Welcome to this week's edition of Criticwire's TV roundup, in which we provide the latest feedback from members of the critic-verse on new episodes of the most relevant series unfolding at the moment.
First up: The uber-dramatic season two finale of "Girls," entitled "Together."
And while parts of the episode work brilliantly (particularly Hannah's), others suffer from a lack of time — both in a 30-minute episode and a 10-episode season. "Girls"
isn't exactly a comedy, nor a drama, and while a half-hour is often enough to properly contain and service all the stories, here I wanted certain scenes and stories to have more breathing room. And while I've enjoyed the experimentation of recent weeks (or even something earlier like the cocaine episode, which didn't feature a good chunk of the supporting cast), doing it that much in a season with only 10 episodes makes it tough to do ongoing character arcs.
This season of "Girls" had seen some radical highs and lows, from Marnie and Elijah's (Andrew Rannells) excruciating hookup and the demise of Jessa's marriage to Thomas-John (Chris O'Dowd) to the meandering episodes that took the show to Staten Island, upstate New York and a high-end Brooklyn brownstone. The marked difference between last week's extremely dark turn, in which every character embarked on an act of self-destruction, and the strenuous upturn of last night finale reveal a show in search of what's next. "Girls" is a show about being young and about the terrible and sometimes wonderful aspects of figuring things out for the first time and often failing at them. But that state of formlessness is also, in its nature, a fairly narrow one, as people slowly determine what they want and who they are and start moving in directions guided by those things.
I like the basic impulse, but I also don't know why the show couldn't have pushed Hannah's already existent anxiety to a darker, more self-defeating place. (As someone working on a book proposal, I know how she feels.) This just feels like a bridge too far in a lot of ways, and even if this has always been in the plans for Hannah, this reveal, it's always going to be difficult to defeat the notion that somebody in the writers' room one day just randomly pitched, "Hey, what if Hannah started manifesting OCD?" and everybody else thought it was a good idea, and nobody stopped to think if the proper groundwork had been laid for that to happen. And, honestly, the groundwork would have had to have been laid in season one. Grade: B+
On a note a tad -- just a tad! -- darker than Hannah's OCD issues, A&E's brand-new series "Bates Motel," about the best son a mother could have, premiered with "First You Dream, Then You Die."
Highmore really could pass for a young Perkins, but seeing Norman Bates with an
mp3 player just does not feel right. The character and locale are just so firmly in 1960,
any attempts to update them are jarring. Still, the interaction between Norman and
Norma plays well for fans of the franchise. Frankly, it is a little scary how easily we
accept Vera Farmiga as the mother of all manipulative mothers. It is hard to judge from
just the initial outing, but even some of the high school kids show potential to grow as
characters. Indeed, innocent young Norman Bates confronting "Twins Peaks"-style small
town mysteries is definitely a promising premise. However, it is hard to get around the
pilot's buzz-killing tonal shifts. Grade: B
Still, this horror show is rooted in human relations, not quantum physics. In the first hours, the creators demonstrate great pacing, doling out information steadily and
stealthily, complemented by a stark visual design that sets viewers on edge while drawing us into the town, the motel and the gnarly relationships. Purists may resist any attempt to reinterpret Hitchcock. But this "Bates Motel" is its own new endeavor.
On a cheerier note, Slant critic Daniel Goldberg shared his thoughts on the latest developments on "Parks And Recreation," in "Bailout." The following comments are Goldberg's notes on that specific episode. His larger take on season five of "Parks and Rec" can be found here.
While "Parks and Recreation" continues to deal mainly in memorable slogans that perfectly encapsulate character, "The Bailout" is a standout episode for a very different reason. Here, Jerry Gergich babbles incoherently, but only after offering pearls of wisdom about childrearing that are actually taken seriously for once. Ann and April continue their feud, but Ann -- not April -- is revealed to be the responsible party because her obsession with superficial conversation topics masks an inability to trust. In short, almost everyone gets to act a little out of character for a change, ratcheting up the psychological realism without sacrificing laughs. Grade: A-