Saturday, April 28, 2007

"I'm missing the show! The Seattle Grace show!": Two weeks of Grey's Anatomy

Have been lazy/swamped (my graduation from college approaches and I just turned 21! Go me!), so I will tackle the last two weeks of Grey's Anatomy here. These being the last two episodes before the big BACKDOOR PILOT next week! Aren't you just hopelessly excited? Anyway, let's go character by character.

Starting with the pairing eeeeveryone's talking about, Gizzie! Izorge! Gzoire! Iezrge! I could literally do that all day. OK, so most people seem to be, well, pissed about the whole hookup thing. And really, people have been mad at Izzie for quite a while now (aka since the last few eps of season two). So, in ep 20 "Time After Time" (which aired last week), Shonda and the writing team pulled out the big Izzie episode. The one they've been keeping in cold storage for whenever it seems the viewing public's bile will rise up and drown Ms. Heigl. That's right, it's Izzie's daughter, given away at birth to save her from a life as trailer trash! But wait, she's sick, and thus at Seattle Grace, in hope of a bone marrow transplant from her real mother! Manipulative as it all was, Heigl did a solid job with what is basically her big Emmy tape this year. Well, more solid than usual. Definitely more solid than the cry/scream freakout at Denny last season. Definitely helped by having Izzie lean on Bailey during her little emotional turmoil. Chandra Wilson is like, the ultimate acting assist on this show. Her presence can totally calm the most unbelievable situations, as well as bolster some of the lesser cast members. Anyway, Izzie's pain ended up reuniting her and George as "friends". Yeah. Which lasted about one episode (really, it did!) cause by the end of ep 21, "Desire" on Thursday, George announced his plan to leave Seattle Grace for the sake of his marriage. Say it ain't so, T.R.! I wouldn't lend much credence to his threat if it weren't for all the controversy, but as it is, I'm vaguely biting my nails.

OK, that was a long paragraph, but this one's gonna be short, cause it's about Meredith and McDreamy. Who have been like, slightly awkward ever since Meredith drowned. And then the Chief said he wouldn't make Shepherd chief because...he doesn't want Shepherd and Meredith to break up. Who knew the Chief was so committed! Anyway, so this has their relationship in a slight tailspin, or something. Honestly, it's very boring. Can we just have them not break up, ever, please? I foresee lots more trouble and turmoil on the horizon for Meredith, and I'd frankly like the writers to just give her a break. Sigh.

Ummm...who else. Alex! Alex has been like, the total saving grace of these recent eps. Him and Elizabeth Reaser. I will admit, I was a bit put off by the Jane Doe storyline at first, seeing as it was kind of like Izzie/Denny but reversed. But once all that mental makeup got taken off, Reaser has been fantastic, so good that I hope she doesn't meet the same fate as Denny, but instead magically is revealed to be a doctor who will fill Addison's place at Seattle Grace. Yeah. You heard me. Jane Doe/Ava's freakout at the end of ep 20, when she had a false alarm that her identity had been confirmed, was great. Then, her gossipy sweetness in trying to make up with Alex the next ep was even better. I love 'er! And Karev's been kicking ass too. I suppose it's only so long before the writers mess him up too, but he's very solid right now.

Finally, Mark and Addison (I can't be bothered with Burke and Cristina, they bore me, as did the thing with Roger Rees as her old boyfriend). Addison finally gave into her understandable urges (she works in Seattle Grace, after all, which is like a sex factory) and mercilessly screwed Alex. Only for Mark to FIND OUT! Meaning he didn't backslide on their little deal, but she did! Who saw that coming! OK, everyone, seeing as Addison/Alex was bound to happen. And I guess everyone saw Sloan being all hurt and coy about it, too. Hell, something's gotta push Addison out the door, after all. Still, I've really enjoyed them both this season, both together and apart. Mark is a great background medical guy (he definitely acts the most like a potential Chief) and he's good for steamy banter, anytime. His half-hearted attempt to vindictively hook up with Meredith was the highlight of this Thursday, even though it's definitely occurred to me that they have pretty strong chemistry. I can't right now see a situation where they get together, but I wouldn't totally bet against it down the road. After all, GIZZIE happened! ADDISEX happened! What's next? Bailey and the Chief? Gah...perish the thought.


“I understand you’re in a lot of pain. Good.” – Smallville

I love it when Smallville delivers a good episode, because believe it or not, tearing into this show every week gets very boring. I still like Smallville and I think it could easily become a higher calibre of show with only minor tweaks. Yet it continues to frustrate, refusing to give up on the ‘freak of the week’ format instead of just letting its principals hold up an episode on their own. Which is why I really enjoyed this week’s episode, ‘Nemesis’. It started out like a usual episode, with Lex being taken hostage by a woman claiming her army officer husband is being used by Luthercorp for experiments. I braced myself for another tedious forty minutes of this woman torturing, interrogating or just shouting at Lex before he was eventually saved, most likely by Clark, who would grimace a little at the conflicting emotions he was feeling.

