direction. Like, seriously, an out of focus foreground or background character in crappy DV… But I do get Vincze’s limitations.

The episode is full of them. The aliens go from disquieting giant suits to terrible CGI. You can even see the models reused in different effects shots. Vincze doesn’t even have the budget—or, let’s just say it, ability—to light the composites well. World War Three takes a big swing and a big miss as far as the visuals.

The story’s not much better. Christopher Eccleston resolves the previous episode’s cliffhanger quite perfunctorily and then there’s a lot of chasing—there are aliens chasing Eccleston, aliens chasing Bille Piper and Penelope Wilton (who almost makes the episode worth it), and aliens chasing Piper’s mum, Camille Coduri. Sadly, Coduri teams up with Noel Clarke and they work remotely to help Eccleston save the world.

Coduri’s not great. Her character’s bad but she’s also not great. Clarke’s real bad. So having Coduri around him the whole episode doesn’t help. Though the terrible subplot about Coduri wanting Eccleston to assure her Piper is safe as his companion is all on Coduri. And writer Russell T. Davies. It’s not quite a “Martha” moment but it’s in the same vending machine. Davies’s resolution to the dilemma is an eye roller.

The episode hinges on various deuses ex machina to get to its conclusion, which is sort of an extension of the first episode. It’s kind of a real stinker, thanks primarily to Boak and Clarke; Corduri is collateral damage.

The ending, which resets the stakes to where they were before the two-parter with a little change—oh, also—we find out Piper’s phone accepts incoming calls, which means the entirely twelve months she was missing, neither Corduri or Clarke tried calling her. Like… what.

Anyway. The ending threatens to make things worse, then returns them to the status quo.

I really hope Boak takes next episode off. I can’t handle any more Boak right now.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e04 – Aliens of London

Director Keith Boak is back and it’s obvious from go some of the problem with Boak-directed episodes is Boak’s a bad director. Some of the problems are budgetary, but Boak and cinematographer Ernest Vincze even make the non-effects stuff look like bad digital video. There’s an anti-suspense suspense sequence involving sympathetic coroner Naoko Mori, who finds herself trapped in the morgue with an alien. Vincze throws all these goofy lights at her to cover for Boak’s complete inability to direct the sequence.

The episode starts with Christoper Eccleston bringing Billie Piper back to “the present” (meaning Piper’s present) so she can check in with mum Camille Coduri. We immediately discover last episode wasn’t a fluke and Eccleston really can’t control when the TARDIS jumps in time. Later in the episode he does a fairly precise teleportation, so the problem seems to be fourth dimensional, not first through third. It’s kind of obnoxious watching them goof off with the absurdly silly navigation system on the TARDIS—has it been updated since 1963. Is it a series trope? Like the Enterprise crew “spinning” 360 degrees?

Eccleston gets Piper home a year late, after Coduri has given up hope for her safe return and after Piper’s boyfriend, the just-as-charmless-as-last-time Noel Clarke, has been a suspect in her disappearance. Cue drama. Cue more drama once Coduri finds out about Eccleston.

But Piper and Coduri having a showdown isn’t the episode, the episode is an alien spacecraft crash-landing into the Thames. The government response involves a missing Prime Minister, an inquisitive Penelope Wilton (who makes the episode given how bad everything else works), and a flatulent replacement PM, David Verrey. In fact, most of the melodrama hinges on… fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes.

Really bad CG aliens eventually show up and everyone’s in danger. Cue cliffhanger.

It’s occasionally well-acted and Wilton’s a delight, but the bad direction and photography, Clarke being an energy vampire, and so on….

It’s needlessly tiring.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e08 – Death Do Us Part

I didn’t realize until five episodes into Season Three there were only eight episodes this season. I knew it was the final season, but I didn’t realize it was a short final season. Director Daina Reid handles the series finale with aplomb; there’s a list of things the show seems like it’s going to get done in the last episode and then the list of things we hope it’ll get done. Writer Kris Wyld creates a lot of tension between the two, with Ashleigh Cummings and Hugo Johnstone-Burt’s nuptials seemingly the only positive guaranteed element. Not because it’s really part of the plot, just because… well, just because.

But the other inevitability is villain Colin Moody. His vendetta against Essie Davis’s no account, albeit royalty and wealthy father, Pip Miller, is drawing a lot of blood and quite viciously. Moody’s physically imposing, but he has this standing energy about him. Moody’s dangerous in every frame in every scene, even when he’s hanging out with an old friend. Like, sincere friend. It’s incredible what the show’s able to get away with as far as performance sincerity when the viewer’s got more of the facts to Moody’s violence.

There’s also a regular mystery—with Moody somehow involved—with a noted scientist (David James), who plays a character named Tode but it’s pronounced toad so the whole episode is the cast talking about Professor Toad. It’s very Wind in the Willows. Anyway. He gets killed off in some strange way by someone, possibly even local Catholic priest, Dennis Coard, which would be one hell of a twist, wouldn’t it?

Cummings is beside herself—even with everyone in danger, including herself—at the idea of now revealed to be un-Christian to scientists Coard being the one to marry her. It’s very cute. There’s only so much time for Cummings this episode and she does get a very nice finish to her series arc, so the cute little moments are nice to have.

The episode’s so full there’s no time for Miriam Margoyles and Tammy Macintosh didn’t get her episode this season. Having her around more was okay but not a substitute. Ruby Rees never made it back, leaving Jane the either.

As for Essie Davis and Nathan Page… how do the Honorable Phryne Fisher and Inspector Jack Robinson leave things? As successfully as they can. Wyld finds a certain way of framing things to get it done. Maybe not the hoped for, but better than the good enough. I’m sitting here with a smile thinking about it.

It’d be preferable to have more “Miss Fisher’s,” but as is… it’s just right. Enough.

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