Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CDog's Guide to Holiday Programming, Day 5 (Or, Christmas With a Side of Noir)

Did the absence of a new post devastate you yesterday? Well, dry your eyes, kids. We're back with a new selection.

21. An Echolls Family Christmas - Veronica Mars, 2004
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

I recently tweeted (I know, so modern) that very few days go by without me stopping and thinking about how much I miss Veronica Mars at least once, and I stand by that statement. Bringing old school detective noir to high school in the form of a diminutive blonde with an acid tongue, sharp mind, and big heart was one of the greatest services Rob Thomas could've performed for the public, and I will be forever indebted. And let's not forget that, among many gifts, my beloved VMars gave me the magic that is Kristen Bell, who has since been criminally underutilized; Alona Tal, who is a supreme delight and impresses the hell out of me in literally everything she appears in; and Joss Whedon as a rental car agent.

Don't even try to dispute its excellence, because your argument is invalid.

Of the show's two Christmas episodes, the first season's, "An Echolls Family Christmas," was the one that didn't leave me sobbing quietly in a corner. This should not at all be interpreted as a lack of quality, but rather a simple difference in content.

The episode starts off typical, even tame, for our plucky but wounded adolescent investigator. After a couple intense reveals about the case that tore her life apart and possibly the real reason as to why her mother skipped town, a run of the mill case involving money stolen from an 09er (I miss saying that casually) poker game seems like small potatoes, even if our VMars does take it on in order to get ex-boyfriend Duncan's laptop back and ensure that any intimate details about their relationship stay safe within the confines of its hard drive.

Of course, things get real when Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin show up, furthering the theory that they have to appear together at least once on everything. Words are exchanged, infidelities are exposed, guys are stabbed...well, just one, but that's Christmas in Neptune for you - a nice reminder that all is not as shiny as it may appear behind the veil of the rich and famous.

What really drives this episode aren't either of the cases. It's the characters. The first season starts off as Veronica vs. the World, and that's important. Feeling her profound isolation not only drives the impact of the Kane murder home but also makes the people who do extend the hand of friendship - Wallace, Meg, Mac - seem all the more invaluable.

As the season gets underway, however, things are less cut and dry. Our first Christmas in Neptune helps us soften just a little toward baddest of the bad Logan Echolls and understand that behind the racist bully facade is a little boy with a jacked up family life, money or no money. Without this understanding, and the subtle shift in dynamic that comes with it, the show would not have been able to evolve.

"An Echolls Family Christmas." Not drowning in holiday cheer, but fun with a bit of poignant sadness thrown in. Sounds like a holiday party to me.


I give you one: the Heat Miser moment between Veronica and her dad right at the beginning. Their relationship will forever be the best of everything.

Monday, December 5, 2011

CDog's Guide To Holiday Programming, Day 4 (Or, COME ON!)

I'm going to depart from my usual style tonight by writing an open letter. To a TV show.
22. Afternoon Delight - Arrested Development, 2004
Photo Credit: Fox

Dear Arrested Development,

Thanks for treating your viewers like intelligent people who could understand a joke without having it explained to them. Part of your genius was the fact that you could make a passing reference in one episode that would then reappear without a direct callback or commentary seven or eight episodes down the line, and it would automatically become 8x funnier as a result.

Also, thank you for shining the brightest light possible on the magic that is the quirky and absurd. It unlocked a lot of brains.

Now, I take you to the highlights, because there is really nothing to say that hasn't already been said by the legions who have been mourning the loss of the Bluths for years.


1) The blue fingerprints on the wall that nobody acknowledges. Genius.

2) Never has a montage of a suit's escalating value been so amazing.

3) Alia Shawkat's delivery sharpens with every episode. This is one of her best.

4) "First I blow him, then I poke him."

5) Few things please me more than Buster talking about, "Army."

6) World's Most Effective Use of the Bleep award.

7) "The seal is for marksmanship. And the for sandracing."

8) Mae Whitman deserves every high five in the world.

9) Have any of us really stopped to consider the lyrics of Afternoon Delight? We have now.

10) It's actually a little bit devastating when Tobias misses that call.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

CDog's Guide to Holiday Programming, Day 3 (Or, SuperSanta FTW)

Look, up in the sky!



Nah, it's...

23. Lexmas - Smallville, 2005

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

The one-time WB-now-CW network's Smallville, which wrapped an impressive ten season run earlier this year, ranks as one of my most beloved shows ever. The modern re-imagining of Clark Kent's pre-Superman years as he came of age in Kansas was fun, clever, and often times surprisingly heartbreaking. That being said, it did suffer at times from an overabundance of fluff and cheese, especially before the 6th season shift that saw the show really start to embrace the mythology it was rooted in. "Lexmas" is a bit of the good and the bad rolled into one, but hey, they can't all be home runs, and there's enough of the former to earn it the 23 spot.