However, ‘Nemesis’ quickly reverted my expectations in a most refreshing way. Before the second ad-break, Lex’s capturer was already dead. From here, Clark’s rescue effort is foiled by the kryptonite lining the walls which renders him weak and useless. For once Smallville uses a ridiculous premise for a good cause – a long-overdue confrontation between Clark and Lex. Their exchanges, while hardly revelatory, were highly enjoyable. Clark and Lex’s shift from friends to foes has never felt as dramatic as it should, but this episode successfully conveyed their feelings about one another. Clark has seen too much evidence of Lex’s dark side to ever really trust him again, but he is prone to seeing the good in people and really wants to give Lex another chance in the vain hope Lex will prove him right. Lex, meanwhile, is a businessman at heart and has grown to see Clark as little more than a commodity, as someone he fights to keep on his side merely because he proves an annoyance when he’s on the other. In this way he puts on his best ‘emotional side’ performance whenever Clark is around, knowing Clark is naïve enough to buy into it. He has one crippling flaw though: he truly does love Lana. And something tells me that once he loses her, his dark side will truly reveal itself.

Speaking of Lana, this episode was also unique in that it was the first in a long time to give her something interesting to do; more than that, it actually got me on her side. Lana has been messed around with so much that its become hard to relate to her anymore, but in ‘Nemesis’ she stole the show simply because she got tired of being messed around and bloody well took charge. From blackmailing Lionel Luthor minutes before he was going into surgery, to shooting the locks off Lex’s personal briefcase, to the reveal that she knew where he was trapped the whole time but chose not to tell anybody…Kreuk made the most of this character reversal and for once seemed to be having some fun with the role.

Finally there was the inevitable cliff-hanger revealing that Lex’s assailant was right all along, and he does indeed have her ex-soldier husband (guest star Tahmoh Penikett, of Battlestar Galactica fame, who will return in two weeks) locked up in a Luthercorp basement. With Lana’s secret hatred of him gradually coming to the surface, her and Clark casting constant lustful glances at each other on their every encounter and his father no longer on his side, Lex looks to be growing increasingly desperate. The plot movement in this episode was the most satisfying Smallville has ever delivered and, providing the writers get their act together, should make for a gripping final few episodes.


Friday, April 27, 2007

"I want a lobster. I want two lobsters, totalling five pounds of lobster meat!": 30 Rock

You may think I'm nuts (I know David will), but knowing that this show was coming back for a second season kind of sucked all of the air out of this season finale. If we had been on pins and needles, afeared that this was the last we would ever get to see the show, it might have been easier to forgive some of the weaknesses of this episode, seemingly constructed to function as a series finale if need be, though it had enough cliffhangers to be a season finale as well. Still, I laughed a lot, and it's better to know that the show will be back than have to spend the next few weeks fretting about it.

One of the nicest things about the episode was that it brought back a lot of the characters who seemed to have been nixed from the show over the last few episodes, perhaps as a cost-saving measure. It was good to see Cerie and Jenna (who, technically, was in last week's episode) and Dr. Leo Spaceman and Rachel Dratch again. But was Pete in the episode? I didn't see him. I could have just missed him though.

It was great fun to see Elaine Stritch as Jack's mother as well (and I like how all of the significant women in Jack's life assume he's with Liz, even though he insists -- and I believe him -- that will never be the case; it's a great commentary on how women find different women "attractive" from men -- not to say that Tina Fey isn't attractive). And Sean Hayes was able to tap in to just enough of the show's lunacy to make his turn as Kenneth's cousin not seem completely unrealistic.

That said, all of the plots here felt a bit forced and pitched too fast. Tracy's battle with the Black Crusaders, so promising last week, sort of fizzled out, even as Kenneth brought him back to New York just in time for TGS (and, oh, how I hope that Bill Cosby will guest star next season as himself). I did like Jack's oblique reference to his onetime relationship with Condoleezza Rice, however.

Jack's storyline (stress over his job and impending marriage led to health issues) was all right. I did like that he had Liz as his emergency contact (because she was the only one who wouldn't be afraid to pull the plug), but I wanted a little more time to get to see him and his mother interact. I did like the character of Phoebe, and I hope Emily Mortimer eventually lands her own sitcom.

At the center of all of this was Liz Lemon, doing her best to hold the whole show together. Seeing her do in this episode roughly what she did in the premiere showcased just how much more confident Tina Fey is as an actress. I do sincerely hope she gets nominated for an Emmy, even if she is just playing herself. She's grown into the part and into her own talent so well that I can only hope she'll push the part even further in year two.

And, phew! We get a year two! Let's not forget that.

Expect a review of the season as a whole this weekend, and expect an Ugly Betty review tomorrow night.


"Fact. Bears eat beets. Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.": The Office

A hit-and-miss episode of The Office, Product Recall still showed off just how much goodwill these characters have built up in the audience by doing an episode where the principal players had very little to do, but no one cared simply because it was fun seeing the supporting players have so much fun with the stuff they were given to do. I don't think I'd like to see an episode that relied this much on Angela and Creed every week, but I love both characters, and it was fun to see them get more to do. In fact, I think that was the most Creed has ever had to do on the show -- practically equaling all of his screentime this season in one scene!

The episode's best gags were those that bookended the show, featuring Jim dressing up as Dwight, then Dwight dressing up as Jim. John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson both did an outstanding job of impersonating each other (Krasinski's non sequitur spewing Dwight was particularly an excellent turn). I'm sure that in the long hours on set, both actors have perfected their impersonations (they seemed too good to have been come up with for just this script), and it was a treat to let the audience in on the joke.

The main plot of the episode -- prom invitations had been printed on stationary featuring a lewd picture on it -- seemed a little too far-fetched for this show. I get that Creed is the worst quality-assurance person ever, but it seemed unlikely that even he would let this slip by him. What's more, I just didn't buy that anyone in the office would be this inept about how to handle the press (or even that there was a need for a press conference). It made for some funny bits, but it didn't quite hang together.

