Friday, April 13, 2007

Clip of the Day

My girl crush, Wanda Sykes, on "nappy-headed hos".

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Earl never wears a sombrero.": NBC's Thursday comedies

(Normally, I'd cover these four separately, but Libby thinks it'll be OK if I post a compendium just this once. Let me know what you think.)

I don't think there's a better-programmed night of television than NBC's Thursday night. Everything flows so well into everything else, and it's easy to sit down and just watch a whole night of TV without really even noticing the time slip by. Here's hoping that NBC keeps this lineup next season (or something very close to it). This is a better lineup than anything NBC had in the 90s (when the lineup was ruined every time by at least one bad or mediocre show) and almost the equal of the original 80s Thursday lineup that sent the network to the dominance it enjoyed in that decade and the 90s.

My Name Is Earl is a great show to start off the evening. It's not the best show out of the four, but it's a good way to ease into a night of laughs, and it always has some solid joke work. I'm not as big a fan of the episodes that follow the formula anymore (and it really seems like the writers aren't either as they've gone out of their way to avoid "Earl crosses something off the list" episodes all season long -- and the show's been better for it!), but this was about as good as those episodes get, as it somehow turned the story of Earl trying to make up to a TV journalist whom he had ruined the broadcasts of into a story about Randy trying to find his own way to be like his brother (and the ending gag -- while completely predictable -- was still pretty funny).

By far my favorite thing about the episode was Randy trying to be the anti-Earl. I've long thought that a sort of "flip side" show to Earl, where a guy who was always really nice decides to become a jerk after he's pushed too far, would be kind of fun, and this episode offered up Randy in a sombrero, invading the news station, wearing the right clothes so just his head showed up floating around on the weather map and farting up a storm in Earl's hotel room. But I also liked the extensive flashbacks to Earl and Randy disrupting the news show (complete with a bear suit of all things) and Catalina practicing her American accent (she's been doing her accent so long that it's easy to forget Nadine Velazquez is a Chicago native).

All in all, Earl is never my favorite of the night, but it's never less than a pleasant prelude to the things to come, and I found this episode to be one of their better ones that focused on the central formula of the show. Still, here's hoping they have a little more unformulaic freestyling later this season.

I thought The Office had one of the best episodes of this season as well tonight. It didn't start out as well as it might have (Michael's general annoyingness at the warehouse safety meeting felt a little forced), but it quickly grew into the best sort of workplace farce, a genre the show works well within. The ending might have felt a little strained (what with Michael apparently not knowing that a bouncy castle wouldn't be enough to break a fall that would kill him), but everything building up to it was good.

The Office's best episodes often come when Michael takes it upon himself to train his employees in one way or another, and his long, bizarre safety training grew on me (like I said, I wasn't as fond of the warehouse scenes). But I liked the betting subplot most of all -- particularly the workers collecting on Kelly's long, long monologue about how to use Netflix and the number of romantic comedies she would mention. And I found Dwight, who's often the least of the show's players for me, mostly bearable in this episode. I also liked that Andy came back with a minimum of fuss and re-integrated into the ensemble quickly and believably.

When The Office is hitting, it's hard to think of much to say about it critically. I thought tonight's episode was a fine example of the show at its best. I realize that these largely plotless episodes aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I sort of think they're increasingly the reason to watch the show, and I hope that much of next season gets away from the increasingly serialized nature of the show and returns to workplace hijinks.

30 Rock wasn't as funny as it usually is, but it was still ridiculously funny, which gives you an idea of how on the show can be when it's on. It was a real treat to see the dryly wonderful Emily Mortimer show up as Jack's new love interest, and I liked the weird love triangle that developed around the Floydster, but I felt the episode had a lot of stuff that just wasn't as strong as it could have been. The Tracy Jordan as Thomas Jefferson subplot, for instance, was fitfully amusing, but didn't know quite what it wanted to be (since it was torn between Tracy really wanting this movie to be a serious project and showing the wackiness of the whole set-up -- maybe I know too much about Oscarbait at this point, but it just wasn't Oscarbait-y ENOUGH, though I loved the low-rent production values and whatever the name of Jefferson's horse was).

Still, there was plenty of great stuff in the episode, including Jack wanting to be a horse (and a weird obsession with horses overall in the episode) and Liz being in a good mood thanks to her new boyfriend (the great montage of their budding relationship was a lot of fun). I also liked the continued callbacks to the Rockefeller Center Salute to Fireworks and Rip Torn in general, a great inside gag, considering that he was in the last great inside-showbiz sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show.

