Monday, April 30, 2007

Heroes: Days of future past

"Heroes" spoilers coming up just as soon as I grow a soul patch...

Wow, wow, wow, wow. I think "Company Man" just got replaced as the best "Heroes" has to offer.

Of course, it's easier to pull out all the stops when you're doing the Alternate Dystopian Future storyline. On "Deep Space Nine," Sisko was never as interesting as when we saw him in the Mirror, Mirror universe and Avery Brooks got to smile. One of the few highlights of X-Men comics in the early '90s was the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline that liberated every title from the shackles of 30 years of continuity. By presenting different versions of our characters, the writers got to ignore what was weakest about many of them. Parkman's wife and son were in hiding and he seemed genuinely dangerous. Mohinder and Peter were too tired and bitter to be their usual pretentious selves. Nikki actually intereacted with other characters. (I think this is the first time she and Peter had a scene together.) DL and Micah were just plain dead.

But just because this type of episode is easier to make exciting than your average arc-bridging show doesn't in any way diminish the work done by writer Joe Pokaski, director Paul Edwards and the rest of the cast and crew. This one had the necessary epic feel. It looked bigger and was edited differently than the series usually is. This show has never gotten my pulse racing the way it did during the cross-cutting between Nathan/Sylar's speech, Hiro and Peter kicking ass in the lobby, Mohinder readying the syringe and Parkman and the SWAT team preparing to blow holy hell out of whoever came out of the elevator. Just a killer sequence.

Just as heart-pounding: the revelation that Nathan was really Sylar. I'm usually three steps ahead of these kinds of twists, and I didn't remotely see it coming, at least not until "Nathan" said that line about Candice (which I guess is the shapeshifting woman's name) helping him become president. I raised an eyebrow at that, and when "Nathan" suddenly froze Claire with telekinesis and her head began to bleed, I unleased a string of profanity the likes of which my TV room hasn't heard since Uncle Junior gutshot Tony Soprano.

And where last week's episode was uncomfortably close to the plot of "Watchmen" (Linderman's plan to unite the world through fear is a direct rip of Ozymandias's scheme, down to Manhattan as the target), this one borrowed the basic template of "Days of Future Past" (the great-granddaddy of superhero Alternate Dystopian Future stories), without swiping many of the details. (The lobby scene was more of a "Matrix" imitation than anything else was copying stuff that Wolverine and Storm did in that old story.)

The "Heroes" creative team has no doubt had to use certain characters' powers sparingly for budget reasons, but they've become very good at making a brief power demonstration seem much more impressive with the right set-up. Peter's rescue of Future Hiro and Ando from Parkman's clutches took less than a minute, I think, but because of the stakes, the surprise of Peter's arrival and the ease with which he used all his acquired powers, it felt wicked awesome. Ditto his showdown with Sylar, which took place almost entirely on the other side of a closed door, with only light flashes hinting that something really f'ed up was happening out in the hall.

Really, my only major complaint about the episode was the terrible actor they cast as Claire's fiance, and we only had to endure a couple of scenes with him before Parkman showed up to take her for her brain removal, so I don't care that much.

You guys are welcome to analyze the implications of everything the characters said to each other about what's happened in the last five years. I'm not going to wind myself up about it too much, if only because I believe so many of the details to change now that Hiro has come back. Again, following the "Days of Future Past" model, I don't expect Hiro's going to be able to make everything hunky-dory for his fellow, um, ability-havers, but things aren't going to go in exactly that direction, because then the writers would be locked into years worth of stories that the audience already knows the endings to, and that way lies the "Star Wars" prequels.

But a few other random thoughts:
  • People keep asking if Ando is going to turn out to have a power. I prefer the idea that his "power" is helping to keep Hiro his familiar ebullient self, just like HRG's "power" is explaining how other character's abilities work.
  • Just sticking with the whole time-travel thing, if Peter caused the explosion, then will Hiro killing Sylar stop anything? Isaac sure seemed to think so when he drew those pages he gave to the bike messenger last week.
  • FX technology has come a long way when it comes to doubling up an actor in a scene. When Michael J. Fox played four or five different parts in "Back to the Future II," I remember being really conscious of every bit where he passed something to himself, but here Hiro and Future Hiro were crossing each other in the frame like Masi Oka had a secret twin they brought in for the occasion, Linda Hamilton-style. (Or, if you prefer, Jill Hennessy-style.)
  • Bluetooth Girl! I had forgotten about her.
  • Who knew Goldfrapp would still be big five years from now? Then again, most strip clubs play music that's years out of date. (Or so I've heard. You know. From other people.)
What did everybody else think?
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Sopranos Rewind: Chasing It

Spoilers for last night's "Sopranos":
And the inner circle draws tighter.

Each episode of this season has seen Tony driving a wedge between himself and a trusted ally -- first Bacala, then Chris, then Paulie and now Hesh, whose friendly $200,000 bridge loan last week turned ugly once Tony realized Hesh actually expected him to repay it.

We've had hints in recent episodes that Tony was gambling too much, but episode four, "Chasing It," has him in full-on Davey Scatino mode, losing big at every game he tries: horses, roulette, blackjack, football, everything short of jai alai or an Oscar pool.
The full thing is at, but you can comment here. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Young doctors in love

Brief, belated "Scrubs" and "Grey's Anatomy" spoilers coming right up...

Uneven "Scrubs" episode. On the plus side: the sorority gal screaming gag (kind of a spoof of the super-breath sequence from "Superman II," I thought) was hilarious, as were Carla and Dr. Kelso's curtain calls for Cox ("'Quit being mean to my husband!'"). On the down side, Keri Russell thus far looks to be one of the show's less successful Hot Girls Can Be Funny, Too!!! guest stars (Tops: Heathers Graham and Locklear. Bottoms: Tara Reid. Insert "That assumes Tara is hot" joke here.), and I felt the JD/Elliott storyline didn't deal enough with how complicated this dynamic is because of their romantic history. We're clearly done with JD and Elliott as a couple, but but this is trickier than JD just being jealous his friend isn't as up for appletinis. Also, the Janitor ghost subplot was kind of a dud.

Meanwhile, I feel like my hatred toward's "Grey's Anatomy" has mellowed a bit now that I've vented so much on the blog and in print. Not that I liked this week's episode; just that I've gone from loathing to resigned ambivalence. At this point, I'm just waiting to see if the spin-off is any more watchable, though they had to really work overtime to free Addison of both her romantic prospects so she can head down to California. McSteamy playing the heel for her was a nice moment, and as it was proceeded by his half-hearted attempt to seduce Meredith, I didn't feel like they're softening him up too much. The Karev thing, on the other hand, felt forced, even if it was set up by the most meta humor this show has had in months. My head hurts more than usual by the amount of sledgehammer going on with the doctor/patient metaphors. As each patient was introduced, I turned to my wife and sarcastically explained the parallels, and there came a point where one of the cases (Penisfish Guy, I think) took me a good 30 seconds to elaborate on, since they found a way for it to parallel every single character on the show. Don't care about Meredith and McDreamy, don't care that they're pretending George will go work at another hospital when they're just going to contrive an excuse for him to stay here (or come back in three weeks), don't understand why Burke wouldn't just go with a simple chocolate cake. Dude, everybody likes chocolate cake. Everybody.

What did everybody else think?
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For those of you who get Comcast's CN8 channel and are dying to see me without a small child draped over my shoulders, I'll be appearing on the next installment of "One on One with Steve Adubato," scheduled to air Monday (April 30) at 5:30. I taped it a couple of weeks ago, so some of the comments are dated and/or wrong (I predicted Heather Mills wouldn't get tossed from "Dancing with the Stars" until people saw the leg fall off), but what can you do? Click here to read the full post

Shine sweet freedom...

Still haven't gotten to "Grey's," "Scrubs" or "Earl" yet (waiting to watch them with my wife), but I did waste a good chunk of yesterday afternoon re-watching "Running Scared" on one of my hi-def movie channels. No, not the Paul Walker "Running Scared." I'm talking the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines "Running Scared," which I must have watched three dozen times on HBO in the late '80s.

I hadn't seen it in close to two decades (insert obligatory expression about aging and/or the flying of time here), and some of it still holds up very well: the ridiculous chemistry between Crystal and Hines (this may have been the only '80s buddy movie where the leads actually seemed like buddies), the banter with them and Joey Pants and Dan Hedaya, the car chase on the elevated train tracks. Hell, I'm not even that troubled by the notion of Billy Crystal as a hotshot cop who kills a dozen or so guys in the movie and recites dialogue like "If you hurt her, you'll never be dead enough" with a straight face.

But then, in the middle of the movie, comes the sequence where the angry police captain forces Hughes and Costanzo to take a vacation to Key West, and My. God. The clothes.

