Where Chuck Season Five Went Wrong

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*Spoiler Alert*

Sorry to be late to the review party but at the end of season four of Chuck when Morgan said, “guys, I know Kung Fu”… I was out.  However times goes by, I bought a roku box and streamed season five over the past few days.

I really enjoyed the first fours seasons and had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua Gomez (Morgan Grimes) and Vik Sahay (Lester Patel) on my show Filmnut.

The formula on the Chuck where geek turned hero, gets the girl, plus campy humor, and enough action to boot, was great.  Throw in some fabulous recurring guest stars like Scott Bakula and Linda Hamilton and Chuck was rocking.  (At least among its loyal fans.)

The season five arc with Morgan having the intersect turned out okay.  Gomez is a funny dude, with great comedic timing.  Didn’t have a problem with it.

Bottom line on season five is the creators failed to realize two key points about what draws fans to shows like Chuck:

chuckkickThe first is the superhero element.  As fun as it might be to watch Alfred troll around as Batman for a little while, or Mary Jane Watson to have Spiderman’s power, we the audience want to see Bruce Wayne be Batman and Peter Parker as Spiderman.  To watch our heroes adapt to being “normal” can be a good brief aside so long as we get to see them return to their badass self.

Yes Chuck (Zachary Levi) gets the intersect back in the final episode but that was too little too late.

chuck-sarahThe second is the relationship between geek/ nerd turned hero, and the girl he could never get.  In this case Chuck and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski).  By giving them a less than a ride off into the sunset ending, it leaves the audience feeling a little empty, a little less complete.  By robbing Sarah of her memories, you kind of rob the audience of them too.

The season five ending would have been far better if it was in fact a season ending episode and not a series ending episode.

Chuck wasn’t an independent film with a dark point to make.  It was a light show with no plausible reason to go in the direction it did.  I think sometimes in series finales, (talking in general here) creators try to get too creative, not be predictable, or are just too stubborn to give the audience what it wants.

Predictable can be very good if it is well executed and you care about the characters.  No need to be different just for the sake of being different.

The season also had too many villains, and too many times where first Chuck, then Sarah, then Chuck, then Sarah, commenting on how they didn’t want to be spies anymore.  Okay I get it.  Daniel Shaw, (Brandon Routh) was a great villain, I would have preferred him to be involved in the last few episodes (if not the whole season) rather than the middle.

Small item, why did Quinn (Angus Macfadyen) wait and not put on the intersect glasses sooner???

Why did Chuck get the glasses/ intersect back just to open a box?  This was the best version of the intersect.

  • A- we should have seen him do some stunts with it that we hadn’t seen before.  Or something 3.0ish.
  • B- with the last scene on the beach, he could have said something like, “I wish I could give you your memories back Sarah”, and then flashed, showing images of the brain, etc..

That ending would imply that with the new intersect he could have done it. And the audience could have smiled and let out a sigh of relief.

I did dig the Jeffster.  I though Jeff (Scott Krinsky) becoming intelligent once he stopped breathing in exhaust fumes and Lester’s response was great.

The comedic subplots throughout this season and the run of the show were often entertaining.  As much as I wanted to go back to the action, I usually found myself shaking my head and smiling or laughing at the lovable losers.

Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) were integrated well in season five, though given the history of the show, I find it hard to believe they would leave Chuck and move to Chicago.

Acting wise, I thought the entire cast did a great job and wish them well in their future efforts.

In a parallel universe, I see a different storyline where Chuck and Sarah stop Shaw and moving into their dream house at the end of the finale.  And I see a wedding with Morgan and Alex (Mekenna Melvin), with Casey (Adam Baldwin) sitting arm and arm with Gertrude (Carrie-Anne Moss). Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) is doing the marrying, of course Chuck is the Best Man, and the Jeffster is providing the music.

Why ABC’s Shark Tank Should Sink

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Shark Tank is a reality show where people with ideas, inventions and business’ can pitch five successful venture capitalists, (Sharks).  They pitch what they’re doing and then ask for money and or partnership to help take the next steps.  In return they offer a percentage of their business to the Sharks. Billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is one of the five potential investors.

I’m usually not a big fan of reality TV shows, but I did get sucked in and enjoyed watching this one.  In part because I like shows that give talented people an opportunity they might not get otherwise.  Further, truth be told, I’m always coming up with ideas myself so I wanted to get to know the show,  the Sharks, and apply when the time was right.

In researching Shark Tank, I discovered something I find deplorable.  Just for appearing on the show whether one of the show’s Sharks like or make an offer or not, the show’s production company, has the option to either receive a 2 percent royalty on the operating profits of the contestant’s business or take a 5 percent equity stake.  Are you kidding me???  If I were to ever apply to be on the show I would certainly consult with an attorney to find out if this is legally enforceable.

