Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reprint: What's new on the AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies (part 2) list?

(For some reason, our popular post on the difference between the two AFI voting ballots disappeared for a few months. It's back now from the drafts queue, and if you've been looking for it, here's the start below.)


When the American Film Institute announced that it was going to do a new 100 Years, 100 Movies list to update the old list, it was only natural to assume that they'd add films from the last ten years (the cutoff date on the last list was 1996 -- the cutoff date for this one is 2005). They added over 40 films made between 1997 and 2005, including everything from the three Lord of the Rings films to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

But the AFI didn't just stop there. They added a number of films by directors who missed the last list in an attempt to rectify some oversights. Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. joins his The General from the original list, and John Cassavetes lands A Woman Under the Influence on the list. But in adding all of these new films, they didn't simply expand the list of 400 films eligible for the 1998 list to 500 or more. Instead, they replaced a bunch of films on the original list with new ones. Now, there are not a lot of films that have been replaced that will truly be missed (and the rumor is that the ones replaced were the ones with the lowest scores in the 1990s balloting), but there are a few curious choices of removal, to go along with a few curious omissions.
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Read the rest here.

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“Welcome to the family” – Smallville




The most accurate, all-encompassing way to describe Smallville’s latest would probably be ‘meh’. The episode, entitled ‘Promise’, was billed as an ‘event’ episode (the likes of which Smallville usually does well with – the last biggie of this season, ‘Justice’, was easily the show’s best episode to date) but actually 'Promise' did little to justify the hype. Big stuff happened, sure, and there were a few good moments – but overall it wasn’t nearly as shocking as season 5’s ‘Reckoning’ nor as entertaining as ‘Justice’.


The episode played with time by spending its first part on Clark’s emotional journey over the course of the wedding day, then its second on Lex’s and its third on Lana’s. While hardly revelatory, this approach paid off well by giving us different perspectives on identical scenes. The most important of these was Clark rescuing Chloe from a wine cellar by breaking off the door and then heat-visioning it back into place. First time around, this scene was pretty dull; only later did we learn that Lana was hiding behind some shelves watching to the whole thing. Aside from a rise in the music and Kreuk’s bulging eyes, the moment where Lana learned of Clark’s powers was curiously underplayed and felt like a non-event. Maybe this was intentional, but after building up to this reveal for five and a half seasons I would have preferred something more momentous and over the top. Still, at least she finally knows.


The main reason ‘Promise’ didn’t work, though, was the performances. At this point I’ve gotten used to the level of range Welling and Kreuk can display (Kreuk very little, Welling none) but when an episode places as much dramatic weight on them as ‘Promise’ did, one hopes they might step up their respective games just a little bit. Sadly not. Kreuk pulled the same faces as always and failed to carry off Lana's conflicting emotions – although to be fair, the writers have abused her character so consistently throughout the series’ run that she must be getting pretty tired of it all. Welling, however, was the real killer. His performance was utterly unimpassioned and displayed no traces of emotion. Normally Welling sort of gets away with this, but 'Promise' had some demanding scenes (Clark deciding he can’t let Lana marry Lex, Lana telling him she’s leaving Lex and kissing him, his reaction to Lana doing a 180 and going through with the ceremony) every one of which he murdered by barely even altering his expression at any point. And never has it been more evident than in ‘Promise’ that he and Kreuk have an embarrassing lack of chemistry.


It’s a shame really, since I've been impressed with some of Smallville’s recent episodes and I thought it was starting to settle into a good rhythm (lots of plot movement, plenty of mindless entertainment). ‘Promise’ should have paid off the Clark and Lana in a more satisfying way – either getting them together or having the girl in question reject both parties. As its ended up, it doesn’t really feel like anything has changed. Lana is still trapped in Lex’s mansion, with Clark still pining after her. You could argue that everything is different now than Lana knows about Clark’s powers, but I’m still waiting for the proof that Smallville will ever have it in itself to evolve.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

"I need to vent with alcohol": Grey's Anatomy



With the epic drama of sweeps over and done with, Grey's Anatomy settled back into its standard mix of unusual patients and relationship drama, and had what could be its best episode all season. It was all down to the energy, which dissipated the overbearing histrionics that have dominated these past few weeks. Sure, Meredith had to confront her mother's death, and the marriage of George/Callie and almost-marriage of Cristina/Burke hit severe turbulence, but there was fun dialogue, and good guest stars, and it balanced the humor and the drama well, so...thumbs up.

