Friday, December 30, 2005

See ya next year

Just popping in for a minute to link to my review of ABC's "In Justice," and to wish everybody a happy and safe new year. Midseason kicks into high gear starting next week, plus I'll be weighing in on some of the flicks I saw in theaters and on DVD -- including that noted crowd-pleaser "Munic" -- while I was waiting for late-December reruns to go away.

Oh, and I can't let 2005 slip away without at least one more reference to "Lazy Sunday" (which, if it had debuted even a week earlier, I'm sure would've been somewhere on my Top 10 list): it's so popular that even the paper of record had to weigh in on it. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Best of the best

Merry Chrismukkah, everybody. My top 10 list ran in today's paper (Matt's is here). For posterity's sake, here's my list, if not the descriptions:
  1. "Battlestar Galactica"
  2. "Deadwood"
  3. "Veronica Mars"
  4. "Arrested Development"
  5. "Sleeper Cell"
  6. "Grey's Anatomy"
  7. "House"
  8. "The Daily Show" & "The Colbert Report"
  9. "Bodies" & "Viva Blackpool"
  10. "Rescue Me" (FX)

Honorable mentions: "Lost," "The Shield," the finales of "Six Feet Under" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Project: Greenlight," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Office," "Survivor: Palau" and "The Amazing Race: Rob & Ambuh."

Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 23, 2005

How much is that gorilla in the window?

First, the links. Because I haven't written enough about "Lazy Sunday" this week (it's now available on both NBC's website and for free at the iTunes store), I wrote about it some more in today's mailbag column (expounding the same theory about the show needing to pretape more).

Today is also Festivus, which means it's time for Matt and I to write our annual Festivus column about the TV folks who disappointed us in the past year. (Cookie Monster, you're in trouble...)

Went to see "King Kong" last night. After being warned by every movie critic I know that it's too damn long, I had braced myself for the kind of butt-numbing experience I haven't had since "The Green Mile"). But I was into it pretty much the entire time. Could it be trimmed? Yeah, particularly in the first hour, when a lot of time is spent, as my friend Dan said, giving elaborate backstories to people who are just going to get eaten. But that stuff was over before I had time to get bored, and once they land on Skull Island, that picture moves. It didn't even occur to me to look at my watch until we were back on Broadway. I liked Naomi Watts (especially after I noticed that she and my wife have the same nose), thought Jack Black was restrained but still Jack Black enough for my taste, and Andy Serkis needs to win some kind of special Oscar at some point.

For those who celebrate, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas or just Happy New Year. Not a lot to watch in the next week, so there may not be much blogging before 2006 rolls around. With all my family's been through, I'll be damn glad to see the back of '05. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Too much to do, too much to see

The only new TV of note was the "Nip/Tuck" finale, but I gave up on the show again five or six episodes into this season, and after listening to my friend Rich describe all the contortions of the finale ("And did I mention that Quentin doesn't have a penis?"), I feel comfortable with that decision.

Instead, I want to talk about the problem of too much TV -- or, rather, too much TV bonus content. There was an article by Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe a few days ago that summed up one of my growing concerns about this job:

In the coming months, you and your TV addiction are going to be reeled into an expanded ''environment" of your favorite network show, one that may require a cover charge for entry into certain exclusive zones.

You'll be invited to visit characters' blogs at MySpace.com, or pay for mobile phone episodes (known as mobisodes), or buy DVD packages and video games containing new and additional plot information. Your once-simple affair with your TV ''story" could have as much to do with your PC, your cellphone, and your DVD player as it does with your TV set.

I've always prided myself on keeping up with as much TV as I possibly can on this job. In the 10 years I've been doing it, that mission has become exponentially more difficult. When I started, there were six broadcast networks, one of which (UPN) could pretty much be written off every season after I watched the pilots, and maybe a half-dozen cable shows of any real note. Now there are dozens of channels with original programming that interests me (or that I feel I should be watching because of general reader interest), and there aren't enough hours in the day to see them all.

And now I not only have to keep up with all these shows, but their assorted podcasts, blogs and web and mobile phone episodes? Does someone want to give me one of those time-travel gizmos like Hermione has in Prisoner of Azkaban just so I have a prayer of getting to it all?

I'm actually in favor of all these new bonuses. If I was an average TV viewer with two or three shows that I absolutely loved, I'd be in heaven to be able to extend my entertainment beyond those two or three episodes a week. But as a professional TV watcher, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

I just spent two days jumping through ginormous logistical hoops to replace our two broken cell phones, and I'm pretty sure the new ones we got aren't capable of downloading and playing video, so unless I want to shell out several hundred bucks to upgrade, I won't be able to watch any mobisodes until our new cell contract ends in two years and we can get cheap new phones. I love that Ronald Moore does podcast commentaries for every "Battlestar Galactica" episode, but it feels wasteful to me to watch each episode twice (once without commentary, then with) when there are so many other things I need to get to.

