What We’re Watching -10/5/2011
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
I always thought of Fast Times at Ridgemont High as being in a line of films examining the life of high schoolers. It started with American Graffiti for the fifties, Dazed and Confused for the seventies, and then Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the eighties. That descending order concept fit even more so in terms of quality, Fast Times at Ridgemont High being easily the weakest all around. I found it to be utterly ridiculous, and not in a funny way. To give it the feel of high school, they make everything as random as possible, but it seemed they were pushing so hard to make it random that their stories ended up being uninteresting. I was not expecting a great deal of depth, but I wanted something to latch on to. All the characters have their little side plots, which is all well and good, but nothing leads anywhere interesting. Sean Penn, who gets a lot of early notice for his work as the stoner Spicoli, isn’t really that funny. It is all in how Mr. Hand, his teacher, reacts to his antics, it is never Spicoli himself. Without Mr Hand, who I would say is the best part about the film, Spicoli is just the token stoner character. That is the problem with the rest of the cast. They are all token characters that are never really developed nor made interesting. Beyond that, the dialogue gives them nothing to work with. Scenes are intermixed with random nudity and foul language to make it seem edgy, but that is mainly distracting, trying to give us something when they see the story isn’t doing enough to keep interest. All together, a very disappointing experience.
I have been on a major TV binge the last couple of weeks, mainly playing catch up with the TV shows that have been praised forever that I never got to. The biggest of these is The Sopranos. It has taken me forever to get to this series, despite several people recommending it, including Netflix saying I will love it. I am only partway through the first season, but so far, I understand exactly what all the fuss is about.
We are given basic characteristics about the cast, and little by little different the show reveals aspects of the characters, the things they are worried about, the ethical dilemmas that are presented to them in each episode—and yet it seems consistent within them. They are just slowly fleshing it out. This was really exemplified in the episode “Hit.” Beforehand, we see that Christopher (Tony Soprano’s nephew) wants to be an up-and-comer; he’s desperate to be noticed as a gangster, yet he is a hothead and violent. Also, we get to see how much he loves his girlfriend, trying to help her get a career and being as honest as he can when he sees that things may not be going as well as she thinks. This gives a nice contrast to the character. This level of expression is shown universally with every lead character and some of the supporting cast.
Being a show about the mob, violence is, of course, a part of the storyline and, while graphic, it is never over the top and it plays within the story—it never is the story. The story is in the dialogue and the characters being introspective. Many of them feel isolated and are unable to express their true feelings fully. This is exemplified in Tony; he gets a lot off his chest at the therapist’s office but he can’t say all, because she would have to report him. He confides in his family but wants to protect them. With his mob friends he can talk business but cannot get into personal details because it makes him appear weak. This juggling act is on going with everyone and I can’t wait to see how the season ends and where the rest of the series goes from here.
This is a very basic sitcom. Whitney is funny at times, but so much of the humor comes from traditional sitcom jokes—her being in socially awkward situations. Then we get the kooky side characters: cynical single girl who badmouths relationships, the newly-dating girlfriend who is overly happy. Then there is Whitney’s boyfriend, who puts up with Whitney’s goofiness and is her straight man of sorts, to counter her line. The show has the feel of having to be so all encompassing that no risks are taken, and the jokes end up feeling old and stale with little hope for the characters to move beyond their predetermined roles.
So far they seem to be sticking to the basic formula. Zooey Deschanel plays the kooky, lovable dork moving in with three men. She has random one-liners that cause the guys to look exacerbated, but then they come to her defense. Also, this is looking a little too one-character centered. Jess is a fun enough character, but a little of her goes a long way. If we start to flesh out the roommates beyond the dumb one, the cynical one, and the sporty one, they may be able to give the whole group a more interesting dynamic, but it is looking like it is all Zooey and I do not think she is enough to carry an entire series.
Parks and Recreation
My favorite sitcom of not just last year, but in many years (thank you Entertainment Weekly for your great feature that brought this show to my attention). So far it is good, but I am still in a waiting mode. They have not been doing much yet; they are starting some new storylines and some rehashing of old concepts that are not as funny a second time around. I am still optimistic. The characters are still as fun as always and they have some new ideas for the season in terms of overall storylines and the dialogue is still funny and random in the way that has made the show great.
I have not gotten one hundred percent behind this show like so many others have, and usually watch it later on Hulu when it has stored up a few episodes, but so far this season is starting strong. They look to be trying to let the characters grow a bit; too much of last season was the characters going through the same lessons. They have added some new recurring characters, with John Goodman fitting right in in the season opener and having some of the best lines so far. There are even some advancing relationships that have the potential to be very interesting. It is still early in the season, but so far I am liking what I am seeing.