Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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I liked the premiere episode of NBC's Deception — the peacock's attempt to try to get in on the rich-people-doing-stupid-mysterious-things genre, kicked off last season by ABC's Revenge. I liked it so much that it needs to be canceled.
That's right, just like Revenge before it, Deception should be cut off at the end of the first season. Why? Because everything we want to know — all the mysteries that need to be solved — can be wrapped up in 24 episodes, maybe even 12. The rest, well, it's sort of like having a second dessert: it's never as good as the first, it leaves you feeling a little sick, and you abandon it half way through. That is what happens to so many of these shows, so why don't we just have an end date in mind?
Let's look at the considerable suspense that was ginned up in the first hour. Our NYPD officer Joanna infiltrated the Bowers familiy to find out who killed her former best friend Vivian. That, of course, is the big mystery. We also need to know who killed Joanna's little friend Remy, something that we'll probably find out shortly. Then there's the matter of who inside the Bowers' pharmaceutical company was talking to Vivian, and who the father of her baby was. We also need to know who the father of her younger sister Mia is. Wait, it's her daughter. Wait, it's her sister. Slap. It's her daughter. Slap. It's her sister and her daughter! It would also help to find out why her brother Edward is so creepy, and whether or not he really raped and murdered his ex. And, of course, just why the hell was brother Julian beating the crap out of her sister just before she died? (I'm sorry, if you've ever watched a show like this, you know it's going to look like Julian did it because he had that ring that left a mark on Vivian's cheek, but then the twist will be that he didn't really do it. Oh no, he did not.)
That's all we need to learn, right there. You can tease it out and give us some red herrings and some romantic undertones, but once all those questions are answered, we're probably not going to care anymore. Then one of two things will happen: either the questions won't be answered, everyone will get pissed, and the show will die a slow and painful critical death (I submit as evidence The Killing), or it's going to have to create new characters, new mysteries, and new drama completely tangential to why we all started loving this show in the first place.
That is the problem with Revenge. I want to watch a show where Amanda faces off against a mean lady who can not move her face but will still wither you with a look. I want to see her exonerate her father and figure out just how the Graysons implicated him in terrorism. That is what I want. I do not want to watch a show about The Initiative and their shady dealings and who is in control of Grayson Global and Declan's ever changing accent and role in the drug trade. The lady who runs The Initiative can even move her face and have an expression other than disdain. What kind of fun is that? None!
When Revenge started, I heralded it as a soapy good time — just like Deception — and when it ended its stellar first season, I had hope for the second. Maybe Amanda's mom would show up and help her get revenge? Maybe she would team up with Victoria to get revenge on someone else? Maybe something dastardly would happen and we'd have a whole new revenge plot? Nope, none of that. Instead we got this group that we don't care about, some British bloke whose role we still don't understand, and a bunch of plotting that is so Byzantine it makes Alias look like a Dick and Jane book.
I'm afraid Deception is going to suffer the same fate, especially with a story as closed ended as a murder investigation. How long can you look into one girl's death before it becomes far too boring? The answer is about one season. Just ask Twin Peaks, and the previously-mentioned The Killing. So why can't we just have these shows limited to one run from fall to spring? Isn't that enough? Can't a network round up enough viewers and give them a show good enough that they'll come back for another show next year. The networks think no, so instead they'll keep the show around and try to siphon off all the success they can. It's like when you drink all your soda at the movies but you leave the cup there so you can get out of a few last drops that are all diluted and poor as the ice melts. No one really likes that soda, they just drink it because it's there. The same is true with the inevitable third and fourth season of a once-great mystery show.
Ryan Murphy may have finally figured this trick out with American Horror Story, crafting new yarns each year using similar concepts and casts to keep fans who were enchanted with the first one. So far it's working out marvelously. And the other great advantage that networks don't see is that the trajectory of a show built on this structure can change on a dime. While people will keep bailing on a thriller gone bad until the audience dwindles to your sick Aunt Polly who can't get out of her recliner and can't reach the remote, if one season of an American Horror Story-esque show is bad (and there will eventually be one), everyone can just jump back in the next season.
These are all good arguments why we should start answering questions on Deception and shutting the thing down. Yes, I really did like it, but to say I want it to go for years would be, well, deception.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC]
Everything You Need to Know About Tonight's Premiere of 'Deception'
'Revenge' Season 2: Charlotte is Back, Daniel Has a New Lady... But Where is Madeline Stowe?
Did 'The Killing' Premiere Win Us Back?
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