4 Feb

TVEye for February 4: Community, Fringe, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Archer, Face Off, & Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Posted by Tony Nunes | Friday February 4, 2011 | TVEye

This week, Chevy Chase in an epic D&D battle, weaponized humans, sex-crazed Capuans,  animated Bluth parents, naked models, and the brief return of Qui-Gon.  I apologize for being a bit late this week on the TVEye, but I bring you some great episodes nonetheless. 

COMMUNITY (Ep. 39 “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”) This was the BEST episode of the series so far. Community is my favorite comedy show on television right now, with its nerd culture basis and roll-on-the-floor wit setting it apart from most everything else on TV. When I heard they were doing a Dungeons and Dragons inspired episode my heart leapt. I was not disappointed. Somehow the creators of the series made a LOTR style epic that was literally as scaled back as you can get. The whole episode existed with the core group of characters seated in their study room at Greendale Community College, much like every other episode. In editing, music and narration, they pulled off an adventure of the greatest comedic brilliance. A soft British-female voiceover sets the story by introducing Fat Neil, the player in a quest of Jeff Winger’s (Joel McHale) to redeem himself of the negativity he spouts. In an attempt to lift the alienated, constantly harassed Neil’s spirits, Winger and his crew of study buddy oddballs schedule an afternoon game of Neil’s favorite pastime, Dungeons and Dragons. Abed (Danny Pudi) acts as Dungeon Master, and plans out a detailed trip to the Caverns of Draconis. The single greatest moment of the episode was the hilarious Ken Jeong’s over-the-top Chang dressing in a white wig and black face, passing off the semi-racist move as him getting into character as a Dark Elf. Beheaded in mere moments of the game, an ominous score accompanies his slow motion walk out of the room. The villain of the episode was Chevy Chase’s lonely ignorant Pierce, who lorded himself over the group with his Saruman-like greed and power. All of this perfectly represented the absurdity of Dungeons and Dragons, a game where everything is talked out and made up as it goes along on its pointless quest. The single greatest bit of dialogue accentuates the pointlessness as the narrator describes the action; “And so it was that the group began to describe themselves walking, and as they described themselves walking so did Abed confirm they walked.” It’s hard to sell the comedy in a brief write-up, so if you get a chance, log onto Hulu and check it out for yourself. You’ll be instantly converted to the Community school of comedy, and if you were once a D&D nerd like myself, you will have more than a few moments of laughing shame.

FRINGE (Ep. 54 “Reciprocity”) Peter Bishop has been weaponized. In an episode that in parts vaguely reminded me of the film Contact, Peter visit’s the constructed Doomsday machine in a secure Massive Dynamics lab, triggering it with his mere presence. What reminded me of the Jodie Foster film Contact was the machine itself, an alien (other universe) blueprint constructed by man in the prime universe without knowledge of what it does. The danger of this blind act of faith is not lost on Peter, who goes around finding and killing the shapeshifters he’s discovered have been hiding in his midst. Seeing the machine almost entirely constructed means that by seasons end, we’ll probably see it in action, thus answering many questions without leaving us hanging in Lost-like territory. This is why I love Fringe. The story is moving along at a fantastic pace. Because of the staggering amount of episodes per season, sometimes they have to slow that pace down by entertaining the occasional episode where Peter, Olivia, and Walter focus on one episode long case that in some way or another plays into the greater story. It works. What I love even more is the massive production value blended into every scene of every episode. Instead of using cheap CGI effects, they actually built an enormous full-scale model of the doomsday machine. This show must cost loads to produce, and with the recent move to the dreaded Friday spot I feared the worst. Luckily, ratings are up quite a bit at the Friday spot, and hopefully, Fox continues to give Fringe the chance it deserves to keep telling its story of two-worlds. I’m very much looking forward to the next couple months of new episodes all aiming at that one big moment you know is coming. What that moment will be, I have not a clue, but you best believe I’ll be watching.

SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA (Ep. 2 “Missio”) Not to sound like a broken record week to week, but to my surprise, I really dig this show. It has its problems, but they’re forgivable, because honestly, this show knows what its here for, and that’s to fuel the fires of our violence, sex-obsessed culture by feeding it with some of the most gratuitous examples on TV. It’s lovely, raw, and raucous fun. I do have my little nitpicking complaints however. Last week I complained about the over-stylized fighting effects, and this week, it was the language that irked me. The rich old-English dialogue, almost Shakespearian in tone, just doesn’t work when you have royals and peasants speaking in the same prose. I will say however, that some of the old-world dialogue really makes me belt out a hearty laugh, not at its cheesiness, but more for its edge. The line of the week would have to be; “you counsel to suck the cock that pisses on me?” Just really filthy language that can’t be fluffed by jaunty utterance. Gods of the Arena is such an unapologetic spectacle that its hard not to fall for its charms. Gladiators are in fact slaves of their Lanistas. Lanistas are like ancient sports agents, only they literally own their work. The struggle between Lanista and Gladiator makes for some compelling storytelling. The most notable of these struggles comes between Lanista Batiatus and prized fighter of the arena, Gannicus. With a crisis of identity and place in the world of Capua, Gannicus grapples with the contradictions of being a beloved champion by day who must answer to his master and sleep in a cell by night. Gods of the Arena is a just a small mini-series meant to pass the time until Starz continues production on the series for which it is a prequel, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I believe the run will only last six episodes, but if the ratings keep up as they have been, I don’t doubt it will become a full time series as well.