I imagine that some people will be completely disgusted by Andy having dated a high school girl all this time without knowing it, but I found it sort of amusing. His overreaction was on the edge of being too much, but Jim managed to keep him just on this side of plausible. It helped that the actress playing the high school girl was game and funny to boot. You could sort of buy that Andy had fallen for her and that she had used him to buy beer (if that is, indeed, what the kids are still doing nowadays in high school).

All in all, it could have been a better episode of the show, but I laughed at it a lot. The plot itself didn't hang together as well as it might have, but the jokes were strong enough and I enjoy the characters enough that I'm not complaining too much. And let's have some more impersonations!


Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Mrs. McCullen, rocking with your hands buried in your crotch is not acting casual.": My Name Is Earl

And so begins the great My Name Is Earl reorganization of 2007.

It's been clear all season long that the writers of this show have increasingly found the formula that sits at the show's center (Earl uses his list to improve the lives of those he wronged over the years) to be a burden. This has been clear from the sheer number of flashbacks to bad Earl and the episodes focusing on the supporting players and such. Not that there's anything wrong with this -- season two of Earl has been less consistent but much more bizarre and fascinating to watch than season one.

Now, however, the show is completely changing its setting and Earl's social standing. Certainly, it was starting to stretch credibility that this guy could live for so long on just the $100,000 he won in the lottery (paying for his hotel room would be hard enough, not to mention all of the expenses incurred in helping out the people on his list). And I'm all for giving Earl a job, just to give him even more people to interact with (this show does world building very well, all things considered). But by giving him an apartment and an income and (apparently) a love interest, does that change the very nature of the show we're watching? Do we still enjoy Earl if he's not quite as scruffy?

Now, obviously, I'm speculating here, since I have no idea how this whole plot line will play out. And, honestly, it was nice to see Earl putting self-improvement on his list, which has done a lot of good for others but hasn't had a terribly palpable effect for good on Earl's life (unless you count all of that "improvement of spirit" hoo-hah). So having Earl take this chance to improve his own life could benefit the show. But at some point, you have to wonder just how much shaking up of the status quo is a good thing. One of the things that's attractive to people about a hit show is that things rarely change -- it's comforting like an old blanket or something. Will these changes be too much?

I'm going to guess not, simply because the writers seem to work better when they're actively ignoring the formula. The amount of messing around they do with the formula seems directly proportionate to how good the episode is. And this episode, messing with the formula a bit, was a pretty good episode, if not any sort of masterpiece. I enjoyed Earl's stint as a substitute teacher (as credulity straining as it was), and I liked he and the other teachers' open war against the students who had driven so many of the teachers to fear their workplace. Honestly, it's not every comedy where you see a car blow up.

But what I most enjoyed was the meta-commentary on the show itself offered up by the characters, who pointed out every flaw in the show's premise in a deadpan fashion early on in the episode (everything from Earl doing the tasks on the list out of order to the parts where he has to find people and explain the list to them -- imagine writing those scenes week in and week out!). Earl is one of those shows that's willing to goof on itself, though it rarely does so too extensively. Honestly, if there ever was a show that was calling out to break the fourth wall, it was this one, strange and unfettered as it is.

So are you looking forward to Earl's new responsibility? Or do you wish we could go back to the days of season one?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"What?": Lost

When Lost began, if you asked one of its fans whether they enjoyed the on-island hijinks or the off-island flashbacks more, they might not have made merciless fun at you simply because you asked such a question. We've all come to accept that the flashbacks of Lost, especially in the episodes where they seem almost an afterthought, are going to be an irritating digression at least and a completely new industry at worst. It's a fair bet that no one ever liked the flashbacks the best out of the show, but as constructed now, almost no other part gets even a fair shot.

D.O.C. was that rarity: a flashback plot that commented on the island plot and wasn't a waste of time. The island scenes were more dramatically engaging than the flashback scenes, but the flashback scenes earned their keep by delving into the backstory of Jin and Sun. While the married duo have had six flashback stories now, they have yet to grow uninteresting for me. Some fans, who prefer a little more forward momentum in the plot, may feel completely differently about this, but I've always found the lyrical pauses and acting moments in these episodes to be powerful stuff. Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim sell these moments palpably (look at the expression on Sun's face when she learns out who the father of her baby is in this episode -- it throttles between six or seven emotions, never unconvincingly). On Lost, the scripts may let you down, but the cast almost never will.

That said, the script here was pretty good too, taking its chances on blending a small, personal story of a married couple with the larger ramifications of the paratrooper who plummeted from the sky last week. This week, the paratrooper's injuries after a tree branch punctures her lung left her in dire straits, even as Jin, Hurley, Desmond and Charlie tried to look after her, leading the four to accept the help of Mikhail, the eye-patched mysterious man from earlier in the season, who was supposed to be dead the last time we saw him. In the meantime, Sun went with Juliet to the secret facility we saw Claire dragged to last season to learn what was the deal with her baby and whether it had been conceived before she came to the island (with her lover) or after (with her husband). While it turned out to be Jin's and she found this to be a relief emotionally, she still has the death sentence that all women who get pregnant on the island die hanging over her.

Finally, after nursing the paratrooper to health, she informs Hurley that Oceanic 815 crashed into the ocean and that no survivors were found. Hurley, clearly confused, simply says, "What?!" giving me the shortest post title we've had in a good long while.

