Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dexter: Return to normalcy

Spoilers for the "Dexter" season premiere coming up just as soon as I use more tape...

"Dexter" is a hard show for me to blog regularly. Obviously, as detailed in Friday's column, I love it, but Showtime PR also sends out the episodes in chunks (I've seen seen the first four of this season). Given that there are so many twists and turns to the main story arc -- even moreso than at this time last season, where the Ice Truck Killer case didn't really get bendy until Rudy started dating Deb -- I'm reluctant to write too much for fear of it being colored by what I know is to come.

But I'll try. Season two opens with Dexter -- the man who always insists he has no emotions -- suffering from ennui and performance anxiety. Doakes is now actively tailing him at night, making stalking and killing difficult activities to pull off. So instead, he tries being as agressively, boringly normal as possible -- which, of course, means he joins the precinct bowling team. (And because Dexter is always so good at faking the normal stuff, it means he's a heck of a bowler.) But even when he manages to elude Doakes long enough to get ahold of his first target, a blind voodoo priest who's either cursing or poisoning people to death, Dexter can't bring himself to close the deal and let's the scared man go.

And from there, it's all downhill. He can't get it up with Rita (a joke that was maybe too obvious, but saved -- as so much of the show's over the edge material is -- by Michael C. Hall's deadpan narration), and completely botches the hit on the ginormous gang assassin Little Chino. His oh-so-clever plan to send Rita's ex-husband Paul back to prison goes awry when Paul gets fatally shanked -- and after Paul had convinced Rita of Dexter's role in framing him.

Worst of all -- or maybe best, since Dexter seems to thrive most when his life is in danger (fear is the one emotion even he might admit that he still has) -- his nifty dumping site for the bodies of his many victims turns out to be not so nifty, as a pair of treasure hunters stumble across all those garbage bags while looking for a deep-sea wreck. This one kicks off the big arc of the season, and there's a lot of good stuff coming.

I like this glimpse of Dexter out of sorts. If he were the perfect killing machine all the time, that would get dull. And since we know he's capable of feelings, even if he denies it, he needed to be affected in some way by killing his brother to save Deb. Hall has a lot of fun playing a flawed Dexter, and he's going to have even more soon.

A few other brief thoughts:
  • As was the case last year, I could not care less about the office politics of the Miami PD, and I can never decide whether the Laguerta stuff is there to relieve what I'm sure is a huge workload on Hall or whether it's there because someone in production feels the audience needs some more relatable material to counterbalance the mass-murdering title character. I think there's value in showing the ordinary human beings surrounding the inhuman Dexter, but only the ones who directly affect him: Deb, Rita, Doakes and even Angel (who's sort of Dexter's best friend). Laguerta and the captain and the new lieutenant essentially exist in a parallel narrative, and there's no need for all their constant maneuvering.
  • In keeping with my above criteria, the scenes where Deb struggles to get over being engaged to a serial killer were good. I really fear for her sanity that this season will climax with her identifying Dexter as their new target.
  • I remain enthralled by the opening titles, which are among my favorite credits sequences of all time. They look amazing (especially in high-def), and the idea of making regular morning activities all resemble acts of horrible violence is brilliant.
  • Why was Max Gail there as the tour boat operator Deb interviewed? Usually, when you cast a recognizable TV face, he's going to turn out to be far more important to the plot, but Gail had only the one scene.
  • The more we see of the flashbacks to Harry teaching his code to young Dexter, the more I realize how lacking the actor playing teen Dexter is.
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Tell Me You Love Me: Dave and Katie on the couch

Spoilers for the fourth episode of the maddening, annoying, occasionally awesome "Tell Me You Love Me" coming up just as soon as I go out for ice cream...

As I've written a few times since the summer began, I watched all 10 episodes of this show in a rush, even though much of it -- specifically, two-thirds of our three main couples -- either bored me (Jamie/Hugo) or outright angered me (Caroline/Palek). I stuck around for an episode or two past the pilot, I'll admit, because I wanted to see how far out they were going to push the edge of the nudity envelope, but by the time we got to this fourth episode, the sex scenes had already been reduced in both frequency and edge-of-envelope-pushing. It was the non-sexual content of this episode that kept me watching, dammit.

In a series in which almost nothing ever happens, this was the episode where a lot happened (relatively). Dave finally joins Katie in therapy (in the best scene of the series). Hugo cuts the cord with Jamie, Jamie starts hanging with Boone from "Lost," and Jamie goes to see Dr. Foster and reveals that all her paranoia about Hugo's unfaithfulness was simply her own guilt over never being monogamous. And Caroline and Palek? Well, they're still having the same fights over and over and annoying the hell out of me, but at least Dr. Foster finally called out Caroline on her complete and utter self-absorption about this fertility process. (And Caroline's stunned reaction to that was one of the few times in the series that I laughed, though I'm not sure I was supposed to. I just hate her and her stupid suit-buying husband so, so much.)

Now, things happening with characters I don't care about wouldn't be enough to make me keep watching. But by this point I was so wrapped up in the Dave and Katie storyline and Tim DeKay and Ally Walker's great performances (which are totally award-worthy but will be ignored because everyone hates this show) that Dave's explosion in therapy really shook me. What's as great about that scene is how each of them has a right to be mad, and yet they're each missing the point. Katie feels like Dave just trashed their entire life with his mockery of Cheerios and minivans, but Dave's just trying to do what she and Dr. Foster want and express some of the reasons behind this prolonged sexual slump.

Dave feels too overwhelmed by all the parenting minutiae -- as supported by the later scene where they're talking about head lice and car loans -- to view his wife as anything but a partner in child-rearing. And yet any couple with kids (particularly those who don't have a nanny or other assistance) get bogged down with all of that and somehow still know where their libidos are being kept. There's something more going on here, and while I won't say what the rest of it is (or even if the show gets around to explaining the rest), the performances by DeKay and Walker and the obvious love between the two characters -- something that I never really feel with the other two, even at times when they're being affectionate -- kept me watching till the end.

What did everybody else think? It seems more and more people are dropping off every week. For those who've stuck it out, was this episode enough to keep you around for the long haul?
Click here to read the full post

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Doctor Who: Master plan

Very brief spoilers on the season's penultimate "Doctor Who" episode coming right up...

Sci Fi sent out a screener of both this episode and next week's finale, and in keeping with my policy to only talk about episodes that have already aired in the States, it's hard for me to say much about the Master/Harold Saxon's rise to power. However, I will say that, when the Master transformed from Derek Jacobi to John Simm last week, I was disappointed that Jacobi only got to embody pure evil for four or five minutes, and nothing Simm did last night made the disappointment go away. Simm probably needed some emergency dental work from all the scenery chewing he did; he made even David Tennant's most screamy moments over the years seem like models of subtlety.

That said, I've had it drilled into my head enough by longtime "Who" fans and writers that the show is, first and foremost, made for kids, and I suppose I could see that Simm as Saxon would be a lot more fun for the young folk than Jacobi as same. I suppose.

What did everybody else think? And, like me, anyone who's seen the finale needs to remain mum about it.
Click here to read the full post

Friday, September 28, 2007

Moonlight open thread

Another night with only one newbie debut. I've said what I wanted to on "Moonlight," so now it's your turn. Bonus points to anyone who finds a way to trash it that's as clever as "Moonlight sucks" without being remotely as obvious. Click here to read the full post

Grey's Anatomy: This is absolutely childish and ridiculous

Sigh... Once more unto the breach with "Grey's Anatomy" spoilers coming up just as soon as I can figure out why I'm still watching...

