Legends of Tomorrow: The One Where We're Trapped on TV

Oh... Oh my...
"But on the other hand, why not?"

This was a really great episode.

I didn't enjoy it much.

Every now and then it's healthy to take a moment and remember that not everything has to be specifically meant for you.

This was that moment for me.

There's an intrinsic risk in devoting this much of an episode to riffing on specific television shows, because no matter how perfectly you capture the tone, the filming style, the dialogue pacing, and everything else that goes into the 'feel' of a specific series, if I as the viewers aren't familiar with the show – or worse actively dislike the show – then at best I'm not going to 'get it,' and at worst I'll get it and be reminded how much I hate it.

This is, obviously, my problem and not the shows. But it still means that out of the four shows they recreated in this episode, only for one of them do I feel any real affection. Let me break them down in reverse order of their appearance. I hold great affection for Fred Rogers as a person, but I'm kind of indifferent to his show, as I'm about forty years outside of the audience it's made for. I'm almost completely disinterested in Star Trek, and have only seen a handful of episodes of the original series. Therefore any but the broadest jokes were lost to me. Which wouldn't be a problem, except – I love Downton Abbey and know it quite well, so the way they recreated the use of camera, dialogue, atmosphere and space was a big thrill for me. When watching the Star Trek bits I couldn't help but wonder how much I wasn't getting.

And last but least, I'm sorry, there's no way to casually say this. I cordially loathe everything about Friends. I don't hate it as much as I hate Seinfeld, but I'll go out of my way to not watch it if at all possible. So when we started with that one it just immediately got my hackles up. They appear to have recreated it quite well, because the loathing felt very familiar.

This is, again, my problem and not the show's, no question. But it is the risk you run by going that all in on specific show references. No matter how well done it is, if the reference is a problem for the viewer then fantastic execution isn't going to fix it.

Because, make no mistake, this is a phenomenally good episode of television. The show references were spot on (at least the ones I understood), the whole script has rock solid structure, and while it relied a little to heavily on Soviet era imagery and musical cues to underscore the implications of 'suppression of free will,' they mostly landed and weren't too distracting. The way they tied the 'real' world of Mona and Gary to the inner world of the TV shows was wonderfully handled, and the dialogue reveals in the shows which triggered Mona's growing realization of what was going on were expertly handled. They could have so easily felt sledgehammered in. Compare Zari mentioning Gary to John in Downton-World with Ava mentioning that murder podcast back in 'Ship Broken,' and you'll see what I mean.

All of which disguises that the script is actually making a nuanced and complicated argument about the validity of sacrificing free will in the name of safety. It probably bears mentioning at this point that I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, and Minneapolis is currently on fire after many nights of protests and rioting. Sacrificing free will to obtain safety has never felt more complicated and nuanced to me, and this script takes a really interesting and respectful look at it. Watch this one again with that uppermost in your filter and be amazed at what pops out.

Other great things about this episode, for there are many: Great cliffhanger ending. Absolutely fantastic ethical dilemma for Charlie, whose only real 'sin' is not wanting her friends to die. Matt Ryan was obviously born to be in Downton Abbey, which makes it terribly disappointing that he never appeared on it. (I had to go to IMDb to check. While there I learned that while he wasn't in Downton Abbey ever, he was in Layer Cake as 'Junkie #2,' so now I have to revisit that one.) They avoided all of the usual jokes about people being self aware in a sit-com, and the manner in which they transitioned from one show to the next was perfect in every instance.

This episode was so strong that I almost completely failed to notice that Mick Rory was missing through most of it. I really only have two valid complaints. They leaned too hard into Sara's William Shatner style dialogue, and Mick's villain name would have been funnier if it was spelled 'Don' instead of 'Dhan.' To be fair, you'd only know that if you watched with subtitles on so that you can transcribe quotes more accurately.

This was a really great piece of television. I just happened to not enjoy a lot of it. And that's fine. I'd rather have bold experiments that risk alienating some viewers than bland crap designed to appeal to everyone it possibly can.



Everybody remember where we parked:

This week we split our time between 'present day, but an altered reality,' and 'inside TV shows in the present day but not in our reality.' Given the current state of reality, either seems preferable.

