Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 6

Titans Season 2, Episode 6: “Conner”

I think I am just going to have to resign myself to not liking how Titans handles its episode to episode storytelling. Instead of building momentum from one episode to another, this show seems determined to restart after every episode. With some forethought, the flashbacks in Aqualad and scenes from this story with Conner could have been weaved into the previous four episodes, instead of each being quarantined as its own discrete chunk. It is a storytelling choice, but one that I think has hampered the show this season, at least when watching it week to week. It feels like a choice made for a binge model, where the viewer can just blow through the whole season in a weekend.

“Conner,” instead of following up on the end of the last episode, with Jason apparently plummeting to his death, shifts gears completely, introducing eventual Superboy Conner to the mix. As a stand alone episode, “Conner” is pretty great. It starts with Conner escaping from Cadmus Labs along with a dog names Krypto. This episode finally starts to introduce some Superman into a series that has been dominated by Batman so far.

Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor’s chauffeur, bodyguard and aide-de-camp, shows up to the wrecked Cadmus and tasks Dr. Eve Watson with finding Luthor’s escaped experiment. Conner wanders the city like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. He has the body of a young adult, but the understanding of a child. He is a largely blank slate, but he does have memories of the two men who provided the DNA that mixed to create him, those being Superman and Lex Luthor. Those memories eventually draw him to Smallville and the home of Lionel Luthor. The episode expects the viewer to have a baseline of knowledge of who Lex and Superman are. Assuming you do, it works. The weird mixture of the two in Conner’s head make for some illuminating character work. It does a great job of showing who Lex and Clark are, even though neither of them appear, excluding a picture, in the episode. Conner ends up having dinner with Lex’s elderly father, a kind seeming old man who Conner’s Lex inherited memories reveal as an abusive drunk.

The second half of the episode follows Conner and Eve Watson as they try to escape from Cadmus and Luthor’s goons, while she slowly explains the events that led to Conner’s creation. That culminates in the two of them visiting the lab where Conner was created, and since he is experiment 13 he sees the remains of the other 12 experiments. Then the show finally, finally resolves the cliffhanger from the previous episode, while leaving another in its wake.

This episode introduces the best character on the show so far. No, not Conner. Krypto. Conner saves the dog at the opening, and the two of them are together from then on. Krypto is a good dog. The mid-episode reveal that Krypto has powers is excellent, as he catches an rpg and tosses it back to the man who shot it. He acts as something like Conner’s conscience. He knows not to go to the Luthor farm, his barking pulls Conner back several times when his dark side takes over. He is just a great dog.

I find myself enjoying every episode to one degree or another, so I can’t complain too much. Next episode is titled Bruce Wayne, so it looks like where are going to get some Dick stuff. I assume it will be with the team in the present, but who knows. At least I am caught up now.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep5

Titans Season 2, Episode 5: “Deathstroke”

“Deathstroke” picks up right where “Ghosts,” episode 3, left off. Jason Todd has been captured by Deathstroke. His is strung up in Deathstroke’s and Dr. Light’s hideout. After getting the better of Dr. Light (really, Jason’s repeated clowning of Dr. Light is making the other Titans look foolish for the difficulty they’ve had dealing with him) Deathstroke stops Jason’s escape attempt.

Back at Titans Tower, the rest of the team learns what has happened to Jason. The older Titans are still not treating the younger members like real members of the team. Rose continues to be a truth telling shit stirrer, able to identify people’s problems, but comments in ways seemingly designed to set people off.

Dr. Light finally gets fed up with working for Deathstroke and decides to take on the team himself, only for Deathstroke to put a pretty definitive end to that plan, and set a trap for the Titans at the same time.

