Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A quick one, while I'm not away

First thing's first: three day's worth of All TV column links. On Monday, I mused about the end of "7th Heaven," a show that, even though I hated it, holds some sentimental value for me as the last surviving new show from my first season as a TV critic. ("EZ Streets" gets 10 hours, and "7th Heaven" gets 10 years? A good system. Definitely.) On Tuesday, Matt interviewed Turner Classic's head of programming, while I wrote about the end of "Alias," the invasion of former "Ed" castmembers in primetime and the unfortunate return of "The Simple Life." And today there's a grab bag of news and reviews, including Matt on "Creature Comforts" (BBC America cartoon from the "Wallace & Grommit" people) and me on tonight's "Veronica Mars."

As I said yesterday, a lot of my Tuesday shows were pre-empted, and I'd already watched the "House" episode, which was good but not as strong as last year's "Three Patients," which it was emulating. (Two key differences: reality didn't get bent enough this time, and Chase is a less interesting character than House.) On the other hand, the twist of making Foreman the boss for a few weeks is vedddy interesting. Foreman's always been the most House-like of the three junior docs, so will being in charge make him even crankier or bring out his warm and fuzzy side? I almost think it would be funnier to put Cameron in charge, because her Let's All Hug approach to medicine would drive House nuts, but this should be pritt-ay, pritt-ay good.

Beyond that? Well, my TiVo grabs "NCIS" whenever "Gilmore Girls" is in rerun. As I've written a bunch of times in the last three years, "NCIS" isn't going to change the world or elevate consciousnesses, but it's well put-together, blending the '80s TV of Don Bellisario's middle age with enough modern touches to not feel too corny. It's the kind of show I can watch while doing three other things and not miss much. Only one complaint about last night's episode: hasn't the "Probie" been a probie for more than two years now? At what point does the hazing end?

With "House," the NBC comedies and "Supernatural" all out of play and "Amazing Race" off my radar until spring, I decided to check out the second Steven Bochco-produced episode of "Commander in Chief." I only got about 15 minutes in before I got caught up in other things, but it sure seemed to me like Bochco came in and decided to fix a whole lot of things that weren't broken: putting the kibosh on the First Gentleman stories and giving Rod a real job in the administration, bringing in Mark-Paul Gosselaar to critique everyone else's jobs, separating Natasha Henstridge from Evil Donald Sutherland, etc., etc., etc. I'm not saying there weren't things that didn't need improvement in the Rod Lurie version -- for starters, Evil Donald Sutherland -- but most of what Bochco's done is just a blatant attempt to make sure viewers know a new team is in charge of the show. As far as I know, the network's only problem with Lurie was his slow production pace, but viewers obviously liked what they were seeing, based on the ratings.

I finished "Sleeper Cell," which sagged in the middle but finishes strongly. Asking viewers to commit 10 hours of their time in a little over two weeks seems like a bit much these days, and the mini could stand to be trimmed by at least two hours. I also watched the first installment's of Sci-Fi's new miniseries "The Triangle." It's not the second coming of "Battlestar Galactica" (or would that be third coming?), but it's a decent B-movie skiffy story, complete with a B-list cast that includes Sam Neill, Bruce Davison and Eric Stoltz.

And speaking of Eric Stoltz, with sweeps slowing down, I've been poking through the "Back to the Future" collected DVD set. They don't show any of the footage of Stoltz as Marty McFly (he played the role for a few weeks until producers decided it wasn't working and started from scratch with Michael J. Fox), but there are a few photo stills of him in the part, and it's bizarre to see him sitting on the bed with Lea Thompson or shooting video with the Doc. Stoltz did okay without that part, but the person I feel really sorry for is Melora Hardin, who was cast as Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, then got fired along with Stoltz because she was too tall to play Mike Fox's love interest. It's hard to say how much the role would have done for her career (Claudia Wells, who replaced her, dropped out of acting for health reasons a few years later), but she got stuck with the TV version of "Dirty Dancing," one of the two Lambada movies of '90, and other jobs of no note before making the awkward transition to middle-aged roles (because we know how much Hollywood loves middle-aged women) like Rachel McAdam's mom in "The Hot Chick" and Steve Carell's boss on "The Office." Would her career have been any different if she'd been short enough to star in one of the biggest, best hits of the '80s? Or would she still have wound up romancing a schoolteacher-by-day, Lambada-instructory-by-night? Unless I can get my hands on a Delorean with a flux capacitor, I guess I'll never know. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Get outta here!

Working through the last two days in reverse chronological order:

"Prison Break": Well, the good news is that they didn't bust out yet, since I still can't imagine enjoying the post-escape show based on the ham-fistedness of the conspiracy scenes (exemplified by the reformed Secret Service baddie failing to shove the evidence into Veronica's hands before Kellerman pulled up). The bad news is that, even for a show where you check your disbelief at the door or you don't get to come in, the foiling of Michael's plan was damn hard to swallow. The guy has contingency plans on top of contingency plans, and one random janitor screws everything up? I'll be back in March, but my bullshit meter may need recalibrating before then.

"How I Met Your Mother": I got to see this one last week, and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy an all-Ted episode this much. Of course, the reason I liked it was because Drunk Ted is much, much funnier and more likable than regular Ted, a fact that his friends -- and, I hope by proxy, the writers -- all pointed out. But just because we're stuck with Present-day Ted doesn't mean we have to be stuck with Future Ted, too, since the voiceovers are shutting off a lot of good potential storylines. Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar was good as Drunk Ted's one-night stand, and I'd like to see her again, but Future Ted has already declared that she never turns up again, so that's what we're stuck with. Ted and Robin are both much more interesting when they're together than when they're apart, but Future Ted has already put the kibosh on them ever getting together (at least, not for very long). Go away, Future Ted, and stop ruining the fun for the rest of us!

"King of Queens": By default, one of the better remaining sitcoms on TV, though the return of Ray Barone was just okay. On "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray's best moments were always reacting to other characters, and he and Doug are too alike to play to that strength. The fashion show, while predictable, was probably the highlight.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm": This is starting to feel like "SNL" to me: I tune in every week, knowing it's probably going to suck, but hopeful that for one night they'll recapture the glory days (which aren't nearly as far back as the "SNL" days). This was just awful again, full of people doing and saying things that they never would, even in Larry David World, notably Larry critiquing that woman's breast implants.

"Grey's Anatomy": In which Dr. McDreamy is revealed to be Dr. McPricky (during his taunting of Meredith), kind of appropriate given the priapism storyline. Sooner or later, every hospital show has to do an erectile superfunction gag subplot (Chicago Hope did it, and I'm pretty sure St. Elsewhere did it back in the '80s), and this one was well done. Not enough of the Nazi for my tastes, but another solid triple.

I'm running way late on this, so that's all for now. More tomorrow, which should come sooner given the number of shows that I watch being pre-empted for sweeps programming (Gilmore, Earl, Office, etc.). Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Luck be a Lady of the Lake

There's a traditional Jewish folk song that usually gets busted out around the Passover seder table called "Dayeinu" (that's pronounced die-AY-nu for the many Gentiles in the audience), which translates roughly as "It would have been enough." The lyrics are like "Even if God had only brought us out of slavery... dayeinu. Even if God had only brought us out of slavery and given us mannah to eat... dayeinu." Etc., etc., etc.

Passover is still a long way away (thankfully, since it's one of my least favorite Jewish holidays), but I had Dayeinu in my head a lot last night. My mom had been babysitting Julia in the afternoon, and the original plan was for us to pick her up around dinner time.

Even if we had just picked her up as planned and spent the evening hanging out and watching TV... dayeinu.

Then my mom offered to keep Julia overnight, and even if we had just gone to a holiday blockbuster movie at the local multiplex... dayeinu.

Then Marian suggested we take advantage of the mild weather and go into Manhattan, and even if we had just gone in and taken in a more obscure movie ("Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" was our target) or gone out for a fancy dinner... dayeinu.

Any or all of those activities would have been just fine and dandy. But we had time to kill before the movie was going to start, so we wandered over to Marian's favorite Italian restaurant, Carmine's, and when we saw the huge line at the door, our eyes wandered across the street to the Schubert Theater, where "Spamalot" was playing. Now, I've been dying to see that show ever since Eric Idle announced it, but between huge ticket demand and the matter of the small child who needs us to take care of her 24-7 for some reason, it hadn't happened, and I figured it wouldn't happen at least until the original cast was all gone.

