Friday, October 06, 2006

"I need to start drinking during the day": Gleanage cleanage

Although I am quickly becoming swamped by the task of trying to recap every half-decent television show on the box (I think Todd agrees with me on this), I will for the moment persevere and recap some of this week's episodes that interested me the most.

I'll begin with Gilmore Girls, a show that's most dear to my heart, which aired its second episode minus its creators on Tuesday. Now, when the news that Amy Sherman-Palladino, who I believe to be one of television's finest writers, was jumping ship and taking her wingman husband Daniel Palladino with her, I feared the show would become nigh-unwatchable. However, so far that's not really the case: new showrunner David S. Rosenthal is so far keeping the Girls above water, although barely. The required pop culture references don't have the wonderfully odd variety of yesteryear, and the supporting players have so far been used poorly (Taylor installing a traffic camera in the season 7 premiere was a direct ripoff of an earlier storyline, Paris being a scary tutor seemed very stale, and Liz & TJ's dinner with Luke was very, very dull), but Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel have been acting their asses off and keeping all scenes involving them--which is 90% of the show--either perky or emotionally resonant. My sympathies still lie with Rosenthal for the corner last year's finale wrote him into, and he made the brave decision to keep these opening episodes mostly confined to Lorelai's emotional turmoil following her one-night stand with Christopher. Scott Patterson must too be applauded for his tightly-sealed take on a shellshocked Luke in Tuesday's episode. Luke could have been played in a much more sympathetic way, but his behavior here (basically bottling up his emotions and diving into denial) is in keeping with his character and in the end, endears him to me more. I'm the first to admit that Graham & Patterson don't exactly set the screen alight when it comes to physical chemistry, but I think too much has been invested in the 'written in the stars' pairing of Luke and Lorelai for it to be dashed now. If Rosenthal continues to handle the fallout of the breakup as maturely as he's been doing so far, I just don't think one can write off the Girls just yet.

That aside, there's no denying Gilmore Girls has been a bit of a downer this season. My pick for the heir to its throne of 'most charming show on television' is Ugly Betty, which looks to be the deserved breakout show of the year. The telenovela-inspired machinations of Vanessa Williams and the zombified lady she's in cahoots with couldn't interest me less, and the message of this week's episode ("Models don't have to be so thin!") wasn't exactly news. But there's just so much to love about the earnest, plucky title character. I also enjoy the unlikely team of her and her playboy boss, and Ashley Jensen of Extras is inspired best-friend casting (with Lucy Davis of the original Office also showing up this week in Betty along with her cameo in Studio 60, Ricky Gervais' eye for talent is clearly strong). Ugly Betty is simply hypnotizingly sweet. I swear, my lower lip trembled when I saw her bunny had been ripped up. Let's hope the need for a ridiculous plotline doesn't over-burden this show as it has Desperate Housewives.

Shark is proceeding along nicely, although it hasn't even vaguely broken outside of its formula so far. Now, that's OK--we're only three episodes in, and how long did it take before House started really hitting home runs? Still, outside of James Woods's electric performance, Shark is having clear trouble distinguishing itself at all. The ensemble of junior lawyers are a grey blur who all behave in the same basic lapdog manner, with just a slight variance in morality between characters. House quickly went to the trouble of giving its side characters backgrounds so that we could identify with their behavior better, but so far Stark's legal team are barely more than glorified assistants. Because, honestly, who wants to see anyone but James Woods deliver that closing statement at the end of the show? This week's episode included Stark grilling an adorable child about his possibly murderous father. That in itself is on the right side of ambiguous, but so far Stark's cases have been considered guilty from the start, with Stark's team merely trying to build the best case to prove such. A little more ambiguity towards the defendants, as well as a little conflict between the attorneys, might make things here more interesting.

