The Thing About Gimmick Episodes

The Thing About Gimmick Episodes

pretty little liars noir episode

This past week Pretty Little Liars aired a black and white episode (“Shadow Play” 4×19), a homage to film noir, that I thought was equal parts amusing and frustrating. While the episode looked beautiful and thematically worked, I was slightly annoyed by the break in the season’s new found momentum. And I think that highlights a common issue with gimmick episodes, moving the story along needs to be of equal importance as the creation of the new world or new story structure that is being presented.

Gimmick episodes can be a fun break or departure from a television show’s existing world or structure. Hell, television may be one of the only storytelling formats that allows for such a diversion, but the fact remains that television series are meant to tell a story and its a bit of a disservice to fans to not follow through – even if there happens to be singing and dancing.

I mean that’s probably why these kind of episodes got shouldered with the term ‘gimmick’ in the first place. But not all of them are all pizazz and no substance. Just look at Dan Harmon’s Community or the works of Joss Whedon for further proof. From claymation to puppets to musicals to silence, these episodes were effectively used to shed new light on characters or to push a narrative along by eliminating obstacles or inhibitions.

Community Claymation Xmas

Community
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” 2×11

Buffy Hush Slideshow

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Hush” 4×10

buffy once more with feeling

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Once More With Feeling” 6×7

Angel smile time Puppet

Angel
“Smile Time” 5×14

And that’s not to say that Pretty Little Liars failed in those aspects, I just wish this episode aired at a different point in the season, because the last two episodes were finally hitting its rapid-fire WTF pacing that makes the show so much fun, and this one slowed things down considerably, albeit understandably since we were supposed to be inside of Spencer’s sleep deprived and Adderall fueled brain.

Interestingly enough it was the ABC Family who approached the showrunners with the idea to have Pretty Little Liars embrace it’s noir roots and go full on black-and-white. Typically that kind of request would be a hallmark sign for a gimmick episode – something shiny and new for the network to promote during sweeps months, similar to stunt casting. But I’ve got to give the showrunners credit for taking the opportunity to make like the classiest drug haze dream episode ever.

Although there was an ‘ah-ha’ mystery solving moment at the end of the episode, along with a present day reveal to the rest of the Liars that Aria and Ezra were back together, I thought the episode was actually most effective when it was focusing on the Emily and Paige relationship in the 1940s.

Despite the fact that the episode was initially told from Spencer’s point of view, “Shadow Play” really excelled when it switched perspectives to demonstrate that the fears and trepidations expressed by Emily and Paige are still common today. They might be out to their family and friends and live in a pretty protective and supportive circle, but they still have to, unfairly might I add, worry about how society as a whole views them and their relationship and for the show’s writers to make that one of the takeaways, well that’s a pretty good way for a gimmick episode to mean more.

paige and emily black and white

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In Honor of Galentine’s Day

In Honor of Galentine’s Day

Galentines Day Parks And Rec

If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you probably already know what Galentine’s Day is. Perhaps you’ve even marked February 13th on your calendar as an official holiday; but just in case you’re drawing a blank, here’s how it works:

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My Favorite Music Scenes From TV In 2013

My Favorite Music Scenes From TV In 2013

Parks And Rec Time after Time

In honor of the Grammy awards, I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite music-related scenes from the past season of television. Enjoy these memorable musical moments from 2013.

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Helix Brings Horror To TV

Helix Brings Horror To TV

SyFy Helix

Out of all of the genres that routinely cross between television and film, horror seems like one of the most under-served on the small screen, which is one of the reasons I’ve so quickly grown fond of SyFy’s new original series Helix.

Obviously there are other shows on TV that tap into the horror genre, like Hannibal and American Horror Story, but their visual stylization almost puts a shiny sheen on what was once terrifying. And that isn’t meant to be a criticism; both are quite effective at storytelling and for Hannibal it’s probably the only way they can get away with showing what they do on NBC.

That’s also not to say that Helix doesn’t look visually interesting, because it certainly makes good use of its secluded stark medical / research lab setting. However, the primary difference between Helix and its counterparts is that it utilizes a blend of science fiction and classic horror tropes to build suspense and provide some scares.