ARCHER (Ep. 12 “A Going Concern”) H. Jon Benjamin. I talked about him on TVEye a couple of weeks back and I’m here to sing his praises yet again. He’s the voice talent of Bob from the new and hilarious Bob’s Burgers, as well as the voice of Coach McGuirk on the Adult Swim classic Home Movies. He’s also the voice of Sterling Malory Archer, the debonair secret agent on the FX animated series Archer. If you haven’t heard of Archer, I implore you to seek it out. Created by Adam Reed, known for the Adult Swim series Sealab 2021, Reed brings a similar animation style to Archer. Season two began last week, and continues telling the story of ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service), an organization headed by Archer’s horny old mother Malory Archer. Malory is played by Jessica Walter, best known for her role as Lucille Bluth on one of my favorite shows of all time, Arrested Development. Ironically, Jeffrey Tambor who played Lucille’s husband on Arrested Development plays the voice of Len Trexler on Archer. In this weeks episode, Trexler, the head of rival spy agency ODIN, seeks Malory’s hand in marriage as well as the holdings of the ISIS agency. Sterling will have none of it, and employs the work of his ISIS counterparts to bring Trexler down in a Clockwork Orange like mind control experiment. Sterling Archer is a cross between James Bond and Don Draper from Mad Men. Always with a drink in hand, the highly incompetent Archer beams with sophomoric irony and wit as dry as the drink in said hand. it’s the voice of H. Jon Benjamin that really sells me thou. That voice, the same for every character he plays, is so rich and characteristic, however somehow works differently for each of the personas he’s played. I’m looking forward to the sketch comedy show Benjamin has coming out on Comedy Central this summer, Jon Benjamin Has a Van. Until then, I’ll be enjoying both Archer and Bob’s Burger’s.

FACE OFF (Ep. 2 “Naked Ambition”) A reality show about budding movie makeup artists facing off against one another, get it? Face Off? Clever title for a show that plays off of the familiar Project Runway model of reality competition TV. This is not a criticism however, as I consider Project Runway (yes I watch, no I’m not ashamed) a fresh departure from the over-produced drama on similar competition shows like Scream Queens, or Next Top Model. This is a show about artists competing for their art, with little drama, and most of the focus on the craft itself. Don’t get me wrong, there is some ego, but how could there not be on a show about competing artisans. Face Off is a really cool concept, and a well produced show adding to the growing catalog of decent shows the Syfy channel has been putting out as of late. Each episode consists of a “foundation challenge” to introduce the artists to the craft of the week and a “spotlight challenge” for them to showcase the craft. This weeks episode had the artists dwelling in body painting, with a “foundation challenge” of self applying a tattoo onto themselves. Not an easy feat, considering that to draw a tattoo onto oneself requires applying it backwards and upside down to compensate for the mirror effect. Contestant Tate stood out here, drawing a pretty awesome cow skull tat onto his forearm. The “spotlight challenge” had the contestants incorporate nude models into a background mural. Some of the artists showed real creativity here, with contestant Anthony winning the challenge by blending his model into a mural of charred bark. The loser of the challenge, Sergio, barely painted anything onto his model at all. I missed the first episode of the series, and can’t say I was totally blown away by the body painting challenge here. Next week however, and the weeks to come look like they will really challenge the artists with some good old fashioned blood, guts, and sci-fi prosthetics work. Now that I’m looking forward to seeing.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Ep. 59 “Overlords”) Just a short word on last Fridays episode to prepare people for tonight’s. The mature reinvention of the series continued with “Overlords,” an episode that pitted Anakin against the dark and light sides of a mysterious planet that worked much like the monolith from 2001. Liam Neeson returned briefly to voice a reincarnation of his Qui-Gon Jinnn character, while Anakin’s apprentice Ahsoka struggled with going over to the Dark side of the Sith herself. Part two of the episode airs tonight, and the events that push Anakin further towards the Dark will be revealed.

Until Next Week!

3 Comments 

  1. February 5, 2011 9:04 am

    Bryan White

    I totally need to start watching Community.

  2. February 5, 2011 10:29 am

    Tony Nunes

    Do it, you won’t be sorry. I think of it as a modern US hybrid steeped in nerd culture ala Edgar Wright’s Spaced combined with the youthful absurdity of early Scrubs.

  3. February 6, 2011 9:24 pm

    Troy Z

    If you can track down the Paintball and Zombie episodes of Community, it’s a good introduction to the potential insanity of the show. That’s a compliment.


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