Okay, it's cost-benefit analysis time. On the good side of the ledger for the premiere:
  • Yang and Karev as mentors. Both could occasionally be grating when they were talking down to their fellow interns, but they have genuine reason to condescend to the newbies, and Oh and Chambers and the writers are clearly enjoying this arrangement.
  • Bailey and the Chief. Shonda actually came up with a semi-reasonable reason for Miranda to not get the chief resident job (never mind that I think Callie was originally established as a year behind Miranda, and if I'm right, that she shouldn't be eligible for the job) and one that was a celebration of Bailey's awesomeness rather than an attempt to take her down a peg. (As opposed to the character assassination happening to Callie, but more on that below.)
  • Lexie Grey. Yes, she's still being written as Meredith circa season one in an attempt to make us like her, but I didn't mind the manipulation, if only because there are so few characters left on this show to like.
Now for the bad side, and I'll try not to pile on too much:
  • Izzie as a mentor. So, whatever, they reinstated her as a surgeon after her complete break from reality at the end of season two, but if there's a doctor on this show who should be forced to repeat their intern year -- if only to prevent them from being allowed to influence younger doctors -- it's Izzie, not George. And, of course, she proves her unfitness for this role with her first patient of the day. Speaking of which...
  • Izzie saves a deer. No. Not cute, not character-illuminating. Just dumb. Seattle's a reasonable-sized city that I'm sure has at least one animal hospital. Why did no one -- whether the grouchy interns or the kid's dad -- ever once utter the phrase, "Can't we just call a vet?"
  • Callie as punching bag. Hey, remember when Callie was cool? Remember when she rocked three different surgeries in the same afternoon, when she was so outgoing and full of life and confidence? Can't have that, can we? So now the character exists entirely so the writers can dump on her, in a devolution far worse than anything that's being done to Addison on the spin-off. Did Shonda catch Sara Ramirez flirting with Denny Duquette or something? I just don't get it, and it pains me to watch any scene with Callie in it.
  • George still loves Izzie. Speaking of someone not getting it... ugh.
  • Meredith/McDreamy break-up sex. In my post about "The Office," I talk about how bringing together two Unresolved Sexual Tension characters doesn't have to be the end of a show. I guess that's easier on a comedy where the couple in question aren't the stars, much harder on a romantic drama where the title character's involved. Not that I ever cared that much about this duo (which I recognize puts me in the minority of the viewership), but these constant break-ups and reunions are as silly as if Shonda had just kept them apart for three seasons before letting them kiss.
  • Did I mention that Izzie saved a deer, and that she and George still love each other?
  • George as undercover intern. I get that Lexie's trying to do him a solid by keeping his secret, but I didn't even think it was supposed to be a secret until about halfway through the episode. Shouldn't the other interns know something's up by how friendly the residents treat George compared to the rest of them? This story has nowhere to go but another humiliating moment for George, wherein he will no doubt blow up at Callie and go running into fair Izzie's arms once and for all.
  • The Seattle Grace attending shortage. George had to deliver a baby because Addison (who was always apparently the hospital's only OB/GYN) is gone, McSteamy had to reattach an arm because Callie was stuck on paperwork (and because the writers never have enough genuine plastic surgery cases for him), and I shudder to think about what's going to happen the next time they get a heart patient. I'm not saying the show needs more new characters, what with the 16 new interns and all, but I miss Burke, off-screen homophobia and all, and I really miss Addison, even though a faded copy of her has her own show.
So why am I still watching? I have no idea, save the same masochistic feeling that kept me glued to all 22 episodes of "Studio 60" last year. I doubt I'll blog every week -- life's too short -- but it took me a long time to cut the cord with "ER" even after the Mark Greene Deathwatch, so I guess inertia will keep me tuning in for a while still.

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

The Office: Crash into you

Couple of housekeeping points. First, if you want to hear my "All Things Considered" interview, you can follow this link. Second, I'm not going to do a separate post for the "My Name Is Earl" premiere, but if you want to talk about it, you can comment in the post about my "Earl"/"House"/"Unit" column.

Spoilers for "The Office" season premiere coming up just as soon as I study some recent footage...

A long time ago (in TV years), there was "Seinfeld," and within "Seinfeld" there was "The Boyfriend," an hourlong episode so consistently brilliant that it cemented the show's status as TV's next great comedy. Now there's "The Office," and not so long ago there was "Casino Night," an hourlong episode so consistently brilliant that yada yada yada...

Unfortunately, the obvious brilliance of "The Boyfriend," coupled with the fact that each "Seinfeld" episode featured far more material than could be squeezed into 22-24 minutes, led Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and NBC to produce many more hourlong shows, none of which were remotely as good as the original. They had their moments (the Judge Reinhold "Schindler's List" parody is a favorite of mine), but they usually felt padded and awkward.

Meanwhile (and skip to the next paragraph if you see where I'm so obviously going with this), the obvious brilliance of "Casino Night," coupled with all that excess footage of the supporting cast that kept getting left on the cutting room floor led Greg Daniels and NBC to produce many more hourlong shows, yada yada yada...

Now we're starting off season four with a bunch of one-hour episodes in a row, and based on "Fun Run," I still feel like "Casino Night" should be considered the exception, not the rule.

There was some absolutely brilliant material in there, sure. I whooped for a very long time after Michael hit Meredith with the car (which worked both because Meredith is absolutely the one that would happen to, and because they shot it from Michael's POV, as opposed to all those hit-by-a-bus gags that are so popular elsewhere). Kevin's righteous indignation about Pam and Jim's subterfuge was hilarious, as was the notion of the camera crew just confronting PB&J (which I think is a much better 'shipper nickname than Jam) with the footage. (Daniels said he wanted to remind viewers that the Talking Heads were part of a documentary format; that was the most obvious of several reminders). I also loved Pam's reaction to getting a look at Michael's "dangling participle," as well as little throwaway moments like Kelly's ongoing confusion about her religion, Andy comforting Angela while his nipple tape protruded, Creed's Talking Head about the pros and cons of being a cult leader vs. cult follower, among others.

But I don't feel like the episode hung well together at all. Some of that can be blamed on the length, and some can't.

While the pre-destined coupling of PB&J is one of the biggest developments in the show's history (more below on how the writers are handling it), Michael's 17 Stages of Grief reaction to hitting Meredith with the car and Dwight killing Angela's cat are not stories that held up well stretched to an hour. They were too slight, focused too much on the series' broadest main characters at their cartooniest, and featured very little behavior that's recognizably human in any way. What was that second half-hour even about? Usually, when Michael has one of these spaz outs and Pam talks him down, you can understand the impulse behind it -- say, throwing the bird funeral because of his fear of dying alone and unloved -- but this was just Michael acting foolish for no real reason other than the runtime.

Michael's initial attempts to weasel out of any blame for the car accident were fine, but once he started talking seriously about curses, then setting up that meaningless charity fun run, we went off the rails in a hurry. It reminded me of Michael's apology video from the episode with the pornographic watermark -- silly and missing the point even by Michael standards -- only stretching over two-thirds of an hour. Dwight trying to figure out why Michael tried to murder Meredith and later offering to pull the plug on her were also pushing the outer edge of the disturbing Dwight envelope. (Dwight killing Angela's cat was more within acceptable limits, but would have been much funnier if it was condensed.)

And yet I'm very pleased by the approach to PB&J. As I've said before, resolving the Unresolved Sexual Tension doesn't have to be the death of a show. (More often than not, in fact, UST shows are ruined by trying to postpone the inevitable for too long.) "NewsRadio" put Dave and Lisa together in episode two and had far more fun with them as a couple -- first in secret, then as a topic of constant office mockery -- than if they had just flirted off and on for years. We had now reached the point where the 'shippers were going to riot if they didn't hook up, and this episode showed that they can be a couple, be funny, and not dominate the show. Good. More of that, please.

A few other notes:
  • Now we know why Daniels didn't want to say how many episodes Rashida Jones would be in. Does a two-second flashback scene -- shot through the window to the break room, and obviously done last season when Jim was still Big Haircut -- even count as an episode appearance? She had more screen time in that summer vacation YouTube video (which now seems like a brilliant fakeout, as it implied she'd be around for a while to make things uncomfortable). Goodbye, Karen Filippelli. I'll miss you and your, um, exotic looks. (Was her father a GI?)
  • Focus on continuity: not only was Meredith's bat attack a key plot point, but the "rabies nurse" who picked up the giant check was the stripper from Bob Vance's bachelor party. At least, I think so; as you may recall, I was too afraid to actually look at my television during that Michael lapdance scene.
  • Jan the psychotic clingy girlfriend has potential to be at least as funny as Jan the frustrated boss.
  • While I didn't like the curse angle overall, I think I'm going to have to start referring to myself as 'stitious instead of superstitious from now on.
  • Dwight wanting to pull the plug was stupid, but that scene had some good moments, including the intern trying to tell a joke on-camera and the revelation that Meredith has also been bitten by a racoon and a rat. ("Separate incidents.")
  • I'm still laughing this morning at Jim's shirtless Talking Head: "Oh, I'm sorry. Is this a working office and not a French beach?"
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Dexter still a killer drama

Today's column previews the new season of "Dexter":
This time of year, I get a lot of "So what's good on TV?" chitchat when I'm at parties. I rattle off the usual suspects, both new ("Reaper," "Pushing Daisies," "Mad Men") and older ("The Office," "Friday Night Lights"), then inevitably make the mistake of bringing up "Dexter."

"Oh, what's that?" they'll ask.

"It's this drama on Showtime," I'll explain, "about a guy who works as a police scientist by day, and at night as a serial killer who only hunts other serial killers."

At this point, they'll start taking two steps back and looking frantically for someone -- anyone -- else to talk to, while I smile blandly and insist, "It's really good!"
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mad Men: Doublemint Don

Spoilers for the 10th episode of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I sit through a Billy Wilder movie marathon...