But we still had time before the movie, and it was about 15 minutes before the opening curtain, so we wandered over, and while Marian talked to an usher, I got on the end of the Cancellations line. There were at least a dozen people ahead of me, and I assumed we had no shot at getting in. But a minute after I got on line, a woman walked up to me and offered to sell me two orchestra seats, face value, that she couldn't use. And after I got my heart started again, I said "Um, how about YES?" and waved Marian over.

So while getting out of Egypt/the house was swell and all, I got to go all the way to the promised land of "Spamalot," with kick-ass seats for one of the silliest and most entertaining times I've ever had at the legitimate the-ay-ter. (And, appropriately enough for this particular theme, the show has a song where David Hyde Pierce explains that you can't succeed on Broadway "if you don't have any Jews.")

As we've already established on this blog, I'm a giant dork, so I've seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" a few dozen times and know most of it by heart. So as cool as it was to see the French Taunter or the Knights Who Say Ni (both played so well by Alan Tudyk that I can't imagine Hank Azaria, who had Tudyk's parts originally, being any better), my favorite parts of the show tended to be the original material, like the aforementioned song about Jews, or the Andrew Lloyd Weber parody "The Song That Goes Like This," or Lancelot's expanded encounter with limp-wristed Prince Herbert.

So, all in all, this Nov. 26th went a hell of a lot better than the last Nov. 26th (see below). And if I don't get to Broadway again for a while... (say it with me)... dayeinu. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 25, 2005

My worst day ever so far, by Julio(*)

(Warning: the following has little to do with television, or movies or anything else, but given the date, it's something I needed to write. Snappy comments on lots of shows come towards the end.)

A year ago today, I was driving home from a late-night run to my local comic book store, where I was taking advantage of a Black Friday Midnight Madness sale to pick up a copy of JLA/Avengers on the cheap. If I'd known then what I know now, I would've just stayed home and paid the retail price for the damn thing. Instead, I was driving home in my hand-me-down Honda, pleased as punch at my purchase, when I drove through a green light and, out of the corner of my left eye, saw a car roaring at me so fast that I thought, "Oh, God, that police car's about to hit me," right before the left side of the car caved in on me, I spun out of control for 270 degrees or so and wound up perpendicular to my original position, unable to move or breathe and in excruciating pain.

My lungs refilled after a minute or so, and I reached for my cell phone, never gladder to own one than I was at that moment -- or to have the ability to move my arms at all. I picked it up and dialed home, and when Marian picked up, I was able to gasp out her name before the connection went dead -- and Marian quickly decided that I was dead, too. But she called back, and I was able to tell her where I was and what had happened, and she called 911. So had the woman whose lawn I came to a halt in front of, so two different ambulance crews showed up, both annoyed that the other was there, both stuck on location until they could cut me out with the Jaws of Life. A paramedic with a French accent and a French-sounding name that I can't remember anymore (Gerard? Henri?) sat in the back seat, holding my head in place in the event I had any kind of spinal injury. I don't know if it was the shock, or my disbelief at why this had happened, but I asked one of the other medics to make sure he picked up JLA/Avengers and put it in the ambulance, because I was gonna be damned if I almost died for a comic book and then couldn't read it in the hospital.

They cut me out of the car, placed me on the backboard as gently as they could, given my height and bulk, and slid me into the ambulance, where they proceeded to cut off my clothes, including my favorite jacket and my Superman t-shirt. (And, yes, I'm enough of a dork to wear a Superman shirt on a trip to the comic book store; and, yes, I'm aware of the irony inherent in almost dying while wearing the thing.) I was hurt bad enough that they didn't even take me to the local hospital, but to the nearest trauma center, a place where I had history both good (Julia was born there) and bad (my dad died there). I think I was in too much shock to feel real pain during the ambo ride, but when they set me down in the ER, it all hit me. I would find out later that I had broken three ribs and had badly lacerated my spleen, and boy howdy did all that hurt. And I wasn't even the most mangled guy in the ER. There was someone a few curtains down making sounds like a wounded coyote; one of the nurses told me that a car had completely crushed one of his limbs.

To add injury to insult and injury, when Marian arrived at the hospital with Julia in tow, she noticed that the fever Julia had displayed earlier in the evening was back. With nothing else to do until she was allowed to see me, she walked Julia down the hall to the pedes ER, where she found out that Julia had pneumonia. Not a good health night for the Sepinwall clan.

To make a long story only slightly less long, they kept me in the hospital for a week to make sure my spleen wouldn't rupture and flood my body with poisons. I started out in the ICU, where I was the nurses' favorite patient because, as the only guy not in a coma and/or with a tube down his throat, I could actually have conversations with them. Then I got moved to a step-down ward, where I suddenly became very popular among the family members of the other residents, all of whom had eyes on my room, the only private one on the floor. ("So, you going home tomorrow? Can you put in a good word for me?")

This was, obviously, not a good time. But as I look back on it a year later (And has it really been a year? Because it feels like yesterday.), I feel really damn glad to be alive, to have most of my health back, to have my wife and daughter and my friends and loved ones and blog-readers. Today (today), I consider myself (self) the luckiest man (man) on the face of the earth (earth).

The sentimental portion out of the way, let's get to all the stuff I've watched since last we met -- and it's been a lot, so buckle up.

"Prison Break": Oh my god, they killed Abruzzi! Those bastards! I suppose if I had to choose between Abruzzi and T-Bag, I'd rather keep T-Bag, who causes more trouble and is funnier than our mob boss. (Abruzzi's funniest moment was cutting off Michael's toe, which was an accidental homage to Peter Stormare's role in "The Big Lebowski.") The sequence with Michael flooding the chamber so he could swim to the top of it was genius; that's the stuff that got me hooked on this show in the first place, and the stuff I expect we're going to lose once Michael and pals are outside the prison walls.

"Gilmore Girls": I used to think that Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote the wordiest scripts on television, but now I've realized that it's her husband Daniel. I almost don't need to look at the writing credits for a given episode to tell if it's a Daniel show or not; the staggering words per minute ratio is always the clue. Glad to see Rory and Lorelai enjoying the reunion some more, though I would've liked to see them deal with the fact that Luke essentially lives with them now. (Did he move back into the diner apartment when Rory came home?) Zach's meltdown at the band showcase was funny, even though I've never seen "Dig" and didn't get the homage. (That's the secret of good homage... and let's just say 'homage' one more time to stick it in our brains for the rest of the day... feel better? I know I do.)

"House": Greg, you magnificent, self-loathing bastard. Your plan to win Stacy back of course drove her away -- just as I'm sure you knew it would when you stole those files. Meth-Head Cameron was an interesting diversion, but most of this week's highlights took place away from the main medical story.

"My Name Is Earl": Okay, they need to keep revisiting that one-legged ex-girlfriend, because those scenes are always gold -- especially when they brought in her no-legged, one-armed, ass-kicking new boyfriend. One of the better episodes overall, what with the multiple taser scenes, the recycled negative campaign ad and Crab Man displaying a social conscience.

"The Office": This, on the other hand, was pain. Pure pain. I had to start fast-forwarding through the Michael improv class scenes after a while, it was so squirm-inducing. Now, the thing is, a lot of the British episodes were just as uncomfortable (his motivational speech comes easily to mind), yet I found those more tolerable and funnier than when Michael's being pathetic. If I could figure out why one works for me and the other doesn't, well, then I'd have a decent column, I suppose. (Then again, I just wrote my whole "Jim and Pam should be the leads" column last week, so maybe I'm done proposing ways to improve the show for a while.)

"Lost": Remind me to just ignore all Damon Lindelof interviews from now on. He went on and on about how no one would believe what Ana-Lucia used to do for a living, when I think every single person who watches the show would have picked either cop or soldier after seeing her for a few weeks. Ana-Lucia, former ballerina? That would be a twist. Ana-Lucia, ex-debutante? That would shock me. Ana-Lucia, cop with a hair-trigger temper? Not so much. The flashbacks did explain why she acts the way she does, and it established that even the writers think she's too extreme, so that was good. The best parts of the episode, however, were the meetings and reunions -- Locke and Mr. Eko, Jin and Sun, Michael and the dog and, best of all, Bernard and Rose. (Excuse me, I have something in my eye again. Be right back.) Someone needs to come up with a few flashbacks for those two.

