Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Live, from LA...

I spend far too much time thinking about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," a pilot in development at NBC. Usually, I don't bother thinking about pilots at all until they've made the schedule, except in rare cases where a creator has asked for an early opinion on a script. But the combination of creative talent (Aaron Sorkin is writing, Tommy Schlamme is directing) and the premise (thinly-disguised versions of Sorkin and Schlamme take over a thinly-disguised "Saturday Night Live" after a thinly-disguised Lorne Michaels has an on-air meltdown) just has my wheels spinning constantly.

I've read the script (pretty much everyone associated with the TV business in some way has), and my friend Phil and I have tried to cast this thing in our head for a few months. The process is made easier by the fact that it's not hard to spot who the characters are supposed to be in real life: in addition to Sorkin, Schlamme and Lorne, there are barely concealed versions of Jamie Tarses, Maureen Dowd and Kristin Chenoweth. The Chenoweth character is, in fact, so blatantly Kristin -- blonde, beautiful, great at both comedy and singing and a notably devout Christian -- that I figured that no one else could play the part.

Apparently, I was wrong. Sarah Paulson from "Deadwood" now has the awkward job of playing a fictionalized variation on her boss' girlfriend. Meanwhile, Bradley Whitford has joined Matthew Perry as the other lead; I think Perry is playing Sorkin and Whitford is Schlamme, but it's confusing because the director character (Whitford) is the one with the drug problem. With Steven Weber on board as the head of the network, Amanda Peet as Jamie Tarses (sadly, Melina Kanakaredes is too busy on "CSI:NY" for the part she was born to play) and D.L. Hughley as one of the show-within-the-show's other actors, that leaves one crucial role still to be cast: Lorne Michaels.

Now, you could get Mike Myers or Mark McKinney to come on in a grey wig, but that might be too campy. And even if Lorne would do it -- which he won't, since "Studio 60" is competing with Tina Fey's inside-"SNL" sitcom -- that would be distracting. But today, Phil came up with the perfect choice:

George Carlin.

Think about it. Carlin hosted the very first "SNL," but isn't so tightly connected to the show that he wouldn't do it (or that it would be distracting), and if you read the on-air rant "Lorne" delivers, it's as much vintage Carlin as vintage Sorkin.

I'm going to be really disappointed if "Studio 60" doesn't make it, not because I necessarily think it's great -- a friend who works for the real "SNL" described it, not inaccurately, as "fan fiction" -- but just because I've wasted so many hours imagining what it'll look like that I want to see the real thing, dammit. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Everybody get in line

So the big event of my weekend, other than the end of my "Sopranos" death march, was going to be hitting the first major comic book convention in New York in about 15 years. (Say it with me: Alan's a big fat dork.) Long story short, I stood for an hour on the first of a series of three epic-length lines to get in, then gave up when my back and feet started barking. (Say it with me: Alan's getting olllllllld.) So I bailed, and I clearly made the right call.

Then, to make the day odder, as I was walking back to the train station, someone handed me a ticket to see a preview screening of "She's the Man." On the one hand, I didn't particularly need to see "Just One of The Guys" remade. (Yeah, I know it's based on "Twelfth Night," but so what? "JOoTG" had Zabka, the horny kid brother and Joyce Hyser flashing the world. Top that, Shakespeare!) On the other, I felt like I ought to get something out of my trip into the city, so I briefly poked my head into the theater, only to run screaming when I saw it was full of 12-14 year-old girls, which would have been A)irritatingly noisy, and B)creepy for me as one of three adult men in the room.

So instead, I hightailed it home and caught up on some of the TV I'd been forsaking in favor of watching "The Amazing Adventures of Artie Bucco & Assemblyman Zellman." Let's take 'em in chronological order:

"Survivor: Exile Island" is turning out to be some Bizarro World version of Palau, where you have one team filled with all the nice people and led by a superhuman middle aged guy, while the other has all the idiots who can't get along with each other -- only the bad guys are winning. Interesting that they showed Terry finding the mini-idol, which means one of two things: 1)He manages to get so far into the game without having to use it that the producers felt they needed to give viewers some kind of pay-off to the twist, or 2)He uses it in a big damn hurry and then we don't get to see who finds it next.

I know I promised last week that I would give an intricate conspiracy analysis of the latest "Battlestar Galactica," but those marvelous, fiendish, wonderful people at Sci-Fi Channel publicity sent me the two-part season finale, and I'm so amped about it that it's hard to focus on anything that came before. (Let's just say that Ron Moore puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to willingness to fuck with the status quo big-time.)

But a few quick thoughts: Are the phantom Baltar and Six just hallucinations, or something more? I know Moore refers to them as such in the podcasts, but phantom Six has told Baltar a whole lot of things he never would have known or been able to predict on his own, and phantom Baltar was way ahead of the plot from Six. (For a minute, I actually wondered if Baltar had really died in the nuclear detonation and been replaced with a Cylon body that had Six's personality, but that's too bizarre even for this show.) Regardless, amazing performances by Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, James Callis and honorary TV critic Lucy Lawless, and I really can't say much more without letting what I know about the next two weeks color it.

"Grey's Anatomy," meanwhile, managed to avoid making Meredith look like an absolute monster by making George into such a petulant baby for most of the hour that the whole sex fiasco became a stalemate. Still, I'm glad Shonda Rhimes decided to pull a Sam Weir/Cindy Sanders and have George get over his crush in a hurry -- especially since it means the arrival of the unspeakably awesome Sara Ramirez (aka The Lady in the Lake from "Spamalot") as George's new love interest. (And way to have him move from stick-figure Meredith to a woman with actual curves who won't vanish when she turns sideways.) The poison oak story was funny (and Marian cringed for almost all of it, as I'm sure I would've if the genders were reversed), and I like the way the writers are letting Izzie be the bad guy in that relationship for once.