Boy, I wish AMC had scheduled this show so that its run would have wrapped up before the network season began. It's not that I'd be torn between watching it and the rotting corpse of "ER," as "Mad Men" would beat almost every network drama head to head for me right now (and I see most episodes in advance, besides), but because each episode is so dense and layered that it deserves a deeper analysis than I'm capable of giving it now that I'm blogging 17,000 other shows. So I'm going to hit this episode bullet-point style, and trust you very smart people to cover everything I miss. Based on the comments for the recent episodes, I think the show's in good hands.

So, breaking it down story by story:

Roger's twin trouble: Boy, John Slattery has no problem playing appalling creeps, does he? I thought his golden shower-loving comptroller from "Sex and the City" couldn't be topped, but the entire sequence with the twins made me feel very dirty. Comparing Mirabelle to his daughter and sugggesting he wanted to suck her blood like Dracula was bad, but the squirmiest moment for me was when he asked them to kiss, and Mirabelle sadly noted that everyone asks them to do that. You want the perfect way to destroy a girl's self-esteem so she'll sleep with your ancient WWII veteran behind? Convince her that she's worthless except as part of a matched set.

Now, do we think the writers will actually bump off Roger? I know there's been a lot of speculation that Slattery isn't long for the show based on his "Very Special Guest Star" designation, but that's not unheard of treatment for the biggest name in a cast of unknowns (see Heather Locklear on "Melrose Place," to name one precedent). Roger dying would open some interesting story possibilities -- Cooper looking for a new partner, Don perhaps being considered, the jockeying by the chipmunks to move up the ladder, Joan trying to land a new semi-steady man -- but I would hate to lose the oily, entitled charm that Slattery brings to the role. And his loss would in turn deprive Jon Hamm of the opportunity for great moments like Don's half-angry, half-kind, "Mona! Your wife's name is Mona!" while the paramedics were (slowly) wheeling Roger out of the office. (My favorite Don moment since his Jesus/kabuki sales pitch to the Belle Jolie people.)

Joan's roommate trouble: Speaking of annihilating a woman's self-esteem, how about Joan's poor roommate Carol? On the one hand, Carol has no one to blame but herself for trailing after the obviously hetero Joan like a lovesick puppy for so many years, hoping against hope that Joan might one day decide to switch teams and notice the knock-out blonde in the adjacent bedroom. On the other, it was still heartbreaking to watch Joan completely dismiss her declaration of love like it never happened, and then to see Carol give in and tell her lame middle-aged suitor to do whatever he wanted to her.

That Joan somehow didn't recognize Carol's deep and obvious love for her suggests either a willful blindness, a sign of the social mores at the time (it never would occur to Joan in the same way that the chipmunks have no gaydar about Salvatore), or that she's not as good at reading people as she suggests. Whatever the reason, it's a shame she probably doesn't recognize that Salvatore's queer as a three-dollar bill (though he was trying awfully hard to seem not while hitting on the various twins), because if ever there were two characters on this show who could really offer something to each other as friends/sympathetic ears, it's Carol and Salvatore.

And yet Joan gets her own tragic moment as she has to hold her head up and act professional in front of Mr. Cooper -- not realizing that he's sharp enough to know who's doing who in that office -- after hearing of Roger's heart attack. For a man who sold himself to Don as inherently self-interested a few episodes back, Cooper had himself a selfless moment when he advised Joan she could do better than Roger. (Or was it selfless? I suppose you could argue that he thinks Joan will be a better secretary to him if she were in a happier relationship, but I doubt that.)

Pete and Peggy's sexual harassment seminar: Only one real scene 'twixt these two, but a good one (and you know I'm generally ambivalent about them), as Pete -- Pete! -- accuses Peggy of acting unprofessionally when in fact she's going out of her way to be professional to him in the face of his constant advances and retreats. I usually have an issue with Vincent Kartheiser's delivery seeming too mannered, but there was genuine cruelty in Pete's retort to Peggy referencing their wild romp on the couch: "That's some imagination you've got. Good thing you're a writer now. What do you need me for?"

The truth about Dick Whitman, part one: When you have a fundamentally mysterious central character like Don/Dick, you have to walk a very fine line between revealing enough of the mystery to help the audience understand him (and keep them from getting annoyed at your evasiveness) and giving so much away that the mystery disappears. Nearly two weeks after I first watched this episode, I still can't decide whether Don's confession to Rachel falls too far on the latter side of that line.

Sure, we still don't know the reasons and mechanism for his transformation from Dick to Don, but that scene spelled out everything else we needed to know, including some things that were so strongly implied in "The Hobo Code" episode that further elaboration was unnecessary. Now we know the exact translation of "I'm a whore child," why his stepmom clearly hated him so, the identity of "Uncle Mack," etc. We even had more clarification than was needed of Don's attraction to Rachel. We already knew he was drawn to her as a fellow outsider and independent thinker; did they have to share the mom dying in childbirth thing as well?

And yet, damn is Jon Hamm good. He'll never get within sniffing distance of an Emmy nomination, but there are very few dramatic actors on television at the moment whose work I enjoy as much or more. (Hugh Laurie, Kyle Chandler, Michael C. Hall, and...? I think that's it.) Even as Don is spilling his guts and eliminating some of his mystique, I'm fascinated by the guy.

And I see I somehow didn't even manage to discuss the series' first references to "The Apartment," which has a lot of relevance for both Joan and Peggy. What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Big Shots open thread

I have nothing to say about Thursday's lone rookie show, "Big Shots," save that I hate each and every main character on it, even though I like several of the actors a lot in real life. What say you? Click here to read the full post

It's not easy being green

And now for the shows I actually watched live (or close to it) last night. Spoilers for, in order, "America's Next Top Model," "Kid Nation," "Gossip Girl" and "Top Chef" coming up just as soon as I pretend to get a tracheotomy...

I'm in general an "America's Next Top Model" agnostic, tuning in a few times a cycle to laugh at the models being stupid and/or the photo shoots being creepy (crime scene photos! gender-bending!) but never caring enough to make it appointment viewing. But dammit, stupid Tyra Banks has made me care by casting Heather, the girl with Asperger's. I know enough people with various degrees of Asperger's that I want to see how she does, even though I could easily predict everything that's happened to her so far: from the other girls being that ignorant and mean about it (particularly the one who whined that she wouldn't want Heather to "cling" to her, which misses the entire point of Asperger's) to the fact that Tyra's going to keep her around for a while for uplift purposes. Still, getting the first photo callout (and the other girls' reaction to same) was a nice touch, and while I don't expect her to win, she does take a good picture and I guess I'm around as long as she is. (Prettiest/most model-y girl by far? Lisa, but, like that awful one with the purple weave said, is Tyra -- sanctimonious, Oprah wannabe Tyra -- really going to pick an ex-stripper?)

And I think I've seen all of "Kid Nation" that I need to. It's kiddie "Survivor," and while the To Eat Or Not To Eat dilemma plays out a bit differently with kids than it did between, say, Kimmi and Alicia, the show's neither appalling nor exciting enough to be appointment viewing.

I'm not at the quits stage yet with "Gossip Girl," but my feelings remain the same as they did after the pilot: it's a very well-executed teen soap with almost no adult appeal. For me, most of the fun comes from noting the minute variations between it and "The O.C.," like how the brunchers were all agog at Dan simply shoving Chuck, when the Newpsies would have needed Ryan in a full-out brawl to grind to such a disapproving halt; or (as Fienberg noted when we talked) how Penn Badgley makes a much less amusing Adam Brody substitute than Zachary Levi on "Chuck." (Also, I like how Dan's hair grew eight inches since the pilot, which took place the night before.) I continue to suspect that Chuck is going to get the Luke treatment and be portrayed as not such a bad guy (for a date rapist, anyway) by mid-season, but I don't know that I'll still be around by then.

Finally, "Top Chef" winds up with what most of us assumed would be the top three (since Tre went home, anyway), but with some curveballs along the way. Casey had been edited as co-frontrunner with Hung for a while, but the comments about her elk being too rare seemed like the closest thing to a harsh criticism any of the Elimination dishes got, and I briefly thought she would go home instead of Brian "Elk isn't seafood" Malarkey. And what's up with a challenge like this so late in the competition? It felt like last week's challenges signaled a move away from the gimmicks and towards some serious kitchen artistry now that we were close to the finale, but now we're back to things like cooking fish next to a river or trying to please a bunch of rodeo types with game? (Also, way to complain about Hung's lack of Vietnamese cooking during an Elk challenge, Colicchio. Are you going to spend next week whining that Casey shouldn't cook pan-Asian because she's a white chick from Dallas?) Dale acquitted himself well with his Plan B, but the editing has been hammering home the Hung's technique vs. Casey's artistry for so long that I can't see him being a factor next week.

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

Radio somewhere

I'm supposed to be on NPR's "All Things Considered" today at 4:20 Eastern to talk about the new season. Click here to read the full post

Put a stake in it?

