Friday, February 23, 2007

"Ouch.": Grey's Anatomy

So, the sweeps super-arc has come and gone, and it was neither as good or as bad as you've probably heard from various sources. Shonda Rhimes' not-quite-as-crazy-as-she-thought-it-was Meredith-goes-to-heaven plot was the dominant (and really, only terrifically interesting) plot this go around, in an episode written by Rhimes and Buffy scribe Marti Noxon (who has bounced from show to show since the collapse of the Buffyverse) and directed by Adam Arkin. The pedigree was high, especially as recently elected king of the universe Kyle Chandler (in case you're wondering, Jayma Mays is his queen) was guest-starring as bomb disposal expert Dylan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan showed up as Denny Duquette, a man who Rhimes clearly believes deserves instant canonization.

There was good stuff to be had in dreamworld too, including Dylan and Denny debating their relative worthiness as ghosts, the girl from "Into You Like A Train" coming back and trippily bleeding from her midsection, and a pretty good job done by Ellen Pompeo, considering the ridiculousness of her situation. Honestly, she actually didn't have a lot to work with, minus the one freakout at the end, considering how they've been building on her depression in the last few weeks. Most of the drama came from either Denny or the rest of the cast struggling to save her. Most ridiculous, I felt, was having her and Ellis cross paths on the way to life and death respectively. The intention seemed to be having Ellis say goodbye to Meredith while in a cogent state, but it seemed a little too cheeseball for me, whereas most of the rest of the fantasy hour had avoided going overboard.

Back in the real world, there was much variance to be found in everyone's reaction to Meredith's plight. The Chief and Miranda were reliably action-stations with a nice heapful of emotion, George's despondency seemed to fit the character especially considering his recent troubles, and I personally dug Cristina going to the 99 cent store and moping with the bartender. Anything in the bar, in basically any show, usually sways me, and I particularly like the Grey's bar (I wish they'd use it more often). Alex continues to be the most solidly likeable guy on the show these days, basically because the writers haven't screwed with him nearly as much, and Addison's (who is apparently departing these shores soon) no-sex dare to Mark was such an old move, I could almost smell the mothballs, but still a pretty funny idea. The cut from her saying "who am I gonna sleep with?" to Alex was beyond obvious, but I woulda thrown popcorn at the screen had they not done it.

As for Izzie, what's to say anymore? Izzie, Izzie, Izzie. Shonda has gone overboard with her, trying to play against her usually cheerful disposition but instead just turning her into some hateful black hole of horror. Her whole "I can speak my mind because I AM YOUR FRIEND" thing could have worked for a little comedy, but now it's just unusually distasteful. I guess they're gonna redeem her, but I have no idea how. Bringing Denny back wasn't great for extracting her from all that despairing nonsense either.

I'm glad we're out of the woods here, honestly. After spending so long looking forward to some true event stuff from Grey's, now I'm looking forward to a nice gentle mix of the goofy and the soapy. Although any time we can have more Kyle Chandler (hello? identical twin subplot, plz!) is fine by me.


"Yeah, suck it. I DO read the paper.": 30 Rock

Now, maybe I'm the only one, but I thought this was the funniest episode of 30 Rock yet, besting even that wacky half-hour when Paul Reubens played the severely disfigured prince. Between Jack's love of negotiations, Liz and Jenna's attempts to fix Jenna's foot-in-mouth syndrome and the crab and the worm fighting, I laughed more at this episode than I have at anything since probably The Office's conflict resolution episode (the one with the complaint box from last season).

If there's a subplot that doesn't work in a given episode of 30 Rock, it's the Tracy subplot, but I thought this one did work. Tracy's entourage has always been a little silly, but adding Kenneth to it was something of a masterstroke, sending the whole thing spinning off in a new direction. Granted, having Kenneth be the no-man to the other two entourage members' yes-men was a little predictable, but his harmonizing with Tracy was funny stuff.

For me, though, the most laughs came from the dueling Liz plots, in which she tried to retain Josh (with help from Jack, who loves negotiations more than just about anything, it seems) and put out the brushfire set up when Jenna was misquoted in Maxim (and didn't Maxim name Tina Fey the second least-sexy woman on television or something? If so, this was sort of a good sport move on her part). Jenna's complete ignorance of all things political struck me as a more realistic example of Hollywood celebrities than the constant barrage we get of politically aware celebrities (and I loved the callback to the true owners of General Electric as well as Rachel Dratch's role as the MSNBC blowhard, calling for a boycott of GE, even though that would technically mean a boycott of her). Heck, I'll even give Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson props for being agreeably goofy.

I don't have a lot else to say about this episode. I think I liked it all! What did you think?


"I date Michael Scott publicly and collapse in on myself like a dying star": The Office

(I'm three weeks behind on My Name Is Earl AND The Knights of Prosperity. But I promise I'll catch up on both and do a big mega post on the two for you guys this weekend.)

One of the things I love about The Office is that the Michael and Jan pairing makes so little sense, yet makes perfect sense at the same time. For all of his annoying quirks and lack of proper socialization, Michael is still a fixer-upper. He's not completely irredeemable, like, say, Dwight. He knows there are social limits (witness, for example, how he found Andy's obsequiousness nauseating), and with a little work, he could be both a fine man and a fine partner. We can sense from the extreme interest she takes in a paper company that's falling apart that Jan likes a project, and I think her strange attraction to Michael stems from her desire to find another project. Also, having always been someone who teases those he's attracted to, I understand completely how Michael's annoyance drives Jan crazy but also kind of turns her on (I know -- weird relationships I've been in).

I really liked the scenes at the party. Michael and Jan's "coming out" was funny, as were Karen's attempts to make Jim think she had slept with every man in the room (and I love how gullible Jim gets around someone he's fallen for). What I didn't like, so much, was Dwight. I like Rainn Wilson's performance, and I think Dwight has done some funny stuff, but his complete lack of ability to know the proper way to act in a given situation will often ruin his scenes for me. I bought, perhaps, that he would be really interested in how big the house he was in was, but going from there to waking up children, testing out studs and going out onto the roof to test chimney strength was a stretch too far. Wouldn't one of his co-workers make sure he wasn't making a jackass of himself?

I did like, though, that Jim continues to advance in his career. His playing basketball with his superior was a step in the right direction for him. Whether he wants to or not, Jim Halpert is on the way up.

The scenes in the bar with the rest of the cast were good too. I'm not sure what to make of Roy's threat to kill Jim, and I thought he and his brother's reaction to finding out that Jim and Pam had kissed was a little overplayed, but the rest of the stuff, right down to Toby playing with the claw machine endlessly to get Pam that stupid duck, worked well for me. Creed's popularity with the local college crowd was another highlight.

Oh, and the straitjacket, which was OK, but mostly to see Stanley's bemused reaction to it.