I'll admit it. Grey's Anatomy kinda has me hooked, and these episodes haven't even really been very good! There's something about a beautiful cast and a hospital setting that just gets me hook, line & sinker. This week's melodrama included one good storyline, where Little Miss Sunshine Abigail Breslin played a girl who could feel no pain. The rest ranged from boringly obvious (George confesses to Callie that he needs space; Cristina realizes she needs to motivate Burke to get well) to boringly boring (Meredith continues toying with the boring vet and McDreamy, but still comes out thinking she's been wronged) to boringly incredibly annoying (Izzie stands outside the hospital for the whole episode, trying to work up the courage to talk to the Chief). Izzie's journey this season has been particularly laborious, and having her stand motionless for a whole episode seemed distressingly similar to having her lie motionless for a whole episode just two weeks ago. Grey's can also be very amateur in the way that it links patients' sufferings to the doctors' inner turmoils, and everything going on here really did hit the nail on the head in a yawnsome, formulaic manner. NEVERTHELESS. Have you noticed how pretty the cast is? 22.48 million Americans can't be wrong!

I want to cover NBC's comedies too, but I don't really have the energy. Basically, I thought Earl was fine, with Joy's moments being (as usual) the funniest due to her gleeful political incorrectness and Earl's reconcilliation with a circus sideshow being fairly standard stuff. and The Office was erring towards its darker side, which I approve of (even though it meant sacrificing a few laughs). I'm still not totally taken with Rainn Wilson's performance as Dwight though--he's just a little too broad for me. If he played things a little more low-key, especially in his scenes with the similarly (but far more effectively) broad Steve Carrell, he'd have less trouble winning me over.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Previously. On LOST.





And now, Todd and David discuss the premiere of :Lost:.

Todd: To be perfectly honest, I was quite worried about this episode. The previous two premieres (that crackerjack two-hour pilot and last season's riveting Man of Science, Man of Faith) were both so good and so expertly set the tones for the seasons to follow (namely, breathless action adventure and dark 'n' dreary pomo scifi something) that this episode couldn't help but be a disappointment, especially after a long stretch of episodes in season two that had a tendency to drag.

Plus, the episode was yet another Jack flashback. I get that he's the central character, and I like the way the show uses him to critique traditional American ideals of heroism, but I feel like we know almost everything about his backstory that would possibly be relevant (I can't wait to see an episode where he can't get a table at a restaurant and then tears up and screams at the wait staff).

Yet, somehow, this was a captivating and compelling hour, building easily on last season's finale, deepening the show's mythology, yet never betraying its central ripped-from-the-pages-of-pulp-novels characters. And all of this with only five series regulars!

The opening reveal (The Others apparently live in a suburban cul de sac in the middle of the island) wasn't quite as good as last year's Desmond reveal, but it came close (perhaps the greatest problem with it was that we were expecting it after the Desmond bait-n-switch last year). The gradual discovery of the extent of The Others' operations on the island, however, was well done. Rather than clunk us over the head with exposition, as Lost is wont to do, the various settings (the cul de sac, the underwater hatch, the zoo) were dispatched almost casually, with none of The Others stepping in to say, "Hey! Look! We have a zoo! We kept that polar bear from the pilot here!"

What's more, the central Jack flashback, while never revealing anything that much of a departure from what we already knew, was an important link in the storytelling chain. Jack drove his father back to the bottle, which drove his father to Sydney where he drank himself to death. Jack's mission to bring back his father (which we learned about in season one) was just another instance of this perpetually tortured man bringing further guilt upon himself.

To some degree, it's easy to deride the show for making Jack such a whipping boy (and eventually, it's going to feel completely absurd), but at the same time, the producers should be praised for turning Jack into a figure who teeters on the line that separates heroism from obsession -- what other network TV show would do that? In the best Jack episodes (Jack torturing Boone with rudimentary surgery in an attempt to save his life, Jack trying to save a woman only to find himself flummoxed by a miracle, Jack chasing after his ex-wife in a state that bordered on madness), we see just how warped people who have an extensive idea of what is "right" and "wrong" and then center everyone else's moral code around themselves can be. Jack is a good doctor and a natural leader, but he's also got a side to him that is constantly threatening to implode and take everyone else down with him.