Onto what actually happened in the episode, then. First up, Meredith, back in Seattle Grace after her mother expired there last episode (as well as almost expiring herself), was typically avoiding confronting any lingering depression. No matter, as she quickly got herself caught up in a new family drama anyway, as her dopey milquetoast of a father Thatcher (Jeff Perry) came to check up on her, with his new wife Susan (Mare Winningham) in tow. Now, Mare Winningham is a great actress. I thought she had been given a criminal lack of things to do in her previous two appearances, but they sure made up for it here. There weren't any mindblowing confrontations or even much lingering animosity, but rather Susan presenting herself as something Meredith's never really experienced before: a caring mother figure. RIP Ellis Grey and all that, Kate Burton sure did make her an emotion-stirring fireball of a character, but I can't say I regret her being written out of the show--in her limited mental state, there wasn't much she could do except make Meredith unhappy (and make Pompeo deliver her best work). I really liked the stuff with Thatch/Susan/Meredith last night, so I hope they continue to recur with a little more frequency. Who knows, we might enter a daring new chapter of Meredith's life: one in which she's somewhat emotionally secure.

Let's get onto the more pressing matter at hand, which was George and Callie's conflict and the fallout that occurred afterwards. I refer, of course, to another chapter in "shocking GA hookups!", i.e. George drunkenly falling into bed with Izzie at the end of the episode. I'll digress to make a couple points--poor George, all the most shocking hookups on this show always involve him, as if he could never land these women in reality (keep bangin' away, O'Malley!); and this may be the most alcohol-driven show on network TV outside of How I Met Your Mother. Anyway, I can't say I'm particularly outraged at this development. Relationship drama is handled way better on this show than death drama, and this may be the thing to FINALLY lift Izzie out of her Denny obsession (I'm not entirely counting on that, though: he was referenced at least twice in this episode, after all). George's emotional maelstrom in the wake of his father's death might get cleared up too. I like him a lot with Callie, but their marriage wasn't making a ton of sense, so despite the dubious reasons for their big fight (George is angry that she's so rich? Really?), count me in. Also, the always-excellent Sara Ramirez had some great material here, especially in her final showdown with George where she brought up the idea that Izzie had feelings for him. His incredulity at the very idea a supermodel being in love with him had her tearfully asking, "so what does that make me?". Check and mate!

Outside of all that there were plenty of other B-plots to keep us watching. One special guest came in the form of Roger Rees as a potential candidate for Chief and former lover of Cristina's. While their chemistry was pretty non-existent, the idea itself was solid and Roger Rees is always good fun. Still, he should play it more drunk, I feel. I won't say much about the wedge that this revelation drove through Cristina/Burke, because I don't particularly care--the spark's been gone from there for ages now. There was also Shohreh Aghdashloo, who is turning into a perennial TV guest star, as an old buddy of Derek's who needed super-surgery for brain cancer. Not much to that one except some very solid work by Dempsey. Finally, Elizabeth Reaser is just about emerging from her super-scary makeup to flirt a little bit more with Alex. She's kinda like Denny, except not really at all apart from the patient-doctor thing. Still, Chambers is the show's most consistent performer, and I love that he's moving into Meredith's house. He's always been a bit of an exile depth-wise, so maybe this'll shed a little more light on all his baity problems.

I'm very much looking forward to the final run of episodes (there's at least five or six more after this one). Quite a bit of drama, the good fun kind, is laid out in front of us, plus there's the Addison spinoff to look forward to. Who else is excited? Speak up!

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"Enough with the vagina monologue! Open it!": Ugly Betty

After the dizzying heights the show reached in January and February, when it spun off plotline after plotline in seemingly every episode, this was a bit of a comedown episode, but you couldn't expect the show to be sheer campy excitement every week. So, instead, we got a goofy one-off, with Betty trying to make Henry jealous (since he's back with his old girlfriend, played by SDD favorite JAYMA MAYS) and some Mode intrigue and Daniel's sister finding out that he's sleeping with their dad's lawyer (a thankfully non-grating Lucy Liu). Why, there was even Jesse Tyler Ferguson of TV's The Class to guide us along as an orthodontist named Dr. Farkus!

Now, there's not a lot I always like on television, but if there IS one thing I like all the time, it's Bizarro versions of characters we know and love -- I liked Lester and Eliza on The Simpsons, I liked Elaine's Bizarro Jerry and pals on Seinfeld, and I even liked when the South Park kids went over to Afghanistan and met Afghani versions of themselves. So I was tickled to see that Amanda and Mark had slightly off counterparts in the "skank" and the delivery guy. It was fun to see the two face off with these other two, and it was fun to see Becki Newton try to walk around in that dress the designer made for her (Newton, who didn't really have a lot to do in the pilot, has rapidly turned into my favorite supporting player on the show). The best part was that neither was all THAT different from Amanda or Mark, making their hatred of the two that much funnier.

While the runner of everyone thinking that Dr. Farkus was Henry was a little tiresome and predictable, I did like Ferguson quite a bit here. He seemed genuinely smitten by Betty (everyone does on this show -- America Ferrera must just be that easy to love), and his growing dismay that she had told everyone about her feelings for Henry (cavorting, if I may remind you, with JAYMA MAYS) and they assumed she had triumphed was funnier than the mistaken identity stuff. It all led up to Judith Light (as the Meade matriarch) telling Betty to pursue the man she truly has feelings for, which wasn't all that interesting (since, sadly, Mays is not a regular) as it was the direction we always knew the show would head in anyway. Still, Betty and Henry are an appealing pair with a nice, nerdy chemistry, and I think the show is waiting just the right amount of time to get them together (assuming it happens before the end of the season).