So what did you think?


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Track Review: Muscles, "Ice Cream"

Here's an Australian stab at a club banger--and, really, a damn good one. Muscles is definitely one these future blogger favorites on the rise, which can get annoying, but...dude's got the goods. I find it hard to get too excited about anything here in particular, but "Ice Cream" works quite well for what it is. It's really a silly track; the techno landscape is kind of ironically cheesy, and the overdubbed sort of monotonous, sort of Peter Gabriel vocals have no business being as inviting as they ultimately end up. All in all, though, it goes for broke...and I like that. "Ice cream is gonna save the day!"..."I just wanna dance with my shirt off." There's that city summer day that you've always heard about but never actually experienced kind of vibe delivered in ridiculous lines like this. And not a Do The Right Thing kind of summer day. This track brings on some genuinely good vibes and they linger. This may end up being one of my favorites of the year. Muscles has no proper album out quite yet, but you can hear some tracks on his myspace or check out some merch on his website as per usual.


American Idol's Brandon Rogers: The Village People years

This is our first year covering American Idol, and already, we've got the scoop. It seems that Brandon Rogers, one of our correspondant's favorites out of the top 12 guys, dressed up as a member of the Village People in high school, which you can see thanks to these photos from his high school yearbook, obtained for us by

OK, so it's not the most earth-shattering scoop, but we thought you'd like to see the guy before he was famous, as it were.

The senior picture!

The Village People for Halloween!

The now!


"I'd like to go back to my cage now": Lost

After two sterling episodes, anything Lost did this week would have felt like a bit of a letdown, but this was a bigger letdown than many were expecting -- all build-up and no payoff. After being promised by ABC that this episode would definitively answer some burning questions, we instead got a few half answers to some not so burning questions. While it was nice to see Cindy the flight attendant again (and creepy to see how readily she had become a part of the Others after, what, 30 days time?) and also nice to see the kid with the teddy bear, my enjoyment of the show wasn't decreased by not knowing the answers to the questions of their existence. Plus, after going back to the beach for last week's riveting episode, we were back with Jack, Kate and Sawyer (though it seems we've left Alcatraz for the time being), and it felt wrong to not be among the other characters.

Still, as a friend points out, this was a nicely dark-hearted episode of Lost. Most Lost flashbacks deal with the pains of true love; this one dealt with Jack falling into a bleak sexual relationship with a woman in Thailand (played by SDD contributor Tram's favorite, Bai Ling, which. . .we'll get to in a moment). Similarly, we got a nicely chilling scene where it looked as if we might lose Juliet to the "eye for an eye" moral code of the Others (which is oddly comparable to the show's moral code, and, hell, the moral code of much of television). As much as people complain about the Others, I wouldn't trade Ben or Juliet back. The two are utterly fascinating characters, and I'm interested to learn more about them, especially now that Juliet seems to be on Jack's side, however tentatively.

But those darker elements weren't enough to salvage the whole episode, which featured the first boneheaded decision by a Lostie in a while -- Sawyer deciding to let Karl go without setting up a plan to track him. I sort of get that he thinks he and Kate are safer that way, but they didn't even question the poor kid. At the very least, the writers could have made it obvious that Karl knew nothing -- I would have bought that, and it would have allowed them to keep stringing out the mystery. Instead, we got a lot of non-answers and a weird little scene about chasing after the one you love.

Which brings us to Bai Ling, mystical tattoo artist. I really think that the concept behind Jack's tattoos unveiling a secret truth that even he doesn't know could have been a good one, but Ms. Ling just couldn't sell her character's deeper mysteries. This pushed Fox to try harder, and the flashbacks, which should have been oh-so-dramatic, verged on the laughable, especially in the scenes where Jack was trying to force his lover to give him a tattoo (no, really).

Besides that, though (and the weird scene with Cindy and the children watching Jack), there wasn't a lot going on in this episode, to be honest. It concluded with a nicely stirring (and handsomely shot) montage of everyone trying to make their way home (and some nice music from Giacchino). Another friend insists they wouldn't have wasted that lovely bit of scoring on an episode with little to do with the grand scheme of things, so I'm guessing that this is all building up to something. Still, it felt like so much sound and fury.

And, again, Bai Ling?


"I was gonna keep my socks on": Friday Night Lights

It was inevitable, I guess, that Friday Night Lights would have to do an episode where losing your virginity was the subject of the episode. True to form, though, the show didn't shy away from the emotional issues of the subject, and neither did it use the opportunity to lecture or deliver something straightforward. It was obvious from the first that Julie and Matt wouldn't actually go through with having sex (it was true to both of their characters, but I'm always a little sad when this show goes the wholly typical route -- even if it did result in a scene as sweet as Matt telling Julie he loved her), and it was nice to know that a series that has been so frank about the amount of sex its older teenage characters have is willing to let its two younger teenage characters stay chaste for a little while longer.

What's more, the storyline gave us that heartbreaking scene where Tami, perhaps remembering who she was in high school, told Julie she was too young to have sex but didn't categorically deny it to her (remembering her strict religious upbringing and how it messed her up). On most shows, the parents would have wisely told their child why they were too young to have sex and that would have been it. Here, Tami told Julie not to have sex, and her reasons were mostly wise, but it was all bound up in who she had been and who she had become and just how disappointed she would be in her daughter if she just went ahead with sex to "collect data" (as Julie memorably said to Tyra). Even Coach Taylor (who can be a bit too much the stereotypical boogeyman when it comes to his daughter) got in on the story, holding a grudge against his wife for not telling their daughter she couldn't have sex, but eventually coming around to her way of thinking. Friday Night Lights is unique among teen shows in that everyone's regards of each other are all bound up in their desire to see those people do well, and I think that's what makes it such a warm show, even when the situations it presents are so grim.

There was actually quite a bit of sex in the episode, what with Buddy firing Tyra's mom after they had a dalliance (his attempt to confess this to Coach Taylor was hilarious and apropos) and Jason flirting with a tattoo parlor girl (between this and Lost, what was WITH the tattoos tonight?). Could it be that Lyla is being set up to see both her father cheat on her mother and her fiance cheat on her? The writers have already heaped a lot of trouble on her shoulders, but Minka Kelly looks good crying, so I'm not sure I care.

And then there was what looked like the resolution to the story of Riggins and his father, culminating in a messy fight outside of a bar, broken up by Tyra (for a character that looked to be made superfluous in the first few weeks of the season, I've been impressed by how she's been integrated back into the ensemble) and Riggins' brother. Riggins has always been the character that seems the most like he was ripped out of a John Mellencamp song or something, and his story arc with his father is classic 70s rock.