Things start to look up for the team when Starfire finally arrives in San Francisco. She immediately gets to helping Raven deal with her growing powers. She is the calming influence that the rest of the team needs. Especially with the deal that Deathstroke has proposed, trading Jason for Rose. While the older team members debate handing Rose over, Gar, Rose, and Raven listen in. After listening to them debate handing her over to her homicidal father, Rose tries to escape. Eventually, it comes down to a showdown between Raven and Rose, and we get a look at just how powerful Raven is now, as well as a first look at Rose’s powers.

Back with Deathstroke and Jason, the show finally gives a better idea of what Deathstroke’s specific beef with the Titans is. It is hypocritical, which is kind of Deathstroke’s thing. He makes it seem as though Dick is the cause of his enmity, which is the opposite of what we just saw in “Aqualad,” where Deathstroke appeared on his own and started a fight with the Titans.

This episode did have the first instance of me actually liking Hawk. He is as abrasive as ever, but he has a moment of vulnerability that actually works to make the character endearing. As much as he didn’t seem to like him when he was around, he sees something of himself in Jason and can’t rest while Deathstroke has him. Dawn, though, continues to be confounding. A couple of episodes ago she was the one moonlighting in her costume, now she is determined that the Titans are done. She goes after Dick to shut the team down once they finish things off with Deathstroke.

Dick outlines a plan that, while not actually including Raven and Gar at least lets them know what is going on, before a swerve sets up Dick facing off with Deathstroke alone. It ends with a cliffhanger that calls back to Jason Todd’s death in the comics more than thirty years ago.

I love how this show gives its characters a chance to breath, instead of being all plot or action. The problem is that several of its characters are not particularly well drawn or interesting. Hank and Dawn are generally the worst. Donna is mostly a cipher. The show noticeably picks up when Starfire is around. There is chemistry between her and Dick, between her and Raven. Most of the younger characters are fine, though the show needs to give Gar something to do. With the addition of Rose and the next episode apparently introducing Conner Kent, maybe it is time for Hawk and Dove to get that retirement they seem to be looking for.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep4

Titans S2, Ep 4: “Aqualad”

Did I start this project with any idea that I would immediately fall a month behind? Actually yes, I kind of suspected this would happen. But I am committed to catching up and to sticking with it through the rest of the season.

Aqualad starts five years in the past with a proper introduction to Deathstroke as he commits a handful of murders. Because that is what Deathstroke does; kill people. It also introduces, but does not name or identify, Jericho.Then it switches to showing the original Titans in action as a team, with the five of them brutally taking out a trio of car jackers. Five original Titans, with the four we already know—Donna, Dick, Dawn, and Hank—as well as previously unseen (and maybe unmentioned) Garth, who is the Aqualad from the title. They return to the tower for what appears to be a birthday party for Garth.

The show kind of falls down in its portrayal of the relationship between Garth and Donna. Garth keeps pressuring her for a date, while Donna studiously avoids him. That is despite Dawn’s pushing her to him. It isn’t quite clear why Donna is not into Garth, but it doesn’t really matter. She makes it clear that she is not interested, and everyone is ignoring her wishes. It feels kind of gross, with them all pushing her to a relationship she clearly does not want. Now, it is possible she is supposed to appear more conflicted than she does. Donna is leaving for Themyscira soon and does not want to start something that will inevitably be forced to end. It works a little better as the episode goes on, but maybe it should have started with a scene of them actually connecting. It also feels as though there is some information that the show is still holding back. I feel like I’m all over the map here, but only because the show is all over the map. Despite the title of the episode, this episode is about Donna Troy. However, I came out of it feeling like I knew less about her character than when I went in. Without knowing what Donna actually wants, her actions in this episode are inexplicable.

The other big thread in the episode is a little more explanation of who exactly Dr. Light is. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot there. “Would your pedestal be so high without the insights from my spectacular failures?” he shouts at a contemptuous colleague. Dr. Light sucks, and everyone knows he sucks. The team takes him out with minimal effort.

Everything ends in tragedy when Deathstroke returns, setting up another flashback episode to tell the other half of this story. It also has Dick making a connection with Jericho, who is Deathstroke’s son, which seems to be part of his revenge plot.