Was it actually considered cool in 1986 to wear a rainbow-pastel skintight tank top, tight red shorts and flaming red roller skates (as Crystal does at one point in the montage), or a baby blue belly shirt, similarly high-and-tight shorts and blue roller skates (as Hines does)? I had hoped to find YouTube evidence of this quintessentially '80s montage, but the best I could find was the music video for Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom," which features a few clips from the movie but is mostly Hines and Crystal in slightly less embarrassing clothes goofing around with McDonald. (There's also a clip splicing together several scenes about their bulletproof fake taxi, but that's not as much fun, plus it cuts Hines off in the middle of the punchline.)

So, several questions on this overcast Sunday:
  • Anybody else have fond memories of this movie?
  • What movies from your childhood contain some element (wardrobe, dialogue, adult themes you didn't recognize at the time) that's completely mortifying seen through adult eyes?
  • Like Crystal as a badass cop, what other actors have surprised you by being convincing in a role to which they're so obviously unsuited?
And for you vulgarians, I leave you with an exchange between the two cops and a lab tech that was, unsurprisingly, 14-year-old Alan's most-quoted bit of dialogue from the movie (parents who read this blog with your children -- there are so many of you, I know -- please turn away at this time):
"This is real shit. This coke is pure shit."
"It's good shit, right?"
"I mean bad shit."
"Bad shit like, 'this shit is bad?'"
"It's shit shit. This shit isn't worth shit."
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Friday, April 27, 2007

The Office: I'll be you and you be me

Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I sign Mindy Kaling to a recording contract...

Welcome to a shaggy dog episode of "The Office," one with a bunch of plots that never really go anywhere but have some amusing digressions along the way.

In particular, the main story of what to do about the pornographic watermark had no real resolution. Yes, Creed got poor Debbie Brown fired -- And at what point do the writers take his behavior too far? Or did they accomplish that last night? -- but all we really got was Pam's suggestion that this would blow over in a few weeks, followed by Michael recording the pointless apology video. (Bonus feature: skim down to the bullet points for a transcript of the one cue card we didn't hear Michael read. Ahh, the wonders of HDTV.) No problems with corporate (this would have been a fine excuse to include Jan, even if just on the phone), nothing about the article the Scranton Times columnist was going to write, nothing.

Now, this isn't a plot of great importance within the grand scheme of the show -- it's certainly no "What's Roy gonna do to Jim?" -- but too many of the branches of the story were set-up without pay-off. Kelly gets put in charge of the accountants and Angela proves to have difficulty with customer service, and... what? Andy's girlfriend turns out to be jailbait, and all that comes of it is Jim making a kind gesture by indulging Andy's a cappella jones.

Sure, there was some very funny material -- Kelly singing her own version of that Gwen Stefani bananas song, Jim-as-Dwight (and, especially, Dwight-as-Jim), the brief callback to "Threat Level Midnight" (Michael's spy screenplay) -- but "The Office" is usually more than a collection of random jokes, and that's all that "Product Recall" felt like.

Some other random thoughts:
  • So, the transcript: "I need this job. My mortgage is hundreds of dollars a month. With this job I can barely cover that. I have a company car, but I still have to pay for the gas. Gas prices are high and I have no savings whatsoever. And it wasn't even me. It's so not fair that they want me to resign."
  • I think I have to give Dwight-as-Jim the nod over Jim-as-Dwight. It wasn't as accurate, but it displayed a keen knowledge of Jim's camera-mugging ways.
  • Ryan still hasn't made a sale.
  • What exactly does Meredith do? She seemed to be the only staffer not involved in any way with the damage control.
  • How cheap are calculator watches in Scranton? I can buy the shirt and the tie running Jim less than 7 bucks, but the watch (even if it was used) makes me question his accounting.
  • "I need two men on this... That's what she said... NO TIME... But she did... NO TIME."
  • Which was worse: Kelly's Bridget Jones impression or Kevin's Aussie accent?
What did everybody else think?
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30 Rock: What's the upside?

Just FYI: Because I was at last night's disappointing Yankee game until late in the evening, the only Thursday show I've seen so far is "30 Rock," and I may not get to watch the others until tonight. Sorry. Donaghy-themed spoilers coming right up...

Ah, well. After all the recent Alec Baldwin unpleasantness in the press made me feel squickier than I usually do at celebrity gossip -- not to mention Alec telling the folks on "The View" in today's pre-taped episode that he wants to leave acting in general and "30 Rock" in particular to focus on parental rights -- I had hoped that the "30 Rock" season finale would be so funny as to make me forget about that stuff for a while. Instead, after a long streak of absolute brilliance, Fey and company closed out their first season with the flattest episode in a while.

Sure, there were definite moments of hilarity: Dr. Spaceman's sex book, "You're Doing It Wrong!" ("My techniques guarantee a male orgasm") and Spaceman's explanation for his bloody lab coat; Jack's mouth tasting like purple and his speech about regrets in life; Kenneth promising to get Tracy back to New York in time for his traditional pre-show rant ("I think this one's going to be about immigration!"); and Jack's mom using the EKG as a lie detector.

But a little of Sean Hayes doing his Kenneth impression in the middle of a "Misery" parody goes a long way, the tension over how to do the show without Tracy didn't really work (though the bit about the RoboCop impression would have been funnier if Liz or Pete had responded to it with, "What else have you got? Juliette Lewis?"), and Emily Mortimer wasn't used as well as in the previous two episodes (though I like Phoebe's vertigo compounding the hollow bones problem in bed).

So before we enter the real hiatus, two questions: 1)Does the voicemail thing in any way affect your appreciation of Baldwin as you watch him?; and 2)If Baldwin is insistent on leaving and NBC decides not to force him to honor his contract, can "30 Rock" survive without him? Is there any actor who could adequately replace him -- and would be willing to do a weekly TV show?
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lost: Who's your daddy?

Spoilers for last night's "Lost" coming up just as soon as I apologize for using the tritest subject line possible...

Who woulda thunk it? Nearly three years in, and there's still the occasional surprise to be found in a flashback for one of the original characters. Until now, we thought that Jin became a legbreaker as a misguided way to provide for Sun; now we know that he was unknowingly paying off a debt Sun owed to her father. Puts a whole new spin on much of what we know about these two, without rendering invalid anything that came before. Plus, we got the usual sterling performances by the underused Daniel Dae Kim (now with spin kicks!) and Yunjin Kim (who, like Elizabeth Mitchell, could stand a sandwich).

In the present day, we have a bunch of mind-bending stuff, from the magically resurrecting Mikahil (are we sure his last name's not Rasputin?) to Parachute Lady's assertion that the wreck of Oceanic 815 was found, with no survivors. So which of the pre-existing Grand Unified Theories of "Lost" does that news fit into? Purgatory? Dream? Is the Dharma Initiative so powerful they could fake both the crashed plan and corpses of the passengers? And how did Bakunin survive the Sonic Wall of Death? Is there more than one of him? Are the island's healing powers so potent that Nikki and Paulo aren't the only people who were buried alive?

As for Juliet, the writers are trying to ride the knife edge with where her loyalties lie. She's still feeding intel to Ben, but she hates him. Question: with the sub and the communications station both blown up real good, what the hell could he be promising her? And should I care?

All in all, pretty good teevee. What did everybody else think?
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Idol: Top 6 non-results is once again being buggy, so I'm going to duplicate what I wrote there over here. Thoughts on what did and didn't happen coming up after the jump...

"How could we let anybody go on a charity night?" asked "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest at the end of Wednesday night's well-meaning but often clumsy two-hour telethon/results show, in which there was no actual result.

After 120 minutes of promising "the most shocking result in our history," Seacrest and his producers reached into a trick they used back in season two, under less pure circumstances: they didn't get rid of anyone.

The first time they tried this, the week that Corey Clark was disqualified from the show for lying about his criminal history, Team Idol went through the motions of acting like someone would be kicked off by the traditional audience vote. In the end, though, they backed off and said no one would be going home, and that the results would be rolled over for voting the following week.

Back then, it came across like a cheap stunt -- literally -- to prevent Fox from having to cut the season short by a week and lose millions in ad revenue. Plus, because the producers had Seacrest identify the bottom three, it gave those contestants the unfair advantage of extra-motivated fanbases; Rickey Smith, who went home the following week, wasn't in that trio.

This time, "Idol" handled the non-elimination slightly better, and for more noble reasons. Seacrest didn't rank the six contestants at all, and the 70 million votes cast this week will roll over, with two singers going home next week. Everyone's on the same playing field.

And if Fox had announced upfront that no one would be eliminated, would the millions of rabid "Idol" fans have sat through two hours of gratuitous celebrity cameos and emotionally grueling footage of poor and dying people in Africa? Yes, it was a bait-and-switch, but at least it was for a good cause -- several of them, in fact.

