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Friday, December 09, 2005
TV Round-Up
Smallville: Lexmas
There's been this survey running around various blogs the past couple of weeks that ask the simple question, if you could choose between being rich and celibate and being monetarily poor and having great sex, which one would you go with? In some ways, that question is the basis for this episode of Smallville, though instead of great sex, the producers substitute having a great life.

One of the most fascinating things about Smallville is that, as I've said before, we all know where the story ends. We know that Clark eventually becomes Superman, Lex becomes a supervillian and these two men who could have been great friends and allies instead end up as bitter enemies. But the question that Smallville tries to answer (and does to varying degrees of success) is how these men came to be this way--what brought them to the point that they are such enemies. Why does Lex Luthor have such disdain for Superman and what he stands for?

Smallville is a show that is more about the journey than the destination. Again, we know where it's going.

Of the two central figures on the show, over the years, Lex has drawn with more complexity than Clark has. In a lot of ways, part of the motivation for Lex's walk down the path to destruction is a bit of jealousy for all the things Clark has. Clark has a loving family, Lex has Lionel who is so manipulative and Machiavellian it's almost scary sometimes. Clark has the approval and love of his father, Lex is no where close. Clark gets Lana, at least for a while and Lex pines for her, knowing that by the choices he makes, Lana will never love him in the way he wants to be loved. Clark knows without a doubt that the people in life care for him because of who he is and never has to ask if the people who come into his orbit are there because of his money, power or what he can do for them, unlike Lex.

But yet, in all of this, we see that Lex yearns for an average, middle-class life like Clark has now. In a dream right out of It's A Wonderful Life, Lex is shown what his life can be like if he pursues a path that doesn't lead to power and money. Instead, what if he chose to pursue just being Lex and being content and happy with that. And basically we find out that Lex would have about seven years of happiness and then come to a place where he's be in the same position as he is now--needing money and power to achieve what we wants. The difference is that now what he wants is money and power to get the things he wants, in this case a life with Lana. In one possible future, Lex will get to a point where he'll need money and power to keep the one thing he wants most--Lana. In both cases, Lex will lose's just a choice of how and when. Or so Smallville will tell us. So, instead of going for the seven years of happiness, Lex decides it's time to consilidate now, grab the money and power while it's there and then see what he can do later about winning Lana's heart. After all, if he has the money and power, she won't die post-childbirth as we see in the potential vision of the future that Lex has.

Of course, we all know that Lex's vision of a perfect day glosses over the hard times. We do have some mention of Lex's inability to make ends meet in a middle-class lifestyle and I'm sure not every day is cookies and Christmas parties with Lana and the Kents. So, there would be some stressful times ahead for Lex, no matter what path he chose. But I think what Smallville is trying to say it that, overall, Lex would be happier with the choice to just be an ordinary, average guy like Jonthan Kent is now rather than to shoot for extraordinary to live up to some mythical standard that Lionel has set for Lex. Interesting that in the dream sequence, Lionel does nothing to try and put another heir into the picture, instead waiting in Luthor manor for Lex to come crawling back so he can kick Lex while Lex is down. If anything, this goes miles to show the father/son dynamic in play here and what a contrast it is to the relationship of Jonathan and Clark.

So, in the end, Lex decides to forego seven years of happiness and make the choice now that he'd have to make then--lose Lana but go for the wealth and power. And to start it off, he decides to do whatever it takes to bury Jonathan in the quest to be state senator.

Like I said, there are times when Smallville is just on and it's a fascinating show. Interestingly, most of those times are when we focus on Lex and let Michael Rosenbaum just run with it. And, as always, he's more than up to the task.

Interestingly enough, Lexmas is a huge dictomy that shows all that is good and all that is just OK about Smallville all in one episode. The whole subplot of Clark helping deliver Christmas presents and meeting what is probably the real Santa Claus was just too hokey to be believed. I mean, I had a hard time a few years ago with not gagging from the holiday over-sentimentality when on Lois and Clark we had Superman pulling Santa's this subplot, which was predictable a mile away, just left me bored and wanting to get back to exploring Lex's pysche more. Call me Scrooge if you must, but this plotline was just a bit too sentimental for my liking.

Veronica Mars: One Angry Veronica
Now if you want to see how a Christmas episode can walk that fine line between being keeping in the holiday spirit and not getting too overly sentimental, look no farther than this week's installment of Veronica Mars. Instead of having Christmas in there, permeating every scene, we instead get a storyline that takes place during the Christmas season, but there aren't any great miracles such as the real Santa Claus dropping by and delivering all the toys for tots presents.

Instead, what we get is a Veronica Mars episode that is packed to the brim, as usual, with plotlines. All of them interesting and compelling. I keep saying this, but the one constant pleasant surprise for Veronica Mars is that it manages to keep all of the plotlines interesting week in and week out. I never feel as though we're biding time with one storyline at the expense of another plotline.

