Thursday, November 30, 2006

Scrubs: They really like to dance

Spoilers for the return of "Scrubs" just as soon as I get the address of that Joe Piscopo Lookalike Contest...

Turk danced! Turk danced! Turk danced! Okay, so it wasn't as brilliant as the last time, and I don't know for certain that I was directly responsible for the scene (even though I asked the writers to do it, like, seven dozen times over a one-hour lunch), but any time you combine Donald Faison and slightly vintage music video moves, good things happen.

The rest of the episode? Up and down. I wasn't one of the people too put off by last year's drive into wackier territory, but this one felt like everyone was trying too hard for the big return: the random Blue Man Group appearance, the make-up enhanced alt-versions of J.D., Cox and The Janitor, the big stunt where The Janitor turns J.D. into the American flag, etc. There was too much payoff, not enough set up.

And yet my favorite moments all involved the bizarre throwaways: Ted and Keith Dudemeister mixing Pop Rocks and soda, The Janitor pondering a sex change, Alt-Janitor's "I punched a whale," Kim weeping over her brother's death at the hands of a Funky Cold Medina (which reminded me a bit of the Bobby McFerrin sketch from the Alec Baldwin "SNL"), etc. So I'm having trouble putting my finger on exactly what bothered me about this episode, save for the obvious answer that I didn't laugh as much as I often do when I watch the show.

But hell, it's back, Turk danced again, and Cox wore his Z. Cavaricci pants again, so I'm not going to complain too much. What did everybody else think?
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The Office: British invasion

Spoilers for "The Office" just as soon as I go play a few holes of Folf...

When I wrote my review of this episode, I somehow missed the memo that this was the one written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In retrospect, I should have spotted that, credit-free rough cut or no, because this felt squirmier by at least 10 percent -- or, roughly, the difference between David Brent and Michael Scott.

In particular, the Prison Mike scene made me cringe in a way no TV comedy has since the dance routine that got David canned in the original series. I spend far too much time analyzing the minute differences between David and Michael, and much of those nuances come from the actors. There's a kind of sweaty malevolence that Gervais can pull off without seeming totally loathsome, but that doesn't fit Steve Carell at all; witness how much more uncomfortable it is when Michael pretends to fire Pam than it was when David tried the same with Dawn. The American writers quickly recognized this, and have fashioned Michael's personal brand of cluelessness into a more childlike inability to read a room. Even when he's agressive, it's in such an obviously harmless way that the Scranton people have all learned to tune him out over the years. Screaming in Phyllis' face is just something I would never expect or want to see Michael doing.

That said, I thought our visiting writers did a bang-up job on other parts of the episode, especially the Jim/Andy/Karen/Pam non-quadrangle. Tie between "Also, do you speak Pig Latin?" and Andy's falsetto, Pig Latin "Rainbow Connection" for funniest bit. (I've sung my daughter to sleep with "Rainbow Connection" for years, and I may never be able to get through it with a straight face again, dammit.)

Whatever hurt Pam is feeling over Jim's unavailability, she still has such affection for him that she can admire the artistry in how he sicc'ed Andy on her, and verrry interesting that Jim went out of his way to make Karen an accomplice in pranking somebody else. Clearly, she knows little or nothing about Jim's previous dealing with Pam, else she would start to wonder why he knows so damn much about her. Jim, a bit of advice: in a situation like this, full disclosure is really the only way to go.

Other highlights and thoughts:
  • While I had trouble with the Martin subplot overall, I thought it was a nice touch that the hated Toby -- master of conflict resolution -- was the one who was able to calm Michael down and set everyone free without bloodshed.
  • I want to know exactly how Martin explained insider trading that convinced Kevin that this is what he does.
  • In the British series, the arrival of the merged staff eventually led to David's firing. Here, Michael's nearly halfway towards scaring off all the newbies. What terrible humiliation do you think awaits nursing mom Hannah? (And what office has a Bring Your Infant To Work All Day Day?)
  • I quoted it in the review, but once again: "Why did the convict have to be a black guy? It is such a stereotype. I just wish Josh had made a more progressive choice, like a white guy who went to prison for polluting a black guy's lake." Also, would it be fair to say that most non-Christians would trust Apollo Creed more than Jesus? I'd certainly trust Apollo to find me a really good bargain on where to eat lunch (most likely at Burger King).

What did everybody else think?

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What Alan was watching a while ago

As I mentioned in the comments section for the morning column link, working as a solo critic has cut into my blogging time, and I've gotten weeks behind on commenting on some shows. So, while taking a break from today's marathon of "Sleeper Cell" season two, some quick thoughts on, in order, "Friday Night Lights," "Grey's Anatomy," "Gilmore Girls" and "Dexter," and if there's anything obvious I've left out, we can get a discussion going in the comments. Tally-ho and all that...

Well, turns out NBC didn't show the "Friday Night Lights" homecoming episode out of order, as Tuesday's show clearly took place after the previous one. This wasn't one of my favorite episodes, but even when the show isn't clicking, I can always count on the family dynamics at the Taylor household to keep me engaged. (Taylor had one line about how, contrary to opinion, he does understand women, that I really wish I had written down so I could cite it exactly. The phrasing was very nice.) I would care more about the poor, doomed Riggins brothers and the Street/Lyla/Riggins triangle if the actors playing Riggins and Lyla didn't feel better-suited to "One Tree Hill," and as fair as they've tried to play Street's recovery, him participating in a Murderball scrimmage four or five weeks after he was paralyzed? Huh? I get that it's TV, and that this was around the point where the producers saw the writing on the wall and started cramming as many ideas in as they could before cancellation, but would it have killed them to wait at least until the Panthers season ended?

(On the plus side, NBC is moving the show to Wednesdays at 8 in January, which gets it out of the way of "American Idol" and gives me a Wednesday night show I actually want to watch. Last night's schedule was so barren on every channel that I toggled between "Mythbusters" and the "Clerks II" DVD. But we already talked about Pillowpants and the Listerfiend back in July.)

I'm starting to think I'm not cut out to be a "Grey's Anatomy" viewer much longer. The turducken-sized Thanksgiving episode had the show firing on all cylinders in a way it hasn't since that time Coach Taylor blew up real good after the Super Bowl, and yet it still bugged the hell out of me. Again, we're in the Denny Duquette area where characters are doing indefensible things that both their friends and the audience are supposed to forgive them for in the name of friendship, characterization, whatever, and I just can't do it. When Meredith shut McDreamy down on the subject of whether she should have ratted out Burke and Cristina, it was close to brick-throwing time again. (Ditto Izzie expecting an apology from George when he had exactly zilch to apologize for, given the history and the current circumstances.) The show is still the show; I'm just at or near my limit for what I'll swallow to get to the good stuff.

Speaking of treasure being surrounded by trash, Paris and Doyle's hip-hop dancing was about the only thing keeping me conscious for most of the latest "Gilmore Girls." I like Michael DeLuise when he has a good script and/or director (notably as Sipowicz Jr.), but take either or both of those away and he's always a half-step away from offensive overacting; my head hurt so much listening to him that I barely even noticed the rest of the Luke subplot, and I've lost whatever interest I may have had in the drawn-out process of Lorelai realizing the mistake she made in marrying Christopher.

If I've been sparse in commenting on "Dexter," it's because the show is so consistent both in what it does and how well it does it, and there are only so many different ways I can compliment Michael C. Hall for acting like a man who's always acting or admire the artful framing of the murder scenes. Things have gotten veddy interesting, however, now that the Ice Truck Killer's identity is known to us, and Sunday's serial killer couples weekend to Dexter's ancestral home was a creepy change of pace. I haven't read the book, but knowing that there are sequels (and that the TV show is going to continue), I have a sense of where things are going. But I look forward to hearing at the end of the season how much the show borrowed from the novel and how much had to be invented for series TV purposes.

Back to watching Oded Fehr get kicked in the nuts a lot. To paraphrase a very wise man, "Sleeper Cell" season one had heart, but "Sleeper Cell" season two has knees to the groin.
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Comedy. Ha-ha.

Today's column looks at the four NBC Thursday comedies (and I'll have more to say about them tonight -- Scrubs and Office in particular):
If the sitcom is dead, then how did NBC cobble together a Thursday night schedule with four funny comedies in a row?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Maybe I should be wondering how long NBC will be able to keep this shiny new four comedy line-up -- "My Name Is Earl" at 8, "The Office" at 8:30, "Scrubs" at 9 and "30 Rock" at 9:30 -- together.

After a promising move to Thursdays last January, "Earl" and "Office" have both taken a hit from ABC's new "Ugly Betty." "30 Rock" was a nonentity on Wednesdays earlier this season, and a 40-minute episode two Thursdays ago completely tanked. Previous NBC regimes have jerked "Scrubs" around the schedule so many times that its audience is small enough that the writers now seem to be taking viewer requests on what jokes to use.

But more on that in a minute. The larger issue is that while all four of these comedies have very funny people working in front of and behind the camera, the days of the mass-appeal comedy hit died with "Everybody Loves Raymond" (if not "Friends" or "Seinfeld" before that). "Scrubs" has spent its entire life span as a cult success at best, "Earl" and "Office" seem destined to share that fate, and "30 Rock" is going to be lucky to make it to 2007. As much as I admire NBC entertainment boss Kevin Reilly for resurrecting the two-hour Thursday sitcom bloc that made NBC the dominant power in the '80s and '90s, this feels like a tilting at windmills gesture.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I used to like David Caruso...