Nope, no Stalin-Era soviet iconography here.  Nothing to see.

Bits and pieces:

-- I honestly laughed out loud at the little pop up ad during the immediate post credits of Ultimate Buds. 'Brought to you by Green Mush. It's the blandest!' Those little pop ups in the bottom corners of your TV screen are called 'bugs,' if you're interested. Unless you're in the UK or New Zealand, in which case they're DOGs (Digital On-screen Graphic).

-- As long as I'm airing unpopular opinions this week, I also despise the movie Forrest Gump. 'Like, everyone involved should be beaten to death with a VHS copy' level despise.

-- Apparently Arrow is a fictional series inside the fictional series of Ultimate Buds. You know, like how Kathy Reichs writes about a forensic scientist who solves crimes named Temperance Brennon, who in the fictional world of the book writes mystery novels about a crime-solver named Kathy Reichs.

-- Two things about the public workers outfits the gang was wearing on Mr. Parker's Cul-de-sac. 1: God bless them for not mocking sewer workers. Behrad thinking it was bad-ass was a pleasant departure from the usual 'shitting all over blue collar workers for laughs.' 2: Astra looked absolutely perfect in her bunker gear. Like, the gear itself was obviously not real, but she wore it exactly how a female firefighter would instead of sexualizing her in it in some way. I appreciated that a lot.

-- It felt weird to me that the fates would want so much public recognition of their being in control of everything. That's not really how the ancient Greeks conceptualized them. But then, they got their butts kicked out the door, so they're probably just overcompensating.

-- Charlie again had very different and very awesome hair. Shapeshifters, huh?

-- John's speech to Astra about being willing to stay in the show with her was very touching.

-- The real Downton Abbey is filmed partially at Highclare Castle. Hence Highcastle Abbey. This is the sort of thing that makes me sure I'm missing jokes and references in the other bits.

-- Nate refers to Highcastle Abbey as a 'BBC thing.' The pedant in me feels obligated to point out that Downton Abbey wasn't a BBC production, it came from ITV, the rival commercial service.

-- Also, while we're pedanting, Public Access and Public Television aren't the same thing.

-- So very 2020 for the Fates to have a streaming service, not a station.

-- Really nice directorial touch that the shows stopped mimicking the style of their reference shows once the Legends memories were restored.

-- Very elegant solution to returning all of the Legends memories and getting old Zari back in the mix.

-- I did like the Star Trip bit where Ava short circuited the explanation with 'oh, this happens all the time.' I sort of understood that reference.

Mick Rory, as Fabio.  We all squee'd, right?

Quotes:

Mona: "Man, some days re-writing history to eradicate any notion of rebelling and free will is hard."

John: "What about Highcastle? And your mother?"
Astra: "I am... a diva!"
Behrad: "My bad."

Officer Maala: "Two captains is an exciting power dynamic!"

Astra: "Oh it is grand to see lady adventurers in pantaloons!"

John: "Bloody Charlie. A butler. I feel violated."

Sara: "Ava, life is beautiful and terrible, all at the same time. But if we’re only living part of it then we’re not living at all."

Nate: "I happen to like mush! But that’s not the point!"


It's Just. So. Right.

A great episode of television. Just not for me.

Four and a half out of five pairs of Star Trip short shorts.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

13 comments:

Mikey Heinrich said...

Just to alleviate any possible concern RE: the current situation in Minneapolis, I'm safe and fine and well away from the area involved. I have a few friends in the Minneapolis and St. Paul Fire Departments that I've spent a lot of time worrying about. And another friend just sunk his life savings into opening a sports bar in uptown which burned to the ground a couple of nights ago.

So, yeah, me personally - fine. The city however is pretty bad.

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I completely spaced that you were in Minneapolis -- stay safe!!!

I thought this was probably one of their best episodes, but I totally get what you meant about not getting much of it because you didn't get most of the TV references. Mick Rory was spoofing the Ricardo Montalban character Khan in the best Star Trek movie ever, The Wrath of Khan. :)

Mikey Heinrich said...

That's the thing, objectively I can totally see how great it is. This whole season has been pretty great, really.

I have seen wrath of Khan. I think it was actually impossible to be a twelve year old boy when it came out and not have seen it :) I obviously don't have the reference points to say how it rates with other star trek, but I thought it was really great

Patryk said...