I usually like to think I'm staying close to the leading edge of entertainment technology, but for my own selfish reasons, I feel like I'm turning into a Luddite. "In my day, we didn't need no fancy podcasts! We got 22 episodes a year, with lots of reruns in December, March and April, and we liked it! We loved it! Flibble-dee-floo!"

Oh, and love for "The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia" continues to spread. Just remember, Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious! Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A most ingenious paradox

This is a tricky time of year to be a daily TV columnist. On the one hand, I have so many midseason shows arriving in the mail that I barely have time to watch them all. (Today's jackpot: the first four episodes of "The Shield" season five.) On the other, I can't write about those until closer to when they air, so I have almost nothing to fill the column with. Other than my top 10 list and our annual Festivus list of TV shows and people who disappointed Matt and me, it's an idea vacuum. Today's column, dealing with a couple of religious news specials and some more speculation on the post-John Spencer "West Wing," may be our last non-list column of the year.

"Arrested Development" was decent, not great last night. The J. Walter Weatherman's lessons gag is played, and we got three different lessons-within-lessons last night. Glad to see the return of Bob Loblaw (and the introduction of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog), plus the return of Tobias' gay single entendres, and even the brief snippets of the GOB/Franklin "It's not easy being white" duet, but overall, pretty meh.

"How I Met Your Mother" is about to have to do some fancy footwork. Either the producers saw that they had underestimated the level of Ted/Robin chemistry or someone at the network started sending very angry notes on the subject, because it's clear that, whatever Future Ted may have said about "Aunt Robin" in the past, the two of them are going to get together, and soon. Maybe we discover that Future Ted has been playing a large mindgame on his kids, and that Robin's name isn't really Robin so they wouldn't realize their dad was talking about their mom. But, like the other really strong episodes (the one at the nightclub, the one with Drunk Ted), the writers stuck to a single plotline and made Present Ted as upbeat as possible. Best moment: Marshall running out of the fog to the strains of "You Give Love a Bad Name."

I also half-watched "Two and a Half Men," which Marian enjoys more than I do but isn't bad. Senses-jolting moment: when I realized that Alan's hot but insane girlfriend was played by Josie Davis, the wallflower middle sister from "Charles in Charge" (aka "Bob Loblaw in Charge"). And, apparently, I've seen her before in things like "Titans" and the awful "LA Law" reunion movie without recognizing her. It's one thing for a former child star to turn hot in front of your eyes (Natalie Portman, the pre-anorexia Lindsay Lohan), but to have one disappear and turn up as a babe 15 years later? Unsettling.

Getting back to midseason for a second, I already blogged about "The Unit," and I got to see the excellent pilot for "Book of Daniel" (Vicodin-addicted minister pals around with Jesus) six months ago. In the last few days, I watched "Courting Alex," the new Jenna Elfman sitcom where she essentially plays Greg to Josh Randall's Dharma. Not a lot there, but if Randall starts wearing his "Vote Dukakis '88" t-shirt, I might be willing to give it another look. I hated Julia Louis-Drefyus' "The New Adventures of Old Christine," but Marian laughed hysterically at it, so either it's a show with a large gender skew or her standards have really dropped since sitcoms went into the tank at the end of the '90s.

And the "Chronicles of Narnia" rap remains firmly lodged in my head. "Google Maps is the best! True dat! DOUBLE TRUE!" Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia

Slow, slow, slow weekend of TV. Decent "Simpsons" Christmas episode, especially the last act, which felt very "22 Short Films About Springfield," and I liked what I saw of "Family Guy" (especially Stewie's trip through the psychedelic "Sesame Street" pinball game), but most of what I watch in primetime was in repeats.

So instead, I'm going to write about "Saturday Night Live." I know, I know, I'm blogging a dead horse here (very dead horse), but I was a fan for so long and this current season pains me so much that blogging about it is cathartic.

There were exactly three funny things in the episode: Jack Black's "King Kong" song, the TV Funhouse about Jews on Christmas, and the short film with Parnell and Andy Samberg rapping about their trip to see "The Chronicles of Narnia." What do they have in common? All three were written outside the traditional "SNL" creative process, by outside people. If Black didn't write all of the Kong song, he wrote most of it, Robert Smigel writes and produces TV Funhouse on his own, and the Chronicles video (which I've gone back and watched at least three more times in the last 24 hours) was made by Samberg and his buddies from The Lonely Island, who were hired to make films for the show this year.