Only one column today, focusing largely on the many iterations of CBS' "Moonlight":
Look at that man in the picture above. His name's Alex O'Loughlin, and people at CBS are convinced he's a star in the making -- so much so that they've repeatedly gone in and "fixed" every single thing about his new vampire detective show "Moonlight" (tomorrow at 9 p.m., Ch. 2) except that O'Loughlin plays a vampire detective.

Since the day in May when "Moonlight" was picked for the fall schedule on the basis of a short presentation film, CBS canned the original creators and replaced them with producer David Greenwalt -- who knows a thing or two about undead PI's from his days running "Angel." Then, one by one, CBS fired and replaced every actor other than O'Loughlin, and when Greenwalt left the project for health reasons after a few episodes had been written, they replaced him with Chip Johannessen.

Even in the annals of the Show in Trouble, this level of tinkering without simply scrapping the show feels extreme. I'm sure people high up at CBS believe this is a case of not throwing out the baby -- O'Loughlin, last seen as Vic Mackey's would-be replacement on "The Shield" -- with the bath water, but based on the series' first two episodes, he doesn't seem worth the effort.
There's also some brief thoughts on season two of Showtime's "Brotherhood." To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wednesday rookie round-up

Spoilers for, in order, "Bionic Woman," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Life" and "Back To You" coming up just as soon as I eat a tangelo...

I made most of my complaints with "Bionic Woman" clear in the column -- Michelle Ryan's bland, the fight scenes aren't that impressive, etc. -- but I had a few other issues. First, while I've enjoyed Jason Smilovic's Mamet-lite dialogue on other shows like "Karen Sisco" and "Kidnapped," there are moments here where it really goes awry, notably the "like a ride at Disneyland" exchange between Sarah Corvus and the German guy. ("Which one?" "I've never been." Then why the bleep did you bring it up? Who talks like that?) Second, there were two scenes that were borrowed pretty liberally from comic book movies: Jamie's sprint past the car from a famous deleted scene from the original "Superman" (where the little girl is revealed to be a young Lois Lane), and Jamie's tentative jump across the roof from the first Sam Raimi "Spider-Man." I've got no problem with homage and even outright theft in some cases -- if I didn't, I couldn't watch "Heroes" -- but both of those scenes in their original form had a sense of joy that's almost entirely lacking from the grim, grim "Bionic Woman." The bleakness of David Eick's work with Ron Moore on "Battlestar Galactica" works because of the premise -- humanity nearly annihilated and on the run from the annihilators isn't exactly a fun sexy time, you know? -- and Jamie's initial freak-out at going bionic mirrors the original character's reaction back in the "Six Million Dollar Man" episodes that introduced her. But I think one of the reasons I and so many other critics responded so strongly to Katee Sackhoff as Sarah -- aside from the massive charisma advantage she has over Ryan -- is that she's the only person in the entire show who seems to be enjoying herself.

I like Smilovic and Eick's other work, and there are enough glimmers of something potentially great -- notably the opening scene with Corvus taking two to the chest and apparently not dying -- that I'm far from giving up on the show, but it's not remotely as good as I was hoping.

When I first watched the "Dirty Sexy Money" pilot back in June, I was engaged but not overly jazzed by it, but when I went back to watch it again last week -- followed by a solid later episode -- I found myself enjoying it significantly more. I'd still put it in about fourth place of the new shows (behind "Reaper," "Chuck" and "Pushing Daisies"), but comfortably ahead of everything else, and much of my previous ambivalence comes from my general lack of interest in traditional soaps. (It's the same reason I've never entirely warmed to "Ugly Betty," even though I recognize all the good stuff on that show.)

Anyway, brief specifics, as I already covered a lot in my review. First, I like Peter Krause a lot more when he's using his tightly-wound powers of self-righteousness in the service of comedy ("Sports Night") rather than drama ("Six Feet Under," where Nate was consistently my least favorite part of the show), and I'm glad that Craig Wright and Berlanti seem to agree with that, as he spends so much of both the pilot and the other episode I saw getting flustered with the petty, entitled, naive Darlings. I'm not entirely sold on Natalie Zea as this legendary seductress -- and given her character's connection to Krause's, she's arguably the most important of the five siblings -- but I was greatly amused by Billy Baldwin and Glenn Fitzgerald as the angry minister, and also by the notion that Samaire Armstrong's character would care about succeeding on her own merits, since that thought has no doubt never entered the real Paris' head. Again, given my personal tastes, I'm not sure this is a show I would watch long-term if I had a different job, but I think Wright and Berlanti are doing a solid job so far.

"Life" in a nutshell: He loves fruit! Is amazed by modern technology! Loves more fruit! Loves his Zen koans! Invades personal space like he's Goren from "Criminal Intent"! Loves even more fruit! Is not attached to that car! Unless there's fruit involved!

I so, so wanted to like this show -- Damian Lewis has vast reservoirs of goodwill stored with me for playing Dick Winters in "Band of Brothers" -- but Charlie Crews annoys the hell out of me (which is hard to do, given the aforementioned goodwill), I have no idea whether Sarah Shahi can act (and was amused to see the writers contrive a shower scene for her in the middle of an arrest), and the case in both this episode and the second one bored me to tears. Out of loyalty to Lewis, I'll give this bad imitation "House" one more shot with the third episode, but barring a miraculous turnaround, I'm out.

Finally, episode two of "Back To You" was like an odd mirror image of the pilot. In the first episode, it felt like Grammer and Heaton got most of the genuine characterization and handful of good lines (mainly Chuck's speech about returning to Pittsburgh, delivered seconds after realizing that he had a daughter) while the supporting characters were the broadest, sitcommiest types available. Here, Chuck and Kelly are in the middle of a dead goldfish plot that should have been banned from all sitcom writing rooms circa 1988, while the subplot about Gary trying to look macho in the face of the taser zap was really funny. It's broad physical humor, sure, but at least it was in service to some vaguely recognizable human behavior, in that local news reporters have to do stupid stunts like that all the time, and here we just followed the premise to its logical conclusion.

Ratings for the premiere were good, not great, and my feelings about the show are a shade below that: mediocre, not good. My wife loves traditional sitcoms, so I suspect I'm not done with "Back To You" just yet.

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

Private Practice: Focus!

First of all, I've gotten a couple of e-mail complaints from people who don't like the grab-bag approach of discussing multiple shows in the same post, largely because the comments then go in multiple directions at once. However, as I've written, I'm only one man, and it's not feasible for me to do individual posts for every show, especially on a busy night like this one. Besides, even when I do single-show posts, the discussion often travels along several forks, and in the past I've found people are pretty good at identifying which show they're talking about in a multi-show thread.

Once we're another week or two into the season, I won't be writing about as many shows, both because some will have been canceled or pulled and because others will have ceased to interest me past the point where I have screener episodes. (See "K-Ville," for instance.) And given that I'll be seeing fewer shows in advance moving forward and can only watch a limited number of shows each night, the grab-bag posts won't be quite as busy.

That long pre-amble out of the way, I'm going to break up tonight's nearly all-rookie line-up into a few posts. "Private Practice" gets the solo treatment, because something about Shonda Rhimes shows always brings out my long-winded side. Then I'll hit the other shows I've seen in advance -- "Bionic Woman," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Life" and "Back to You" -- in a grab-bag post, and hopefully come back on "Kid Nation" and "Gossip Girl" sometime tomorrow.

So, spoilers for "Private Practice" coming up just as soon as I make sure I've lowered all my blinds...

I'm in a bit of a rush here, as I had this post all written and ready to go when Mo Ryan told me ABC sent her a slightly revised version of the pilot on Monday. She told me which two scenes had been changed, so at least I didn't have to watch the whole thing again, and it's instructive and even a little promising to see the new version.

So, the two changes: First, the opening scene where Addison resigns from Seattle Grace was originally a casual little chat over coffee with Chief Weber, instead of the more heated confrontation you saw. Second, Addison's big speech to the other doctors originally ended with her admitting that she didn't have a big finish, followed by much mockery from the other docs. Here, they added the big finish, including the whole "world-class surgeon" bit that left the others practically kneeling in her presence.

Small changes, but what they have in common is that Addison seems far more confident and aggressive and in control of her own destiny -- in other words, like the Addison everybody liked enough to make her deserving of a spin-off. And those changes suggest that someone finally got through to Shonda to stop making Addison act like such a wimp. Baby steps, but at least they're in the right direction.

But there still be plenty of problems here, mostly centering around all these borderline middle-aged characters acting -- as all Shonda characters do -- like they're still in high school. The fascination over Pete having kissed Addision, Sam seeing Addison naked, the giggling over the geezer giving the sperm sample... I could just barely tolerate that coming from George and Izzie (season one and two versions), but what's the point of doing a show with more mature actors if you're going to write them the same way you do your twentysomethings? And the custody fight for the dead guy's sperm was so quintessentially David E. Kelley that I'm stunned it hasn't already been a five-episode "Boston Legal" arc. (Or maybe it has, you tell me.)