Finally, there was Daniel and Alexis and Lucy Liu. While Mother Meade did turn herself in eventually, this plot line was significantly less interesting than the others. Daniel's a better character when he's lovelorn, but they can't have him mooning after some new beauty in every single episode.

If you get a chance, read the Entertainment Weekly cover story on the show. While it's clear that all of the writers and actors care a lot about this show, it's also clear that they're just sort of winging it, discarding stuff that doesn't work and promoting stuff that does on the fly (which led to that abysmal early January hour where they repurposed an episode that didn't work as a flashback of sorts), creating story confusion and confounding the actors (Rebecca Romijn, who plays Alexis, was blindsided by her character's shift from vengeful ex-brother to benevolent sibling who bonds with Daniel over ice cream). I don't know how long a show can sustain this kind of pace without a long term plan, but Betty is so fun in the now that I'm not sure I care all that much.

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T.V. on TV: Heroes, The Riches and Andy Barker: P.I.

When the fall season began, no one put much stock in NBC's Heroes. The pilot was dour and slow-moving, following lots of different people through an unwieldy number of storylines. It had pretensions toward grandeur, but too much of it was filled with people moping about having superpowers, as if this were a normal reaction. It had a good action sequence (Claire the indestructible cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) running into a fire), an interesting twist for a cliffhanger (the guy who thinks he can fly finds out that, actually, his BROTHER can fly) and, in Masi Oka’s Hiro, the only character who seemed at all interested in harnessing his powers to do the world some good. It didn’t help that the writing was often pedestrian and that the show’s cast, while good, couldn’t compare to the similarly huge ensemble on Lost.

But over the course of its first season, Heroes has matured immeasurably. Compared to timeslot companion 24 (which has worked overtime to spark a moribund plot about Russians and nuclear missiles), it looks even better. It’s not great television, by any means, but it’s TV that lets you turn off your brain without making you feel like you’ve wasted an hour of your life -- no easy feat.
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So much more here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Red Tape, White Bones



Here begins my blogging of Bones, a show that, around a month ago, I had never seen an episode of. But with House's slight downshift in quality I was yearning for a new fast-and-loose procedural, and Bones has filled that gap very nicely. This episode, "Bodies in the Book", was a really nice way for the show to return after the little hiatus it's been on.

What was fun about it was that it focused primarily on the show's little meta-joke, Temperance's novels about a crime-solving forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs. The most recent one, which has the amusingly Grisham-esque title I quoted above, is a national bestseller, and this week the team found someone re-living the murders described in the book. I thought an even more amusing meta-running joke was having Saroyan (Tamara Taylor) critiquing the novels and the character for its formulaic structures and happy endings, which was basically like the show criticizing itself. Which was just weird, but pretty funny. Funnier still (although also a little creepy, but maybe not creepy enough) was Temperance's demented fan, or as he dubbed himself, a "Brennanite", who was sadly not at all plausible as a murderer because he was just too damn crazy.

In fact, the murder mystery came very close to being boring, but a punchy finish really saved it. While the murders themselves were enjoyably grisly (I liked Hodgins' giggly appreciation of Brennan's obvious red tape metaphor) the plots meandered somewhat, with all the suspects being cyphers who were quickly acquitted before the plot skipped on to the next death. Of course, this was nicely tied up by having the killers in fact be all three major suspects in a Strangers on a Train-esque twist. Which I am ashamed to admit, didn't occur to me, despite it being pretty darn obvious. There was also the guest-star presence of Jonathan Slavin, from the short-lived but superb Andy Richter Controls the Universe, who I'm always happy to see around.

Probably of more importance to fans (I'm not at all tapped into this show's fanbase, but I bet the Booth/Brennan chemistry drives a lot of it) was the continuation of Brennan's relationship with Booth Jr., aka Sully (Eddie McClintock). I quite like the whole thing where Temperance values sex first and a relationship later, which makes her and Sully (who greeted us in the episode's opening seconds fumbling under the covers) even more of a screw-you to people who want to see her hook up with Booth. Giving them both mature, sexual relationships instead of having them pine for each other is the right way to go in a will-they-won't-they, especially one that could be as protracted as Bones'. The only problem is, Sully is a bit of a bore, probably being set up to die (that's just a guess, but it wouldn't shock me--he seems kinda like a tragic figure to me). So while I don't object to him and Brennan in theory, I wish they could have found her a bit more of a live-wire for a serious, recurring love interest. His rivalry with Booth is meaningless, considering how much cooler Booth is. His finest moment in weeks came here when he precision-shot the lock on the Brennanite's door. Just the right balance of fun and crazy.