Endless CSI: Miami one-liners. Have fun counting the number of times he doesn't flip on the shades. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Veronica Mars: Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Spoilers for the "Veronica Mars" rape story finale just as soon as I try to figure out who that funny brunette in the "Ask me about my STD" t-shirt was supposed to be...

And so we've come to the end of our first "Veronica" mini-mystery, and I'm mostly happy. There were the usual scares as Veronica faced the big bad, but not in a way that copied either "Leave It to Beaver" or "Not Pictured." All but one castmember (Lamb) appeared, and all but one of the rest (Weevil) played a significant role. Rob and company played as fair as they could with the identity of rapist(s), though with only nine episodes to play with instead of 22, they had to toss out some very crucial information very quickly.

In particular, the relationship between Mercer and Moe and how it was forged during their own stint in Professor Homer's Stanford Prison Experiment had only one hint prior to this episode, way back in "My Big Fat Greek Rush Week." I quote Couch Baron's TWoP recap of the scene:
Wallace tells Moe that he can't be there because of the experiment, and Moe replies that he did it the year before [...] and says that it's pretty intense. He gets an odd look on his face as he adds, "It's, like... life-changing." He pauses long enough before leaving to prompt "Buh?" looks from Wallace and Veronica.
Maybe it wouldn't have felt so out of left field if we had been able to see more of Horshack and Rafe, the freshman class's equivalent of Mercer and Moe (albeit without all the rape-y badness), but the bit about Horshack helping Rafe cheat happened off-camera, and as far as I know, the first time we knew Mercer did the Experiment was when Veronica saw the picture of him and Moe in their respective costumes. (And even there, it had been so long since I saw the episode that all I noticed was Mercer and Moe and not their costumes; the backstory didn't click in my head until Mercer slapped Moe and said, "Stop blubbering, prisoner!")

That aside, there were a couple of other nagging issues, but nothing that troubled me overly. First, how could it not have occurred to Veronica sooner (like back in the episode where she exonerated Mercer) that it's possible to pre-tape a radio call-in show, how could it have not occurred to the cops to ask (Lamb's a smug ass, but not an idiot), and how could no one at the radio station have noticed that Mercer often wasn't in the studio when his show was airing? Second, if Moe was too squeamish to do anything but bait and shave Veronica's head, who committed the rape when Mercer and Logan were having their Light My Fire trip south of the border? Did Mercer order Moe to do it to give him an alibi (which turned out to be useless after the motel fire), or was that one of the Lilith House women doing a copycat fake? As Veronica asked last week, exactly how many of the rapes were real?

I like the role that Parker played in rescuing Veronica this time. Given the nature of the plot, Veronica almost had to get drugged at some point, which also meant she needed some saving (unless she has a mutant healing factor we haven't been told about), and it felt appropriate that it was a former victim -- and that Veronica managed to get her licks in with both Mercer and Moe before the GHB completely got to her.

We'd been heading towards the Veronica/Logan split practically since the season started. Good as Jason Dohring is at the puppy dog eyes, I hope he doesn't have to keep at it for too long. The thing is, Veronica does let people help her, as we saw when she recruited Wallace, Piz, Mac and even Moe (whoops) to assist at the Pi Sig party. It just has to be on her terms, and she has to clearly be in charge, and Logan's not having that. He wants to be Veronica's savior, not her sidekick. Nice closing touch with him getting himself thrown into a locked room with Veronica's attackers, though at what point is he nearing his third strike?

Meanwhile, Rob quite cleverly threw the start of the new mystery into the tail end of the first one. A few weeks ago, I dismissed Dean O'Dell as a serious rape suspect because "I think it'd be a waste of Begley and a good character who could be around for several years to dispense with him in nine episodes." Show's what I know: they find a way to get rid of the guy without making him the rapist, or even seriously discussed as a suspect. Sigh... I liked the guy, but now it's on to guessing whodunnthis. I think the Lilith women were busy throwing eggs outside, so that leaves his wife, Dr. Landry and the influential (and mobbed-up?) alumnus who bullied him into reinstating the Greek system.

So what did everybody else think? Satisfying conclusion or not?
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Big, Boys

Open thread for discussion of the debuts of "Big Day" and "My Boys." I liked 'em; how about you? Click here to read the full post

Time travelling

Spoilers for, in order, "How I Met Your Mother," "Heroes" and "Studio 60" just as soon as I have a flashback, a flashforward, an in media res opening and then another flashback...

Fun With Unchronological Storytelling #1: "How I Met Your Mother," which is already one huge flashback, sneaks in a "one year later" coda that, among other things, establishes that Marshall and Lily will be married and Ted and Robin will still be dating a year or so from now. The former's not a shock at all, while the latter is a mild but not unpleasant surprise. Since this season has been consistently funnier than season one, it's fair to say that Ted and Robin as a couple hasn't hurt the show at all, and keeping the focus of Ted's mopey quest for The One leaves more room for Swarley and slap bet-style hijinks.

Overall, this one wasn't as legendary as the last few weeks (after "Slap Bet," I was starting to wonder if it had eclipsed "The Office" as my favorite comedy), but a nice spotlight on Barney that wasn't really awkward even with the NPH's recent uncloseting. Frankly, I was more distracted by flashbacks to Wayne Brady threatening to choke a bitch. "Singles stamina" was another good, observant concept, though I wish Marshall could regain his stamina just long enough to dance again, dammit.

Fun With Unchronological Storytelling #2: When TV shows do flashback episodes to events that happened before the pilot, there's a tendency to cram every significant event in each characters' backstory into the span of a couple of days. ("The Shield" did this a few years ago, and it was one of the few bad "Shield" episodes ever.) "Heroes" was definitely guilty of this, but it was still a very strong episode, arguably better than last week's This Is The One You've Been Waiting For confrontation between Peter and Sylar.

Sylar's origin story (and confirmation that Sylar does, in fact, steal people's powers along with their brains) and Hiro realizing the limits of his powers were obviously the big events, but I feel like we also filled in some good blanks about Nathan (who once upon a time was capable of doing the right thing without too much agonizing, and who flew for the first time as a literal flight-or-fight response that he couldn't control) and Niki, and continued the character rehab Claire started getting last week (showing that she never wanted to be a bitchy cheerleader).

(One completely anal fanboy nitpicky question that nagged at me as I tried to fall asleep: if Hiro teleported back to present-day Tokyo and had to take non-super transportation back to Texas, wouldn't someone in airport security or Customs on either side of Pacific at least raise an eyebrow over him making two Japan-->America trips in a short period without any record of his return to Japan? Again, not a big deal, but it kept me up a few minutes, so I felt I had to share.)

Not So Much Fun With Unchronological Storytelling: "Studio 60," which trotted out one of Sorkin's more tired narrative devices of beginning in media res, then skipping back to show how we arrived at this pivotal moment. John Wells has beat this one into the ground, too, and Sorkin just did it with the first part of "Nevada Day," and unless he finds a way for the flashbacks to completely alter our interpretation of what we saw in the present, I don't want to see him do it again for a long, long time.

On the plus side, it looks like Sorkin finally found a way to use Mark McKinney as something more than a glorified researcher. I liked him as the unfunny comedy guru, though the contrast would have been more effective if the Matt or Lucy or Darius ever seemed remotely funny -- or even just excitable -- most of the time. (Among the many "Studio 60" elements I've grown to hate: the way that characters will read scripts completely stone-faced, then declare, "This is really funny." If you want to demonstrate how funny it is, have you thought of laughing?) The decision to keep working on a hostage-themed sketch even as the Grosse Pointe thing kept going and going and going felt odd -- even if the situation ended without bloodshed, why did the cell phone minutes story have to be done as a hostage situation?

Elsewhere: The Howie Mandel monologue wasn't significantly lamer than your standard "SNL" monologue that has no joke outside of using elements of the host's famous show/movie. Suzanne the PA continues the transition to NewDonna that a lot of the Sorkin-ites assumed when she asked Matt in the pilot if he was here to save them. Sorkin again loses any credibility on his "these characters aren't really based on real people" story by making Jordan the victim of a newsmagazine takedown that sounded an awful lot like Lynn Hirschberg's "Jamie Tarses' Fall, As Scheduled" from the NY Times Magazine.

And we discover that Harriet Hayes, comedy goddess, whose role as co-anchor of "News 60" is entirely dependent on her ability to deliver a basic punchline, cannot, in fact, deliver a basic punchline. Sorkin, he of the plagiarism-is-evil attitude, owes either an apology or some royalties to Dennis Palumbo, Richard Benjamin, Mel Brooks or whoever wrote the scene in "My Favorite Year" where Benjy the Jewish comedy writer tries to teach K.C. the uptight WASP how to tell a joke, including the use of the "the duck says 'Get this guy off my ass'" gag. (And the next time, Sorkin may want to pay closer attention to that scene, as he uses "A man" and "a doctor's office" when Benjy clearly explained that "This guy" and "a psychiatrist's office" are both funnier.)

