Category Archives: The Idiot Box

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The 5 Stages of Getting Over the ‘HIMYM’ Finale

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

SPOILERS ABOUND FOR THE HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER SERIES FINALE

Watching the terrible, awful series finale of How I Met Your Mother was a trying experience. I had hoped beyond hope that the writers wouldn’t do what they did, that the show would be better than it was. All of my hopes were dashed. Honestly, there’s no way it could have been worse.

And after watching the finale, I couldn’t help but realize I was grieving, grieving for a show I once would have called my favorite, that has been with me for so long. In fact, I kind of went through the five stages of grief in the past 24 hours.

1. Denial

They’re not going to do this, right? I’ve already said how they can’t do this. HIMYM is a fairy tale. The Mother is the happy ending, not Robin. They wouldn’t do this. They can’t do this. They can’t betray nine years of character development. We’ve heard over and over again why Ted and Robin don’t belong together. She had her chance, and she doesn’t deserve another. Not that Ted is some big catch or anything, but she could have said yes a bunch of times. Like, she could have said it when they broke up in season 2. She could have said it when Ted declared his love for her in season 7. She could have said it before she went to meet Barney on that rooftop. She could have not let Ted talk her into going through with marrying Barney. So they’re not going to somehow make it so that she wants Ted again and she gets him?

They’re not going to do this to the Mother, right? They’re not going to just make her be one in the long line of Ted’s love interests on his way to finally winning Robin. It’s not like her first kid with Ted was an accident so she’s just ends up being the love interest who finally stuck around. She’s not just here to be like, a functioning uterus so Ted can both have his perfect wife and kids and then get Robin too. They’re not going to kill her with a random disease with such casual blase and then have the very next sequence be a teenager convincing her father to bang her Aunt.

They’re not going to turn back the clock on Barney’s character development, right? They’re not going to have him and Robin divorce for like no good reason 3 years in and then estrange Robin from the group and make Barney this sad sack of a man. They’re not going to introduce a random baby and baby-mama for him to make him good again like some rom-com cliche. They’re not going to forget that Barney isn’t the Barney who wanted to bang Lebanese chics in the pilot.

They’re not going to have this weird theme where women’s careers are the source of all marital problems and unhappiness for men. Because that would be a bridge too far for a show that has too often relied on heteronormative tropes for humor. It’s not like the only reason Lily gets to go to Rome for her career is because she’s giving Marshall another baby, and then he is miserable for years because that choice ruined his career. Barney and Robin won’t end their marriage because Robin is pursuing a successful career as a journalist. They just can’t.

It’s not like HIMYM would do this to me, after I have been watching for all these years, right?

2. Anger

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. TED AND ROBIN ARE BACK AFTER THEY UNCEREMONIOUSLY KILLED OFF THE MOTHER I’M NEVER FORGIVING THIS SHOW EVER, EVER AGAIN. I HATE EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE.

3. Bargaining

Please change it. I’ll do anything. I’ll watch NCIS. Give me a DVD extra. Tell me it was all a dream. Tell me they were in purgatory. Arrest everyone. Nine seasons and a movie! Show me a place where the Mother is still alive and Barney and Robin are still married and there aren’t implication that the only thing women are good for is their ability to bear children, and that women’s career won’t end marriages, and having babies won’t magically redeem characters. Please show me that place. I will give anything.

4. Depression

Guys like, why did we ever even watch this show? It’s the worst. Remember Zoey? She was the worst. And that stupid smoking episode from season 5. God I hated that episode. It was never good after season 4. Why did we kid ourselves and keep watching it for five more years? Of course they killed the Mother. They’ve been foreshadowing it since “The Time Travelers.” You know I thought the writers were better than this. I thought they wouldn’t turn around and ruin the entire concept on which their show was built. I should never expect good things from people. I thought the constant Ted and Robin harping was a red herring. I should have never fooled myself. I thought the Mother was the best thing to happen to the show in years. Of course they killed her. I thought Barney and Robin were better as a couple than Ted and Robin. Of course they divorced. I thought this show had one last chance to get it right. Of course it got it wrong.

5. Acceptance

Okay fine. It happened. I can’t do anything about it. But let me just say this: I’m probably not watching How I Met Your Dad. 