"Veronica Mars": Hot damn, that was good. Because Veronica is almost never scared of anything, on those rare occasions where she shows any fear at all (think back to her seeing Aaron Echolls in her rearview mirror), you know the shit has absolutely hit the fan. So that biker bar scene was intense (and helped along by one of my favorite songs off the "VM" soundtrack, "Dakota," by Stereophonics). Just as freaky as Weevil's henchmen playing Russian Roulette with Logan's privates; I've already seen next week's episode, and the fallout from that is good. And if we can't have Wallace around for a while for budgetary reasons, Mac makes a fine substitute sidekick.

"Survivor": Didn't see much of it. I was otherwise occupied Thanksgiving night, and then my poor impulse control got the better of me and I read a recap of the episode before I got to see it, just so I'd know who was voted off. Damn spoilers and their tempting chocolatey goodness! I did check out the Tribal Council, just because it sounded like Gary went down swinging, and he sure did, taking shots at Stephenie (loved seeing Bobby Jon and Jamie giggle in hysterics at the autograph joke) and Judd the bad liar. I'll miss you, mighty landscaper. One thing I wish had happened: Hogeboom gets his torch snuffed, then turns to the others and says, "By the way, I really was an NFL quarterback," followed by everyone saying, "We know, Gary, we know."

"Sleeper Cell":
This one isn't on yet, but it's been taking up a lot of my viewing time lately, and it is very cool. A friend of mine described it as "'Wiseguy' meets '24'," and I think the description is pretty apt, though it doesn't have the constant plot logic problems of "24" and the bad guy doesn't act circles around the main character. I'm five or six hours into a 10 hour show, so I'll have more comments later this week, before I write the review. But if you have Showtime, check it out next week.

So, in short, it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, and there was a lot of great TV in the last week. Sepinwall out.

(*)In case you were wondering, by the way, this post's title comes from Rick Schroder's finest moment on "NYPD Blue," a sarcastic interrogation from his very first episode with a suspicious gunshot victim named Julio; when Julio whined that he was having a bad day, Rick suggested he submit his tale of woe to Reader's Digest, and call it "My worst day ever so far, by Julio." You couldn't write that. David Milch could, but you couldn't.
Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 21, 2005

My life is now complete

In the All TV e-mailbox this morning, I got a message with the subject line "Come and knock on my door," which was full of praise for Matt and me, and which was signed by Richard Kline -- aka Larry Dallas, sleazy/wacky neighbor supreme on "Three's Company." Between this and the angry e-mail Tom Arnold sent Matt a while back, I'm pretty happy with our celebrity readership.

I've written so much here about the leads on "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Office" being the least funny characters on each show that I figured I ought to get a column out of it, so here it is.

Liked the "Grey's Anatomy" Thanksgiving episode a lot. Sometimes I think the show is too in love with its own sense of humor -- the twinkling string music over any scene that's even halfway amusing can get tiresome -- but this was a funny hour, mixed in with a strong poignant story about the rebirth and death of coma guy. One question: "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" is gay? Yet another reason that girl's parents should have hated him.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" was awful, again. Much as I love to see Larry try to Jew it up, this one was so dumb and phony and contrived that I was surprised Richard Kline didn't pop into the chalet halfway through the episode to invite Larry to cruise for chicks at the Regal Begal. Good to see that Stuart Pankin has trimmed down, but I couldn't believe that any person in this episode would do or say anything that they were doing and saying. Even when "Curb" is wacky, there's an internal logic to it that wasn't anywhere to be found here -- except in the scene where the doctor busts Larry on his reason for lingering over Louis Lewis' bed, and Larry congratulates him for the deduction.

Back to "How I Met Your Mother," this was a solid one, though once again the non-Ted portions were much better than the Ted portions. Marian and I have about the same height differential as Lily and Marshall, and as Lily gawked at the turkey, Marian admitted that when we were seriously dating, some friends suggested that she might consider how big a baby of mine would feel inside her belly. (Sure enough, Julia had a ginormous head and didn't want to come out for weeks.) Oh, and that ending? If the stripper really was the kids' mom, I think I would be a lot more interested in Ted's story. But that's just me.

I'll be back tomorrow with thoughts on "Prison Break" and most of the Tuesday shows. Maybe my inbox today will have a message from Pat Harrington... Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wha happen?

I know, I know, I know... the four of you who actually read this blog have all been complaining about the tardiness of the latest entry, so I'll try to tackle Wednesday through the weekend (or what I've seen of it) as quick as I can.

"Lost": The whole Zen "no answers" thing works out really well for an episode like this, which was basically a one-hour expansion of a few lines of Ana-Lucia dialogue from the week before. If you're willing to accept that there's going to be wheel-spinning and hedging and no new information except when the writers have absolutely no choice, then you can enjoy the character and thriller aspects. I liked the extended look at the tailaways, and the sort of parallel structure to the main characters, with Ana-Lucia as Kate, Mr. Eko (my favorite character on the show by far these days) as Locke and Goodwin seeming to be Jack. Brett Cullen, who played Goodwin, is one of my favorite Hey, It's That Guys (TV division), and once again he got the job done. Hopefully, either this or "West Wing" is going to lead him to another regular job. (He has a supporting role on a WB midseason show with Rebecca Romijn, but it's so lousy that he'll probably be looking for a new gig inside a month.) The scene on top of the mountain where Ana-Lucia and Goodwin pleasantly chatted while each was sizing the other up for the kill was the kind of character-based suspense this show does so damn well that I'm willing to ignore the non-info thing.

The one problem the producers have is that they introduced Ana-Lucia in a way designed to make viewers just despise her -- sneering in every scene, bullying three of the main characters, yelling loudly whenever anyone tries to get answers and, last week, killing Shannon -- and now they're backtracking and trying to show why you should like her. It doesn't work that way, which J.J. Abrams (who I know isn't very hands-on these days) should remember from the "Alias" season with Melissa George. She was also intro'd in a manner where fans had no choice but to hate her (disrupting their long-awaited Sydney/Vaughn romance), and when the effort to make her sympathetic didn't work, J.J. admitted defeat and turned her evil full-time. Ana-Lucia has built up so much bad karma with the viewers over only a few weeks that she may never enter their good graces. Maybe she'll have to go and join The Others at some point.

"Veronica Mars": An odd episode, tonally darker than even this show usually gets. Sheriff Lamb is one of the show's better recurring characters, so I like giving him some depth, so long as he doesn't suddenly turn into a nice guy. (His jerkiness is his most likable trait.) Little movement on the bus crash and only slightly more on Logan's case, though the idea of having Logan and Duncan live together is genius, since it forces Veronica and Duncan to trade insults on a regular basis.

"South Park": I'm the only person I know who saw this one and was underwhelmed. I just feel like Tom Cruise and Scientology are like a turkey shoot these days, and this could have been a lot savager and funnier than it was. The two best jokes: the "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" caption over the history video, and Stan (and, by proxy, Matt and Trey) daring the Scientologists to sue, followed by a closing credits full of John and Jane Smiths.

"Survivor": Hogeboom lives to landscape another day! Woo-hoo! What I liked about this episode the most was the irony Jamie becomes so paranoid that his allies are going to turn on him that his paranoia drives them to turn on him. Ever since Alanis Morissette ruined everyone's definition of irony, you rarely see the concept in its 100% pure form like this. Oh, and this blog entry has been brought to you by Folger's. Damn, that's good coffee! And hot!

"The O.C.": Well, I give them points for not letting Summer be dumb enough to fall into Taylor's jealousy trap -- yet -- and for letting Julie plausibly outsmart 7 of 9, but the show's overall IQ has dropped so many points since the first season that I feel uncomfortable watching it. Season three "O.C." is the kind of show that season one "O.C." would have mocked.