All in all, though, the episode kept coming back to that alternately funny, sweet and heartbreaking scene where Matt and Julie decided not to have sex, taxidermied animal heads keeping an eye on them. Lights never goes for the easy answers, but here it was nice to imagine two kids with a blanket warm enough to lull them to sleep.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"It would be like Ryan doing the news.": American Idol

by Libby

It was ladies night on AI tonight, and while I held out more hope for the female contingent, this is, still, easily the worst show I am regularly forced to watch. This is further evidenced by the fact that we are 15 long minutes into the show before anyone actually starts singing.

Additionally, Paula Abdul appeared to have a hair tumor growing out of the back of her head tonight, which, while marginally entertaining, was mostly just disturbing.

Stephanie Edwards, 19, from Savannah, GA, kicked off the night singing, “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” which was a nice little ditty for her style. Edwards strikes me as sort of “Fantasia-lite” and gave a fine, bland performance.

Amy Krebs, 22, of Seattle WA, has the honor of being an optometrist’s assistant by day, which she will inevitably returning to within a matter of weeks. Her performance of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was okay but nothing special, and while to me, that seems to be EXACTLY what Idol is all about, evidently, I’m wrong. As the judges keep reminding me.

Leslie Hunt, 24, of Chicago, IL, (pictured above) is a dog walker, and a personal favorite of mine. She’s not a particularly great singer, but she’s earnest and awkward with a strange voice and a sort of Carole King/Melissa Ethridge vibe. With that said, she’ll likely be eliminated shortly, as I can’t imagine her appealing much to the 12 year old pseudo/pop/punk/rock set.

Sabrina Sloan, 27, is from Studio City, CA, and is a professional singer. I don’t really know what that means, as she’s obviously not professional enough to have, say, a contract, but perhaps I’m just splitting hairs. Sloan is spunky and obviously knows how to play the game. One of the older contestants, she knows how to pick a song and knows how to play to the judges. She’ll go far, this one.

Antonella Barba, 20, from Point Pleasant, NJ, had a really disturbing, mob princess feel about her. Watching her, all I could think of is what would happen if Meadow Soprano was on American Idol and well, inevitably, it would not end well which leads me to Barba’s performance tonight. Let’s just say it takes a special girl to get her ass kicked by an Aerosmith song. Note: When the judges talk about how pretty you are in a singing competition, it’s not a good sign. (And did you see the other news about her?! -- ed.)

Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale, AZ, is a junior in high school and looks like “Pretty Betty.” I’m not sure if that makes sense, but if you look at her, you’ll get it. Sparks was evidently told she was too sweet throughout auditions, so she showed up with her black fingernail polish on, to evidence her true hardcore nature. Sparks brought it tonight and will be interesting to watch throughout the competition.

Nicole Tranquillo, 20, from Wernersville, PA, gave a decidedly strange performance tonight, singing a Chaka Khan song and looking like she was having a white-person seizure while doing it. She can sing, but she doesn’t have the best common sense when it comes to song choice, evidently. Her performance led to my personal highlight of the evening -- when the judges tried to dance around telling her that she was too white for the song she sang, Simon finally broke it down by saying, “It would be like Ryan doing the news.” A better simile hast never been drawn.

Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio, TX, sang a Celine Dion song. Not well, not horribly, just meh. As much as I hate to admit it, Jackson had a point earlier in the show when he said something about not being able to take the big-voiced singers (the Arethas, etc.) and half-ass it. Tonight, we got Haley Half-ass.

Melinda Dolittle, 29, of Brentwood, TN, has what I would call an image problem. While she is very talented and definitely has the chops, she looks vaguely like Gilbert Gottfried. And also, she has no neck. Now I only mention this because AI is such an image based show. I just don’t believe she has a chance of winning, despite the fact that she may or may not have the best voice on the show.

Alaina Alexander, 24, Redlands, CA, (just 15 miles from SDD HQ! -- ed.) works in a pizzeria and with tonight’s performance will most likely be smelling like pepperoni again, quite soon. I’m all for home area pride, but Alexander was way out of her league tonight and should have stuck with some pop song to gloss through. She just does not have the voice strength to do much more than that.

Gina Glocksen, 22, from Naperville, IL, is obviously this season’s alterna-funk female who then surprised with a touching performance of “All By Myself.” She’s got some talent and some spunk, so that ought to get her a ways.

Lakisha Jones, 27, Flint, MI offered up what everyone wants to hear: a great voice. And I’m the only one in the world who was less than impressed. “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going” is a difficult and impressive song that Jones performed well, but not so well that it erased far superior versions heard QUITE recently in my mind. I’m sure I’m wrong though.

Whom I would send home: Antonella Barba and Alaina Alexander
Whom the 12-year-old girls of America will send home: Barba and Alexander

God, I hope I enjoy this show more once people start going home.


"Save the Cornish game hens!": Gilmore Girls

This was probably the best Gilmore Girls has been since coming back without Palladino, much better than the last few drama-filled episodes, and I think that's because the mess left by season six has finally been all cleaned up. Well, mostly cleaned up. Christopher is out of the picture, but Lorelai still had to break the news to Emily, who was in hyper-hysterical mode upon Richard's return from hospital.

Lorelai and Emily's dynamic has always been one of the cornerstones of this show, as established firmly in the pilot, and it had taken an unfortunate backseat for most of this season so that Lorelai's marriage could be concentrated on more. Which is a shame, because Graham and Bishop never fail to light up the screen when they're together, even in the weakest of situations. This week's situation was hardly that, actually using a few of my favorite GG conceits--the elder Gilmore house in disrepair (complete with the low-talking maid, who had me flashing back to The Puffy Shirt), Emily and Lorelai pounding back the liquor, and Lorelai displaying her worldly skills to her mother (this time involving her mastery of tax forms). It's all been done before, right down to Lorelai having to reveal some bad relationship news to her mother, but it was nonetheless the most worthwhile the show has felt in a long time.

Rory's plot (celebrating Logan's birthday, with his seeming maturity being dashed by a last-minute revelation that his business gamble had blown up in his face) was a little less interesting, but spiced up by the inclusion of Gregg Henry as Logan's intimidating magnate of a father. Even though he's one of the only unambiguously unlikable characters the show has ever had, Henry is always a delight to watch. Here he sinuously swept aside his past disapproval of Rory and dangled the tantalizing offer of a job at any of his newspapers to her (which had to be tempting). In return, Rory apparently had to take his side and influence Logan to his father's opinion in all matters business-related. Logan's subsequent business failure, where he went against the advice of his father, seemed to affirm that Mitchum is right to try and steer his son's interests, which sent kind of a mixed message for me. Nonetheless, the meat of the plot was fine and Logan has undoubtedly become quite a likeable (if somewhat more bland) guy. What the future holds for him and Rory is murkier, especially if this proves to be the final season. I know that David Rosenthal is a fan of Logan, and I don't want some boring soapy breakup to happen, but I do hope Rory isn't tied to the Huntsberger clan as the show draws to a close.