What did everybody else think?
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Girls will be boys

This morning's column deals with TBS' "My Boys" and the rape finale of "Veronica Mars." On the former:

P.J Franklin has a gender identity crisis. A sportswriter who covers the Chicago Cubs, she's a switch-hitter of sorts: She looks womanly, talks manly. A pretty, outgoing blonde who knows her way around a makeup case, she's most comfortable hanging out with her all-male posse of friends, playing poker, drinking beer and talking sports. Put her into a romantic situation, and both she and the man tend to get confused about who's who.

At the end of a first date, she gets handsy with the guy, and after assuring him that she doesn't expect any kind of cuddling or emotional connection afterwards, he freaks out, insisting, "Guys act like that! Girls say things like, 'Wait! Why is this happening so fast?'"

PJ is the lead of the new comedy "My Boys" (10 & 10:30 p.m., TBS), and like its heroine, the show borrows from both sexes. It's a relationship show in the vein of "Sex and the City," but also one that a man can watch without feeling like he's just taking one for the team.

And one paragraph on "Veronica" that you should keep an eye on:
The streamlined approach has turned out fairly well so far, but with some bumps. Despite only running nine episodes, the rape storyline still followed the season-two pattern of dragging in the middle, and while there's been enough time to lay out a half-dozen or so legitimate suspects, some important clues flew by in a hurry. (In particular, anyone who has easy access to previous episodes may want to rewatch the second one before they get to the rape finale, and that's all I have to say about that.)
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Monday, November 27, 2006

Wire week 12 talk for the On Demand'ers

Talk about episode 12, "That's Got His Own," here. Click here to read the full post

Big Day, pretty decent show

Today's column is a review of "Big Day," which premieres tomorrow night on ABC:

A wise man named Melvin Kaminsky once said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

"Big Day," a new series set entirely on the day of a young couple's wedding, understands this concept fundamentally. Anyone who's ever been dumb enough to get themselves involved in planning a lavish wedding (he says while raising his hand sheepishly) no doubt has nightmares about fights over which second cousins to invite, exploding budgets, pushy caterers, etc. To you, that was terrible. But "Big Day" makes those things happen to other people, then multiplies them by a ridiculousness factor of five.

So we have an argument between father and daughter over the groom's decision to walk down the aisle to the theme from "What's Happening!!," a wedding in a neighboring town that's cornered the market on both photographers and romaine lettuce, two ushers with respective crushes on the bride and groom, a tent that's useless against both the rain and wind, and a wedding planner who always looks five seconds away from taking hostages.

Marla Sokoloff from "The Practice" is Alice, a semi-spoiled princess whose only protection from turning into a Bridezilla is the presence of a Momzilla, Jane (Wendie Malick, perfectly nasty as always). Josh Cooke is the groom, Danny, an arrested development case who still works at the camp where he and Alice met as kids. The camp is also where the two of them met best man Skobo (Stephen Rannazzisi), a hound dog without a conscience who sleeps with Alice's sister Becca (Miriam Shor) the night before the wedding and wakes up to realize she accidentally drank his contact lenses, leaving him without glasses and with "the eyesight of, like, a newborn kitten."

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Wire, "A New Day": Tomb raiders

Spoilers for "The Wire" just as soon as I geek out and do a complete Wire/Lord of the Rings character parallel flowchart...

"This is a tomb. Lex is in there."

Well, halleh-damn-lujah! Finally, finally, finally, Lester figures out about the vacants. And it was so much sweeter because we had to wait so long for it -- through Lester spending several episodes wondering where all the bodies are, through him looking everywhere in town but the vacants, through Herc putting his hands on the nail gun and still not getting it, etc., etc., etc. You have to be extraordinarily patient to love this show, but Simon and company understand the virtues of delayed gratification.

While Omar, Bubbs and Bunk are flashier, slightly more obvious choices, Lester has always been at or near the top of my favorite characters list. It was a pleasure to see him using that great brain of his for something other than assembling dollhouse furniture. You could tell that he had mentally checked out during his most recent stint in Homicide, and then Daniels went and gave him a reason to care again. Two beautiful nearly-silent Lester sequences: him reopening the MCU (along with the intercuts of him opening the subpoenas with the people in those files being introduced to Tommy), and, obviously, him walking through that vacant lot, walking stick in hand like some kind of Biblical wise man, finally figuring out what Marlo was doing with the bodies. (This was punctuated beautifully by Bunk's "Ah, fuck me!" Lester's the smarter member of that team, but not by very much.) It pains me to think of how much progress he could have made on Marlo, Chris and Snoop if it wasn't for Rawls and Marimow.

This being "The Wire," of course, we have to get about 17 bad developments for every good one. So while Tommy and Daniels are sprinkling fairy dust through the city, Michael is going more fully to The Dark Side, Randy's secret is out in the open, Dukie is about to be expelled from the safety of Prez's class, Bunny's class is being shut down, Bubbs and Sherrod continue to take beatings from their nemesis, Burrell is weaseling his way back into power, and Tommy is getting hit with a $54 million dinner check from the school board.

First, we have Michael snatching The Ring from Officer Walker, and in a manner that even Namond considers reckless. (Namond wouldn't have the nerve to try anything, but he'd talk like he did.) I'm assuming he got the gun from new mentor Chris, and you could see how dismayed Chris was to learn that his protege had stuck up for snitching Randy.

Meanwhile, Randy and Dukie are both good and rightly screwed, just in different fashions. It nearly broke my heart when Randy whimpered, "I'm not a snitch" after his beating, and especially when he asked Prez if calling the cops would make things better, when Prez's face showed that it wouldn't. (I know Carmelo Anthony -- he of the infamous cameo in the "Stop Snitching" DVD -- is a big fan of this show; maybe witnessing Randy's plight will make him and others realize that treating snitching as a crime far worse than murder is completely insane. But probably not.)

Poor Dukie, who was finally blossoming in Prez's class, gets banished from the place where his friends are, where his own mentor is, where his computer is, etc., as some kind of unwanted reward for getting good grades. Is a teacher at the high school going to let him sit at the computer all day? Give him a spare lunch? Launder his clothes? Maybe, but the look on Dukie's face suggests that teachers like Prez are rare indeed.

And how's Namond supposed to deal away from Bunny's guidance? The move to shut down the special class isn't a shock, given how characters on this show are so afraid of any change in the way of doing business, but damn. With Bunny, Namond almost seems like a normal kid who's never so much as walked past a corner; away from him, and with the pressure from his evil mom, he could be heading Michael's way.

Over at City Hall, Carcetti has one of those two steps forward, eight steps back episodes. He may be getting short-term results from some of the city agencies (and not to Ervin Burrell: that was actual "quality of life" improvement happening there), but that kind of trick doesn't have any ongoing currency unless he can weed out most of the complacent management. And despite the sales pitch to McNulty, Santangelo and the rest of the Western, I don't know that he has the stones or political muscle to really do it. He's already inching towards keeping Burrell in power. If they can work out some deal where Burrell handles the political stuff and leaves everything else to Rawls, and eventually Daniels, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but it's a sign that Tommy's plans for reform only can go so far.

After the two big Lester scenes, the highlight of the episode was the latest confrontation between Omar and Prop Joe, complete with another theatrical exit gesture by Omar. (If I thought I had the coolness to pull it off, I do believe I would be throwing around, "Now go ahead and write my ticket so I can tip on out" at the dry cleaner, restaurants, etc., etc.) As bored as Renaldo has looked doing surveillance the last couple of weeks, he was eating up his man's showiness in that scene. That's why they get up in the morning -- and why they occasionally have to go to the bathroom in a stolen cab.

Some other random thoughts:
  • Those scenes where Bubbs' nemesis beats on him were hard enough to watch the first time, but going back and revisiting every episode for the purpose of these reviews, I keep having to resist the urge to just fast-forward through them. It's like the guy doesn't even exist; he's a nightmare come to haunt Bubbs and Sherrod. Just brutal.
  • Il Returno de Cheese! Good to see Method Man back in action. Really hard-core fans may notice that Cheese and Randy both have the last name Wagstaff, and Randy's bio on begins with this: "Having lost his mother to the streets at a young age and having never known his father, reputedly an eastside corner boy who later became a major drug trafficker..." Hmm is all I can say for now. Hmm.
  • How much of Bunk and Lester's good cop/bad cop routine with Herc and Prez was genuine anger on Bunk's part, and how much was play-acting? I lean towards the latter, especially with the way Bunk was able to turn on the charm and get Prez to give them the info they needed on the way out the door.
  • Good: Tommy quotes "Bull Durham." Bad: he quotes the "announcing my presence with authority" line, which implies he identifies more with Nuke than Crash. Maybe it's one of those short guys envying the tall guy things.
  • Another hmmm: McNulty and Bodie are suddenly lunching together, talking shop, realizing they share a hatred of Walker, etc.
  • Hell hath no fury like a Rawls scorned, does it? Tommy would have been much better off not stringing him along quite so much, methinks.
  • Carver looked especially pained at learning the results of giving Randy to Herc instead of Bunk.
Lines of the week:
  • Donut and Randy on planting condoms in Walker's car: "That'll send a message." "Yeah, but what kind?"
  • Tommy after meeting with the ministers: "Yummy! My first bowl o' shit!"
  • Omar offering toilet paper to Renaldo: "Whether you squat in an alley or sit on a porcelain throne, don't really change the moment, now, do it?"
  • Bunk telling Daniels what Homicide needs: "More women! Loose women!"
  • Dukie surveying the aftermath of Michael's brawl: "Guess them books are good for something."
  • Kenard, on the subject of Namond's new 'do: "Man, do I look like a faggie?"
What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Survivor: Swing shift

"Survivor" spoilers coming up just as soon as I start complaining about those damned kids and their drinking and smooching and slacking...