I’m not sure how well this flashback episode works, because it leaves so many unanswered questions and killed the momentum the show had built up with last week’s episode. We still don’t know who hired Deathstroke, who he was actually hired to kill. We also don’t know what has set him coming after the team again in the present. “Aqualad” merely served to kind of focus the questions we should be asking about Deathstroke’s plot. It did give a bigger look at Donna than episode has yet, but I don’t think we actually learned anything about her. It kind of feels like a missed opportunity.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 3

Titans Season 2, Episode 3: “Ghosts”

This is the first episode that actually feels like business as usual for the team. After a pair of episodes devoted to closings and openings, this episode is about continuing. It would have worked so much better with that first episode as the finale, as it was clearly intended to be, but you can feel the momentum picking up with this episode, ending with an intriguing cliffhanger.

It picks up with the team dealing with the revelation that Rose’s father is Deathstroke. Then it immediately jumps to the other half of the team, Hawk, Dove, and Donna, showing up at Titans tower. Dick sends the kids off before discussing the current problem with Dr. Light with the old team. They decide they have to deal with their unfinished business and take him in. The team doesn’t react well to his revelations about Rose and Deathstroke. The reconstituted team goes after Dr. Light and kind of flubs the attempt. After Donna commits what was almost certainly a homicide with a motorcycle, Dr. Light escapes.

While the adults are trying to bring in Dr. Light, the kids are having troubles of their own. Raven is having trouble with her powers and Jason is a constant shit stirrer. The addition of Rose, another shit stirrer, really complicates things. Rose is a sympathetic figure, bonding with Rachel over their mutual terrible fathers. But she also can’t seem to help causing some dissension. Just a little time observing the team lets her find some weaknesses. That is not a good mix with Jason’s hatred of being sat at the kid’s table. When he and Gar find where Dr. Light is hiding, he can’t help but force the issue. It, of course, goes poorly.

The other big thread in the episode is the show finally really digging into who and what Starfire is. At the end of the last episode, she was kidnapped by another alien. Her, it is revealed that he is a member of the royal guard from her planet, her seeking a missing princess, who just so happens to be Kori. He is also something of an ex-boyfriend. Now Kori has to deal with her responsibilities at home and her desire to stay on Earth with her new friends. While the first season was all about her remembering who she was, this season is setting her up to decide who she is going to be.

One good thing about this episode is that it gets most of its characters in one place, and the show gives most of them some time to grow. Hawk and Dove continue to not really work. In this episode they frame their continual pull back to the team as addiction, which makes it clear what the right answer is, but if they are going to be on this show they are always going to be involved in superhero stuff. It is like the characters have already figured out the answer to their problems, but the show won’t let them solve the problem. Dick is dealing with some major guilt. The younger three are all trying to find their place, with Jason doing the most struggling against any perceived limits. Jason’s talk with Gar is particularly illuminating. He sees himself as wanted, which explains his general orneriness. He expects to be left behind or forgotten, so he forces everyone to notice him and leave him out.

Overall, Ghosts was a solid episode. The show appears to be finding a groove and appears to have a plan for its large and growing cast.

Better Off Ted

On the subject of TV shows tragically cancelled before their time, (of course we were on that subject, don’t be ridiculous) near the top of that list should be the duo of Better Off Ted and Andy Richter Controls the Universe, two shows created by Victor Fresco. Better Off Ted is amazing, feeling something like a cross between The Office and Arrested Development but with the wackiness turned up to eleven or a high class version of My Name is Earl. I am less sure about the quality of Andy Richter Controls the Universe, but only because I haven’t seen it since it aired. (if only it were on Netflix)My recollection and the word about the internet is that it is largely of the same quality as Better Off Ted. Maybe one day I’ll splurge on the DVD and find out. Better Off Ted, though, is unquestionably brilliant. It deftly combines heart and wit, with real characters in an unreal, or all too real, world.

