Sunday, May 1, 2011

Person of Consequence Reviews Stuff

Specifically, I will be looking at Episode 6.22 of The Office, "Goodbye, Michael"; Episode 5. 21 of 30 Rock, "Everything Sunny All the Time Always"; Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, a book by Robert Charles Wilson; and the Marvel-published miniseries Osborn: Evil Incarcerated, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Emma Rios. Some spoilers concerning plot will be brought up, though I'll be very general on the 30 Rock episode on account of Rule 17. (Rule 17: If roommates with poor priorities haven't seen it yet, try not to spoil things.) But there will be spoilers a plenty, so... yeah. I'll try to keep the length of the reviews short; Lord knows I've done enough review essays for a while.

The Office: Goodbye, Michael. This episode is, as the title suggests, the last episode featuring the Michael Scott character, played for the past six years by Steve Carell. The plot is that it's Michael's second last day of work--only it's secretly his last day of work, and he's lied to everyone so he can do a series of quiet good-byes rather than a big mass party. I like the idea, because it shows has the character has, if even minimally, grown: there's still a whiff of the "this is a bad idea" in Michael ending his tenure as boss by lying to his staff, but passing up the opportunity to do have a big party centering around him is something that would never have happened in the early seasons. And while all the goodbyes are reasonably well-done, it's Michael's goodbyes with the main four characters (Andy, Dwight, Jim, and Pam) that really stand out. The Andy goodbye starts the episode's subplot (more on that later). The goodbye with Dwight decisively ends the animosity that's been building between the two characters in a way that plays both to the serious (Michael writes Dwight a glowing letter of recommendation) and the ridiculous (2 pm: parking lot. Paintball). The goodbye with Jim--with Jim catching on that it's Michael's last day--is also well done, with John Krasinki playing the scene in such a manner that the normally smug and sarcastic character gets a moment of real emotional honesty.

I've heard some dissenting opinions on the Pam farewell. The backplot here is that Pam was out running errands when Michael was trying to say goodbye to her, and that he couldn't push it further without revealing his departure. So he leaves without a goodbye. She shows up at the airport, and they embrace--but Michael's already removed his speaker (paying nominal homage to the documentary nature of the show), so we don't get to hear what they say, and we only watch from a distance. Some people have felt cheated by not hearing the exchange, but I thought it was perfect--it demonstrated that the characters have a friendship beyond the scope of our observation, and really spoke to the intensity of that bond.

The B plot is that Michael, as a going-away gift, gives Andy his contact list. Nervous that he'll screw things up, Andy takes DeAngelo, their new boss (played by Will Farrell), to the first meeting with him. DeAngelo, however, screws things up himself, and Andy has to compensate for his behavior. I think this is a sign for future episodes. Since DeAngelo is an interim character, the show is free to play up the "bad boss" element in a way they haven't been able to do with Michael for a while, because they made the character too sympathetic. So it should make an interesting end for the last three episodes or so of the season. And in case it wasn't clear, I enjoyed this episode. I found it emotionally engaging, and given my personal state at the time (we had just gotten home at 3 am and I was feeling the aftereffects of a night of heavy... um... "spirited discourse"), it's a testament to the show that I could find it so gripping. It's been a rocky show of late, but this was a good one.

30 Rock: Everything Sunny All the Time Always. While the Office was somewhat melancholy, 30 Rock was outright dark. Really dark. The "C" plot was typical enough; Kenneth, Grizz and Dot Com had started an in-joke while Tracy was away, and, being a self-centered egomaniac, Tracy forces them to re-enact it. But the Liz and Jack subplots are... disturbing. In both cases, they choose to take charge of their lives--Liz by cleaning up her loft apartment, Jack by taking control of an international situation. And both fail. Miserably. Now, I can understand trying to send the message that it's healthier to accept that some things are out of our control. But the actual message the show sends is that you can't control ANYTHING, be it something small (as in Liz's case) or something desperately, personally important (as in Jack's). It's a message that's especially annoying given that (a) it's potentially a very cheap solution to a casting problem and (b) it's a fictional show, so the characters' control or lack thereof is dictated by the writers, not by some invisible hand of fate. I'm cautiously okay with it, provided they deal with the fallout appropriately in future episodes. Also: the episode stars Condaleeza Rice, furthering a running joke from the first season where Jack claimed to be secretly dating her. So, you know, must-see TV for Rice fans.