But, hey, I can handle a slightly off episode when a show has given me as many laughs as 30 Rock has this season. And I was glad to see Judah Friedlander get so much to do. (Though was Jenna in this episode at all? I don't remember her and don't see her in my notes. That would make two weeks in a row without her.) And I'd be willing to watch a completely jokeless episode just to see Kenneth do something weird. My infatuation knows no bounds, people. Perhaps it's just the letdown from knowing that this show will be back next season (like when you feel a bit sad after Christmas or your birthday), and I'm sure next week will be a return to form.

Meanwhile, Scrubs stretched the Nurse Roberts' death storyline out over another episode. Just like Earl is the perfect way to start the evening, Scrubs seems like the best way to close it out. The show has regained much of its heart, even if the jokes aren't quite what they were in earlier seasons. Still, the episode made a few steps forward in the story (Elliott declaring her love for Keith, for instance), and the central device of the various hospital workers taking Nurse Roberts' advice (as delivered by her preacher) to heart wasn't bad.

And, hey, that funeral scene hit a whole bunch of different emotions -- the sorts you might not expect to see in a funeral scene.

I don't have a lot else to say about Scrubs, but it's nice to have the show back. It may not be at the level of strength it had in its first few seasons, but it's a consistent pleasure now, and that's more than enough.

What was your favorite?

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"I'll see you in a week.": Lost

If nothing else, I hope the run for Lost continues just so the women of Deadwood can continue to see gainful employment. The show could lapse into the worst on television, and as long as the likes of Kim Dickens, Paula Malcolmson and Robin Weigert turn up in bit parts, I'd be happy. (Suggested future casting: Molly Parker as the fussy accountant for The Others.) Pretty much any acting job would have been a comedown after the magnificent monologues of Deadwood, but these actresses could do a whole lot worse than Lost. (I know there are going to be roughly 50 of you who disagree, but I saw a show today where Kato Kaelin doles out the punishments of a wacky judge who settles things in unusual ways, so I KNOW I'M RIGHT.) But the episode made an even better case for Elizabeth Mitchell as the glue that's holding this season together, even as it provided a healthy dosage of answers (the big crop of answers that has turned up in the season's second half seems designed to placate the people who complained extensively about the lack of same in the first part of the season -- precisely the people who aren't watching anymore).

Mitchell's Juliet would seem an almost impossible character to play. Her motivations are never exactly clear, and she often shifts those motivations within a line. But Mitchell makes all of this believable, all the while putting some of the other female cast members to shame (not Yunjin Kim, but she rarely drives the plot anyway -- though I'm guessing she'll get kidnapped in the weeks to come). If the development of The Others in the previous two seasons hasn't been consistent with what they've been shown to be in season three (barring some incredible save in the season finale or something), their storyline within season three has been remarkably consistent for this show. Everything about them mostly lines up, and stuff that seemed needlessly cryptic in the premiere was paid off here, as were a series of events from Juliet's first flashback episode that didn't make a lot of sense either.

As an example: It should have been completely obvious that Juliet was playing the beach bums all along, but Mitchell somehow made it seem as if she had truly decided to cast her lot with them. The only thing not making her plight the most obvious con job on a series full of them was Mitchell's performance, and she sold it considerably, right down to that scene where she had to have a meltdown in front of a monitor improbably showing her still-living sister playing with her miracle son. (Unanswered in all of this was why Juliet continues to trust Ben, though it seems this is probably because she feels he's her best shot at getting off of the island.) I especially loved the sequence where she first arrived at the island and exited the submarine clumsily, crawling along on hands and knees in her skirt and high heels. It felt like something out of an '80s action comedy, to be sure, but the weird juxtaposition of setting and costume worked for me.

It helps, of course, that Elizabeth Mitchell is gorgeous, as are all of the actors on this show, and exceptionally well-cast, as are most of the actors on this show.

The answers given to some of the series' larger questions were mostly satisfactory, though, to be honest, I'm not sure I'm watching for that anymore. What was even better was that Sayid seemed to continue his quest to learn what's the what with the island, acting as the audience surrogate we desperately need on this show (Hurley is probably the other audience surrogate -- the one who makes the jokes when the jokes must be made). While it continues to irritate that Jack has apparently become the grand Zen master doofus (what with his decisions to base his opinions of people on snap judgments), I'm willing to go with it so long as it leads to him being brainwashed or something.

The other thing I like about this show is that it finally feels like an ensemble show again. For large swathes of season two and the first few episodes of season three, it felt like the writers would forget about groups of characters for weeks at a time (though it must be said that this is easier to overlook on DVD). The scene with what felt like the 500th reunion at the beach was nicely executed, and it was fun to see some forgotten character dynamics (like Jack and Sawyer) resurface. I don't know who in the room is advocating for these ensemble scenes, but I'm glad they are. It grounds the show in a more organic place and makes some of the tougher stretches of the show easier to sit through.