That said, there's a reason I stick with "Grey's" even when it makes me throw things at the TV: that Shonda, when she's not reliving her own wonder years, developing unhealthy crushes on fictional people or letting these same fictional people tell her how they should behave, can be an exceptional, moving writer.

There wasn't a whole lot of the Good Shonda on display here, but there were traces of her in the subplot where Violet (the Amy Brenneman shrink) tries to diagnose the crawling woman in the department store. Specifically, I liked the device of Paul the store manager as the gauge of how seriously we were supposed to take the plot at any given moment. At first, he's comic relief, complaining about the woman's presence, offering Violet stuff but insisting she pay for it, etc., but when the (admittedly not that surprising) truth came out about her dead son, his mood completely shifted, and there was something oddly powerful about the way he said, "Yeah, I can do that for Jenny" in response to Violet's request to clear the area for a few minutes. (I'm not exaggerating when I say I actually misted up just looking at that line in my notes from the episode.) And then, at the end, he's back to asking Violet to pay for the flip-flops, but they have an understanding now. It's those small, human moments that Shonda's so good at when she's not busy doing all that other stuff that drives me up a wall.

So I'm around for a little while, but throwaway characters like Paul and the amazing likability of Kate Walsh -- even playing a flakier version of Addison -- will only keep me around for a little while. Get better, fast.

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

The women are super; the shows aren’t

This column looks at the underwhelming premiere episodes of "Bionic Woman" and "Private Practice":
Jamie Summers has the classic complement of super powers: faster than a speeding car, able to leap from building to building in a single bound, rip apart a chain link fence like tissue paper, etc. Addison Montgomery can't do any of that, but she has uncanny abilities of her own, notably an innate likability so strong that she became one of the most popular characters on "Grey's Anatomy" even after being introduced as a witch-on-wheels.

Unfortunately, these two super women have been stranded in two not-so-super shows: "Bionic Woman" and "Private Practice." Though they may be the two most-hyped new shows of the season -- "Bionic" as a remake of the '70s series, "Private" as a "Grey's" spin-off -- they're also the most disappointing.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Money makes the new season go ‘round

Today's All TV column looks at three new shows about the filthy rich: "Dirty Sexy Money," "Big Shots" and "Life":
"The love of money is the root of all evil," explains Nick George, hero of the new soap "Dirty Sexy Money" (10 p.m., Ch. 7). "That’s what they say, anyway. Money makes everything go wrong."

Money happens to be the root of a lot of new TV this fall. We’ve already seen the CW’s "Gossip Girl," about the children of Manhattan’s elite, and CBS’ "Cane," about a Miami sugar and rum dynasty. Now comes "Dirty Sexy Money," in which Nick (Peter Krause) goes to work for a filthy rich and powerful Manhattan family; plus tomorrow night’s debut of "Big Shots" (Thursday at 10, Ch. 7), about four Master of the Universe types who get together to play golf and moan about how tough their lives are.

But where the money — among other things — makes everything on "Big Shots" go wrong, "Dirty Sexy Money" finds so many ways to tackle this world the right way.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday rookie round-up

Again, I pretty thoroughly covered the pilots of both "Reaper" and "Cane" in columns over the last few days, but I wanted to add a few thoughts and offer an easy space for people to comment afterwards. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I get my driver's license renewed...

Ahhh, "Reaper." So much goodness. So much rich, glazed goodness. The highlight is obviously Ray Wise as the Devil. Wise has been around forever, only occasionally getting the kind of role he deserves, and anyone who saw him as Leland Palmer on "Twin Peaks" knows that Satan is actually the second most-evil character he's ever played. Whenever I would mention that Wise was playing the Devil in this show to a Hollywood type who wanted to know what I liked this season, they would always smile and say, "Hey, that's perfect," and he lives up to billing, suave and happy and charming as, well, hell.

As I've written, I like the otherwise-identical "Chuck" a lot, but Wise gives "Reaper" the edge as my favorite new show. Beyond that, the differences between the two shows are matters of degree: Do you prefer the wild, Jack Black-esque theatrics of Tyler Labine as the sidekick here or the mumbled, Seth Green-esque neuroses of Joshua Gomez on "Chuck"? Bret Harrison getting hit in the face, repeatedly, or Zachary Levi being socially awkward? Are you a supernatural person or a spy person? Do you prefer your hottie love interests to accentuate the hotness or pretend like it's not that big a deal? Etc., etc.

Kevin Smith's never been known for his directing flair, but, like I said in the column, he did a vastly better job handing the tone shifts than he did with "Dogma," and there are a lot of lovely comic grace notes, with my favorite being Sam and Sock having to wait around for the Dirt Devil to recharge after their triumphant suiting-up montage. (I also liked the runner about their pal's eyebrows, paid off without mention at the very end.)

Really, my only concern is that I haven't seen a second episode. Can they do this every week? How crucial was Smith (who won't be around in the future) to what worked? And how can I get the number for Ray Wise's dentist?

I may give "Cane" another shot or two, both out of loyalty to Jimmy Smits and to a lack of interest in "SVU" and "Boston Legal," but man was that pilot dull. And there seems to be no good reason for Smits and Hector Elizondo to not pull Nestor Carbonell aside and say, "You know those people you're so eager to get into business with? We just found out they murdered your baby sister when she was three years old." Well, no good reason except for creating some lame brother against brother tension.

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

A man stands alone

Brief spoilers for the "House" and "Unit" season premieres coming up just as soon as I make a ransom demand...

I hate to overhype, but you make the call: funniest "House" ever? Between Dr. Buffer and his lupus suggestion, wilson's reaction at discovering that his lunch date with House was just an invitation for B&E, Wilson's various ransom notes/calls (and good to see Wilson successfully get over on House for once), and Cuddy's increased frustration with House and her inability to stop enabling him, there were very few points where I wasn't laughing. Okay, maybe the parts with the living patient actually being the dead patient and vice versa weren't exactly knee-slappers (and I didn't see it coming, even with the seemingly-pointless scene featuring the other boyfriend), but this episode was pure pleasure -- and episode two is even funnier.

(One Cuddy question: I know House mocks her revealing wardrobe all the time, but did anyone else think her outfits in this episode -- particularly the white dress with the coat -- were even more provacative than usual? Maybe it's just been too long since I watched an episode, but I always remembered Cuddy's clothes as less slutty than House always claims.)

Meanwhile, I almost never write about "The Unit," even though I'd guess I watch at least half to two-thirds of the episodes each season. I wouldn't call it a guilty pleasure, because I don't feel guilty watching any show with Dennis Haysbert as the star and David Mamet sometimes supplying the dialogue (though the non-Mamet episodes usually suffer in comparison to the ones he writes), but I usually struggle to find anyone else who watches the show or cares enough to discuss it on a blog.

Like I said in yesterday's column, both this episode and next week's are devoted to undoing the cliffhanger as quickly as possible, and while I recognize the necessity of reassembling the group that's in the title, I liked the idea of Jonas and the guys being rogue for a little longer. I mean, Haysbert shaved his head and regrew his goatee, and with his shirt off looked unchanged from when he first played Pedro Serrano 18 years ago! That is a man you do not mess with, and I hope he sticks with the new/old look for a while. Also impressive, albeit not in the same age-defying way, is Scott Foley, who played sensitive guys on "Felicity" and "Scrubs" so convincingly that I remain surprised at how convincing and interesting he is as this very smart, circumspect Special Forces badass.

I have the two episodes mashing together in my head a bit, so I won't go into any more specifics, but I want to figure out a way to keep juggling this show, "House" and "Reaper" for as long as I can this season, because I enjoy all three in different ways.

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

Heroes: Same as it ever was

Spoilers for the "Heroes" season premiere coming up just as soon as I change the toner cartridges...

Due to all the DVD screeners I got in advance, "Heroes" was the only Monday show that I care about that I had to wait to watch live. After that much-discussed dud of a first season finale, I wasn't exactly counting the seconds until it began, but I thought Kring and company did a solid job of reintroducing the characters and setting the table for season two. I'm not sure I'm ever again going to have the blind faith in the series that existed before the finale, but as long as I'm willing to accept that "Heroes" is mostly flash without substance (save the Claire/HRG relationship) and that a lot more thought will go into the journey than the destination, I can still enjoy it.