For a long time now, the only time you know something on "SNL" is going to be funny is when someone's bringing in outside material (Dane Cook doing his stand-up act for the monologue), when it's being produced in advance (the commercial parodies, which are great even when the rest of the show is awful), or both. It's clear that either the talent or the process is badly flawed, and I'd like to believe it's the latter. If Lorne was willing to let a third or a half of each episode be shot on film, or even pre-taped, I think we'd see a radical jump in quality. As it is now, even the season premieres feel like no one bothered to think up sketch premises until Friday afternoon. You still leave enough time in each episode to respond to current events, and to let the actors who work well in front of a live audience do their thing, but you don't keep cranking out 90 minutes of live crap just because that's the way it's always been done.

(And even there, "always" is a relative term. The first year of the show featured regular films by Albert Brooks -- one of which was so long they had to put a commercial break in the middle -- and in the last few years of the Dick Ebersol era, about half of the show was put together in advance, including some all-time classic sketches like Eddie Murphy as Mr. White and men's synchronized swimming with Harry Shearer and Martin Short.)

If you look at the sketch comedy shows that have been outd0ne "SNL" for brief periods -- "The Ben Stiller Show," "Chappelle's Show," some of the early film parodies on "Mad TV" -- you see shows where the writers and producers took their time to make sure every joke was as funny as they could possibly make it, and not just as funny as they could get it by 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 17, 2005

RIP, John Spencer

I was about 90 seconds from leaving work last night for our office holiday party when my editor walked up and said, "John Spencer died." After a minute to process this, Matt started working the phones while I began looking for archival quotes so we could write the obituary.

John Spencer was one of the nicest celebrities I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He always considered his post-rehab life to be time he hadn't expected to have, so while 58 is way too young to die, he enjoyed every damn minute of the last 16 years.

It's obviously much too early to know what "West Wing" is going to do without him. The show caught a bizarre lucky break when Leo wasn't included in the flash-forward to the dedication of the Bartlet presidential library in the season premiere. At the time, I heard lots of speculation about his absence: Leo's busy doing some VP assignment; Leo is actually the president (Santos having died sometime after winning the election) and is therefore the guy coming out of the limo; Leo suffered another heart attack and died. I'm almost certain they have to kill him now; the only question is how close production was to the election episode.

About the only silver lining of this whole situation is that it could spur Sorkin and Schlamme to come back to write and direct Leo's farewell. Hell, if we're really close to the end of the series, maybe Santos chooses a familiar face to be Leo's replacement: Sam Seaborn. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bah, humbugowitz!

Before we get to discussing the worst Chrismukkah ever, I have to give some props to what is easily the greatest newspaper headline since the NY Post's "Headless Man Found in Topless Bar." In today's Star-Ledger, we have Mailman by day, award-winning pimp by night. If it was just "pimp by night," it would still be brilliant, but it's the award-winning part that kicks it up several notches. According to the story:

And when agents searched his homes this week, including one in South Jersey, they found a 4-foot-high trophy Thompkins won in 2003.

International Pimp of the Year, it proclaimed.

Who would've thought "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" was so prescient on this thing? To quote Flyguy, "My bitch better have my money, through rain, sleet or snow. My whore better have my money, not half, not some, but all my cash. 'Cause if she don't, I'm gonna put my foot in her ass."

In more depressing news, not even the annual Chrismukkah episode could help salvage this "O.C." season. Aside from Summer wearing a "Donna Martin graduates" t-shirt and Julie embracing her trailer-trash roots (maybe a bit too quickly, but still funny), there wasn't a lot to enjoy here. Johnny "My pride is too big to accept charity so I'll rob a convenience store whose cash register will be full enough to finance my arthroscopic knee surgery" Harper is such a moron that he and Marissa completely deserve each other; those two should go off and live barefoot in the wilderness together to raise a dozen or so idiot children. The Bar Mitzvukkah was a dumb idea (glad that Schwartz let Sandy explain exactly why before he rolled over and let it happen), but even if I'm willing to go along with it, how can the show spend so much time building up Ryan's inevitable humiliation and then cut away before we actually get to see any of it? Gun, meet third act. Third act, meet gun. Figure out what went wrong.

Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Come and join our latke clan

It was a medical show double-feature last night, which felt appropriate since Julia's virus seems to be dragging on and on and on and on and on (which, again, accounts for the slowness of late).

Sunday's "Grey's Anatomy" was a lot of fun, a Christmas/Chanukah episode that managed to treat all points of view about the holidays with equal weight without getting treacly or preachy. I was especially psyched to hear a song by The Leevees, since I already owned that album, and my usual pattern is to hit the iTunes store the morning after an episode airs. A bit lame to steal Chrismukkah without acknowleding "The O.C.," but bonus points to make up for it by giving Sandra Oh another chance to do her deadpan bad-acting as one of Alex's fake patients.