I find this exploitative with a capital E… I’m sure the rationale is just by being on the show, a person’s product or idea is getting good exposure/ publicity.  But what if the Sharks all slam the business idea and make the person / idea look foolish?  And then the person builds the business in spite of being on the show?

But forget that for a moment.  Let’s say, the PR is great but for whatever reason a deal isn’t offered or made.  (Or a deal is verbally agreed to but later falls through, which is also in the fine print.) It’s still wrong for the show’s production company to do this.  Need some comparable examples?

Does American Idol, The Voice, The Last Comic Standing, The Apprentice or any other competition/reality show, take a percentage of future earnings that losing talent may not have earned unless they got the exposure on the show?  A singer’s voice is no more his or her business than an entrepreneur’s business or idea.  Why take from one and not the other?  Or better yet, you don’t take from one and shouldn’t take from the other.

While we’re at it, why not charge actors a percentage of their future revenue when they appear for the first time on a scripted TV show?  After all it might benefit their career going forward.  I thought college basketball and football players were exploited for not being paid to play.  They’re getting off easy.  If the Shark Tank producers were running the NCAA the players might have to give away a percentage of their future earnings as professionals.

Shark1The Producers, Mark Burnett, (executive producer of Shark Tank and The Voice) Sony, ABC and the Sharks, benefit and are making big money by having these budding entrepreneurs on their show.  In fact they need them, and there wouldn’t be a show without them.  That should be enough.  Just because the supply exceeds the demand (meaning lots of people would like to appear on Shark Tank), doesn’t lesson the value that the participants contribute.  Nor does it justify the exploitation.  They’re auditioning and getting on, based on the strength of their idea, to the same degree that singers get on The Voice, or newbie actors get a few lines on Mad Men based on their talent.  And believe me I know plenty of actors who would pay money to get their first role on a major, or for that matter, minor show.  Doesn’t make it right.  And it reminds me why unions exist.

Overall, I like all of the Sharks and think they do a great job, even Mr. Wonderful.  I appreciate the opportunities the show offers but I will no longer watch until this wrong is corrected.  If you agree, do the same and spread the word.

What I Didn’t Like About Season 7 of Dexter

In July of 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the executive producers of Showtime’s Dexter, Tim Schlattmann (http://www.thestream.tv/watch.php?v=2240).  Among other topics we talked about was the idea of Dexter being a serial killer versus a vigilante.  Of him being a sociopath versus suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Prior to Tim being booked on my show I had never seen Dexter (it has since become my favorite) but by the time of the interview I had seen enough to be convinced Dexter suffered from PTSD, and that he had and was capable of more feelings and good than he gave himself credit for.  My “diagnosis” seemed to be confirmed through the seasons, as Dexter continued to search and learn more about himself.  Expressing feelings and actions of loyalty, protection, care, guilt and regret, for those he cared for are not characteristics of a socio, or psychopath.  Even in this past season, Harry (Dexter’s delusional version of him) informs him that “the dark passenger” wasn’t real, rather just a coping mechanism, which enabled him to deal with the trauma of watching his mother get murdered with a chainsaw.

After watching the season seven finale of Dexter, I looked up a couple of old interviews with series stars Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and Jennifer Carpenter (Deb).  Both talked about one of the initial challenges of the show being to make a serial killer likeable and someone you would root for.  For six seasons they overwhelmingly succeeded.  For me, in season seven they did not.

The formula had always been simple.  Part one was to give Dexter a moral code where he only kills clearly defined, detestable killers, with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  The code, which tells him how to live, survive and who to kill, while not flawlessly executed, is admirable given who he is and where he comes from.  Prior to season seven I can think of three instances where he deviated:

-He made an honest mistake and killed someone he thought was a killer but wasn’t.

-Grief stricken, and without planning, he killed a piece of white trash in a bathroom.

-Perhaps the most egregious was in season two, when he kidnapped Sgt. Doakes.

While he technically didn’t kill Doakes, (his psycho ex girlfriend Lila took care of that) he was prepared to frame him for all of his murders.

Side note:  How could Deb not ask Dexter about Doakes’ death?  And framing him???  Doakes was her friend and partner?  I’m guessing the writers couldn’t agree on something so they chose to ignore it, but it could have been easily handled.

Part two of making Dexter likable was to have him do good deeds for all of the people in his life.  Dexter convinced himself that any good he ever did was pretending, so that he could fit in.  Over the years, he thought he was fooling others with this persona.  I thought he was fooling himself.  His instinctual protection of Rita from her ex, or Astor’s friend from her abusive father wasn’t faked.  There really is good in Dexter.  His actions may have been phony at first as he tries to fit in, but as he actualizes and grows, sometimes with childlike innocence, they became real.

So with great writing and acting, it became easy to root for Dexter to kill these bad guys and to find his way.

It is interesting to compare Doakes and LaGuerta discovering Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher and how Dexter handled it.  With Doakes there was a massive internal struggle. Should I kill him?  Let him go or frame him?  There was acknowledgment that Doakes was just doing his job, he did not fit the code nor was he the enemy.  Dexter’s demons were.