Anyway, a fun balance of mystery, gore, and background plot this week. Anyone else watching, or is this new addition to my review roster a futile effort?

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SCHOOOOOOOOLS. OUT. FOR....

...Two weeks.

Why do you care? Well, dear readers, in that time I will be catching up on a lot of ALBUM LISTENING. Which means: more reviews! Calm down, calm down, now. Let's be adult about this. In the interest of putting myself on the hook, I'll tell you all that in the coming weeks you can look for full reviews of the new Deerhoof, !!!, Feist, Menomena, Ted Leo, and Modest Mouse LPs. Speaking of Modest Mouse, let's all die a little inside as commercialism spreads its hairy cheeks and pinches a loaf on all of our collective chests!

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"Pardon me for not knowing that they had a sonic weapon fence": Lost

Well, hey! That's the third Lost in a row I've quite enjoyed. Maybe the expectations are lowered or maybe the show's just figured out how to balance all of its crazy plotlines or maybe it was the sonic weapon fence, but Par Avion was a good "breather" episode, even if it ended on a pretty standard Lost cliffhanger. Plus, it had plenty of what Lost fans adore -- weird stuff and deadbeat dads.

Now, it comes as no surprise to fans of the show that Jack's dad is also Claire's dad -- they've had their suspicions since Two for the Road last year, when Jack's dad had to go to Australia to visit his daughter there (was this ever confirmed? I haven't seen the episode in a while). But it was still a fun twist to finally see realized -- perhaps the ultimate of the "this person is in someone else's backstory!" twists that the show followed down a rabbit hole in season two. The odds are pretty against Claire and Jack being half-brother and sister and being on the same plane (without having met!), but I'll go with it, if only to finally give Jack someone to genuinely care about, as opposed to Matthew Fox having to feign deep caring for, say, Sayid.

Meanwhile, Sayid, Kate, Rousseau, Locke and Ukrainian guy continued their trek to Others village, stopped only by the aforementioned sonic weapon fence. The appearance was kind of lame (it looked like something you'd have to get past in Myst), but once Ukranian guy was pushed into its length and blood dribbled from his ears, the threat was established. Bully on the Losties for not giving up as well and constructing some sort of tree bridge to get in. The episode also made Locke less of a bumbling idiot for blowing up the hatch last week -- it looks like he wanted to blow it up. He's still an idiot, but now he's a potentially EVIL idiot. Good times!

Then there was Claire and her bird. The Claire episode wasn't really ABOUT her, but more about how Charlie relates to her (the character, once useless, has finally become interesting now that he's marked for death) and how Desmond relates to Charlie (his wacky machinations to chase away the birds notwithstanding -- why wouldn't he have just been upfront with Claire?). Still, Emilie de Raven, an actress I haven't always been convinced by on this show, did a good job with her flashback, even if it was the latest in the long line of flashbacks that don't really add anything to the story (though this time, at least, we found out Claire's parentage and saw that her mother is in the hospital). It all climaxed with a nice montage, set to Charlie reading Claire's note she had attached to the bird (in an attempt to get help) and Giacchino's strings. Lost seems to end every other episode with one of these montages, but when you've got Giacchino working for you, why not?

I'm not going to start going all immediately post-season one Todd on you and start saying that Lost is the best show on TV, but I think it's finding its strengths again -- it's a fine, fine action-adventure show, especially when all of the island plots are as well thought out as they were tonight (season two Lost would have seen the sonic weapon fence stop the trekkers). These recent episodes have felt like the new writers on the staff (folks like Drew Goddard and Brian Vaughan) have had input on the story -- Goddard, a story whiz, in particular.

And then, finally, Jack played football. It was sort of a goofy way to end the episode, but, of course, it can be read a myriad of ways. Has he been turned or brainwashed? Is he an Other now? And, honestly, has it been that long since we've seen him and the Others? It has, hasn't it?

All in all, a good time and a reminder that Lost is at its best when it aims for something that might have appeared on a Boys Life cover in the 1940s.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Thank God for the background singers!": American Idol

by Libby

It's Tuesday night, and it's time for "real" AI to begin. Being a relative newbie to the ways of the Idol world, I was unaware before this point that the main criteria considered in choosing a guest mentor is how creepy they look, in order to lessen the creepiness of Paula Abdul, evidently.

That being said, Simon and Seacrest's homoerotic name-calling, reached a new fevered pitch tonight, with the two exchanging barbs about being closeted and high-heeled shoes. Eh.. it was uncomfortable, obviously, for Melinda Doolittle, as it was IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERVIEW WITH HER, but ultimately, she couldn't have felt any more uncomfortable than ALL OF AMERICA. One can only imagine what the unseen footage from their trip to Africa contains, but it's a safe bet that it is there that a person can finally see what spurred this latest, lamest, lovers' quarrel. Sheesh.