One of the things that made D.O.C. work for me, I think, was that it didn't try to deepen its "human" story too much with crazy island mythology or anything. All three storylines (the two on the island proper and the flashback one) told relatively simple, very human stories that were intensely relatable (trying to save the life of a stranger, fearing that your child is that of your lover not your husband, seeking out the father-in-law you've never met before because your husband is ashamed of his roots). Granted, all of these stories take place in the heightened vacuum of melodrama, but one of the things that originally made (and still makes, when the show can match its on-island stories to solid flashbacks) Lost so compelling was that it was a huge story with very simple elements at its core. A lot of that has been lost over the years, as we've delved into Others and Dharma Initiatives and such, but the Sun and Jin episodes offer a chance to ditch that, simply because the two characters have so little to do with the big mythology plot. For that reason, I think Sun and Jin flashbacks may be my favorites from all of the characters who've been around since the beginning, though Hurley's would be a close, close second.

Also, this may reflect how much I enjoy getting caught up in a narrative like this, but I've been watching this show since season one, and I'm just as excited to see how this season wraps up as I have been any other. This last string of episodes has felt quite strong, with a few missteps here and there, but mostly worthy of commentary. I feel like less of an idiot for really enjoying it, as it's at least been a solid action-adventure hour from week to week.

At any rate, I'm sure some of you will disagree. For me, though, I'm down with any hour that lets Yunjin Kim say so much without really saying anything at all.


"I'll even make him a fresh sandwich myself": Heroes

Wow. A LOT going on here, which was nice, because the show going fast makes the flaws a lot less bothersome. Today, a friend of mine approached me and said "I didn't like the first 10 episodes of Heroes, but it's really good now!". I don't have any idea how that opinion came about, but I sort of knew what he meant in that you really feel like we're hurtling towards a hellacious season finale. Anyway, let's try to tackle everything that happened, one by one.

Alright, first off, there was Linderman. Internet geeks were obviously instant to point it out, but I'm going to join the chorus nonetheless: WATCHMEN RIPOFF! Yeah, Linderman's plan to unite the crumbling world after the devastating destruction of millions of lives in New York City reeked of Ozymandias in Alan Moore's peerless comic book Watchmen. I'd like to hear Tim Kring (or whoever) acknowledge that, but otherwise I don't mind, because why shouldn't Heroes be drawing on the touchstones of the comics canon? They've got a couple comics writers in their staff, and it's nice to have a comic-booky show on TV that actually FEELS like a comic book (animated shows not included). Now, I'm sure we don't want Linderman's plan to actually work (although it would be quite alarmingly daring for the show to actually blow up New York), but I personally liked the homage and I'm enjoying Malcolm McDowell's work here--he's an almost infallible guest-star presence on any show.

Next off, Peter vs. Sylar! Awesome! Well, it only lasted a few minutes, but it was cool while it lasted. I'm less scared by Sylar every time I see him, but abilities-wise the matchup is still pretty darn cool. Claire saving Peter was nice too--in fact, all of Claire's stuff this week was cool. Nice to see her outside of Texas, and she did a good job with her material (meeting grandma, meeting dad, reviving uncle).

Then, well, we lost another main cast member this week. I know, I know, Heroes is even worse than Lost when it comes to killing off cast members. Lost always goes for the totally obvious, not dramatically interesting, not particularly important or fan-popular characters. With Simone and now Isaac dead, Heroes has been doing just the same. Unlike Simone, though, Isaac didn't go out in such a lame way, at least getting to give a little speech and face Sylar before getting brain-munched. Funny that he actually died just like we saw in the fifth-or-so episode. Seems that Tim Kring's plan to retain Sylar after this season is by giving him Isaac's precognition and also, maybe, a heart. Not that Peter doesn't also have precognition, and like Todd said to me, why can't Sylar just be a good old-fashioned sociopath? Oh well.

Finally, HRG, Matt and Ted escaped from Eric Roberts' slimy clutches and after bitching at each other for a bit, decided to go to New York and SORT SOME STUFF OUT. Or whatever. Basically, they get to go to New York, cause that's where everyone's gotta be for the season finale! I liked HRG thought-communicating with Matt, but why could Matt not talk back to HRG through the mind? Most telepaths can do that (at least in the comix!) and if Matt is going to be useful to this show, he better learn to do it too! Also cool was Ted harnessing his powers to create an EMP and for once not giving anyone cancer. I doubt he'll stick around, but it's nice having someone in the show who is really zappy, y'know?

Only other thing I'll say is that I don't even remember what Mohinder did. Can he be the next to die, plz? Also, speaking of comic-book ripoffs, Hiro and Ando's adventure in the evil future--total ripoff of Days of Future Past! Another classic. Can't wait til next week!


"This may be the most important call you ever make." - American Idol

I made the most important phone call ever tonight ... fifteen times. Basically, I wanted to hit NewsCorp up for a buck-fifty in order to feed the poor starving children of the world.

It's very difficult for me to not be extremely snarky about the "Idol Gives Back" project, as it's doing a very good thing ... so I'll save that for our live-blogging of the two-hour-celebrity-whorefest of tomorrow night. Joy!

Tonight's episode featured inspirational songs as sung by American Idol constestants. Sound familiar? See this review. That said, this round was quite an improvement over last time, with almost everyone proving that they kind of, vaguely, sort of, deserve to be there.