And then there was hey-it's-that-guy Mark Harelik, or, as I call him, Poor Mark Harelik, because he always winds up playing the sad sack loser (Milos the incompetent tennis instructor on "Seinfeld," the lawn boy's dad on "Desperate Housewives," etc.). Once again, he fulfilled his nickname, as my second-favorite Cusack sister dumped his ass on the verge of surgery. Nice. If I ever see Harelik get and keep the girl for long, I may have to crack open a bottle of champagne or something. But I'm weird that way. Click here to read the full post

Dude, marathon's over

Well, I did it. 65 hours of "Sopranos," squeezed into about a week and a half's worth of viewing. And what did I learn? A few random points:
  • The digitally-generated ghost of Nancy Marchand scene is seventeen kinds of awful. I had forgotten just how frequently her hairstyle changed and her head grew and shrunk. Maybe with today's technology, Chase could have stuck Andy Serkis in a ratty housecoat and pulled it off, but they would've been better with a flashback.
  • People bitching about "The Test Dream" have apparently been watching some show in a parallel universe, because I counted more than a dozen dream sequences, some of them major (the various dreams in "Funhouse," the season two finale, add up to almost the same running time as the test dream).
  • I finally realized why so many people were unhappy with season four: because it sucked. Okay, that's not fair. Plenty of good things in that season -- Ade getting destroyed by the FBI, Tony killing and disposing of Ralphie, the worst intervention of all time, Johnny Sack's vendetta over the 95-pound mole joke -- and the breakup finale "Whitecaps" was so brilliant it covered up a lot of sins. But, for the love of God, we got back-to-back episodes where the main characters were Artie Bucco and Assemblyman Zellman! And let's not even get into Furio's bizarre transformation from icy tough guy to Sensitive Ponytail Man. Gah. The lack of whacking wasn't the problem with that season; it was the meandering pace, no real closure to anything (except, temporarily, the Soprano marriage), and, in case I forgot to mention it, back-to-back freaking episodes about Artie Bucco and Assemblyman Zellman.
  • One other great season four moment that merits its own bullet point, but only because I'm, like, twelve: AJ ending a conversation with Meadow by ripping a fart and declaring, "Oh, dude, meeting's over."
  • The actor who plays Vito "Big Gay Yankee Fan" Spatafore, Joe Gannascoli (aka "Celebrity Fit Club" star Joe Gannascoli), pops up in season one's "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti" as a different character altogether, one of the customers at the bakery where Christopher shoots off the counter guy's toe. Quite possibly question number one when I have my seasonal audience with David Chase.
I have more observations, but I'll have to save at least a few of them for the 27,000 stories I'm being asked to write for the week leading into the season six premiere, every one of which will be lovingly linked to here. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 23, 2006

No time for "Idol," Dr. Jones

Sorry, but the countdown clock for my series of 8,000 "Sopranos"-related stories is ticking, and I don't have time to do anything but immerse myself in all things Soprano. I'm watching every episode, I'm eating too much pasta, I'm dreaming about Christopher and Paulie stuck in the Pine Barrens, I'm having nightmares about the Ralphie/Janice sex scenes. Maybe I'll be able to get back on the "Idol" horse (or blogging horse, for that matter) next week. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

(Very) quick "American Idol" thoughts

Somebody wake me when most of the chaff has been separated and we just have the wheat left. I really liked two or three of the performances (Mandisa doing "Heart," Paris doing Gladys Knight), and was put to sleep by most of the others. (Did somebody sing the freakin' Tsunami single from last year? Seriously?)

Highlight of the night, such as it was, was this exchange between Seacrest and vertically-blessed Stevie Scott:

Ryan: "I'm taller than Tom Cruise."

Stevie: "Yeah, you might have a chance with me."

Must... resist... urge... to make... legally-actionable jokes!

Click here to read the full post

Claudette fall down, go boom?

Here's how you know "The Shield" is hurtling toward the finish line: they may have killed Claudette last night.

I didn't think the show could top last week's interrogation where Kavanaugh tore Vic's ex-wife into itty bitty pieces, but damn if Claudette's final takedown of the serial killer wasn't even better. If I ever wind up alone in a room with CCH Pounder, I think I'd probably end up confessing to all sorts of shit I didn't even do, just to stop that glare of hers.

And whether Claudette dies or just winds up in a hospital bed for a really long time, Dutch is going to be feeling 27 different kinds of guilt over making her continue with his "win one for the Gipper" speech. (Or, if you prefer, his "Nothing is over until we decide it is!" speech.)

The Kavanaugh/Strike Team story took a backseat for once, but two things to note: Ronnie got maybe his most screen time ever (including the time he got burned by Armadillo), and Vic is either about to sacrifice his freedom (and the Strike Team's) for Corinne and the kids, or he's setting her up and will turn out to be a bigger bastard than ever.

Gotta go watch the "Idol" semis on tape delay. Should be done in about 20 minutes. Is it too early in the morning for a shot of liquid courage? Click here to read the full post

Fixing a hole

Movie award shows are cloning their way to extinction. There are so many critics groups, so many TV specials, that by the time the Oscars roll around, we already know not only who's going to win, but what they're going to say. (Someone needs to shackle Philip Seymour Hoffman to a chair, clip his eyeballs open, and make him watch that damn speech so many times in a row that he physically won't be able to utter those words in that order ever again.)

The Emmys have a different kind of duplication problem. There aren't that many TV award shows, but the nature of television means the same people and shows can be nominated -- and win -- year after year after year. The speeches may change a little, but the faces don't -- and some of those faces start to look embarrassed after a while. (Dennis Franz, Helen Hunt and Aaron Sorkin come to mind.)

A few years back, the TV Academy got rid of the blue-ribbon panels that voted on the winners. These panels would check into a hotel for two or three days and watch all the submitted tapes in a category. The idea was to guarantee that anyone voting had actually watched all the shows. The problem: the only Academy members who had enough free time to be on a panel tended to be older and/our out of work, and they gravitated towards older, safer shows and people (Tyne Daly, Candice Bergen).

So in 2000, the Academy decided to put voters on the honors system, signing people up for a particular category and letting them watch the screeners on their own time. And for the first few years, the new system worked, as Emmy newbies like Patricia Heaton and Allison Janney got trophies. But then they kept getting trophies, and getting trophies, ad nauseum.

The problem, it turned out, wasn't with the final voting process, but with the nominations. Nominations are open to the entire Academy, and no one has to sign an affidavit or pretend in any way that they've watched anything; they just have to scan a list of eligible nominees and check off five names per category. And since people in the TV business rarely have time to actually watch TV, it's all guesswork, based largely on name recognition and media hype. The nominees wind up being the same year after year, which makes it hard to shake up the winners.