"ER": I'll give 'em this: as stupid as I thought the plane crash in Chicago idea was, it got me watching the show for the first time this season. Incredibly stupid, but entertaining in a C-level disaster movie way. No "ER" disaster episode is ever going to top season one's blizzard episode (where the producers didn't have to blow the budget on snow and crash effects, since everything took place inside the hospital), but this wasn't any cheesier than the helicopter crash, or the train crash, or the toxic waste spill, or the spree shooting, or... (As Matt put it, "Did they build this hospital on top of a Hellmouth?")

"SNL": I'm starting to feel like one of those monks from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who wander around constantly smashing boards into their faces as mortification. Why else am I watching this show week after week? The problem isn't just the lousy writing and flimsy premises (a house music parody? a sketch designed to let the cast showcase their impressions of late '50s celebrities?), but the fact that it's a cast full of second and third-tier "SNL" types. The writing has been uneven practically since the show began, but the good casts always have at least one or two people who are funny even with lousy material: Gilda, Belushi and Murray in the original cast, Lovitz and Hartman in the late '80s, Will Ferrell in the late '90s. This group has some talented impressionists (Heder's Pacino is the best I've ever seen) and people who can be funny on the rare occasion when the sketch is working, but the closest thing they have to people who can rise above the material are Will Forte and Amy Poehler, but even they only occasionally can make something out of nothing.

"The Simpsons": Not the funniest episode of the season by a long stretch, but I give them points for a relatively coherent Homer-Lisa story, though the California recall election parody felt like filler between emotional beats of the story. This is two weeks in a row where they've tried to return to smaller stories about the family, and it's clear that most of the current writers have either let those muscles atrophy or never had them in the first place (the younger ones who grew up on the years of the show where Homer flew in the space shuttle and toured with Hullabalooza). Still, I appreciate the effort now and then; the first couple of seasons weren't always that hilarious, but there was a heart to those stories that kept me around, long after our hero turned into Jerkass Homer.

More on "Grey's Anatomy," "Curb" and other Sunday shows either later Monday or on Tuesday morning. I'll get a relatively fixed schedule on this thing sooner or later. Really. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stay tuned...

Sorry for no update yet today. I half-wrote my entry and then got tied up with stuff at work. I'll definitely have it done at some point this weekend. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A copy better than the original

If it seems like it takes me longer than it should to catch up on a specific night's worth of shows, it's because I've been spending a lot of time catching up on "Battlestar Galactica." One of the downsides of sharing the workload with another critic is that, if I'm not reviewing something, I rarely can make the time to watch it on my own. Matt snagged the "Galactica" miniseries back in '03 and proceeded to dump all over it in his review ("The Sci Fi version is better than the original, I guess, but that’s not much of a compliment," he wrote. "It’s like saying one brand of American cheese smells better than another.") So I filed it away as a show I didn't need to bother with, and moved on.

But when the first season began airing late last year, I began seeing reviews by other critics whose opinions I trust, and they were raves. Diane Werts wrote at one point, "Is this the best show on television right now or what?" Since Diane is the person who turned me on to "The Shield" and "Titus" long before they premiered, I had a George Bluth moment and said, "I've made a terrible mistake."

So when the miniseries plus the first season came out on DVD, I raced through all of them in about a week, and was embarrassed that I'd missed out on such a terrific show for so long. (When I confronted Matt about it, he admitted sheepishly that he really regretted his negative review of the mini, and later expressed that reversal of opinion in print.) Once I got out from under all the fall premieres, I got ahold of all the second season episodes to date, and when given the choice between one of them and most of what's been on the networks, I've chosen "Galactica." I was messing around with a rough draft of my year-end top 10 list today, and I'll be damned if this show didn't keep winding up at or near the top of every version.

It was swell for a while to be able to watch as many episodes as I wanted on whatever schedule I wanted, but now that I've finished with "Pegasus," I'm in the same boat as the rest of the show's fans, having to wait to find out what happens next. (Same thing happened to me with the Harry Potter books; after years of parceling them out slowly, I read the last three in a six-month span and now have no new Potter until J.K. gets around to writing the finale.)

But while I wait for what's surprisingly become my favorite show to return, I have to get back to the rest of the schedule. Back tomorrow with reviews of "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "South Park" and whatever I get to watching tonight. Much as I've been making fun of it -- as does Matt in today's All TV column (the token "Arrested Development" mention is on page 3) -- I have to admit that I'm probably going to check out the stupid "ER" plane crash episode. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sometimes, I amaze even myself

Another day, another attempt to mention "Arrested Development" in the column for at least an entire week. (Today's column talks about it in context of the ratings for "Prison Break.") So as I'm sitting around, scratching for an excuse to name-check it again, Matt says he just heard that HBO is pushing the premiere of "Deadwood" back to June so that the new Bill Paxton polygamy show "Big Love" can get the post-"Sopranos" timeslot. I call up one of my friends in the "Deadwood" production office, and after we discuss the scheduling move, he says, "You know what you should write in your column? Write that HBO should pick up Arrested Development." Bingo. These things write themselves from time to time.

On to the last couple of nights of TV...

Well praise the lord and pass the ammunition: Rory and Lorelai finally got back together on last night's "Gilmore Girls." Took 'em, what, nine episodes into the season? I'm so glad to be done with The Passion of the Rory that I'm willing to overlook all sorts of awkwardness, like:
  • Rory actually being rewarded for stalking the newspaper editor, when said behavior would have at best gotten her tossed onto the sidewalk by security while the editor told her, "And you can forget about that recommendation." There's a difference between perserverance and simply refusing to accept reality as it is.
  • Lorelai letting Emily off the hook for the many awful things she's done to both herself and Rory in the last season or so.
  • Rory magically getting reinstated at Yale with only a few weeks to go in the fall semester.
  • The reconciliation scene coming together so quickly that, even though we've been waiting months for it, it felt rushed.

But whatever. They're back together, and much like Lorelai, I'm just gonna let all that other water wash under the bridge. (Or is it over the bridge? My cliche dictionary's missing.)

The other big development, and the one that has the message boards filled with screams of shark-jumping, is Luke suddenly having a 12-year-old daughter of his own that he never knew about. On the one hand, I think it's a stupid idea and I'm going to be pissed if Amy uses this as an excuse to bust up Luke and Lorelai for a while just as we got her and Rory back together. On the other hand, I liked the actress playing Mini-Rory, and I thought Scott Patterson was great at both the comedy and emotion of this ridiculous twist, so I'll give it a little rope. A little.

An uneven "The Office." I know Carell's the star and the boss was the main character of the British version, but at this point I think there needs to be a refocusing, because the Jim/Dwight/Pam stuff is by far the highlight of every week, while Michael works best in small doses. Michael's attempt to turn his one-night stand with the boss into something more made me uncomfortable; Jim's mission to maintain Dwight's mistake about the days of the week just made me laugh. Given Carell's movie prospects after "Virgin," I don't know that he'd object to becoming a supporting player if it freed up his schedule for more film work.

On a very special sweeps episode of "House," Lance Armstrong -- or a reasonable facsimile (who used to be on "North Shore") -- comes to the hospital for... something to do with blood transfusions, I think. Marian's a hospital administrator, so when I watch medical shows with her, she's constantly pointing out inaccuracies (I'm sure I'd do the same if someone was ever dumb enough to create a show about a TV critic), and at one point she asked me if I minded the frequent interruptions.

"It's okay," I said. "I don't really pay attention to the medical stuff."

"But the medical stuff is the whole show!" she said.

So after hitting the TiVo's pause button, we got into a discussion of whether the cases in "House" matter at all, or if they're just the MacGuffin, the excuse to hang House's funny lines and fragile emotional state on. I went with the MacGuffin route; she said she likes the medical investigations (not to be confused with this) as much as the character material. What say you?

"Prison Break" edges ever closer to fulfilling its title. I'm disappointed that, one week after the writers felt the need to introduce a Super-Evil Secret Agent to put the two Regular-Evil Secret Agents in their place, they got rid of the guy, but I'm not surprised. With a show like this or "24," killing time is one of the hardest things to do. (Can you say cougar? Or amnesia?) So the writers vamp for a couple of weeks by introducing another bad guy, then throw him down a well when he's not needed anymore. A shame, really, as I felt he was much more legitimately threatening than Kellerman or his sidekick. As for the rest of the episode, T-Bag seems like the obvious one to get dumped from the escape team (again, Abruzzi should have several dozen ways to kill him without exposing their secret), which means I'm sure we'll go in a different direction. Early on, I suggested that the writers might try to really surprise people by taking a page from the "24" season one finale and having Michael escape while Lincoln dies in the attempt. Maybe they've got the onions to do it.

