When Once Upon A Time embarked on Season 2, conventional wisdom said that the big challenge it would face was continuing its story after the Storybrook curse had been broken and its myriad of fairy tale characters all got their memories back and knew who their real identities were. The show actually glossed over that aspect a bit – after the first two episodes you really didn’t hear anyone mention it anymore – but Once Upon A Time took another huge risk in Season 2, and that one hasn’t necessarily paid off, at least not yet.
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In Season 2, Once Upon A Time decided to take one of TV’s tastiest villains, Regina (Lana Parilla), and fill her with remorse and self-doubt. In the process, Regina has become an increasingly sympathetic and marginally more interesting character, mostly as a result of consistently great performances from Lana Parilla, but the show has become decidedly less fun.
With Regina now conflicted and trying to walk a straight and narrow path (the subtext of using magic as an addiction hasn’t really worked, and no show is ever going to do this as well as Buffy The Vampire Slayer did when it turned Alyson Hannigan into Dark Willow anyway), and with Mr. Gold (Robert Carlysle) remaining ambiguously between altruism and malice, motivated solely by self-interest, Once Upon A Time brought in a new gruesome twosome in the persons of Regina’s mother Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). While Cora’s penchant for evil and Hook’s moral ambiguity parallel the Regina/Mr. Gold combo from Season 1, the impact these characters have hasn’t resonated in the same way. As a result, Season 2’s midseason finale, which had Cora and Hook about to make landfall at Storybrook, wasn’t so much of an edge of your seat cliffhanger as a feeling that perhaps FINALLY the story would pick up.
Hershey and O’Donoghue
There is some reason for optimism. Season 2 has had its main characters split between the fairy tale world and Storybrook, and the lack of chemistry did hurt the storytelling. With almost everyone now reunited, and the set up for the conflagration of forces in place, the latter half of Season 2 may yet live up to the show’s first season magic.
Once Upon A Time hasn’t really made the best use of its new characters and new side stories yet either. Mulan (Jamie Chung) has had the emotional range of a Klingon so far, and you have to believe that if they give her some back story the character could be more interesting. Similarly, the revelation that Dr. Whale (David Anders) is actually Dr. Frankenstein made for a fascinating stand alone episode, and opened up possibilities for future fictional characters of the decidedly non-fairytale variety, but the storyline hasn’t picked it up from there and we’re left wondering how that will ever tie back in.
Once Upon A Time is still an enjoyable character drama with a wonderfully original theme, and while the last few episodes building up to the winter finale haven’t captured the suspense or fire that Season 1 had, I’m confident the show will rebound in the second half and deliver a real punch by the end of Season 2.
TAKE A PERFECTLY normal situation or issue, and count on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to turn it into something dark, devious and criminally funny. Now in its eighth season, this comedy is proof that the censors at FX all lost their minds about 10 years ago. Between laughing so hard you’ll cry, you’ll consistently wonder how in the world this show gets away with the things it does.
Season 8 has seen the gang poke fun at the impossible to make fun of (nazis, cancer, stalkers), turn ordinary everyday situations (garbage strikes, weddings, video games) bizarre and has even run a few spoofs, including Revenge, horror movies and high finance.
Danny DeVito and Kaitlin Olson
Fueled by one of the strongest ensemble casts on TV (Charlie Day, Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson), and absolutely tireless in it willingness to take its humor to the most tasteless place possible, there is truly no show on television like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Somehow, the mayhem works, and the laughs are always fresh, despite the true lack of growth of any of these characters. I’m not sure if It’s Always Sunny appeals to our baser instincts, or makes fun of them, but either way, it is a consistently hilarious show that has not slowed down one bit.
A NUMBER OF SHOWS ran “midseason” or “winter” finales this week. This new convention of television – trying to sell us on the idea that giving us no new episodes for a month is somehow a treat for us, had mixed results. Here’s what the shows had to offer:
Revenge: Sadly, this show has gotten bogged down in its story about the struggle for power over the company between Daniel (Joshua Bowman) and Conrad (Henry Czerny), and the convoluted plotline about Daniel’s takeover of Nolan’s (Gabriel Mann) company. The new villain, The Initiative, just isn’t that scary, and they’re so faceless it’s really hard to hate them. All they’re doing is making us feel kind of sorry for Conrad and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe), and it was so much fun hating their vile guts in season 1. Revenge has some time to untangle some of these threads, and hopefully it will. Season 2 has been more convoluted than Season 1, and while tangled is good, an ungodly tangled mess, which is what Revenge has become, is not.
Boardwalk Empire: To be fair, this was not a midseason finale, it was the Season 3 finale, and it ended the Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) storyline in bloody fashion. None of the other major storylines, however, were brought to any kind of conclusion, and Season 4 has multiple plotlines to pick up on and run with, including what’s going on with Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), whether Nucky and Margaret (Steve Buscemi and Kelly MacDonald) are really finished, whether Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) can have some kind of future with Julia (Wrenn Schmidt), and how Nucky’s private sell-out of Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) will impact the underworld. Season 4 figures to have pretty big storyline for Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), so its clear Boardwalk Empire can run both its intensely personal storylines and plot-driven criminal underworld storylines right from the get go. Let’s face it: when a show is this good, they can do pretty much whatever they want in the finale and you’re gonna like it.