Lots of stuff to deal with, so much so that Nikki and Sylar only appeared in the preview for upcoming episodes. Parkman is divorced (woo-hoo!) and starring in a "My Two Dads '07" remake with Mohinder and Molly. Mohinder is trying to go undercover with The Company, using Ned Ryerson (now with alchemical powers!) to do it. Claire and HRG (I refuse to call him Noah, sorry) are trying to lay low in their new identities, and yet HRG is still in some segment of the paper business, and Claire is still interested in cheeerleading. (Though didn't the "Six Months Earlier" episode establish that she never really liked it and only joined for peer pressure reasons?) Hiro's engaged in some kind of feudal Japanese version of "Back to the Future" (I eagerly await him showing Kensei a wallet-sized photo of the Nakamura clan, with his sister gradually disappearing from it.) And in the present, Papa Nakamura faced a death threat from one of the original Company members and got thrown off a building seconds before faithful Ando could bring him a sword. We've got our fugitive newbies Maya and Alejandro (and as a "Sopranos" die-hard, it was hard to look at Maya without immediately breaking into an AJ-style crying jag about Blanca) and, oh yeah, Nathan and Peter ain't dead! And Nathan has a beard! And Peter a completely bang-free buzz cut!

Okay, so it's a little hard to get worked up about the survival of the brothers Petrelli, since we all suspected they'd be coming back long before Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia (and, for that matter, Zachary Quinto) kept making promotional appearances with the rest of the cast. I'm not sure whether the survival of these three characters makes me even more annoyed with the finale -- since it negates much of the drama about Hiro killing a man and the Petrellis sacrificing their lives to save the world -- or I'm glad to have so much of that episode quickly reversed. But I'm genuinely intrigued by Amnesia Peter, as he has the potential to be a lot less mopey and pretentious than original recipe Emo Peter.

As for the rest of it, my favorite characters remain Hiro and HRG, and I was pleased with both of their storylines. Hiro's increasing disillusionment at English poseur mercenary Kensei was a lot of fun, as was his dismay at turning Marty McFly ("Oh, no. I broke history!"), but the episode's highlight had to be HRG laying down the law to his new boss.

A few other thoughts:
  • Can someone who's more anal about series continuity remind me how much, if anything, Mrs. Bennet and Claire's brother remember about her powers, Radioactive Ted burning down their house, their reasons for being fugitives, etc.? They've all had their minds wiped so many times -- well, everyone but Mr. Muggles -- that it's hard to keep track.
  • RIP, Papa Nakamura. I really liked the scene where he explained to Ando why he continued to wait every day for Hiro's return at the spot of his disappearance, and I'm hopeful the writers find a way for George Takei to still appear on occasion. Given that this season's theme is going to be the origins of the Company and its original group of super types, the occasional Takei flashback doesn't seem unreasonable, does it?
  • Claire and Micah suggest that, while super parents produce super kids, the powers themselves aren't passed down. So I'm assuming that Claire's flying new love interest is no relation to Nathan. It's already creepy enough that so many fans were predicting a Claire/Peter 'ship after their first meeting; I don't need more potential incest speculation.
  • Because it bears repeating: Parkman's wife is gone! Yes! And by starting to apply his powers professionally, he's already much less of a lox than he was last season. I like Greg Grunberg and want to like Parkman; this is all a step in the right direction.
  • They kept Mohinder's narration. Grr. Argh.
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Cliffhangers and their aftermath

The second column looks at the season premieres of "House," "My Name Is Earl" and (very briefly) "The Unit" and how each one tries to deal with a status quo-altering cliffhanger...
Season-ending TV cliffhangers are a bit like getting blitzed at the office Christmas party. It seems like a lot of fun at the time, but the next day you have to deal with what you said to your boss and figure out whose underwear you woke up in.

It was hard to find a major network series that didn't end last season on a status quo-altering cliffhanger. Inevitably, that leads to a lot of excited fan speculation for a few days, followed by the writers assembling for production of the new season and asking, "Okay, how quickly can we turn things back to normal?"

To pick just three of this week's returning shows for example purposes, "House" closed with House's three sidekicks either getting fired or quitting; "The Unit" ended with the entire team either imprisoned or becoming fugitives from justice as part of a conspiracy to destroy The Unit, and "My Name Is Earl" sent its hero to jail, having confessed to a crime he didn't commit to spare his ex-wife from going down for her third strike.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Victor Sifuentes sleeps with the fishes?

The first of two columns for today looks at "Cane" on CBS:
Since CBS' new Jimmy Smits drama "Cane" (10 p.m., Ch. 2) so liberally borrows from "The Godfather," I feel like the only way to discuss the show is with a series of quotes from Don Vito, Michael, Clemenza and company

"I believe in America."

"Cane," like "The Godfather," is about a large immigrant family caught up in violence and intrigue in their pursuit of the American dream. The Duque clan comes from Cuba, not Italy, and their major businesses are sugar and rum, not olive oil and loansharking, but they have a patriarch on his last legs named Pancho (Hector Elizondo) and three sons waiting to be his successor.
To read the full thing (which also has some good news on "Mad Men"), click here. Click here to read the full post

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday rookie round-up

I reviewed all three of "Chuck," "Big Bang Theory" and "Journeyman" in today's columns, but I'll have some brief additional thoughts on each coming up just as soon as I price out nail guns at the Large Mart...

Like I said in the column, of the three "Chuck" episodes I've seen, the third is the strongest (the second is the weakest). This one obviously spends a whole lot of time setting up the premise, introducing the three worlds in which Chuck will move (home with his sister, at work with the Nerd Herd, and saving the world with Adam Baldwin and Olivia Wilde lookalike Yvonne Strahovski). I like Chuck the character a lot already, thanks to Zachary Levi (who doesn't play it exactly the same way Adam Brody would have, even though they also look alike) and his chemistry with Joshua Gomez as Morgan the sidekick, and I love the little deadpan comedy moments, like Chuck being menaced at the Large Mart by the bomb maker, Chuck's "Any Way You Want It" ringtone going off in the middle of a crisis and, of course, the porn star computer virus saving the day.

One thing I didn't get around to mentioning in my "Big Bang Theory" review is how much obvious contempt the writers have for all three of the main characters. I'm not saying you can't have a comedy where the characters aren't very likeable for the audience, but the writers have to like them on some level for it to work. It was obvious that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had great affection for David Brent on "The Office" even as they made him behave like an absolute git, or that the "Taxi" writers probably would have preferred hoisting a beer with Louie DePalma more than any other character on that show. I don't get that at all between these writers and these characters, who just come across like the stereotypical two dweebs and an airhead that the premise suggests. Jim Parsons made me laugh a few times with the way he delivered his lines, but beyond that, bleah.

Where some of my optimism about "Chuck" comes from having seen further down the road, the lame second "Journeyman" only makes me less enthusiastic about a show I was already agressively meh about. As a literary-type drama, it's not going to hold a candle to a book like "The Time Traveler's Wife," and the creators aren't interested enough in the sci-fi trappings to have any fun with the rules of time travel. There was one scene in the original pilot that I really liked, the bit where Dan unearths the toolbox with the engagement ring to prove to his wife that he'd traveled to the past, but I realized in watching the final version that most of my affection for it came from the U2 song being used; The Fray doesn't carry it nearly as well.

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

Prison breaks

Brief spoilers for the second episodes of "Prison Break" and "K-Ville" coming up just as soon as I find a crowbar...

To quote George Costanza, that's it for me! Fox sent out two episodes of each on DVD, and with the rest of the networks now back in action, I can't see myself making time for either show going forward.

In fairness, "Prison Break" had a few moments here and there that reminded me why I used to like (but never love) the show in the first season, notably Michael figuring out a way to get the water running again as a means of saving himself and Whistler. And I can't hate too hard on any show that gives Robert Wisdom regular employment. But I think with a show this ridiculous, you have to have far greater affection for the characters than I've ever had. Maybe I'll check back in on a night when "Chuck" and "HIMYM" are in repeats or something, but I didn't really miss the show after I stopped watching a third of the way into season two, and I doubt I'll miss it this time, either.

I don't even see the need to check in on "K-Ville," though it's also hard to hate too much on a show that's providing so much cash to the New Orleans area. I said last week that I thought the twist about Cobb being an escaped prisoner was ridiculous, and the treatment here didn't do anything to lessen that. I mean, I'm glad that they didn't go for some kind of false tension where it turned out that somebody in the prison recognized him (other than the crazy guy who called him a ghost), only to get killed before they could spill the beans. But it just doesn't add nearly as much as it takes away, and we're now two for two on eeeevil conspiracies to exploit the Katrina aftermath. I like Anthony Anderson, but I can't see him getting enough to do to make me want to come back anytime soon.

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

HIMYM: Tramp stamp of approval

Spoilers for the "How I Met Your Mother" season premiere coming up just as soon as I experiment with my sideburns...

Ahhh... "HIMYM" is back and all is right with the comedy world. Bays, Thomas and company once again prove themselves to be continuity nerds of the best kind by opening the new season by letting Barney finish the sentence he was in the middle of when last season ended, then close the episode with Barney opening up the Slap Countdown website. (Conveniently, Slap #3 should come sometime late in November sweeps, if others have done the math correctly. Me, I'm too lazy for math.)