The Top 15 Episodes of ‘How I Met Your Mother’

It’s been nine years, eight slaps and a lot of head-fakes in the making, but How I Met Your Mother is finally coming to an end. The show that’s had more than its fair share of ups and downs on Ted’s way to that Farhampton train platform. As I’ve said before, this final season hasn’t really done it for me, but recent failings do not in anyway erase the brilliance of the past. There was a good long while where I would have called HIMYM my favorite show on television, and it’s because of the truly great first four seasons (and also some good stuff in seasons 6 and 7). So to reflect back on the past nine years I’ve decided to offer everybody’s favorite thing, a list of the best episodes. It was pretty damn hard to narrow this down to 15, but I tried (I started at 10 and then added a few I couldn’t justify leaving off). Feel free to wildly disagree, there are certainly a lot of worthy contenders.

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15. “Blitzgiving” (Season 6, Episode 10) 

Let’s face it, season 5 of HIMYM was pretty terrible, and even the writers admitted it wasn’t their best. And while the show was never really able to regain the brilliance of seasons 1-4, season 6 was the closest it got. And while we might all want to forget Zoey ever existed, everything that didn’t have to do with her in this episode was classic HIMYM, right down to the creepy whisper of “blitz” as it passed from person to person. Also who doesn’t love a good “boom-a-wang” joke?

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14. “Arrivederci Fiero” (Season 2, Episode 17)

If HIMYM is remembered for anything, it will be for its constant and at times flawless execution of the modern TV flashback. The show is often at its best when the gang sits down together (mostly at the bar, here in a mechanic’s shop) and reminisce. This time the story surrounds Marshall’s dying car, and we get to see how Ted and Marshall became friends, how Lily and Robin became friends (complete with Pulp Fiction reference) and a softer side of Barney (well, a more terrified side anyways).

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13. “Swarley” (Season 2, Episode 7)

HIMYM has never been the pop-culture reference machine that say Community or 30 Rock is, but in this season 2 outing, most significant for reuniting Marshall and Lily, the show nods at two of its direct ancestors —  Friends and Cheers — first with the opening in the coffee shop and then with the closing rendition of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” What’s different about HIMYM is also highlighted here, with the induction of “crazy eyes” into the lexicon, the whacky play with Barney’s name and of course the romantic kiss on the apartment stoop. Marshmallow and Lily Pad, never leave us again.

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12. “Intervention” (Season 4, Episode 4)

One of the best things about this show has always been its running gags, and while some have been very much worn out as the show aged, it’s still great to go back and watch their introductions. The interventions have always been particularly good, and never so good as in the first outing. This episode also has a classic HIMYM structure, where serious issues (change is scary and hard) are paired with ridiculous comedy (Barney’s time-traveling old man bit).

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11. “The Pineapple Incident” (Season 1, Episode 10)

“Damnit Trudy what about the pineapple?!” This show has had no shortage of drunken escapades but Ted’s tropical fruit blackout takes the cake. In this early stab at the show’s signature non-linear storytelling we get to relive Ted’s night as he does, in bits and pieces from bystanders the morning after. Unless they decide to reveal the source of the pineapple in the finale (which, you know, they might) this remains one of the show’s best unsolved mysteries. Sometimes drunken stories are just drunken stories.

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10. “Wooo!” (Season 4, Episode 8)

You probably won’t find this particular one-off episode on many other best episode lists, but there’s something about this particular story that always brings me back. Maybe it’s the Dr. Suess-style rhyme exchanges between Robin and Lily (“I can woo” “That’s not true” “I can too” “It’s just not you”), or the eponymous Woo Girls, or the fact that it’s a great story about how friendships evolve. Sometimes the romantic stuff on this show could get in the way of the fact that these five people also have important platonic relationships to maintain. “Wooo!” is a good reminder of that.

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9. “Come On” (Season 1, Episode 22)

HIMYM has never been afraid of taking its characters to dark places, despite the fact that it’s a sitcom. It’s darkest place was probably in season 6 when Marshall’s father dies, but things were pretty bleak at the end of season 1 too, when Marshall and Lily split after an absolutely heart-wrenching fight. Ted best night is paired with Marshall’s worst. That’s how life shakes out sometimes. Plus, you know, Ted Mosby does a rain dance.