We're running long here, so I'll dispense with "Grey's Anatomy" pretty quickly. I'm surprised the writers didn't follow George's "carpe diem" day to its logical conclusion and have him profess his love to Meredith. Sooner or later, they need to pull a Sam Weir/Cindy Sanders and have the two of them hook up for a few episodes, only to have George realize he's really not that into her. Burke and Cristina's strained date was really funny, and it was weird to see the lead from "American Embassy" as a contemporary of McDreamy and Mrs. McDreamy. On "Embassy," she was playing the Ally McBeal part and was supposed to be in her late 20s at most, but according to IMDb, she's over 40. Huh.

I have nothing more to add, except: "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development"...

Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Watch her like a movie"

Real estate is an obsession in the New York/New Jersey area. At every party I attended during my single days, if there were four conversations going on at once, two or three of them would be about square footage, rent hikes, crazy landlords and, as we got older, mortgage rates. A lot of people want to live around here, and there's not enough elbow room for all, so everyone's constantly hustling for a bigger space, a better rent, a parking space, whatever.

Shortly after Marian and I resumed dating after a short and stupid break, she got a tip from a friend about a ginormous two-bedroom in a prime location in Hoboken. She brought me with her to check it out, and it was as great as advertised. Her only problem was that she would need to find a roommate to cover the rent. I offered to move in with her, only half-joking, and it was as much about my love of the place as my interest in taking things to the next level with Marian. She rolled her eyes and said, "Umm... no," and found herself a roommate who we'll call Georgia for legal reasons. When she was interviewing possible roommates, she told all of them that it would be a one-year deal, and at the end of that year, if Marian wanted the place to herself, she'd get it.

By the time that year was coming to a close, we were engaged and we wanted that place. One problem: Georgia claimed to have never had the one-year conversation with Marian, and told us in no uncertain terms that she wasn't leaving. Marian had put both their names on the lease so she'd have legal recourse in case Georgia turned out to be a flake who wouldn't pay rent, but that backfired.

So the plan became for me to move in -- along with all my furniture, books, comic books, electronic equipment, etc. -- and make my presence as big and loud as possible (as any of my friends will tell you, that wasn't much of a challenge) until Georgia decided she'd rather live in a smaller place than deal with me and my stuff. Georgia responded to Operation: Sasquatch with a strategic retreat into her bedroom, gradually removing all of her stuff -- including the TV, the lamp and one of the couches -- from the living room. My friend Jennifer advised us to get a bucket of popcorn and "watch her like a movie" to make sure she didn't start messing with our stuff.

After a few weeks, Georgia surrendered and found another place. But as one final salvo in our little war, she locked her bedroom door (a keyless lock that can only be opened easily from the inside) as she left, so that we were only a few minutes into our celebration of having the place to ourselves before we had to call a locksmith.

Why am I telling you all this? It's a (very) roundabout way of saying that I've lived something close to what happened on "How I Met Your Mother" last night -- minus the dueling part -- and I could relate to the anguish over shared real estate. (This, of course, is TV New York, where a kindergarten teacher can afford to carry the rent on an apartment big enough to be converted into a Chinese restaurant, even though she doesn't live there.) Not as good as the club episode, but pretty funny nonetheless. Barney's Lemon Law subplot was also nice, and featured yet another "Freaks and Geeks" guest appearance, by Martin "Bill Haverchuck" Starr as Robin's nerdy date. (Samm Levine was one of the losers stuck outside the nightclub, and, of course, disco-dancing Jason Segel is in the regular cast.)

I'm still catching up on other things from Sunday and Monday nights (I wasted most of last night watching the ugliest NBA game I have ever seen), but I did see the latest "Simpsons," which opened with what I think is the longest couch gag in the show's history. (My friend Dan suggested the parody of "Contact" as the only other one that came close.) That couch gag was also funnier than the rest of the episode combined. After all my complaining over the years about the writers moving away from the emotional dynamics of the family, I can't get too worked up over a half-hour about Marge and Bart bonding, but it felt like a rough outline of an episode; there was sort of a story, and sort of a few jokes, but they weren't close to finished. And the Homer's dumbbell subplot? I know the show's been around for 8,000 years, but this is at least the third different episode where Homer or Marge gets randomly bulked up (the last time, Homer accomplished it by unleashing the power of apples); if you're going to repeat that joke again, at least make it funny.

I also suffered through another episode of what's shaping up to be the worst "Saturday Night Live" season since Anthony Michael Hall and Randy Quaid roamed the halls. Watching it this year is like that Tom Hanks sketch where everyone in the family has to take a whiff of the rotten milk carton so they know for themselves just how disgusting it is. I love Jason Lee, but even he can't do much when the writing's not there. The closest thing to a good sketch was the HGTV parody, and even that was a rip-off of two older sketches: Schweddy Balls and a Prince Charles/butler sketch that featured the same caulk-in-the-crack joke.

I'd write more, but someone sitting on my lap needs a new diaper. More later after I've watched "Prison Break." In the meantime, links to the two most recent All TV columns: Monday's, featuring Matt on PBS' Las Vegas documentary and me bemoaning the fate of "Arrested Development," and Tuesday's, a mailbag dealing even more with "Arrested Development." (It's my goal to mention the show every day this week if I can get away with it.) Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 11, 2005

HOGEBOOM!!!!! (and some other stuff)

Going in reverse chronological order of when I watched things from the last couple of days:

"The O.C.": Okay, I think I'm going to need some kind of flow chart to keep track of all the flirting and soulful looks going on between the regular characters and their Bizarro World equivalents from Newport Union. Marissa's on the verge of dating Johnny (aka Bizarro-Ryan), Taylor Townsend (kind of a Bizarro-Summer, though she goes to Harbor) is putting a move on Seth, and Ryan and Summer are sharing more screen time together than they have in the entire series put together. Is that all? Did I miss anyone? My brain hurts. Bonus points for the complete lack of Evil Dean, but I'm not feeling the love this week.

"The Apprentice": Yeah, I've been sucked back in, dammit, and it wasn't even a good episode. Another multiple-firing, both well-deserved, but if Trump fired every contestants who deserved to be fired every week, the season would be about two weeks long. (Episode one: meet the contestants. Episode two: everyone but Randal gets fired.) One of the duller product-placed tasks of all time.

"Survivor": Hogeboom, Hogeboom, Hogeboom. From laughingstock to crafty genius you've gone, my lanky friend. The dramatic pause before busting out the Mini-Idol was one of the coolest "Survivor" moments in a long time (and would have been cooler if the editors hadn't played up Gary's probable exit so blatantly that you knew he'd pull a rabbit or idol out of his hat by episode's end). I just hope he can exercise some of his experience at lawncare (and what was up with that weird football anecdote at one point? I thought he said he was a landscaper) to convince Rafe, Cindy and Lydia to turn against the Axis of Evil, because if any of those three idiots win, I'll be irked. (Though I have to say, I'd almost be more irked by a Lydia win, since she'd be the most inconsequential winner, screentime-wise, since Vecepia.)

"Veronica Mars": A dark, dark episode (and, judging from the previews, not the last one this month) where things got so bad that a Veronica/Wiedman team-up actually seemed like a wise idea. Weevil, Cliff and Aaron all return, Joss Whedon and Kim from "Top Model" both don't embarrass themselves in acting cameos, and we get some quality Weevil/Logan fighting. Not happy, but damn good.