Interesting that I'd comment on the warped nature of father and son relationships on Smallville when that exact same theme crops up here. In this case, the Aaron Echols/Lily Kane tapes are stolen from the Neptune police department. Keith is called in as a special consultant by the mayor to look into this. Logan finds out and is able to get hold of the tapes before they're sold to a tabloid or put on the Internet. Logan watches them and then erases them becuase he doesn't want the memory of Lily, his first love, destroyed more and he somehow wants to protect his father from the shame of being another Paris Hilton. Logan pays $50,000 for this--which let's face it, his father wasn't doing him any favors or is going to win father of the year. But yet, Logan still loves him and wants to help out his dad. Even if it could mean jail time or allowing his father to potentially go free for killing Lily since a crucial piece of evidence is now missing.

Meanwhile, Keith's investigation turns up that fan favorite officer Leo was the one who took the tapes. Not exactly earth shattering since I called this one a mile away. We haven't seen Leo all season and he suddenly turns up. Yep, that makes him prime suspect in my book. And yet, somehow Veronica Mars manages to take what is predictable and spin it so that we learn something about the character of Leo. Actually, more like reinforce what we know. Leo's a nice guy. Leo cares about those around him. He only takes the tape in a moment of weakness in an attempt to help get his sister with Down's sydrome into a school that can better address her needs. When confronted, Leo apologizes but doesn't beg Keith to spare him. He knows he's done wrong and he takes the consequences for it. He doesn't expect speical treatment despite the fact that his motives for taking the tapes were good ones. It was still wrong and he accepts that. And as we see Leo turning in his badge and gun at the end, we feel sympathy for the character.

Complexity and shades of gray--that is what Veronica Mars is all about.

Meanwhile, continuing of from last week, Veronica and Duncan discuss Meg's pregnancy and go to visit her in the hosptial. Duncan and Meg have an interesting conversation and then Meg asks Veronica to not let the baby be adopted into the same type of upbringing that Meg had. Veronica promises this, only to have Meg die by episode's end, thus leaving Veronica now with a choice--does she somehow fight for the baby? Will she get Duncan to use his resources to somehow adopt the child or at least keep it out of the type of home that Meg grew up in?

And then, we've got Veronica on jury duty. At least here, we see that Veronica's convictions and relentless pursuit of the truth might help her--in this case, getting her into a nice college in Neptune. Of course, this plotline is to set up the potential for season three and keep Veronica in Neptune. Interesting to see that the college counselor will fight for Veronica in the same way she fought for the truth in the case she served as jury foreperson.

And just to give you a warm holiday glow in the end, Wallace returns. Nice touch.

Alias: Bob
There are some shows out there that are able to reinvent themselves year after year. Then there are some that try to reinvent themselves with varying degress of success, often copying the formula for what worked when the show was successful and replicating that again. Or at least trying to. The X-Files did that in season nine, trying to create the new beliver/non-believer dynamic with Doggett and Reyes. And here, in the final run of episodes, Alias is trying to do it with a whole new gang of spies over at APO.

You can see how they were trying to set up hading the baton of this show from Jennifer Garner to Rachel Nichols. But just like trying to replace Emma Peel with Tara King wasn't that big a success, it's not proving to be all that huge a brilliant idea here.

Not to say I don't like Rachel Nichols, but I wish the series would give her something more interesting to do than cover the same basic beats we saw with Syd in the early years. I swear, I keep waiting for Rachel's father to somehow be a spy as well and that lead to some family conflict between the two to make the circle somehow complete.

In a season that is flailing for a plotline, the show does go back to a previous strength. It's what I call the Sideshow Bob syndrome. On The Simpsons, even if a season is just mediocre, you can count on a Sideshow Bob episode to elevate things or at least deliver some laughs. Same thing here, only here you go with Sark. Bring in Sark and things might get a bit better, if only becuase David Anders has so much fun playing the character. And give the writers credit--they at least keep Sark consistent. He's attracted to tall blondes who are spies. In season three, he hooks up with Melissa George's character and here he hooks up with Rachel Nichols.

The plotline, such as it is, is that apparnetly there is some new EMP device that instead of frying electronics fries people. It falls into the hands of bad guys who want to use it for...umm..OK, I'm not sure why other than they are bad guys. Sark is involved somehow in getting the info to the bidder. Along the way, we find out that MI6 might have a mole in it....since we haven't trashed the British intelligence force in the series, so why not? Jack and an MI6 agent who he seems to have some odd connection with go on a mission to find the bomb and get captured. Sark is brought in to help get him back.

Luckily for us, the villians of this piece have seen Austin Powers and take Dr Evil's advice about having an overly elaborate and easily escapable death to heart as an actual devious plan instead of a sarcastic parody. They handcuff Sark to the bomb, run off and leave all the prisoners there...I say to you--huh? If you want to kill Sark, then shoot him. And why would you steal a bomb only to wipe out a remote area of Tunisia? I mean, if you want to cover you tracks, it seems there are better ways to do this and not give up this weapon you've spent the entire storyline acquiring. But hey, there I go introducing logic to the Alias universe and I've got to really stop doing that. It just ruins the enjoyment of the show.

So, anyway, in the end, Sark and Rachel have some witty banter, Syd gives Rachel some advice and we wonder if Jack and MI6 lady were more than just friends.

Ah, I miss how good you used to be.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 12/09/2005 07:27:00 AM | |
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