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8. “Something Borrowed (Season 2, Episode 21)

Lily and Marshall’s nuptials bring about one of the funniest fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing sequences in the show’s run, or really on any show. Stuck with a 90s boy band dye job, Marshall panics on his wedding day and shaves the middle of his head. It’s ludicrous, yes, but the general ridiculous aura the show curated over two seasons meant that the bit worked. The humor is matched with a truly romantic intimate wedding ceremony with just the gang that feels just right. As far as wedding episodes go, this one is one of the best (and certainly better than Robin and Barney’s wedding season).

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7. “Right Place, Right Time” (Season 4, Episode 22)

One of the things I love about this show is that it has always categorically argued that everything works out in the end. The fact that Future Ted is talking to his kids from his happily-ever-after vantage point makes this an inherently optimistic show, despite its forays into pain and grief. This is why I will never, ever forgive the show if it turns out the Mother is dead in 2030, as it goes against what I believe to be the core of the series. This theme is revisted several times throughout the show’s run, but never more so than in this episode where Ted tells three stories to explain how he ended up on a street corner one day. A bunch of little things had to happen to give him this one big thing, and without that, he might never have met the Mother. It’s heartfelt and important, but also incredibly funny. (“Here’s a pie chart of my favorite bars! Here’s a bar graph of my favorite pies!”)

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6. “Sorry, Bro” (Season 4, 16)

HIMYM would often return to the basic episode structure where the group is sitting around the bar telling a story that unfolds in several flashbacks. This structure is never done better than in “Sorry, Bro,” which has Ted explaining how he’s gotten back together with his college girlfriend, Karen. The rest of the gang’s subplots are effortlessly weaved around Ted’s, from Robin’s sleep-eating to Marshall’s shredded pants. And in a series that’s all about storytelling, it’s fun to see the significant moments hinged on how Ted chooses to tell his story, qualifying that he only kissed Karen once “in the restaurant” and accidentally revealing that he knew too much to have said goodbye to her forever.

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5. “Atlantic City” (Season 2, Episode 8)

Season 2 is hands-down the show’s best, perhaps due in part to the fact that Ted and Robin are together and so there is no time wasted on pushing and pulling them together and apart over and over. Putting Ted and Robin aside also gives Marshall and Lily’s romance a chance to stand out, and after “Swarley” brings them back together “Atlantic City” makes them whole again. They’re in it for the long haul, for all the hard parts, and they can’t cheat by eloping on a dingy boat. Plus we get Barney’s gambling  problem and the insane Chinese casino game.

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4. “Ten Sessions” (Season 3, Episode 13)

Ted Mosby is often my least-favorite character on the show. That may just be the consequence of creating a person with “douchiness” as a fundmental character trait, and who also is destined to be alone or unhappy for much of the show’s run. So it’s sometimes easy to forget that Ted is a genuinely romantic guy with good intentions. “Ten Sessions” is Ted Mosby at his absolute best, using his over-the-top tendencies in a perfect way. When he takes busy working-mom Stella on the just two-minute date that she has time for, the one-shot sequence is one of the show’s best and most romantic. Just ignore the fact that Britney Spears is in there playing Stella’s receptionist.

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3. “Okay, Awesome” (Season 1, Episode 5) 

It pretty much only took HIMYM five episodes to find its own comedic sensibility. This involves utilizing its storytelling structure, emphasizing relationships be they romantic or friendship, dealing with the struggles of growing up and being heartfelt and simultaneously hilarious. “Okay Awesome” does all of this so early on in the show’s run. What’s most significant is that the episode takes full advantage of the storytelling structure a bunch of times, most effectively when Future Ted freezes the action to tell the audience Marshall went to the dentist that day, and it’s really important to the story, and he’s can’t believe he forgot that part. It’s the sort of joke that only HIMYM could do.

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2. “How I Met Everyone Else” (Season 3, Episode 5)

When introducing people to Doctor Who, another show I love, I often have them start with an episode from season 3 called “Blink” which is told from the perspective of an outsider who meets the Doctor, thus introducing the character and the viewer to the sci-fi world. If I were to find a comparable episode of HIMYM, it would have to be “How I Met Everyone Else” which introduces the audience to each character by showing how they got introduced to each other. It’s got a classic MacClaren’s setting, a great Barney bit with the “Hot/Crazy scale” and the storytelling joke where Future Ted can’t remember his date’s name so he calls her “Blah Blah.” It also introduces my absolute favorite running gag, the “eating a sandwich” euphemism. That’s a gag that, while it may not outright make me laugh after they overuse it, definitely makes me smile.