"South Park": I have a list of things that are always funny, under any circumstance. Al Pacino doing a Cuban accent? Always funny. Will Ferrell wearing a fake mustache? Always funny. Cartman being a hatemonger? Always, always funny. Not the most original "South Park" ever, but the scene with the anguished parents of the three Ginger Kids was worth tuning in for by itself. Question: is Lindsay Lohan a Ginger Kid? Click here to read the full post

Mr. F takes down the Bluths

Well, this is depressing, but not the least bit surprising. According to Joe Adalian at Daily Variety, "Arrested Development" is basically dead:

Fox has cut back its episode order on one of TV's most critically praised shows to just 13 segs, down from 22. Skein, from 20th Century Fox TV and creator Mitch Hurwitz, has also been pulled from the schedule for the rest of the month, another sign that the network may have finally given up on trying to bring an audience to the show.
And adding insult to injury:

News was nearly as grim for "Arrested's" Monday night companion, the Darren Star-produced "Kitchen Confidential." It's also been pulled for sweeps, and producers have been told the show won't be getting a full-season pickup.

I got over taking these things too hard a long time ago. The very first pilot that I watched in my very first year as a critic was "EZ Streets," which is still one of the two or three best TV shows I've ever seen. Dead on contact. Two years after that, I got my heart broken by "Cupid." Then there were "Freaks and Geeks," and "Titus," and "Greg the Bunny," and... well, you get the point. All my darlings end prematurely, and I've long since accepted my role as the Angel of Death. Frankly, I had assumed that "Arrested" would be canceled in half a season. The fact that I got more than two years of it was a pleasant surprise. Time to pre-order that DVD.

I only wish I had known about the move before I wrote my column about how boring this season has been. And, yes, I already said I probably wasn't going to do it because Melanie McFarland beat me to the punch, but Melanie encouraged me to go for it, anyway, and I didn't have a better idea for Friday, especially since I had already reviewed the "SNL" in the '80s documentary yesterday.

Comments on "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "Survivor" and the rest of Thursday TV later today. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh, Mickey, you're so fun

In today's All TV column, I review the PBS documentary "Pioneers of Primetime," which wasn't one-fifth as entertaining as the press conference to promote it from last July. One of the funniest, most bizarre experiences I've ever had. Since my column about that's no longer archived on NJ.com, here it is:

Chaos Agent

Mickey Rooney once was, as he will eagerly tell you, the No. 1 box of fice attraction in the world. To that, he can add another distinction: centerpiece of the most surreal news conference in the history of the Television Critics Association press tour.

Rooney, 84, was on stage to discuss PBS’ "Pioneers of Primetime," a documentary about the early days of television, scheduled to run in November. Since Rooney appeared so infrequently on television back then that he’s not even in the documentary, no one could quite understand what he was doing on the panel — not even the Pioneers producer could explain it — but he proceeded to do his best to take over the joint.

For more than an hour, Rooney interrupted other panelists — including genuine TV pioneers like Sid Caesar, 82, and Rose Marie, 81 — answered questions not directed toward him, and randomly digressed into stories about people he had worked with in the movies and on stage.

All that stood between the critics and total conversa tional Armageddon were Carl Reiner, 83, and Red Buttons, 86, who alternately tried to get the discussion back on track or take Rooney down a few pegs.

The trouble began early, when a question about changing standards of taste in TV comedy led Rooney to get philosophical.

"I think everybody in the entertainment world is special," he said, "because God gave them that talent to move forward and to go with the good, the mediocrity of things and the good things. And people who say that they never made mistakes, dont you believe it. Everybody makes mistakes and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. But, in entertainment, you try your best not to make any mistakes. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it’s fair. Sometimes, it’s not even worth going. But all of these people on this venue today have worked with good taste, good taste, and thats what we’re all proud of."

A startled Buttons asked, "What the hell did Mickey (just) say?"

"I don’t know," Reiner replied. "I was about to ask if somebody had written it down because I want to make a sampler out of that. I want to have that on my couch."

After a Rooney anecdote about the legendary producer and director Cecil B. DeMille that only Caesar seemed to understand, Buttons asked, "By the way, Mickey, was Lincoln a nice guy?"

This didn’t have the desired effect, as Rooney started discussing Civil War generals whose last names also belonged to his own relatives. As the reporters and other panelists broke down in astonished giggles, Rooney insisted, "I don’t know why you’re laughing. It’s true!"

When Rooney began to answer a question asked of Caesar, Reiner said, "You’re not Sid Caesar," and tossed the question back to his old boss from "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar’s Hour."

Later, Rooney began listing all the actors with whom he’d worked at MGM, and likely would have kept going for several minutes if Buttons hadn’t interrupted to start talking about his love of Rooney’s Andy Hardy movies, inventing new ones like "Andy Hardy and the Hasidic Housewife." Rooney then took this as a cue to explain to the audience that Lionel Barrymore had played Judge Hardy in the first Hardy picture.

"I’m so glad I came!" Reiner dryly exclaimed. "I would not have known that!"

"Pioneers of Primetime" deals at length with the vaudeville backgrounds of many early TV stars, and Rooney made sure everyone understood that vaudeville was pre-dated by burlesque, going so far as to dust off old burlesque jokes like "Why did the chicken cross the road?" and "That was no lady, that was my wife!" as Buttons groaned, "Oh, my God."

When Rooney interrupted Buttons’ story about being on stage during the moment of the infamous 1942 police raid of Minsky’s, Buttons griped, "Mickey, I’m on."

"I’ve never seen you get off," Rooney retorted.

"It’s hard to work in stereo," said Buttons. "It really is."

A few minutes after, Buttons was listing TV stars with a background in sketch comedy, such as Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers, when Rooney non-sequitur’ed into an appreciation of movie immortal Jimmy Cagney. Buttons, unable to resist, launched into his Cagney impression, and all of a sudden both Buttons and Rooney were on their feet, shadowboxing in a way that only seemed half-playful. (You can guess which half was which.) To defuse the tension, Reiner launched the room into a sing-along of the title number from the Cagney musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Rooney sat down, but his Cagney discussion went on for several more minutes — including him reciting lines from the 1935 version of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" where Rooney played Puck and Cagney played Bottom — until "Pioneers" producer Steve Boettcher begged the reporters, "Jump in, jump in. Don’t be shy."

"I was a young girl when this panel was started," cracked Rose Marie.

A reporter wondered if anyone on the panel had a theory about why Milton Berle became a big TV star while his vaudeville contemporary Fred Allen didn’t.

"Can I answer that?" Rooney asked.

"I would be amazed if you didn’t!" said Reiner.

As the session was coming to an end, Reiner declared, "I want to say one thing in defense of Mickey," and as the audience cackled, Reiner went on at length about Rooney’s many talents.

"What I’m saying," he concluded, "is that Mickey Rooney should be forgiven for all his madness up here today because he is a genius. He’s a genius performer."

Buttons, not quite as sincerely, also tried to defend Rooney, pointing out they served in the Army together during World War II.

"One day, he saved our entire outfit. He killed a cook."

Click here to read the full post

Double feature

It's not often I can use this job to impress chicks (aka my wife), but last night was a good one. We had just finished watching "Gilmore Girls" when she said, "Oh, I wish there was more!" I took a dramatic pause, then said, "Well, it just so happens that I have next week's episode in my bag!" Major, major brownie points there.

I've complained a lot in the past about how Amy Sherman-Palladino keeps fixing Rory up with these asshole boyfriends whom she thinks are much nicer than they actually are, so it was funny to see Asshole #2 (Jess) lecture Rory on dating Asshole #3 (Logan). (Asshole #1 was Tristan, who I'm sure Rory would've started dating if Chad Michael Murray hadn't left to do that "Lone Ranger" pilot.) Of course, this new Jess was more mature and decent than he ever was when he was a regular character on the show; I could actually buy Rory going out with him now. It bothered me that Rory needed an outside voice to shake her out of this stupid funk, but it's about freaking time. The scene at the end, with Rory and Emily turning into a young Lorelai and Emily, was great, one of the few times this year where I haven't cringed at Alexis Bledel's acting. (She's decent when Rory's upset; it's the comedy scenes that overwhelm her.) Next week's episode is even better, though I can't discuss it much without spoilage.