"House" continued its recent roll. Bizarre to see House successfully flirting with Cynthia Nixon at the OTB, even more bizarre to see Cameron being sneaky at her usual holier-than-thou approach, and funny as hell to watch House undermine temporary boss Foreman. With the holiday break coming, I fear that the show's going to come back in January with House's demotion already finished. I think that shaking up the status quo, even on paper -- as this episode showed, House is in charge no matter who has official authority -- would do this show some good.

With the TV business pretty much grinding to a halt until the new year, I've been spending a lot of time at work getting prepared for midseason. The other day, I watched the pilot of "The Unit," the new military drama from David Mamet and "Shield" creator Shawn Ryan. At first, it felt pretty generic -- "E-Ring" with CBS production values -- but after 10 minutes or so, I said, "Okay, now I can see that Mamet wrote this." The man's dialogue is unmistakable, and Dennis Haysbert (as a serenely ass-kicking special forces leader) delivers it beautifully.

I've been dipping back into "Country Boys," an amazing PBS documentary miniseries about two troubled teenage boys in Appalachian Kentucky. I saw the first two hours back in July, and even wound up hanging around the hotel pool with one of the two subjects, a Goth Christian rocker whose two big tourist stops in LA were Ozzy Osbourne's house and Venice beach. ("It felt like the family I never had," he said.) I sometimes get irritated when film snobs sniff at the inferiority of reality TV to old-fashioned documentaries, but after watching this, I'm going to have a harder time than ever trying to sit through an episode of "Laguna Beach." 2006 hasn't even started yet, but I already know one show that's going to be on that year's top 10 list.

And speaking of which, today I raced through the next two original episodes of "Battlestar Galactica," which is going to be at or near the top of this year's list. Sometimes, sci-fi shows suffer when you have to watch rough cuts with temporary effects, but not this one. A lot of the spaceship shots weren't much better than I could do with the Windows paint program, but this is a show about people and issues first and gadgetry a distant fifth or sixth. I won't spoil what happens with the whole Adama/Cain feud, but this is a show that is not slowing down in the least.

And because I can't allow myself to waste too much quality in a single day, I followed it with three episodes of "Four Kings," a bad NBC comedy that even Seth Green can't save. Gotta cleanse the palate now and then. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Go Danni, go!

Still working on the sports movie post (it's an obsession of mine, and I want to do it right), but in the meantime, some brief thoughts on the "Survivor: Guatemala" finale:
  • I couldn't be happier that Danni won, not only because she seemed like one of the nicest contestants this time around, but because when her back was up against it and the whip came down and the going got tough and the cliches started piling up, she didn't roll over and accept that the numbers were against her. She fought and she schemed and she was the only one smart enough to bid on the damn immunity clue in the auction. If any of the other five had been smart enough to realize the threat that Danni would pose if she won that immunity challenge, the game could have gone down very differently. Hell, we could've had a Steph/Judd final two, which would've been really distasteful.
  • As Danni started wasting away to Lara Flynn Boyle dimensions, I mentioned my concern for her well-being to a friend at CBS. "Don't worry," he told me. "She'll clean up real well for the reunion." And he was dead on the money; it's amazing what an extra 10-15 pounds can do.
  • Why do so many players that I like have to turn into moralizing twits at the end? Tom from Palau got pretty damn sanctimonious with Ian at the end of last season, only forgiving the guy after Ian guaranteed him the million dollars. Now we have Rafe, who in back to back episodes gets all "Well, if it were me, I would have given away the cars, but Cindy will just have to live with her decision," and then "Danni, I'm going to tell you that you don't have to keep your promise to me, but what I really mean is that you had better keep it or I'm going to piss and moan for 18 hours."
  • Two very cool variations on familiar challenges, with the mega-maze and then the rope balance game. As soon as all three started leaning into the posts, I knew Danni was going to win. She just looked much stabler than the other two, and while I don't think this is an exact challenge she ever faced on the pageant circuit, balance is a big thing in that world.
  • Aside from Judd, one of the least bitter jury segments we've ever had. Nice. On the other hand, this is the second time where one of the two finalists had a chance to argue that she didn't need a second chance to make it to final two (Sandra in Pearl Islands was the other, since Lill got back in on the Outcasts twist), and didn't do it. Then again, I'm guessing Danni didn't think she needed to. She had Gary and Bobby Jon in the bag, and Judd and Jamie were so pissed at Steph that she had the win locked up right there.
  • Probst had his good moments and his bad in the reunion, but I felt like there were a lot of follow-up questions he should've asked but didn't. Why didn't anyone but Steph bid against Danni for the immunity clue, and why did Steph drop out so soon? Why did Gary insist on keeping up his stupid secret identity gag even after Danni outed him? (And, show of hands, how many people actually believed he was a landscaper after Danni started talking?) If Danni had chosen Rafe instead of Steph, who would've won? I appreciate that, unlike Rosie or Bryant, Jeff actually makes an effort to let everyone answer at least one question, but I'd be willing to sacrifice a moment with Morgan or Brianna or Brooke (who?) to get more info on the people who stuck around and affected the final outcome.
  • Speaking of Probst, he's delivered some pretty withering looks at contestants in the past, but I don't think I've ever seen him quite as disgusted as when Lydia, Danni and Steph admitted to eating the sacrificial chicken. I was sitting on the couch, and even I felt like whimpering, "I'm sorry, Mr. Probst. I didn't mean to!"
  • One last Probst thing: on the conference call before the season started, he said that Bobby Jon and Steph would be returning to the show "in some capacity," and I asked him flat out if that meant they were actually competing for the million bucks. I'd heard a rumor that, if they lasted until the merge, they would automatically wind up on the jury, but that no one would know it until/unless it happened. Jeff hemmed and hawed and gave an ellipticial answer that to me hinted strongly that the rumor was true. Whoops.
  • The spring season looks promising, because it's obvious Burnett and Tom Shelly have realized that they have to keep shaking up the game to safeguard themselves against casts who don't click the way they had hoped. Guatemala definitely didn't have the best bunch of personalities ever, but the season turned out pretty well thanks to twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue, the Gift of the Car-gi, etc.
Another season down. Who'da thunk we'd still be so hooked on this show a half-decade later? Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Coughing up, catching up