There were some bad scenes -- Evangeline Lilly remains the cast's weak link -- but this was a better-than-average episode for Lost. Even the obligatory Sawyer-as-comic-relief scenes worked, perhaps because it's been so long since we've seen them (though I like to think it's because we got to see the put-upon tough guy basically turned into a trained bear). Elizabeth Mitchell, the only new regular we got to see this week, also acquitted herself well -- already, she and Matthew Fox have tons more chemistry than he ever had with Lilly.

The best element of Lost has often been its ability to wed the surreal to the hyper-real, its attempts to turn a beautiful landscape into an absurd landscape upon which its characters' dreams and nightmares can play out on. Freed from the burden of the hatch (which was interesting at first, but quickly turned into the same story point over and over) and a mythology the show could only, out of necessity, allude to for a whole season (The Others are refreshingly upfront in this episode), the show can get back to what it does best: simple morality tales, spiked with an occasionally over-obvious touch of human drama.

I know I'm in for another season.

David: Good call, Todd. What I really appreciated about this episode was, as you say, the lack of exposition while providing a lot of background info and more breadth to The Others as people. While I love the opening to Man of Science, Man of Faith as a piece of real technical skill (and it has that total "Whaaaaa?" Lost factor to it), I'll disagree with you and say this season's reveal was even BETTER. Really, it just expanded the idea of MOSMOF's opening, which is an almost ordinary and mundane, yet very bizarre and artificial dot of civilization on the island: the Others at a book club bickering over a Stephen King novel! How out of the ordinary, yet so ordinary!

Despite the slight sameness (like Todd said, I was definitely expecting something incongruous to open the season) there was something fantastic to it, because we learned far more than we've ever learned about the Others in those opening four minutes, a frenzy of excitement as Henry Gale/Ben barked orders at old faces like Ethan Rom and Goodwin, appearing for mere seconds amongst the chaos as Oceanic 815 rained down onto the island. The episode continued in the same vein, dropping typically cryptic hints and clues that I'm sure will frustrate more casual viewers. I'm happy to let the general mysteriousness slide, though, because I felt it fit the mood of the episode very well. From Jack speaking to Others ambassador Juliet through an invisible layer of glass, to Sawyer's encounter with another prisoner in the bear cages, to Kate's extremely surreal breakfast on the beach with Gale/Ben, and most jarringly the image of a locked door opening to reveal a column of raging water, the tone was peculiar and disorienting throughout. Again, the strange environment that the Hatch presented last year has been reshaped and expanded upon here, as the Others' camp seems to be a strange combination of a military zoo, a beachside paradise and Wisteria Lane.

Jack's flashbacks obviously couldn't quite live up to the Island material, but his descent into unhinged mania was a nice parallel and added to the unsettling feeling of the episode. Concerning Jack's character and Todd's comments on the writers toying with his 'hero' status--is it just me, or can one draw parallels with Seth Bullock of Deadwood? Like Bullock, Jack is someone who is an icon of morality in his community (Jack is a doctor, Bullock is Sheriff) but he suffers from the burdens of expectations placed on him, and he carries a whole heap of repressed emotion that can explode suddenly and surprisingly (seen most prominently in the episode S.O.S., when Jack rages at the unseen Others from their border). Just a thought, but personally I like how they've developed Jack's character from the heroic do-gooder running amongst the wreckage we saw in the pilot into someone far more ambiguous and unstable.

What was best about this episode? Knowing that the writers have no less than three other fascinating situations on the Island to dig into before they embark on the real meat of their planned arcs. The 6-episode 'miniseries' look like an extremely smart move, as that gives enough time to resolve all the loose ends of the season 2 finale as well as set up the central mysteries and conflicts of the season ahead. I'll echo Todd again when I say sign me up!

(By the way, I'd highly recommend checking out the Lost video podcast by showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. It's not particularly revealing stuff plotwise, but to me it lightens up the show a little when you realize the writers really aren't as ponderous and mysterious as all that, but in fact pretty funny and happily aware of the super-geekdom of their fanbase.)