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1. “Slap Bet” (Season 2, Episode 9)

Was there any other episode that could be number 1? Besides introducing the titular long-running bet this episode is also the glorious debut of Robin Sparkles, Robin’s teen Canadian pop star alter-ego. You’re right Robin, porn would have been less embarrassing. This is the episode where the show said hey, we’re willing to really just go for it. Is Robin Sparkles ridiculous? Yes. Is she hilarious? Absolutely. The slaps and Robin Sparkles would reappear all over the rest of the series’ run, right down to the last slap being doled out as Barney was waiting for Robin at the alter. It’s in this episode that so much of the show’s history was created that would shape it over the years. And if you ever needed proof that Ted and Robin don’t belong together, see their opposite picks for slap choices, Ted going for 10 now and Robin going for 5 over all of eternity. Barney goes with Robin’s choice, so make of that what you will.

Veronica Mars, Leslie Knope and Bad Decisions

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(The following contains mild spoilers for the Veronica Mars movie and the most recent episodes of Parks and Recreation.)

Two weeks ago the Veronica Mars movie came to select screens, delivered to us through the magic of crowdfunding wherein thousands of fans donated their own cash to get the movie made (full disclosure, I am one of those fans). It was quite easily predictable, then, that the movie was going to go to great lengths to satisfy those fans, to prove their money was worth it. Director and writer Rob Thomas was very aware of this, stuffing the movie with as many in-jokes, cameos, character returns and smoldering stares from Logan Echolls as it possibly could.

But more importantly, just to get a usable plot, the film had to bring Veronica back to Neptune and her old life, so that it could tell a story that involves old faces and new murderers. On her way back to her P.I. roots and away from her cushy new New York life, Veronica had to make some bad (or at the very least, incredibly risky) life decisions, including blowing up a job offer that would promise stability, sanity and a life away from the 90909 zip code.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of another cult show about a dedicated blonde woman living in a town that’s bad for her: Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope. With a bit more comedic innocence, Pawnee, Indiana has put Leslie through the ringer just as Neptune, California has forever damaged Veronica. Leslie has been recalled from office, humiliated and degraded by Pawnee and some of its ridiculous citizens, all while constantly striving to make it a better place.

Even with a character as endlessly positive as Leslie Knope, sometimes it’s a little hard to watch her take these beatings over and over again. An overriding theme of the show is how genuinely good a person she is, and Leslie may actually be one of the nicest characters on TV.  Which is why the sudden appearance of a job offer from the National Parks Service a few episodes ago seemed like such a beacon of hope for her. There’s a big part of me that desperately wants Leslie to take that job, leave Pawnee and never look back. I want her and Ben to move on and have tiny nerdy children and live happily ever after.

But Pawnee, with all its overlarge citizens and rabid possums is also the source of the off-beat brand of comedy that makes Parks and Rec so great. And to be totally honest, without Pawnee, there just isn’t a show. The National Parks job seemed just perfect enough that I went online to double check that the show was renewed, because Leslie moving away would definitely be a way to end it. A happily ever after is an ending, after all. It’s a wrap up to the troubles and conflicts that made the meat of the series. There’s nothing particularly exciting about everything working out.

The same is true with Veronica Mars. If there are going to be anymore mysteries and adventures in Neptune then Veronica has to be living there, putting her sleuth skills to good use. It’s no secret that Thomas and star Kristen Bell want the franchise to continue, and even if there are no more movies or episodes, they have just published the first in a series of books. Veronica Mars, New York Corporate Lawyer doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Veronica Mars, Neptune’s best Private Detective. But even though I want this story to continue enough that I was willing to put up my own money a year ago,  it was so hard to watch Veronica literally ignore opportunity knocking when she kept silencing calls from her new law firm. I kind of wanted to scream at the screen. You went to law school for this reason! Don’t throw it all away!

Of course calling Veronica’s choice to stay in Neptune and Leslie’s potential choice to stay in Pawnee (as of the most recent episode she’s still thinking) “bad life decisions” is inherently judgmental on my part. There is nothing to say that more happiness would be found for either character in the “good” choices. But the stories do set up these options as something that has the potential to be better, because experience has proven that it’s tough to be in Neptune and Pawnee. So why shouldn’t they just leave?