Amazing, isn't it, how a season that began with a lot of outside garment-rending over racism has turned out to be just a really satisfying edition of "Survivor," no? The mutiny has worked out perfectly for dramatic purposes, turning Aitu from a blandly amiable bunch to tight, lovable underdogs, turning Candace into the best/worst villain since Johnny Fairplay, and forcing Jonathan to have to go all Amazon Rob and flip flop between alliances to save his acting ass.

I hope that Terry from last season was watching tonight. That, buddy, is how you use the Hidden Immunity Idol when you enter the merge with a minority alliance. Yul is obviously book-smart -- see the physics of elephants bit during the challenge(*) -- but he also knew exactly the right play to make with Jonathan.

(*) Probst's reaction to the elephant story was especially priceless, because 30 seconds earlier he was using Jonathan's "I have big feet" excuse as yet another reason to hate on the guy. There's a definite actor vs. reality show host bit of tension going on between those two (best highlighted by, "Jonathan, getting frustrated by me, day 21!"), but after Yul got done explaining the physics of it, even Probst couldn't find a reason to act superior.

Alas, Jonathan has now guaranteed his own loss, though his chances of making final two had he stuck with Raro was pretty damn slim. He probably could have gone to Adam and company and said, "Hey, Yul showed me the Idol; we have to vote for Sundra or Becky," but after they were so smug and dismissive of even the possibility that Yul had the thing, these were clearly not the people with whom to cast his lot. Couldn't have happened to a dumber, more obnoxious bunch. I look forward to the Pagong/Ulong'ing. But I like how Jonathan and Yul understand how to play the game and the fact that it is a game. I had worried that Yul was going to fall into a naivete/integrity trap, but either he's prepared to sell out his Aitu lifemates to take the loathed Jonathan to the final two, or he's learned how to lie well enough to convince Jonathan that he might take him. (I'm leaning towards the latter.)

What did everybody else think? And is there any circumstance under which either Ozzy or Yul doesn't win now?
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Today, I am thankful for YouTube

Happy Turkey Day, everybody, and shouldn't you be napping on the couch right about now?

Operating under the "everything is on YouTube" theory, I went looking for any clips of the original "What's Alan Watching?" that gave me the title for this blog. While there sadly isn't a full version of the pilot up, there are three clips: Eddie Murphy as James Brown being sentenced to prison (in a scene that presaged "Cop Rock"), Eddie as JB braving the prison showers, and the aptly-titled "Gandhi on Ice." (The last one may be more notable for the two bits at the very end, particularly the random Brent Spiner appearance.) Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When Logan was right (twice)

Spoilers for "Veronica Mars" and "Gilmore Girls" coming up just as soon as I tell the FBI to call off the search for Tina Majorino...

First things first with "Veronica Mars": I don't care whether or not Keith knows that Veronica got a bad haircut from her attacker. If Keith Mars knew A)that his daughter had been drugged on campus, and B)that there was a serial rapist at work on campus who was drugging his victims, there's no way he wouldn't be on some kind of door-to-door rampage through Hearst. Veronica's a lone wolf, that's part of her personality and appeal, and I get that, but sometimes the contrivances to keep her working solo feel, well, contrived.

Fortunately, I was over the Keith silliness by the time Patty Hearst got abducted again, and this was one of the season's strongest episodes. With Diane Rugggiero on script, you know there's going to be the funny, and we got it with "keister egg," Veronica's weird "Tommy" dance, or the triple-layered Lebowski/Citizen Kane/William Randolph Hearst thing going on with Bud Rose (flip that one, why don't you?), his missing wife, toady assistant, etc. Plus, we did get a Veronica/Keith team-up, just on the Mystery of the Week instead of the rape arc.

And the arc itself took a big leap forward by essentially clearing Nish and the feminists, because there's no way so much evidence would be pointing towards them in the penultimate episode if they actually did it. My take is that they faked a few of the rapes, and obviously that they raped Chip themselves, but they were just copycatting the real rapist, the one who attacked Maebe and Parker and gave Veronica her close shave last week. I also think the Pi Sigs are in the clear -- from a dramatic standpoint, it's more interesting if the Lilith House women have been doing these copycat crimes to frame the wrong people -- which leaves a whole bunch of people who weren't in this episode: Prof. Landry, Tim the TA, Moe the RA, maybe even Mercer Hayes (but probably not, as he would need an accomplice to attack Veronica while he was still in the pokey).

I tried not to pay too much attention to the previews for next week, but it looks like we'll have the entire supporting cast (save maybe Weevil, who I didn't spot) back for the big finale -- and yet, knowing Rob and company's MO, in the end Veronica no doubt will have to throw down with the big bad all by her lonesome.

As a non-shipper of any kind, I'm not too bothered by the latest Veronica/Logan tumult, but I was pleased to see him win an argument about her stubborn, judgmental qualities. Of course, Veronica went icy on him afterwards, but at least from a show perspective, we're not supposed to be feeling that Veronica's perfect when she clearly isn't.

Similarly being taken down a peg by her Logan is Rory over on "Gilmore Girls." I'm not a Logan H. fan, but Rory needed to wake up and smell the hypocrisy. I ain't saying she a golddigger, but she ain't messing with no broke Marty, you know?

(In fairness, Jess and Dean were poor, but Rory has become much more enamored of the blue-blood lifestyle -- both through her grandparents and through Logan -- since she started college. Remember her whining that they couldn't spend the summer traveling through every country in Europe?)

Not really enthralled by Lorelai and Christopher's big move-in, but I continue to like Luke and April's father-daughter bonding, and I'm still trying to map out the whole "Philadelphia Story" bit at the end. Lorelai's obviously Katharine Hepburn, but does Luke see himself as Cary Grant (the ex/love of her life who convinces Kate to take him back over her bland new fella), or is Christopher supposed to be Cary Grant while Luke is Jimmy Stewart (the new guy who mistakenly thinks he has a shot at Kate, even though she's destined to get back with Cary Grant in the end)?

What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peripheral Vision Man goes to the mall

Spoilers for "HIMYM" and "Studio 60" just as soon as I call all of my Canadian cousins to ask them whether, in fact, 1986 didn't arrive in Canada until 1993...

Vis a vis "How I Met Your Mother," turns out Robin and I share both a Canadian heritage and a refusal to go to the Willowbrook Mall -- though, unlike Robin, I was never a pop star. I just have too many bad memories of what a bad, generic mall Willowbrook was. But it was the nearest mall growing up, dammit.

Another hilarious episode, and one that has me increasingly convinced that this is the show CBS needs to air after the Super Bowl. That timeslot's not the ratings magnet it use to, but it still has the potential to expose the show to 15-20 million people who have never seen it, and if there's a show on CBS that needs non-CBS viewers to know it exists, it's this one.

On any other show, the video no doubt would have been the highlight, but here it had to compete with both of Marshall's slaps of Barney. Is there anyone, anywhere, who doesn't think Barney made the wrong choice with the 5 vs. 10?

And just as it took America's 1987 six years to get across the border, "Studio 60" is showing that it's taking 2001 five years to enter Aaron Sorkin's consciousness. Sure, Fox scheduled "The Tick" in a much different comedy climate, but would any network bother with "Peripheral Vision Man" today, let alone give Beavis and Hackboy the budget to hire the huge, untalented writing staff we've seen in the two or three scenes set in The Room? And Matt's brief attempt to hold the two under contract after humiliating and marginalizing them since his return didn't make him seem noble; it made him seem like a bully.

I suppose this was an improvement over the Pahrump episodes, in that the lecturing about how Hollywood and fundamentalist Christianity relate to each other was limited to one subplot. But when the show's not being simple-minded and preachy and obnoxious, then it's just dull. Maybe if I liked the characters more, I would enjoy a straightforward inside-baseball episode like this, but nine episodes in, the only ones I still have affection for are Jack, Cal and Jeannie, and they exist on the series' fringes (or, in Jack's case, disappear for entire episodes at a time).

As for the Harriet storyline, there were so many things wrong with it that I don't even care about Aaron's ongoing therapy about his break-up with Kristin Chenoweth. First, if this takes place on the same day as the Nevada trip, Harriet got this offer, agreed to it and let the word spread all within a few hours? Woman works fast. Second, she can't possibly be so naive that she doesn't understand either the lad mag's desire to put her in a photo shoot or one of the reasons she's so valuable to "Studio 60." It would be one thing if she felt offended because Tom and Simon were making it sound like that was the only reason they kept her on the show (i.e., belittling her talent), but she reacted like this had never ocurred to her before. Every time Harriet opens her mouth, I like her less.

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, November 20, 2006

Heroes: Save the cheerleader. Don't solve the mystery.

Spoilers for "Heroes" just as soon as I pop my shoulder back into place...

Once again, the NBC promo department has done the show absolutely no favors. In a bubble, "Homecoming" is a solid episode with a damned creepy showdown between Sylar, Claire and Peter. But you don't go selling this as the hour that's going to, once and for all, explain what "Save the cheerleader. Save the world." means and then not explain it, you know? Hell, Claire's whole, "I don't know -- I'm just a cheerleader" was like an unintentional taunt to the audience.

