And, just a few months behind schedule, I've finished watching what I want from the 2008-2009 television season!
First, a few additional notes on "Lost":
As previously noted, I nearly missed the last few episodes, having somehow misjudged how many were in the season. That really helps explain why the "ending" didn't feel very dramatic.
Getting to know the old Dharma members was interesting. By far my favorite character from that crew is Horace. The whole thing feels really 70's, but he takes it to another level. His laid-back vocabulary, and especially the way he walks everywhere with his hands in his pockets, really resonates with me.
Richard Alpert used to be cool and mysterious - now he's even more of both. I feel like we're finally starting to get some insight into how the island works, and it isn't a straightforward hierarchy like I would have thought of at first. He feels a little bit like a steward in a monarchy - he's a titular servant, but one who wields actual power.
In general, I really dig "Lost" more the more complicated it gets. I think that they pulled off the time travel things well. Pretty much my only real complaints were the cheap-sounding ways that they backed out of some character deaths - "Oh, wait, Jin isn't dead after all! SCIENCE! THE ISLAND IS MYSTERIOUS!!!" In general, though, it feels really well put together.
Not to mean that there aren't holes. I give the writers huge credit for trying to tie up loose ends and weave everything into a coherent whole, but there are some cases where it's pretty clear that they didn't initially know where they would end up. One of the biggest examples of this: a flashback in an earlier episode had shown Dr. Whoever (you know, the guy in the Dharma training videos) in the tunnel, warning about the energy source. Then he bumps into a guy whose face is concealed. He apologizes, moves on, then lifts his helmet and OH MY GOSH IT IS DANIEL WHAT IS HE DOING BACK IN TIME!!! Towards the finale, we see that scene actually take place - Daniel travels to the site, sees the doctor, puts on the helmet, bumps into him, apologizes... walks forward, lifts his helmet... then, because there's actual plot going on now, needs to turn around, walk BACK to the doctor, announce himself, and warn him about what's going to happen. That isn't horrible, but still... why go through the charade of hiding your identity when you'll discard it five seconds later, once the flashback is over?
Another example would be the various Locke flashbacks. I'm generally really happy with this overall theme, that future Locke set a chain of events in motion across time that affected his childhood and led to him becoming future Locke. That said, I really doubt that the writers were thinking about all this when they did those early season episodes.
I think just about my favorite writing from this whole (generally pretty good) season comes towards the very end, when they've decided to let Jack detonate the hydrogen bomb in the anomaly, and Miles says something like, "I hope that you've all considered the possibility that it's us who cause the incident, right? That everything would be fine, except that setting off the nuclear device in the middle of all that magnetism is what causes all of the bad stuff to happen? .... Well, all right then. Glad to see that you've thought this through." I'd been wondering that for the previous three episodes, so I was really happy to see that the writers had considered the possibility as well.
One complaint about the finale: I'm not sure why, but I wasn't really happy with how they handled Jacob. For a while now he's been this very mysterious entity - they stripped away the mystery by actually giving him a face and a body, inserted him into all the characters' pasts, but didn't really give us a lot else to hook on him. And then killed him. (I hope - I don't think I can take another reversal from this show.) It just felt a little wasted, I guess. I do like how they're setting things up for the final season - near-immortals who struggle for dominion over a mysterious land through generations of proxies - but Jacob feels like a trump card that was flushed out too early.
Ever since the beginning, I've enjoyed "Lost" the most when it delves into the mystical, and hated it when it kowtows to science. I groan whenever they say "Magnets!" or "Radio!" to explain some formerly cool phenomenon. I think that by this point of the show, it's evolved to where they can genuinely say that it is both, without it feeling like a cop-out. Seeing Dharma in action really helps with that. It's an old saw, but anything that you can't explain is magic; it becomes science once you can explain it. Dharma is in the process of providing those explanations. They've found this island that's filled with phenomena that defy all known explanations, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're super-natural, just that they aren't part of nature that we're familiar with. I hope they stay on that ontological path for the final season. I'll be one happy viewer.
In the other corner: House! I'd stopped watching this about halfway through the season, but thought that the ending was EXCELLENT. Apparently it's gotten a pretty bad rap, both critically and for viewer numbers. I'm not sure why... the show has definitely changed from its early seasons, but I view that as a good thing. My fear with "House" has always been that they would get too locked into the medical procedural thing and become repetitive. The past two seasons have proven that they can get away with changing pretty much anything.
At the same time, I've officially decided that I prefer watching TV this way (via DVR). It's far more enjoyable to watch a long-form series with just a few nights between each episode rather than seven days. I can keep the plot lines in my head better, and it maintains better dramatic momentum. Best of all, now that show creators can expect that they will eventually be going to DVD, there's less recapping built into each episode than ever before.
Even bad episodes of "House" are still pretty good - as I keep saying, I survived the first half of the first season just because of Hugh Laurie's phenomenal deliveries. Where "House" becomes amazing are the rare episodes where attention shifts from the body to the mind. Every single one of my favorite episodes have to do with dreaming, or amnesia, or hallucination, or imagination. Whether it's "Three Stories" or the last few episodes of this season, "House" soars when it plays around with perception and reality.
So, yeah, there was no way that they could do a plotline of "House seems to be going crazy" and not make it excellent. I'm glad that they spent as much time with it as they did - they usually don't spread things out too long, but this really gave them plenty of time to deal with the uncertainty and doubt that they went through.
Holy cow... I was almost ready to press "Post" without even mentioning Kutner! That was huge. I've done a lot of reading online since that episode to see what's up, and learned that he asked to be written out of the show. (To go work in the White House, which is AWESOME - Kal seems like a solid guy, and did work for Obama's campaign that went far beyond the standard Hollywood photo ops.) Given that they had to get rid of him, I thought they did so in an incredibly powerful way. I was especially moved by the long, drawn-out reactions that people showed to his death, which to some extent mirrored my thoughts while I was watching - it's a little pathetic how quickly I signed up to the idea that he was actually murdered (which, in my defense, was my first thought when I saw the body).
One more thing - I am simply amazed at the cinematography of the last season or so of this show. (Can I still say "Cinematography" if it's television and not film? Hm.) I don't remember it being this good before. There are some particular scenes that just make my heart ache, they're so beautiful. The shot of Amber's death from last season's finale was one - chilly beauty in a sea of horror. When Kutner died, there was this amazing dark blue/black lighting that was used whenever people gathered together, casting a visible pall on everyone's spirits. Later, when House started going mad, they began using this really interesting bright, overly saturated lens to show House's increasing disconnection from reality. And at the very end, the scenes of Chase's wedding are gorgeous, clean, crisp, and bright, while House's trek into the asylum are purposely bleak and cool.
Awesome stuff. I'm really curious how they're going to adapt the format of the show to the first set of episodes next season. With House and that environment, I think there may be a whole new world of material available. Can't wait!
Hm, any other television news? I was bummed to read that we won't be getting more Venture Brothers - I thought we were due for another season this summer, but no go. I've checked out a few episodes of the British "Coupling" and Cartoon Network's "Metalocalypse" - both are decently amusing, but I doubt I'll go through the whole run of either. I'm content to wait until the good shows start back up again... as you can see, I don't have enough time to watch all the television I want during the season, so it's good to have some more downtime.