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson.
This book was an odd duck. The plot is that during the second half of the 21st century, oil depletion, famine, global warming, and a few other global evils struck the human race, and by the 22nd century, North America is slowly crawling its way back to civilization, with a new focus on class-based slavery and oppressive theocracy. The book itself is a narrative account of the life of Julian Comstock, as told by his life-long friend Adam Hazzard. Adam makes a rather odd narrator, as his naivete and slight prudishness can be rather off-putting. Viewed in the best possible light, the book is an examination of what America stands for, with a strong stance on logical thinking and progressive social reform over religious domination and oligarchical tendencies.

In the worst light, it feels very similar to the genre Hazzard professes to love: the American boy adventure story. It feels like Wilson is attempting to incorporate that similarity into his overall perspective on all things Americana, but the story doesn't quite reach that level. Every now and then, it drops a hint about its social world that reads as very interesting--such as Aristocratic ladies deliberately showing their vaccination scars as an indication of upper class fashion statements--but more often, it's marked by predictable plotting and nonsensical actions (especially by Julian, in the final act). I think the problem is with the book's length. It was originally a chapbook expanded into a full novel, and at just under 700 pages, the narrative just isn't up to the task.

Osborn: Evil Incarcerated by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios.
I wasn't familiar with DeConnick's work before this miniseries, but I am now. The plot: After the events of Seige, Norman Osborn has been seized by government forces and secretly held in a facility designed to detain the criminals so dangerous that the US gov't doesn't want to risk giving them their day in court. Over the course of the miniseries, Osborne masterminds a jailbreak, makes some new supervillain friends, and generally manipulates the hell out of a lot of people. In terms of the overall series, it felt slightly stretched at five issues, and I'm not sure what, if anything, the overall point is supposed to be. On the one hand, it's easy enough to see an analogy between the secret prison and Guantanamo, which makes the moral that secret violations of civic rights create more problems than they prevent. On the other hand, since Osborn seems to want his day in court, there is arguably a good reason for not granting it to him. It's okay for a comic book to be ambiguous (in fact, it's usually a step up over the black-and-white morality the superhero genre often effaces), but I wish it could be a little more clear.

But honestly, that's a secondary concern. Any weakness in plot is more than compensated by the excellently written dialogue and the absolutely perfect characterizations of a very nasty bunch of characters. And Rios' art supports these efforts--she conveys the physical menace of some very monstrous characters, but still manages to make Osborn seem at once more menacing and still appear as a stern, intellectual father-figure. Bottom line: if you enjoyed Paul Cornell's recent take on Lex Luthor in Action Comics, this mini-series is an equally excellent psychological study of the mind of a supervillain. (Or to put it another way: it's not the raving lunacy or mad vamping of Warren Ellis' Norman Osborn, but it's every bit as compelling and evil.)

That's the reviews. If you have further comments, well, post a comment. If you want more short reviews, put a comment on that as well. If you liked the long form better (they work as great sleep aids), comment on that. Comment.

Later Days.


Bill Strang said...

the no mic thing comes from the British 'Office'.

Except it's between Tim and Dawn. you seen it?

Person of Consequence said...

If the idea comes from the original series, I'm surprised it took this long for the American version to use it; they haven't exactly been "restrained" in their use before.

No, I haven't seen any of the British Office. I tried, but I couldn't get past the first episode--it felt too much like what I've already seen. I know that's because the British one did it first, but it still doesn't make for very exciting viewing.