But while I can't fault the "Idol" producers' intentions, the execution was another matter. The show opened with Seacrest having difficulty reading the teleprompter, and things remained rocky. The live performances from a separate theater were often underwhelming (a notable exception: Annie Lennox singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). The final six contestants struggled as usual to sing together, this time on original compositions by Quincy Jones and Bono. A music video with Carrie Underwood visiting Africa awkwardly seemed to turn the local children into props. Outside of a "Simpsons" parody with Simon as a contestant and Marge, Lisa and Homer as the judges (including a long-deserved Dunkleman joke), the comedy bits all fell flat.

(The biggest misfire: the judges ripping Jack Black for his rendition of "Kiss From a Rose," which was actually the best the song has sounded in "Idol" history, and better than almost every male performance this season.)

Still, money got raised ($30 million by show's end, according to Seacrest) and people will be helped, and for that I'll forgive the non-elimination, Ben Stiller's unfunny and unending bit, or that cheesetastic celebrity lip-synch jam on "Staying Alive."
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Fatal errors

Spoilers for last night's "House" and "Gilmore Girls" coming up just as soon as I straighten my UPenn diploma...

Just the other day, Fienberg was complaining to me that it had been a while since "House" had killed a patient, so he's obviously very pleased with last night's episode. Patients have died before on occasion, but usually because the team couldn't find the right treatment in time; other than maybe that Chase/House inquisition episode from last season (the details of which I don't remember), this was an extremely rare case of House's "treat first, diagnosis much later" strategy backfiring and being directly responsible for a fatality. Omar Epps gets another potential Emmy reel in an episode guest-starring Roc Dutton, but he didn't really grab me until the last scene with Foreman's mom. Various TV guides spoiled the Alzheimer's revelation, but it was devastating anyway. Beautifully played by Epps and the actress cast as Mrs. Foreman.

Meanwhile, after an episode so boring I felt absolutely no need to review it, "Gilmore Girls" was back to at least decent levels, thanks largely to the biggest Paris spotlight of the season. The envelope-opening scene was priceless in its many mood swings, and I liked Doyle finally figuring out how to handle her after all these years of being the bottom in this relationship.

The use of the Jeep and the broken dollhouse as metaphors for Lorelai and Luke's relationship was a bit sledgehammer-y, but I'm glad that they're finally getting significant screentime again. Whatever personal problems may or may not exist between the two actors, they have good chemistry, especially when they're as annoyed with each other as they were for most of this episode. It's just a shame that Amy's parting gift and Rosenthal's decision to really deal with the consequences of it has kept the two of them apart for almost all of what could be the final season. I expect in the end that the CW is going to come up with some sort of compromise, an abbreviated season or whatever, to get Graham and Bledel to commit to one more year, but in the event that falls through, I can't imagine getting any real closure on this relationship over the next three episodes.

What did everybody else think?
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Too many bad doctors in the house

Today's in the paper I put a bunch of my recent "Grey's Anatomy" complaints into column form (albeit not marble column form, which I'm still working on):
IN THE FINAL scene of last week's "Grey's Anatomy," chief of surgery Robert Weber (James Pickens Jr.) visited a local bar, trying to rebuild his dating muscles after the end of his long marriage. Horrified to realize he was flirting with a college student, and embarrassed that he let smarmy Dr. McSteamy (Eric Dane) talk him into this plan, the chief was on the verge of bailing when Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) sat down next to him and suggested he ask her to dance. Told by the chief that the bar had no dance floor, she gave him an insouciant grin and said, "So? Ask me anyway," and the pair ended the episode sharing a funky, silly, completely charming two-step, surrounded by oblivious drinkers.

That was Kate Walsh's only real screen time last week, but in that minute-plus, she demonstrated why she was the right choice to be the star of the upcoming "Grey's" spin-off -- and why the original show is going to suffer badly with the loss of one of the few likable characters it has left.

The backdoor pilot for the spin-off, which will also feature Tim Daly, Taye Diggs and Amy Brenneman in its cast, airs next week. While I'm naturally skeptical of spin-offs, I hope this one is good, and that Addison can bring the chief, Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Karev (Justin Chambers) with her, so I no longer have any reason to watch "Grey's" proper.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Shield: Strike Team gets an FNG

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I crank up the AC/DC...

Well, the obvious development to talk about first is the arrival of one Kevin Hiatt as the Strike Team's newest member and Vic's apparent replacement, but it's kind of hard to focus on that when there's that amazing Mackey freak-out at the end, no? Chiklis is just one hell of an actor, and they set it up beautifully, not only with Vic turning 'Vantes into a surrogate for Lem, but the placement of Corinne so that she couldn't physically get to Vic to help him as 'Vantes was dying. A very powerful, unexpected moment.

As for Hiatt, I don't know yet. I've seen two more episodes with him beyond this one, and he just seems sort of, there, you know? I'm not articulating this well, and we can talk about it more in the next few weeks, but if they want us to actually imagine a future where Vic isn't at The Barn and this guy is riding herd over all the gangbangers, he needs to be more charismatic than Alex O'Loughlin is showing me here.

I do like the idea of Claudette figuring out a way to make Vic behave until he's out the door. She understands what motivates Vic in a way that none of his other bosses have (except maybe Monica Rawling, who went more with the stick than the carrot), but this also has the potential to hugely blow up in her face. Also, while she's busy fixing the Strike Team, Aceveda is busy screwing her over by getting the house massacre taken away from RHD and sent back to The Barn.

What did everybody else think?
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American Idol: Top 6 (Idol Gives Back)

Thoughts on part one of Idol Gives Back are up at, but you can comment about it here. Click here to read the full post

Loose ends

Haven't seen "24" yet, and based on what little I've heard and my overall lack of enthusiasm for this season, I may just skip ahead to next week. Spoilers for, in order, "SNL," "Entourage" and "Drive" coming right up...

I didn't watch all of this week's "SNL," but two bits bear mention: "Roy Rules" and Marble Columns. On the former, I'm surprised by how untired I am of Andy Samberg's music videos, as you would think the joke would be old by now. (Then again, some of them have been duds, notably "Young Chuck Norris.") I think what sold this one were the increasingly disturbed/annoyed reactions of whoever was playing Roy (who looks just familiar enough that I'm assuming he's a writer who's been in the background of other sketches/films). In particular, I love the bit where he's wearing a collared shirt and tie and looks dumbsquizzled when Andy declares that "He loves wearing t-shirts!" Sometimes, it's the little details like that.

Meanwhile, we can add Scarlett Johansson to the list of hosts with recurring characters, now that her Noo Yawk "Look at dis one! Look at dat one!" character from the Chandelier Galaxy ad has popped up again. It's basically an excuse for Scarlett to do the accent, but the joke's not tired yet. It does inspire an open question, though: what's your favorite host recurring character? And how many hosts beyond the usual suspects (Martin, Walken, Baldwin) even have recurring characters? Justin Timberlake obviously has a couple, and now ScarJo does, but who else?

I don't have a lot to say about the latest "Entourage," in part because the Vince/Amanda thing becomes a bigger deal in weeks to come, in part because I don't really care. Some have made the argument that her offer of sex is both true to life (there are rumors of a similar agent/client relationship in the real Hollywood) and her way of taking control of the business relationship, but to me it played like yet another "Entourage" hottie throwing herself at Vince. This is obviously a male fantasy show, and if I want genuinely strong female characters, I should look elsewhere, but I'd rather they not introduced Carla Gugino at all than to have her story go down this path. The Ari stuff was funny, with both Bryan Callen and Nora Dunn working as good foils, but I'm so bored I'm not sure I'll even want to keep watching once HBO starts showing the episodes I haven't seen yet.

It feels almost besides the point to comment on "Drive," as I'm assuming this was the last episode that will ever air. (Next Monday is in sweeps, so at the very least I assume it'll be pulled until summer.) Still, a few thoughts:

Glad to see they bogarted the Fast Forward along with the rest of the "Amazing Race" vibe. On paper, it will give the writers opportunities to tell stories that go beyond "figure out obscure clue and drive real fast to it," but it didn't feel like there was enough time to turn this into a decent caper plot.

Why'd they have to go and kill D'Angelo Barksdale's mom? I liked her much better than her partner (and/or Taryn Manning), but of course she's not as young and hot as the other two, so I suppose that answers that question. Of larger concern: because this actress (Michael Hyatt) and Dylan Baker are the only two significant racers to not be in the opening credits, it really telegraphed both her fate and the fact that Baker's due to succumb to his fatal illness any second now. How much more complicated would it have been to produce some mock opening titles featuring Hyatt and Baker until each of them wrapped up his/her run on the show? I know that in the past, producers have claimed that this trick is too expensive and/or time-consuming to do (it's the reason Eric Balfour wasn't in the titles for the "Buffy" pilot, even though Joss wanted him to be), but a commenter on the Zap2It blog says that this week's credits changed so that Tully was driving his new car instead of the pick-up; how much more of a hassle would it have been to do versions including Hyatt and/or Baker?