I've written before that, on their respective best days, "Heroes" isn't remotely in the same class as "Lost," but that what the new show has on the old one is a willingness to continually move the plot forward, answer questions and, above all else, avoid pissing off the audience. Then this happens, and whether it's entirely the fault of the NBC promo monkeys or Kring, Loeb and company starting to feel too cocky (or too nervous about how much story they've already burned through), it's a sign of really bad faith. I put up with this stuff from "Lost" because the micro elements can be so strong even when the big picture doesn't make a damn bit of sense. But a show that has Milo Ventimglia as its leading man doesn't get the same amount of rope, so let's hope this isn't the beginning of a pattern.

What did everybody else think? Judging by the weepiness of the diner waitresses, is Hiro's time trip doomed to fail? Will D.L. be able to go immaterial fast enough to dodge Jessica's speeding bullet? (And did anyone else smile when they saw the "Jessic Sanders" subtitle?)
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If he did it, we'll never know what happened

Rupert Murdoch has a crisis of conscience. Who even knew he had a conscience? Click here to read the full post

Wire week 11 talk for the On Demand'ers

Talk about episode 11, "A New Day," right here. Click here to read the full post

Reading is fundamental

Two column links today: I interview Sars from TWoP about the new TWoP book, plus a mailbag dealing largely with mid-season moves. But the "Studio 60" letter from a local minister is quite nice. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Wire, "Misgivings": Revenge of the Bubbs

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode 10, "Misgivings," just as soon as I hide my open container...

Once upon a time, Bodie and Poot had to murder their best friend Wallace. Once upon a time, Jimmy McNulty was a great detective an a crap human being. Once upon a time, Ervin Burrell ruled the Baltimore PD with a time-tested formula of stat-juking. Once upon a time, someone did something very bad to Michael, and someone else did the same to Chris Partlow. Once upon a time, Michael still had all of his soul.

If life on "The Wire" travels a circular path, with the same events happening over and over, then "Misgivings" followed the backwards arc, with one character after another confronted by something they either did or had done to them in the distant past.

Bodie used to think he had no choice but to kill Wallace. Now, having inadvertently sent Little Kevin to his death, you can see him beginning to doubt that act, even as he tries to defend it to Poot. That shot of him alone on the corner after Slim Charles told him the news spoke volumes. Bodie once dreamed of advancing to the end of the chess board and becoming a king. Instead, he's a soldier with no army, little future and a past he's beginning to regret.

Also talking one way while his mind is going another is McNulty. In by far his biggest showcase of the season, he keeps extolling the virtues of being a simple beat cop, of having "the one true dictatorship in America," but man, did he look pleased to be doing detective work again, even on something as minor as a series of church burglaries. But as he told Daniels at the end of last season, the same thing that made him a good Homicide police also ruined him for any other kind of human interaction; if he gives in to the obvious temptation, will he stop being the responsible grown-up who inspired such lustful regret from Elena?

Much higher up the food chain, we have Burrell and Clay Davis trying to backdoor Carcetti. For two men who are such political survivors, these guys can't read the new mayor at all. How many times has Tommy said that he wants to move away from chasing stats and towards quality arrests? And what's Burrell's big idea of "some police shit" to impress the new boss? An initiative designed to do nothing but pad the stats through an ironically-titled series of "quality of life" arrests that don't improve the quality of anything. The sad thing is, with Clay, Council President Campbell and the ministers on his side, Burrell may have the juice to survive even though Tommy and Norman have him and Clay completely figured out.

The heart of the episode -- or lack thereof -- came in the advancement of Michael's story. You don't come back from arranging for a murder, even the murder of your own molester. That look he flashed his mother as he went to bed was the look of a man enjoying the power of death. That way leads to becoming another Chris Partlow, and as we saw, Chris and Michael have a whole lot in common. A long time ago, some man -- maybe a father figure, maybe a prison inmate, as the conversation with Bug's dad alluded to -- hurt Chris so deep down that he has turned himself into an ice-cold killing machine, just as Michael threw himself into the boxing to protect himself. Chris' gentle professionalism with his victims -- his desire to not cause any more pain than is absolutely necessary -- also makes far more sense in this context. Chris' savagery with Bug's dad was so out of character that it not only jarred Snoop, but made them both abandon the efficient, untraceable corpse disposal method they've been using all season.

And now Michael's bound to these two. Damn. Damn.

While Dukie has receded to the background lately, Randy, Namond and even Donut continue to find trouble. Poor Randy was a half-second away from escaping Herc's incompetence scott-free, but then Snoop had to remind Marlo of the evils of snitching. By the end of the hour, word of his alleged sins had already spread back to his own math class, and if the cold shoulder is the worst Randy suffers, he's going to be indescribably lucky.

Namond, meanwhile, finds an unlikely ally in Bunny, while his mom continues her bass-ackwards Mother of the Year campaign. She's angry that he didn't have to spend a night in jail! Given what we know about the both of them, it's not surprising, but still horrifying. Chris and Snoop are practically saints next to De'Londa. It's sweet, though, to see how far Namond and Bunny have come since the alluded-to days of "Mr. Colvin, sir? Fuck you!" I can almost -- almost -- see the school board's point about the merits of a program that would, at best, prepare less than half of its students to return to regular classes in a year's time, but just look at the progress being made by Namond (and, to a lesser degree, Darnell and Zenobia). And what good is it going to do to throw the unteachable part of the group back into GenPop? They won't learn any more and they'll just go back to disrupting everybody else. Sigh...

On roughly the same despicable level as De'Londa is Officer Walker. We already knew he was a thief and a bully, but breaking a little kid's fingers? Even a little kid who just stole a car and crashed it into a dozen parked cars?

(Side-note, and feel free to skip if you're in a hurry: I asked Simon whether Walker was deliberately written as African-American, and if so why, and he said, "Walker was conceived as black because tellingly, when Ed and I were on the Corner in West Baltimore, we noted that many of the more brutal, more shady patrolmen were actually black. Why is this so? Hard to say, but perhaps a mercenary or brutal patrolman is camouflaged in some sense if he is African-American. A white officer engaging in predatory practices in the ghetto would be subject to all kinda of racial, us-against-them stereotypes and stigmas. With a black officer behaving so, the racial politics are rendered moot. And from the perspective of some black cops, many of whom have working class roots and who have reached their newfound authority by having to eschew the temptations of the street and keep to a moral code, there is often, I have found, a contempt for the black underclass that some white cops would not dare exhibit. It's perhaps easier for a black cop, having reached his station in life, to heap contempt on those who have not done so, saying to himself, I did it, why the hell can't they. White cops, as outsiders, may not be subject to the same self-conscious judgments... (Walker) is more a function of class-consciousness, then race-consciousness. I get a sense that people who still think police brutality is linked to racism, rather than classism are about ten years behind the street.")

And I realize I've gotten through the bulk of this review without even mentioning the event which provided its subtitle. Bubbs' payback of Herc is really the bare minimum that our resident MCU lunk has coming to him. The minimum. But it sure was nice to see, wasn't it?

Some other random thoughts:
  • Language parallel #1: Bodie and Sydnor essentially give the same advice to Little Kevin and Herc: get out in front of your mistake if you want to survive. Little Kevin goes through with it and dies for his trouble; Herc half-asses his confession and takes the out Marimow gives him.
  • Language parallel #2: Herc gets upset when the minister calls him "son," just like Spider did with Cutty back on election day. Something tells me Herc wasn't raised in the most nuclear of families.
  • Omar's practically turning into Lester Freamon with all this patient surveillance of Marlo's crew and Slim Charles -- which, I suppose, makes Renaldo the Herc of this Bizarro-MCU. I don't even want to picture the full implications of that. Moving on...
Lines of the week:
  • Burrell & Clay Davis: "'Police shit'?" "Well, whatever it is y'all do for a living."
  • Bunny threatening to take Namond's balls: "I'll cut 'em off, give 'em to Dolly in a jar. Don't doubt me, boy."
  • Namond & Bunny: "Eddie Haskell? Who dat?" "You are, son."

What did everybody else think?

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Battlestar Galactica: Okay, now I really bored

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" just as soon as I calculate exactly how lucky Gaius Baltar is...

Okay, I'm starting to get just a little bit concerned about the post-exodus portion of the season. The virus two-parter had some interesting moments and ideas but never quite clicked, and "Hero" felt like a mess from start to finish. This is two weeks in a row now that the show has done an episode that feels like a Next Generation leftover, both with the appearance of An Important Character We've Never Bet Before and with the repeated hit of the reset button in the final minutes. Tigh's in an alcoholic doom spiral from killing his wife? Nevermind. Novacek's presence is going to cause some problems? Ship him off to an obscure corner of the rag-tag fleet, never to be seen or heard from again. Adama's starting to blame himself for the near-annihilation of the human race? Roslin tells him to have a Coke and a smile and shut the bleep up.

Adama's guilt trip was the phoniest portion of the episode, because the Bill Adama we know is both too smart to not realize the Cylon's plan would have taken much more than a year to implement, and because the Adama we know doesn't have the time or energy to wallow when there's work to be done. Olmos tried to sell it, but it wasn't worth buying.

