Saturday, May 05, 2007

"He doesn't even have any laughter in his eyes!” – Scrubs



Another Scrubs episode with nothing in particular to write home about. The best thing was undoubtedly all the characters fantasising about being married to Elliot; Kelso’s was the funniest (“I hate you” “I know”) although Cox murdering her was also very amusing (“Worth it!”). The idea of Elliot planning her own proposal was a little too knowingly whacky, but it worked well enough as the basis of an episode.

The focus of the episode was placed squarely on JD, and his attempts to bed Elliot’s friend Melody (guest star Keri Russell). Unfortunately - partly because the writers used this plot as a lead-in to JD’s realisation about his lingering feelings for Elliot - Russell got very little to do. Her character was never clearly defined and kept bouncing between quirky, whorish and downright insane. Unlike say Elizabeth Banks or Heather Graham, I was never into the idea of Russell and Braff as a couple, so their scenes ended up kinda dull.

Thankfully there was funnier stuff going on elsewhere. Sarah Chalke, one of the unsung heroes of Scrubs, got loads to do this week. Her reaction to the ring not fitting was hilarious (“Just get the mother-frickin ring off my mother-frickin finger!”) and her expressions at both of Keith’s proposals were sweet and very believable. Kelso had some standout lines – as always, any distasteful yet hilarious references to his invalid wife Enid are never not welcome. And Turk’s gradual descent into insanity at not getting any was a definite standout.

Yet aside from listing various amusing moments, I can’t think of much to say about ‘My Cold Shower’. Aside from a few episodes, season six has overall been a big disappointment for me, and installments like this one don’t do much to restore my faith in the show. It’s also starting to seem like they really are planning to get JD and Elliot back together again, which not only am I strongly against but would also seem to confirm my worries that there is a complete derth of new ideas in the Scrubs writer's room.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

"Let's never McAnything": Grey's Anatomy



Wow. So that was like, half terrific, half really boring. Guess which half I liked? Yeah, Addison's spinoff got off to a really great start here with its backdoor pilot. The episode was literally only hampered by the fact that it kept cross-cutting to a really, really dreary ep of Grey's Anatomy. If anything, "The Other Side of This Life" really illuminated how tiresome Grey's has become recently.

I'll get Grey's out of the way first, shall I? Okay, point number one: WHY DID THEY KILL POOR MARE WINNINGHAM!? I mean, it was obvious that her little hiccups case was going to go wrong right from her introduction in the episode, and I'd heard spoiler rumors confirming as much, but still? Why? Why? So cruel! Winningham's character seemed like something really useful for the show, someone for Meredith to actually talk to who isn't some level of insane. Also, Winningham was terrific in the role. But no, boosh, gotta kill someone around sweeps time, right? I'll give Pompeo and Jeff Perry credit: they pulled off their final scene together, but ugh. Also: why would McDreamy be considering dumping Meredith right now? Is he like, heartless? Her mother AND surrogate mother die, and she almost drowns, and Shepherd thinks this is the right time to leave her hanging? Geez! David is not happy. Anyway, this better mean they don't kill Jane Doe too.

Cause Jane Doe is awesome! She didn't do much this week except reveal that in her past life, she was a polyglot (as she spoke multiple languages when Shepherd poked her brain in surgery). Which means my dream of her real identity being Dr. Jane Doe, kickass surgeon, is growing even less plausible. But still - Doctors Without Borders, right? Am I right? No?

Only other thing in this ep was Cristina's impending marriage, and her being all whatever about it. And Burke's mom shopping for wedding dresses with her. Coulda been funny, I guess, but didn't really get breathing room to do much of anything. Also, George and Izzie made out again, but five seconds later he was back walking Callie home. I get that he can screw up once (although really, the whole Gizzie thing is getting less and less plausible by the second), but really, he's just being a complete tool now. Sort it out, O'Malley.

OK! So, on to Addison's adventures in LA, aka PRIVATE PRACTICE! Maybe it's the new-show smell, but everything about what we saw there was just so much lighter and less labored, it really felt like there was a lot of promise there. Key asset #1: the cast. None of the extremely impressive cast worked too hard here, but they all seemed pretty settled into their characters.

I'm a Paul Adelstein man, and I certainly found him the most amusing of the Wellness Center's cast of oddballs, but nobody seemed too tiresome or hyperactive to me. Tim Daly was nicely smoldering, but not as full-on as, say, Patrick Dempsey. Taye Diggs is a very relaxed actor, and he was great with any of his scene partners--he's just great at forming instant chemistry. Really believed him and Addison were old buds. Merrin Dungey gave off a similar vibe too (not a watcher of Alias, so I'm less versed on her work). Chris Lowell has a role I love in almost any TV show (the stoner receptionist), but he didn't get to do much except parade around shirtless, so, whatever, but he'll hopefully be a lot of fun. Amy Breneman - as a secret Judging Amy fan, I've been wondering when she'd return to the fold, and she struck a nice neurotic tone without being too annoying. Am I missing anyone? ADELSTEIN! Did anyone else get a George Clooney vibe from his character? Okay, not really, cause he like, cried over his trashed car in the episode, and he's way more schlubby, but still, hello, supercool pediatrician with commitment issues? Sign me up.

