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The X-Files – Pusher (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Pusher is perhaps one of the most effective stand-alone “monster of the week” stories that the show ever did.

It is no wonder that the episode is frequently cited among the best episodes of The X-Files ever produced, but it is telling that it was identified by Slate as the perfect “gateway” episode of the show. If you want to give someone a taste of The X-Files without burdening them with continuity or back story, this is a good choice. It may not be the best episode that Vince Gilligan ever wrote, and it may not even be the best episode of the third season, but it is one the strongest demonstrations of what the show does on a weekly basis.

Mano a mano...

Mano a mano…

Pusher is the first episode that Vince Gilligan wrote after joining The X-Files writing staff. It is the only episode credited to Gilligan in the show’s third season. He had been offered a position on staff after turning in Soft Light at the end of the second season, but had hesitated before accepting the job. When he did accept the job, he came down with a dose of infectious mononucleosis. As a result, Gilligan only wrote one script for the third season, despite becoming one of the show’s most prolific writers.

Pusher is a pulpy delight, a spectacularly constructed standalone that perhaps points the way to Gilligan’s later work.

Gift of the gab...

Gift of the gab…

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The Flash – Plastique (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

Plastique demonstrates that we are still in the early days of The Flash as a television show. We are still working through all the stock elements and trying to figure out what works, while also using fairly stock plot lines to help the show find its feet. Going Rogue was a massive step forwards for the show, but Plastique can’t quite maintain the forward momentum. It feels more like The Fastest Man Alive or Some Things You Can’t Outrun, episodes using a fairly episodic format with generic guest stars and familiar plots to help get things moving.

Plastique is a nice demonstration of what works and what doesn’t work about The Flash at this stage in its life-cycle. It is light and bubbly, and more than a little silly. It is very consciously a CW show, to the point where it seems to wryly winking at the audience. It is also endearingly earnest, embracing a lot of its core superhero tropes even as the characters within the narrative remain reluctant to latch on to “the Flash” as a superhero code name. The Flash is a show that is unashamed about its comic book roots; Plastique even teases the appearance of a psychic gorilla.

Boom!

Boom!

However, there are problems. The ensemble is uneven at best. The stand-out performers – whether part of the main cast or simply guest stars – skew older. The younger actors tend to be a bit more hit-and-miss. It is more exciting to watch actors like Jesse Martin, Clancy Brown and Tom Cavanagh interact than to spend any time with Kelly Frye or Carlos Valdes. While a lot of that is down to the quality of the casting, the writing is also to blame. The Flash is at its best when it seems to treat characters as adults, rather than young people doing young people stuff.

Plastique is a solid enough episode, but it is one that demonstrates where the strengths and weakness of the show lie. The Flash needs to start compensating and adjusting for that.

A flash of inspiration...

A flash of inspiration…

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Non-Review Review: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Who would have thought that the writers’ strike last year would have been a blessing in disguise? Not only did the condensing down of seasons of House and Lost give the series a tighter narrative flow, but we also got the highest-profile “web original” series ever written. It may have been somewhat disingenous of Time to name this little musical masterpiece “one of the best inventions of 2008” – as there have been web-based series before – but what is astounding is how well this little drama stands on its own. Produced with a shoestring budget using favours called in from all over the industry as a means of artistic expression circumventing the studio system (which was being boycotted by the strike), Joss Whedon continues to demonstrate his cult credentials with another sure-fire geek hit.

The doctor will see you now...

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