At its core, the episode is something of a reverse It's A Wonderful Life. Lex Luthor, who's still in his Maybe I'm Not Evil Even Though I Do Evil Stuff All The Time phase, approaches a shady guy in a shady part of Kansas about waging a dirty campaign against Jonathan Kent in the Senate race. After having a, "Once you go down this dark path, you can't turn back," moment, Lex says he needs to think about it, gets shot by thieves, and wakes up in a dream world where he's a nice middle-class guy married to Lana with a son and another baby on the way.

Now, I don't think I need to tell you that I side with the heroes. My favorite characters on any show tend to be the brave and tortured souls who sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of the world and end up having a million terrible things happen to them before they inevitably die in the most tragic and heroic manner possible. My Nemesis is so named because she's the opposite. In fact, her favorites have murdered mine on more than one occasion. So, naturally, if you asked her, the Lex thread is the best part of this entire episode. For me, it's good, but it's nothing new.

By this point in Smallville's run, Lex Luthor had played the, "Well, but maybe I'm just a good guy who's done some questionable things," card too many times, usually coupling it with a, "I'm the way I am because my dad sucks," that got just as tired. Unfortunately, this makes the better parts of Lex's fantasy life - his desire to have a stable family, open and honest friendships, the trust of the Kents, the love of the town, and everything else he couldn't manage to earn in reality - feel stale. It's hard to believe he might actually be capable of being this guy because he's already turned away from that path so many times. Still, it's a brilliant look at his psychosis, especially when we see that even when everything's perfect, he firmly believes the bottom has to drop out. This is a man who is 100% convinced that he cannot achieve happiness through love. Not the warmest of holiday revelations, but an honest moment for the character.

The Lex-has-been-shot subplot, where Lionel Luthor goes to extreme measures to ensure that his son will not be crippled by his injuries even if it means he will not survive, is forgettable. The episode would not have suffered if it had been cut.

Then, of course, there's my favorite bit: Clark playing Santa. Literally. What I loved most about the fifth season of Smallville was Chloe finally knowing Clark's secret. Their friendship became something really firm and beautiful as a result, and it also allowed for fun little moments like this. Was it cheesy? Yes. Especially when real Santa enters the picture. But it's my kind of cheese, and I embrace it without shame.

As would be the case with any reverse It's A Wonderful Life (clearly, I've decided to make that a thing), our shiny-headed compatriot does not get a happy ending. Having survived his ordeal, Lex calls his contact and instructs him to knock Jonathan Kent out of the race by any means necessary. It's meant to be a symbolic moment - the younger Luthor is finally embracing his dark side. But again, it feels like we've already been there. A few times. It robs the gesture of some of its power.

But then we hit that final shot and can't help but feel a little haunted.

Merry Christmas.

No highlights this time around, as we're 10 minutes away from midnight and I want to get this up. See you tomorrow!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

CDog's Guide To Holiday Programming, Day 2 (Or, It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Pawnee)

From an alien spaceship hovering over London to the Pawnee Parks & Rec Department, welcome to day 2 of CDog's Guide to Holiday Programming.

24. Christmas Scandal - Parks and Recreation, 2009

Photo Credit: NBC

After a very brief first season that showed several glimmers of potential but failed to really explode, NBC's Parks and Recreation - a sitcom about a quirky group of government employees in fictional Pawnee, Indiana shot in the documentary style popularized by The Office - made some adjustments and came back with a vengeance, earning a reputation as a fan favorite.

"Christmas Scandal," is not only a successful holiday special; it's also just a solid half hour of television. Part of what makes Parks and Recreation so good is that each cast member pulls his or her own weight in every scene without trying to take it over, and this episode is a prime example of that.

The first season fell a little flat in tone. Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope seemed too clueless to ever become genuinely endearing, and the supporting cast's laughing behind her back shtick edged on mean-spirited and would never have made for enduring entertainment. "Christmas Scandal," helps erase almost all memory of that high school humor as Leslie accidentally becomes caught up in a small town political scandal. Her team is forced to take over her duties while she deals with the situation and comes to appreciate just difficult her job really is. It's a message that's delivered subtly as a backdrop to the hilariously sensationalized scandal plot, which helps downplay the cheese factor.

This episode also marks the departure of Louis C.K.'s Officer Dave and takes a couple of nice moments to spotlight the adorableness that is April's burgeoning crush on Andy, two events that help set up the second half of the season and keep the episode relevant to the continuity of the show.

Even the least entertaining thread - Mark's celebration of his perfect Christmas gift for Ann , a less than minor subplot that feels a little unrealized - generates a few laughs, albeit from Aziz Ansari's Tom Haverford. Unfortunately, Paul Schneider's role - first as a sort of love interest, then as the straight man who deadpanned to the camera and shook his head at the madness - never really clicked. The character departed Pawnee after the second season, making way for Adam Scott's less bland Ben Wyatt.


1) The Pawnee City Government Follies. Such a great opening. Almost as good as the skits we do hear are the ones we only see brief glimpses of.

2) Jim O'Heir's long-suffering Jerry Gergich, who you can't help but laugh at and feel bad for all at the same time.

3) Aubrey Plaza underselling April's crush on Andy, making the reveal of her gift to him at the end even cuter.