Finally, there was Luke housing his sister Liz and brother-in-law T.J. (with their new baby in tow) while their house was fumigated. Liz and T.J. can be funny, but their shtick can also wear thin within minutes if not written properly. I'm glad to see their setup at Luke's place was contained within this episode alone (some past arcs have had them floating around for weeks on end) and I was glad to see them influence the plot somewhat, as per the news of Lorelai's breakup. Liz took the romantic point of view, thinking Luke should pursue Lorelai again, whereas T.J. took the more male defensive position thinking he should stay out of that quagmire. Just raising the idea was all that the episode needed, as I can't see the writers ignoring the fan clamor to get the two crazy kids back together, but it was all nicely done, Patterson playing Luke's reactions as quiet and deadpan as usual. Another thing--Luke has the same duvet cover as me. I just noticed that. Weird.

Anyway, a rather heartening episode. Not to say the quality has picked up tremendously, but it was all well and good nonetheless.


Track Review: Blonde Redhead, "23"

Despite the fact that Blonde Redhead remain one of my favorite bands of all time, even I would admit that their collective body of work is...spotty, to say the least. There has always been a creative hunger in them, a drive, if you will, to be (perhaps) even better than a Sonic Youth or a My Bloody Valentine. It keeps things moving and interesting, for the most part. Their pseudo-shoeghaze stylings, and decidedly No-wave posturing, of course, lends itself to creativity but they tend to sometimes get lost in the theatricality of their own thesis. Their last album, Misery Is A Butterfly, is a perfect example of this: a lot of potential, almost completely lost in down-trodden eccentricity for the sake of nothing. It's a fine album, sure, but it was to be their crowning achievement. Their latest outing, 23, (due out on 4AD on April 10th) seems to be a step in an interesting direction. I've not heard the album yet, but the gang, in all their wisdom, went ahead and decided to release the title track (you guessed it) "23" to the interenet(s), and I have to say that I am mostly pleased as punch. It is a very straight-forward type of song, with the kind of urgency that Blonde Redhead haven't employed to this perfect an extent since Fake Can Be Just As Good. The lightly veiled piano, and fuzzbox landscape create an eerie atmosphere that is predictable, but really quite welcome. Kazu's nymph inspired vocals, which have always been the "make or break" point with Blonde Redhead (in regards to fans, anyway), is on full display and here she is in top form. She is able to convey this sort of damaged apprehensiveness that never seems forced or too dramatic. "23" is testament to Blonde Redhead's strengths as a cohesive outfit; there's never too much put on the table here, and that's why it works so well. Really, one of the better tracks I have heard so far this year.

You can hear this and one other track from 23 on Blonde Redhead's Myspace Page.


"You pull the trigger.": Veronica Mars

Now, honestly, I had my suspicions last week that the person who killed the basketball coach had killed him (though at least this episode gave him a plausible motive), but this episode, revealing that he had done so, untangling more of the O'Dell murder and killing off a main titles character, was one heck of a way to begin closing off what may be the last long-mystery arc in the show's history.

I've made no secret of the fact that I think Veronica Mars has been sparking a lot lately. This O'Dell murder mystery arc has been a fun one, partially because the murder mystery isn't as heavy as some of the prior mysteries on the show and because it has more of the feel of an Agatha Christie novel, instead of a slasher film (which is what the other mystery arcs have eventually turned into). Plus, the standalone mysteries have been very good -- since the writers haven't had to do as much heavy-lifting to move the O'Dell storyline forward, they've been able to craft some compellingly twisty mini-mysteries. The mystery of the coach's death (even though the ending wasn't at all shocking) was similarly well-plotted, and it gave us the chance to see some bubbly Veronica (in jail, no less) and some diligent work by Keith. Plus, the ending was nice, even if I had guessed that the murder was really a suicide (I hadn't guessed that the coach had a serious disease, even though there were apparently clues to this effect). It raised one of those ethical tangles the show is so fond of -- should the kid have taken off to let his family have the insurance money in peace or brought his dad's deceptions to light? That he opted for the former felt right for the show's worldview.

I haven't been a huge fan of the show's soap opera plots since season one, but this Veronica/Logan break-up feels a little more final, and it's nice to see that they can be friends and that he can finally move on. I'm not sure that he and Parker are the best couple ever, but it's nice to see him interacting with cast members other than Veronica or Dick. (An aside: I didn't cover last week's episode, but the scenes where Logan and the little girl hung out were incredibly amusing.) And it was good to see Mac, a character who's endured her fair share of ridiculous heartbreak, finally get some good lovin'. The show has always had a weird tinge of "sex is evil" to it, so it was nice to see someone enjoying a consequence free roll in the hay (though, who knows?, maybe Mac will end up having chlamydia or something now).

The O'Dell stuff is being set up too neatly to have us predict that Landry was the killer, so, of course, I'm going to go for the person we've seen the least of lately and guess Landry's TA (the one I can't remember the name of), just because I was sure he was some sort of criminal from the start of the season, and I'm not going to stop thinking that now. I suppose it could be O'Dell's wife, but that's also a little too obvious.

Finally, poor Sheriff Lamb. He's always been a good jackass and an incompetent sheriff -- something the show needs to be the teenage twist on a noir it purports to be. It was sad to see him go, even though the character was such a boob, just because Michael Muhney brought a lot of twinkly likability to the part. Still, I can't say that he didn't deserve to die, especially after shooting at his own reflection. And his method of death -- getting clubbed by a guy in the head with a baseball bat -- was oddly appropriate. Also nice that they didn't try to redeem him in his dying moments, choosing instead to let him go out quietly.

But now Keith's the sheriff of Neptune County. I'll ask the question everyone's asking: Does this help or hurt Veronica's sleuthing? Can she be just as unethical as she always has been, or will she have to play it straight now? Inquiring minds want to know.


"Don't call me sweetheart!": American Idol

by Libby

We’ve put it off as long as we could, but tonight marks a new page in SDD history: the American Idol recap. Understand, that this is a highly toned down and edited version of my thoughts on the program, as the originals would likely get us blacklisted and/or sued.

As another disclaimer, let me just say that I can’t believe this is the #1 show in America.

We begin the show with a look at what has to be THE most bland group of contestants in this show’s history. Homogenization reigns supreme, as even the token racial diversity has been whitewashed and made into a teeth-capped, pale-face convention.

With that said, let the singing begin! (For more information on the various contestants, go here.)

Rudy Cardenas, 28, is a professional musician from North Hollywood, who, based on his performance tonight, is going to try and break into the commercial jingle business as soon as this whole Idol thing is through. Really, though, who thinks to themselves, “I bet doing a song from the Edgar Winter Group would really launch my career." No Rudy. No, it won’t. And the judges appear to agree, though Simon mentions that what they are looking for in this competition is something unique, which is news to me.