1. Chris Richardson - "Change the World": Still reviewing Richardson under protest, as I find him to be a complete ass. Tonight I was hopeful as his opening verse was not as nasally as usual, but again, he completely lost it in the chorus and began singing through his sinuses, runs and all. Lord, I'm tired of this. That and he completely misinterpreted the song. Moron. On top of that, the judges were enthralled with him tonight. But really, they weren't, as at one point, they said his performance tonight was like the first time they saw him, they saw potential. So, we're down to the top six and you're excited because someone is showing POTENTIAL. No. You're all dumb. And fired. Next.

2. Melinda Doolittle - "There Will Come a Day": At this point, I can't see a way that Doolittle does not make the top three. Of course, the reviled DialIdol has her in the bottom two currently, so, maybe I'm completely idiotic. However, tonight, Doolittle was impeccable as usual. She is such a complete performer that it's quite difficult to review her week after week. Also: if she goes this week, I'll not review Idol again.

3. Blake Lewis - "Imagine": Evidently, the judges and I want completely different things from Blake. Tonight, I thought he picked a great song and sang it the way the song is supposed to be sung. Lewis' performance was infused with emotion, not overwrought and not over-orchestrated. He's learned from his mistakes of remaking the classics and proved that when he needs to "just sing" he can do it. The judges were too harsh on him, and I hope he doesn't pay the ultimate price for it.

4. LaKisha Jones - "I Believe": Remember this and this? Yeah. I'm back to not feelin' the LaKisha love, either. Just because you sing songs by past Idol winners does not make you a shoo-in. Far from it, dear. Jones has failed the song-picking portion of our competition and has been reduced week after week to someone who just comes across as extremely shouty. No one likes a shouter, LaKisha. Just ask my husband. (But I like shouters! -- ed.)

5. Phil Stacey - "The Change": As my husband and I were listening to this song, it took FOREVER to remember which Garth Brooks song it was. Mostly because we didn't remember it ever being so Michael Bolton-y before. That said, Michael Bolton has a lot of fans out there (no really: SEE?!) and maybe this is a way for Phil to break through. Although, probably not. I agree with the judges, as it seems far more likely that Stacey could really break out in the country genre, as they apparently own this show. See: Stacey's continued presence. (for those of you missing my Yellow Kid madness: #1: Yeah, that never really took off ... and #2: I kinda blew my photo load a few weeks back when I was sure he was going to be eliminated. Huh. Who knew?)

6. Jordin Sparks - "You'll Never Walk Alone": This may have been one of the most hyped AI performances ever (considering the show is purportedly live) and I've heard a lot of backlash about it. And while I haven't watched enough of the show to know whether it was one of the finest vocals ever, I do believe it was one of the finest of the season. The problem with this song is the problem with so many songs chosen on this show. To do nearly anything that builds, it's so very abbreviated with only 90 seconds to work with. With that said, Sparks should be applauded, in that it didn't turn into a shoutfest (see: LaKisha) and came of as more of brilliant preview to the actual song. *sighs* Though considering the original version of said song came in a scene on stage that's eight minutes long, that's pretty much the best you can do.

So there you have it. Another summary of AMERICA'S FAVORITE NIGHT OF TELEVISION.

I hope you're all happy.

Tonight's winner: Jordin Sparks (suck it, haters)
Tonight's loser: Chris Richardson
Tomorrow's loser: Chris Richardson*

*Let's keep the streak alive, America.

We'll be back tomorrow night for your live-blogging pleasure.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"How about don't arm nuclear bombs for terrorists?": 24

"The writers of this show have to realize that they're not Dostoevsky," said Luke, summing up whatever it was he was babbling on about this week. To be honest, though, he made a lot of sense. Most weeks, when we talk 24, it's a verbal parry, jetting back and forth. This week, I mostly just agreed with him as he ripped into the season. In fact, I'm just going to repeat most of his thoughts and add on a few of my own. Because I'm lazy, that's why, and because all you really want to do is read Libby's American Idol coverage anyway.

Here's how Luke first proposed his issues with season six of 24 to me: "To make up for the lack of any genuinely compelling drama, the writers have begun simply being very cruel to their characters."

"Explain more," I said.

Luke maintains (and I agree) that 24 initially set up a universe where anything could happen to any of the characters. The first season played by a lot of TV rules -- it didn't seem like any of the regulars would ACTUALLY die, and the shocking twists mostly had to do with guest stars and other things of that nature. (Like when the guy Teri was with turned out to not be the father of the other girl? THAT was good.) But the one-two punch of Nina being the mole and Teri dying gave the show that aura of craziness it needed to persuade the audience that anything really COULD happen. Presidents could be unseated! The boss of CTU could contract radiation sickness and ditch a plane in the desert! Nuclear bombs could blow up, and viruses could escape! Good times, all around.

Season five took the "anything can happen" idea to its logical conclusion. A lot of anything sure happened, leading to lots of characters dying and even more shocking twists (an evil president! Jack being shipped off to prison!). It was great, pulpy fun. The show exemplifying its best, twisty storytelling self. But because of how much story was packed into that season, there was really nowhere else to go. There were no more anythings to happen that could seem genuinely exciting without just seeming tragic or unnecessary. As we've talked about many a time before, the show just doesn't have the passel of characters to inflict damage on that it did in season five, so we just don't care. The best it could do was having President Logan get stabbed, and that was a dud of a plot point that was dropped rather quickly. The show can't kill Chloe or Jack, and killing anyone else would just be yawn-worthy. Sure I like Bill Buchanan, but I don't buy that he and Jack are so close that it would deeply mess Jack up.