But now, according to Variety, the panels are coming back, at a different point in the process:
Starting this year, a blue ribbon panel will ultimately decide the nominees for outstanding comedy and drama, as well as the key Emmy acting categories. By doing so, the org hopes to diversify who ends up getting honored.
Could work, but I have two problems. First, the new process will start off the same way the old one did: the entire Academy will be allowed to check off a list of the eligible names, and then the top 10 (for series) or 15 (for acting) will be shown to the panels to pare the numbers down to five per category. What are the odds a "Gilmore Girls" or "Veronica Mars," to name two recently snubbed shows, can make the cut to 15 or 10, much less to five?

There is some precedence: Blue ribbon panels already choose the nominees in the guest actor/actress and variety show performer categories.
The guest star categories are annually the worst sinners in terms of name recognition over talent. If you're a movie star slumming on television, or a TV icon coming out of semi-retirement, you're pretty much guaranteed a nomination, no matter how good or bad you were. So if these are the same people in charge of the larger process, the nominations could actually get worse, not better. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I know nothing! NOTHING!

If anyone's wondered why I haven't written about "American Idol" yet this season, the answer is simple: I haven't watched it. After last year's nightmare, in which the presence of a Jersey finalist led to my writing about seven thousand articles about that season, I needed some distance from the show. No Garden Staters this time around, thankfully, but I'm sure I'll still be required (either by my editors or my own need to comment on the biggest thing on television) to write a few columns about it.

So I decided to try an experiment: I wasn't going to watch a second of the show until the semi-finals began. No humiliating auditions, no pointless soap opera in "Hollywood" (aka Glendale), no extensive clips about tracheotomies, Greek rock bands or farms. I would just wait until the interactive portion began and see if the experience was any different if I went in not knowing everyone's backstories. Since these semi-final episodes are going to be excruciatingly padded, I'm sure we'll get biographical clips at some point, but I'll get drunk and drive off that bridge when we get to it.

All I know going in this year is that there's some guy named Ace and that a girl named Paris is the front-runner. I'm going in as virginal as it's possible to be with this show. Will it change the viewing experience any? Dunno, but that's the point of any experiment (that and saving me some time and aggravation). Click here to read the full post

Have we not met before?

Something I forgot to mention in yesterday's "Grey's Anatomy" entry: their spontaneous orgasm patient reminded me a lot of the burn victim on last week's "House," whose own unlikely climaxes helped lead House and company towards a cure. Fortunately, last night's "House" reminded me, since they pulled the ol' Hidden Testicles Trick only a few week after "Grey's" did. I know there are only so many stories for dramas to tell, and when there are a half-dozen or so medical shows on at once, you're going to see some overlap, but "House" and "Grey's" are one more plot coincidence away from a blood feud. (And, since I've already declared that "House" and "Scrubs" are the same show, does this mean that "Grey's" and "Scrubs" are also identical? Meredith and J.D. both do thematic narration, but Mere's probably a little butcher than J.D. Hmmm...)

Couple of other quick thoughts on "House":
  • Way to cast a 26-year-old to play the improbably hot 15-year-old (I'm not sure if that makes the story more or less skeevy).
  • When House was laughing at Wilson's God impression during the MRI, is that the first time we've seen him genuinely smiling, and not just smirking at his own cleverness? And was I the only one who wanted Wilson to start quoting "Real Genius" and tell House to stop playing with himself? (And once they got started, the also could have included the "Have you ever seen a body like this before in your life?" / "She happens to be my daughter" / "Well, then I guess you have" exchange.)
  • My jaw dropped when Him/Her started to crash and two nurses rushed in instead of one of House's underlings. And here I was under the impression that the hospital had six doctors and no one else on staff.
Some links: It's DVD day over in All TV, where I review the DVD of "Action" (a rare example of a good comedy whose extras are funnier than the show itself) and "NYPD Blue" season three (a loooooooong time coming). And for you movie criticism fans, Matt's blog has an epic-length interview with Charles Taylor, who was fired as Salon's movie critic for, he claims, wanting to write too many reviews. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 20, 2006


Happy President's Day, everybody. In honor of this day, I've decided to grow a beard with no mustache and stop flossing to increase the likelihood I'll have to wear wooden teeth down the road. Needless to say, my wife is a huge fan of both decisions.

Oh, "Grey's Anatomy," you just want people to despise Meredith, don't you? Forget her sledgehammer narration or her uncanny ability to make everyone's problems be all about her, now she's about to rip the heart of George -- the most universally-liked character on the show -- into a million little pieces by using him to work out all her issues with daddy and McDreamy. Maybe the plan is to turn her into the villain of the show, like Heather Locklear or Joan Collins or Melinda Clarke, because I'm not sure how she recovers from this one with even a shred of likability intact. How was George to know he'd be making his pitch at both exactly the right time (to get laid) and wrong time (to become her boyfriend forevuh)?

Liked the rest of the episode well enough, but I was really struck by the transformation of Eric Dane, who played McDreamy's ex-pal. A few years back, he was playing a clueless intern on one of ABC's previous attempts at a hospital franchise show, "Gideon's Crossing," and he could not have been less interesting. But add a few years and lines to his face, and suddenly, he's someone who might have a career yet. I wouldn't be shocked at all if the show contrives a way to have him move to Seattle Grace, too. Eventually, the entire surgical population of Manhattan is going to get jobs there, all of them tangentially lated to the McDreamy break-up.

It's hard for me to talk about "Battlestar Galactica," since I watched Friday's episode back to back with my screener of this week's. Friday's was good, don't get me wrong -- the special effects in the space battle were among the best the show's ever had, and I liked Hey It's That Guy inner circler John Heard as the latest redshirt Pegasus commander -- but I've already started working on my entry for Friday's episode, which is a doozy and a half.