In the meantime, they found a mechanism for introducing The Mom -- sort of -- that doesn't paint them into a corner at all. All we need to know is that The Mom carries a yellow umbrella and on occasion has reason to walk through Ted's neighborhood. Easy. Million scenarios for that, whenever they want to use one. (Then again, given the news that Danica McKellar will be coming back even though her last episode ended with that annoying Future Ted claiming he never heard from her again, maybe they're getting better at unpainting those corners.)

Speaking of the Slap Countdown, I feel as if I need to write a macro for "While this one wasn't as brilliant as 'Slap Bet,' it was still pretty damn funny," because that now tired but accurate sentiment applies. For me, the two big comic highlights came from one of the show's best humor veins: the gang's love of coming up with creative ways to mock each other. The various nicknames for Mutton-Chop Ted ("Olde-Timey Inventor") and Mustache Ted ("Persian Night Club Owner") were great, but my favorite moment of the night may have been Lily's anticipation of Ted, oblivious to his tramp stamp, saying the word "butterfly." (Alyson Hannigan can cut her hair any frumpy way she wants to if she's going to give us more line deliveries like, "He's gonna say it!")

I thought both of our Very Special Guest Stars were respectable, though Mandy Moore was funnier on "Scrubs." The writers very wisely didn't ask her or Enrique Iglesias to do too much comic heavy lifting, instead making the characters funny only through other characters' reactions to them: Barney's resentment of Amy, or Marshall's developing man-crush on Gael.

If they hadn't definitively established Ted as a non-Jew last year -- the disappointing explanation I've been given is that Ted is based on the decidedly non-Semitic Carter Bays -- I would start speculating about what Ted would have to do about the tattoo to avoid getting the Special Section treatment, but I'll be curious to see if the tat comes up again in the future. Maybe he can be on his way to get it removed when he bumps into The Mom, I don't know.

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

Let's not do the time warp again

The second of today's two columns opens with a review of "Journeyman":
"Journeyman" is the story of Dr. Sam Beckett, a prize-winning scientist who uses his own time travel invention and winds up trapped in the past, leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

No, wait. "Journeyman" is the story of Marty McFly, a high school kid who drives a DeLorean 30 years into the past, where he bumps into his parents as teenagers and has to make sure they fall in love so he can be born.

No, wait. "Journeyman" is the story of Henry DeTamble, a Chicago librarian who suffers from a genetic disorder called Chrono-Displacement and spends his life shifting back and forth through time, always finding a way to return to his beloved wife, Clare.

No, I'm sorry. None of that's right.
There's also a review of "Big Bang Theory," which I wasn't a fan of. To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

I consider myself a nyerd...

The first of today's two columns reviews the nearly identical -- and almost equally good -- "Chuck" and "Reaper":
Meet Sam. Sam is in his 20s, an underachieving college drop-out who works at a big- box store and lives with his parents. One day, through the actions of his folks, he develops superhuman powers he doesn't want and has to moonlight for Satan or face eternal damnation.

Now meet Chuck. Chuck is in his 20s, an underachieving college drop-out who works at a big-box store and lives with his sister. One day, through the actions of his ex-roommate, he develops superhuman powers he doesn't want and has to moonlight for the U.S. government or face a quick execution.

Yup, a new TV season is upon us, and that means it's time for the annual case of double vision.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

A tale of two blogs, take two

Almost since I started this blog, my bosses at the Ledger have been asking if I'd be willing to relocate it to I've resisted, for various reasons, but with the new season starting in a few days, it's finally happened.

Starting today, the All TV blog at is live and will not only be a reliable place to find every single column I write (and without either the printer dialog box or the 14-day expiration date my stuff used to get), but will also mirror most, if not all, of the content on this blog.

What does this mean to you, the What's Alan Watching? at Blogger reader? For now, nothing. This site continues to exist, continues to be my baby, and neither the amount nor style of my postings will change. With the exception of things that were already (full columns, press tour, "American Idol"), there won't be anything at the blog that won't also be here. For the most part, items will be posted here shortly before they go up over there. (However, one advantage of the blog system is that I can schedule posts to go up automatically at a pre-designated time, so if I've written an entry in advance to go up at, say, 11 p.m. and then go to sleep early, it would be up at then and not live here until the next morning when I wake up and manually publish it.) You can keep coming here, every day, and find new content with lame "as soon as I..." jokes.

That said, the mirror site plan is a compromise, and not necessarily a permanent one. There may come a point in the future where I'm asked to relocate to, permanently -- and if called, I will have to serve.

Now, the reason I started this thing on my own is because I had issues with, some of which continue to exist, some of which don't, and I wanted to create an experience that was as reader-friendly as possible. has made a lot of improvements -- compare the way the current blog looks to the way the press tour blog looked in ye olden times) -- but also has other things that can and should be improved.

So here's what I'm asking: anyone who wants to be a beta tester of sorts and help make better, take a few minutes -- today, tomorrow, next week, whenever you have the time -- and spend them poking around the blog to figure out what you feel needs improvement. Does the comment registration process bother you? Do you ever get hit with the demographic survey? Are there other things that are problematic that I've just stopped noticing? Take a look and send me an e-mail.

I don't know when it's going to happen -- maybe months, maybe a year, maybe longer -- but I think the permanent move there is going to be inevitable. As far as I know, I'm the only critic at a major paper or magazine who's been operating "a rogue blog" (as one friend puts it), and my bosses have been far cooler about that than most would be, given that I spend a decent amount of every work day on this. That they're even letting me keep this place going as competition of sorts for the blog is something I can't imagine happening at most other papers.

And if it's going to happen, I want the transition to be as easy as possible, and I want the new location to be as good as it can be, and the people best-suited to help me with that are you guys.

Thanks, and I'll keep everybody posted on new developments. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flowers in the dustbin

Spoilers for, in order, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and Ken Burns' "The War" part one coming up just as soon as I pick up some deep-dish pizza...

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" remains in a groove after last week's brilliant episode. The show is always at its best when Larry's idea of how the world should work is at odds with how the world actually works, and here he gets into trouble over excessive ice cream sampling, inequitable perfume store lines and whether or not the flowers a a roadside memorial are available for picking. (I've written often in the past that I can usually find a way to see Larry's POV on this stuff; not so much with the flowers.) And as he gets into trouble with Cheryl, and Loretta, and the private school dean of admissions, and even Funkhouser (who is or isn't Larry's best friend, depending on which one you ask), he has to apologize a lot. But that's okay; as Larry puts it, "You don't need to tell me how to apologize to people. I've been apologizing to people on a daily basis since I'm six years old."

Bob Einstein as Funkhouser is probably my favorite "Curb" supporting character. There's just something about his stoic suffering in the face of Larry's standard behavior that always kills me. (He also, even at this age, has this intimidating physical presence that suggests he very well could pop Larry's head off if he wanted to.) Here, Funkhouser was involved in the episode's best running gag, about the foul-smelling 50 dollar bill. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for humor about stuff that reeks ("The Smelly Car" is always a "Seinfeld" I treasure), and you have to ignore certain questions like why Larry doesn't just buy the flowers with a credit card, but Larry throwing the 50 like a grenade into the center of the wake was another perfect subplot-connecting "Curb" conclusion, like last week's "I know who Anonymous is!" from Cheryl.

I wrote about the "Simpsons" and "Family Guy" premieres in Friday's column, but I want to add a few points. First, I loved that the "Simpsons" opening credits acknowledged the events of the movie, both with Bart skateboarding through the rebuilding Springfield and with Spider-Pig's cameo. (Though was I the only one who wanted more, more, more Spider-Pig?) It also looked like a lot of the footage of Homer's beloved private plane taking off and landing was done in the same richer, more three-dimensional animated style that the movie employed (or, at least, like "Futurama" employed); I'm going to be curious to see whether there's more of that moving forward. Like I said in the column, most of the big laughs were in the first act ("Hey you, beer me"), but I like that, even within the far wackier universe the series now takes place in, there was an attempt to take Homer's desire for success -- and Marge's desire to give it to him -- semi-seriously. (Question: why do I know the music they play over Homer's trip to Krusty Burger? I know it's a famous piece -- or film score -- but I can't for the life of me identify it.)

Like I said in the column, this was my favorite "Family Guy" episode in quite some time: all pop culture humor and no straining for plot or character, which the writers don't care about. I was, however, amused that even within an all-spoof episode, MacFarlane and company still had to go on tangents about other bits of pop culture, whether it was John Williams' orchestra performing the "People's Court" theme (good) or Obi-Wan recreating the "Dirty Dancing" finale (much longer than it needed to be). I would say that the "Robot Chicken" episode -- subject of the very funny meta-argument between Peter (voice by the "Family Guy" creator) and Chris (voic by the "Robot Chicken" co-creator) -- had some more laugh-out-loud moments (their version of the Tatooine cantina -- particularly the biography of the guy whose hands get cut off -- was better than the equivalent "Family Guy" scenes), but "Family Guy" got in a lot of good, affectionate digs at the original movie.