Isolation Ups The Ante

[The following contains mild spoilers for the first three episode.]

As I mentioned before, one of Helix’s strongest horror elements is its isolated arctic locale. Research medical labs aren’t typically known for their warm and fuzzy vibes, so when you pair that with a remote location, the stakes just get higher. They are literally alone once the helicopter flies away in the pilot.CDC Team Arrives Helix

Of course this isn’t the only form of isolation utilized in the series. Characters become further isolated, on purpose, as a way of trying to contain the virus. And let’s be honest, in a crowded room full of panicky and possibly infected people, you are the only one looking out for yourself.

But even beyond that, the CDC team is so small that they often have to split up to accomplish the various tasks at hand – whether it be working in the lab (lookout for those infected monkeys), looking for evidence in the mostly locked-down facility (lookout for infected people), or crawling through the air duct system (lookout for your infected brother).

And all of that alone time only feeds into the paranoia and unsettling fear that something is out there, which isn’t farfetched given that someone infected with the virus is almost always on the loose. Plus Dr. Hatake and his team have been less than forthcoming with what’s really going on further lending itself to the distrust and unease that’s only grown as the unknown virus continues to spread.

But these feelings aren’t just evoked via the plot, Helix incorporates camera angles that we all know so well from horror movies. You know the ones, the shot that trails behind a character as if they are being followed and the one that positions the character just a bit more towards the edge of the frame than normal, which only means one thing – look out behind you!

The sound editing has also been quite effective. If you’re anything like me, silence can be eerie in its own right and from what I can recall most of the audio is diegetic, or at least pretty subtle, with the exception of the title card sequence that is. So the hum and beeping of machines and the hissing from the air vents is all that exists when things are going well. And none of those noises are all that calming or reassuring. This of course makes the sound of someone crawling through the air vents or banging on a door all that more jarring.

Whether the series can sustain this form of suspense is something we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve long figured that horror doesn’t mix well with television because of its long form storytelling format. And while these horror elements initially grabbed my attention, I’d still like to see some more character development. Hopefully Helix will find a nice balance between the two in the coming weeks.

Helix airs on the SyFy channel Fridays at 10pm.

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TV Awards Shows, Events, & More This Winter/Spring

TV Awards Shows, Events, & More This Winter/Spring

– The 2014 Calendar For TV Addicts –

Jan.

19th-23rd

Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour

Jan.

12th

Golden Globe Awards (NBC 8pm)

Jan.

18th

Screen Actor Guild Awards (TBS & TNT 8pm)

Feb.

2nd

Super Bowl XLVIII (FOX)

Feb.

6th-23rd

The XXII Olympic Winter Games (NBC)

March

13th-28th

PaleyFest 2014

 

From award shows to big TV events, on and off the screen, here’s all the other things going on besides your regularly scheduled programming.

The Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour is already underway, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty more announcements to be made regarding your favorite networks, beloved TV shows, and future programming. All of the ‘big’ news will be covered by the major entertainment sites, but Deadline is a pretty good source for all of the nitty-gritty.

And if you aren’t a TV critic, but wish you could be there I recommend following these people on Twitter for the pseudo-front-row experience: Todd VanDerWerff from The AV Club, Daniel Fienberg from HitFix.com, Eric Goldman from IGN.com, and Eric Deggans from NPR.

This Sunday is The Golden Globe Awards, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will be hosting the shindig again. If that’s isn’t enough of a reason to tune in then I don’t know what is.

Less than a week later is the 20th Annual Screen Actor Guild Awards. It should be interesting to see if Breaking Bad can clean up for it’s final season.

In February the TV landscape switches gears and sports take center stage with The Super Bowl XLVIII and The Winter Olympics. For better or worse, the NBC family of channels (NBC, USA, NBC Sports, CNBC, and MSNBC) will once again be handling all of the coverage for the winter games and with a pretty sizable time zone difference between the US and Sochi it should be interesting to see if we get more or less live coverage. Watching tape-delayed events during prime time for the 2012 Summer Olympics was rather anti-climatic after the Internet spoiled almost all of the results.

