Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's not TV, it's...On Demand (1)

How is it that I've apparently had On Demand for months and just realized it? Lack of new TV will teach you these kinds of things.

It also allows you to do things like watch entire seasons of shows that you like but happened to miss, such as Weeds, or check out things you never got around to watching, like Rome and Flight of the Conchords.

Which brings me to my spoilerific review of Weeds season 3, since Jul and I started watching it last Friday and burned through the entire season over the weekend. Yay.

I like Weeds quite a bit, but I have to say that I definitely think it's going downhill. The first season had a hilarious storyline with characters that were very humorous, but still felt real. You could relate to them. You understood them. You knew them or someone like them.

Amazon's editorial review for season 1 has a quote that I think sums it up pretty nicely: "While Desperate Housewives yearned to be a suburban satire with bite, Weeds was the real deal, skewering upper-middle class mores with a sharp eye, a keen wit, and a mostly forgiving heart."

It's that last part that seems most important to me. I absolutely want to laugh at these characters when they do stupid things, and they should definitely face punishment for their bad behavior, but I also want to love them and feel that the creators love them. Getting a comeuppance is one thing; setting fire to someone when they're down and laughing at it is another.

Season 1 managed to do this beautifully, and season 2 was able to stay on track most of the way through, though I did feel like the show was written into a bit of a corner by the second season finale, regardless of how fun and surprising it was. Characters were also starting to feel a bit like caricatures, but not enough to really bother me. Overall the season was better than most shows on television--still funny, still inventive, and always watchable.

Season 3 veered more sharply off course for me. While filled with fun moments, great dialogue and a still interesting story that absolutely did pay off in a way that was satisfying, the journey there didn't quite live up to previous seasons. And much more so than in years past, our friends from Agrestic acted in ways that seemed completely out of character (Nancy with the tattoo, Nancy with Sullivan, Nancy get the point), had storylines that didn't really go anywhere (um, Andy in the military? Shane in church-y summer school?), or did things merely to serve a joke.

(I say joke instead of comedy because I think you can almost always find character-based comedy in a particular moment, but when you're serving a joke, oftentimes you come up with a funny idea and try to make your character fit it rather than the other way around. Working with comedy writers like I do, I've seen this happen and heard them talk about it a decent amount. The general rule, they've said, is that a good joke wins out over a logic bump or someone doing something out of character. Basically, always go for the funny; the rest of the stuff will sort itself out. This isn't necessarily the wrong way to do things, it's just not a way that I like.)

To illustrate the decline: At one point during an episode, Jul and I paused it to reflect on what a sitcom the show had become. Instead of having one storyline played solely for jokes, all of them seemed like they were trying to out-ridiculous each other to get bigger laughs. Another time, we paused and commented that the show had become entirely about burps and farts, they were being featured so prominently.

And the continued degradation that Celia's character goes through almost every episode became sickening after a while. I know that she's a bitch and has done some truly bad things, but in three seasons she's...

1) had cancer and lost her breasts,
2) had her husband and daughter divorce her and continually spew hate at her,
3) had her lover, Doug, while still inside her break down crying after having sex and lament the fact that his wife left him,
4) been treated like a joke by the town council of which she was a member and
5) watched as her new lover, Sullivan, cheated on her with Nancy.

Enough. Please.

The other side of this is: why has she shown practically zero character growth? After all of that trauma, I have a hard time believing she would still act as horribly as she does, especially when she has to care for ex-hubby Dean when he becomes debilitated.

When she finally asked to be a part of Nancy's drug crew near the end of the season, I finally started to feel good about her character arc. Totally makes sense for her, wanting to be one of the cool kids. She even got to bond with Heylia in a way that felt real. And then how she rats them out in the end...perfect. Why wasn't there more of this Celia?

But all of these problems are also kind of why I think the season finale was wonderful and necessary and gives me hope for the future.

To put it simply: It was time to burn the whole thing down and get a fresh start.

Until I'm given evidence to the contrary, I'm just going to assume that this was the plan for the show all along and this season exists as a reason why the finale was necessary. I still think there might have been better ways to get us to that point, ways that wouldn't make me start to hate certain characters and feel bored with others, but at least this way I'm hopeful for what Jenji and crew have planned for the future.

There's still a great show here. I want it back.

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