When that was done, I zipped through "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." One of the better "Earl"s of the season, featuring not only an extended flashback to Bad Earl, but a funny karma mission. Some weeks, it seems like the writers just assume that the idea of Earl trying to do good deeds is funny in and of itself, when the comedy should be coming from the dumb screw-up ways Earl tries to fulfill his mission. (The beauty pageant episode last week was totally flat, except for Jamie Pressley dancing with her mom's ashes.) The "Say Anything"/golf club/burning cross scene is the sort of thing that should be happening every week: Earl going at his mission in exactly the wrong way and almost making things worse in the process. The "Smokey and the Bandit" subplot was funny, too, and the show followed through with the joke with the "Smokey"-style blooper reel over the end credits. (They're not the first show to use that gag, however; the best of them was on "The State," which for no reason whatsoever featured an exact recreation of the blooper reel from "Cannonball Run" at the end of one episode.)

"The Office" ruined my theory that Carell is playing another 40-year-old virgin, but I'll survive. This is the most competent we've ever seen the character (even as David Brent in the original), and I suppose it was necessary at some point. In the British version, the boss gets fired for incompetence within 12 episodes; if this show hopes to be around for the long haul, we occasionally need to see reasons why Michael gets to keep his job. The table read of Michael's movie script was another good Jim/Pam subplot, but I worry that they're pushing this UST thing too far. Will-they-or-won't-they is a trap that's killed many a good comedy before ("Ed" dragged out the Ed and Carol thing for so damn long that I just gave up), and in the event that "The Office" is around a while, I don't want to tune in three years from now and see Jim still awkwardly pining for Pam with no forward movement. Greg Daniels has said that he really sees the two of them as friends, but if that's the case, he needs to nip this thing in the bud, and fast. Just do an episode where they sleep together and it's a disaster afterwards and get it over with. Hey, if Michael can get laid, anyone on this show can. Except maybe Dwigt.

I had already seen "House," which is the episode I had alluded to in last week's column about how the writers are smart to occasionally let one of House's patients die. Very strong hour with a great guest performance by Clifton Powell as the patient's dad and some real relevations about House's past. But am I the only who, everytime I see R. Lee Ermey, I immediately want him to shout, "What is your major malfunction, Private Pyle?" No? Didn't think so. Click here to read the full post

Everybody loves Elmo

One of the trickier parenting knots I've had to unravel since Julia was born is how much TV, if any, she should watch. I know people at work who consider it an abomination to let kids under two watch even a second of TV, and I have friends who will sit their kids in front of Pixar movies for hours on end.

Because Julia wakes up at least an hour before my brain turns on properly, we begin our day with "Sesame Street," and watching it as an adult gives me a very different, darker perspective. Not only are Bert and Ernie obviously a gay couple, but it's an emotionally abusive relationship: Ernie gets his way on everything, and whenever Bert tries to get his way, Ernie harasses his way to victory. I've recognized Cookie Monster as one of the great tragic characters in modern literature, perpetually in thrall to his cookie addiction. (They even showed a flashback a while ago where we saw that he was once a perfectly normal kid whose life was forever destroyed when his mom brought him a plateful of chocolate chips.)

I've even grown to like Elmo, who for years I had resented for the way he supplanted Grover as the show's go-to furry monster. Since Elmo is supposed to be both younger and cuter than Grover, I had been envisioning some kind of "All About Elmo" scenario where the producers decided Grover's demographics weren't skewing young enough. But I think if I was a kid, I'd be more drawn to Elmo's constant enthusiasm (seriously, is there anything or anyone he doesn't love?) than to Grover's klutzy neuroses.

The other odd thing I'm noticing is the presence of people I know better from much more grown-up shows. Dr. Gina, for instance, was Tony B.'s girlfriend on "The Sopranos," and this morning, I caught Tyler James Williams from "Everybody Hates Chris" singing along with Gabby a song that I think was called "Meow, Tweet, Moo." Now I know how parents must've felt when they saw Steve from "Blues Clues" play a killer on "Homicide."

This blog entry has been brought to you today by the letter Q and by the number 17. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The longest season

So here I was, all prepared to write a column, or a blog entry, or both, on how bored I've been by most of what this season has to offer, when I went to TV Tattle and saw that Melanie McFarland had beaten me to the punch. Few things sting more than having someone write the story I hadn't gotten around to yet.

From that column I wish I'd written (well, except for the parts about Jared Padalecki's hotness):
This season of network television is boring. Not terrible, BO-RING. There's a difference. Terrible television has nothing redeeming about it, and forces us to take up odd projects, like curling or crocheting trousers. Whereas boring television is just decent enough to keep you hanging on in the hopes that this will finally be the week that a show finds its way.
My TiVo Season Pass list is shrinking rapidly. I've given up on TV altogether on Fridays and Saturdays (though the networks beat me to the punch on the latter), and there are other nights where at most I want to watch one or two shows. I've found myself multi-tasking even through the shows I couldn't bear to look away from last season. It was obvious from watching the pilots that there wasn't going to be a "House" or "Veronica Mars" among this year's rookies, but "House" and "Veronica Mars" are two of the few returning shows that still have my attention.

At first, I thought it was just an ongoing post-accident malaise, but I've been hearing the same thing from lots of friends, several of whom, like me, get paid to watch this stuff.

I was excited by the return of "Arrested Development" after baseball-induced hiatus, but every episode these days makes me feel a bit sad, since I know there probably won't be many more of them given the awful ratings. (I actually saw a "story" in the new issue of Inside TV about Fox execs conducting secret talks to turn the show into a movie -- because, of course, that idea worked so well with "Firefly.")

The first half hour was much stronger than the second, with the creative bleeping of "pussy," Michael's hatred of Ann reaching new lows (loved George Michael's exasperated "You've met her on many, many occasions" muttering) as my favorite gags. Episode two was more uneven -- it's taken, what, five episodes for the writers to figure out why Charlize Theron's supposed to be funny? -- but I applauded the surprise return of Annyong, which I'm guessing was a one-shot gag.

"How I Met Your Mother" had a Ted-centric plot, which is a problem, since (say it with me), he's the least interesting, least funny character on the show. Everytime I laughed, it was during the cock-a-mouse subplot. Is it too late to make Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan the leads and redub the show, "How We Ditched Our Depressing Roommate"?

"Prison Break" edges closer and closer to fulfilling its title, at which point I'll probably escape the show myself, but the gradual expansion of the escapees list was entertaining. On the other hand, Hollywood needs to put a moratorium on ripping off the fake-out finale of "Silence of the Lambs," because no one's even being fooled by it anymore. If you actually thought the house Mikey Palmice and friends were about to storm was Fibonacci's, shame on you.

Come on, TV season. Dazzle me. And soon. Please. Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sunday night dead

I wish I could call the awful live "West Wing" debate episode a disappointment, but that would imply I had high hopes for it to begin with. John Wells is now 0-2 with live gimmick episodes, both of which completely ignored why people watch those shows in the first place. The live "ER" ditched the action movie production values, editing and music that made the show so cool back then, while the "West Wing" episode completely abandoned Aaron Sorkin's mission statement to show viewers what goes on right before or right after the big moments you see on TV. It was slow and tedious. It completely ignored everything that happened in the previous episode (no questions on abortion or attack ads?). And despite the writers' paper-thin attempts to make viewers forget that they liked Vinick last season, Alan Alda was so damn good that I'd vote for him, even though I agree with more of Santos' positions.

Hey Mr. Wells: I know that "China Beach" usually did well with the format-breaking episodes, but you're now responsible for the two biggest formula-breaking "West Wing" episodes of all time (this and "Access," the PBS documentary from the future episode), which also happen to be the two worst "West Wing" episodes of all time. There's a lesson in there somewhere, maybe.

My TiVo screwed up the recording of "Curb" (damn IR blaster malfunction), but "Grey's Anatomy" was terrific, yet again. The male pregnancy story was funny, and kinda poignant, and managed to parallel Meredith's story without beating you over the head with it. George's continued attempt to screw up his position as Burke's "guy" and Cristina getting some comeuppance from the nurses were also good for shits and giggles. At this rate, "Grey's" may be sneaking onto my year-end Top 10 list. It's definitely the best, most consistent show ABC has (and I say this as a "Lost" fan). Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 04, 2005

Second chances

"Second Chance" was the name of an awful late '80s sitcom starring Kiel Martin as yet another dead guy too good for Hell and too bad for Heaven. To tip the scales one way or another, he gets sent back in time to try to influence his teenage self -- played by a young Matthew Perry during his show-killer years -- into being a better person. Like I said, awful, and things got even worse when Fox decided to ditch Martin and the whole time travel gimmick, focus on Perry and his imitation Fonzie pal and redub the show "Boys Will Be Boys."