With that being said, was I the only one who felt awkward about Ross' involvement with the show. Perhaps I'm alone, but, really ... Dreamgirls, anyone? Weird.

Okay, on to the actual show. My apologies for having so much random filler, but I guess that's inevitable after watching so much of this show. Seriously ... two hours for this? Unacceptable.

Brandon kicks off the show with a Ross classic and promptly forgets the words. Seriously, what the hell? I know 3 year olds that can sing this song without messing up the words. What a 'tard. As if that weren't bad enough, Rogers has started doing this weird lean forward thing while he sings that makes it look like he's in one of those old V-8 commercials. Not even a little bit cool. Overall, he just seemed nervous and not very spirited. He doesn't sell things very well, and he just doesn't seem all there. The judges tend to agree, as knowing the words to a song helps one's performance considerably, as a general rule, though Paula likes it, because she's ... not always all there. Go figure.

The next performance is so much better than Brandon's, there really aren't words. Let me say this: I am not a gusher. I do not like things, as a general rule. It's just sort of who I am. But Melinda Doolittle is truly amazing. I wish she was not on this show, because to even compare her to LaKisha, seems like a step down for her. As per usual she was phenomenal, even doing some crap-ass song from "The Wiz."

As I mentioned last week, Chris Sligh should be performing better than he is, and that just continued on this week. From losing the glasses to remaking a Motown classic into a crappy(er) Coldplay song, he was just missing on every single cylinder. The boy has got to realize that makes him special is being quirky and different. He's never going to be a heartthrob, so why lose the glasses? "Endless Love" is timeless, so why not just sing the hell out of it? It's hard enough to lose when you don't have talent, but to piss away perfectly good opportunities is even worse.

Gina turned in a perfectly acceptable showing tonight and is doing what she needs to do to stay in the competition. It seems that we're still at the point where one just needs to stay in the middle of the pack in order to not be eliminated, and she definitely did just that. Her song choice of "Love Child" was spot on, as that's about as punky as Diana Ross gets, and right now she's just doing enough to get by ... and ultimately, isn't that what America is all about?

America ... are you serious? This is unacceptable. It is not acceptable that I have to sit and listen to Sanjaya attempt to sing every single week. Sanjaya is to singing what Rex Grossman is to football. Both of them look absolutely stymied as to why they are where they are and what they're supposed to do next. Their marginal talent isn't enough so they just throw it all up in the air and hope to God that everything turns out alright. Well America, we saw how well that worked in the SUPER BOWL, and yet, you keep voting for this poor, embarrassed/ing man child. Ugh. Evidently Sanjaya attempted to sing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" this week, though his lack of projection meant that I couldn't even hear him. Whatever. Diana Ross mother-loves him just like all the grandmothers out there who insist on voting for him. Evidently, America has found it's new non-threatening male heartthrob. Sanjaya IS the new David Cassidy. I hope you're happy America.

As if that wasn't enough, we had yet ANOTHER Idol forget the words to the song they were singing. Excellent work, Haley. As though you didn't have enough going against you, including your inexplicable need to have hand gestures for every word you say, you can't even remember the words to the one song you have to sing this week. Kudos. However, she's attractive, so she'll stay. Much like how she made it into the top twelve. Haley's performance was so, so quiet and pitchy and meh, but she has breasts and isn't afraid to use them, so she stays. Quality, huh?

I would like to go on record and apologize for my unfavorable comparison of Phil Stacey to a grey. This was obviously an unfair comparison, as Stacey looks much more like this than any alien I could find. God bless the Yellow Kid! That being said, Phil had a fine showing tonight, though I'm concerned by a trend with him: During the verses, the man sounds like your typical hack-lounge singer, but during the choruses, he always manages to really turn it out. I'm just confused. He was boring tonight, but good enough. Sad, but true.

LaKisha (or Kiki, I guess)(seriously, KIKI?) was fine tonight. Nothing tremendous, but great for AI standards. Blah, blah, blah, I just don't care. Melinda outshines her in every possible way, even down to WARDROBE. I'm just not overwhelmed.

Blake did something the judges hate tonight, and I can't say I completely blame them. Lewis attempted to 'modernize' a Motown hit, while failing to realize that there is no need to modernize the classics. It is, indeed, why they're considered classics. I do respect his decision to do so more than that of Chris Sligh's however, because Blake seemed like he was truly trying to make the song his own, trying to put his own spin on it, which to me, is what would make this show stand out from being just a big damn karaoke contest. But evidently, I'm on my own on this one.

Fantasia, dammit, I mean, Stephanie, sang some song I'd never heard of and hope never to hear again. For one, the song was crappy; for two, it appears that she sang a crappy song crappily, which is never a good thing for someone PARTICIPATING IN A COMPETITION. Sheesh. Some people never learn.