The line-up for the 2014 PaleyFest was recently announced and its pretty sweet. Some of the highlights include Veronica Mars kicking things off just one day before it officially hits the big screen, a 10th anniversary Lost panel, and a farewell to How I Met Your Mother. New shows like Orange Is The New Black, Sleepy Hollow, and Masters of Sex will also being making their festival debut. The annual event is held in Los Angeles so I’ve never tried to go, but most panels are live streamed so fear-not non-California dwelling TV fans. The panels usually make their way to Hulu too, so there’s a few ways to enjoy the PaleyFest without the travel expenses.

Other things to look forward to in 2014 include upfronts, San Diego Comic Con, and the ATX Television Festival.

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Why Can’t I watch TV Online With Friends?

Why Can’t I watch TV Online With Friends?

I’m busy, my friends are busy (and some even live in different time zones), but we enjoy many of the same TV shows and it would be nice if we could occasionally watch them together, on our own time. However, if you aren’t watching TV live, it’s next to impossible to sync up online. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Wouldn’t it be nice if sites like Hulu or Netflix allowed you to invite friends to watch with you. Obviously your friend or friends would also need to be a user or have an account, but then ideally it would be as simple as sending them a link to the episode you intend to watch.

Then the ‘admin’ of the viewing party could handle hitting play or pause thereby creating a synchronous viewing experience. Also, a chat box would be part of the viewing interface so that you could, you know, chat while watching.

It could look something like this:

Hulu with Chat

So what do you think fellow TV fans? Would it be more fun to turn online viewing into a group thing? Does this already exist? If so, let me know.

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My TV-Related New Year’s Resolutions

My TV-Related New Year’s Resolutions

TV programing is pretty year round these days, so for the most part, the start of the new year isn’t any more special than say September or June. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t jump on the new year’s resolution bandwagon and relate it to TV.

So here’s my couch potato plans for 2014:

1. Marathon Battlestar Galactica

There are several concluded series on my perpetually growing ‘Must Watch List’, but this one is currently available in its entirety on Comcast OnDemand, so now seems like a good time to give it a try. Plus football season is winding down and with only four seasons I think I can squeeze it into my schedule during the long and boring winter months.

2. Watch More Imported TV

I enjoyed the BBC’s dark crime series Luther and I really love Canada’s sci-fi series Orphan Black, so I’d like to explore some more foreign TV shows… maybe Top of the Lake since it’s available on Netflix. Home-grown entertainment saturates the United States so it would be nice to try something from somewhere else every now and then, even if its just from our neighbors to the north.


3. Enjoy The More Obscure Winter Olympic Events

The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off on February 6th and while media coverage will no doubt focus on sports like ice skating and snowboarding, I’d also like to watch the events that don’t typically enjoy TV time like women’s ice hockey, curling, and bobsled. Some of the new events like luge team relay and women’s ski jump will no doubt be events that I also seek out.


4. Watch Amazon Originals

While it’s unrealistic to assume that entities like Hulu or Amazon will have the same success as Netflix when it comes to original programming, it’s also a bit unfair to simply write everyone else off. I enjoyed some of Amazon’s original comedy pilots so I might as well follow up on a few of them. Betas was ordered to series and the first three episodes are available for free. The others are accessible through Amazon Prime, which is where a free trial comes in handy.


5. Be More Selective

I watch a lot of TV, and not all of its even that good. In the last year or so I’ve been trying to be pickier about what I watch and for how long. I used to be a bitter-ender but that isn’t always a good trait (see: Charmed and Smallville), so while I’m not resolving to watch less TV, I am resolving to choose quality and entertainment value over quantity.

So what’s your TV-related new year’s resolutions? Any shows you look forward to or plan to watch in 2014?

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Card Games, Board Games, & Drinking Games From TV

Card Games, Board Games, & Drinking Games From TV

true american new girl

Whether you’re celebrating the Holidays, stuck indoors due to the unpleasant wintery weather, or are just looking for a new activity for you and your friends, here’s a couple of games to play, all of which were invented by some of your favorite TV shows.

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