If the blog's seemed like a ghost town the last few days, it's because I've been hip-deep in toddler triage, which involve such lovely Catch-22s as my daughter refusing to drink anything at all because she doesn't feel well, even though fluids are pretty much the only way she'll feel better.

Fortunately, there hasn't been much to watch during this battle of wills, but here's what I did see in between calls to the pediatrician:

"Veronica Mars": Ahhh, the "12 Angry Men" homage, which is almost always the sign of a show with a budget or scheduling crunch. It's a testament to what an amazing movie that was that everything from "Happy Days" to "Picket Fences" to "Veronica Mars" can steal from it. This version was okay, but nothing special, especially for this show; the only part of the plot that really felt like it belonged was when Veronica's car got vandalized again. I'm disappointed that they got rid of Leo, who I didn't like at first but grew on me, and I'm damn glad to have Wallace back. My one worry at this point is that the two major story arcs -- Who Killed Felix and Who Engineered the Bus Crash -- are developing too many tangential branches over time. Last year's two big mysteries felt a little purer and straightforward to me, while here we keep diverting from the plots for things like Meg's baby. How long until the next episode again?

"Survivor": FYI, this is being written before I've watched the finale and reunion. I'll say this for Guatemala: what the season may have lacked in dynamic casting, it's more than compensated with clever twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue and now the Car Curse Question. I think Cindy was placed in a no-win situation there; keep the car and some people (surprisingly, Rafe) resent you for your lack of generosity, give four cars away and suddenly you're so popular that no one wants to face you in the final two. Unless she could have leveraged the car giveaway into a guaranteed berth in the final three (and, as Judd and Jamie both learned, no promise lasts forever here), she was better off keeping the SUV in hand. For all my bitching about Stephenie this season (including this column that ran the day before Probst officially announced his desire to stick around), she came across as fairly likable in this episode. I still think Rafe has the inside track to the win (and I can't believe the preview for the finale gives away the results of the 4--->3 immunity challenge), but pretty much anything can happen.

"Saturday Night Live": Sometimes, I think Lorne Michaels is just screwing with me. Even if I didn't have the Season Pass, I would've tuned in for Alec Baldwin's latest appearance. (At this point, I think he and the show would both be much better off if he was a permanent castmember.) But this was easily the most underwhelming Baldwin episode I can remember (even "The Tony Bennett Show" sucked)... until the very last sketch of the show, which took the greatest five minutes of Baldwin's entire career and transplanted it into Santa's workshop. As scripted, it was brilliant, and made even better by Alec's screw-up on the Always Be Cobbling line; I'm sure he has so many people quoting "Glengarry Glen Ross" to him that he recites those lines in his sleep. The funniest "SNL" blooper since the first Debbie Downer sketch. So why was it at the very end of the show? Because, my paranoid brain is telling me, Lorne knows that this season is awful, but he knows that longtime fans/suckers like me are afraid that they're going to miss out on some great watercooler moment if they don't watch the whole thing, so he sticks it at the 12:50 mark as a warning shot to anyone who wants to tune out after "Weekend Update." It's a plan worthy of Dr. Evil, I think.

More "Survivor" talk on Monday, and if I have time before then, keep an eye out for my ode to the underdog sports movie. Click here to read the full post

Thwack it! Thwack it all!