Since there's almost nothing left in theaters I want to see, and since the theatergoing experience has become so brutal (we went to see "Brokeback" last week, and a half-dozen teenage girls giggled through the entire film), I figured I'd hit the video store to fill up the long weekend. Last night was "Broken Flowers," which I liked but didn't love. Ironic detachment is Jim Jarmusch's thing (not to mention Bill Murray's), but his movies always hold me at a distance, so that even as I'm enjoying the performances (Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone and Chloe Sevigny were all a lot of fun), I can't fully get involved in the story.

Up next: "Mysterious Skin," in which the kid from "3rd Rock" gets molested. That oughta be a happy one. Click here to read the full post

Friday, February 17, 2006

The gorgeous ladies of rasslin'

Was that, or was that not, the greatest Immunity Challenge in "Survivor" history last night? Full-contact, free-for-all, big mama Cirie sitting on people, Danielle and her implants spilling out of her bikini top about 17 times, Ruth Marie not understanding how to run... it was beautiful. Between this, the sumo challenge from Palau and Boston Rob calling out Colby and Ethan in All-Stars (one of the few highlights of All-Stars), I think it's now mandatory that we get one fighting challenge per season.

Some other quick thoughts:
  • Terry is looking more and more like the second coming of Tom Westman (both of them seem like they should be hanging around with the Kennedys)
  • Bruce is probably lucky he keeps getting sent back to Exile Island; his "I am the greatest human being in the history of humanity" shtick is useful in small doses, but I can see it grating on sane people (i.e. not just Shane) after a few days. Frankly, I think it would be brilliant if he got sent to Exile Island every week, always for a different reason.
  • Alas, Misty, we hardly knew ye. She was one of the few Survivor contestants I didn't hate on sight for trying to flirt her way to victory. I thought it was weird that Austinwas the one to bring her name up for the boot. If I was him or Nick, I would've tossed Ruth Marie PDQ to create some stall time before having to commit to an all-guy or all-young alliance once and for all.

Not a lot else to say right now, unfortunately. I'm eating, breathing and drinking "Sopranos" until further notice. I can actually tell you the name of the Elvis impersonator Big Pussy beats to death with a hammer, but I don't think I can calculate a square root anymore. C'est la vie. This is the business I have chosen.

Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wha happen? Nothin'

Last night was "Lost" at its absolute worst, teasing and teasing and not actually revealing anything or moving the plot forward. Oooooohhhh, the doomsday clock almost went haywire! Ooooohhhh, the balloon guy might be an Other! If it wasn't for the presence of Clancy Brown, a good performance by Naveen Andrews and the unintentional comedy of those awful CGI backgrounds to make Hawaii look like Iraq, the whole hour would've been a colossal waste of time. At this point, I almost prefer the episodes that have little to nothing to do with the mysteries of the island; at least there, you're not expecting more than you're going to get. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Go, go, go, go for G

Better late than never, I got to "Grey's Anatomy" last night. I have to applaud Shonda Rhimes for following one of the first rules of drama: she brought a bomb onstage in the first act, and she made damn sure it went off by the last, even if it had to take poor Kyle Chandler with it.
(And here I was figuring Chandler was here to help prolong the inevitable Meredith/McDreamy reunion. Ah, well; guy was good enough that, between this and "King Kong," he ought to get a good pilot role. Since Matthew Perry's playing the Sorkin part in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," maybe Chandler could play Tommy Schlamme.)

As implausible and over-the-top and "ER"-ish as this two-parter was, I was hooked for virtually all of it. (Again, the only moments throwing me out were when Meredith and Cristina started gabbing about their love lives in the middle of this.) I didn't even laugh when McDreamy pulled a Fonzie and brought Bailey's husband back to life with a well-placed fist to the chest. (On the other hand, I laughed for a long time when Bailey told George to stop looking at her va-j-j, or however you spell it.) This is a show that's firing on all cylinders right now, and I'm damn glad to see that it actually outrated "Desperate Housewives" this week.

"Gilmore Girls," meanwhile, took a trip to Martha's Vineyard by way of Bizarro World. So Logan is likable and Luke is a whiney jerk? When the hell did this happen? Rory's continued transformation into a Stepford Wife creeps me out (and I love how Rory and Logan piss and moan about Mitchum but don't have a problem staying in his home or using his money on a trip to Asia), and I want to slap Lorelai for not telling Luke that she wants to spend time with April. At this point, I'm longing for the Lorelai/Rory split portion of the season; at least then, we got lots of Richard and Emily.

If "Housewives" can be entered at the Emmys as a comedy, then maybe "House" should, too. The migraine medicine subplot -- and, especially, Wilson's horrified realization of what House was doing at that lecture -- was hysterical.

Back to "Sopranos"-land... Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What are the odds?

It's my wife Marian's birthday, and at one point today she asked me to look up things that happened on this day in history. Among the factoids I uncovered is that she shares a birthday with Florence Henderson...

... which freaked us the hell out, because I happened to share a birthday with Robert Reed.

What does this mean? Do I have to get a perm? Replace our lawn with astroturf? Hire a wisecracking maid? Host a variety show? Click here to read the full post

Spoke too soon (aka open thread)

So life got in the way of any TV watching, which means I still haven't seen "Grey's Anatomy." And with "Sopranos" season coming into view, every spare minute I have may be devoted to rewatching all 65 episodes for our new mondo-jumbo episode guide. So apologies if the blog gets a little skimpy for a while. I'll do the best I can.

In the meantime, today's column is a mailbag, and the first letter gives me a chance to wax philosophical on when exactly "The Simpsons" fell off a cliff creatively. And if anyone has any specific TV questions (whether it's my opinion on a show I haven't mentioned here lately, or something factual), feel free to post it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. Fire away. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 13, 2006

Yankee swap

After hearing that ESPN had traded Al Michaels to NBC for the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, I figured there was probably a good column in there somewhere. So today I suggested other inter-network trades, some serious, most not. Example:
The hatch on "Lost" to the WB for Chad Michael Murray: The hatch has been one plot device too many for the increasingly-convoluted "Lost." Imagine relocating it to "Gilmore Girls" -- wouldn't those Friday night family dinners be spiced up if you threw in an automatic weapons cache and a doomsday clock? And since "One Tree Hill" probably won't survive into the WB/UPN merged CW network, might as well let Murray fulfill his destiny as Gaby's new boytoy on "Desperate Housewives."
You can read the whole column here. Haven't watched "Grey's" yet, but "Battlestar Galactica" did a good job with the obligatory "Die Hard" rip-off episode. (And is it a sign that I'm getting old that I immediately thought "Die Hard," while most of the message board posts I've read are referencing "24"?) Dana Delany was great as the aggrieved hostage-taker (and did the credits people make a typo or has she started spelling her name Delaney?), and I liked that Starbuck's convenient presence on the ship didn't save the day, and actually made things worse. Sci-Fi sent me an advance copy of the Lucy Lawless episode that's airing in two weeks, and while I understand the next episode is stand-alone, I'm still trying to watch them in order, and the wait is killing me. It's like someone gave me a plate of brownies and said I couldn't have one until my birthday (which is in October).