So what did you think, Lost fans and detractors? I anxiously await your vitriol!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.": Friday Night Lights

And so it ends. Though all signs point to a second season, this episode stood well enough as a story capper that if the show does, indeed, get canceled, I'll probably be OK, even if the finale wasn't quite the great episode that so many of the preceding were (and, honestly, most of it was well-nigh perfect -- I'm just unsure on a couple of small story choices). It was a suitable ending and a fine point of closure for one epic story, and that's enough for me, especially if this is all we get (if it's not all we get, it certainly provides us with some interesting ideas for where next season could go -- no show other than The Wire has survived expanding its scope, but just the idea of seeing some of the new settings sort of tossed up there in the finale is interesting to me).

Let's get to the main thing I DIDN'T like in this episode. Why, exactly, did the Panthers win the big game? I get that there's a need to give a satisfying ending to the passionate fans if the show doesn't come back, and I also get that since Coach Taylor accepted the TMU job, a loss would be TOO depressing for the Dillon faithful, but the winning of the game sort of goes against both the source material for the show and everything that was set up in the show so far, right down to the halftime speech, which seemed to be a way to set the guys up to lose gracefully. Now I was surprised when Smash stretched just enough to score the winning touchdown, but it felt oddly anti-climactic, largely because the game, like so many of the games this season, felt almost like an afterthought. The episode was more interested in the town's response to the game (as it should be) and how so many of the relationships came to breaking points or healing points (the most notable being Lyla and Tyra finding some way to begin a friendship). This was as it should be, and I liked seeing basically every major Dillon character return in this episode (as it really would be in a small town, where everyone caravans together to state). But the win just felt too. . .easy. And that was the first time the sports movie action really got in the way of the larger storyline for me this season. Still, if this is all I get, I guess I'm happier with this ending than a loss. But only marginally.

Other than the Panthers winning, I loved nearly everything else about this episode, from the monumentally great halftime speech to the pregnancy announcement (which I was really dreading from the previews) to the way the camera panned down to catch Tami's bare feet standing on top of her husband's shoe-clad ones. I liked that it let me have a moment with every major character, as if letting me let them go (even if Jason Street's metamorphosis into the greatest coach ever continues to be a little sudden). It was striking to think of how far all of these characters have come from the stereotypes they started the season as, particularly Buddy Garrity and Tyra Collette, the two characters I took the longest to warm up to. Heck, the show even made me feel rather warmly toward that annoying little kid who showed up in the last handful of episodes to give Riggins some character-building and such.

I love that the Tyra and Landry pairing has headed into a place where Tyra tried to put a grace note on his crush on her (by giving her a kiss on the cheek) without realizing just how much Landry would misinterpret that gesture. I love, love, LOVE that scene when Tami finds out she's pregnant and every possible emotion runs through Connie Britton's eyes (at this rate, Edie Falco is going to have to do something pretty awesome to beat Britton for the SDD Emmys). And I love that Smash played through the pain and nothing bad happened to him (at first, I thought this was blatant cliffhanger fodder, but the writers obviously saw how similar that would be to Street's paralysis and wisely strayed away from that).

But, most of all, I loved the two musical montages. The first, featuring the team arriving in Dallas to Explosions in the Sky's "Your Hand in Mine" (probably their most recognizable song and one that was used to great effect in the movie version of this story). I'm glad they saved this song for this episode, as it was the perfect way to underscore the sheer momentousness of the occasion in the episode.

As good as that was, I liked the Devil Town montage, at the end of the episode, even better. It provided an nice bookend for the season (having turned up much earlier). Seeing the team riding into town in happiness, the drab little buildings of Dillon transformed with the excitement of seeing the team win, was simply perfect, as was every last look we got at everyone of the characters that mattered, standing in the crowd, smiling and beaming. If we have to leave these people here, I'll take it.

And then, hell, they threw in a slow clap to seal the deal. I don't normally like the slow clap, but I went with it here. I might have even joined in had I not been watching with others.

Now, normally, I would write a season review of the show, but since I did over at House Next Door, that piece and this one will have to stand as a cumulative record of the show's first season. So comment on the season as a whole below.

One thing I hope they ditch in season two? The radio announcer guy. He's all right, but he often just underscores things we already know, and he often does so clumsily. It's the show's one seeming concession to playing by the TV "rules," and I'd rather not have it around at all.

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T.V. on TV: Friday Night Lights and Notes from the Underbelly

It’s easy to see why Friday Night Lights, concluding its first season tonight on NBC at 8 p.m. EDT, would make someone nervous. Almost frighteningly earnest, the show attempts to encompass the whole of a small Texas town by zeroing in on the lives and loves of its high school football team’s members and a variety of satellite characters. If that weren’t enough, the show makes a special effort to take on the issues of the day -- from the war in Iraq to steroid use by teen athletes -- like a weekly after-school special. Based on a good book and an even better movie, this should be a recipe for disaster.

