Monday finales: 'House,' 'Big Bang Theory' and 'Castle'
I spent much of my Monday (May 11) evening interviewing the chipper young cast of FOX's "Glee" at the show's outdoor premiere at Santa Monica High School's amphitheater, a spirited event that convinced me that among a very restrictive demographic of teenagers, publicists and female reporters, "Glee" is going to be massively popular.
Those interviews and my own review of "Glee" -- Hint: I am not a teenager, a publicist or a female journalist -- will be up early next week to coincide with FOX's unconventional premiere for the show.
Anyway, because of the "Glee" premiere, I had to power-load on Monday season finales, a task that took well into Monday morning and didn't even include the fifth season finale of "Little People, Big World." Maybe tomorrow?
The grammar of the twist ending is so codified by this point that just about everybody watching Monday's "House" was bracing themselves awaiting the "This Is How Things REALLY Happened" unraveling and whether you think of it as the Shyamalan Reveal or the "Usual Suspects" Reveal or the "Fight Club" Reveal, it was clear that the "House" writers/director/editor had been taking notes.
The big difference with the "House" twist and those big movie twists was the intention of the reveal. Your jaw was supposed to drop when you learned that Bruce Willis was really a vampire in "The Sixth Sense," or that Ed Norton had been lying about the first rule of Fight Club or that Stephen Baldwin was really Kaiser Soze (no spoilers here!). With the "House" reveal, we were just supposed to feel sad.
For a small subset of 'shippers, last Monday's "House," which ended with House and Cuddy (who I *refuse* to call by some desperate squishing of their names) on the road to Sexytown, was moment of jubilation. For me? Meh. I didn't need House and Cuddy to have sex any more than I need Bones and Booth to have sex any more than I need Castle and Beckett to have sex. I'm not the sort of viewer who assumes that because the main characters are a man and a woman that they have to end up in bed. [As an exception, I have no objections to Chuck and Sarah getting it on...]
At the very least, the union of House and Cuddy seemed to imply hope. She helped him miraculously detox in 24 hours, they made out, it seemed like salvation for them both. Actually, it seemed too good to be true.
And it was. The reveal that the sex with Cuddy and his newfound reduced-pain experience was just another figment of House's drug-addled imagination shouldn't have been surprising for anybody. All it showed was how sad and pathetic House has been this season, in the aftermath of Amber's death, in the aftermath of Kutner's suicide. It was one thing when he was hallucinating and he recognized what was happening. The idea that he was unable to distinguish between reality and delusion was an interesting direction for us to take.
That the show played it as a season-ending shocker is just the way of TV and I might have been annoyed by the belabored unfolding except that Hugh Laurie's wordless understanding was on the level with the best work he's ever done on the show. Director Greg Yaitanes just put the camera on Laurie's face and let him go to town with a mixture of confusion, disappointment and reluctant understanding. Lisa Edelstein was equally fine and one of these days, she's going to get an Emmy nomination, right? Probably not. But she deserves it.
It was an interestingly and intentionally atypical episode in terms of its focus. The A Plot, involving a young man with a confusing bisected brain, reached a conclusion that was anti-climactic and far too simple. In contrast, the B Plot, featuring a very fine Carl Reiner, begin as simple comic value and packed a punch. I kinda wish that the Cameron/Chase subplot hadn't been pointlessly wedged into the background, but that's where the characters have been exiled for a while now. Jennifer Morrison had meatier material in one silly scene in "Star Trek."
Every season of "House" seems to leave us with the idea that the House who returns in the fall will be a different House. The writers know, though, that a House without pain and a House without drugs and a House without psychiatric issues isn't actually the House that viewers love. So we'll see how this latest nadir changes things for The Good Doctor.
My initial reaction/fear was that House was checking himself into rehab, which felt uncommitted and predictable too me, a choice that would be insufficient for the level of symptoms he's been displaying in recent weeks. Instead, though, he's going to spend some time at the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, which is pretty hardcore. At this point, House has so many things going on in his head that I don't know which problems will be treated, but it will be interesting find out.
"The Big Bang Theory"
You know how I said that I don't care about House and Cuddy as a couple? Guess who else I don't care about as a couple... Penny and Leonard! The creators of "The Big Bang Theory" decided in the pilot that those two crazy kids were going to be an aspirational couple, even though Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki have minimal chemistry and the characters don't actually seem all that well matched.
So, for the second consecutive season finale, the writers left us in a place where we're supposed to care about a romance that isn't even slightly worth caring about.
Although still uneven, "Big Bang Theory" improved in its second season, in large part due to the very correct realization that everything Jim Parsons does is funny. I may be the only fan of the show who thinks that it's possible to have *too much* Sheldon, but I definitely think that too much Sheldon is superior to not enough. The other thing the writers have noticed is that while the chemistry is lacking with Cuoco and Galecki, Cuoco and Parsons have a great rapport. Inevitably the writers will confuse a comedic spark with a romantic spark and try forcing love on Sheldon and Penny. That will be a mistake.
"The Big Bang Theory" just isn't a comedy that handles serialized elements very well. I mean, is anybody else still wondering where Sara Rue's character went? Exactly. And it concerns me that we're going to have to rehash Penny and Leonard again at the start of next season. Anybody else expect that the premiere will feature Penny going to meet Leonard at the airport with flowers only for him to disembark with his new Eskimo wife? Don't go down that road!
Cuoco was barely in the finale, but she still factored in its best punchline, Penny finally responding to (or getting revenge for) Sheldon's knocking. Since the laff-track/studio-audience never tires of Sheldon's knocking, expect the writers to keep milking the joke, but Penny's counter-knock ought to have been the perfect capper on that gag.
Throw in a Twitter joke, an "Ice Station Zebra" reference and the latest installment in TV's spring love affair with the Slanket and there were plenty of things to enjoy about the finale, even if you tuned out the Penny/Leonard 'shipping.
The "Castle" team correctly realized that with the finale approaching, this would be a good time to inject some serialized elements into what had previously been a totally procedural show, just to encourage ABC on the renewal front.
Thankfully, that attempt to add ongoing plotlines and to provide something of a cliffhanger, didn't involve Castle and Beckett ending up in bed, which would have been the predictable fallback.
No, I don't care about Beckett's mother being the apparent victim of a serial killer either. And no, I don't believe for a second that Beckett's going to cut off Castle's police access. One of my ongoing complaints about "Castle" stem from how generic and insubstantial it is, how low the stakes have generally been. If this raises the stakes and gives the show an iota of gravity, it couldn't hurt.
But not too much gravity, eh? The thing I like most about "Castle" is that you can tune in for the banter, mostly ignore the cases and forget all about the show when each week's episode is over. "Castle" is a light distraction and an amusing delivery system for Nathan Fillion's snark, though certain supporting elements have improved since the first couple episodes. Stana Katic was asked to be too stern and brittle early on and loosening her up, letting her be smart and sexy and occasionally funny, has helped the character. None of the other cops in the precinct are memorable, but Susan Sullivan and Molly Quinn have both benefited from added screentime, proving to be far better foils for Fillion than Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever.
ABC has extended "Dancing with the Stars" to two hours in recent weeks and "Castle" has gotten a ratings rebounce. I'd expect the show to return next season, though ABC would be wise to ask the producers for some reconceptualization, particularly around the precinct scenes.
Anything thoughts on Monday's finales, readers? Or are you already getting psyched for "Fringe" tonight?
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