(Another side-note: If you're looking for BSG stuff, check out an interview Todd participated in with stars Mary McDonnell and James Callis and executive producer David Eick here. And if you're looking to discuss the series premiere of The Nine, you can do that here too.)


"Everything is going my way unless I die": Gleanings from beyond the grave

These gleanings are killing me. Don't know how much longer they will GO ON. But look for more information when our 300th post rolls around in a few days.

For now. . .in chronological order. . .

CSI: How much more grim do we really need? Hm? The show's sense of portentious doom is starting to feel. . .old, which is something I haven't been able to say in the past. Indeed, the opening of the season premiere -- which involved Cirque du Soleil performers flying around to bombastic classical music while a casino imploded -- was just this side of completely insane. And then. . .Catherine got raped? What? This show has long been the sort of thing I could just have on in the background, but it's losing a sense of itself, assuming that bigger means better (a common syndrome for older shows -- if you've ever listened to David talk about ER, you know what I mean). I don't know how much more I'll be following this this year. If this dismays you, please get in touch.

On the other hand, I'll condense two episodes of The Class into one entry now. The show is sort of fun, and I think it's going to continue to get better, but this isn't a situation like How I Met Your Mother where the show started out with so much potential that continuing to watch it felt compulsory. Still, Lizzy Caplan is great, and the multiple storylines setup is something that could work better with a less-strained premise. What's more, the physical gags are always great -- if the show could somehow figure out a way to just do all slapstick, all the time, it would be better off. Even those of you who don't like the show (and I guess I would regretfully include myself in your number) have to admit that Holly getting hit in the face with a STOP sign was pretty great. Still, the Holly/Kyle storyline is a real strain and completely unbelievable on a show that aims for something higher and seems to miss it continuously.

Kidnapped revealed to us that lil' Leopold (and, honestly, I love that name) is in Mexico somehow and simultaneously showed us just why the show (which has been THE ratings disappointment of the new season) is so expensive. It appears that the production crew ACTUALLY WENT TO MEXICO to film a one-minute scene. They couldn't find a back street in New York (where they shoot -- on already expensive locations) that could convincingly double as Mexico? We also had to see a Spanish mission, then have a character say something about how it's not safe in Mexico? This is still a pretty good show, and the plotting is well-done (much better than that awful Vanished), but the fact that it's to be canceled imminently makes me more inclined to be hard on it. Paradoxically. Or something.

Everybody Ha-ates Chris had something of a schizophrenic episode -- the scenes with Chris struggling with love were smart and bittersweet while the scenes with Whoopi Goldberg as the neighbor having a fight with Rochelle over a neighborhood watch were a little too over-the-top on a show that has its verisimilitude as its greatest weapon. Rock's narration continues to have the best jokes, but the cast is capable of handling the funny stuff and the dramatic beats. The new time slot is hurting it (did you see the ratings?), but here's hoping Chris can find new fans in one of the worst time slots on the schedule.

I'm really liking The Amazing Race, but I'm really tired of The Amazing Race at the same time. The show, seeming to sense this, is taking its time to focus on the unusual friendships forming between teams you wouldn't expect (the coal miner and his wife, the gay couple and the black, single moms have formed an offbeat alliance that seems to be based on real friendship as opposed to strategic thinking). It's also upped the difficulty of the challenges and taken us to some interesting and different locations. That said, the race through the Hanoi Hilton to find John McCain's flight suit was horribly, horribly gauche, even if it was redeemed slightly by the brothers' decision at the end to take a moment of silence for what soldiers went through at that location. And I have to admit that it WAS fun seeing the father and daughter team (whom I actually quite liked) get gamed by an opportunistic local who wanted a ride to her brother's place.