Chris Richardson, pretty as he is, picked another crappy song that I'd never heard of. As a general rule of thumb, I think it's to one's advantage to pick a song that has an actual chorus, but maybe that's just me. He's just so, so, pretty, and while he can't sing that well, he won't go soon ... he's just too nice to look at!

Now, for me going out on a limb: Jordin Sparks may very well be your next American Idol. While not the best singer, she's easily the most marketable (read: most attractive) contestant with the best voice. I love Melinda and evidently there are people who love Kiki (shudders), but mark my words, America likes pretty people. And Pretty Betty has got it. (Further explanation of "Pretty Betty." 'Ugly Betty': pretty ... see: Pretty Betty. *sighs* I hate it when I have to spell it all out for you, people.) That being said, Sparks broke out her second song from a cartoon tonight (lay off people, the girl is 17 -- though I am really looking forward to her inevitable performance of "Gaston" from "Beauty and the Beast") and did a bang-up job. She deserves the respect she's getting and is definitely a contender.

Overall, tonight was yet another lackluster one. And people wonder why I loathe this show ...

Abominable: Who else? Sanjaya

Arrivederci: Chris Sligh.

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I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

So, MZS linked to our Buffy post and it somehow landed on LiveJournal, and the next thing you know, we're awash in thousands of new visitors.

To all of you, welcome! Read the mission statement over to the side there to know what we're all about. And check out some of our stuff.

Here are a few posts, chosen at random, that come highly recommended:

--David and I take on the best in television 2006.

--The latest volume of our popular snarkfest Trailer Curmudgeons, by Libby and myself.

--Daniel defends a Bloc Party album.

--Some thoughts on serial narratives (derived from comic books!) and stakes by me.

--Episode reviews are our bread and butter, so here's Joey on Prison Break, Libby on American Idol, me on Lost and David on Heroes.

--Sometimes, we talk about film in hyper-personal ways! Here's me eulogizing Robert Altman. And reviewing Children of Men by talking about video games! And an Oscar roundtable. And film writer Tram takes on Borat.

--Last summer, Daniel interviewed singer-songwriter Casey Dienel.

--And I wrote at length on Northern Exposure and The Simpsons.

--We used to do longer reviews of TV seasons proper. Here I am on The Sopranos, seasons one, two and three, four, five and six part one.

--And just because it seems to be oddly popular with Googlers, thoughts on Homicide's Three Men and Adena.

So come on in! Kick the tires and sit back on the couch! All you need to know is that we love Jayma Mays and Emily VanCamp (oh, and Tram loves Bai Ling, but don't tell anyone else that). Don't insult them, and we'll all be cool.

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"This place is not well-built!": The Class in its first (and only?) season

The Class, along with Studio 60, was the pilot script that touched off the fiercest bidding war in the waning months of 2005. It came from David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik -- men who had worked on Friends and Mad About You, respectively. And the premise, as Friends-y as it was, seemed interested in doing new things with the multi-camera sitcom form. For starters, it was going to follow a huge ensemble cast -- the show started with eight regulars and at least as many regular recurring players. Then, it was going to mix a dark, mordant sense of humor with genuinely shocking dramatic events. A character could cheat on his or her spouse or run over another character with his car or do any of a number of rotten things. And the jokes weren't bad, per se. They were pretty well-constructed and fell in the right places of the show's rhythm.

But what did The Class in was its premise. For some reason, I saw every episode of the show in its first season, and I still have no idea what the show wanted to be. Crane and Klarik tap-danced furiously, trying like hell to make the show work -- shedding cast members, streamlining storylines, introducing romantic entanglements for no reason. In short, the show that Crane vowed would not be like Friends started to look an awful lot like Friends.

The first premise for the show was an intriguing one, but inherently flawed since it just wasn't believable -- a bunch of kids reunite on the anniversary of their first day in the third grade (because Ethan -- Jason Ritter -- the guy throwing the party, met his wife the first day of third grade) and hook up in new and interesting ways. From there, the characters split off into four different shows (essentially) while rarely interacting with each other. Ethan and Kat (Lizzie Caplan, the best thing about the show from week to week) made up one show (rather inexplicably, I might add). Lena (Heather Goldenhersh) and Richie (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) made up another (which was probably the most engaging of all of the shows, to be honest). Duncan (Jon Bernthal) and Nicole (Andrea Anders) were in another. And Kyle (Sean Maguire) and Holly (Lucy Punch) were in the last. None of these shows was good enough to stand on its own, and I think the idea was that they would all prop each other up from week to week. Instead, they just made your head spin.

Most excruciating was the Kyle and Holly story (Kyle was Holly's gay ex-boyfriend, and her husband was a flaming apparent homosexual -- though the show never really went anywhere with this), which never fit organically with the series. Holly was dropped, and Kyle ended up Ethan's best friend through a series of events I found too boring to even remember. Maguire was a fine enough actor, but the writers never knew what to do with his storyline without his boyfriend around or Holly's husband for him to play off of (and, really, how many "I'm gay but I don't know it" jokes ARE there anymore?). So his role was slowly marginalized.