Brandon Rogers, 29, is a backup singer who obviously never understood that the reason one is a background singer is because they have an innocuous, unoriginal voice. Huh. Wonder if that will come up later. Regardless, Brandon does a passable job, most notably because he really sells his performance to the camera, and if I know 12 year old girls (and I think I DO), they won't be able to resist those soulful eyes. The judges say something about him being “pitchy” which is already my least favorite word ever.

Sundance Head, 28, works in a machine shop in Porter, Texas. First off … Sundance? Really? I get that the name Butch Head would have been weird, but if you were married to the movie, why not go with Kid? Kid Head, now THERE’S a name! Notice, I’ve just spent quite an amount of time not talking about Mr. Head’s performance. Most likely this is because I’d made it 25 years without hearing “Nights in White Satin” but now, I can never say that again. And if you were wondering, it was most definitely not worth giving that up to listen to Sundance Head. So long, Sundance. Simon was quite right when he compared your performance to someone’s father at a wedding.

Paul Kim, 25, is from San Jose, CA and had several notable things about his performance. For one, he always sings barefoot. Evidently there is a foot fetish contingent of the Idol voting audience that I was unaware of. Well played, Mr. Kim. However, one of the highlights of my evening was when he chose to perform “Careless Whisper”! It was terrible, and he was compared unfavorable to George Michael, which is honestly an accomplishment in and of itself, but, dude, still … awesome.

Chris Richardson, 22, from Chesapeake, VA reminds everyone of Justin Timberlake. Evidently, this is a good thing, which, again, news to me. (Please. Sexy Back? Awesome. -- ed) Richardson had a wealth of laughs, from working in “the restaurant industry” (see: waiter), to his totally supportive, nerdlinger, rock-out parents who you can tell are just praying for his success so he will move out of their basement. Also, kudos, Chris for picking the theme song to One Tree Hill, as the 12 year olds are crazy for the Chad Michael Murray. The judges said something to this guy, but mostly were as psyched about his parent as I was.

Nick Pedro, 25, from Taunton, MA is doomed. Seriously. He made it to the Hollywood round last year and quit. QUIT. Because he couldn’t learn the lyrics. Lame. Anyway, he sang “Now and Forever” and it sucked. Blah.

Blake Lewis, 25 (and pictured above), is from Seattle, WA, and is a musician. And by that, I mean, HUMAN BEATBOX! Awesome. Now, we didn’t get to witness any beatboxing tonight, but I am willing to keep watching. Lewis, also had a decent performance, as he actually picked something from the last 5 years to cover. Go Keane. However, he has even awesomer parents than Chris Richardson, and they just looked pleased that he wasn’t still closed up in their basement practicing his beatboxing. Or whatever it is they’re calling it these days.

Sanjaya Malakar, 17, also from Seattle, WA, just got his GED …so … congratulations! Malakar has a sob story about his sister who he always thought was better than him who got eliminated in the Hollywood round. His sister was thoughtful enough to send him this song to sing. Obviously she REALLY MISSES HIM, because after this performance, Sanjaya seems as though he’ll be seeing her again REALLY SOON. In a word, sucktastic. In other news, Randy got booed for telling this guy that Stevie Wonder is a better singer than him. Uh. Okay.

Chris Sligh, 28, is from Greenville, SC and does something. I can’t remember/don’t care what. See, I used to be a fan of this guy, being as he looks like a Jack Osbourne/Hurley from Lost cross-breed, but the whole fanatical fundie aspect really creeps me out. (For those that have no idea what I’m talking about, try searching for his Myspace or his blog.) Sligh had a decent performance, however and should be noted for sparking off what seemed like an insane lovers' spat between Seacrest and Simon. More on that later.

Jared Cotter, 25, from Long Island, NY has a very small head. He was a good singer and gave a good performance (Brian McKnight’s “One”), but I just could not get past his tiny head. My apologies.

A.J. Tabaldo, 22, from Santa Maria, CA gave a spirited performance of a song that I’ve never heard before. He did have a very theme-park-like essence about him, perhaps sort of Mickey Mouse Club, but, meh, he won’t go home this round.

Phil Stacey, 29, a sailor from Jacksonville, FL, missed the birth of his second daughter in order to audition for American Idol. Sailor, I hope you win this competition, because your daughter is going to need a lot of therapy. That said, Stacey has a strange look about him, but some decent pipes that he showcased in true Idol/Edward McCain style during the chorus.

Ugh. Finally, with the music recap out of the way I can focus on what makes Idol what it is: what seems to be the steamy, barely disguised love between Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest. Something finally popped in Seacrest’s head this episode, and he and Simon get into some weird pseudo-argument about nothing in particular, leaving both of them sulking and leaving the rest of us feeling like the uncomfortable dinner guests from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.

Aside from that, I’m disturbed by the fact that the criticism that Cowell gives of contestants is generally spot on, and it’s a sad state of affairs in America when honest criticism is booed in favor of Abdul’s inane support and Jackson’s "dawg"-ridden double-talk.

Additionally, at the beginning of the show, Seacrest questions Cowell about the success of past contestants adding to the validity of the show. It should be noted that the contestants he mentions are Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Katherine McPhee and Jennifer Hudson. Let the record show, that only ONE of these people won Idol and that all things said, AI has a pretty pitiful track record when it comes to winners and commercial success.

So that’s it. I’ll be back tomorrow night for the women’s round, and Thursday night, when, by the grace of God, they start eliminating people.

Whom I would pick to go home: Sanjaya Malakar and Nick Pedro
Whom the 12-year-old girls of America will send home: Sundance Head and Sanjaya Malakar


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

“There is no light at the end of this tunnel. One way or another, we die.” – Prison Break

After weeks of treading water, Prison Break finally got to the meat of some of its storylines in the latest offering. This upturn hasn't changed any of their original lameness – I’m not backtracking on myself here – but the climaxes reached in ‘Bad Blood’ were pretty satisfying even if they couldn’t go far in making up for the many weeks of dullness.

Take C-Note and his daughter. Watching them fight for a while and then get caught up in the least intense robbery ever has been excruciating, but her mounting illness and his realisation that he had to turn himself in were effectively done. Rockmond Dunbar is a solid actor and he showed it here, especially in the last ten minutes. So too did Robert Knepper, who really sold the conclusion of the otherwise pathetic Hollander family storyline. After Miss Hollander insisted that she could never love him, all signs pointed to a gruesome death for her and her little ‘uns; but instead T-Bag let them go. Considering the consistent wretchedness of T-Bag throughout the show’s run, this sounds like a rather weak turnaround; but thanks to his vulnerability shown in flashbacks throughout the episode and Knepper’s accomplished performance, it was anything but. In fact, the sight of him weeping by the side of the road felt surprisingly tragic. The only glaring flaw in it all was that both breakdowns came at the same time, making their vulnerable sides seem more like a theme of the week than a natural progression.

