How I Met Your Mother: Season Seven (CBS, 2011)
It sort of bothers me that I am always writing mean things on the internet about How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). What rubs me the wrong way about all of the negative things I’ve said about this show is that, at the end of the day, I really do love it. I own all of the seasons on DVD. The girlfriend and I have a subscription via Zune for the newest season on my X-Box. Who doesn’t want a weekly dose of Jason Segal and Neil Patrick Harris? I really do love HIMYM.
My enjoyment – my love – of this show has always been contingent. There is much awfulness at the core of this show – often open misogyny, the jock-humor, the CBS sitcom related awfulness, the shallowness of the female characters, the more often than not “too cool for school” attitude, off-hand homophobia, the misogyny. All of that does even account for the sometimes awful writing – the Barney/Robin debacle still grates.
The double whammy season premiere brought all this to the front and center by having Barney recount so many of his racist and misogynistic pick up attempts (did they really need to bring up the lesbian one again? Ack!). But even worse, the hour long season starter suggests that the show has begun to cannibalize itself.
Call-backs have always been a standard comedic trope on this show. HIMYM’s “framed narrative” makes possible and Carter & Bays often use such call-backs to great effect (in fact the season premiere as a good set up for a couple of Marshal related ones). But the return of – SPOILER ALERT – Victoria at the end of the season opener and the recent pumpkin related announcement portents that Carter & Bays have moved beyond the call-back and begun to cannibalize their show’s own past.
The return of Victoria goes beyond the occasional return of Ted’s exes because of her place in the show’s history. Besides Robin (who shouldn’t count because she’s a main character and Cobie Smulders is awesome), Victoria is the best and most likable of Ted’s girlfriends (in fact Carter & Bays planned for her to be THE MOTHER if they didn’t get a second season). Bringing her back should mean something, it should mean that the overall story of this show is moving forward. But, I remain doubtful. Carter & Bays have promised such movement before and little has come of it (fool me once shame on me, fool me twice…).
Since, at least, the third season Carter & Bays have been promising forward movement on Ted’s character arc – that he finally will get his shit together – but again and again these promises have amounted to nothing. Instead, the show has stagnated and gradually Ted has gotten gradually more and more unlikable. Think about it; in the four seasons since Ted and Robin broke up where has his character gone? Pretty much nowhere.
Now Carter & Bays have been talking about how they are entering the “end game” of the show and the character himself has once again promised he’s going to get his shit together and move forward but it seems that the show is going to go backwards yet again. Like an abused spouse I am willing to give Carter & Bays another chance to push their show forward but, after a season where they managed to make Jennifer Morrison (who I like a lot) unbearable, I remain skeptical.
The above should not be read to mean that I hated the season premiere. I’m glad they are taking Barney out of his played-out Lothario role. The two Marshall B-plots in these episodes were hilarious. Marshall and Lily as parents promises to be both hilarious and touching. Carter & Bays have repeatedly promised good story-lines for Robin this time out.
In the end, this season has a lot of promise but sadly, because of all of the wasted potential of recent seasons, I remain skeptical.
The New Girl (Fox, 2011)
The New Girl is a deeply disturbing show.
Zooey Deschanel plays a character born out of a sort of nightmarish romantic comedy netherworld – a strange elixir of the most homogenized image of hipsterdom (the glasses!), a B sex-romantic comedy heroine, the worst sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl that Zach Braff could dream up, and a sort of half-baked parody of third wave feminism. She delivers each line with a forced quirkiness that slowly chips away at one’s ability to take human language seriously. Deschanel is always strongest as an actress (of sorts) when she silently plays the wispy sort of MPDG that many a sensitive man in his twenties could fall obsessively in love with (see the best scenes of 500 Days of Summer). But here, in The New Girl, – a show driven entirely but its dialogue and supposed cleverness – she is forced to relie on her ability to deliver a line like a human being. And she fails to the point in which by the end I felt sorry for her – and myself.
Oh and the dialogue. The dialogue. At the ten minute mark I found myself wondering if there was a sort of rom-com Necronomicon from which the writers – and I use that term here provisionally – drew their terrible dialouge and plot from. The core of this show is a sort of examination of the supposed gender differences between men and women (girls are flighty! men want to get laid). But there taken on this feels stale even if this was 1983. In the end the show feels like a sort half-baked version of Three’s Company + 1.
I blame How I Met Your Mother, which showed that domesticated sex comedy could work on national television. But HIMYM’s many wannabes have failed to acknowledge two key facts about that show (a show which I enjoy a great deal). First, that it is constantly teetering on the edge of collapsing under the weight of its own gender troubles, high CBS sit-com cheese, and misogyny. Second, HIMYM’s cast was always stronger than the material the writers gave them. Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segal, and Cobie Smulders are legitimately funny people, which always comes through no matter what awfulness Carter & Bays make them spout.