Since there's nothing new on tonight and I'm boycotting the Olympics for as long as my bosses will let me, I'm saving "Grey's Anatomy" for this evening and will blog about it tomorrow. Click here to read the full post

Friday, February 10, 2006

Catching up

Forgot to do the column link yesterday, so a two-fer: today, I write about the "Arrested Development" two-hour finale (I've seen the first 90 minutes, and the first episode is by far the best), and yesterday I did a mailbag dealing with the done-in-one fate of "Emily's Reasons Why Not," a twin theory for "How I Met Your Mother," and some other errata.

Before I get to the quick reviews, a brief rant: A few nights ago, my TiVo stopped recording "The Shield" with a few minutes to go. Fortunately, it only clipped the preview and closing credits, so I didn't pay it much mind. Then last night, it clipped "The Office" with 8 minutes to go, completely deleting the third act. Now, this was the episode they were filming when I did the set visit for my story on the supporting characters, so I knew what was going to happen, but I'm still massively pissed off. And I'm apparently not the only person this keeps happening to. I usually don't bother with the celebrity interviews on "The Daily Show," but Harrison Ford said something very on point the other night: they told us that all this new technology was going to make our lives easier, but all it's done is give us more shit that people need to come to our houses to fix. Now excuse me while I hitch up my pants to my chest and get in line for the early-bird special.

So, TV... I'll start with the oldest and work my way forward this time:

"The Shield" was the first new one I'd seen in a while, since I got the first four a couple of months ago, and boy howdy was it worth the wait. Though it's predictable that Vic will always find a way out of these jams, I still loved watching Forest Whitaker flip out when he realized how badly he'd been played. I don't think Vic has any idea how difficult Kavanagh is going to make his life now. Before, it was just a case to him; now it's vendetta.

Speaking of con jobs, I should have seen Sawyer's stunt with the guns on "Lost" coming before it happened, especially after the scene where he explains the long con to Kim Dickens. (And nice to see her getting some non-"Deadwood" work.) But I was blindsided by it. This was one of the few useful flashbacks we've gotten this season; we didn't learn anything new about Sawyer, but it did at least parallel the island plot better than most have. Meanwhile, the writers seem to have recognized how much everybody hates Charlie and have turned him into a full-blown heel. (I think somebody on TWoP dubbed him "Darth Hoodie.") And we saw practically the entire cast for once, with the exception (I think) of Michael and Libby. Do you think that as Cynthia Watros was going through her whole drunk-driving public humiliation she was asking herself why they even bothered to bring her out to Hawaii in the first place?

I got to see "Veronica Mars" last week as preparation for my Diane Ruggiero profile, but it played just as well the second time, if not better. (The first time around, I didn't totally understand why Weevil was out to frame Thumper.) I like the high school-level mysteries, especially when they get to tie into the ongoing mysteries. Operation: Make Jackie Sympathetic is working like gangbusters, and Wallace's stunt with the baseballs was one of the kindest acts I've seen on TV in a long time. I didn't understand the amount of time being spent showing Logan scamming on some random uninteresting sophomore, but the reveal with her dad was perfect. Enrico Colantoni continues to be amazing; the look on Keith's face when he learned about the fixed game was heartbreaking. And Beaver pulling one over on Dick was sweet as well. Best exchange: "What's your posion?" "Emotionally unavailable women."

"Survivor: Janu Island" continues to be off to a much stronger start than Guatemala. And speaking of which, remember when I suggested that, in the show's history of batshit contestants, Bobby Jon might be the batshittiest? Not anymore; Shane has clearly sewn that title up for many seasons to come. What a drama queen baby. Wow. I'm going to love watching his inevitable demise (I hope). Current favorite players: Bruce (because martial artists are kewl, especially if they're named Bruce), Terry (because he reminds me of Tom from Palau in his superhuman challenge strength), Dan (because astronauts are kewl) and Misty (because missile engineers are kewl, and because she's the only woman contestant who hasn't done anything to annoy me yet). I'm disappointed they merged the four tribes so quickly; I would've loved watching the older women suffer and suffer for their decision to get rid of Tina.

"My Name Is Earl" was one of the better ones, particularly Earl and Randy struggling to understand the laptop ("Hey, it's another porn machine!"), Randy refusing to be paddled and, of course, the bee sting makeup. I'm just annoyed that they didn't let Earl get some. You know, he could've fixed the bus stop and then gone back to the college. There's a line between trying to make a sleazebag likable and just making him a pushover, and I think this show errs too far on the side of making Earl nice and safe.

"Office" I can't comment on until I've seen the final third (thank God for iTunes), and I still need to watch "Everybody Hates Chris" and, much as I don't want to, "The O.C." But this post is long enough already. Later. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pardon the split screen

So Tony Kornheiser is going to be the third man in ESPN's "Monday Night Football" booth, huh? Not a bad idea. This is the hiring ABC should've made instead of Dennis Miller; Tony's funny, but he also knows sports and doesn't feel a need to prove he's hipper than the room.

But here's my concern: Tony is deathly afraid to fly, so, like John Madden, he's going to travel to and from the games by bus. That works fine for Madden, who has a once-a-week gig, but Tony has a little five-day-a-week show I like to call "Pardon the Interruption." ESPN has already said that Wilbon will fly to the site of that week's game so the Monday show can feature the two of them in person. But if the game's in San Francisco, or Seattle, or Arizona, no way Tony's going to be back in D.C. in time for the Tuesday show, or maybe the Wednesday one. (Depends on whether the Korn-Crusier has more than one driver so it can travel all day and night.)