My job may not be the most glamorous in the world, but every now and then it allows me to get my butt off the couch and meet interesting people in unexpected places. I once sat on the field at Dodgers Stadium talking to Rupert from "Survivor" about skirts and strategy. I once sat on the back steps of a small West Orange nightclub talking jazz and comedy with Bill Cosby, then had a front-row seat to see the legend do his thing. And one time I sat on a curb outside a funeral parlor and hit Steve Van Zandt up for some music recommendations. (Two words: Boss Martians.)

On Friday night, I wasn't at the most exotic location the job has ever taken me to, but it hands-down had the coolest name of any place I have ever set foot in: Drumthwacket. For those of you who don't know (and you could count me among them a week ago), that's the name of the New Jersey governor's mansion, and for the second time in a week, I found my path crossing that of our beloved interim governor. Before he departs office (one he would have kept in a landslide vote if he had Jon Corzine's war chest), he's getting in as many photo ops as he can, and his latest brainstom was to create an award for New Jersey filmmakers, and the first recipient was "Sopranos" don David Chase.

It was a very cold, very strange night. As I got out of my car and tried to straighten my tie and switch from parka to suit jacket in the least clumsy fashion possible, I was greeted by two silver trumpets. I felt like Frank Drebin in that scene in "The Naked Gun" where he mounts the Queen of England, and I wasn't alone. A little while later, I was taking a self-guided tour around the mansion when I passed the guest of honor and Mrs. Chase, both looking dazed and confused. Chase saw me and did a doubletake; he said he was so thrown by the trumpets that he forgot where he was and why he was there.

There was a very nice turnout by the cast. Guys like Steve Schirripa will show up for the opening of a envelope, they enjoy being in the spotlight so much, but I was pleasantly surprised to see James Gandolfini mingling among the great unwashed for the evening. He has to be more uncomfortable in public settings than any major star I've ever been around -- not because he's an arrogant asshole, but because he's painfully shy and doesn't understand why people are so interested in him -- and he spent almost the entire night smiling politely as guest after guest hit him up for an autograph or a chance to pose for a photo. That's how much he likes his boss.

I eventually drifted over towards Terence Winter, the "Sopranos" writer I tend to bump into more than any of the others, and we spent a lot of time talking about how much we liked the name Drumthwacket, and how we feel that every home deserves a name. (Winter: "I think we could call my apartment 'Dirty Socks.'") I mean, think about it: your great, memorable literary homes all have names like Tara. I'm thinking if I want to add some style to my life, I need to give my little split-level a name. Bob? Dude? The House That Sipowicz Built?

I'm wide open to suggestions on this one, people. Fire away. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To thine own self be true

As Harry Callahan once said, a man's got to know his limitations, and I came face to face with my own twice yesterday.

First, I popped in a review tape of Bravo's "Project Runway," a show I missed altogether in its first season. After hearing so many fellow critics rave about it, I gave season two a shot, and I had a conflicted reaction to it. On the one hand, it was as well-produced as any reality show this side of "The Amazing Race." On the other hand, all the debate about muslin fabric and whether pretty=fashion just put me to sleep.

I didn't want to slam the show for the sin of not being tailored directly to my tastes, and I also didn't want to ignore it. What to do... what to do? In a nice bit of deus ex machina, our fashion writer Jenifer Braun -- who briefly wrote about TV before I got hired a decade ago -- walked past my desk at exactly that moment. The light bulb went off, and a couple of hours later, Jen had written a very special guest review for today's column (which also features me begging Mark Burnett to never, ever, ever let former contestants compete again).

Then, as I was casting about for things to watch for upcoming columns, an editor forwarded me a press release put out by our state's interim governor (a very popular guy whose recent "Daily Show" appearance was hysterical) condemning an assault by a radio talk show fan who assaulted a local TV reporter. I told my boss I had no idea what this was about, and she said, "Well, maybe you should make some calls and find out."

Now, I work for a daily newspaper, but I've never pretended to be a real reporter. In college, I wrote movie reviews for the school paper's weekly entertainment magazine, and I've been writing about TV since my third or fourth week here at the Ledger. Fortunately, the paper employs plenty of genuine reporters, several of whom helped me and Matt chase down the story:

Opie & Anthony have some running contest on their show called "Assault on the Media" where fans are encouraged to appear in the background of live TV shots holding O&A signs. Some idiot took the game's title way too literally and blew an air horn directly into the ear of a local TV reporter. That kind of thing can cause permanent hearing damage, moron. Our governor, who already is anti-shock jock ever since a local radio bozo made fun of his wife's postpartum depression, issued one of those "the offender will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" press releases, and I sure hope it happens. People that stupid shouldn't be allowed to breed, let alone live free.