But, as much as I liked the pilot, Friday Night Lights has grown beyond even that into a deeply moving, sparsely poetic series that just might be the best on TV (and certainly the best on network TV). The show’s ambitions occasionally outstrip its abilities, but it scores so often and so well that it can be forgiven the occasional flub (like having nearly every game in the first half of the season end on some unbelievable trick play). And still no one watches the show, which is commonly ascribed to have too much football for the non-fan and too little football for the fan. While that may be the case for the show’s low ratings, it doesn’t assuage any of the series’ fans doubts about the network ordering up a second season (though NBC has stated frequently that they believe in the program and would like to have it back next year). Still, if tonight is the last time the series ever airs, it will be that rare thing -- a near-perfect season of network television -- the sort of thing one might treasure on DVD while wondering why no one bothered to check it out when it was airing.
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The rest is here.

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"That wasn't horrible." - American Idol

I disagree.

It was Latin week on American Idol, which meant that finally America could be reintroduced to the complete works of Gloria Esteban and songs from this album. Wonderful. As though America didn't already think that those two things comprised the whole of the Latin music scene.

As usual, however, picking outside those two categories left competitors in trouble, so I probably shouldn't complain.

1. Melinda Doolittle - "Sway": Meh. I didn't think this was horrible, but it definitely wasn't anything special. Unfortunately, it's not really in one's best interest for their performances to become LESS compelling as the season goes on, but that seems to be the case for several contestants right now. Doolittle isn't in trouble yet, but needs to find her groove again quickly.

2. LaKisha Jones - "Conga": Speaking of trouble, LaKisha definitely has one foot in the proverbial grave at this point. Though she looked smokin' tonight, her song was, well, a chant, and it was impossible to ignore how awkward she looked when she attempted to feel the beat. Evidently, as many an Idol demonstrated tonight the rhythm is NOT necessarily going to get you. Huh. Who knew?

3. Chris Richardson - "Smooth": Okay, ew. No. This sucked. Hard. Super hard. No, no, no. I just don't understand all the love for Richardson. Honestly, when you turn in a performance that makes people long for the ROB THOMAS VERSION, there is something very wrong. Also, the first three songs of the night really illustrated the importance of great instrumentation in this style of music. That AI band is phenomenal considering what they're asked to do from week to week. Kudos.

4. Haley Scarnato - "Turn the Beat Around": So ... tonight she wore hot pants. HOT PANTS, America! And because Simon commented on it, she'll stay for another week. Dammit, people, when are you going to stop punishing me? It's not like she'll be able to remove any more clothing. If she loses a single square inch of fabric, Fox will be hit with FCC fines the likes of which we've never seen! Additionally, not only is she unable to sing, but she is also unable to strut and sing at the same time! Useless.

5. Phil Stacey - "Maria, Maria": Phil Stacey can hit high notes and has the best voice of the remaining men, blah, blah, blah, but truly, isn't what makes him great his collection of fancy hats? Indeed, I agree, so I took the time to complile all the photos I could find of his menagerie: here he is in a farmer's hat; a captain's hat; a cowboy's hat; a straw skimmer hat; and my personal favorite, a sailor hat, which he wears as he serenades you. He is the Yellow Kid incarnate. And he is coming for you.

6. Jordin Sparks - "Rhythm is Gonna Get You": I love this kid. I really do. But this song pretty much summed up the entire lackluster night: It was fine, but it wasn't great. No one contestant was able to take a song and make it their own. They were frightened and just looking to make it through, so here's hoping that Jordin does.

7. Blake Lewis - "I Need to Know": I used to really love Blake, but right now I just don't understand what the judges are seeing. He can't sing very well, whatsoever, so much so that after Sanjaya, he's the weakest voiced male left. And he's one of the FRONTRUNNERS, people! That's what kind of year this is!

8. Sanjaya Malakar - "Besame Mucho": Evidently, the only way Sanjaya can be a passable performer is when he's singing in a language a good portion of us don't understand. (¡Hable para se! -- ed.) Of course, when he comes back to English it's just as much of a catastrophe as ever, but, oh well. Also, tonight's look disturbed me more than all others because the facial hair and primped curls just made him look like that skeevy guy at the gas station who preys on young girls. But to that extent, isn't that what he' s doing on a national level? Hmm. Really makes you think.

So after tonight's suckfest, I have determined that there should be a round where all the contestants sing the same song. For this song, I have chosen "Yakety Sax". Todd feels that the song should be "Little Spanish Flea". He may have the edge this time as his song contains lyrics, but I will not be swayed.

That said ...