An ESPN publicist told me that they're still ironing out the details, and if Tony's not back to the studio in time for a show, they'll try to stop at some TV station along the road and do a split-screened show. Makes logistical sense, but anyone who watches "PTI" every day (it and "The Daily Show" are my only daily fixes) knows that the show is never as good when Tony and Wilbon aren't in the studio together. (Though that's still better than a guest appearance by Dan LeBatard.) If they're going to be regularly separated during football season because Tony's on a bus passing through Eau Claire or Tulsa, "PTI" is going to suffer. And because I can't stand the sound of Joe Theisman's voice, I care a hell of a lot more about what's going to happen to "PTI" than I do about the new Monday night team. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Doctor... doctor... glad I'm not sick.

First links first: today's column starts out with a fairly dull but obligatory item about Super Bowl ratings, so I would suggest you skip ahead to this page, which has Greg Daniels talking about getting Ricky Gervais to write an episode of American "Office," not to mention Rob Thomas talking about how he hopes to smuggle every single line from "The Big Lebowski" (with the possible exceptions of "No one fucks with The Jesus!" and "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!" and "Shut the fuck up, Donnie!" and...) into the scripts for "Veronica Mars."

As I wrote in yesterday's column, the parallels between "Scrubs" and "House" are getting pretty spooky, and I noticed another one when I rewatched the first "Scrubs" last night with Marian: both shows tonight had castmembers doing impressions of other castmembers, Elliot as J.D. and Cuddy as Stacy. (This is also the second time they've transformed Elliot into another character, counting her stint as a half-Turk a few weeks back; assuming they intend to turn her into every other regular before the end of the season, I look forward to Sarah Chalke's Cox impression.)

"Scrubs" is so on its game now that I laughed just as hard at episode one as I did when I first saw it last week. I hope somebody finds a way to stick Donald Faison's dance and lip-synch to "Posion" up on YouTube, because as soon as that was over, Marian ordered me to give the episode the hallowed Save Until I Delete status on the TiVo. I love that Ted now has two different bands, and though I'm not a guitar expert, it sure looked like he was getting the fingering right on "More Than a Feeling."

Mandy Moore was much better playing a different character here than she was playing herself on "Entourage." (Best praftfall: slamming her head into the restaurant table and then hoping J.D. didn't see it.) The second episode wasn't quite as good as the first, in part because they didn't go all the way into making this Carla's episode. As I remember, when other characters have taken over the narration, the episodes were mostly told from their point of view; here, they even cheated and snuck in some J.D. narration in the cafeteria. Episode two did have the line of the night, though: "Don't listen to her, Brown Bear! Your body's fierce, like Taye Diggs!" Loved Lando and the nicknames for J.D.'s exes (Tina TwoKids, RumpleFugly, Mole Butt) and the comatose hungover Jordan. On the other hand, Christa Miller's increasingly opaque face was extra-disturbing when she was pretending to be 29.

Very funny "House," too, though the patient was even more besides the point than usual. Highlights: "I can hear you caring!," House counting down the seconds until the end of Foreman's reign of terror and House's "I love you" to get the swab from a jaw-dropped Cameron. Not really sorry to see Stacy go; I thought Sela Ward worked well as a professional foil for House, but they dragged out the Unresolved Sexual Tension for so long that I just stopped caring. Frankly, I'll miss Currie Graham as Stacy's pissed-off husband more than her.

Haven't gotten to "The Shield" yet, but took in the weekly dose of "Gilmore Girls." Meh. The Friday Night Dinner fight last week was so genius that this couldn't help but feel like a letdown. I like that Lorelai and Luke actually seemed to enjoy each other's company this week, but the lies they keep telling each other are getting increasingly stupid. Meanwhile, Rory continues her transformation into the female Cosmo Kramer: she steals a boat, drops out of school for a semester and betrays one of her best friends, and she falls ass-backwards into the editorship of the Yale Daily, a professional newspaper job (and how's she going to have time for both?) and the sweetest apartment on campus. Next thing you know, she's going to convert a gay guy into heterosexuality. Stay away from her, Michel... Click here to read the full post

How they mocked their roommate

Sorry for the delay, but I was waiting for NJ.com to finally load up today's column, in which I point out something that may or may not have been obvious to the rest of you for a long time: that "House" and "Scrubs" are the exact same show. (Think about it: Cox=House, J.D.=Cameron, Elliot=Chase, etc., etc.)

Meanwhile, the only Monday show I feel at all passionate about continues to be "How I Met Your Mother," which trotted out an episode that felt like their equivalent of "The Zeppo" from "Buffy." Basically, Ted and Victoria were offscreen for almost the entire show, and when they were, they were being so over-the-top shmoopy that Marshall and Lily were mercilessly snarking on them. Like the episode with Drunk Ted, this was a good example of the writers recognizing some of their hero's more annoying traits and owning right up to them. The stuff with Marshall and Lily trapped in the bathroom was a rip off of both "Friends" and "Mad About You," but sometimes a stock plot can be useful. Highlight of the episode by far was the "Quid pro bro" bonding between Barney and Robin. Since Robin and Ted are fated to end up apart, having her and Barney hook up seems the path of least resistance, and they were really funny together. ("Leave no man behind!") Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 06, 2006

Shots, shorts and showers

After staying up late last night to file the Super Bowl ads column, I'm a little beat, so some quick thoughts on non-pigskin weekend TV:

A guy at work came up to me this morning and said, re: the "Grey's Anatomy" episode, "Boy, they sure went after that football audience with the shower scene, huh?" Though it felt more like an "ER" episode than I think Shonda may have intended, I liked it, particularly Christina Ricci as the increasingly freaked-out paramedic. Marian had one complaint about Kyle Chandler as the bomb squad guy: "Shouldn't he have already known about this yesterday?" I had only two real problems: 1)The bit where Meredith and Cristina are doing their girl talk thing and shushing Chandler as he talked about the danger of explosion felt too cutesy even for this show, and 2)Would it have killed them to put on a "To Be Continued" card? I know the house style at ABC is to end every drama with a logo card, but with the irregular start time and my fatigue, I was waiting for the next act to start until I saw the opening credits of the late news.