And speaking of idiots, Michael Scott was in rare form on last night's "The Office" in a cringe-worthy but very funny episode that made good use of the entire office staff, including tightly-wound Angela's meltdown over losing control of the Christmas party, Creed giving Jim the laziest Secret Santa gift of all time and, best of all, a drunk and topless Meredith throwing herself at Michael, who just flashed her picture and ran away. On "My Name Is Earl," it was nice to see Brett Butler acting in something other than "Vampire Bats," but I wanted to see more of Randy and Catalina during the hands-on-the-car contest.

Oh, and today's "Arrested Development" moment: Rita deliriously singing along to "Hot Potato" by The Wiggles, which I sadly know by heart. Ah, parenting. Click here to read the full post

Still more "Arrested"

Since the show's almost over anyway, might as well write as much about "Arrested Development" while I still can, so...
  • Marian hadn't seen any of the previous four or five episodes, so right before we started to watch, I paused the TiVo and said, "Just FYI, Charlize Theron's playing a woman who's mildly retarded, only no one realizes it." She gave me the lemon-sucking face and made like she was going to go upstairs to read, but I insisted, "It's funny; trust me." "I can't see how that would be funny," she said, but she sat down. Five minutes into the episode, she turned to me and said, "Okay, I see it."
  • Two great references to actors' previous roles: the pre-plastic surgery Rita (aka a publicity still from "Monster"), and Buster singing "Mr. Roboto" in the stair car (just like Tony Hale did in that car commercial).
  • So Rita's parents were cousins, eh? Somebody ought to tell George Michael about that, especially since he seems to know so much about the California statutes about cousins marrying.
  • Is Bob Einstein ever not funny? He already had the best line of the year on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in the episode with the Funkhauser anniversary dinner ("I said, 'Larry, do you want to get up and make a toast?' and someone said, 'Oh, he went home to take a shit.'"), and now he has to fire himself as George's surrogate. Genius genius genius.

More if I think of it. I have to laugh, otherwise I'll cry.

Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 05, 2005

Greetings from Sick City

Julia picked up a bug from the ol' germ factory (aka daycare), which is why I've been too busy to blog until today.

Reading is fundamental (a fact I learned from watching TV), and Sunday night I was so absorbed in finishing off "All the Stars Came Out That Night" (a novel imagining a secret all-star game between Major League and Negro League ballplayers in 1934) that I didn't see anything but "West Wing." (Short version on that: Santos' speech was a nice piece of writing by Debra Cahn, but I thought the direction of the scene was pretty sledge hammery, especially the slow clap at the end. Only underdog sports movies should have slow claps.)

So the next morning, I was about 15 minutes into the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season finale when my friend Phil called. Since we talk about "Curb" ever Monday morning, I quickly told him where I was in the episode. He paused and said, "Finish it and call me. Trust me: you'll need to call me." The man was right; when they cut from Larry being wheeled into surgery to Larry on his deathbed (with a brief stop for Richard Lewis in paradise), I said, "Holy shit, it's the series finale and Larry kept it a secret from everyone!" The Larry-as-gentile montage and the brief stop in Heaven weren't enough to redeem this lousy season, but had Larry stayed dead, I would have considered it one of the more perfect series finales ever. Instead, they brought him back to life and left things open for more seasons. Sigh... (In today's column, I write a little more about this, including a comment from HBO about the show's status.)

"Grey's Anatomy" is so consistent in both its goodness and what makes it good that I don't have much to say about the latest episode. That brings me to the bittersweet return of "Arrested Development" and "Kitchen Confidential" last night. I'd already seen the next three of the latter (I wrote about 'em in yesterday's column), and while this wasn't my favorite of those three, Jim's shell-shocked recounting of being beaten by the Frenchmen ("they were all smoking...") makes me laugh every time I see it.

"Arrested," meanwhile, finally, finally figured out what to do with Charlize Theron, right as she was leaving. Yeah, maybe her earlier episodes will be funnier in retrospect when I watch the DVD collection, but this was a joke they should have revealed at the end of her first episode, not her fourth. Best gags:
  • George Michael's video opening with the familiar footage of his lightsaber practice, followed by him mumbling that he should probably invest in a second tape;
  • The pixellation of Buster's stump;
  • Tobias' paralysis (and it's been so long since the last episode that I can't even remember if this was set up previously);
  • Rita diving into bed like a five-year-old after Michael promised sexual relations after the wedding;
  • The "Being There" homage at the end, followed by one of the greatest "Next... on Arrested Development" sequences ever. ("Why can't I go into the pool?!?!?!!?")
Excuse me. I have to go smear blue handprints on my walls, then wipe a runny nose. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Scumbags!"

