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[personal profile] kitsjay
Most of these are spoiler-free, but I do rant on a bit in The Big C, so be warned.

This one showed up on my radar thanks to copious ads on This is not usually a good sign. I always feel a shade distrustful of anything that feels the need to advertise so heavily, as if it's convinced that mere merit won't save it. This may be completely unwarranted, but there you go. Still, the premise looked intriguing, if not a little contrived. We have our protagonist, 15-year-old Jenna Hamilton, who is very pretty and yet inexplicably invisible in her high school--Hollywood Homely at work, I can only assume. Still, they try to convey that she lives up to the show's title and through a series of unfortunate events, she ends up becoming more visible than she knows how to deal with properly. Naturally we have the 'quirky' friends, the villain, the inept school officials, and the two male leads (one of whom she has a crush on, and one of whom she will inevitably end up with at the end).

I'm not a fan of this in romantic comedies, but I'm willing to overlook it somewhat given the fact that, high school being what it is, a teenage girl could conceivably completely miss the Twu Wuv for the prettier, more popular boy. That said, he's an epic douche and even she should be able to see that.

Jenna has an interesting family, but she herself didn't really catch my eye. She writes a blog, which I assume is supposed to make her vaguely more interesting, except this being the modern age and high school, nearly everyone has a blog.

Her mother is over-the-top, and I would have enjoyed seeing more scenes where she shows genuine affection. Her father is affable, but doesn't have nearly enough screen time.

The most intriguing part of the show is a mysterious letter she receives from an anonymous "friend", who points out her flaws. Unfortunately, the show seems to have thrown this in as a footnote and almost completely forgets about it in favor of highlighting the laughably unbelievable school guidance counselor trying to "help" Jenna.

Mostly, it reminded me of Easy A, without the slick charm and intelligent heroine leading the cast.

It's not a bad show, but so far, not a very good one, either. If they toned down some of the more ridiculous aspects (the popularity obsessed friend, the uber-Christian cheerleader, etc.), it would actually work much better.

Grade: C+, with potential for a B-

This is an older show from the 90s, and Australian, to boot. I just discovered it recently and gave it a go. It features a neurotic corporate lawyer, Lauren, who finds her professional and personal lives crumbling all on the same day (it's amazing how quickly these things happen in shows, isn't it?). Fed up with it all, she takes her kids to the quaint Pearl Bay community, where she hopes to make a new start as a magistrate.

The show is incredibly reminiscent of Northern Exposure, right down to the corrupt businessman (in this, Maurice is replaced by Bob Jelly), the quirky characters whose charm isn't quite so obviously manufactured as to make it nauseating, and more subdued humor.

There's some great characters here, from Carmen, the roving, pixie-like niece of Meredith, to Meredith herself, who owns a hotel/restaurant and is noted for never forgetting anything. Then there's Harold, the former magistrate turned town drunk turned part-time barrister. And of course, Diver Dan, played by David Wenham (Lord of the Rings), who is laconic, intelligent, and hilariously insightful.

Lauren herself is presented as neurotic, but never in a detrimental way. She's never shown as being hysterical for the sake of being hysterical, but rather a driven, ambitious woman who wants to make a change. They treat her character with respect and she holds her own against the madhouse without compromising her ethics or professionalism.

The only complaint I have about this show is that it's a good deal more focused toward the soap opera than the comedy. There's a heavy mix of both in each episode, particularly as the show grows more confident with itself, but the season finales are often filled with unnecessary and, quite frankly, trite plot twists. Any time I see the words "long lost daughter", I immediately become suspicious.

Still, the show balances the two fairly well. One notable episode deals with a man who drunkenly drives his car off a bridge, and while I won't ruin the ending for anyone who decides to watch it, it's one of the more powerful episodes of the first season.

From what I can gather, this show was hugely popular during its run, and I can see why.

Grade: A-

This off-beat Canadian TV show could probably best be summarized as a slacker-metalhead-comedy about the titular Todd of Crowley High, who must fight a mysterious Book of Pure Evil as it runs amok, causing chaos among the students who use it to grant their wishes. Helping him is his love interest, Jenny, whose dad disappeared while investigating the book; Curtis, his best friend; Hannah, the science geek who has a crush on Todd at the beginning; and later, the guidance counselor, Atticus Murphy. There's also the quiet, yet hilarious janitor, played by Jason Mewes, who absolutely steals every scene he's in without even trying.