Brothers & Sisters got better in its second episode, but it's still not quite worthy of the talent involved in it. The show is really just a high-toned adult soap (think NBC's long-running Sisters from the 90s), and it should embrace those roots, rather than trying to be too many things at once. Still, Libby had to hold back tears, so this show should play well to its target demographic. Which is women who like to cry, I guess.

Prison Break may have lost me. I could handle bizarre plot complications. I could handle physics that made no sense. I could even handle the whole "Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Prison Break" arc of early season two. But now the characters are acting out of character to introduce plot complications, and that may be unforgivable. I think I will keep watching to see if Haywire can make it to Holland on his raft with his dog and his floppy hat (I don't need to tell you that this idea screams spinoff potential).

Meanwhile, How I Met Your Mother spun out its funniest episode of the season so far. It was great to see Michael Gross (Steven Keaton of Family Ties) back in action, and the episodes of this show that play around with the general structure of the sitcom (this one started at one story, split it into three stories, then brought those stories back together at the end) are some of its best ones. It's been nice to see the show not put the focus on Ted and Robin and let its supporting players have the spotlight, even as Ted remains the main driver of the story. This episode, focusing on his parents and explaining a lot of why he is the way he is, went a long way toward making me like him that much more. This is a show that's really discovering what it is and broadening its horizons in its second season, and that's something worth watching.

Heroes seems intent on following its boring-boring-boring-boring-AWESOME format, which guarantees that every episode will be mostly hit and miss. For me, most of the misses involve scenes featuring any character that's not Hiro or Claire. Only Hiro and Claire seem believable as people who've just discovered superpowers, mostly because Hiro's got unallayed joy and Claire is terrified that those around her will find out. The others, who are dour and moody for no good reason, just seem a bit too much, though Greg Grunberg, who seems more confused by his powers than anything else, is a good addition to the cast. I like how willing this show is to burn through plot, but will that give the writers much to do after season one? I mean, gads, you've got a nuclear apocalypse lined up for November sweeps. Where do you go after that? Break out the push pins, Heroes!

And then there was Studio 60, a maddening blend of absolutely spectacular (Matthew Perry's performance), puzzlingly mediocre (the scenes where we were expected to believe a network president's DUI would be a huge deal in the media) and completely awful (Science Schmience?). What's holding me back from loving this show right now is its valedictory tone, as Aaron Sorkin praises himself for saving a medium that didn't need saving and writes completely unrealistic situations that just make no sense. Tim Goodman at the San Francisco Chronicle wants to know why people think that a show about entertainment can't be as important as politics. And, honestly, I would LOVE that show. I would WATCH that show. But Studio 60 a.) gets too much factually wrong about television and b.) feels like a completely condescending putdown to anyone in the audience who would dare not be a coastal liberal. Look, I'M a coastal liberal and I feel like the show is talking down to me. Not a good sign.

If you're looking for my Friday Night Lights and The Nine thoughts (and please, please, please watch both), they're up at House Next Door. Scroll down, like, an inch and you'll find a link.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

These ARE the shows you're looking for

Thoughts on Friday Night Lights (debuting tonight) and The Nine (debuting tomorrow night), the two best new shows of the season, are up at The House Next Door. Please check both the thoughts and the shows out.

As a bonus, you get my ramblings on why you should watch Battlestar Galactica.


Monday, October 02, 2006

"Is she also a cartoon character?": Veronica Mars, season three

If you don't watch the third season premiere of Veronica Mars tonight (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, 8 p.m. CDT/MDT), I will come to your house and bite you.

No. Really. I will.

It's sort of too easy to say that Ms. Mars is the heir to the Buffy throne -- what with her snappy quips and her platinum blonde locks and her tendency to have the entire world kick her around at all moments -- but that's a little too easy. Three seasons into its run, Veronica Mars is its own show, having completely emerged from the shadow of a show that seems to be an obvious forebear (even though it's not).

If you thought season two was too complicated and slow-moving, season three will be an improvement for you, what with its easier-to-follow big mystery and stronger emphasis on the mystery-of-the-week. If you like the show's scabrous sense of humor, you're going to like how much more scabrous it can be. And if you've never seen the show, jump on in. You're going to be fine. Most of the stuff that was too mythology-based, that made the show hard to jump in to has been eschewed.