Tonight's winner: Jordin Sparks
Tonight's loser: Haley Scarnato
Tomorrow's loser: Haley Scarnato*

*I CAN'T BE WRONG FOREVER, AMERICA!!!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Say hello to your brother.": 24

OK. I've officially run out of things to say about this show, even when it has a pretty good episode like this one. I should probably just wrap this up for the season, but I'll stick it out because I am all about the sacrifices for YOU, my friends.

I think the reason this episode worked was because Jack Bauer was front and center again. Even in a lackluster episode, Kiefer Sutherland brings his genuine Canadian conviction, and he's been able to make the most of the wacky stuff he's been saddled with this season (from an evil family to the death and resurrection of his longtime love Audrey -- who's now being held ransom so Jack'll do. . .something). The Kief has long been the best thing about this show, and he proved himself most valuable player again tonight, taking down terrorists and stringing them up by chains (complete with lame action movie catchphrase -- see above), riding on the bottom of trucks (no, really!) and learning that torture doesn't always work (something of a 24 mission statement this year, I guess, after the torture-happy episodes early in the season).

I don't know that anything else really worked, but I was happy to see that the president's sudden decision to go nuclear was just a high-stakes game of chicken and not a complete personality reversal. Of COURSE Wayne Palmer knows best. He's a Palmer! Still, that make the up-and-back an up-and-back-and-up-and-back, so I'm not sure that was generally a good thing at all.

Gah. . .must get to at least 500 words! You can do it, Todd!

OK. Um.

I liked Ricky Schroeder finally? He's no Jack Bauer replacement, but he'll work well with Jack when the need arises. And, um, what was up with Milo's craziness? I guess he's evil or something? I mean, he IS Eric Balfour.

I do hope that the rumors of Jack being a lone wolf next season somehow turn out to be true. Everything about this show is dragging the Kief down this season, but when the writers can elevate him from a supporting player and give him stuff to do, he can still shoulder the load of a sub-par season and make an episode that appeals to that lower brain stem.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

"The five of us are going to be sharing a 102-ounce steak from a cow that I picked out on the Internet.": How I Met Your Mother


Instead of discussing a pretty good but not quite great episode of How I Met Your Mother, we're going to discuss 10 reasons why CBS should not cancel this show, as they are possibly rumored to be considering, as exemplified by tonight's episode.

10.) Even the minor bit players are well cast. Obviously, the ensemble is great and the BIG! SPECIAL! guest stars are all cast well, but even the tiny guest parts go to good actors who are probably just looking for that big break -- witness the stripper tonight (who got the chance to be hot and funny) and Lily's grandmother. Heck, even the recurring bit players (like the first seasons Ranjeet and Marshall and Ted's families) do great work.

9.) The show's not afraid to go for the dramatic moment. Barney flying to San Francisco to tell Lily that she couldn't leave Marshall forever and had to come back was both unexpected and somehow completely in character. What's more, it made us understand Barney better -- he's not a secret romantic, but he is smart enough to know what's best for his friends. Hence, the best man.

8.) Cobie Smulders has gotten better and better. When the show started, I thought that she, even more than Josh Radnor, was the weak link in the cast. But tonight, when she played her scenes mostly in the background, she was spot on. She's that rare thing -- a gorgeous funny person.

7.) The deployment of double entendres gets better and better. Seriously, that long speech by the grandmother who thought she was giving Lily a sewing machine and did not know that a, er, sex toy was in the box was hilarious. And I don't usually laugh at that sort of thing!

6.) But they're not afraid to go for the less-obvious. Of course we assumed that the old biddies would be shocked by the presence of a sex toy (that was basically the whole joke from the time Robin walked in to the wedding shower), but it was even better to twist the scene in another way -- where the old biddies had all seen Sex and the City (on TBS, of course) and were well-acquainted with the ins and outs of vibrators.

5.) Neil Patrick Harris has perfected his character to such a pinnacle that he ranks with the best characters on TV in this decade. No joke! And I was late to the Barney believers club.

4.) Alyson Hanigan's face when she opened the package and had to look to her grandmother in an entirely new light. Hugely expressive face. Should have 500 Emmys.

3.) Look, the bachelor party subplot was kind of lame, but, hey, at least that one guy who married the hot chick and Marshall's guy friend from earlier this season were back. And Future Ted's deconstruction of the kinds of guys that show up at bachelor parties was spot on. And, hey, bonus points for never letting me look at one of those bouncy ball thingies (they're really called hippity hops?!) in the same way again. At any rate, not just introducing two random friends but instead bringing back two old ones was some good continuity, something this show is excellent at.

2.) Marshall's excitement at getting to eat a 102 ounce steak. Finally, a TV character I can relate to!