This was so great, I'm actually watching Star Trek TOS (since all television is on hiatus it's the perfect time for it) for the very first time (at least the 1st time paying full attention) so it's a nice bit of serendipity that they decided to parody it here.

CoramDeo said...

A detail in the Trek section that you may or may not have noticed, Mikey, was that all the male crew members were dressed in short shorts, in a commentary on how TOS used to dress its female officers.

I totally get the whole 'I've never seen or hate this show, so I didn't get the references' thing. The only one of these four shows I've seen more than one episode of is Star Trek. But I really appreciate that you took the time to explain your bias and why you didn't enjoy it, and why you think other people would really love it.

Anonymous said...

Don't let your hatred of Friends spoil your enjoyment of the episode. Just think of it as satire, not homage. The writers were definitely satirizing the conventions of sitcoms - underdeveloped characters, catch phrases, the laugh track, etc.

- Lynn from St. Paul

Mikey Heinrich said...

CoramDeo - I didn't know that they were a reference to an actual issue in the series, but believe me - I noticed the dudes in short shorts :) Thanks for sharing that.

It's so easy to confuse 'I didn't like it' with 'it was bad'. I mean sometimes both are true, but most of the time they aren't. It's kind of a hobby horse of mine.

Lynn - totally appreciate what you're saying. Just seeing the set is enough to irritate me, which is totally a 'me' problem. I just don't think I'm going to be able to climb that mountain :) Like, I spent a significant chunk of time hating that I knew that there should be a little picture frame around the peephole in the door.

Mikey Heinrich said...

And speaking of things I definitely noticed - Sara's leather pants actually made me question some core aspects of my personality...

Caity Lotz is SO my girl crush.

Josie Kafka said...

Another excellent review, Mikey!

Just before--like, hours before--this episode I watched the just-posted Honest Trailers for Friends, so I was primed to recognize a lot of the Friends in-jokes.

I had watched Friends when it started airing. I was in middle school, I think, and my friends and I were so excited to see a sitcom with younger people. I really enjoyed it for a few years and then got busy with life, so I never kept up with it.

(And yet, like you, I know more about the show than I should!)

But I'm sort of mystified by its staying power. How do people watch Friends today and still laugh? I caught one episode about four years ago and was haunted by the laugh track, the implicit sexism, the repetitive quality of the jokes.

Anyway: I really loved this episode. I'm so sad this season is about to end.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Another weird thing about friends? I have a strange fondness for pretty much every single person involved. Like, I think Cougar Town is one of the funniest comedies of the last decade. The Object of my Affection makes me tear up just thinking about it. (Young gay Paul Rudd and his straight best girlfriend Jennifer Aniston. I mean... honestly....). The Whole Nine Yards might be the best slapstick comedy of its type pretty much ever, and is so much smarter than it pretends to be. Matt LeBlanc is just kind of effortlessly charming, and I like how he's owned transitioning into the grey haired dad stage of his career. David Schwimmer I have absolutely no feelings about in any way, and that's honestly the most negative thing I can say about any of them.

And yet I have this weird anti-gestalt thing that all of them together makes me want to punch my TV.

Sorry, I need to let this go, I know. :)

I'm headed off now to write a review of Doom Patrol episode 8: Danny Patrol, aka the best hour of television that's ever existed, so be on the lookout for that.

Review of the Legends season finale should hopefully be up tomorrow. Short version - I liked it but it should have been two episodes.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Oh, and for the sake of being an obsessive completionist, I think Lisa Kudrow is amazingly underrated as an actor, because she's primarily known for comedy and we overlook it.

Like, if she only did drama, I don't think we'd ever stop talking about how great she is.

Billie Doux said...

I think some people still enjoy Friends because it was a fave when it came out. I still enjoy the original Star Trek, even with all of its sexism and flaws, because I fell in love with it when I was a girl.

Anonymous said...

I hate Forrest Gump too.
Very nice review of a nice ep. Loved Mick's hair.
Constantine looked cool in a suit.
Friends hasn't aged well. no. I hate the stuff about Ross' lesbian wife. (what's a bisexual? we just don't know)