The first 20 minutes of the first episode are full of funny jokes, but they might be a little slow for Veronica Mars alums, constructed as they are to ease in Gilmore Girls fans with the show's slightly over-the-top universe (if you want grounded reality, Friday Night Lights debuts tomorrow night too). The last 20 minutes, however, kick the season's first big mystery into gear and let the established characters bounce off of each other in new ways, while smoothly incorporating new characters into the show's milieu.

Most series that go to college falter because they never make college a part of the show's universe. VM does that and then some, simply because college offers more opportunity for petty crime than high school ever did. Plus, secret societies and the like are a bigger part of the college world.

Check it out tonight. Love it. Or I'll bite you.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Trust Him

I barely feel like I have the authority to blog about Doctor Who, given the depth of its history and webfandom. I'm no Who-head (I don't even know if that's the correct term), and before it was recently revived for the BBC to alarming acclaim, I had only seen the odd Tom Baker episode in the daytime, as is required for every British citizen. Yet here I am! Honestly, who'da thunk that a revival of a super-niche Saturday evening adventure show from Britain by the creator of Queer as Folk would be debuting its critically-acclaimed new season behind a critically-acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica? The world's clearly gone topsy-turvy.

However, in America I think Who needs all the pimping it can get, even though it's THE thing to watch in the UK (and David Tennant is just like, the coolest guy ever). There's a lot of reasons why Who could be a big success in the States, but it's just SO wonderfully yet dangerously rooted to its Englishness. On one hand, you have a delightful, rough-edged, truly LONDON leading lady in Billie Piper, completely undiluted and yet totally accessible to American audiences. On the other, who the hell outside of our dinky little island would have understood the evil What Not To Wear-bots from the end of the last season? For that matter, who even knows what the hell a police call box is? Even with a more conventional leading man in David Tennant (personally, I think that the other mooted choice of Bill Nighy would have been easier to market), Who is just too out there to become anything but a cult critics fave.

Forget all that, though! Because Doctor Who is AWESOME. There's literally nothing on television that's like it--nothing even comes close. Russell T. Davies, the man behind the revival and one of the best British TV dramatists working, perfectly balances the cheap-and-cheerful adventure heritage of the series with knowing humor and genuine character drama. Just when you think it might all be getting too cheesy, Davies yanks the rug from under you. I can't count on my hands how many times I've said, out loud, "I LOVE this show!" after Who has hit me with yet another emotional suckerpunch. Neither of Friday's two episodes--the Christmas special and season 2 opener--fully hit the masterful stride the show had attained by the end of its first season, but don't get too worried. You'll be eating out of Tennant's hand soon enough.

Yes, what of this Tennant character? He's replaced the already beloved Christopher Eccleston after only one season, and he's already replaced the leather jacket with a pinstripe suit and Converse All-Stars! Who does he think he is, right? I personally was highly averse to the idea of a cast change so quickly into the burgeoning new series, but now I can't imagine it all going down any other way. Tennant has a different and ultimately more suitable spin on Davies' idea of the Doctor being alone in the universe, his people lost to him in a mysterious time war. Eccleston, befitting his status as a heavily dramatic actor, played the Doctor as quite dark and brooding, with occasional lapses into bizarrely chirpy comic antics. It was just the right side of bonkers and I loved the Ninth Doctor, but I don't miss him.

Tennant is essentially perfect for Davies' imagining of the Doctor. His chemistry with Piper is crackling, as seen in Friday's episode "New Earth", where both the Doctor and Rose were possessed by saucy minx Cassandra, allowing for immediate hijinks playing on the everlasting sexual tension between the Doctor and his companion. Tennant, who was brilliant in Davies' previous miniseries Casanova, has a disarming, exitable newness to him, but he has no trouble showcasing the haunted edge to the Doctor--his intense sharpness towards the Prime Minister in "The Christmas Invasion" just one of the many alarming mood swings the viewer can look forward to. By having the Doctor regenrate so soon into the series, Davies gets to explore one of the most unique gimmicks of the show, and he pulls it off with grace. In "New Earth", Rose, like the viewing public, is confused by the Doctor and unused to his new personality, and the strange mix of sameness and newness that comes with any re-casting of a television role. It's all perfectly in keeping with the Who mythology yet wonderfully meta for the newer viewer.