For me, the sad thing isn't that I remember this much about "Second Chance." It's that I remember it so well that I could recognize that "Boys Will Be Boys" took place in the weeks leading up to the events of "Second Chance," meaning that if the revamped show had lasted more than a few episodes, the writers would have had to bring back Martin or do some fancy tap-dancing.

Why do I know this? Why did I recognize it at the time and why do I still remember it now? Why is my brain so cluttered with this level of TV minutiae? Why, as I point out in today's All TV column, was I actually able to spot plot logic discrepancies between "Category 6" and "Category 7"?

But while we're on the subject of second chances, I gave a couple of Thursday shows one last shot last night, and I think I'm glad I did.

Though a rerun of the "Apprentice" four-way firing didn't do much for me, I decided to check out the follow-up, if only to see the reaction of the contestants when nobody came back to the suite. Turned out to be one of the most entertaining episodes I've seen since the first season, with a good mix of genuinely competent contestants (Randal and Marshawn seem like the favorites to me) and people who are crazy but not repellent (Markus is gone, but Clay shows promise to me as someone whose demise will make me laugh). All that, and Trump at his socially retarded worst, asking if Clay was gay 57 different ways, harassing Adam about whether he was a virgin, and then heartily endorsing the concept of sex to him. He was about a heartbeat away from asking Carolyn to initiate Adam into the ways of love. Good times. I'll give it another few weeks at least.

"The O.C." was a tough show for me to give up on, seeing as how I wrote an entire book about it and all, but the season had been just awful in the first few weeks, so when I had a VCR/TiVo conflict the night of the last episode before the baseball playoffs, I shrugged and decided to skip it.

I didn't have that conflict last night, so I figured I'd give it one last shot, and it was a marginal improvement. For one thing, the evil Dean is on his way out. (And was I the only one waiting for him to answer his phone and hear Homer Simpson telling him, "Hello, Dean? You're a stupid-head!"?) For another, while Taylor Townshend is as big of a cartoon as the Dean, she's at least giving Summer something funny to do other than break up with Seth again. The show's still completely burnt-out and not what it was in the first season, but if I could ride out "NYPD Blue" for 11 years, around half of which were lame, I can probably stick with "O.C." for the one or two years until the show ends because Mischa Barton mistakenly thinks she could have a movie career and Fox executives mistakenly think she's the reason anyone watches.

Good "Survivor" last night, too. I knew Jamie wasn't going, because I can think of only one example in the series history where the editing was this blatant about a surprise boot that actually happened (Rupert on Pearl Islands). We've seen people get cocky about a numbers advantage in the past, but never at Jamie's obnoxious in-your-face level. My only hope is that Rafe and/or Cindy didn't pull the trigger yet because they can do the math and know that the time to pull this off is one or two Tribal Councils down the line. Because if any of Jamie, Judd or Stephenie wins, I'm going to be really mad I toughed it out.

One disappointment: nothing on the Hogeboom/Hawkins blatant lie front this week. Where was Gary explaining that he learned how to carry stuff on his head from being a landscaper? Or that landscaping showed him how to gather firewood? Something? Anything? Frankly, I think "I'm a landscaper" should become the defacto lie for every reality show. Take last night's "Apprentice," where we could have seen something like this:

Trump: Adam, is it true you've never had sex? Are you, in fact, a virgin?
Adam: No, sir, I'm a landscaper.

Am I right? Am I? Is this thing on? Click here to read the full post

Thursday, November 03, 2005

No gnus is good gnus

Since the November sweeps don't start until tonight, ll of the Wednesday shows I watch were in reruns last night, so I spent most of the evening watching the Knicks tease me with the possibility of a win before crashing spectacularly in overtime against the Celtics.

So not much to add, other than link to today's All TV column, which has Matt reviewing "Boondocks" and me writing about a rare all-around great episode of "Family Guy" on Sunday. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reader mail

Most of my mail falls into two categories: "Is the network planning to bring back [show that was canceled eight months earlier]?" and "Has the network canceled [show that was pre-empted for a single week]?" Every now and then, though, I get a doozy like this:

Hello there, I am interested in an audition for a part in the show Sopranos. I have pro-wrestled for 14 years and am very intimitating [sic] to say the least. Can you help or at least point me in the
right direction?
To quote Bill Simmons, yup, these are my readers. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Seeing is believing

There are some things in life where taking someone else's word on something is good enough. (For instance: "Ohmigod, this milk is rancid! Want to smell it?" "Um, no thanks.") As a critic, I obviously hope my writing is persuasive enough for people to trust me, either when I warn them away from a piece of crap or try to get them to watch some obscure Britcom they would never consider on their own.

But when the foot's on the other hand, I can't always put the same faith in the critics that I hope people put in me. Case in point: "Elizabethtown." I love Cameron Crowe, own most of his movies on DVD, and was excited to see him doing a more personal movie after "Vanilla Sky." But then the reviews started to come in, and they were... not good. It's currently at 29% on the ol' Tomatometer, and even the positive reviews are along the lines of, "Well, it's not the fiasco you've heard about, but..."

So I didn't rush out to see it the first weekend, or the second, but I eventually decided I had to see this one for myself. So since I'd already seen most of last night's TV in advance, I hit the local fiveplex and watched it with three complete strangers, two of whom were just there to make out.

And? This is what I get for not trusting the reviews. It was everything they'd said, unfocused, too long (by the end of the road trip sequence, I felt like I'd just driven to Eau Claire or Beaumont or someplace), a blank for a leading man, a self-indulgent and pointless big speech by Susan Sarandon (complete with tap dancing!) and too much reliance on pop music to convey emotions that the script or actors weren't. There were inspired moments, as there always are with Crowe (the demolition-for-kids video, "Freebird" in the rain and Alec Baldwin, who at this point should probably make five minute cameos at the beginning of every movie), but with the exception of Kirsten Dunst's wacky flight attendant, I didn't get enough of a sense of any of the characters to understand or even feel affection for them. At first, I thought that the eventual DVD deleted scenes might add more meaning, but then I remember all the bad reviews of the version shown at the Toronto Film Festival, which was about 18 minutes longer, so probably not.

Sometimes trusting people's opinions even on the good stuff backfires. I finally caught a CNBC rerun of that "Apprentice" episode with the four-way firing, and it didn't have much impact since I'd been spoiled. Even the shot of the four idiots crammed into the back of the cab wasn't very funny without the surprise factor.

Ah, well. Live and learn. Adapt, adopt and improve. Or something some guy once said. I don't know. Click here to read the full post

Don't be stupid, be a smartie!

I wrote about "Bones" and "House" in today's All TV column and after watching last night's "Prison Break," I've realized that Fox has become The Genius Network. Or, at least, The Drama Genius Network. Homer Simpson already burned up his high school diploma and Peter Griffin is actually dumber than that, but if you want to be the main character on a Fox drama, you've gotta be pretty damn S-M-R-T.

"Bones" can't go five minutes without some character talking about how wicked smart Temperance is, "House" is based on the notion that only a guy that brilliant could get away with being that big an asshole, and now we've learned that Michael Scofield has a psychological disorder that makes him wicked-wicked smart.

But for a show with such a clever hero, "Prison Break" relies on The Idiot Plot an awful lot of the time. Abruzzi gave power of attorney to Mikey Palmice? Abruzzi and/or Linc haven't figured out a way to kill T-Bag that would keep their secret safe? (Off the top of my head, I've got throat-slashing, neck-breaking and a good old-fashioned shove off the second-tier railing.)

Still, a lot of good stuff last night, including the obligatory scene where the guys have to dispose of their tunnel work in the yard (too bad David McCallum's busy on "NCIS," or else they could have done the "Great Escape" tribute up proper), the defense lawyers finally managing to outwit Special Agent Evil Bastard (which, in turn, got me interested in the outside-world scenes for the first time since... ever), and, my personal favorite, Sucre using the chief hack's Employee of the Month plaque to plug their hole.

Gotta go look into night school classes. If I really apply myself, maybe Fox will make a show called "The Critic." Oh, wait... Click here to read the full post