Then, the writers tried to turn all of the other characters into couples. Richie and Lena already were, and Duncan and Nicole had been, but Ethan and Kat felt a bit forced (especially when Duncan and Kat randomly got together in the finale). There was a sense about the show of frantically throwing plot threads at the wall and seeing what stuck, then throwing out the rest. And as things were slowly excised from the show, it became more and more conventional and lost the things that made it at all worth watching in the first place. A show about three couples who hang out a lot? Where have I heard of that before?

The Class, when it started, wasn't very good, but it had good craftsmanship, solid direction by James Burrows and an appealing cast. Its desire to look and laugh at the darker things in life was admirable, if not exactly well executed. And the central theme -- stated in the pilot and then quickly abandoned -- wasn't too bad (it was, roughly, that the promise and optimism of childhood is slowly sanded away over the course of a long, hard life). But the show couldn't sustain that much dramatic tension and be the kind of show people wanted to watch, so it turned into a dull, pale clone of its old self and its creators' former successes.

Now, the cast here was appealing enough (and the writing -- while not laugh-out-loud funny -- had a good sense of pacing), so I could be persuaded to watch more of this show, but I think this is probably it for The Class, which is stuck on a CBS that doesn't really need it, even if it holds on to quite a bit of How I Met Your Mother's audience. The strange, mystifying success of Rules of Engagement further sealed the coffin. If Old Christine does better in the ratings after HIMYM, CBS will probably ditch The Class. Indeed, the only thing keeping it marginally alive is the fact that CBS would like another comedy hour somewhere on the schedule.

But even if it did return, what would the show look like? The Class is like Exhibit A in the dangers of retooling a show on the fly (Brothers & Sisters, curiously, is Exhibit A in how a good producer can retool a show on the fly). It might stand as a cautionary lesson. Or it might come back for a second season, and after months and months off the air, would anyone notice?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Channel surfing: The New Adventures of Old Christine



So in this (cheesily titled--sorry Todd, I couldn't think of anything else!) new feature, we'll be checking out shows we don't normally watch. So first I've opted for How I Met Your Mother's new partner The New Adventures of Old Christine, or NAOOC (CBS should call Mondays at 8 the "sitcoms with long titles" hour!). I'll admit I'd checked this show out once before, right at the start of its second season, and thought it was a good time, but with the central conceit being the tired domestic single mom situation, it was not enough to really draw me in.

This time around I found a lot more to recommend. Julia Louis-Dreyfus really has this character DOWN now--I wasn't thinking of Ms. Benes at all when watching her. It's a weary, amusingly brittle performance, and she has nice chemistry with the whole ensemble. When I last watched, I found the ensemble kinda boring, but this time there was WANDA SYKES (in the first episode of Monday's double-bill), who is funny even in the worst movies/shows, and had a great scene here playing some obscure Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque card came with the brother (who is definitely a stock sitcom character, but the guy is funny) and son. I read this is a recurring role, which Sykes is definitely suited to, so thumbs up from me on that. Another character, New Christine (Emily Rutherfurd) had me laughing every time she said anything. It was something about her ever-so-slightly blank delivery/innocent demeanor that I just found hilarious. Have I misinterpreted mediocre acting for high comedy, or is Rutherfurd in fact a genius?

Writing-wise, the show seems to have settled into quite a nice groove. The dialogue doesn't exactly crackle, but it's sparky just the same. At first, the premise for this show (Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a divorced mom! Uh-oh!) seemed a little too ordinary for me, but the two episodes I watched on Monday both had enjoyably wacky plots. In one, Christine started taking sleeping pills and began to make weirdly cheerful calls to people while under their influence, bringing back some old flame she had traumatically broke up with. In the other, Christine made out with her ex-husband's studly brother (played by the Stanford branch boss from The Office!), only for him to reveal he was gay. Really, I'm impressed by how these plots really shouldn't have been enough to sustain a whole episode (the gay brother thing could have if they played it dramatically, but they didn't, keeping things light but respectful), but they basically totally did. From what I could tell, there really aren't B-stories in these episodes, and very few scenes revolving around anyone other than Christine, but the shows never dragged or seemed too circumstantial.

Honestly, I was impressed enough by what I sampled here to actually start watching Old Christine full-time. With The Class gone and likely never to return, I'd like to pick up another comedy, and this has everything I'm looking for. It's got a nice ensemble that's very balanced (no show-stoppers, but no real drags from what I could tell), a traditional setup that's still fresh enough (aka a good amount of risque-for-CBS sex jokes), and, um, Wanda Sykes. What a pleasant surprise?