With the phenomenon that Doctor Who has become in England, I'm worried that not even Davies is up to handling the flurry of cast changes and the two spin-offs (one, Torchwood, hits the UK very soon and is referenced about a million times in this season) he has planned. So far, however, Who's revival has gone swimmingly and with very few blemishes to its name. Stick with this show even if you weren't totally grabbed by Friday's airings--you can't keep your heart hard forever. I'll continue to dutifully blog away and hope those ratings stay strong. Maybe next time I'll get my review in before the deadline as well!


"Hi. Creed.": Some gleanings

Thursday night TV has gotten too brutal. I've already ditched Survivor (which got rid of its race distinctions too soon -- if you're going to go for controversy, REALLY GO FOR IT, Burnett), and I've passed Smallville, a show I never liked well enough to watch every episode of, even if I did like some of its characters, off to David.

And I'm still watching a LOT of stuff.

The night began (since I had seen Ugly Betty already) with NBC's beleaguered comedies, which continually underperform in the ratings (largely because NBC doesn't have a single safe night to put them on and no really good shows to pair them with). My Name Is Earl had one of its funnier episodes, making good use of a near-cameo from the always-willing-to-poke-fun-at-himself Burt Reynolds. The episode, which involved an attempt to bail Joy from jail, was the first to not focus on Earl crossing something off of his list, and it was a nice break from the show's occasionally rigid formula.

That said, the fact that the majority of the show was set in a strip joint kind of made me blanch. I'm certainly not a prude, and I like a little adult content in my TV shows, but Earl is a sweet-natured show, probably better suited to family viewing than just about anything else in primetime (the show's delightfully nasty double entendres have always been of the sort that would fly right over the heads of children -- and, hell, most teenagers). What's more, it's hard to make stripping seem sweet-natured (even though the show really tried by sort of implying that all men really want to see is hot women in bikinis jumping around a stage -- not that most straight men wouldn't watch, of course). And, of course, the show's central story of how a group of friends bands together to help another friend out is admirable. But still, showing a bunch of men sniffing a woman's breasts (even if it is just to get a whiff of the vanilla she's wearing for some reason) is a bit much.

Of course, since the episode was funny, none of this bothered me in the moment, but it did seem farther than the show has gone before.

I have no such compunctions about The Office, which is more of a 9 p.m. show stuck at 8:30 because there's nothing else to pair it with and the ratings aren't quite to the standalone point just yet. This week's episode mixed in a lot of plot development with some strong jokes. While it wasn't as instantly classic as last week's season premiere, it was funny and poignant, which is a solid combination where this show is concerned.

The show advanced a number of plots, from Pam and Roy's break-up and her re-entry into the dating world to the competition between the Scranton and Stamford branches (culminating in Michael making the big sale). Plus, we got to see more of just how sad Michael is and got a further taste of some of the background characters on the show.

This is all an excuse to post a video of Creed, of course.

Finally, Grey's Anatomy, which was back to its soapy, silly ways, even if I liked it less than last week's rather glum season premiere (I seem to be the only one in America who felt this way). The show's seeming insistence that we'll forgive McDreamy everything he ever did wrong if he'll just look at the camera with his piercing eyes is getting a little tired, but things are hanging together nicely on most other fronts. The Izzy story continues to be a drag on the show. I don't for a second believe she would be forgiven for what she did and/or let back into a medical program, but if maniuplating the plot so such a thing happens is what it takes for the story to mostly be dead and buried, then that's fine by me.

Tomorrow: More stuff!