That leaves the brief snippets on the Cylon base ship to keep things interesting, and D'Anna taking a suicidal walk of shame (and can you blame her? Gaius Baltar?) does not a full hour of TV make.

Is it just me, or is the show really struggling to find itself since the escape from New Caprica?
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Friday, November 17, 2006

Thursday night round-up

Spoilers for, in order, "30 Rock," "Earl," "Survivor" and "Grey's Anatomy" coming right up...

Product integration and NBC: perfect together. Well, kinda. I saw "The Office" in advance, so I don't know how I would have responded to seeing the Staples ad live. But airing this "30 Rock" episode directly after that is either taunting or demented genius. I haven't decided yet. Probably it's both. The Snapple gag has been done better elsewhere (posters in "The Office" entry have name-checked "Wayne's World," and "Arrested Development" did it brilliantly with Carl Weathers and Burger King), but it was a good episode, highlighted by Liz's "nut up" pep talk to Jack -- and, of course, Jack's continued belittling of Liz's sexual appeal. I also liked Tracy's "Man, George Will gets more conservative every day!" Unlike "The Office," this one did feel padded; they could have shaved it down to standard length without losing much.

Ditto "My Name Is Earl," an episode clearly written by someone who had just gotten back from seeing "An Inconvenient Truth." The best parts of the episode came before Earl's global awakening, whether it was Crabman lamenting Joy's inability to understand the irony of stealing the polygraph machine or Randy complaining that he had already seen that episode of "Friends." Outside of Claymation Catalina jiggling as she dusted (followed by the revelation that the flesh-and-blood Catalina was just as jiggly), the writers didn't do a whole lot with Randy's hallucinations, and Christian Slater continues to prove that his Nicholson impression was the most interesting thing about him. Not a bad episode, but definitely not up to last week's standard.

Okay, I think "Survivor" has me hooked back in, and not just because we could be heading towards some kind of Down With Whitey scenario where Nate realizes the original Raro are putting the band back together and tries to latch on with Yul's small but dedicated band. I always love a good triumph of the underdog story -- though any team that has Yul and Ozzy in it is only an underdog to a point -- especially since I loathe everyone on Raro save Jonathan. If he's as smart as he usually thinks he is (save the mutiny, and even there he immediately recognized the screw-up), he'll look one move ahead and try to beat Nate to the punch of teaming up with Aitu. Given their hatred of Candace ("1, 2, 3... Candace!" was awesome), I think he might have a shot at reconciling with them by blaming it all on her. He's not going to win no matter which team succeeds in Pagonging the other, but he at least has the ability to make sure the good guys come out ahead.

As for "Grey's Anatomy," I don't know that I'm feeling the love right now. They're not doing anything egregious at the moment, but it's turning into a show that I keep on in the background while I surf the web, fold laundry, pay bills, etc. On the other hand, I can't feel too apathetic when they let Bailey sing. Am I correct in assuming that, like Sara Ramirez, Chandra Wilson has some Broadway credits? And how long before Callie gets to bust out those golden pipes?
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Veronica Mars gets a full season order -- sort of

Just heard from Rob Thomas, and the CW has given "Veronica Mars" a back seven instead of the traditional back nine. This is obviously brand-new information for them, so it'll take a while to figure out how this will affect the later two arcs. (My guess: since they're already at work on arc #2, the last one will take the biggest hit.)

This is good news, certainly for this season, and I don't know that the slightly reduced order is a big danger sign for the possibility of a fourth season. The CW hasn't been as successful out of the gate as expected, and they may be looking to pinch pennies until they get through to next year. Or maybe I'm just being naively optimistic. Wouldn't be the first time.

UPDATE: Rob says he's still trying to figure things out, but as of now, the plan is to do a four-episode arc for the end of the season. Click here to read the full post

The O.C.: It is time to stop all your sobbing

Spoilers for "The O.C." just as soon as I put the new season of "The Valley" in my Netflix queue...

And the funny is back! Sure, it was back in small doses in episodes one through three, but you can only get so many yuks when your characters are tearing themselves apart to mourn the death of The Most Perfect Girl Ever. And with the shiva arc essentially over (Josh says she'll be a major topic come Chrismukkah), we get an hour of full-on, unbridled wackiness. I am happy.

Plenty o' highlights, from Summer and her rage issues going through the five stages of grief in record times (with a few replays of Anger, natch) to Naked Che to Taylor asking Ryan about his cage-fighting career.

I especially liked the Seth/Summer/Che non-triangle. And Josh has said, for the record, that Che "is not a romantic foil" for the other two, which is smart, because they've played that card so many times already that it's become yet another meta topic. (Hence Ryan's "No one believes that" when Seth worries that Summer's going to dump him.) There are interesting things the writers can do with these two without the constant break-ups and make-ups, and I like seeing them disconnected (by distance, by her new friends, and by Marissa's death) without automatic doom and gloom on the horizon. Plus, Chris Pratt is damn funny. I look forward to him getting a good role come pilot season.

The inevitable pairing of Ryan and Taylor could seem a little lazy -- "Let's put him together with our only available, age-appropriate female regular!" -- but I'm in favor of it for two reasons. First, Taylor is, in fact, awesome, and any storyline that's going to give her more face time is more than welcome. Second, I like stories that allow Ben McKenzie to crack a smile, and it would be a nice change of pace, if nothing else, for Ryan to be involved with a woman who isn't in constant need of rescuing -- or, at least, whose rescues can be of the silly variety.

Sandy's bro-mance with Jason Spitz (played by the ubiquitous Jose Zuniga, and if anyone can go read his blog post on the subject and come up with the suitable formula, you'd make him a relatively non-unhappy man) felt a little filler-y (it also, as Fienberg points out in yet another Zuniga-related blog post, not as good as the recent "HIMYM" bro-mance subplot). I'd much rather see this than Sandy and Kirsten deal with infidelity, substance abuse, and all the other sturm und drang of seasons two and three, but coming up with interesting storylines for either or both of them has become increasingly difficult, and I think we're a sweeps period away from them moving to the Far East to hang with Jim and Cindy Walsh.

Still, these first four episodes have gotten so much else right that I can abide a few adrift characters. It's a damn shame five people are watching, but between the bad memories of last season and Fox's complete apathy towards promoting the show, what did we expect? Now the only hope is that they get to stay on the air for all sixteen episodes. Four down, twelve to go.

What did everybody else think? And, seriously, go help Fienberg out on that first link. He put a lot of work into it.
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The Office: Merging can be fun (but probably won't be)

Spoilers for "The Office" just as soon as I head out to Staples to buy a salad-maker...

Well, that was... squirmy. Great, but squirmy. One of the reasons Michael has become easier to take over the last couple of years is that we're used to how he deals with the staff and they're used to him. Seeing his buffoonery unleashed on a group of unsuspecting victims was just as horrifying as it was back when the British show did this storyline. (Though with Josh gone and this show not subject to the British economic model, I don't think Michael's in danger of being fired anytime soon.) The gift bags were bad, "Lazy Scranton" was worse, but trying to shove Bizarro Kevin onto the table had me looking for something to hide behind.

But in the middle of all that awkward was some comedy that didn't have me cringing (much): Kevin's sheer joy at using the shredder (and the abrupt change of mood after the credit card bit, and, of course, "Staples"), the look of utter contempt on Stanley's face when the new black guy tried to make a show of solidarity, Phyllis' "You have a lot to learn about Scranton" when Karen didn't know who Bob Vance was, Ryan markin his territory with Jim (and putting Jim at a desk without a good sightline to Pam), Kelly's "I just told you" explanation of what's new with her, Creed putting the nursing mom's picture on his desktop, and virtually every confrontation between Andy and Dwight. Personality-mirroring, eh? I may have to try that. And even Michael's usual idiocy led to a nice, Charlie Finley's A's-style bonding moment for the staff, not to mention another sad reminder of Michael's lonely childhood.

Best of all, though, was "Was your father a GI?" Funny as that was in the promos, the reactions by Rashida Jones and Jenna Fischer made it about 10 times funnier. (I'm guessing Rashida has had a lot of experience dealing with clumsy, offensive "So, um, what are you?" questions in real life.)

The big news, obviously, is the anti-climactic Jim/Pam reunion, complete with the expected and yet not news that Jim and Karen are dating -- or, at least, "sort of seeing" each other. Unless Jim was just saying that to protect himself from being hurt by Pam (a not unreasonable possibility), then I think the writers would have been better off showing us the beginning of Jim and Karen's relationship before they left Stamford. We all knew it was heading there, and we understand why (both in show logic and Jim logic), but it's a little jarring to go from Karen's "I know he may not be that into me" monologue from last week to the idea that they are (assuming that they really are) starting to date just as Jim as returning to the same city as Pam.

I also hope that the new people don't get too much in the way of the original Scranton folk. I'm not anti-new blood, but it already feels like the very funny supporting cast doesn't have enough to do (Meredith in particular usually winds up on the cutting room floor), and while I'm sure the writers have very good ideas for the non-Andy and Karen newbies, a lot of characters I already like are going to be struggling for airtime.