Another heavily pre-recorded "SNL," which you already know I think is a good thing. We had the Steve Martin/Alec Baldwin gag in the beginning, which couldn't have been pulled off (at least not well) live, a filmed commercial parody (plus a live one) and two different digital shorts. None of them were extraordinary, but none were horrendous, either. In fact, most of the episode felt that way: not as good as anything in the Jack Black show, but nothing like the usual 40-60% of godawful we usually get. Definitely a step in the right direction. On the other hand, why no Prince in "The Prince Show"?

Finally, after an episode that even the creator felt the need to badmouth in public, "Battlestar Galactica" was back on its game on Friday. Starbuck is my favorite character (Ronald Moore's, too, conveniently), and I like episodes that don't shy away from the harsh emotional reality of what life on the run after genocide would be like. I loved that Kara just lets Kat get away with calling herself the new Top Gun, yet still finds a way to piss on Kat's big moment with her toast to all the dead pilots. This show almost never does the predictable, and for that I'm very grateful. Click here to read the full post

Super? Nah.

As usual, I was tasked to write about this year's best and worst Super Bowl commercials, and as I sat down around halftime to write a rough draft of the story, I realized that I didn't care. Even the good commercials (like the FedEx caveman spot) don't get me jazzed anymore the way, say, Bud Bowl did. There's no thrill of discovery anymore, because even when the spots are well-executed, we know all the tricks (like the MacGyver MasterCard ad). So instead of doing a best-and-worst ranking, I wrote this:

Super Bowl commercials are over.

I'm sorry, but it has to be said. The ads have long since taken over Super Bowl Sunday, where in parties across the country, people gab during the game and hush up for the sponsors. The NFL Network's halftime spot last night even acknowledged that "you might just watch for the commercials."

But honestly, when is the last time a Super Bowl ad genuinely got your blood pumping the way the Macintosh "1984" spot did? The last time you laughed as loud as you did for the first Bud Bowl? Or even for the first Monster.com spot?

The one and only airing of "1984" coincided with a long streak of big-game blowouts, so it was easy for the ads to overtake the action as the main reason for watching. But the games have gotten closer and better in the last 10 years, just as the commercials started to slip.

You can find the whole column here.

Click here to read the full post

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ms. Ruggiero's neighborhood

Five and a half years ago, as part of a never-ending quest to find local TV angles to please my editors, I sat down with a spunky redhead named Diane Ruggiero, who had gone from Jersey waitress to TV show creator ("That's Life") pretty much overnight. "That's Life" didn't so much wind up being a happily ever after experience, but I stayed friendly with Diane, and when she established herself as one of the top writers on "Veronica Mars," I was really happy, both because she'd found a better job and because it gave me an excuse to write a sequel to the original story. Here's how it starts:

This is the story of a woman who got everything she'd ever dreamed of, had it taken away from her, and got it back again.

Five and a half years ago, Old Bridge native Diane Ruggiero was in the middle of her Cinderella moment, going from waitress in East Rutherford to hot screenwriter in Hollywood in an eyeblink. Nora Ephron had just bought her script "Pretty the Beast," and CBS had hired her to create "That's Life," a quasi-autobiographical drama about a Jersey woman who enrolls in college at 32, to the confusion of her friends and family.

"I'm homesick as hell, but look what I'm doing," she told me in the summer of 2000, a few months before "That's Life" debuted. "When you're out here with a job like this, it's amazing. I could be on Mars right now and doing this and I'd be happy."

And then her Cinderella story went all pumpkin in a hurry.

To read the rest, go here. Diane's next episode is this week's, and it's very good, with a high-school level mystery (who stole the class trip money?) that nonetheless has implications on both of the season's big cases.

Click here to read the full post

Friday, February 03, 2006

You know it's hard out here for a censor

So in my quest to see as many of the big Oscar-nominated films as I can before the ceremony, I rented "Hustle & Flow" the other day. Great performance, decent but predictable film, and one huge question: how in the world are they going to perform the Best Song nominee "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" when it has lyrics like these? I know they brought in Robin Williams to get around some of the lines in "Blame Canada" a few years back, but this is a much, much more profane song. My only theory: hire the same network execs who helped Krusty the Klown have this conversation with the guys from Red Hot Chili Peppers:
"Here where it says, 'What I got you gotta get and put it in you,' how about just, 'What I'd like is I'd like to hug and kiss you.'"
"Wow, that's much better!"
"Everyone can enjoy that!"

Any other thoughts? Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 02, 2006

There is dumb, there is stupid...

... and there is trying to use "Survivor" to kick a three pack a day habit. We're only one episode in, but Shane may be the biggest moron in the history of this show.

Lot of personalities popping tonight, certainly moreso than in Guatemala at this time. I like the astronaut and the fighter pilot conveniently choosing the other as their secret-sharer, love the martial arts instructor (named Bruce!), was laughing my ass off at the nurse who's afraid of leaves and was amused by the incompetence of the young prettyboys. It's funny; "Survivor" debuted when I was in my mid-late 20s, and yet I've always tended to root for and be entertained by the older contestants. I don't know if that says something about me or about them. Probably me. (A glance at my CD collection could tell you that.)

I'm especially glad about the twist in the individual immunity idol. This is how I'd hoped it would work in Guatemala, that you only have to use it after the vote and that you cold go from a minority to a majority with a well-timed move. I wonder if you're allowed to give the idol to someone else at the right moment, or whether you're allowed to steal the idol if the person who finds it does a lousy job of concealing the thing.

Meanwhile, I think I've sucked Marian into "The Office." I thought the carpet episode last week was so funny that I forced her to watch it, and after complaining for a few minutes, she laughed a lot. And after tonight's episode -- highlighted by Pam's crying on the serious side and Dwight's styrofoam snow angel on the funny side (either that or Kelly's wink at the camera after her "second base" question) -- she's been totally sucked in by the Jim/Pam storyline.