Nashville: Hey, now, THAT’s a pretty good mid-season finale. Juliette’s (Hayden Panettiere) totally unexpected proposal to Sean (Tilky Jones) was a great midseason cliffhanger, and paves the way for a great second half to season 1. Rayna (Connie Britton) and Juliette will go on tour together – a good way to put those two in close quarters. Gunnar and Scarlet (Sam Palladio, Claire Bowen) finally shared a kiss (I bet that doesn’t end happily ever after, at least not right away). Nashville found a way to create some mini-climactic moments without going full sell out with half a season still to go. This show is brand new. . .how’d they get so smart?!
Love birds or star-crossed lovers: Scarlett and Gunnar
The Walking Dead: AMC’s epic zombie show had Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his group assault Woodbury in an effort to rescue Glenn and Maggie (Steven Yuen and Lauren Cohan). In the process, the Governor (David Morrissey) captures Daryl (Norman Reedus) and is poised to have a public lynching of both Daryl and Merle (Michael Rooker). To be honest, this was as good a place as any to put the action on hold. The Walking Dead has been good all season, and the reality is that I don’t want to see the episode that will air in February any more than I wanted to see this past week’s episode after last week. I just have to wait longer for it to come on. Consequently, this was not so much a finale as a “sorry you have to wait” episode. I’ll wait though. It’ll be worth it.
If you’ve invested viewing time in Arrow, Vegas, Revolution and Elementary, take heart. These are among the biggest successes of the new shows that debuted this fall. Viewers have been less kind to new sitcoms, although one of my favorites, The Mindy Project, is the highest rated new show on Fox.
Reality Check: I guess Whitney Cummings doesn’t have enough jobs. She’s already a show-runner at the funny 2 Broke Girls and the star and executive producer of her not all that funny self-titled sitcom Whitney. Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings would seem to fit more with the star’s style, involving no acting and letting her capitalize on her stand up skills, but not every comic makes for a good talk show host. Cummings was way too hyped in her opening episode, lapsing into Oprah-speak (“Here she is, Mindeeeeeeeeee Kayyyyyyyyyyyylinnnnnnnng!”) and woodenly transitioning into new segments. Cummings got a little better in episode 2 (even poking fun at herself for being “too loud” in the first show), so maybe it’s an acquired skill, and the fact is, the material wasn’t half bad. Bottom line: this is no Chelsea Lately but it’s a hell of a lot better than Brand X With Russell Brand.
Just because you’re not having a season or mid-season finale doesn’t mean you can’t tweak us with an unexpected big plot twist. Homeland had Carrie (Claire Danes) abducted by Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), who then blackmailed Brody (Damian Lewis) into helping kill the Vice President (Jamey Sheridan), which is something he kind of wanted to do anyway. This was a lot of story all at once, and while it was a little over the top, it definitely kept the Homeland fires burning for next week.
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Having a filibuster where you don’t actually have to continuously speak from the floor of the Senate is like having a hunger strike where you stuff your face full of cheeseburgers (The Daily Show); 2) Lego Legolas is legless (The Colbert Report); 3) Hospitals have the world’s ugliest posters (The Mindy Project); 4) The song is wrong: Spiderman cannot do whatever a spider can. He can’t leave Guatemala without a passport or have sex with a spider (The Big Bang Theory); 5) Chuck Scarborough is anatomically a woman (30 Rock).
A quick shout out to this week’s scene-stealers: Meagen Fay was hilarious and Bernadette’s very soft-spoken mom on The Big Bang Theory, and both Florence Henderson and Gayle King were great playing themselves on 30 Rock.
Observations From Geek Heaven: Apparently, Stephen Colbert is a huge Tolkein geek (who knew?), so much so that he dedicated the entire week of The Colbert Report to The Hobbit, in which he has a cameo. The opening sequence and the interview set were even modified to add a Tolkein theme, and the week’s slate of guests included Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson. If you’re a big LOTR fan who’s been waiting with baited breath for The Hobbit, this was a fun run up to the film’s opening on Friday.
Also in the “just because it’s not a finale” category, Scandal has now run back to back episodes that would have made excellent cliffhangers for a midseason finish. Last week, we saw the President get shot. This week, we saw the Vice-President assume the office of President AND learned that the shooter was Huck (WTF?!!!). How will they top it next week, when they’re actually having a mid-season finale?
Joel McHale hosts the American Giving Awards on NBC on December 8.
The series premiere of Take It All airs on NBC on December 10.
Syfy Channel will air its 20th anniversary special on December 10. Included: clips from when it was “SciFi Channel.”
Storage Wars In New York airs its series premiere on A&E on December 11.
Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012 will air on ABC on December 12.
Glee will air a Love, Actually homage episode on Fox on December 13.
Impractical Jokers airs its season premiere on TruTV on December 13.
Scandal airs its mid-season finale on ABC on December 13.
Winter In Portlandia airs on IFC Channel on December 14 because it’s Christmas for hipsters too.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: RobNJ564@yahoo.com. I welcome your input!