The show started off unevenly and a bit rough. Canadian shows are masters at subtlety and understatement; due South had moments which were completely hilarious, but only within the context of the show. There were some great one-liners in there, but most of the humor was derived from repetition and sly nods at the audience. They take time to build up the humor and work on what they've done.

This show aimed more for the American humor, which tends to be more quick, more based on shock and grossness, and for the most part, it fell flat. The jokes occasionally worked, but when they didn't, it was painfully awkward.

However, I'm glad I stuck it out. Halfway through the season, the show abandoned its original approach for a much more subdued approach and thankfully, it works. The humor is sophomoric at times, but they throw in some genuinely witty stuff that relieved the drudge of being expected to find a talking penis hilarious. The story also picks up speed and gains so much momentum that the final episode was a treat.

Be warned, this show will offend you. The plots, characters, and dialogue often revolve around this very notion. If you're at all sensitive to this kind of thing, don't watch it.

If you can be patient and make it through six or so middling episodes, then you'll be pleasantly surprised at the improvement.

Grade: Starts at a C- but moves up to a B+ by the end

Starring Laura Linney, this show was originally supposed to be about a woman, Cathy, finding humor and a new-found joie de vivre in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis.

If you go in expecting that, expect also to be disappointed.

I'm not saying this show isn't good, or even funny, but it's certainly more leaning toward the melodramatic than you would expect from that synopsis. I expected there to be some dramatic parts, but not of the Surprise Pregnancy! type that you would find in a soap opera.

My main problem with this show is that the characters are almost uniformly awful. Her husband is a whining, pathetic man who seems eager to steal the spotlight, her best friend is horribly self-centered, and her teenage son is a terrible human being. At one point, he plays practical jokes on his mother. Okay, that's--oh, wait, his idea of a practical joke is to grab her as she walks in one night and pretend to be a robber while she begs him not to hurt her, because she has a son?


That would have flown over well in my family, how about yours?

There's a difference between being a teenager and being a heartless human being. He is not the former. I think the writers were trying to show that he was embarrassed and bewildered by his mother's strange behavior, as well as angry that she kicked his dad out, but honestly, it comes across more as hatred.

Even after she finally tells some people about her diagnosis, they react selfishly and despicably. I have no personal experience with this, but I can't very well imagine anyone reacting to a declaration like that with the same heartlessness that most of the characters display. Her husband especially is a jackass, supposedly with a heart of gold (that the viewer, curiously, never seems to buy completely) and I found myself cheering her on to dump him.

My other complaint is for one scene. That's not much, right?

But here's the thing. It was really offensive. Way past the point of good taste.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is offensive, but because it's meant to be offensive, I found myself less sensitive to it. Somehow The Big C unintentionally pulling this was enough to turn me off. Cathy's brother is an environmental nut who is willingly homeless and routinely protests everything he can. He enjoys messing with his sister, including making up a fake incestuous love for her in order to prove that she's gullible. Charming? Squicky.

But in a later episode where she grabs him to visit their dad, he makes up a story about their dad sexually abusing him. Including him seriously asking, "You mean--you didn't know? I just thought--I mean, I thought maybe I wasn't the only one..."

I just--what? No. Just NO. It's meant to be a "funny" moment, I guess, because who would make up such a thing? Oh, that kidder!

It's sad, but it really did turn me off of the entire show.

Some people were upset when this show came out because it was making light of a serious subject (i.e., cancer), but the show treats the disease and people it affects with respect. There's a truly moving scene where Cathy breaks down and gives a heartbreaking speech about the fact that she knows she's going to die. This show clearly knows how to take a serious subject and see the humor in it without turning it into a joke; the writers just didn't feel the need to when it comes to other things, apparently.

The show is clever and has some genuinely great things about it--like I said, the speech was one of my favorite parts, and the interaction between Cathy and her doctor is a highlight of every episode. Most of the characters, the soap opera-esque, unnecessary plot twists, and that one scene ruined it for me. But if it looked interesting before, then I won't tell you definitely not to watch it. Just be warned.

Grade: C-
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January 2014


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