I liked that the whole thing wasn't too rushed (aka that Addison didn't take a job right away), because wrapping up everything really quickly would have been harsh to the main characters of Grey's Anatomy - I definitely would like a final goodbye to Addison from Mark, even from Derek, and the Chief. Also, what else did I like? Yeah. Kate Walsh. Good lord! She had about four big Emmy clips in this episode alone! And she totally knocked them out of the park! Walsh is terrific in that while Addison is in some ways as neurotic as Meredith, she just takes things on the chin so much better (P.S., I'm not even going to touch Meredith getting slapped in this episode). For Meredith, it's like, oh, x happened, I think I'll be miserable for A WHOLE SEASON. Addison fell down and got up again half a dozen times in this episode, and it was terrific to watch.

I sound lame and fanboy-ish in this rave, but, well, I was impressed. Sort of. Private Practice isn't suddenly my #1 most anticipated fall 2007 TV show (hellooo, Jezebel James!), but I'm definitely a little psyched. Am I allowed to be psyched? I know everyone didn't flip for it like I did, but I def. think there's major promise here.

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"Attention: I am removing all bananas from the kitchen.": The Office

(Alternate quote that was just TOO LONG for Blogger: "Sometimes the clothes at Gap Kids are just too flashy, so I'm forced to go to the American Girl store and order clothes for large colonial dolls.")

See, that's some good Office! I've been getting guff from some of you for taking the show to task for getting too weird and whimsical from time to time. My argument is that if the show veers too far from realism, it won't work as well. Some of you feel that if the show is funny, what does it matter? Well, The Office is only as good as its verisimilitude. If the wacky antics aren't grounded in something approaching emotional truth, they just don't work.

Tonight was a good case in point. Now, technically, it stretched credulity that Michael would be that clueless around his female coworkers and so openly engage in sexism in front of them (even though he's been established as an utterly classless character) but because he turned to them for relationship advice in his relationship with Jan and because he seemed genuinely broken by trying to figure out what to do to salvage that relationship (until he realized, with Phyllis' help, that what he really wanted was to break up with her), it was easier to go with a lot of the other stuff.

I don't think that every episode of The Office has to have a tragic or even bittersweet core, but it certainly helps the proceedings. The scenes at the mall, where Michael went to bond with the XX set, were perfectly done, from the long conversations about how bizarrely wrong Michael and Jan's relationship was to Michael getting the girls anything they wanted at Victoria's Secret (and Kelly running in ahead of everyone else) to Angela having to buy doll clothes to fit her petite frame (loved the cutaway where she had to stand on the chair to reach an object on top of a shelf).

The story element that kicked the whole plot off was a flasher approaching Phyllis in the parking lot and her shocked reaction to it (followed by Michael behaving completely insensitively in reaction). A chastened Michael put Dwight on a task force to capture the flasher, and Pam made a sketch that looked a lot like Dwight (simply because Phyllis couldn't remember what the flasher looked like anyway). There's nothing better than penis humor, and this episode did more with the word than I've seen in quite some time.

Some of the women on the show have been a bit underused this year, especially Meredith, who's had basically nothing to do outside of shouting "SHUT UP, ANGELA!" By focusing the episode on the office's females, the show highlighted a group of players that is often overshadowed by some of the flashier company members.

And, hey, we got some Jim/Pam/Karen triangle action that didn't feel completely tacked on as well.

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"Well. That certainly is a lot of punch. Is someone at the trailer park getting baptized?": My Name Is Earl

Ah, so sneaky, My Name Is Earl, to embed an elaborate Rudy homage within your episode about Earl finding a job -- so elaborate, indeed, that I didn't even notice it until after the episode was over and I was looking up the career of Charles S. Dutton. "Hey," I said. "He was in that movie too!" Certainly having Sean Astin there should have tipped me off, but I didn't catch on for a while for some reason. Maybe it was because I was so distracted by scratching and sniffing my card, included in the latest issue of TV Guide and full of scents ranging from deodorant to cinnamon buns (as gimmicks go, this was pretty useless, but it did make for some fun in, for example, worrying that we would have to smell a dead horse, and it did lead to at least one completely smell-dependent joke).

Now, I'm a big fan of gimmick episodes. I bought a 12-pack of Barqs Root Beer in the mid-90s so I could watch the Third Rock from the Sun 3-D episode in the glorious three dimensions it was meant to be seen in. I was disappointed then, but Earl's scratch-n-sniff gimmick was just weird enough that I was rather undisappointed by it. I went in expecting it to be completely gratuitous and tacked on, and I came out rather impressed that they found a way to actually integrate the scratching and the sniffing into the episode proper. I don't recommend that every other show on television integrate this gimmick into episodes, but as a one-time stunt, it wasn't bad.