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Better Off Ted is about Ted, who leads a research and development team at a giant corporation called Veridian Dynamics. His team consists of scientists, notably Phil and Lem, and product testers, Linda, and his boss, Veronica. The frighteningly truthful part of the show is the utter disdain Veridian shows for its employees and people in general. They are the epitome of the faceless monster corporation. They are constantly trying to find ways to get more from their employees while giving them less. The unreal side is development team, who are always at work on horrifying and impossible science experiments. The two elements combine for some hilarious and unusual scenarios.

I really can’t go on long enough about how great this show is. The central cast is perfect. All five are great. Ted is a great main character. He is much like Arrested Development’s Michael, a single father trying to wrangle a group of misfits and raise his child to do the right thing. He is different in that he is actually the good person Michael claims to be. Michael, while putting up a front as “the good guy,” is almost always willing to engage his family on their level. Ted general keeps to the straight and narrow, and when he does stray tends to come back of his own accord, not just from his failure. It wouldn’t be a comedy if he always lived up to his ideals, but Ted is at least shown to attempt to stick to them. Veronica, played by AD’s Portia de Rossi, is Ted’s cold, calculating boss. She doesn’t appear to care about anyone or anything, other than the company and her standing in it. While her character does soften in the second season, she never loses that edge. Linda is the weakest link, having not a lot to her character behind her like of Ted and her dislike of the company. Then there are Phil and Lem, a pair of essentially mad scientist who don’t realize that is what they are. Their experiments, hopeful products and general social ineptness drive a lot of the shows humor.

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It also has one of the most natural and entertaining love triangles seen in a sitcom, between Ted, Linda and Veronica. Linda and Veronica, as they relate to Ted, show his two loves: doing the right, moral thing and his work for the company. Ted loves his job, and wants to do well and be seen doing well at it. But he is also a good guy that cares about the moral ramifications of his work, if maybe not enough. Linda is all morality; she hates her job and actively, if in a tiny way, sabotages the company. Veronica cares for nothing but the job, any sort of moral concerns are all but nonexistent. It is not really a fair comparison; Linda is obviously the right choice for Ted. She brings out the best in him. But Ted brings out the best in Veronica, only he can get her to see the downside of the company’s amorality. The first few episodes set up a fine, if a bit too precious attraction between Ted and Linda. They both admittedly like each other, but are not comfortable with pursuing a relationship at work. This is further complicated by a relationship Ted had with Veronica. Ted and Linda flirt off and on, almost too much, and it feels natural. There is a palpable attraction there and in the first season things proceed smoothly, setting them up for a series long romance, though the series doesn’t last long enough for that to come to anything. However, in the second season Veronica makes her case. At the start of the show, she is completely cold and emotionless, more an antagonist than a part of the team. Her character is softened in the second season, and Ted’s attraction to her becomes more apparent and understandable. She is still cold and unfeeling, but she feels more a legitimate alternative to Linda for Ted’s affection. Most refreshingly, none of the characters ever really address it as any sort of love triangle, mostly because none of them are actually in a relationship. Ted gets along with both, and Linda and Veronica develop something of a friendship over the second season. Much of that is allowed by the softening of Veronica, who is show as less the instrument of the faceless company and more as another cog in its machinery. She is in a similar position to Ted, only few steps higher on the endless ladder.

I could go on longer about this show, especially about the complete sadness that is Phil and Lem, but the last part of the show that requires mentioning are the Veridian Dynamics interstitials, little scenes that are either Veridian commercials or employee training videos. They are uniformly hilarious, often ending with a great little sign-off statement, like “Diversity, good for us” and “Right and wrong, they mean something.” They are both funny and perfectly illustrate the complete evilness of the company, who cares only about money and how perception can cost or earn them money.