What did everybody else think?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Heroes: The Hiro effect

"Heroes" spoilers coming up just as soon as I go read a pirate comic book...

After devoting this morning's column to pointing out some of the flaws that I'd like to see corrected before next year, let's dwell on all the kewlness that happened tonight.

Start with the fact that, between HRG demonstrating a better command of Parkman's powers than Parkman has ever shown and Linderman revealing "abilities" of his own while explaining that he's stolen Ozymandias' peace through fear plan from "Watchmen," the episode didn't even get back to the Peter/Sylar/Mohinder cliffhanger until sometime after the 10-minute mark. (Give or take; I'm estimating based on my ad-free screener.) This is a show that has a lot going on that they could stall so long on the real heart-stopper and not have me yelling, "Get back to the haircut! GET BACK TO THE HAIRCUT!"

The showdown between our two power sponges also helped quell a concern I've had since Claude began training Peter: that he would become so powerful that the other characters would be rendered pointless in any real super-on-super conflict. But having lots of powers and knowing what to do with them are two different things, and simply going invisible rather than continuing to attack Sylar left Peter in a bad way, in a nice callback to Claire "dying" in episode three until the morgue technician pulled the branch out of her head.

Speaking of knowledge as power: the great escape from Primatech, where HRG schools Parkman and Radioactive Ted while finding a way out of there. Two fine comic moments in there: Eric Roberts wanting to gag Parkman because "I don't want to hear any more about his pregnant wife" (amen, buddy), and Parkman laughing at the realization that his own personal bogeyman is nothing more than middle management.

The revelation that Linderman is in charge of Primatech kind of makes my head hurt, as do the continuing hints of an anti-conspiracy fronted by Ma Petrelli. (And does she have abilities, too?) Longtime readers of this blog know how much "X-Files" and its imitators have burned me out on elaborate conspiracy plots -- let alone dueling conspiracy plots -- and I generally prefer this show for the character moments and the wicked awesome power displays, but I'll give them some time before I start fast-forwarding through these scenes.

So, some questions and other thoughts:
  • Did anybody else think that Hiro and Future Hiro would meet, let alone this soon? And how will this tie into the show's overall philosophy about time travel and Hiro's ability (or lack thereof) to change the past?
  • Was Isaac just blustering to Sylar, or did he really paint some sort of "Here's how you beat this guy?" picture before he died? Will anyone miss Isaac? (Also, I like that Sylar was able to steal Isaac's precognitive talents, but not his artistic skills.)
  • If Mohinder's working for Primatech, will Eric Roberts force him to cut out the monologuing?
  • Are Micah's machine-fixing powers in any way related to Linderman's plant (and possibly all biological life)-fixing powers? And what sort of role does Micah play in all of this?

What did everybody else think? Glad to have it back? Not worth the wait? What?

Click here to read the full post

How 'Heroes' can save itself

For those wondering, I haven't seen last night's "Amazing Race," and based on what little I know about it, may not bother. Meanwhile, today's non-"Sopranos" column looks at the return of "Heroes" -- specifically, some suggestions on how the producers might minimize the inevitable sophomore slump:
On TV, what goes up will inevitably come crashing down, even if it's a show whose star can fly.

It's a fact of life that this year's watercooler phenomenon will become next year's shark-jumper, that what seemed novel and exciting will come to feel predictable. As I often say, being a fan of a TV show is like being in a relationship, and that thing your girlfriend does while she's eating that seemed cute on your second date will start driving you bonkers after you've been together for a year or so. We forgive a lot more when the romance is new and fresh than when we've been together so long that we can complete each other's sentences.

It always happens, whether the show is an all-time classic ("The Sopranos"), an obvious flash-in-the-pan ("Ally McBeal") or something in between ("Desperate Housewives"). And I have no doubt it's going to happen to this season's biggest hit, NBC's "Heroes," which tonight begins its final stretch of original episodes for its first season.
To read the full thing, click here. I'll have a full post on tonight's episode hopefully ready to go by the time it's done airing. Click here to read the full post

Sopranos Rewind: Remember When

From my column on episode three:
"Things are going great, finally," says Tony Soprano. "Maybe I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

So are we, Tony.

As this final season has gone on, fans have been waiting to see who will die, who will wind up in jail, who will rat. If a sad, moving episode like last night's "Remember When" is any indication, the wait might not end -- and that might be okay.
The full thing's up at, but you can comment here. Click here to read the full post

Friday, April 20, 2007

Cleveland, 'Rock'

Brief spoilers for "30 Rock," "Scrubs" and "Grey's Anatomy" coming right up...

"30 Rock" is edging close to permanently bullet-pointed status, where I have nothing to say but listing the stuff I found funny. Some highlights in this episode:
  • Tracy on the "Jefferson" budget: "It's gonna be at least 30 million dollars with all the Claymation sex scenes in it!"
  • "Well played, Garkle."
  • Kenneth's Michael McDonald impression
  • Jenna drunkenly trying on thongs in the background of the Liz/Phoebe scene (now, I didn't miss her when she was gone, but she definitely can add something when she surives to final cut)
  • The fact that Gordon from "Sesame Street" is an inner circle member of The Black Crusaders
  • Jack running
  • Liz trying mix in "By the Hammer of Thor!" (she and Will Ferrell really dig Norse pantheon references, don't they?) and "Blurg" (totally warranted after the guy spit in her mouth) into every conversation
  • "This is Frank's "Hot Baby" sketch, which is regrettable...."
  • Liz as catalog model
  • Jack once again in a tuxedo after 6
I love that show so much.

"Scrubs" essentially went one-for-three in its Ted/Jordan/The Todd spotlight episode. Ted's narration had me laughing so hard I had to take a break to cure my hiccups (preferred method: chugging a glass of water), but The Todd stuff really only amused me during his parenting fantasy, and the Jordan material just fell flat, outside of the Elliott/Dudemeister stuff on the periphery. Still, I'm glad they tried it, and it's given me ever-increasing appreciation for the multiple talents of Sam Lloyd. He can sing beautifully, is a master air-bandist, and now can do brilliant voiceover narration and rock a powder blue polyester suit? They don't pay him enough.

I said last time that I was done blogging "Grey's Anatomy" at length, so all I have to say about last night's is that, while Izzie's situation sucked for her, the character's been mangled so badly that I spent most of the episode rolling my eyes like she had just made a Virginia Tech shout-out to gain some sympathy for her previous odiousness. Katherine Heigl did what she could (well-aided by Chandra Wilson), but my hatred for Izzie -- and for the seemingly inevitable Izzie/George 'ship -- overwhelms all.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lost: Sometimes when someone has a crush on you, they'll make a mix tape to give you a clue

Apologies for what I think is the longest post subject line I've ever used, but Sawyer made the "Avenue Q" shout-out obligatory. "Lost" spoilers coming up just as soon as I pack some s'mores supplies...

After I panned last week's largely-praised episode, my friend Joe suggested it was time for me to stop watching the show, that I was now too bitter to ever appreciate anything they were doing, so why bother? I started to suspect he was right when, early in last night's episode, I started laughing at the revelation that Desmond used to be a monk. "Wow," I thought. "They're devoting an entire episode to why Desmond likes to call everybody 'Brother.' Not since they kinda sorta explained about Jack's tattoos have the producers bothered to answer such a hotly-debated question."

But after that, I grew to like "Catch-22," suggesting that my unrelenting bitterness really only comes in to play when The Others are involved. Much less of consequence happened or was revealed in this episode compared to last week, yet I can enjoy the show much more when we get away from all of Ben's convoluted mind games to nowhere. Desmond's been one of the better additions to the show, and if the flashback didn't really tell us anything we didn't already know -- he's a believer who tends to run from his problems -- at least I enjoy spending time with him. And even though I suspected Charlie would live (dammit!), there was still plenty of tension as Desmond did his best to give in to fate. Important question: in the universe where Desmond didn't save Charlie, was Penny the one in the parachute rig?

There were echoes of the "Little Miss Sunshine" episode, with Desmond taking Sawyer's place in our quartet of half-drunk outdoorsmen, and Jin's Korean ghost story was comic brilliance. I knew that Hurley was going to jump out of his chair even though he didn't understand the words, and I laughed anyway. That's the mark of a good joke.

(Also in good comic form? Sawyer, with the mix tape joke, stealing a Phil Collins tape from some guy named Bernard who I don't believe exists, and the 108 minutes gag at the ping pong table. The quadrangle bores me -- even with Evangeline Lily in her skivvies -- but the no-nicknames bet has really taken away the writers' crutch about Sawyer jokes, and the show is the better for it.)