I had expected the long-awaited Letterman/Oprah interview to be the highlight of Thursday night TV, but like so many things, it failed to live up to the hype. Dave went into the fawning mode he usually saves for beautiful young starlets, and even Oprah seemed shocked by what a straight interview it was. ("Thank you for being nice to me.")

Instead, the best moment came on "Survivor," when Judd proved once and for all what a poor sportsmanship he was. After saying minutes earlier in Tribal Council that getting voted out wasn't personal, just business, when he discovered that he had been voted out, his anger management problems bubbled over again and he called all the other players "Scumbags!" (Between this and that "Daily Show" interview with our governor a few nights ago, I've never been prouder to be from Jersey.) Not since "Survivor: All-Stars," when Lex told his backstabbed pal Ethan to learn to lose with a little class, then became the sorest loser of all after his pal Boston Rob did the same thing to him, has a contestant been this big a jackass at their exit.

Since I didn't watch anything else last night (I didn't realize "The O.C." was new, and upon realizing that I'd missed it, didn't feel that bad), a few other "Survivor" observations:
  • Cindy's identical twin sister is named Mindy? That's some good parenting right there. And seeing the two of them sitting next to each other and looking very different was one of the better reminders of the physical toll the show takes on people.
  • Unless they edited a lot out, this was the first food auction I can remember where all the contestants didn't wind up getting some grub. Weird, since the whole point of it is to prevent a lot of late-in-the-game whining about how everyone's too tired and hungry to do anything interesting. But if this is really all that happened, then Danni had a genius performance: she gets the two major sources of protein (the jerky and the steak sandwich), plus the clue that allowed her to stick around.
  • I can't believe how much I despise Stephenie this time around. It's so obvious that what we thought of as pluck and grit in Palau ("I can't believe how much I'm losing") was actually her enormous sense of entitlement, which has been allowed to flower by her position in this game.
  • In all, this is turning out to be a better season than I'd expected. Not remotely in the class of Australia, the Amazon, Pearl Islands or the original, but certainly a step up from Africa or Thailand or Vanuatu.
Two links: My review of "Sleeper Cell," and my column on NBC's scheduling moves. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Eko... Eko... Eko...

Okay, I need to get this off my chest right away: I want a Mr. Eko lunchbox, a Mr. Eko t-shirt, and Mr. Eko Underoos. I want a Mr. Eko & Locke spin-off where they kick ass and debate philosophy every week. If I was being given a $10 million bar mitzvah, I would want Mr. Eko to be at the top of the celebrity guest list. He's not only my favorite character on "Lost" right now, he's probably my favorite character on all of television. (It helps that Vic Mackey, Tommy Gavin, Al Swearengen and Paulie Walnuts are all on hiatus right now, but still.)

The Eko/Locke scenes were the highlight of an especially strong episode of "Lost." I bag on the show a lot for all the narrative foot-dragging, but for once, the writers didn't screw around with the audience. We finally know what Kate's crime was (not that it was a shock, but it was still well-played by the usually uneven Evangeline Lilly, and especially by the actor who played her adoptive dad), we know what was on at least one of the gaps in the Dharma film (though there could be others), Sawyer is finally conscious again, Jin finally got the damn handcuff off his wrist, Walt made another appearance (sort of), etc., etc., etc.

But best of all was Eko's Bible story to Locke (and if there were any doubt before over whether the guy used to be a priest, there shouldn't be now), and his later suggestion that John not confuse coincidence with fate. Someone's needed to tell our resident zealot that for at least half a season now.

Between that and "Veronica Mars," that was about as good a two hours of TV as you're gonna find, and since I'd already seen "Veronica" last week, I didn't have to tape one and watch the other.

Far too many highlights to list 'em all, so I'll give just a few: the Cordelia vs. Willow smackdown (though the best line in that scene -- and possibly the season -- was Logan's "Rode Hard, meet Put Away Wet."); Logan and Weevil doing the whole "48 Hours"-style "We'll team up, but only after we kick the crap out of each other" thing in the men's room; the (now former) vice-principal manipulating Veronica into doing his wetwork; and Trina Echolls showing actual emotion (her hug with Lunchlady Doris put almost as much dust in my eye as the Rose/Bernard hug last week on "Lost"). The alternate ending on AOL.com was an interesting little bonus feature, but I'm glad the real show didn't go in that direction. Without spoiling it (and, if you haven't seen it yet, the only change is in the last two minutes), it would paint Veronica and the show into an uncomfortable corner that would take weeks, at least, to get out of.

Finally, today's All TV column makes fun of Fox's usual switcheroo scheduling. NBC predictably followed that by moving "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" to Thursdays, while having back-to-back "Scrubs" episodes airing Tuesdays at 9, starting Jan. 3. (More details in tomorrow's column, or you can just read the press release here.) J.D. and Turk are back, baby! Is it time to do the Rerun dance? Click here to read the full post