1.) Best. Inside joke. Ever. That shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the airplane that opened the Barney/Lily flashback? The stock footage? Same stock footage that opens Full House. Go ahead. Turn on Nick at Nite because it's probably on right now. Compare. You see? I'M RIGHT. (Bob Saget, the show's narrator, was, of course, the star of Full House.)

Add other reasons and favorite lines in the comments.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

"Hm, couldn't have all been roses and artichokes.": Brothers and Sisters

Well, I guess this is why I'm never in a huge hurry to watch this show.

Tonight's episode of Brothers and Sisters was fairly lackluster, with entertaining moments interspersed. Let's start with the bad:

1. Though everyone else involved at this site worships at the altar of Emily VanCamp, I've never completely understand the appeal. (Urge to kill rising. . .--ed.) On tonight's episode, VanCamp's character made some inexplicable decisions, including forcing one of her new brothers to drive them to a party of a mutual friend, despite his RECOVERING ADDICT status, which she waves off because everyone's an addict or some such silliness. *blinks* Okay. I mean, I remember the self-involved nature of one's early 20's, but really, Greg Berlanti? REALLY? (But she also spent much of the hour texting people. Oh those kids! When will they learn? -- ed.)

2. Throughout the episode, Kitty (Calista Flockhart) is forced to interview people from Senator McBotox's (Rob Lowe) hometown of Castroville (or something). Throughout this process, Kitty learns that the Senator is the real live second-coming of Christ. Okay, not really, but she does learn a whole bunch of information that leads everyone to believe that he is the greatest individual on the face of the Earth. Lame.

3. Could there BE any more love interests on this show? Since the show began, Kitty's had three, Justin's had two, Nora's had two (OTHER than her dead husband), Kevin's had two, and even married Sarah and Joe each had their temptations. I get that it's soap-y fun, but sheesh ...

4. I'm so hating the Nora/writing sub-plot. I get that she needs something more in her life, but honestly, even an art class would have been better. And though I like Peter Coyote as the professor, the relationship they may or may not be about to embark on strikes me as odd. Hopefully, "Heartland" will fail, and the Treat can come back to the Berlanti fold.

So, the good:

1. This episode heralded the (hopefully) end of the Kevin and Chad (the frighfully untalented and not at all attractive Jason Lewis) relationship. Was anyone seriously enjoying this plotline? And how is it at all believable that Kevin would want to continue this relationship? I mean, he wasn't into Chad enough to be his support system in coming out, so why continue a dead end suckfest? Yeah, I didn't have a good answer either. So now, hopefully, Kevin can continue his quest for love with someone a little less creepy and devoid of talent.

2. Sally Field does wacky things. It amuses me almost as much as Margot Kidder creeps me out.


3. I love the show most when it features the full family interacting, but second to that, I love the interaction between Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths. The two's interaction is easy even when their relationship is complicated. Ugh, I can't believe I just typed that.

All things said, it was a fine (as in, okay) episode. I am, however, extremely pleased that this show got picked up for next season, as when it's "on" it's definitely in my top 10.

In conclusion, how have I missed the Robert McCallister link all this time!? Gah, I loved Jack and Bobby! Hmm ... they should get Kate Mara on this show. (That's it! I'm adding a new tag! -- ed.)

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"We're gonna celebrate your 40th birthday at Chuck E. Cheese.": Entourage

"How is that show?" said a friend to me tonight. "I refuse to watch it because it is appreciated by tools."

Well, not quite, but Entourage always leaves one wishing it was a bit more honest with itself. It feels happy enough to blame Ari for the breakup of the Vince/Ari partnership that was so successful in the first 2.5 seasons but doesn't get angry at Vince for being an aimless drifter, more content to have everyone around him do what needs to be done so he can just show up on set and be kind of an empty enigma. Maybe this is the show's ultimate joke on its audience, but it sure seems like the writers and other creatives side with Vince and think his stardom is earned. Maybe this is how it really is to be a big star in Hollywood, but most of the big stars certainly give off the persona of being hyper-controlling. Vince just seems like he sleepwalks through life.

But the Ari Gold show is still interesting to watch. Having been fired by Vince, Ari is treating it like a bad breakup, diminishing his new agent and sending him scripts on the sly, trying to lure him back. Jeremy Piven's livewire performance makes so much of this show that it's hard to watch the Vince-centric scenes that don't feature him. Piven's dance of agent seduction was easily the funniest thing about this episode, and his relationship with Lloyd borders on the tiresome but never QUITE gets there.