And so on.

So now, Luke argues, the show has just started messing with its characters to mess with them. And the things it's making the characters do are not believable AND they're cruel. Whatever happened to Audrey, she's clearly been messed up in some way (and the spoilers I've read are simply too awful to even be imagined). Why do this to a bland, yet still pretty likable, character? And why have Karen Hayes have to fire Bill Buchanan, her husband? It's just depressing drama for the sake of having depressing drama -- misery porn, in other words.

As Luke said, 24 has simply become a big downer, hard to watch and a real bummer to sit through. They think they're a big tragedy, but they don't seem to understand that television makes it very hard to DO tragedy, because when you reach the point in the narrative when the stage is littered with bodies, the story, by necessity, ENDS. TV doesn't have that luxury, much less a hit show like 24.

So we plod on, season to season, hoping for Jack to find some state of grace.

Though, at this point, I would just take a few great Chloe one-liners.


"I'll personally pimpsmack that twinkle right out of their eye" - Drive

Another mildly diverting episode this week with nothing in particular to write home about, so if you’ll permit me, I’m going to bullet-point this mother.

  • --The show’s writers need to dial down the serious, and fast. Katrina recollections don’t jibe with Drive’s tone, and that death scene at the end (beside being incredibly predictable, especially to us TV enthusiasts who noticed straight away that Michael Hyatt wasn’t in the main cast) was so dull it had me reaching for the fast-forward button.
  • --Violet and her father John (Emma Stone and Dylan Baker) are both the show’s best characters and its best partner pair. Never should an episode go by in which they don’t appear. (Oh, and if his guest star status indicates Baker will soon be absent too, his departure had better at least serve a good purpose.)
  • --Mostly the show’s visual effects have been acceptable, but that car crash sequence was unforgivable horrendous. Sort it out.
  • --Amy Acker’s brief appearance was welcome – there should really be a lot more of her. A sub-plot following her sounds a lot more interesting than many of the drivers.
  • --Melanie Lynskey has been great, but teaming her up with the evil blonde (Taryn Manning) has ended up draining the energy out of both characters. Hell, Lynskey was more interesting when she was on her own, and I don't see the point of Manning's character at all.
  • --Teaming up Alex, Corinna, Winston and Sean was a great idea and made for the episode’s most entertaining scenes as well as a suitably mysterious cliff-hanger that’ll keep me coming back next week.
  • --Fillion's still the best thing about this show, but I'm also really warming to his partner Kristin Lehman. She's got charm by the bucketful and watching them bounce off each other never fails to amuse me.

Overall, more bad than good to say about ‘No Turning Back’. It was better than the previous episode, but where's the fun, almost carefree tone that inhabited the opening two-parter? That was what turned me onto the show at first, but now it’s only appearing in very short bursts. It's a shame, because when Drive finds a scenario or even a moment that hits all the right notes, it shows a lot of potential.


"This is what life is like? At our age?": The Sopranos

Long and langorous, the latest episode of The Sopranos continued the introspective tone of the first two of this season's second half, punctuated only by the violence imagined by the audience when Tony took Paulie out on that boat (complete with a largely unnecessary flashback to the murder of Big Pussy) and the actual violence meted out on Doc Santoro by the power-hungry and vengeful Phil Leotardo. Still, the episode was gripping and mesmerizing, digging in deep to the sense that the past is rising up from the ground itself, surrounding these characters to drag them down to their end (even if it seems increasingly unlikely that the show will end with Tony dead).

While Sopranos Home Movies and Stage 5 were both probably narrowly better than this episode, Remember When was another sterling hour dedicated to ushering the show itself out, even as its characters ruminate on what has happened to them so far and confront their own mortality. Tony, perhaps, saw his eventual decline reflected to him in Paulie, a man who started as a higher-up and eventually became a loyal soldier. Even as Paulie cackled at a sitcom and let loose many old stories that could come back to haunt the gang, Uncle Junior, Tony's father figure for so many years, was trying to battle back against the dementia he was slipping into by refusing to take his meds and organizing a poker game (with the help of an angry young man named Carter -- regrettably, the actor who played Carter was Asian-American, but I'm glad HBO didn't even think about pulling the episode in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings; art, after all, should make us uncomfortable from time to time, especially The Sopranos). Still, after a threat to be transferred, Junior decided to take his meds and ended up in a drugged-out stupor, happily singing along to "Country Roads Take Me Home" and petting a cat sadly, a shell of himself. If this was Dominic Chianese's final performance as Junior, it was a heck of a way to go out.

As Matt Zoller Seitz has noted, the episode was reminiscent of earlier episodes in the show's run when two stories that were vaguely parallel were told (the best example of this is probably still College from season one). As Seitz notes, the parallels here weren't as neat as the parallels in the earlier episodes, but that was nice, in a way. It could feel a little too comfortable to do that, a little too neatly self-contained. The Sopranos has gotten messier and messier over the years, and the fraying at the ties between the two stories was nicely in keeping with this messiness. In many ways, the show's gradual acceptance to avoid easy, pat answers has evolved along with the characters gradual realization that all of life can't be tied up in a bow. Eventually, you're going to try to change, and you're going to fail (at least in this show's dispiriting worldview) or you're going to find the past catching up with you.