Others have already pointed out that the parachutist's copy of Catch-22 was in Portugese, the same language as the researchers working for Penny in "Live Together, Die Alone," that Fionnula Flannagan (the mysterious time-bending figure from Desmond's last flashback) was in the photo on the monk's desk (a detail I would have missed had I not been watching on my computer, as I multi-task when it's on the TV) and that the monastery specifically makes only 108 cases of wine a year, but I mention them in case you're not trolling a half-dozen different "Lost" blogs and message boards today, and in the hopes of stirring some discussion even at this relatively late hour.

So what's going on here? How do Desmond's powers work? How do you parachute out of a helicopter? Will Sayid get to fix the satellite phone before Locke conveniently blows it up? Etc.
Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

American Idol: Top 7 results

Thoughts on this week's pleasantly surprising boot are up at, but you can comment on it here. Click here to read the full post

The Shield: Hanging out with Guardo

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I go buy some ephedra...


Just damn.

In the years since the pilot, Vic has killed guys in self-defense and he's left men to die when it's served his own interests, but it's been a long time (for us, if not for the characters) since he flat-out murdered a guy. Guardo wasn't the innocent that Terry was -- the writers reminded us of that through Shane's callback to last season's exploded BBQ -- but still. Damn.

Certainly one of the hardest-to-watch episodes ever, what with Guardo looking like a series of Abu Gharaib photos, the savage beatings, the blood, and the way the director framed the shot (both from the camera and the gun) to resemble the death of Terry. Again, damn.

And yet somehow, in the midst of Vic going way the hell off the reservation, of Shane being confronted with yet another bit of blowback from the murder and the cover-up, we got a bit of comic relief in the Dutch/Billings/Ronnie bizarre love triangle. Before this season, Ronnie rarely had much to do, but with Lem out of the picture he's become a much more important character, and David Rees Snell is holding up his end nicely. With Vic and Shane, Ronnie's the loyal sidekick, even the slightly nerdy one (he handles all the Strike Team's computer stuff), but pair him with TweedleDutch and TweedleDumb and he's suddenly the Alpha Dog.

When I watched this episode, I had forgotten the references at the end of last season to Vic's impending forced retirement, so Claudette's appearance in the final scene was a bracing splash of cold water after Vic and Ronnie (if not Shane) finally seemed to be getting over Lem's death.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

American Idol: Top 7 (Country Night)

Thoughts on all that twang over at, but you can comment here. Click here to read the full post

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fox Monday dramas: Reversals of fortune

Brief spoilers for "Drive" and "24" coming up just as soon as I check my glove compartment...

Not that it's going to matter unless the ratings are significantly better tonight than they were for the Sunday premiere, but night two of "Drive" didn't do much to change my opinions, positive or negative. When Nathan Fillion's on the screen, it's a show I'd get stupid over. When Fillion's not around, it's a show I would forget existed. I mean, there's some decent stuff in the non-Tully portion of the race, this time Dylan Baker's daughter teaching him how to lie (and him revealing that he's known all along), but there's one part of the show that's playing for keeps and a good chunk that's just there to kill time and maybe have a laugh.

Since the "Lost" comparisons are so inevitable -- down to the shadow conspiracy playing a mind game with Tully in which they pull his old car out of their magic box (should I have titled this post "It's my car in a box!"?) -- it's interesting to note that, leading man-wise, the shows are polar opposites. Matthew Fox did fine at first on "Lost," but over time the writers have made Jack such an obnoxious, willfully ignorant, bullying prig that I think the bulk of "Lost" fandom would be happy if he got eaten by Smokey. There, though, the supporting characters are interesting enough to usually make up for him. Here, the other racers are necessary to support the premise of the show, but Fillion/Tully is so much more compelling than they are that I'd be fine if they were just faceless blurs. So which is better: a donut show where everything's okay but the guy at the center, or an Oreo show where the center's the only part worth eating? (Your mileage may vary on the cookie portion of the Oreo; choose your own mass-produced desert with a yummy filling and a bland exterior if you must.)

"24," meanwhile, has reached the self-parody portion of the season, wherein the writers repeat a lot of stuff that's happened before -- sometimes a few seasons ago, sometimes only a few weeks ago -- because they don't know what else to do and are hoping you won't notice. Wayne's in a coma, again. Jack goes rogue twice within the same damn episode. Etc. I figured nothing could be lamer than the hunt for Fayed, but Gordon, Surnow and company may just prove me wrong. Bring back the cougar, says I.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Non-elimination Sunday

Brief spoilers for "The Amazing Race" and "Entourage" coming right up...

A very meh episode of "Amazing Race," and not just because it was a Non-Elimination Leg that kept the odious Eric and Danielle in the game. (You could tell they knew it was coming, too, judging by Eric's lack of urgency in the final minutes.) The Fast Forward required even less skill than the step-counting one from a few weeks ago; once Danny and Oswald agreed to do it, there was no real way for them to not complete it. The kung fu Detour looked very cool, but the ninjas seemed there for decoration and didn't really affect anyone's ability to do it. (Good on Charla, though, both for insisting they do it instead of that awful needle in a haystack choice, and for getting it done with minimal drama. Her cousin is grating and hypocritical and awful, but Charla doesn't seem that bad.) The two teams I like are in the lead, but I worry that Danny's carelessness with the money on the previous leg is going to haunt the Chas, unless they're handed a huge wad of cash at the start of the next leg and/or they have some really valuable stuff in their packs to sell.

When I was making my complaint that "Entourage" had turned into two different shows, one good (Ari), one bad (Vince/E), Fienberg pointed out that it's really three shows, because Drama and Turtle are usually off doing their own thing. This episode made that three-way split especially obvious, with Ari trying to pimp out Lloyd ("Go grab your best dress and know today that your love of (expletive deleted) is a tremendous asset to this agency") before having a rare pang of conscience, Vince and E involved in a double date story that would not end, and Turtle and Drama trolling for dates at the dog park.

The dog stuff was mildly amusing for a few minutes -- especially the latest bit of Drama wisdom: "Finicky dogs have finicky owners, and finicky owners make you wait two weeks before they'll give you a tug" -- but the double dating stuff was pure pain. Ari and Lloyd, on the other hand? I could watch an entire series built around those two, even if the other guys never showed up again. Question: was Ari's impulse to save Lloyd something he always would have done, or has the split with Vince made him more concerned about chasing people away?
Click here to read the full post

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Drive: Elimination station

Spoilers for the premiere of "Drive" coming right up...

I shared some of my broad strokes thoughts on the show in my column on Friday, so let's just focus on some initial first impressions.

The Good:
  • Nathan Fillion. As the commenters in the Friday "Drive" thread put more succinctly than I did, the man is essentially a movie star -- and a vintage, Steve McQueen-style movie star -- working on the small screen, and Tim Minear knows how best to exploit his physical and verbal gifts.
  • Dylan Baker. The most-pedigreed actor on the show isn't going to be slamming Charles Martin Smith into a conference table anytime soon, but he has presence in his own way, and he can play both the comic dweeb side of his character and the pathos.
  • Melanie Lynskey. It's a very all over the map character -- the domestic abuse survivor played for comic relief, and for a good chunk of the premiere it's not clear whether her baby is alive or dead -- but she holds it together better than most actresses could. She's inherently likable.
  • Charles Martin Smith & Paul Ben-Victor. Smith's matter-of-factness makes the race and its mysterious organizers seem less silly, and in his few minutes of screen time as the trucker, Ben-Victor shows that he can be quietly menacing even when he doesn't have David Simon and the team from "The Wire" to write his dialogue.
  • The flashback at the start of the second hour. Yes, this is now the second series where Kristin Lehman is playing a character who suffered a childhood gambling-related trauma (see also "Tilt"), but the desperation of that sequence added some necessary gravity that's not present for a lot of the show.
The problematic:
  • By making Fillion the only regular character who's racing for someone's life instead of the cash, Minear has stacked the deck so thoroughly in his favor that not only do I not want to root for anybody else, but for much of the two hours I don't want to be spending time with anybody else.
  • On a related note, it's a large cast, and there obviously wasn't time to introduce them all properly. If I hadn't seen the commercials and/or read the press materials, I would have no idea that the trio of women were Katrina survivors, for instance. In fairness, "Lost" didn't exactly peel every onion in its pilot, either. And in some cases, there are characters I wish I didn't know as well, like the Salazar brothers, who are already annoying good boy/bad boy stereotypes.
  • The version I watched still had a lot of incomplete green screen effects during the driving scenes (the flashback to the death of Corinna's parents was the only one with complete FX), but I felt my attention wandering during a lot of the action driving scenes, like Dylan Baker playing chicken with the brothers. Again, I can't fairly judge it without having watched the final version (and I'm going to jump straight to tomorrow's episode for that), but I hope they can find a way to either make the driving scenes more interesting or make the race involve more than solving the clue and getting to the pit stop the fastest.
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Sopranos Rewind: Stage 5

My thoughts on "The Sopranos" episode two, "Stage 5," are up at After you read it, feel free to comment here.