The Vince stuff just wasn't as good. I really can't buy Vince in an Edith Wharton adaptation (much less one directed by Sam Mendes), and I also find it hard to believe that his star would have stayed so hot this long, especially with when he ditched Aquaman 2 (that wouldn't have earned him some hatred from Aquaman junkies?). I realize that a big part of watching Entourage is wish-fulfillment -- this is what it would be like if I were rich and handsome and famous and I lived in LA. But the show also should deal with some of the consequences of Vince's carefree behavior -- can't he suffer for some of these choices and not Ari?

Still. . .I don't have a lot to say about this episode, probably because not a lot happened. Entourage is probably the least plot-intensive popular series on television, again, because most of its appeal lies in the wish-fulfillment aspect. I wasn't horribly invested in whether or not Vince would get the birthday party of his dreams because, honestly, Vince gets everything he wants. And to a degree, that's why I watch. But it's hard to see an eventuality where this doesn't get tired, simply because Vince never faces any real adversity.

But at least there's Ari.

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"You know, the Parker Brothers took time to think this all up. I think we should respect that.": The Sopranos

I realize that most Sopranos fans, at this point, get angry when each episode doesn't contain the deaths of major characters or lots of violence or whatever, but I'm into the show because of episodes like "Sopranos Home Movies," the episode that aired to kick off the show's second half of its sixth season (phew!). A quiet, pensive hour, the episode seemed full of portent, setting up a back half of the season that would bring closure to the whole epic tale.

The Sopranos occasionally stumbles when it does these more thoughtful hours, but this was not one of those times. It seemed set up specifically to remind us both that Tony is an almost primitive monster, almost always choosing the easy thing over the right thing, and that he's slowly losing his grip over things, even being beaten in a brawl by the overweight Bobby Bacala. Of course, he got back at Bobby by forcing Bobby to kill a man for the first time ever, and the scene where Bobby did so (arrestingly shot in the reflection on a washer door and underscored by the sound of shoes thumping in a dryer) was a highlight of the episode, showing just how deeply unconscionable Bobby found the action (though, of course, he still went through with it, so he obviously didn't think it was that bad -- someone choosing the easy way over the right way once again).

The whole episode centered around a getaway for Tony, Carmela, Janice and Bobby, and it didn't feel like a typical Sopranos episode. It was even more leisurely paced than usual and director Tim Van Patten used dissolves well to suggest the lazy passage of time experienced on any summer vacation. I particularly liked the long shots of the lake, characters staring out at it (the last shot with Bobby cradling his daughter and looking out at the placid surface of the water was well composed). The shots suggested the idea of taking stock, of seeing what has gone before and trying to find a new way to forge forward. Of course, this being a David Chase production, nothing will ever change.

The episode opened with the police closing in on Tony after a kid was caught with a gun that Tony disposed of several years ago (and this plot point felt a bit forced, though it could be leading to that gun being what takes Tony down -- it would be fitting if it were something that mundane). Carmela's fear that this might be it for the lifestyle they lead seemed a nice meta-commentary on the viewers' apprehensions on how the show will end (there's really no way the show can end without Tony dead or in jail, but we almost all seem to be paradoxically hoping there might be more for him). And I wouldn't be surprised if this was a piece in the puzzle of bringing Tony down.

The episode also delved into something that we rarely see overtly discussed on the show -- Tony's aging and how he fears it impacts his masculinity. He tries to assure Carmela that he only lost to Bobby because of a slip on a rug, seemingly afraid that Carm only loved him in the first place because he could handle himself in a street fight. One of the things that makes Tony such an arresting character to watch is that he doesn't deal with the mundanity of everyday life in the way the rest of us do -- he often turns to violence and immediate gratification. Now, there's a seaminess to this on the part of the audience -- are we getting a sort of contact high from this? Living vicariously? But this episode suggests (as the series has before) that this sort of attitude is an outgrowth of immature and unchecked masculinity. Tony thinks the world's out to get him and he has to batten down the hatches.

All in all, an auspicious start to the final nine. Or did you wish there was more deathing?

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"He looks nothing like I imagined!": Happy Easter!



(Yes we know we posted this last year and yes we know everyone else is posting it, but it's the one day of the year we can get away with it. Enjoy!)

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"There were no alligators at Pearl Harbor!": Scrubs

After a mixed and muddled start to the season, Scrubs has really hit its stride of late. This latest episode had its problems with conflating the miracles of death and life (Nurse Roberts died, but Cox and Jordan's baby was born -- oh the miracle of it all!) in a typically reductive TV fashion, but the episode itself was poignant and funny in the way that Scrubs is when it's at its best. Sure, parts of it felt like a highlight reel of bittersweet episodes from the show's past (and it wasn't as good as any of the episodes referenced), but the emotions earned were real, not least of which because Nurse Roberts was such an integral part of the show's "bench," the large number of recurring players who are in most of the episodes but don't manage to make the leap to above-the-titles star (only Neil Flynn's Janitor has managed the big step up). You'll occasionally see some of these players on other shows, playing different characters, and it feels as wrong as if Zach Braff were suddenly playing a major supporting role on Lost or something (his Arrested Development guest appearance doesn't count). In its own way, this episode was a tribute to all of the recurring players who make this show work.