And yet, when you stare long into the darkness the darkness begins to stare back into you. There were moments of true humor in The New Girl and, perhaps, a few truly relatable moments. The sort of things that make a sit-com work. A few times Deschanel’s strained line readings are over come by the humor, and not the other way around. The show makes good, if painfully quirky, use of her excellent singing voice.
In the end, The New Girl is not likely to be the worst new show in 2011 (that honor is likely to go to some cop show with pornographic murders of pretty girls). I am glad that this season the networks have decided to come out with several shows driven by young female leads. But that does not make The New Girl a good show. Just a disturbing one.
Baldur’s Gate 2 by Bioware (Interplay, 2000)
The original Baldur’s Gate is one of my favorite games of all time. Open-ended and challenging, the game reenergized the hard-core American CRPG. Masterfully adapting the sometimes cumbersome (THACO, anyone?) second edition AD&D rules for real-time gameplay, Bioware really showed the world how to make a great, nigh-perfect role-playing game.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited to play Bioware’s follow-up. Sadly enough, I could not have been more disappointed in how this game turned out! So much so that it is difficult to for me to put my rage into words.
Perhaps it is best to just take the flaws in this game point by point.
My choices in BG1 have no consequence in BG2: In my playthrough of the first game in this series, I killed Xzar and his annoying halfling friend. But look here! There alive in & well in the sequel! What’s up with that Bioware? There are virtually no consequences for anything I did in your original game! Quayle as a kindly uncle figure to a whiny unwinged elf? What the hell? And, come on, what’s up with me starting the game with Minsc, Jaheria, and Imoen in my party? I never traveled with any of them in the original game! And who gives a shit about Imoen?
My choices within BG2 have no consequences: There are so-called “turning points” within the “plot” of this “game” that seemingly are supposed to have consequences but they really do not. Choosing between the vampires and the Shadow Thieves? No real difference between them! Oh, sure you might have a few different quests in Chapter 3 but in the whole the game turns out the same! You still end up in Spellhold. And deciding to try to sail back to Amn instead of going straight to the Underdark? All that gets you is 30 minutes in fish-city and no real consequences! Come on, Bioware! What real RPG gamers want is real choices not the illusion of choice.
Reused textures and tile-sets: Bioware artists are you really that lazy? There so many reused tile-sets in this game that it is extremely pathetic. There are only like three different layout for houses in this game and they are all recycled from BG1! There are only two tile-sets for random encounters in this so-called “game” and the in-Amn random encounter’s art is just recycled from the Bridge District! One of the major dunegons in this game is used twice (Bodhi’s graveyard hideout). Did you really think that we wouldn’t notice your laziness, Bioware? It often just felt like I was on a visual treadmill as a slogged through this “game.” Speaking of treadmills…
Limited exploration options: More often than not while playing Baldur’s Gate 2, I felt like I was playing a “game” set on rails. So much of this “game” is completely linear! While in the original game you can pretty much explore the entire world while ignoring the core plot, BG2 basically sets you on a clearly fixed direction. Besides that there are so few quests in this game. I mean there are like three quests in all of Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 has like one long dungeon! The great sense of exploration, epic scope, and the ability to stumble in danger is largely gone from this “game.”
This game is idiot proof: What is up with “pins” on the world map that clearly mark quest givers and stores? Half the fun of the original Baldur’s Gate was wandering around trying to find the right house out of the sea of identical looking housing. What is the point of a so-called RPG if you don’t have to take detailed notes just to keep track of where the quest givers are? Clearly Bioware is now designing their games for the lowest common denominator – shooter fans and console gamers.
Romance over plot: BG2 contains “romances” between your player character and a few non-player characters in your party. It is clear from this development that Bioware has now moved away from making each NPC an interesting character to focusing on a small sub-set of fanservice character “romances.” These gross virtual sexpots have little do with the “game’s” plot and never push the story forward. It is clear that Bioware is now putting development resources towards fan service things like “romances” instead of more valuable things like art resources and real content.
If Bioware, formerly the king of the American CRPG, can produce a real piece of crap game like this we are, clearly, reaching a crisis point in the RPG market. If once-great companies, like Bioware, continue to produce quick cash-in games like BG2, real RPG fans will be begin abandoning the genre in droves.
It makes me sad to type this but, the terribleness that is Baldur’s Gate 2 could mark the beginning of the end of the American CRPG.