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Coming this week to SDD

It's another quiet week on the television landscape, but we're going to try to make up for it with a few new features (look for David and I taking a look at shows we don't normally watch), a couple of new shows added to the lineup (welcome, Bones and America's Next Top Model!) and, of course, reviews of things like American Idol and Lost. And look for a new T.V. on TV over at House Next Door sometime soon.

Furthermore, I'll be posting Jon and my predictions for what will and won't be renewed for next season and what the schedules will look like starting on Wednesday with ABC. Look for more stretching over the next week. Our Super TV Preview was remarkably accurate last year, and this year, we're hoping to do even better.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

"Let me ask you something, Charles. Does it bother you? To see me? With another man?": 24

Man, Jean Smart and Gregory Itzin have a good time with their parts. I realize that the Charles and Martha Logan drama is occasionally (okay, often) ludicrous, but Smart's ham and Itzin's special brand of slyness are like chocolate 'n' peanut butter. If you think about it, Martha Logan doesn't really make a lot of sense (she's basically a shattered woman with severe mental issues), but Smart digs her heels in and doesn't give an inch. She's not the strongest woman in the show's history, but she's probably the most fascinating (only Chloe and the sadly deceased Michelle can really compete).

Other than Martha's triumphant return (and, apparently, she done hooked up with secret service agent Aaron Pierce in the meantime), it was another week of business as usual at 24. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great either. Still, the show has hit its stride with the supporting players, now that Itzin and Smart are back and now that Powers Boothe is in charge as Vice President Evil. When all else fails, the show morphs into the scenery chewing olympics, and that's what keeps it so fresh and entertaining -- it can never get too over-the-top (I've got a friend who almost solely enjoys the Martha Logan scenes as high camp).

There was plenty of action in the hour too, what with Jack trying to escape from the Russian consulate by any means necessary. His attempts to get the information about Gredenko's location to CTU by any means necessary (including hijacking the communication methods of otherwise well-meaning Russians) were enjoyable, as was the episode's closing shootout (more on that in a bit).

The White House scenes were eerily effective, with Vice President Evil forcing Tom Lennox to report that Assad tried to kill President Palmer (who's in a coma, clearing the way for VP Evil). I haven't liked the White House scenes much this season, but now that Boothe is at the center of them, they're a lot more fun. They're completely implausible, but it's fun to see Cy Tolliver strut around the Oval Office and call the shots.

The CTU scenes, again, were nothing to write home about. Bill, Chloe and the gang tried to help Jack any way they could, and we got to meet Rick Schroeder's character, who was one of those appealingly bland -- yet possibly duplicitous -- CTU drones.

I still like 24, and I'll stick with this season (and any subsequent seasons), but the show feels like it's on auto pilot right now, and I watch every episode, then promptly forget anything I was going to say about it. Here's hoping that the show can regain some of its mojo as it heads into the final episodes of the year.

A final note: What's up with the sound mix on this show? The dialogue is so quiet that I crank up the volume for every show, then the climactic gun battles always are so loud that they send the cats scattering. What's the deal, Fox?

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BSG Mondays, season 3, episode 55: "The Son Also Rises"

Pervasive grief permeates every frame of Battlestar Galactica’s latest, “The Son Also Rises.” In the wake of the death of Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff, glimpsed only in the previously ons and still photographs), characters’ relationships frayed, the major members of the cast all mourned in their own ways, and preparations continued apace for the trial of Baltar (James Callis). “Son” was a good example of Battlestar blending what it does well (examining the human costs of prolonged war) while advancing the plot forward by tiny increments (in preparation for a season finale reported to change everything -- as these things tend to do -- by those who’ve seen it). It also introduced a mesmerizing new character, attorney Romo Lampkin, played by Mark A. Sheppard. Lampkin was something of a sleazy lawyer stereotype (down to the dark glasses obscuring his eyes), but Sheppard made his ability to play everyone in the fleet and turn Apollo (Jamie Bamber) against his father, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) -- thanks to the two grieving in different manners -- fascinating to watch (right down to the petty thievery).

The episode proper, written by Michael Angeli and directed by Robert Young, mostly dealt with the build-up to Baltar’s trial, a storyline introduced early in the second half of Galactica’s third season and then mostly played in the background. It would turn up in a few scenes in each episode, and nothing would really happen to advance the storyline, leaving fans frustrated. Baltar also found the time to write a book and become a folk hero (the former was inspired; the latter dubious) while the preparations continued. Finally, though, the trial seems imminent, as a five-member tribunal is being chosen to judge the ultimate fate of Baltar -- and it appears Adama will sit on it. The opening sequence gracefully cut between Adama weeping for Starbuck (and going through his files on her) and the selection of the judges for the tribunal. Adama was involved in both, and the editing (and the score, which quoted several of the themes linked with Starbuck) linked the life-and-death situations in both storylines -- Starbuck’s untimely end tied to what seems to be (right now) a likely death sentence for Baltar, fate taking its course.
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Check out the rest here.

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