With LaGuerta there was little to no struggle, mere preservation, defensiveness and yelling at Harry.  A better choice would have been a struggle to surrender versus eliminating LaGuerta for Deb’s sake.  Deb had been dragged in and was now vulnerable to being arrested as an accomplice.  It would have been nice to see him reach the conclusion that surrender was the way to go only to change his mind as the realization that in addition to the psychological damage he already inflicted upon Deb, he could now be ruining her career and be responsible for her going to prison.

In previous seasons Dex was a somewhat self-aware “monster” struggling to manage the needs of his dark passenger with the rest of his life.  His constant inner dialogue led me to believe that in some ways he was more self-aware of who he was, his social challenges and the masks that he and most of us wear.  (Thankfully we’re not all holding back our inner serial killer, but we do present a false self from time to time and are not always consciously aware of it.  Dexter brings this to light.)

However, when confronted by Deb after she discovered his secret, Dexter employed typical justifications and defenses for who and what he is.  The self-awareness disappeared.  His protectiveness of Deb, for the most part, was replaced with self-preservation.  With little resistance, he allows Deb to jeopardize her own life and career to help him.  He watches her emotionally spiral downward and become addicted to xanax.

Deb is a very likable and sympathetic character who has always teetered on the emotional edge.  Watching Dex push her over was not enjoyable and takes away from his liability.

Instead of doing things to help “good” people, as in prior seasons, he was hooked on helping another serial killer, Hannah, that I couldn’t get that excited about.  The problem with the Hannah character (played wonderfully by Chuck alumni Yvonne Strahovski) was that she was not as dislikable as villains of prior seasons.  Most of her victims, while not quite up to Harry’s code, were still despicable.  Obviously killing Sal Price and messing with Deb was crossing the line.  But then you realize that that is no different then what Dexter did to Hannah’s father, Doakes, and was prepared to do to LaGuerta.

Seeing Dexter with Hannah was not like seeing him happy with Rita, Lumen, or even Lila before she went nuts.  It was emotionally confusing, not really liking or disliking it.

The ending also doesn’t work.  At the point in which Dexter drops his knife and raises his hands in a sign of giving up, it no longer made sense for LaGuerta to be calling for Deb to “put him down”.  Rather, she should have called for Deb to cuff him.  If they wanted the ending to play out the same way, they could have had Dexter say or gesture that he would have killed himself versus going to prison, thus forcing Deb’s hand to make the choice she did.

However, I could have done without this storyline completely.  Season seven had more than enough material to mine without this.  The show could have:

-Delved deeper into Deb trying to rehab Dexter while simultaneously having Dexter trying to get Deb to see how some evil really does fall through the cracks.  I feel like the season abandoned these story lines too quickly.  Rather than killing LaGuerta, Deb could have crossed the line by killing a villain.

-Made Hannah more of a Poison Ivy type villain (from Batman) that better hid this side from Dexter, only to be discovered much later on.  Their love could have been stronger and Dexter’s choice to turn on her more difficult and gut wrenching.

-A better confrontation with Isaac.  Two points here:  Isaac demonstrated enough badass skills of his own to present a major challenge of getting him on Dexter’s table.  And once Isaac was let go from the mob, there was no reason for Dex to be scared of him.  They still could have had their meaningful chat the old fashioned way, with Isaac on the table in the kill room!

-Have Dexter be less defensive, show more awareness and contrition over what he was doing to Deb.  Ultimately his actions could have played out the same but we needed to see the awareness and more struggle.  It’s part of what makes Dexter likable.

With the storyline as it was, with LaGuerta discovering the truth, I would have preferred a surprise ending where Captain Matthews shows up at the container and kills LaGuerta.  With the storyline being that Matthews knew about Dexter from the beginning and that he helped Harry (Dexter’s foster father) devise and execute the plan of Dexter becoming who he is, and that he promised Harry he would always look after him from a distance.

Further, bringing back Doakes via flashback (which didn’t added much) would have been better utilized if it was LaGuerta who started having the flashbacks.  The blood slide she found could have been the trigger.  The flashbacks could have informed her investigation as opposed to the boating record evidence that presumably special agent Lundy would have uncovered during the original investigation.

Having said that.  I still enjoyed the season. The performances were up to their usual high standards.  Jennifer Carpenter’s acting in particular blows me away.  The gambit of emotions she has to play, the subtext to her work… It boggles my mind that she does not have emmy or golden globe wins or even nominations.  I originally became hooked on the show because of the excellent work of Michael C. Hall and my enjoyment of his character.  Speaking of Dex, I did like his recognition this season that he can love and doesn’t have to give in to his dark passenger.  But it will be Deb that has me coming back for season eight with the hope that she is okay and that Dex finds his way back to the serial killer I knew and loved.

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