UPDATE: I also have a very spoiler-y interview with the whacked castmember up at, so if you didn't watch the episode yet, don't read it. Click here to read the full post

Scrubs: It's JD in a box!

Belated "Scrubs" spoilers coming up just as soon as I get a ruling on whether "It's my (blank) in a box" subject lines are as played out as my old "Is that something you might be interested in?" references...

I've always had an ambivalent relationship with the heavier elements of "Scrubs." When they work, as in "My Old Lady" or "My Lunch," then this show can hold its own with any straight-up hospital drama. A lot of the time, though, the emotional moments feel tacked on, part of what I've joked is Bill Lawrence's "Wonder Years" obsession where J.D. has to learn a life lesson, whether it's interesting or not. So when the show made its shift into unapologetic wackiness last season, I embraced it, since the comedy has always been much more consistent than the tears.

But I think this season has shown that there can be too much of a wacky thing, and I welcome this shift back to a more human show, even if it's just temporary. ("My Lunch" and "My Fallen Hero," after all, came at the tail end of last year, and then we went right back to randomness.) I wouldn't put this Laverne three-parter up there with the best of dramatic "Scrubs" (other than Carla's farewell last week, which was as touching as intended), and I had specific problems with the deaf storyline this week, but it's good to have all the characters seeming like actual people now and then, which in turn will make future departures into weirdo world funnier.

On the flip side, though, the Cochlear implant subplot was a quintessential example of when the more serious approach doesn't work. The story felt rushed and simplistic, especially since so many other medical shows have dealt with this exact same debate in the last decade or so (notably "ER," where Benton had to decide if his son should get the implant) while managing to look at both sides of the issue fairly. I'm not saying you have to turn over an entire episode of "Scrubs" to the subject, but this didn't work. They were borrowing a much more complicated issue to help make a poignant ending, and they dumbed it down and acted like no one ( (not the audience and certainly not J.D. and Turk) would have thought of it before. Ah, well, at least that story had The Janitor using Marg Helgenberger as a punchline.

I liked the rest of the episode, especially Elliott trying so hard not to screw things up with the Dudemeister that she almost screwed it up anyway. That is one kinky (Britney and K-Fed?), messed-up woman, but funny. J.D.'s fantasy funeral was also great, especially the picture and the choice of "Party All the Time" as choir music (though my wife though Fantasy Cox snapping Fantasy J.D.'s neck was too much), and I enjoyed Cox's exasperation at having his soundproof bubble burst so often. And Kelso's blunt psychoanalysis of why Cox was protesting too much worked in a way that the deaf subplot didn't because it played on what we know about both characters, instead of trying to hang the emotion on a flimsily-written guest star.

What did everybody else think? Do you feel the show's back on the right track?
Click here to read the full post

Mmmmm what do you say....

Bizarre, belated but hilarious "O.C." tribute in last night's "SNL" Digital Short. Here's a clip from the season two "O.C." finale; fast forward to about two minutes in for the relevant part. And here's the Digital Short.

The genius of the SNL version is that the song starts in the exact same place, every time. Click here to read the full post

Friday, April 13, 2007

30 Rock: Let's go to the auction house (today)

"30 Rock" spoilers coming up just as soon as I turn on my humidifier...

Another great episode, though the Liz/Jack/Floyd stuff badly outshone Tracy and his erect horse. Before I talk about the comedy, though, I want to say a word or three about the music.

Jeff Richmond (aka Mr. Tina Fey) is the composer for this show, and his score is a huge part of why I love the show. The theme music aside (which I am never allowed to fast forward past, or else Marian will divorce me), it always sets the perfect tone, whether it's that "Piano Man"-esque accordion (or harpsichord) as Liz is strutting through the halls, secure in her relationship, or the tasteful string music for Jack's visit to Christie's to the ominous Bernard Herrmann-Hitchcock stuff when all of Liz and Floyd's phones started ringing in unison. Hysterical. Most sitcoms, even single-camera ones like this, don't do a lot with their score, but Richmond's work has been indispensible.

Jack's assault by phone and vestibule buzzer ("The call is coming from inside the house!") was the highlight, but the entire story of Jack and Floyd's mutual man-crush was great. Loved the title of Jack's book ("Jack Attack: The Art of Agression in Business"), loved the two of them studying the painting ("Is that lion eating the horse?" "Or perhaps it's eating universal healthcare."), loved Jack's despair at not being a creative type like Liz ("with your work sneakers and your left-handedness"), loved Liz trying to make her fuzzy PJs sexy ("It's got pockets! Are you into that?"), loved that the Christie's lady with the fragile bones (played, I think, by Emily Mortimer) worrying that Liz doesn't remember her each time they meet, loved it all.

The Tracy storyline, as I said, was more nebulous, but at least it gave us Kenneth knitting an NBC peacock bikini for his nana, the entourage guys preparing to buy iPhones (and sporting Bluetooths in the "Jefferson" trailer), and the unimpressive descriptions of Tracy in the trailer ("Source Award nominee Tracy Jordan... Academy Award watcher Tracy Jordan"). So that's something, I guess.

Two questions: does anybody miss Jenna? And when's the last time Rachel Dratch made one of her inconsequential cameos?
Click here to read the full post

The Office: Hey, I should have been nicer to Michael

Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I reshuffle my Netflix queue...

Well, that one felt like vintage season two "Office," didn't it? I mean, the Michael plot is the sort of thing they can and have done this year (see his behavior throughout "The Convict"), but what really elevated the episode was the betting subplot, which evoked vintage Jim subplots like the Office Olympics and his fire drill games.

I know there's been some unhappiness with this season's lack of Jim and Pam interaction, but I think the larger issue has been Jim's minimal interaction with everybody. He has his one on one stuff with Dwight and Karen and Andy, but his promotion and his discomfort with being sent back to this place after his escape to the paradise of Stamford has isolated him from the office staff at large. He now views this as an actual career and not just a place where he's marking time, so he's backed away from his role as office cruise director. And I didn't realize how much I missed that stuff until he did it again.

It helped that so many of the bets were hysterical, particularly Kelly explaining Netflix to Ryan and all the proposition bets attached to that ("she named six romantic comedies"), and Creed (both actor and character) taking a big bite out of what looked like a real potato. Also helping: an apparent thaw in the Jim/Karen/Pam triangle, to the point where Pam could be a full-fledged participant and also compliment Karen on her plus-one strategy on the jellybean bet. (Kevin then splashed some cold water on the moment with his references to how much time Jim used to spend at that desk, but not too much.) I know that in real life, John Krasinski and Brian Baumgartner (who plays Kevin) have a hardcore video football rivalry going; I wonder if this whole subplot spun out of that?

Felt odd to have two Michael vs. Darryl episodes in a row, but it's a great dynamic, especially since the writers have decided that Darryl will openly disrespect Michael whenever possible. (Plus, hearing Craig Robinson say "shenanigans" made my night.) Michael's defense of his own tough existence was deluded brilliance ("I worked at a warehouse. Men's Wearhouse. I was a greeter"), as was his insistence on running through the suicide script ("Dwight, you ignorant slut!") a second time once the warehouse guys showed up. (Jim: "Well, you know, the first performance was a little off, but I felt they really hit their stride with the second show.")

A very, very strong episode. Some other random thoughts:
  • Was Creed pissing in the bushes, or in the mooncastle?
  • Unshun/Reshun shouldn't have been funny for as long as it was, but it was.
  • Did you catch "Drew" referring to Jim by his name (instead of "Big Tuna") for maybe the first time ever?
  • Brilliant setup/payoff: Michael fearing that, if the watermelon hit Stanley's car, it was a hate crime, followed by the two-second button before the credits where Stanley finds the watermelon.
  • I was waiting for someone to remind Michael about Jan. Boy, the shine came off that relationship pretty quickly, didn't it?
  • And the great thing about Daryl's final reason for not jumping is that it was a compliment, an insult and absolutely true at the same time. ("It takes courage just to be you, to get out of bed every single day, knowing full well you gotta be you... I couldn't do it. I ain't that strong, and I ain't that brave.")
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Drive: Are We There Yet?

My column about "Notes From the Underbelly" (short version: I hated it) never made it on-line, but today's review of "Drive" did. A sampler:
With most of the serialized dramas that came and went this season, the nagging question of "What happens after the first 10 or 15 episodes?" proved moot, as almost all of them were canceled long before the writers had to figure out how to keep the story going once all those kidnappings and murders and bank robberies were solved. Fox's new drama "Drive," about the contestants in an illegal, high-stakes road race across America, seems to have less long-term potential than all the other serialized rookies, but that doesn't matter, because it's a Tim Minear show and will probably be canceled in four to five weeks.