The idea of all of the characters cycling past Roberts' body (in a coma and waiting for death to overtake it) and saying how they felt about her didn't FEEL original (I believe a similar device has been used on the show before), but the characters' thoughts all seemed apropos, and it made perfect sense that Carla, who has worked with the nurse for six seasons now, would be hardest hit and refuse to go to see her until the last moment. I wasn't as sold on having Roberts' spirit form spend the episode palling around with Carla (shades of Brendan Fraser following around Cox in that famous season three episode), but I'll go with it if only because it gave Aloma Roberts one last chance to shine. So often, when a character is killed off on a show, they spend their last episode being a corpse, so it was nice that Roberts got to play her character one last time before getting sent off. (Weird trivia note: According to IMDB, Roberts is the Scrubs bit player who's been in the second-most episodes. Who's first? The Todd. I wouldn't have guessed that, but now that I know it, it makes sense.)

It's a typical thing for a TV show to pair a big death with a birth, just so we can be reminded that life is a neverending circle, yo. While I cringed when I found out that this episode would feature the birth of Cox and Jordan's baby girl, the actual execution of the idea wasn't all that bad -- for one thing, it was a planned cesarean, so we didn't have to see Jordan suddenly going into labor while standing at Nurse Roberts' bedside or anything. It was also funny to find out that Cox didn't know the cesarean was that day, and it turned out that shunting J.D. off into this storyline (and his subsequent attempts to become the girl's godfather) was the right idea, as it made for a humorous runner.

So I'll miss Nurse Roberts, but the episode as a whole was solid Scrubs. Here's hoping that this bodes well for the last handful of episodes this season.

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"I literally have no idea what to say to you right now.": Prison Break

(Don't worry. Joey will be back to give you his thoughts on season two as a whole soon. I'm just filling in while I have nothing better to do. -- ed.)

So, ok. What?

Is Michael a cyborg? Is Sucre the most-obvious Christ figure ever (I mean the guy was laying with arms outstretched on the pavement already, bleeding from his chest and then they cut to the OVERHEAD SHOT to drive it home)? Is Sarah really THAT wracked with guilt over shooting a man after all the crazy stuff she's seen this year? And gladiator prison? Is that awesome or just awful? Certainly the latter, but at least I give the gang at Prison Break points for originality.

Now, you've heard me rail on and on about up-and-backs here before, but the whole second SEASON of Prison Break was an up-and-back (previous offenders of this nature: Grey's Anatomy). Very little was learned outside of the conspiracy, and not much has changed. It's as though the Prison Break writers picked up cards that had the various elements of the show written on them, dropped them on the floor, then picked them up again and reassembled them at random. So in season three, we'll get Lincoln trying to help Michael escape from a NEW prison (though Linc's on the outside) while he enlists the help of Bellick and Mahone. Possibly T-Bag will be involved, and Sucre will be lying in the street dying for the whole season, I guess. This is, in essence, season one all over again, in a rougher prison with fewer characters. I don't see how it works, but, hey, gotta make it to syndication.

If the characters had sailed off into the sunset (as, originally, the series was conceived as a two-season show), it would have been kind of lame, but at least it would have been an ending. The characters would have been given ends to their stories that made sense with everything that had gone before (Lincoln's sudden memory wipe in re: his SON notwithstanding). Instead, we get to see Mike try to break out yet again as the good government scientists speak cryptically about how he's been programmed to be an escape artist and such. The show was already in too-vague X-Files territory with the storyline about The Company, and it didn't need to further specify the X-Files-i-ness to be a better show. Prison Break isn't about conspiracy theories; it's about visceral thrills and attractive people running around and doing stuff.

Still, I mean, it was a busy enough episode. I can see why Prison Break's fans insist this is the best damn show ever. There's always lots of stuff going on, and every episode is overstuffed with plot. The only problem is that the blind adherence to the plot leaves us with characters who are barely ciphers. Does Michael have a character flaw? What's redeeming about T-Bag, redeeming enough for us to keep hanging out with him? Granted, Mahone has a COMPLICATED PAST, but it's ripped off from a dozen characters just like him before.

Then again, if you watch Prison Break, you don't watch for the complicated character set-ups and complex writing. You watch for. . .well, see above.

At this point, I'm not sure I'll be around for season three of Prison Break. However, the show will probably debut in August again, when there's nothing else on, so I'm sure I'll check out the first few episodes at least. And you? How over-obvious and completely insane will Prison Break have to get for you to give up on it?

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