Comparing Veronica and Leslie to a third blonde heroine with a “hell” of a hometown, Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the difference is that Leslie and Veronica have the choice to leave. Buffy had a duty as the mystical slayer, to stay in Sunnydale, California and guard the Hellmouth. Things would probably have been a lot better for her if she went away for college, but that wasn’t an option for her. And if you think about it, back when Veronica was in high school, she was stuck in Neptune because her father didn’t want to leave. Putting the choice in these protagonists’ hands creates this tension for the audience.

Both Parks and Rec and the Veronica Mars movie have tried to dispel this tension by giving compelling reasons to keep these women close to home. After receiving the job offer Leslie headed to her trusty Ron Swanson to inquire why she can’t leave when Pawnee treats her so badly. He reminded her that she likes trying to fix Pawnee, in spite of everything it routinely throws at her. New York may have a job for Veronica but Neptune has Logan, and of course, all that corruption and mystery. It might be easy to leave, but Leslie and Veronica have things to do. And many, many more stories to tell.

But I can’t be the only one wondering how Veronica is going to pay her law school loans? Right?

9 Golden Globes Wishes

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The Golden Globes always win for silliest award show of the year. Not just because they have a long history of drunkenness or that their majesties Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hosting for the second year in a row. No, the true silliness of the Golden Globes lies in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an organization of a few dozen international journalists who have a tendency to nominate the biggest stars they hope will show up (Angelina Jolie in The Tourist, anyone?).

But that doesn’t mean we won’t tune in and talk about who wins and who doesn’t. And it doesn’t mean this won’t affect Oscar and Emmy chances down the line. So here’s a smattering of some hopes I have for the big night, for both the film and TV side of the awards. They’re probably not the best of predictions, but it would be truly awesome if all of them came true.

1. 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture, Drama. The Oscar best picture race is largely between 12 YearsGravity and American Hustle, so it would be interesting to see who goes here. There’s absolutely no voting cross-over between this and the Oscars, but it was this category that Argo first started its roll of domination last year, mere days after Ben Affleck’s famous director snub from the Academy. There’s been some talk that the insane hype 12 Years premiered with is slowing down, so since it’s actually the best film of the year by far, here’s to hoping we still talk about it.

2. Amy Adams wins Best Actress, Comedy/Musical. Hear me out on this one. I liked Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle just as much ast the next breathing human, but she didn’t knock me over the way Adams did. To me, American Hustle would have failed without Adams, hers being the most nuanced and realistic performance. So far the best actress category has been pretty sewn up until Adams took one Miss Meryl Streep’s spot in the BAFTA nods this week. We all know that Cate Blanchett is a Daniel Day-Lewis level mortal lock for this Oscar, but Adams has a real shot here to potentially break into the nominations.

3. Michael Fassbender wins Best Supporting Actor. Have I mentioned I really liked 12 Years a Slave? Because I really, really liked 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender has only shown up in a handful of nominations so far, perhaps in part due to his early declaration that he wouldn’t do any campaigning. But who cares? Fassbender took on a role that could have easily gone cartoonish in the hands of a less competent actor, and instead created the kind of evil you could expect to see walking down the street one day. And that, like so much else in the film, is a huge achievement.

4. Sally Hawkins wins Best Supporting Actress. How great would this be? I mean, Cate Blanchett is amazing and very deserving of the Oscar she will eventually win, but performances like those aren’t complete without someone amazing to play off of. Hawkins really pulled her weight in Blue Jasmine, and made the film that much better for it.

5. Parks and Recreation wins Best TV Comedy. Besides the fact that Amy Poehler would have even more to do during the broadcast if her sitcom wins, I just think it’s about damn time someone recognized how great this show is. This fall’s sixth season may have had rocky moments (please, please no more Councilman Jamm) but the second half of season five, which aired in early 2013, was pretty outstanding. I could watch “Leslie and Ben” over and over and over again.

6. Tatiana Maslany wins Best Actress in a TV Drama. It’s insane how good Maslany is in Orphan Black. Like, crazy insane. I recently rewatched the series and I think the highest laurel I can give to her is that I constantly forget that the clones are played by the same actress. They are so different, so nuanced and just so good. Maslany is finally up for a big ticket award, and there has frankly never really been anyone more deserving.