And speaking of which, the question of the day: how do the "Office" writers deal with the Jim and Pam thing? Way back in the first season, Greg Daniels told me he sees the two best as friends, and that he was well aware of the danger of Unresolved Sexual Tension taking over his show. In the last five or six episodes, it's obvious that thinking has changed. And I'm fine with that to a point, since Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski are great together and it's obviously working at hooking in viewers.

But the British show got to play out the entire relationship over 12 episodes and a special. At a minimum, we're going to have 49 episodes of this series, counting next year's order. Are we going to spend all that time (plus any other potential seasons) with Jim pining over Pam? Do they try for that annoying trick where, just as Pam realizes her feelings for Jim, he gets over her and starts seeing someone else? Do they just let them become a happy couple within the next half season or so?

Writers always point to "Moonlighting" as a show that was ruined because the main characters slept together, but that's wrong. "Moonlighting" didn't implode because David and Maddy had sex; it imploded because immediately after they had sex (like, at the very end of that episode), Mark Harmon shows up and David and Maddy are immediately apart again, and this pissed off the viewers so much that they started to bail. "Cheers" put Sam and Diane together at the end of the first season, then split them up and reunited them over and over for another four years, always finding a fresh new take on the relationship. And I always admired the fact that Paul Simms on "NewsRadio" said to hell with the conventional wisdom and let Dave and Lisa have sex in episode two. It ruined his relationship with NBC management and probably led to the show's death by 1000 timeslots, but it was funnier than an "Ed"-like tease would have been.

So I think there are ways to make Jim and Pam as a couple work within the boundaries of the show. As we've seen with Michael and Jan, who never did more than make out while drunk one night, office gossip is a huge problem. Imagine the crap both of them would have to put up with: Michael and Kevin making lewd comments about Pam to Jim, Angela complaining to Pam about something Jim said, Kelly constantly pumping each of them for dish, etc., etc. Hell, you could even use that as an excuse to prolong things: Jim and Pam get together briefly, don't bank on the enormous headache this creates for them, split up, then get back together again. Or, following the "NewsRadio" example, they get together but try to keep it a secret.

Just spit-balling. I'm just amazed how quickly I went from liking this show to loving it. I don't even feel uncomfortable with the Michael scenes anymore; him wrecking the warehouse as Darryl complained was hysterical. Click here to read the full post

She used to have a carefree mind of her own

When I was in LA, Rob Thomas asked for my guess of who caused the "Veronica Mars" bus crash, and to my disappointment I realized I couldn't, for two reasons: 1)There were so many victims (and, counting the rich kids in the limo, potential victims) that it was hard to nail down who was the target, much less who wanted them dead; and 2)It had been so long since an episode had really focused on the crash that I had forgotten a lot of the details.

Thankfully, the business with Coma Meg and Coma Meg's Baby is done with, and after last night's snarkalicious episode, both the bus crash and Felix's murder are front and center -- and possibly linked. So now, for your sleuthing pleasure, some theories:
  1. Aaron Echolls. This is the obvious choice, the one they set up in episode three or four with the Curly Moran stuff. Aaron wants revenge against Veronica for busting him, and also wants to eliminate the prosecution's key witness against him, so he hires his old stuntman buddy to kill her in a way that won't immediately point to him. And he wouldn't want any of Logan's friends to die; hence the rat. Because it's such an obvious choice and was given to us waaaaay back when, I have to assume it's not the right one.
  2. Woody Goodman. Like Hamlin last year, Rob must have hired The Gutte for a reason, and now we have this tidbit about Woody warning his daughter to not get back on the bus. Woody's dream is to incorporate the ritzy parts of town, right? So maybe he hatches a plan to drive such a wedge between the 09ers and the poor people that the blue-collar folks won't object to being ghettoized into their own town.
  3. Terrence Cook. Like Hamlin and The Gutte, Rob must have hired his old "Cupid" buddy Jeffrey Sams for a reason. Now we have some info about him canoodling with the dead journalism teacher, plus we already know about his gambling debts. Since Jackie was new to the school and not on the bus, don't know why he'd bother with the rat.
  4. The Fitzpatricks. Thumper's video of Weevil kicking the crap out of Curly suggests that this year's two big cases may be related. Why would they want to kill a teacher and/or a bunch of poor kids? Couple of possibilities. Maybe, like the Felix killing, they were after Cervando to separate Weevil from his two strongest allies so they could acquire the PCH'ers help without much trouble. Or maybe they wanted to put an enormous scare into Terrence Cook (I'm assuming he owes them money, but I could be misremembering) by killing off his special lady friend. (And speaking of which, that's two shout-outs to that "Lebowski" line already this season, and it comes up again next week. I wonder who 0n the writing staff is a big fan of The Dude...)
  5. Big Dick Casablancas. A big long shot, but again, somebody wanted the rich kids (including his two sons) off that bus, and the return of Big Dick as Evil Big Dick would bring back one of the better recurring characters and give Charisma more to do.
  6. Madison. Okay, I don't really believe this one at all, but after watching "A Trip to the Dentist" and next week's episode back to back as research for a story I'm doing on writer Diane Ruggiero, I was reminded just how evil that girl can be. Not mass-murder evil, but evil enough that I wouldn't complain if she winds up being framed for the thing and sent to the women's correctional facility of her dreams.
So? Any other theories? I try not to think too much about this stuff, in case I actually figure it out in advance and get disappointed by the reveal, but now that they're finally getting back to business, I'm curious what other people think.

A few other quick "Veronica" notes:
  • Spoon guy is a much better Karaoke'r than Dandy Warhols guy, or maybe he just gets a leg up because "Veronica" is one of my favorite songs.
  • Veronica was back to her old funny self this week. Two highlights: "Do you know what any words actually mean?" and the entire Java the Hut scene with Logan, Weevil and Spoon guy.
  • Church stained glass has to be a cinematographer's favorite subject, right? The show has rarely looked better than it did in that shot of Veronica entering the church.
  • "Uncle Rucker." Shut your Rucking face, Uncle Rucker.
  • Coming soon, to a UPN-free affiliate near you: "Riding the Bus with My Gang Leader," the touching story of a former biker who develops a love of public transportation after a life-changing event. Co-starring Rosie O'Donnell as herself.
Oh, and the daily column link: Matt commenting on the latest Very Special Patient episode of "ER." Click here to read the full post