The episode's structure meant that many of the characters -- Carmela, most notably -- barely appeared, but that was all right. The entire season has taken on the feeling, so far, of Tony confronting his relationships with the people around him and realizing how his actions have affected them. Perhaps the show won't end with a bang, but it seems unlikely that it won't end with Tony not realizing just how much of a mess he has made of so many lives.

I also liked the episode's focus on past sins and regrets. While Tony said that "Remember when" is the lowest form of conversation, the flashbacks to his first murder (of a bookie) provided the impetus for the episode itself (as he and Paulie had to escape to Miami for a few days to ride out a concern over the finding of that bookie's body) and the whole hour resonated with the idea that people may not change, but their situations and surroundings sure do (especially as Tony and Paulie couldn't find the Virginian hotel they wanted to stay in).

All in all, it was a sad hour, though it was leavened, as always, by some great jokes, particularly Junior's hope for help from Dick Cheney because both had been involved in gun mishaps (ultimately, Cheney did not have time to check out the matter, a form letter informed Junior).

But the general sense of the episode is that there's little room for the decaying in Tony's world and that he's going to have to find a way to keep himself vital before he's one, big "Remember when?" story.

(Expect a 24 review tomorrow, along with our American Idol coverage. We should be all caught up by then!)


"Tanya is tremendously motivated because three dollars are on the line.": Everybody Hates Chris

I don't have a lot to say about Everybody Hates Chris most weeks, but I REALLY don't have a lot to say about it this week, when it occasionally felt like an anti-gambling PSA (I doubt that was the intent, but the Rochelle scenes, in particular, felt this way). It was probably the weakest episode of the season, even if it did contain one of those great Chris fantasy sequences where everybody actually loves him. The Tanya/Drew subplot, often the weak link of any given episode, actually wasn't too bad, particularly when it brought Jim Lampley out, apropos of nothing, and I liked all of the '80s basketball shoutouts, if only because I enjoyed hearing the names of various players I followed as a youth.

The half-hour was just simply outclassed by the rerun of How I Met Your Mother (Slap Bet) that aired opposite and the new New Adventures of Old Christine that aired after and was probably the funniest episode of the show's run to date, concluding with Wanda Sykes singing a completely awful version of Time After Time completely devoid of shame and reveling in the awfulness.

Back to Everybody Hates Chris, which, again, I REALLY have nothing to say about. I'm kind of tired of endings where Chris does something that would have resulted in substantial fortune coming to one of the characters, but because he didn't do it at the last minute, no fortune results, and everyone's mad at the poor kid. I believe this device has been used four or five times, and I get that they can't have the family suddenly become rich or something, but it's starting to feel tired and a little TOO much like the kid is the world's unluckiest bastard.

OK. That's REALLY all I have to say, except to mention that I like the name "Chrissy the Black."


Monday, April 23, 2007

"I was enjoying the filthy Cub Scout.": My Name Is Earl and Ugly Betty

So there were a handful of things that weren't covered in my long absence (made longer by an unfortunate airport adventure), and I'll try to cover two of them in this post. I'll even try to make weird connections between the shows! Expect Everybody Hates Chris and Sopranos posts before I'm off to bed as well (though I may not get to 24). I have much to do, readers, but I love you too much to abandon you now.

So, Ugly Betty and My Name Is Earl don't seem to have a lot in common despite sharing a time slot, but they really sort of do. They're both quirky, for one thing, with broad humor and broad characters deploying that humor. And they've both created big communities full of vibrant personalities -- Betty lives in a romanticized version of New York City, and Earl's Camden County is like some weird distillation of Camden County and every quirky small town in TV history. Both shows also use guest stars well, resurrecting stars who've hit career lulls (Betty has done great work with Judith Light, and Earl brought in Norm Macdonald this week as the son of Burt Reynold's Big Chubby).

I'm not going to pretend that the shows have a ton in common (Betty is, after all, more like a bizarre twist on a soap, while Earl is closer to a more traditional sitcom), but the two aren't as dissimilar as they might initially seem (both take aim at a broad, family audience as well).

A few thoughts on last week's episodes:

Earl turned in what looks to be the last standalone episode before an arc of episodes about Earl getting a job and apartment (for some reason) closes out the season. It was another episode that dealt with the show's formula of having Earl help out someone he once wronged, but Macdonald was a good foil for Jason Lee, and his jerkiness made for some amusing scenes, as did his generosity and gradual re-descent into being a jerk after his testosterone returned. It's always nice to see some testicle-related jokes, and there were a plethora of them in this episode.

Also, Randy did a pole dance, and that was well worth the entire episode, especially when he ended the sequence by thanking his viewers while taking the bills from them one by one.

I did think there would be a bigger payoff for the Aborigine kid, but maybe the very random nature of the joke was the whole point. I like that the show feels free to not explain every one of its quirks, but this one was limited to one sequence and felt like an idea that didn't quite work as well as it might have.

Betty, meanwhile, dealt with the season-long undercurrent of Betty saving Daniel at the last moment by having him tell her off and let her know that she needed to keep her work life separate from her personal life, just as he was about to need her help most of all (after he accidentally slept with a 16-year-old of all things). The episode was, really, a fairly poor one, but at least it jettisoned the annoying plot where Constance tried to get Ignacio to fall in love with her (culminating in her attempts to get him to marry her for his green card) and helped bring a little stability to the Meade family dynamic (as they -- eventually -- all united to keep a pestering biography writer out).