7. Elisabeth Moss wins Best Actress in a TV Miniseries or Movie. Have you seen Top of the Lake yet? No? It’s on Netflix, go watch it and tell me that Moss isn’t freaking incredible. I dare you. 

8. Monica Potter wins Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture. Despite some issues this season, Parenthood is still one of my favorite shows on television, and Potter’s work during last season’s cancer storyline was top notch. You might not have believed that this show could make you cry anymore, but it did. 

9. Somebody does something super drunk. It has been remarked upon that the Globes are kind of a schwasty award show. Remember Glenn Close last year, anyone? Besides Tina and Amy’s inevitable show of hilarious hosting, drunken flubs are likely to be the most entertaining part of the evening. It’s not like it’s the Oscars or anything, so nobody has to be too serious.

Why ‘Doctor Who’ Endures (At Least for Me)

Fifty years after a pair of school teachers followed their strange pupil into a blue box in a junkyard, the Doctor is still traveling through time and space, making (and leaving behind) friends and having timey-wimey adventures.

In light of this weekend’s anniversary special you might be moved to wonder why this mad cap sci fi show is still on the air, why its fans are so rabid for more and why it’s still relevant after all these years.

There are a lot of reasons you could point to for the show’s longevity. The mere fact that the concept of regeneration allows the Doctor to be replaced over and over again as actors age and contracts expire, has allowed the to survive where others would fail trying to replace a lead. There’s a nostalgia element to it too, parents introducing kids to something they loved, makings something old new again. There’s also the fact that it’s an institution now, a tradition that just keeps passing down the generations.

But I’d argue that the magic of Doctor Who is summed up in something the 11th Doctor says in “The Eleventh Hour,” the first time Matt Smith takes on the role. Speaking to his new companion he asks: “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”

Well, where do you want to start? The answer is, of course, anywhere. Just anywhere. When watching Doctor Who the audience can follow the man from Gallifrey wherever in this vast – and seemingly rule-less – fictional universe that the writers want to take us. And so every story becomes not just another entry in the long history of a time-traveling alien, but also an opportunity to indulge in some childlike wonder and curiosity. You can’t help but ask yourself, what will they think of next?

The first episode of the show I ever saw was actually the series one outing, “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the 9th Doctor and Rose head back to Victorian Cardiff and meet Charles Dickens, and also a bunch of incorporeal aliens who want to use corpses as their new homes.

I distinctly remember saying aloud to my father (who needed no convincing of the show’s worth), “So it’s history and sci fi? Cool!”

And it was cool, gosh darn it.

“The Unquiet Dead” is no poster child for acting or special effects. The ghost/alien/corpse monsters weren’t actually all that scary. But the combination of setting and story was so novel. And it was fun.

Doctor Who isn’t magical because it’s so well plotted or deep or smart or exciting. It often is (and sometimes isn’t) those things, but they’re beside the point.

The part of Doctor Who that I love, that keeps me coming back for more, despite setbacks and frustrations, is that incredible sense of wonder that it brings to every episode. In no other show that I’ve watched has there been this unending possibility to surprise and amaze. In a fictional universe as wide as the universe itself there are no limits on what could happen, who you could meet or where you could go.

Sure, recent adventures in convoluted plotting (see “The Wedding of River Song”) have abused this idea of limitless possibility. Even when anything can happen, it helps when what happens makes some kind of sense.

That’s why some of the Doctor’s best outings, both classic and new, thrive on complexity of concept but simplicity of execution. Take “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the 1st Doctor’s tenure. The title says it all: the Doctor’s nemeses invade Earth in the future. Or of course, “Blink,” where the high-concept Weeping Angels – arguably the most terrifying monsters in the Whoverse – are deployed in pursuit of a single girl. When they next appear in “Flesh and Stone,” the whole thing is so convoluted the angels aren’t as scary anymore.

Ultimately, the sense of curiosity still pervades even in stories that leave you scratching your head. And if one world or alien or idea doesn’t really click (I’m looking at you, strange absorbing alien from “Love and Monsters”) there’s so much more out there to discover, that the show never has to revisit a failed concept again.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s anniversary special not just because of the throwbacks (believe me, I can’t wait for 10 and 11 to say their respective catchphrases at the same time, something like “Allon-imo!”), but also for everything new that could be stuffed in there. I mean seriously, what is the deal with John Hurt? Well, we’ll all find out tomorrow. But there’s always more to see and know.