Finally, I'm not sure how much interest there's going to be in "The War," especially with PBS debuting it on the eve of the new TV season. Admittedly, "The Civil War" and "Baseball" did just fine going up against the network launches ("Civil War" was the biggest hit PBS has ever had), but those aired 17 and 13 years ago, respectively -- back when you could also successfully program original scripted shows on Saturday night -- and they covered territory that wasn't nearly as well-trod as WWII has been the last few years.

So I don't know whether I'll be blogging about additional episodes, but I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the debut. First, as usual, Burns is a little too in love with the small details. I understand that he's trying to make us feel like the people of Waterbury, Mobile, etc. are our current friends and neighbors, but I don't need to know everyone's street address, for instance. I really love Tom Hanks reading the columns of Al McIntosh from Minnesota (Burns' interest in them led to last week's publication of a McIntosh book collection; if they ever do an audiobook with Hanks, I'm there), but for the most part, I admired the work of Burns and his researchers more than I was really engaged by it. There's more interesting stuff coming as early as the second episode (which features a great sequence about life on a Flying Fortress), but if I didn't have to watch the whole thing for work, I doubt I would have stuck it out that far.

Also, to expand on a thought in the column, Burns chooses to deal with the added Latino material in the most obnoxious, defiant way possible. The episode proper ends, with Norah Jones singing "American Anthem" and all that, then we get the passive-agressive "each had a story to tell" title card -- basically, "Sure, I can add this stuff, and stories about Native Americans and Greek immigrants and every other group you want, and I still wouldn't be able to tell everybody's story" -- and then a completely segregated segment on these two guys from L.A. And this is actually the best of the three tacked-on segments, as at least it lasts a little while, whereas the next two run about five minutes each. I'm not saying Burns should or shouldn't have acquiesced to the protesters, but either he should have stood firm or done a better job of integrating the material into the story proper. This is a solution guaranteed to annoy everybody.

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

Tell Me You Love Me episode 3 open thread

If anyone's still watching -- and judging by the comments last week, it sounds like most of you have given up -- feel free to talk about the third episode of "Tell Me You Love Me" here. Click here to read the full post

Doctor Who: Captain Jacko is backo

Spoilers for the latest episode of "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I fend off a trademark infringement lawsuit from the New York Posts's headline writers...

One of my biggest pet peeves about spin-offs is how they can deprive the parent show of a great supporting character, while that character has to change significantly to carry his or her own show. I'm not saying the presence of Captain Jack would have solved whatever problems "Doctor Who" seasons two or three had (and he absolutely needed to be gone at the end of two and the start of three for the sake of the "Doctor alone" arc), but I missed the guy and his cheeky, omnisexual enthusiasm. And whatever guy John Barrowman is playing over on "Torchwood," it ain't the Captain Jack who was so much fun as the Doctor and Rose's third banana.

So I was really glad to see him back on the parent show, and without either his "Torchwood" team or the levels of brooding he's forced to display on the spin-off. This was Jack as Jack should be written -- the guy who's perfect at everything, yet somehow you like him for it -- and even when the conversation turned serious, as it did while he was in the radiation room, there was still a lightness to Jack that made it work.

The Doctor's initial disdain for Jack confused me at first. While I understand that he ditches companions all the time, sometimes cruelly, we saw with Sarah Jane's return that he doesn't automatically treat them like the losers he hung out with in elementary school before he blossomed and joined the popular crowd. They did a reasonable job of explaining the reaction, though I couldn't help but wondering why the Doctor wouldn't want an immortal companion, someone he wouldn't feel compelled to dump for fear of losing him to old age or whatever.

In the four episodes of "Torchwood" I've seen (including next week's laughable "Cyberwoman," which we can talk about after it airs), I kept waiting for some explanation of how Jack got back to our present after being stranded on the space station, and I've obviously been curious about his new immortality and the severed hand he seems so attached to. Nice to have that all explained, and in a fashion that didn't just feel like tedious exposition.

And if I've just spent a bunch of paragraphs talking about Jack and not about the return of the Master, it's because, as you know, I came to the show with Davies and Eccleston. I've read up on the history of the franchise just enough to know that the Master is the Doctor's nemesis and all that, but I didn't exactly go "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod itstheMaster!" when his identity was revealed. Martha recognizing the watch as being identical to the one the Doctor used in "Human Nature" was a definite spine-tingler, and I moved to the edge of my seat as I realized the Master was going to strand our heroes at the end of the universe (to be menaced by a bunch of Roger Corman movie extras), but this was the first time in the new series (including the Sarah Jane episode) where I felt like the longtime fans were going to have a vastly different reaction to a show than I was.

Still, Derek Jacobi did a terrific job of playing the transition from doddering old Professor Yana to the Master, so much so that I wish we'd get to see him continue the part in the rest of the season (this was the first of a three-part finale). On the other hand, I like John Simm from "Life on Mars," and he's similar enough physically to David Tennant to create an interesting yin-yang effect going forward.

What did everybody else think? As always, we're only talking about episodes (whether of this show or "Torchwood") that have already aired in the States, so if you've seen the rest of the season, don't start revealing -- or even strongly hinting -- about stuff that's still to come.
Click here to read the full post

A war to weary the soul -- and the viewer

How do you approach a 16-hour Ken Burns documentary about World War II? If you're me, you start off with a gratuitous "Simpsons" reference:
There's a joke in an old "Simpsons" episode called "Kamp Krusty" that kept running through my head as I watched Ken Burns' World War II documentary "The War." It's the last day of school at Springfield Elementary, and as the kids stream out of class, one teacher calls them back and exclaims, "Wait a minute! You didn't learn how World War II ended!" The kids pause with bated breath for the answer, and the teacher tells them, "We won!" The kids all cheer and run off to play.

If that's one extreme of World War II education, then "The War" represents another extreme. The film, co-directed by Burns and Lynn Novick, is 16 hours told in seven chapters over two weeks. Some of it is moving, some enlightening, some frustrating, but all of it feels very, very long.

To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toby time

Spoilers for the "Burn Notice" finale and the "Survivor: China" premiere coming up just as soon as I buy a clean cell phone...

As mentioned in yesterday's column, I really dug the two-hour "Burn Notice" finale, which had both the drug and spy stories working neatly in parallel. For the first hour, we assume each story is going one way, with the husband and wife and Richard Schiff, respectively, as the bad guys, only to have the real villains show up around the 60-minute mark, with the stakes increasing dramatically.

Bruce Campbell will be the first guy to tell you that he's not a master thespian, but it's always cool to see how a slight tweak of his usual affect can make previously buffoonish behavior seem completely serious and credible. I liked seeing Sam hold up under torture, just as much as I was glad to see Michael finally bring his mom into the fold (not that I love the character, but the secret identity stuff didn't pay enough dividends to be worth the time spent on it) and to see Michael make some progress in his thing with the CIA.

At the same time, I hope the cliffhanger doesn't foretell too big a change in the status quo for next season. I thought the show hit a really nice groove towards the end of this first season, and I'd hate to see them flip things around so quickly.

Meanwhile, "Survivor: China" has one more episode to convince me that I'm not tired of the format. (I've already seen the "Earl" and "Ugly Betty" premieres.) It's not even that the premiere did anything particularly bad, but I've seen so many iterations of this show now that it's really hard to get enthusiastic anymore, even though we had an awesome season as recently as last fall. A few bullet-point notes:
  • On behalf of all people from the New York/New Jersey area, please shut up, Courtney. You don't speak for us in your disdain for the rest of the world. Okay, so maybe you do a little, but not that early and often.
  • Frosti does parkour! Awesome! I love parkour, and if you don't love parkour -- which you can get a cinematic glimpse of in these clips from "District B-13" and "Casino Royale" -- I am very sad for you. Not sure how useful a style of running designed for urban areas will work in the jungle, or even on these obstacle courses (the gravedigger's brute strength turned out to be far more valuable), but I'd like to see him really show off soon.
  • They're back down to 16 players for the first time in ages (Pearl Islands, maybe?), and it's about damn time. 16 is already too many people to keep track of, but 18 or 20 was ridiculous.
  • Given the number of times now that contestants have been stranded with only the clothes on their backs, why in the world would anyone be stupid to wear high heels, buckle boots, no bra, etc., at any point while in the employ of team Burnett? From the instant I showed up, I would be wearing several layers of the most comfortable, versatile clothing possible. (Not that I would go on "Survivor," as the hunger thing and my dislike of sleeping outdoors would make me useless.)
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post