These downbeat strands were contrasted with the happy reunion of Sucre and his long lost love Maricruz. The torpidness of his storylines so far were clearly seen as justifiable (by the writers at least) merely because it was all leading up to this moment, so considering this it felt like a bit of a non-event. Their actual reconciliation consisted mostly of them running away from airport security. Still, hopefully her inclusion into his scenes will liven things up a bit.

The truly entertaining sections of this episode still belonged to Michael and the gang, this time for one very simple reason: Warden Pope! Or rather Ex-Warden Pope, looking severely depressed and his wife nowhere to be seen. He’s also followed the fugitives’ lead in gaining some stubble recently, despite having ready access to a bathroom. Wentworth Miller and Stacy Keach always made a good pairing, and their sparring-off in this episode was so satisfying that it almost felt out of place. Eventually Pope helped them out, but this hopeful note was nicely offset by Kellerman’s words to Lincoln as they stood watch during the event. He painted a bleak picture of their future, insisting that no matter how hard the brothers tried, in the end they were going to die and it would all be for nothing. Even though we know it won't be that simple, it still definitely needed saying. I also liked that Lincoln’s responses sounded like little more than a recital of stuff Michael had said to him. It was a nicely underplayed scene, the likes of which I’m not expecting many more of as the season reaches a dramatic and most likely action-packed climax. Just five episodes left now.


"It's like I'm Superman": Heroes

After four middling episodes, Heroes finally pulled the good stuff out as sweeps begin to wind down. I think most people would agree that this episode had a lot of good stuff going for it, so good that it masked the more boring bits quite well.

Let's start with Peter. It was really great to see SOMEONE using Hiro and Nathan's powers, considering we haven't seen sight of them for weeks (to be fair, Hiro did half-use them himself afterwards, but so briefly it barely counted). In fact, I had started to worry about the flying, thinking maybe they were skimping on it because they didn't have the bucks to make it look good (Smallville's brushes with flying have always verged on the embarrassing), but Peter zipping through New York looked pretty decent, and was very cool indeed. Even better was his sort-of-showdown with Isaac, displaying multiple powers at once as well as a nastier side. Nice demonstration of how good a fighter Peter can be, but also how dangerous he can be. I sure hope that's not the last we've seen of Chris Eccleston (of course it isn't), because Claude's involvement has boosted Peter from dopey dreamer to hardcore power encyclopedia who actually, y'know, does stuff. As for Simone's death...well, we all saw it coming, but if you're gonna kill someone on this show, I bet she was most people's first pick. Never really took off as a character. Shame, I guess, but maybe it'll free Isaac up a little more.

Hiro had to wrap up his dull Vegas caper, but it did open up better story avenues. For one, thee was the glimpse of his powers again, which have been sorely missed, and for two, he got on a bus being driven by Stan Lee. Which has to be a good thing (seriously, what won't that guy appear in?). Losing Ando is sad, but I saw it coming (although for a second I did think they might kill him). I guess the writers are trying to harden Hiro somewhat, as well as renewing his passion for his quest, and the buddy routine won't play anymore. If only they had Jayma Mays for him to go to! Still, I liked his conversation with the shotgun-wielding businessman criminal--it's funny how he'll take advice from basically anyone. Losing his subtitled patter with Ando better lead to him being all cool-Hiro-from-episode-five sooner rather than later, however. There's only so much mopey Hiro I can take.

Matt, while still uninteresting himself, was accompanied by two cooler-powered people (radiation Ted and wireless Israeli chick) and participated in a cool cliffhanger, so I guess I can forgive him this week. Still, more domestic antics with his stone-cold boring wife? You gotta be kidding me. Making her pregnant was a pretty disastrous idea, because it means they can't really just make her vanish anytime soon. She's such a deadweight, though, that I'd literally be happy to see her up and walk away, baby or no baby. Speaking of deadweights, what is that rattling between Mohinder's ears? I think I'd find him tracking down everyone on the list much more interesting if Sylar wasn't there creepily eyeing everyone while Mohinder smiles away obliviously. I applaud the show revealing Sylar's identity early on instead of building it up to what could have only been an anti-climactic revelation, but now that he's hiding in plain sight all the time he's really not that scary at all. They should ratch up the villain-o-meter on him a little more. Also, they should not pair him with Mohinder, because Mohinder is just SO LAME. And that Mohinder hasn't cottoned on is obviously stupid, as I'm sure everyone has pointed out already. Oh well. Rusty Schwimmer (second GG guest star as a new hero in two weeks! woo!) was good, at least.

Anything I'm forgetting? No Niki/Jessica this week, woo! Claire was fine, her little showdown with her dad in the hospital well-acted by both parties. I'll leave you with this:


"Wouldn't that demonstrate that she's into deviant sex?": Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

So this may be the very, very last time any of us ever sees Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, especially if The Black Donnellys, which spells the series next week, takes off in the ratings (I'm not expecting it to, given the audience's rejection of complicated dramas this season, but stranger things have happened). For as much as I give this show a hard time, there's some stuff that works about it, and I wish that it had managed to find its feet. As it is, I think all involved will have to chalk it up to a noble failure -- something where they all did good work but just couldn't quite figure out what the show was all about. It happens to the best of us.

Still, there's enough good stuff in every episode that the bad stuff is that much more frustrating. The popular thing the show's fan's say to those who continue to watch it and harp on it is, "Well, if you're not enjoying it and you don't think it's going to get better, why do you keep watching it?" I think the answer is that it's just such an INTERESTING failure, the kind of show where talented people obviously put their backs into it and made some of it work but just couldn't pull all of it together. It's like a weird perfect storm of personal hubris, bad plotting and characters that just didn't make sense.

The thing is, though, I think the creative team knows it. Witness all of the references tonight to weak writing on the show within a show and how that has been dragging the ratings down. An argument could be made that a very similar problem dragged down the ratings for the actual show. And, what's more, the Matt/Harriet coupling, that chemistry-less thing that dominated so much of this back half of the season, finally turned a corner tonight. I still don't want to see them together, but they seemed to realize just how much they irritate everyone else with their schtick. And, what's more, Sarah Paulson has chemistry with the guy playing Luke, and Matthew Perry has great chemistry with Kari Matchett (of the late, lamented Invasion). This could have been a feasible love quadrangle if it was introduced earlier. Now, it's just so much what if.

I guess I'm feeling nostalgic for the show that wasn't because tonight's episode wasn't awful. I smiled when Cal accidentally beheaded the virtual baby. And I enjoyed most of the rest of the baby plotline. I always like the episodes where you get the sense that everyone has stayed together late into the night to work on this show they love so much, and this was one of those.