And that’s enough to keep the show going for years and years to come.

You Should Be Watching ‘Veronica Mars’

veronica-mars

Cult TV show Veronica Mars made headlines back in March when creator Rob Thomas successfully kickstarted his way to $5.7 million for a feature film. The funds were raised by over 90,000 eager fans who donated between $1 and $10,000 to see the revival of the series which was cancelled by the CW in 2007. The filming began a few weeks ago. This week comes the news that  Veronica Mars will be heading to Comic Con for a Friday panel in Hall H with many of the show’s stars, including Kristen Bell, and creator/film director Rob Thomas. Also that James Franco might be making an appearance. The film will be hitting theaters in 2014, so now is clearly the right time to start watching Veronica Mars whether or not you’ve seen it before.

So what’s all the fuss about? Described as a modern Nancy Drew, the series centers on the titular Veronica, played by Bell, a high school student and part-time detective in the fictional SoCal town of Neptune, a town “without a middle class.” Veronica is working for her father’s private detective agency on cases ranging from the abduction of the school mascot to the murder of her best friend, Lily (Amanda Seyfried). Class conflict is palpable throughout the series, and much of the action is a direct result of the Mars family’s loss of status when Lily was murdered and Veronica’s father, then the Sheriff, accused Lily’s billionaire father of the crime and was booted out of office. Consequently, at the beginning of the series, Veronica has few friends and a hardened outlook on life. She’s smart, charming and manipulative, which is how she solves her mysteries. Everybody hates her, so she’s got nothing to lose.

The show is both procedural and serial; there’s a new mystery every week but the first two seasons each have an overarching mystery (season 3 has two big mysteries followed by several free-standing episodes, an attempt to change the format when the show moved from UPN to the CW, but wasn’t enough to save the show from cancellation). The great thing about the show is while it is suspenseful and exciting enough to keep a binge going all-weekend long, you could also watch it in smaller doses. It’s a crime drama but it is more relatable than one where the weekly crime is a murder: Did someone fix the school election? What happened to my dead-beat dad? Who stole the school fundraiser money? And so on.

The pilot can be a little rough because it is very heavy on the exposition. Everything about who Veronica is at this moment is completely dependent on the events of the preceding year: Lily’s death, her father’s firing, her mother leaving them, their worsened financial position and also Veronica’s own date-rape (none of these are spoilers, they are all explained in the pilot). But once past the very first episode, everything starts moving more quickly. Veronica gathers her own group around her, she dates, she solves mysteries, and more mysteries open up every week.

But it’s not just about the mysteries. Beyond Veronica there is an amazing cast of characters including her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), who is way cooler than a dad should be, her best friend, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), her ally and leader of a biker gang, Weevil (Francis Capra), and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), son of a movie star and sometimes antagonist. The strange politics and workings of Neptune are also fascinating, and take center stage in season 2 during a mayoral election.

The show saw some great actors in its short run, including early work from Amanda Seyfried, Max Greenfield, and Krysten Ritter. Also, Jessica Chastain guests in a season 1 episode, Steve Gutenberg has a season 2 arc, Ken Marino is fabulous as a private eye competitor, Alyson Hannigan guests in a few episodes as Logan’s sister, and Charisma Carpenter has a substantive arc in seasons 2 and 3. Oh and Joss Whedon was in an episode one time.

I’d recommend it to anyone but especially if you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Psych, Castle, and Fringe. Veronica is the same kind of independent and strong teenager Buffy was, but she’s a super sleuth, not a super hero. The show isn’t about saving the day so much as it is about making sure the bad guy pays. In the crazy and often corrupt world of Neptune, CA, jail isn’t always the best option.

On Watching Classic ‘Doctor Who’

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (3)

Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary is drawing closer, and so I have decided to catch up on the 26 seasons and TV movie that make up the world before the Ninth Doctor. I had always meant to do this, but I wanted to start from the very beginning, which is hard to do without spending a lot of money for the DVDs. But at last I was able to borrow/rent/beg for the episodes all the way back to season 1, and have begun my intense journey in the TARDIS.