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Better Off Ted lasted two half seasons, for a total of 26 episodes. It was watched by no one apparently. I know I didn’t see it; I didn’t even know it existed until I looked up Andy Richter Controls the Universe, to see if it was available on DVD, and discovered that its creator had a second show that had been recently cancelled. Luckily, I found Better Off Ted on Netflix. It is there for anyone who wants to watch it. You should, if you like good television.

 

 

 

800 words

A Pleasant Stay in Pawnee

 

from wikipedia

from wikipedia

I’ve been shotgunning Parks and Recreation on Netflix recently. Most of it is new to me. Since the first season, I’ve only sporadically watched the show. Parks and Rec started when I was really into The Office (Season 2 of The Office is one of the best seasons a TV show has ever had) and the similarities on tone and format got me interested. However, that first season, not unlike The Office’s truncated first season, was kind of bad. The tone was all over the place, there was little rapport between the characters and it simply was that funny. They brought over the cringes from The Office but left out the laughs. When My Name is Earl got cancelled as the lead in to The Office, I felt fine ignoring the rest of the NBC Thursday night line up and just watching The Office. If I remembered it was on. That was an unfortunate decision, since that same fall Community got started.

I’ve caught episodes of Parks and Rec infrequently since then, generally finding them to be pleasant but lacking a little punch. Still, I found them enjoyable enough to put the show in my Netflix Instant Queue. (which isn’t called that anymore, but who cares) Now that I’ve finally grown tired of endlessly rewatching Always Sunny, Futurama and Psych, I started up Parks and Rec. The first season is still not very good. It manages to get the characters set up, but there really aren’t any stand out episodes. Season 2, though, leaps to consistently excellent heights and the show stays there pretty much constantly from then on.

At least parts of my sporadic impressions of the show were accurate. Yes, some of the individual episodes do lack a little punch, but the work a lot better when you have seen the surrounding episodes and a better idea of the running gags. That is true of any show, but Parks and Rec does a particularly excellent job of building a world for the show to inhabit. It is the other part of my impression that was most spot on. The show is pleasant. Parks and Rec is almost relentlessly pleasant. That is the shows defining characteristic, it’s almost absurd positivity. Despite facing nothing but personal and professional setbacks, the characters of this show always seem to be smiling. There are still the cringe inducing moments like The Office specialized in, but they are usually softened by some sweet moment only seconds later.

Leslie Knope, star of the show, embodies this positivity most of all. She works a job that grinds everyone else down. They grow frustrated in their inability to actually accomplish anything through the bureaucracy and give up to either find work in the private sector or go about their jobs without thought or enthusiasm. Leslie greets each hurdle in her path like a gift, champing at the bit to fight her way through some red tape despite know that on the other side is simply more red tape. She’s not stupid or unaware, she simply enjoys her work. It rubs off on the rest of the cast. Anne, Tom, Mark and occasionally even Ron get swept up in her enthusiasm at times.

Parks and Rec also manages to change its situations without affecting the premise. Character’s role change, but they find new ones, ones that just so happen to keep them with the Parks and Rec. April moves on from being an intern to being Ron’s assistant. Ann and Andy break up, but both of them are organically kept as part of the show. After the second season Mark leaves, but he is replaced by Ben and Chris, changing up some character dynamics but not fundamentally altering the show.

The most remarkable facet of the show is how well it portrays friendships. All the characters seem to genuinely like each other. Leslie and Ann have possibly the best realized female friendship I can remember seeing on TV. They are not unlike Scrubs’ Turk and JD, though with less sexual tension. Once their friendship is established, sometime in the second season, they are always shown to be true friends. They may have disagreements, but they never let it come between them. Then you have Ron Swanson. He is undoubtedly the best character on the show, and despite his gruff demeanor is shown to be a true and loyal friend to most of the rest of the cast. He and Leslie have a friendship that transcends their diametrically opposed political viewpoints, often going well out of their way to help each other. He tends to take the younger characters, April, Tom and Andy, under his wing in various fashions. He supports Tom’s efforts as an entrepreneur despite finding him ridiculous. He enjoys April’s surliness and appreciates Andy’s unthinking zest.