But there was bad stuff too. The Friends sexual harrassment lawsuit (where a writing assistant complained about having to listen to some of the sexual discussions in that show's writers room) could have made a great plotline for this show, but I think it got botched by being turned into a chance to lecture at "not very good" writers and THEN being turned into something that was all about Harriet. And the bit with Simon thinking he slept with the plaintiff was funny until it was all resolved too quickly.

I'm hoping that Studio 60 comes back at some point, if only because I have a thing about seeing these sorts of things through, but for now, we'll have to content ourselves with a truly interesting TV failure.

Talk about what didn't work about the show for you in the comments section.


"He didn't metabolize the alcohol.": 24

A friend of mine, who's a rather quiet, liberal fellow and a HUGE fan of 24, says that when you strip away the crazy Bauer family antics, this season has mostly been sort of mediocre and average (and the crazy Bauer family just makes everything seem more over-the-top than anything else), aside from the torture, which he finds more reprehensible than usual this year (good news, dude! they're going to scale back on it). I sort of agree with him, but 24, for all of its predictability this far into its run, still has one thing in its favor -- a stable full of great characters. But we'll get to that in a minute.

The episode focused on Jack's attempts to get back his nephew, Josh (and does anyone think that Josh ISN'T Jack's son at this point -- clearly his mother had a thing for Jack at one time, and the kid looks so much like Jack and/or Kim that it's not even subtle). Josh was being held by his evil grandfather, Phillip Bauer (the still potent James Cromwell, having a good time, even with lackluster material). Jack jumped through a complicated series of hoops to track down his father, only to take Josh's place, almost face death at the hands of his father, then have his father disappear. It was a rather convoluted set-up, and while Kiefer Sutherland can sell quick changes like having a wounded man take charge of a prisoner followed immediately by slamming his sister-in-law against a wall, it all grew a bit yawn-inducing, aside from the good times with Josh and Phil back at the hotel (and Josh's gradual realization that his family is completely nuts). Still, this was a welcome break from Jack torturing everyone he could lay his hands on, and at least it offered a little taste of Bauer family politics (apparently, no one can ever say how much they love someone else without a gun held to their heads). Still, by this point, why hasn't anyone killed Jack when they had the chance? It's starting to get ridiculous.

Things at CTU were worse, largely because Chloe's ex-husband, Morris, was wandering around the LA area and getting drunk (or, rather, taking sips of whiskey, then spitting them out). Just hours ago, Morris was being tortured by terrorists, but that would have been an ideal excuse to ship a mostly uninteresting character off somewhere. Instead, we get to watch him wander through a bad Long Weekend copy, wondering when he'll be the show's sacrificial lamb for the season.

Unless, of course, that sacrificial lamb is Thomas Lennox, aide to the president and unwilling conspirator in an assassination attempt. The show, apparently tired of duplicitous men inside the White House, has decided to knock him out and truss him up after he had a change of heart and decided to report the assassins (who are going to use a former Muslim terrorist as a cover story somehow). Chad Lowe is doing nicely evil work as the man who recruited Lennox, and, on the whole, the storyline has spiced up the terminally dull White House scenes from earlier this season (which mostly revolved around debating civil rights and things).

But, finally, there's the last scene, where Jack Bauer gets in touch with disgraced former president (and terrorist conspirator) Charles Logan. Logan is one of the show's great characters (and the writers had the good sense to keep him alive), and it'll be interesting to see how he and Jack spar next week (we only got to see him for the first time -- sporting full hobo beard -- this week). A lot of what makes Logan work is Gregory Itzin's portrayal of the character, so here's hoping that Itzin brought his A game. It may be just what the season needs.


"I'm an octoroon!": Everybody Hates Chris

Maybe something was in the comedy writing water a few weeks ago, because this was the funniest Chris in quite a while, to go along with the very funny HIMYM in the same timeslot. The show's basic formula (elucidated here a few weeks ago -- click on the tags, people! the tags!) got a shake-up, giving Julius his own storyline (at the DMV), pairing Rochelle off with Drew and Tanya and sending Chris and Greg off to see Ghostbusters, where they bumped into their so-kind-she-doesn't-know-she's-racist teacher. While I didn't like that character at first, she's really grown on me. Giving her a black boyfriend was a bit too easy, but the scene was played so low-key that I couldn't really fault the show for doing so.

One of the things I've always liked about Chris is the way it repurposes old movie footage in different ways. Tonight, of course, we got to see a variety of car chases from assorted movies, showing us how Julius drives (poorly), but we also got a great Ghostbusters clip (though how did the teacher not spot Chris and Greg until so late into the movie?) as well as Tyler James Williams offering some pretty solid impressions of a variety of '80s movie stars. I also liked that Chris and Greg went out of their way to have the perfect plan to skip school. It was just Prison Break-y enough to be really funny.

The Rochelle storyline gave Tichina Arnold a chance to do what she does best -- yell amusing things at people. While there wasn't a lot more to it than Rochelle inserting herself into other people's business (which, frankly, happens every episode), it was just nice to see Rochelle defined by something other than her kids or husband.

I think the Julius storyline was my favorite though. Terry Crews is always best when his patience is being tried, when you sense that at any moment, he'll blow his top. Sending him to the DMV and making it exactly the hell everyone insists it is (honestly, I've never had that much of a problem at the DMV, and I live in California) was just the sort of thing that played well with his character, especially as he had a fun actress to bounce his frustrations off of.

And, hey, something structural that I noticed for the first time (and feel kind of stupid for missing previously): Every episode of this show (or most every episode) begins or ends (and usually both) with a family dinner scene. I realize that the family is the heart of the show, and this is a nice, subtle way to drive that home.


Monday, February 19, 2007

"That's two.": How I Met Your Mother

C'mon. Did you expect me to go with something else as the title?

I actually new slap number two was coming, so it wasn't as monumental as it could have been, but I loved how they snuck it into the end of the episode, crowding it in there with Barney's robot play (entitled "Suck It, Lily," for those of you who didn't see the Playbills) so that even those who didn't see "Slap Bet" would have something to laugh at.

But, what's more, this was one of the best episodes in a while, at least since "First Time in New York." It got back to the group dynamic that really makes the show work, and it highlighted an important issue that all relationships go through -- what to do with the old significant other's stuff. In Ted's case, it was a bunch of tchotchkes that were easily disposed of, but Robin's dogs all came from old boyfriends, and when she decided to get rid of them, it felt like an appropriately big moment for the character, the girl who was so insistent that commitment wasn't for her (I also liked that they went to a lesbian aunt in upstate New York, which was the sort of just right detail that this show specializes in). And Ted and Robin learning the wrong lesson from their argument (and deciding to move in together) felt like the right story choice too.