I did like Betty dancing with the guy and then getting him to lift her to follow the writer as he left the club. I also liked Betty's impromptu fashion show. Basically, I just like anything America Ferrara does. Beyond that, the rest of the episode had its hit-and-miss moments.

It's good to be back, particularly after my airport nightmare, which I may tell you about on some far-off day when there's no new TV to watch.

Open question: Anybody else excited for the Bingo show?


"I'd buy diseased fish from her": Entourage

Another step towards the inevitable Vince-Ari reunion came today when, as I predicted, the sexual tension between Vince and his new agent reached breaking point and they decided to bite the bullet and well, do it. But that's next episode, because before that we had 20 minutes of not very much, even less than last week! By the way, sorry if I just spoiled what happens in the episode for ya. Todd should really figure out the whole "hiding posts" thing.

Anyway, I watched the episode like half an hour ago, and I'm having a little trouble recalling the plot points. The gang discussed how to let Amanda down gently about the Sam Mendes movie (which never really made sense as a project for Vince, so I'm glad they acknowledged that), but it all worked out in the end, at least until Amanda rang up Vince for a superhot booty call. But seriously, I don't even think there was a silly subplot where Turtle and Drama try to obtain sex! Maybe this episode seemed shorter than most because it actually was (usually it's more like 25 minutes, right?), but still, I didn't laugh as much as I usually do, so I was pretty unfulfilled.

Nonetheless, it's not that unusual that the gang's plots are kind of a bust. Usually it doesn't matter, since there's Ari to shore up an episode. This week it was Ari confronting how unusually nice he's been since breaking up with Vince, including his hilarious escapade with Lloyd last week. I'm glad they're nipping this in the bud now, because no fan of the show really wants Ari to be very nice. His niceness level should be about at the level it was in 'Exodus', aka a vague hint of sympathy masked by layers of insults and degradation. Here he was in couples therapy with his wife (who never fails to be awesome) confronting how he couldn't fire a sad-sack loser agent recovering from eye surgery. I enjoyed Ari's little comeback, when he mercilessly fires the loser agent, but it's an arc that only lasted a couple episodes and kinda came out of nowhere.

I really don't have anything else to say here. Carla Gugino is really, really appealing (I DEMAND a spinoff). It'll be sad to see her go, considering she's not impeding Ari's screentime or anything. But go she must, so I hope she makes the most of her next two episodes and gets an Emmy nomination. Also, I hope that the director-playing-himself in charge of Medellín is fun, because you know they're gonna make Medellín. Last time the movie came up, it was Paul Haggis, who was funny but seemed a little too in on the joke. Hopefully it'll be someone different this time (and they'll actually show us some of the movie being shot).


Sunday, April 22, 2007

"That's what you took to fake a pregnancy, and force a marriage to a billionaire" - Smallville

(Sorry about the lack of review for Smallville’s last, ‘Combat’. It was just so awful that I couldn’t muster up the energy to recap it.)

This week’s Smallville, ‘Progeny’, featured a guest turn from Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman, as Chloe’s mother Moira Sullivan. It’s always been a big part of Chloe’s character that when she was a child, her mother was declared insane and put into a mental asylum. Chloe’s own fears at losing her sanity were explored in season five’s ‘Tomb’ (which, in typical Smallville fashion, buried any trace of character exploration underneath a tepid mystical storyline about the sprit of a young girl haunting people). ‘Progeny’ reveals that in fact Chloe’s mother wasn’t insane, but had put herself inside the asylum to protect Chloe and the world from her dangerous power. My immediate reaction to this twist was anger, mostly at the show’s writers for reversing an integral part of their best character just so another TV has-been could guest star. But hey, that’s Smallville for you.

The episode itself, in an unfortunate but inevitable fashion, is very mediocre. A large portion of the episode gets bogged down in a bunch of hokum about blackouts and mind control, so it’s almost twenty-five minutes before Chloe and her mother are even reunited. Things improve somewhat from that point, but not thanks to the guest star. Lynda Carter has built her whole ‘career’ around the fact that she played Wonder Woman for three years back in the late seventies, and luckily for her this seems to have distracted everyone from the fact that she cannot act to save her life. Her performance is so awful that even Tom Welling out-acts her. Her flatness also serves to accentuate the considerable talents of Allison Mack, who consistently rises above bad material to deliver great performances. This week Mack is fantastic, especially in the final scenes where she had to once again say goodbye to her mother. It’s a testament to Mack that despite all the stupidity that had come before and despite Carter’s astonishingly un-emotive effort, I was still a little touched.

It goes to show that Chloe really is Smallville’s greatest commodity, and has been for most of its run. Even with a script as dull as that of ‘Progeny’, this week’s instalment was superior to the last four simply because it was Chloe-centric. The show’s writers seem to have picked up on this lately considering how much screen-time Mack has been getting. Then again, a recent article revealed that one of Smallville’s four main castmembers will be killed by the end of the season, and described the character as a fan favourite. All my instincts tell me it’s going to be Chloe. Lets hope in this case that my instincts are dead wrong. It’s hard enough to justify my continued viewership of Smallville as it is – if they kill of Chloe, I might really have to give up on the show.

(Oh yeah, and there was a big revelation this week about Lana’s mysterious pregnancy – turns out, she was never pregnant to begin with. The plot thickens, eh? Here’s hoping they can resolve this long-building mystery in a satisfying way. It’s certainly quite intriguing.)