What is amazing is that a show that bases so much of its humor on its characters is how little comes from direct conflict between those characters. There is conflict between characters, both generally they are all working to the same goal. The humor comes from that fact that they work to that goal like a pack of cats tied to a dogsled, each one trying to go its own way and everyone getting nowhere. There is one big exception to this; April. While her bored cynicism is at least partly an obvious front, she is still fond of throwing a wrench in things just to watch them go wrong. She is the only character on the show that deliberately causes conflict.

Nothing describes Parks and Recreation was well as pleasant. It is a happy show about happy people who are just trying to help. At this point, I think it has surpassed The Office as the better show. Its heights aren’t quite as high, (Seriously, The Office Season 2 is so great) but it doesn’t have the lows of that show either. I actually hate to compare the shows at this point, because while the similarities in tone, style and subject early on made them seem like carbon copies, Parks and Rec has morphed into its own thing. It appears that Parks and Recreation will be coming to a close after its upcoming 7th season. Now that I am just about caught up I am sad, but not surprised. That is a good long time for a show to run, and better that it ends maybe a touch early that staying on too long and becoming a terrible shadow of itself. Or even worse, for the show to lose the pleasant nature that makes it so enjoyable to begin with.

Better off Ted is better than all of us

I spent the majority of last weekend watching Better Off Ted on Netflix and I feel terrible. Not because I wasted a whole weekend watching TV. I mean, I did do that, but I also did other things while watching it and most of my time is pretty much wasted to begin with anyway. I feel terrible because I bemoan the lack of quality television programs but then I find gems like this on Netflix that I never watched until after it was cancelled. After watching the 26 mostly brilliant episodes I think I might just be including Better Off Ted on my short list of favorite TV shows.

Better Off Ted is something like a crazier version of The Office. Both shows take jabs at corporate culture, though The Office is more focused on the soul crushing dullness of it while Ted is more about a cartoonish disregard for humanity. Better off Ted follows main character Ted, head of a research and development team for a giant corporation, as he corrals his team and tries to please his capricious bosses. His team is mostly a bunch of essentially mad scientists and an attractive product tester. The comedy comes from the problems his weirdo colleagues get into and the crazy orders Ted tries to deal with from above him. Immediately above him is Veronica, the epitome of corporate heartlessness. Also, Ted’s occasional lover.

What really works in this show is the main characters struggle to maintain his humanity and continue to do a job he genuinely loves. His struggle is the same as his attraction to both Veronica and Linda, the attractive product tester. Veronica is all about the job, and there is little personal connection in their relationship. Linda does the job because she must, but is all human rebellion. Ted wants to think that the humanity is more important to him, and as the show goes on I think he proves that it is, he still loves the job. So he flirts with Linda, even approaches as relationship at times, but he can’t let go of the job and he can’t let go of Veronica. This struggle is the moral center of the show, what is beneath the zany humor and crazy science stuff.

The creator of Better off Ted is Victor Fresco, who was also responsible for Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and similarly styled and similarly great show. He also wrote for My Name is Earl, another show I am a big fan of, though its last season wasn’t so good. Andy Richter Controls the Universe suffered a similar fate to Better off Ted, but at least that time I watched it when it was on. I completely missed Better off Ted. It kind of makes me hate humanity when garbage like Two and a Half Men runs forever despite never once being funny and great shows like Better off Ted struggle to get a second season. But I also wish that the advertising for TV shows did a better job conveying the show they are advertising. I missed BoT because I don’t tend to watch that much TV. I can’t watch every show to see if it’s for me, but some shows that I love disappear as soon as I find them.

Still, now I know about Better off Ted and I am glad to have watched it. I consider it a classic. Now I am going to try to find a DVD copy of Andy Richter Controls the Universe, because I didn’t realize that it had come out on DVD.