But there was much, much more here to work with, starting with Barney's play. Lily's play was pretty much the standard "this is a crappy, arty play that no one goes to see" plotline that every show set in New York has to do at some point (I think Friends did 50 of them), but Barney's play, conceived entirely to anger Lily and set her off, was a perfect bit of conceptualizing, right down to paying off a joke from the very beginning of the episode that you had completely forgotten about. And, hey, apparently Danby's is fictional, but I love the writing staff for trying to come up with a Canadian equivalent to Bennigan's (which is hands-down the funniest restaurant chain, though between this and Butters' Bennigan's song on South Park, it's rapidly losing its ability to surprise).

All in all, a solid episode. The only thing that didn't work for me was the sight gag where all of the dogs were Robin's ex-boyfriends (in Ted's mind). Some of it was pretty good (I did like the dog-boy bringing her the ball and running after it friskily), but much of it was just overthought and, frankly, a little creepy.

And, honestly, I hope they continue to payoff slap bet through the course of the show. Now that I know that they plan on doing so, I don't want to see another for a few years.


BSG Mondays: Season 3, episode 52, "A Day in the Life"

If “A Day in the Life” wasn’t Battlestar Galactica at its very best, it was, at least, one of the show’s better standalones in recent memory. It was the sort of solid story that used to link the show’s larger arcs in season one, and it actually gave us some information that was helpful to understanding a character we wanted to get to know better. It had its clumsy elements and strange ideas, but it was, all in all, a mostly successful hour, anchored by the exceptionally strong performance of Edward James Olmos.

The episode, written by Mark Verheiden and directed by Rod Hardy, took place over the course of a long day that just happened to be the anniversary of Admiral Adama’s (Olmos) marriage. In a slightly strained literary device, Adama “meets” every year with his ex-wife (who has since died), played here by Lucinda Jenney, a guest star on countless TV series, including lengthy stints on The Shield and 24. In their meetings, they discuss their marriage and how it fell apart. Adama seems to feel a considerable amount of guilt over this (as he does over many of his other personal failings, including his weak relationship with his son, Lee, played by Jamie Bamber), and that guilt hangs over the rest of the episode, manifested in a series of short scenes set back at the house Adama and his wife shared (Galactica is always good at this sort of thing -- the way memories of places seem more vibrant than the places themselves -- and the episode's visualization of Adama’s old home, lit through with sun and buzzing with the sounds of nature, was no exception).

Read the rest here.


"What are you? A critic?": Extras

Give Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant one thing, at least: The two know how to write a great finale. This was a sweetly unassuming episode, and while it had a little more "sitcommy" elements than prior episodes of the season (in particular, Maggie's encounter with the sex-talkin' old folks and Andy sacrificing a chance to meet with DeNiro to go see the kid in the hospital), it was still a fine example of what the show and Gervais and Merchant do best.

One of the unspoken subtexts of the show is the weird friendship/attraction thing between Maggie and Andy. I'm glad that it was never belabored (simply because that would have been too easy of a thing to do), and I'm not sure they would make any sort of good couple (Maggie's a little too naive for Andy, whose now a bit more world-weary), but the subtext was always there, and I'm glad the show dealt with it in what might have been its last scene (with Maggie offering that if the two hadn't found anyone in five years, they might move in together -- I had a similar deal with a girl in high school!). In addition, though, I'm glad that it never became a continuing motif, like Tim and Dawn on The Office. It was what it was, and Gervais and Merchant didn't feel the need to rub it in.

Robert DeNiro was pretty good in what was probably the shortest guest star cameo yet on the show. Still, he made the most of his material, and he did seem really interested in that pen. He functions, in a way, as someone that Andy can aspire to be, and his presence suggests that perhaps Andy can put off "When the Whistle Blows" and make something worthwhile.

Still, it was nice to see Gervais and Merchant acknowledge that awful shows like Whistle can be very important and precious to certain people -- when I was the age of the kid in the hospital, Full House and Family Matters were my favorite shows (and it's not like either is a paragon of great comedy writing), simply because they were comfortable, full of things I knew were coming and could anticipate safely. Sometimes, I think, critics get too interested in seeing something completely new, and we forget that for a lot of people, TV is just comfort food. I don't know if this is the right attitude (if we don't demand anything from our arts, then they feel free to give us the lowest-common denominator), but the next time I feel like making fun of someone for rushing home for, say, According to Jim, maybe I'll keep that in mind.


"The prodigal daughter returns": Brothers & Sisters

Brothers and Sisters seems to be getting more and more press attention for the way it has quietly stepped up its quality (and its ratings) after being hyped as pilot season's first possible casualty way back in September last year. While the previous two episodes showcased the program's winning qualities (nice balance of comedy and drama, the easy chemistry of the ensemble, Sally Field) better, this week was still good stuff.

I won't lie: the best thing about it all was our admittedly brief glimpse of Holly's (the so-far underused Patricia Wettig) daughter Rebecca, played by Everwood alum Emily VanCamp. It's the second bit of stunt casting the show has employed, after snaring Rob Lowe to play Senator Robert McCallister. Even though we only saw VanCamp for a minute or two, chances seem good that she'll be a good addition to the Walker family. For one, it'll give Wettig (and quite possibly Ron Rifkin, her quasi-love interest) more to do past sniping at Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) at board meetings. Also, the show has clearly been searching for a nice slice of sudsy drama ever since most of deceased patriarch William's (Tom Skerritt, who returned tonight in flashback) other indiscretions have been cleaned up.

For example, this week, the dramatic weight was shifted onto Sarah trying to navigate her rocky marriage and Tommy (Balthazar Getty) trying to break the family mould. Of the core family members, Tommy has easily had the least to do, but Getty is a talented performer and he acquitted himself well despite the relative dullness of his character. Particularly well played was the revelation that his partner (wife? girlfriend? I forget her status) would be having twins, as well as his inadvertent meeting with Rebecca. Less interesting was his flashback confrontations with William, but it's still nice to see the writers trying to cater to every character and also include Skerritt from time to time.

I'll say less about the other three major plots--Sarah's marriage, Kevin's (Matthew Rhys) relationship woes with closeted soap star Chad (Jason Lewis) and Kitty's (Calista Flockhart) indignance that the Senator's staff polled the public's opinion of her. Not because they weren't good: Rachel Griffiths would have to try pretty hard to give a bad performance, and Rob Lowe is easily the best on-screen Republican ever (I'm exaggerating, but he's great). Still, the material was a little thinner than usual, much of it making the episode a little too heavy, although it's also guilty of extremely broad farce when it goes into the other direction. Nonetheless, Brothers & Sisters has definitely evolved into a fun little escapade, and I sure hope it doesn't go anywhere next year.