What did everybody else think?
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So, any thoughts on "Day Break"? Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Son of angry doctor guy

I've been a little too busy to get to blogging "House" today, but odd medicine aside, that was a really strong final act with Laurie and Larroquette. Any thoughts on it, or the show's evil, duller twin "3 lbs."? (Judging by the ratings for the latter, most people made up their minds without even bothering to watch.) Click here to read the full post

Veronica Mars: Shave and a haircut

Another day, another column about a show that blatantly steals from other material, in this case "Groundhog Taye," aka "Day Break."

"Veronica Mars" spoilers coming up just as soon as I finish printing out a Missing Persons poster for Tina Majorino...

Remind me to stop watching CW promos, okay? Because the parking garage sequence would have been about 10 times scarier if I hadn't seen so much of it last week. Given that Logan didn't call out until he was really close to Veronica's car, did the rapist really get scared off or was he just sending Veronica a message? Either way, bad move on his part and good move on the writers' part: as if Veronica didn't already have enough motivation to find this loser (guilt over Parker, her own issues from Shelly Pomeroy's party, etc.), now he's gone and touched her. And nobody touches Veronica without some serious payback.

Well, nobody except Liam Fitzpatrick, I suppose. His little wrestling match with her wasn't nearly as intense as last year's attempt at involuntary tattooing, but I suppose they had to save the real feeling of peril for the episode's climax. Completely unexpected and nice use of Vinnie to save the day, as I thought for sure that Veronica had called either Keith or Lamb before going in. Looks like the Fitzes are going to be more trouble for Keith, maybe even the subject of arc number two, but exactly how Liam not know that Kendall is dead?

I've been trying to put my finger on why the intermittent appearances by the non-Veronica/Keith/Logan members of the cast have seemed so much more obvious this year. Obviously, in the first season, we didn't know them as well and their presence wasn't as important as we got to know Veronica and see her at work. In season two, Logan had been promoted to every episode status, Mac wasn't even a regular character yet, and Veronica was hanging with Duncan for the entire patch of the season when Wallace was missing. But this year, there's no buffer of a character the writers know they can use up by mid-season, and there have been more episodes whose subject matters made certain absences more glaring. (Piz, for instance, was obviously missed in the episode about Wallace's academic struggles.)

For once, I thought the absence of Wallace and Mac felt appropriate, as it made Veronica feel more alone as she tried to deal with feeling betrayed by her dad, her boyfriend and her mentor, but at the same time, the amount of time she spent hanging out with her sorta-client felt off. It was never really established that she was taking this on as a case for a fee, as opposed to just helping out some random girlfriend of a guy she didn't even know. So while the story worked as a parallel to Veronica's problems with Logan, with all the other stuff going on and so many friends missing, I kept wondering why both Veronica and the show itself were spending so much time on this Mystery of the Week. The better we get to know the supporting characters and the closer each arc gets to its conclusion, the harder it gets to care about stories that don't have a really personal connection for Veronica.

That said, I thought all of the personal stuff was spot on. Veronica has been betrayed plenty of times in the past (good callback to her mom and Jake Kane), but she also holds certain people to impossible standards, and I liked that the episode acknowledged both sides of that. I didn't see Logan's Tijuana story coming as the thing he couldn't tell Veronica about, and I look forward to even more ugliness in the Keith/Harmony story, because that woman does not seem done with him, not by a long shot.

What did everybody else think? And, other than Mercer apparently being cleared and Moe having keys to everyone's dorm room, do you feel like we get any closer to identifying the rapist?
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Friday Night Lights: Smashed up

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" just as soon as I sober up...

Not my favorite episode, not by a long shot. We have Riggins' miraculous recovery from alcoholism, where a couple of days of sobriety make him vastly more articulate and the second coming of another fella by the name of Riggins. (Also, never ask a Canadian guy playing a Texan to use the word "about" in a sentence, okay?) We have Smash going from glorified bit player to Afterschool Special steroid user in the span of an hour, and minimal follow-up to the Voodoo situation. (Though, according to the episode guide, they skipped over an episode; unless production deliberately shot episodes out of order, this is going to be awkward down the road.)

But then there was the Jason Street subplot to make the rest of it more than palatable. Even when the rest of the show is taking narrative shortcuts or reverting to cliche, they continue to do right by this character and his story, and Scott Porter tends to get me choked up at least once a week.

And, hey, they managed to come up with a Tyra subplot that seemed at least tangentially connected to the rest of the show. Good on them.

What did everybody else think?
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Gilmore Girls: Well, they did it

Spoilers for "Gilmore Girls" just as soon as I calculate how many restraining orders David Rosenthal is going to have to file this morning...

Well... um... how about that Lane and Zach subplot, huh? ("Hit me! Hit me!") Clearly, that's what everyone's going to be talking about this morning, right? Right? Right. Sigh...

If it wasn't for last shot of the hour, I would think Rosenthal and company had just decided to hitch their wagons to Lorelai and Chris as a couple, all the Luke and Lorelai fans be damned. But that sure as hell looked like buyer's remorse on Lorelai's face, which more than likely means that this is the rock bottom of her relationship with the guy, the cold slap of reality she needed so she can spend the rest of the season getting out and finding a way back to Luke.

I think so, anyway. To be honest, I'm having a hard time getting worked up one way or the other, in part because Amy's last season completely desensitized me to any major out-of-character behavior, in part because, major plotting aside, I don't feel that engaged by the show anymore. It can be funny at times but not consistently enough, and the new writers haven't succeeded in fixing the emotional connections that Amy severed on her way out the door. So I'm ambivalent about almost everything that's happening.

What say the rest of you? Anyone feeling particularly homicidal this morning?
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Save the jellybean. Save the world.

First up, today's column link, in which I marvel at the level of thievery going on with CBS' "3 lbs." ("House" by way of "Shark" by way of "House") and ABC's "Show Me the Money" (leftover scraps of "Deal or No Deal," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Dancing with the Stars"). The column kind of gets away from me at the end with the "Jerry Maguire" digression, but by that point I was more interested in figuring out whether my editors would let me print the phrase "Shoplift the Pooty" than I was in either show.

Spoilers for "HIMYM" and "Heroes" coming up just as soon as I try to cleanse my brain of the image of Ted wearing The Shirt...

Overall, not the greatest episode of "How I Met Your Mother," but there were two bits of genius: Ted's increasingly creepy attraction to The Shirt and the entire sequence with Barney playing that bizarre game. (Bonus points for Marshall figuring out about the jellybean. He is, after all, the creator of Marshgammon.) I know these recent episodes were written and produced well before NPH felt the need to come out, but I wonder if they're going to start cooling it on Barney's metrosexuality for a while. (I kept waiting for Ted or Marshall to make a joke about Details being the gayest magazine ever.)

Boo to whoever wrote the "face of evil" description of HRG in the "Heroes" teaser. Either it was someone at NBC who's not paying close attention, or it was someone at the show who decided to throw all the ambiguity about his motives out the window. That tracks with certain parts of the episode (Parkman and Radioactive Man both getting uncontrollable power boosts after their abductions) but not others (HRG's speech to Isaac about how his actions are often "misinterpreted," which also explained how he came to adopt Claire). I don't mind if he's good, or evil, or, as the late J.T. Walsh liked to say of every character he played, morally ambiguous. But don't have the narrator make an explicit declaration, especially if it's not the right one.

The Mohinder scenes lost my interest after a while, so I'm not clear on whether he has some kind of Dream Girl-esque power, or if the soccer ball kid is someone else entirely who's dropping by Mohinder's dreams. Still, they're introducing a whole lotta new "heroes" in a very short span, which both keeps things interesting and also gives them license to get rid of a character or three if need be. (As it is, we only seem to get about half the characters in every episode, with Hiro/Ando and Claire/HRG as the only constants.) The shot of Charlie opening the can while Sylar did the same to her skull was suitably creepy, and I like the idea of Hiro being stranded in Charlie's past for a while. (If nothing else, they could use it as an excuse for his inevitable English language immersion and change of accent.)

Side note: a friend at work pointed out that Clea DuVall's partner/boss is played by Stacy Haiduk, who played Lana Lang on the syndicated "Superboy" show (and also from "SeaQuest DSV"). I wonder if that was an intentional wink at the fanboys or if the producers even realized. (Given Jeph Loeb's involvement in writing both this show and the Superman comics, I'm guessing the former.)

What did everybody else think?
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Studio 60: The need for speed(ing)

Spoilers for "Studio 60" just as soon as I figure out how long it takes Sorkin to write an episode set in Lake Titikaka...

Congratulations, everyone who had "Tom was speeding to see his little brother before he had to go stand IN THE MIDDLE OF AFGHANISTAN!" as the reason for this entire wheezing mess of a farce. Because there's no way Tom could have been speeding just to be speeding, no way Judge Goodman could have taken these people out of their world of pain without realizing the guy in the Jesus suit had a brother fighting abroad, no way we could have gone for something remotely subtler or more interesting, is there?

Last week's episode felt like it was dragging things out to save all the good stuf for the conclusion. Apparently, "the good stuff" got lost somewhere on the way to and from Pahrump. (See? "Pahrump." It's a funy name. Like "Turd Ferguson." Just keep saying it over and over, and apparently it just gets funnier.) Because after feeling only bored and ambivalent about the show last week, I was back to cringing, "Mommy, please make the bad man stop" with this one.