Minear's a talented writer and producer, don't get me wrong, and he's been a key backstage figure for some good-to-great TV shows over the last few years: the better seasons of the "Buffy" spin-off "Angel"; the cult classic outer space western "Firefly"; the eccentric do-gooder dramedy "Wonderfalls," and the FBI criminal profiling drama "The Inside."

It's just that he kills shows dead -- or, rather, that Fox does.

For the last few years, Minear has been involved in a financially lucrative but sado-masochistic relationship with Fox, producing these shows, then handing them off to the network, where they'll suffer a quick, ignoble death in an out-of-the-way timeslot.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lost: Lameo and Juliet

Brief "Lost" spoilers coming right up...

In isolation, "One of Us" was a perfectly okay episode. The flashbacks told us new information, fit seamlessly into the teaser from the season premiere (complete with an explanation for Ben getting kicked out of the book club, still the funniest line of the season), did a good job of explaining Juliet's transformation from the woman she was in Miami to who/what she became, and was in general a good showcase for the versatile Elizabeth Mitchell.

But I'm suffering a severe case of Others Fatigue, which, coupled with Jack being his usual obtuse, gullible self, makes it hard for me to get too enthusiastic that, at its heart, is just another one of Ben's mindgames, even if it brought back Goodwin for five minutes.

Your mileage may have varied.
Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

American Idol: Top 8 results

"American Idol" results thoughts over at, but you can talk about them here. Click here to read the full post

Friday Night Lights: Clear eyes. Full hearts. CAN'T LOSE!

Spoilers for the "Friday Night Lights" finale coming up just as soon as I give a "whoever smealt it, dealt it" ruling for the passengers of Landry's car...

They gave me a slow clap. Those magnificent bastards at "Friday Night Lights," perhaps worrying that they hadn't already tailored a TV drama to my specific needs -- with the Underdog Sports Movie stuff and the subtle characterization and the docu-cam and the amazing acting and the realistic teen angst -- put in a damn slow clap. I love them all so very, very much right now.

But here's the thing: I'm not sure how happy I am that the Panthers won the big game.

After watching a screener of the finale, I chatted with Maureen Ryan, who was happy about the victory, and Dan Fienberg, who was aghast. My reaction falls somewhere in between, but leaning more towards Dan's point of view. I can see the value of wanting to give the devoted but tiny fanbase a happy ending in the event the series is one-and-done, and I also realize the writers had painted themselves into a corner where Coach couldn't realistically return to Dillon if the team lost. (His lawn would be set afire nightly if he tried to stick around after being such an obvious scapegoat for the loss of a coveted state championship.) But I also feel like a victory -- especially such an improbable zeroes-to-heroes halftime turnabout -- goes against the show's philosophy in general and Coach's halftime speech in particular. (Mo has a full transcript of that particular goosebump-inducing bit of rhetoric, in case you feel the need to recite it before bedtime tonight.)

Maybe if the actual game action had been better-written, I would feel differently. But where most of Dillon's other stirring victories of the season have had some kind of significant character arc to them -- Saracen coming off the bench to save the season after Street's injury, Riggins sobering up and turning into a much more effective ball-carrier, Street turning Saracen into a different quarterback for the Mud Bowl -- the only arc here was for Taylor, and his part was done, as far as we were concerned, after halftime. There was some carryover of The New Saracen with him confidently calling for the hook-and-lateral play with the clock winding down -- and that was, to an extent, Matt making peace with Coach's exit and working with him again -- but this is the first really big game of the season where the actual football (as opposed to the speech) didn't raise my goosebumps. Maybe if they had taken the time over the season to establish a single defensive player, we could have gotten excited about him knocking Voodoo all over the field, but as it was, he was getting hit by the extras.

The rest of the episode, though, was fantastic, if overstuffed, as the producers tried to give closure to every character, again just in case this is it.

The Tyra/Landry story got co-opted into a Tyra/Lyla story halfway through, for instance, though they captured Landry's pain so well throughout. I've been, if not in identical circumstances, then definitely situations where I had built up time spent with a girl into the be-all, end-all, only to have the real world get in the way. There's the great possibilty that, even had things gone perfectly, the girl wouldn't have felt nearly as strongly as I did, just as Tyra tried to let Landry down easy with that peck on the cheek -- which he no doubt will completely misinterpret and lead to months or years of hurt feelings, confusion and humiliation for him. (UPDATE: Well, they cut the kissing scene -- which I describe in the comments -- from the final air version, which means Landry got shortchanged even more. They also tweaked Coach's halftime speech, so Mo's transcript doesn't match the final version.) Sigh... so good, and yet so cruel, and if there's a part of the show where I wish they had sacrificed the reality and thematic faithfulness in favor of giving the fans a happy ending, it's this one. But that's just me.

I'm going to leave discussion of the smaller details of the episode to you fine people -- the Landry party wagon alone is Zapruder-esque in the amount of things you can discover if you study it enough -- and instead move on to the big question: the future. Specifically, will/should there be one?

The news that NBC ordered six scripts doesn't exactly have me jumping out of my chair. It's a minimal-cost way for networks to spin their wheels on a decision while still giving the illusion of hope to the producers and fans of a show, plus it's just sound business with a Writers Guild strike looming. I'm still mostly optimistic about renewal, since Kevin Reilly seems to love the show so much, but I worry that there will be too much pressure from other corners of NBC/GE/Universal/Scheinhardt Wigs for him to go with the bottom line and make "30 Rock" the network's only charity case. I've been burned too many times in the past to get my hopes up.

Or maybe it's just, as I've alluded to here and there (mostly in comments to posts in the last two weeks), I'm starting to wonder if the Good-Looking Corpse approach isn't the right one here. What we have here is a near-perfect season of network television drama, one that, for the most part, gave all its characters a beginning, middle and, if not end, then at least some closure to their stories. I look at what NBC did to, say, "Homicide," from season four on (even parts of season three) and shudder at how the suits might force Katims and Berg to make the show "more accessible." Get ready for the charity car wash episode with Lyla and Tyra giggling in bikinis! More big speeches, less opportunities for the actors to convey what their characters are feeling through a look or body language! More product integration, with the Alamo Freeze going out of business so Saracen and Smash can go work at The Gap! Landry becomes the emcee at the local rock club, where the hottest indie bands stop by for unexpected concerts!

I'm not saying that's what will happen if the show gets renewed, just that it could. (I imagine the bikini car wash note was already made by someone at NBC earlier this season, but Katims went with Powderpuff instead.) I love the show and its characters too much to really wish it into cancellation, but I would hate for it to get renewed and become this thing that tarnishes the memory of what came before.

So let's not worry about renewal right now, since I doubt a decision will be made before upfront week in mid-May, and appreciate the genius we've had the privilege to witness for the past 22 episodes, brilliant moments like:
  • Tami having The Talk with Julie;
  • The prayer circle after the miracle victory in the pilot;
  • The first (and presumably only) concert by Crucifictorius;
  • Street, Smash, Riggins and Saracen getting drunk on the field;
  • Tyra turning into Dick Butkus during Powderpuff;
  • The entirety of "Mud Bowl";
  • The ominous shot of Voodoo making his first walk across the Panthers' practice field;
  • Landry at the Landing Strip;
  • The team getting pelted with food and garbage after the brawl in the racist town;
  • "I'm crippled, and I want to listen to Nirvana!";
  • "Hi, Mrs. Coach.";
  • The Members Only jacket, and Coach's reaction to it;
  • Coach following Mrs. Coach to bed at the end of last week's episode;
  • Saracen singing "Mr. Sandman" to his grandma;
  • The sound of the buzzsaw cutting open Street's helmet in the emergency room;
  • The pure joy on everyone's face at the victory parade (not to mention the season-bookending use of "Devil Town" on the soundtrack);
  • Coach's abrupt mood switch when he found out Saracen had made Julie his quarterback;
  • Tyra getting photographed at the police station like she was the perp and not the victim;
  • Coach deciding to stay in Dillon because of the baby and Tami talking him out of it (though in the end he seems to decide to stay for a reason that he won't regret later);
  • Buddy being magnanimous about Coach's new job;
  • Slammin' Sammy Meade and his listeners not taking more than a second to bask in the victory before piling on Coach for leaving;
  • (Insert your own here, or 12 if you like)

What did everybody else think? And please don't pelt me with food and garbage if you think I'm history's worst monster for second-guessing the desirability of a second season. I'm gonna be mad as hell if the show's not renewed, but I'm feeling awfully protective right about now.

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The Shield: Time to take out the trash

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I write a dissertation about Chatton's anti-razor...