So far I’ve got through talking about Susan Foreman’s tenure in the TARDIS. It seemed like a good stopping point in my binge, including the entire first season (minus missing serial Marco Polo), and the first two serials of the second season. Thematically, it also is a good swath of shows, not just because it’s all of Susan, but because the Doctor starts to become the Doctor we know and love, and a lot of that has to do with him shutting the TARDIS door in Susan’s face. 

Where we start with the Doctor can be jarring to a viewer who started with Eccleston, not just because the original show in black-and-white. William Hartnell’s Doctor is old, curmudgeon-y, and at times pretty clueless, as opposed to the young, charming, and nearly omnipotent Doctor I was used to. In the very first episode, after teachers Barbara and Ian force their way into the TARDIS, he outright kidnaps them so they won’t tell 1963 England about his time machine. He also doesn’t seem to know how to pilot the TARDIS very well (read: even less well than now) and embarks on a random journey with Susan, Barbara, and Ian with the pretense of trying to get Barbara and Ian home. It’s not adventure for the sake of adventure, and he’s not the great saver of worlds. As the group travels the Doctor helps people, sure, but it starts out only as a consequence of his own self-interest. Constantly they are separated from the TARDIS and the action of the plot is only driven by their desire to get back to it. He’s a lost man with a beat up car trying to get home, fixing a few flat tires along the way.

I think there were several turning points along the way that started to shape the Doctor into a more heroic figure. The first, of course, was the original appearance of the Daleks, in the second serial. Even though in that episode, the Doctor is still acting out of self-interest, the creation of an arch-nemesis for him allows him to be heroic later on. The second moment, which may seem minor, occurs in the partially missing serial “The Reign of Terror,” set in the most dangerous time of the French Revolution. The Doctor is separated from his companions and must attempt to rescue them, something he’s done before, but in order to do so he buys the regalia of a government official, which includes a many-feathered hat, and walks into a prison like he owns the place. That confidence and swagger (and inherent silliness) was something I identified with as being very Doctor-ish.

The most important moments, of course, came in Susan’s last serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” After landing in the 22nd Century and discovering the Daleks have become the totalitarian rulers of the planet, the Doctor isn’t just trying to get back to his ship anymore. When the Daleks say they are the masters of the Earth he replies, “Not for long.” And then with the help of his companions he blows the Daleks to pieces and returns the Earth to the humans. Only then does he leave.

But not before he leaves his granddaughter behind. Now the companion situation is odd in these first few serials. The Doctor, not as powerful as usual, often is playing second fiddle to the dashing Ian Chesterton, who knows a lot about combat for a high school science teacher. Barbara plays mother most of the time, taking care of many of the people they meet and constantly offering to cook (well, it was the 60s…). The Doctor’s role is often cerebral, needing to defend Ian from a murder charge on one alien planet or prove that someone was poisoning the water on another. This leaves Susan, despite being an alien like the Doctor with telepathic powers (the words “Time Lord” have yet to be spoken), with little to do except scream, cry, be kidnapped, and watch as the stronger characters save the day. She is often ill and often utterly useless, except maybe as a plot driver when she needs to be saved.

She is different from most other companions in that she is not the audience surrogate here. That’s Ian and Barbara. Susan is just as alien as the Doctor. She also has a long-standing relationship with the Doctor that is defined as familial, so the relationship doesn’t really change. The core principle is that they take care of each other, and that they don’t belong anywhere.

So when Susan finds a place where she can belong (otherwise known as a suitable husband, weren’t the 60s great?) the Doctor chooses to leave her behind instead of allowing her to make that choice herself. He literally slams the door in her face, locking her out of the TARDIS and promising to return some day (with the later Doctor’s reputation on that front, I’m going to say no, he’s not coming back for her).

It’s significant for a number of reasons. It’s the first casting change, of the many, many rotating companions and Doctors to come. It’s the first time the Doctor abandons a companion, which he’ll do many more times. Susan becomes the first in a long string of people left behind by the Doctor, some screwed up as he’ll say later, and some not. Although, it seems a little harsh to leave Susan on a war-torn Earth with a man she’s just met and only one shoe (her other broke and the Doctor took it inside the TARDIS to fix, and so when he leaves, she’s literally only got one shoe on). Well, I hear that there are a lot of job opportunities in the post-apocalypse.

But the Doctor’s moving on with one less companion, and possibly, a more heroic sensibility.