In particular, that last scene with Matt and Harriet was appalling in a way that I didn't think was possible outside of an Endemol-produced reality show. "Oh God, Matthew. Are you crazy about me or just crazy?" That's an actual line of dialogue? One that Sorkin thought that any actress in the history of space and time could deliver? And all that back and forth about whether gays are the same as blacks and "judge not lest ye be judged" and on and on to the point where I wouldn't want either of these yahoos as the spokesperson for my point of view?

Phil Rosenthal -- "Everybody Loves Raymond" Phil Rosenthal, not my friend Phil Rosenthal -- once told me about how often his wife Monica would watch a "Raymond" episode featuring a story inspired by one of their arguments, and when Ray would give a big speech apologizing to Debra and explaining what he did that was so wrong, Monica would always punch him in the arm and complain, "How come you understand it for television!" Not having been a fly on the wall for any of the Sorkin/Chenoweth relationship, I can't say how much of this series is therapy, how much is apology, how much is Sorkin trying to get the last word, but I think it's safe to say that no matter what it is, Aaron still doesn't understand.

Meanwhile, I remain both impressed and amused by how the cast of the faux-"Studio 60" are the most supportive, least competitive group of comedians of all time. Like the non-Big 3 castmembers wouldn't be clawing and scratching each other for the chance to replace Simon for a night? I know that Harry Shearer couldn't stand to appear on Weekend Update during his first "SNL" stint because Lorne wouldn't let him do it in character, so on that level I can understand Dylan's discomfort. But why weren't the other three all running to Matt to argue their own case? (And who the hell was anchoring the news before Danny put Simon and Harriet on it? Wouldn't there be someone in the cast who A)Has experience behind that desk, and B)Is just a mite resentful at being replaced?)

Sorkin continues to wildly overestimate the interest anyone would have in the love life and personal opinions of a network entertainment president, but God do I love Jack Rudolph. Weber almost makes me wish Sorkin could take his carpet-cleaning idea and really do it, but only bring along Jack, Matt, Tom, Cal and maybe Lucy (and that's only because I like watching Lucy Davis cry). Because I'm all for any excuse to eliminate the deadweight characters, get away from any discussion of The Culture Wars and keep Sorkin from ever having to pretend that he can write sketch comedy.

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, November 13, 2006


Or some other football-related cliche. NBC just gave "Friday Night Lights" the back nine. Click here to read the full post

Wire week 10 talk for the On Demand'ers

Start chatting up episode 10, "Misgivings," right here. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Wire, "Know Your Place": Childhood's end

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode nine, "Know Your Place," just as soon as I throw away my cell phone...
"Maybe it's changing. The city, the way things work, or don't. Maybe we're turning a corner here, and it's not going to be so unbelievably fucked up anymore." -Cedric Daniels
Oh, Colonel. Have you watched this show before? Haven't you realized by now that "unbelievably fucked up" is your universe's default operating mode, and that small changes like a new mayor or a new CID commander can't really change that?

For all the progress that's happened in last episodes, we can see how hopeless the situation remains. We can see it in Herc screwing over both Bubbs and Randy and being too dumb and self-interested to care. We can see it in Prez having to abandon all the progress he's made with his class in favor of "teaching the test." And most of all, we can see it in Michael deciding that the only person who can help him save his brother is Marlo, the devil his own self.

From our universal point of view, where we know how bad Marlo is and how relatively good people like Prez and Cutty are, we know that Michael's about to sell his soul without having to. But when you're Michael Lee and you live an existence where your mom's boyfriend molested you with impugnity, where your close friend Randy bears the scars of being "helped" by social services, where you see how dysfunctional and useless The System is, and where being molested has conditioned you to be afraid of any man who gets too friendly, where else are you going to turn?

As we've heard and seen all along, Michael's smart. He knows he's damning himself here. You can see it in those looks he keeps throwing Dukie as he walks away from him and towards Marlo. When Omar, taking the God's-eye view from a vacant apartment, sees Michael, he tells Renaldo, "He just a kid." Not anymore. Not anymore.

Really, the only way that Michael's situation could be worse was if he was in some way connected to bull in a china shop Herc, who gives up Randy's identity to Little Kevin in a pathetically futile interrogation, then goes back on his word to Bubbs, leading to his worst beating yet from the bullying fiend. (A pipe? Damn.) And poor Randy doesn't even realize how badly he's been screwed over, basking in his applied math homework at the dice game and getting Prez to buy him candy at cheap prices. Watching the episode again, knowing that the Little Kevin scene was coming up, Randy's oblivious smile at Prez just killed me.

Prez, meanwhile, is starting to understand the futility of the school system. I know some people have accused the scenes where the teachers gather to be too blatantly didactic, but I don't think they're any more obvious than, say, Bunk tearing into Omar last season for his influence on the kids or Bunny delivering Ed Burns' paper bag theory to the troops. I particularly liked Prez beginning to apply police and corner concepts (points on the package, juking the stats) to the situations confronting him in school. (Note also that the 10-point bump the school board wants is the same as the crime rate reduction the DNC people asked Tommy to get.) That teaching the test scene was just brutal, especially the moment when Dukie sums up the story correctly but Prez feels like he has to keep going until someone phrases it exactly as it's written in the answer key.

And while Prez tries to drill meaningless answers into his kids' heads, Bunny and Prop Joe both get some schooling in how limited life on the west side can be, Bunny with his disastrous field trip to the steak house, Joe in his dealings with Old-Face Andre.

I felt awful for Namond, Darnell and Zenobia; Bunny might as well have taken them to a place where no one spoke English, for all they could understand of what was happening in that place. (In hindsight, there's probably a stepping-stone between McDonald's and Ruth's Chris where the kids would have been impressed but not completely intimidated.) The kids began the night on their best behavior, down to Namond grooving to Billie Holliday, but by the time that dinner was finished, they were so worn down that they all retreated to their familiar troublemaking patterns. Of course, it's perfectly in keeping with corner culture in general and Namond's personality in particular that the next morning, their shell-shocked trip had been transformed into an amazing night to make the other kids jealous.

Prop Joe, meanwhile, tries to school Andre, both on the fungibility of mid-level drug operators and the need to get the hell out of town. But as we saw in the past with Wallace, if West Baltimore is the only place you've ever known, the outside world -- even another nearby city like Philly -- is, again, like a foreign country. Andre's not even a likable character and I felt terrible for him as he begged Chris and Snoop to kill him at home instead of the vacants.

Speaking of men who don't want to leave Baltimore (even though he did just that between seasons one and two), a few weeks ago, Omar showed how well he understood Bunk when he guilted him into looking into Andre's story. Tonight, Bunk returned the favor by forcing Omar -- the only character on this show whose belief in keeping his word is absolute -- to promise to stop killing. A non-lethal Omar is a very different fellow, though so long as only he, Bunk and Renaldo know about the promise, he can still put the fear into the corners.

And getting back to the futility of effecting change, Tommy starts to run into the realities of trying to reform an entrenched city government. In one corner, he has Burrell, who may be a bad cop but is one hell of a survivor. In another, he has the president of the city council and her jealousy over Tommy and Tony cutting in front of her to replace Royce. But the question, as it always seems to be for our resident politician, is how much he even cares about effecting reform versus effecting the advancement of Tommy Carcetti. The line about running for governor could have just been to mollify his new opponent, but that meeting with the DNC last week has given Tommy eyes bigger than his stomach. Exactly how much can Daniels' new hero accomplish if he intends to be out of office in two years?

Some other random thoughts:
  • One of the most telling bits of throwaway dialogue: when Carcetti is meeting with the real-estate developer to find a project he can slap his name on, the guy mentions that the marine terminal "unfortunately is still a working enterprise." Of course he would say "unfortunately." In his worldview, places of blue-collar employment exist only to be converted into expensive homes and playgrounds for white-collar people.
  • Some nice "everything's connected" edits this episode: the female teacher realizes her car was stolen, followed by an immediate shot of her parking sticker on the bumper, Donut getting out of the car and walking past Bodie and Namond; or Omar and Renaldo driving away from Old-Face Andre's, and as the van recedes into the background, Randy and Dukie walk past, brain-storming about how to raise the money for the on-line candy buy.
  • Poor Kima. Tries to finally do right by Cheryl and the kid she never wanted, only to find out that she's been completely replaced and the kid reacts to her like she's a total stranger. A deal's a deal, but unlike Omar, Kima's been known to break her word a time or two; how long do you suspect she keeps paying?
  • The return of Poot didn't come with a lot of fanfare, did it? It's amazing how he and Bodie seemed like kids themselves only four seasons ago and now look like grizzled veterans compared to the likes of Namond, Donut and, especially, little Kennard. ("He don't think I can jail? Sheeeeeit!") Of course, J.D. Williams (Bodie) is close to 30, so the more impressive feat was him seeming so young in the early days; don't know how old Tray Chaney is in real life.
  • Anyone recognize that cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" playing in Prop Joe's shop when he meets with Andre?
  • It wasn't until Cutty mentioned it to Carver that I made the Wee-Bey to Namond to Cutty connection. D'oh! And here I had just been thinking that Cutty tolerated Namond's presence because he was friends with Michael. I'm really not that bright, sorry.
Maybe my note-taking wasn't as thorough this week, but there weren't a ton of great stand-alone Line of the Week candidates, so instead I present this dark but funny exchange between Andre and Slim Charles:
"I thought you was my escort out."
"In a manner of speaking, that be true."
What did everybody else think?
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