I'm blanking now on where I saw it, but someone complained after last week's episode that Kavanaugh framing Vic (ironically, for one of the few crimes in show history he had nothing to do with) was a betrayal of a character who was originally introduced as a squeaky-clean supercop type. I don't know if I'd buy into that characterization to begin with (his dealings with Corrinne were pretty shady), but more to the point, what his arc illustrates is how Vic eventually drags everyone down into the muck with him. By this point, Vic and Kavanaugh had been messing with each other's heads so much that I would have been stunned if it hadn't become personal for John, the poor, obsessed bastard. And now he's in jail, while Forest Whitaker is free to exploit whatever post-Oscar opportunities are available to him.

It was great having Whitaker around, but Kavanaugh's almost beside the point now. The real showdown now is going to be the one between Vic and Shane, and Shane's getting sloppy, with his trial balloon to Ronnie about "making up" a story about being with Lem when the grenade went off. (Vic, of course, is as much of a badass as ever, this time outsmarting a room full of armed Biz Lats with only the bullet in the chamber.)

This episode was a good showcase for both Dutch, who was the first to suspect something was wrong with Kavanaugh's story (and who introduced me to the intriguing idea of the anti-razor), and Claudette, who had that fine speech about the interrogation room: "It's not much to look at, but it brings the truth out in people. I fixed a lot of wrongs inside these walls." Not a lot of actresses could make lines like that work, but you always believe it from CCH Pounder.

What did everybody else think? You going to miss Kavanaugh, or was his time up?
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House: Fakes on a plane

"House" spoilers coming up just as soon as I find out what the in-flight movie is...

Well, that was a lot of fun, wasn't it? A&B stories with relatively equal weight, Wilson in charge of the young'uns, House repeatedly getting over on Cuddy, House recruiting three passengers as fill-ins for Chase, Foreman and Cameron, the parallel editing as both patients got a spinal tap... this was one where the producers' joy at messing with the formula was palpable.

So, a few questions:
  • Given the circumstances under which they met, is Wilson calling the hooker with the heart of gold for a date, or for a "date"? And, regardless of his intentions, is she within her rights to charge him? And how much fun is House going to have with this, regardless?
  • Between the hooker and the very helpful flight attendant, this one was just an ode to the service industry, wasn't it?
  • Does Chase have any shot at getting Cameron back, or was she 100% using him while waiting on House to appreciate her wonderfulness?
  • If the latter, who's hernext boytoy: Foreman or Wilson? Or does she really try to get House's attention by choosing the hooker with the heart of gold?
What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

American Idol: Top 9 (Sanjaya from the block!)

Grr.... the blog is giving me problems, so for now, I'm posting my "Idol" thoughts here after the jump...

Melinda Doolittle, "Sway": Of course she's going to pick a song that she describes as "very old." I'm glad Simon finally gave her some reasonably harsh criticism, because while she's the best this season by a mile, she's been too complacent for too long. The vocals are, as usual, superb, appropriately understated and just a bit sultry, but I'm tiring of both her 80-year-old affectations and the humble pie routine, which she turns on and off so easily that I refuse to view it as anything but a tactical choice at this point. Props for her comeback to Simon's critique -- "I'm happy, because I think he really wanted to say something bad and I'm glad he got the chance" -- but she could stand to listen to him this time.

LaKisha Jones, "Conga": LaKisha appears to be going the Haley incredible shrinking wardrobe route, but vocally this may have been her least memorable performance to date. Ordinarily, she just copycats the style of the original performer, and she's a great enough mimic that you accept the karaoke and move on to admiring the range. Here, she's not trying to sound like Gloria Estefan, and it's like the latter half of Christian Slater's career, after he stopped doing his Jack Nicholson impression and we realized that was the most interesting thing about him. Also the first of several contestants tonight to run into significant problems moving and singing at the same time.

Chris Richardson, "Smooth": I'm going to give the judges the rare benefit of the doubt and assume this was a case of the studio's acoustics making it impossible to really hear the vocals, because this was terrible. The guitarist and drummer did their best to carry Chris, but his voice disappeared in the lower register (there were points where he barely seemed to be singing), and all he did was make me appreciate what an equal partnership the original version was between Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana. And his runs were as obnoxious and ill-fitting as usual.

Haley Scarnato, "Turn the Beat Around": This week, we're really going to discover whether Haley's legs are as powerful as Sanjaya's hair, because the hot pants were the only remotely appealing part of that performance. She can strut in heels, but she can't dance, and she sure can't sing and dance at the same time. Yikes. Now, will Simon blatantly calling her out on her skimpy costume strategy (while the cameraman did a slow, drooling pan up her body) shame people out of voting for her, or get her some sympathy votes?

Phil Stacey, "Maria Maria": Here's one of those "taste is really subjective" performances. My wife adored this, wanted to watch it again immediately, and talked about what a controlled performance it was and how well Phil captured the emotions of the song. To me, this felt like Phil once again sucking all the life out of the room -- or, at least, like he really wanted to suck out my brains. I don't know.

Jordin Sparks, "Rhythm is Gonna Get You": Yet another contestant who can't move and sing at once. This show may be the best defense yet for why the Britneys and, yes, J. Lo's of the world can get away with lip-synching in their concerts. Jordin's got more presence than anybody else (including Melinda), but she needs some breath control work.

Blake Lewis, "I Need To Know": This is by far the best Blake has ever sounded, even on the numbers where he's just stood still and sang, but J. Lo totally called him out on the lack of emotional connection to the song. Close your eyes and he sounds anguished enough, but open them and he looks as pleased with himself as he always does -- or maybe he's just happy that he got a free bowl of soup when he bought Judge Smails' hat from "Caddyshack." (It looks good on him, though.) There's something a little too cold and calculated about Blake, and it's become more obvious now that Sligh's gone.

Sanjaya Malakar, "Besame Mucho": Much like Simon, I hate to admit that that wasn't terrible. It was actually kinda decent. The song fits his miniscule range and inability to project, and it let him make sexy but harmless eyes at the camera that no doubt drove his tween fanbase nuts. This may be like Amy Adams giving the performance of her life on Country Week in season three, where a genre she'd never tried before turned out to be a perfect fit. Maybe Sanjaya should sing cheesey Spanish love songs for the rest of his career.

I'm going to keep predicting that one of Phil or Haley goes home until it actually happens. Sanjaya's obviously not going to be bottom three, so get ready for a "shocking" placement by somebody else. My money's on LaKisha, who peaked a long time ago and was really forgettable here.

What did everybody else think?
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24: Shut it down, shut it down now!

"24" spoilers coming up just as soon as I crawl under this garbage truck...

"Homer and Apu," one of the all-time classic "Simpsons" episodes (which not only features "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?" but also the definitive takedown of black guy vs. white guy stand-up hackery, the barking consumer watchdog, plus "That's a great price for 12 pounds of nutmeg," a quote that's always useful when you go to Costco) was on in the syndication rotation last night, and Homer's line at the act two break proved prophetic for tonight's "24" episode:

"Everything really wrapped up nicely. Ooh... much quicker than usual."

This season of "24" has had a lot of problems, not least of which is the lack of a unifying device like last year's Jack Vs. POTUS angle, but as always, I admire the producers' willingness to give up the ghost if a storyline isn't working. Clearly, the suitcase nuke storyline had long since run its course -- or, at least, the writers had failed to develop it enough to make it worth continuing -- so they pulled the plug on it and will spend the season's final seven hours on a completely new plot, with Jack trying to save the predictably non-dead Audrey. (And wasn't it nice of ABC to cancel "The Nine" so Kim Raver could come back to try to salvage her old show's season?)

I'll admit to having been suckered in by President Wayne's bluff, but his acknowledgement that Powers Boothe had a point with his threat to nuke The Unnamed Middle Eastern Nation makes me uncomfortable, in the same way that the reveal of Kal Penn (remember him from way back when?) as an actual terrorist instead of a victim of racial profiling and so many other storylines on this series illustrate the ends justifying the heinous means.

I was also briefly taken in by the ruse with Fayed, but mainly because I was so busy laughing at yet another "24" prisoner transfer going horribly awry, and yet another shootout where guys with machine guns can't hit the broad side of a barn, while Jack (and now Doyle) were doing damage with their pistols. So good on the writers for turning self-parody into a minor twist. Also good to see Jack singlehandedly kill all of Fayed's men, though his kiss-off line to Fayed shouldn't have been "Say hello to your brother," but "How does it feel to know you're dying for nothing?"

What did everybody else think? Does the return of Audrey (conveniently in LA so we won't have to spend the rest of the season with Jack on a trans-Pacific flight) and the abrupt storyline break give you renewed hope for the rest of the season, or do you expect this to be as big a dud as Jack's dad?
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