4) Donna. All the time.

5) "April, I appreciate that, but I don't think it's something worth losing your virginity over."

6) Andy. The transition from lazy rocker to dopey shoeshiner really worked very strongly in Chris Pratt's favor.

7)  "I ship out in four days." "Oh my God. Where are you going?" "San Diego." "Oh my God."

8)  Mo Collins, who continues to make every Joan Callamezzo appearance memorable.

9) The world's greatest public forum.

10)  The credits, which are usually reserved for a parting joke, but in this case quietly follow Leslie's return to the office and highlights her coworkers' newfound respect and affection for her. A simple and heartwarming little scene.

"Christmas Scandal" is available to stream on Netflix under the Season 2 tab.

Friday, December 2, 2011

CDog's Guide to Holiday Programming, Day 1 (Or, Rude and Not Ginger)

Happy December, friends!

It's been awhile. Over a month, in fact. I'm going to skip the super long explanation by simply telling you that I spent my November doing this for the 3rd year in a row and that the idea of writing any extra words over here in addition to the 50,000 I committed to there would have given me a case of the crazies.

However, now it's December, and with it comes Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the solstice, and I'm sure plenty of other holidays I don't even know about. Regardless of what you believe or how you worship, there's a little something extra in the air this time of year - a magic that makes you happy to be alive and thankful for who and what you have. Of course, there's usually something a little extra on the airwaves too, and with that horrible play on words, we've reached this month's theme.

Most television shows roll out a holiday episode at least once. Some warm the heart, some turn the stomach, and others are simply forgettable. Over the next 25 days (well, 24 - I'm a little late to the game, but I'll double up one day), I'll share my personal favorite holiday-themed small screen adventures. If you're lucky, I may also give some tips on what to avoid.

Let's get started, shall we?

25. The Christmas Invasion -Doctor Who, 2005

After the thrilling events of the first season finale of the beautifully revamped British sci-fi classic Doctor Who - an episode that gave us the answer to the Bad Wolf mystery and bid a sad goodbye to Christopher Eccleston's battle-scarred but brilliantly goofy northern Ninth Doctor - viewers had to wait just over 6 months to meet the skinny brown-haired fellow who had dramatically appeared in his place. Even then, it would be almost another 40 minutes before they'd get to know him properly.

Though The Christmas Invasion is the debut of a Doctor, the episode really belongs to Billie Piper's Rose Tyler. As the last of the Time Lords lies unconscious, recovering from his recent regeneration, his companion is left alone to try and make sense of what's happened. When an alien threat emerges on Christmas and there is no Doctor to save the day, it's Rose who has to decide to rise to the occasion, making a last stand that, while futile, is no less bold. It's a huge turning point for the character as she actively decides to stop being helpless and start being the stuff of legend.

And then, right at the 39 minute and 30 second mark, the doors of the TARDIS swing open and there stands a man, asking, with a smile, "Did you miss me?" Within minutes, it became clear that Ten would be my Doctor, and I've yet to love a single season of Who more than his first.

The Christmas Invasion sets up the dynamic of the second season very nicely. Rose needed to realize that she could stand on her own without the Doctor so that she could evolve into being more of his equal, and allowing that to happen before we met the new old man in the TARDIS was a smart decision. It also marked the beginning of a new tradition: every year since, there has been a Doctor Who special on Christmas Day.


1) The opening shot of the episode echoes that of Rose, the first episode of the first season of new Who. A nice welcome back.

2) Jackie wistfully sitting with the present she's gotten for Rose. The last time she saw her daughter, she was headed to what very likely could have been her death. A simple moment that reminds us just how strong and devoted Jackie is, something she proves again and again.

3) The gleeful, "London! Earth! The solar system! I did it!"

4) Killer Santas. Somehow creepy and hilarious all at once. Not the first time we'll see them, but
definitely the best.

6) Rose's simple, "Help me!" in the Doctor's ear being enough to (temporarily) revive him, and Ten's two minutes of badassery before he passes out again - a sign of things to come. It's a moment that really drives home who these people are to each other, in case there were any lingering doubts.

7) Harriet Jones. Everything about you, the good and the bad.

8) Ten. From 39:30 on, everything is gold. From, "Am I ginger?" to "I DON'T KNOW!" to the Lion King reference and the threatening button moment, he dominates and lets us know exactly who we're going to be spending our time with for the foreseeable future.

9) The Doctor, newly dressed, stepping through the Tylers' front door and joining Jackie, Rose, and Mickey. This is something that Nine never would have done, and it was the one thing about him that bothered me - the moment, at the end of World War Three in the first season, when he blows Jackie off. I understood why he did it, but I never liked it. This is a Doctor that has healed enough to sit down with a family and be a part of things - or, at the very least, sit down with this family.

10) The shy exchange between the Doctor and Rose as he wonders if she still wants to travel with him while she wonders if he still wants her to. The hand hold. The echo of Nine's, "Fantastic." The plans for the future. All a good start to a brilliant season.

You can currently stream The Christmas Invasion on Netflix under Doctor Who, Season 2.