The plot of the episode, involving Earl getting a job in the back of a home appliance store and yearning to be out front with the salesman, was an amusing enough little ditty, especially in that it gave work to Dutton and Ray's weird cousin from Everybody Loves Raymond (who was on Veronica Mars -- best week for character actors ever, I guess). Earl and Randy fit well into this milieu, but he also worked well with the salesmen up front. Now, it would seem that this job is going to be a major setting of season three, and while I'm glad Earl didn't buy a bar or something equally TV-tastic, I'm not sure that being an appliance salesman is going to drive enough storylines to really justify the big change to the show's premise. I'll be cautiously optimistic, though, for the sake of the show.

Meanwhile, Joy's trial was rapidly approaching, and she looked for a way to avoid leaving Darnell and her kids in uncertainty. Now, this all ended with Joy running to Mexico to avoid having to go to jail (since her deaf lawyer's interpreter -- Byron from Andy Richter Controls the Universe, who was also on Ugly Betty, weirdly -- said that her case could really go either way), which probably wasn't the greatest long-term legal strategy, but it nicely set up next week's finale, which will feature the trial proper.

I'm still mixed on this "Earl gets a life" plotline, and I don't see how they get out of having Joy skip the country to avoid going to jail (and isn't her doing so causing just as much uncertainty for. . .you know what? logic's not worth it), but this was another solid entry in a solid season. Earl has largely been unspectacular this year, but it was always kind of a quiet little show you watched every week and gained some wry chuckles from. This episode, at least, had some bigger laughs, and that's a start.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

"I will ride that giant robot horse all the way to Mexico!": Ugly Betty

I am not what the kids today would call "a laugher." I don't often find myself cackling with glee at the things I see on the television set. I'll occasionally chuckle wryly at something, but I am not known for great peals of laughter, booming out from my lungs, waking the neighbors.

But Ugly Betty's Amanda got me with her acting reel. It wasn't the writing (all of the clips in her acting reel were pretty standard "this is bad acting!" stuff), and it wasn't the direction. It was all Becki Newton finding the ideal bad acting touches to put into the various scenes, from a hilarious growl at the end of her phone sex ad to the way she said "magical" in her role as the lead wench at the Medieval Times ripoff restaurant. Newton has rapidly become one of the best things about a big, goofy ensemble, and it was nice to have the episode give her a moment in the spotlight alone. 'Tis rare to find a hot girl who can make you laugh, but Newton fits the role to a T.

But this was a good episode for everyone in the ensemble, even America Ferrera, who's always the show's gooey center, but so rarely gets to be outright funny. In this episode, Ferrera got to ride a mechanical bull (and utter the goofiest "Yay!" ever in a dream sequence about same) and deliver the kind of silly, over-eager dialogue that she delivers so well (leading to the quote selected above). The episode also advanced the sparkling chemistry she has with Christopher Gorham's Henry, showing him defending her honor in the most bizarre way possible (by fighting with the world's only frat boy secretary atop a log at the restaurant) then confessing his love to her before Jayma Mays showed up to tell Betty to butt out (and you have to admire the show for not making Mays' character completely reprehensible -- or maybe I just love her TOO MUCH).

The immigration plotline continues to be dull as dust (particularly the attempts to get plane travel to Guadalajara so Ignacio could renew his visa), but I enjoyed seeing Ignacio get Hilda to be more of an adult and her beauty school showdown. The stuff with Alan Dale and Vanessa Williams was nothing to write home about, and the stuff with Alexis and her Brazilian boy toy was sadly predictable (yet another man stomped all over America's favorite transsexual's heart). At least we had Judith Light, who's turning in a remarkable performance every time she shows up, there to liven up both storylines by making the most of her time in prison, enthusing about toilet wine, paying homage to Arrested Development and finding herself sitting in some tough girl's seat. I didn't know Light had all of this in her, and here's hoping that she sticks with the show in season two.

The next two episodes apparently make up some sort of two-part season finale, and I hope that they can finally ditch some of the plots that don't work because the stuff that works works really well. It's easy to forgive a lot when so much works so well, but they'll need to clean up some of the stuff that doesn't work before reaching their full potential.

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What's all this then?: Back Again (Today My Heart Swings)


Have you missed me terribly? No? Okay. In any case, I thought I'd poke my head in here and let you two or three interested readers know my thoughts on some recent albums, seeing as that is what I DO.

First things first, though.

Interpol, that fashionable troupe of NYCers oh so close to my heart, have went ahead and put out a brand spanking new single. For a change, I am completely satisfied and can't stop listening to this song. I can't be looking forward to their new album more. Oh yeah, they have a new album coming out on July 7th. It is entitled Our Love To Admire, in just about the most pompous showing of clever kid mentality I've seen in a great long while. Just fabulous.

Let's see, what else.

M.I.A. has been letting tracks eek out one after another from Kala, due out in August. The latest bit I've heard, "Hit That" apparently may or may NOT be on the final album. The jury seems to still be out. It's quite the enjoyable track, but would seem very much at home on Arular. The whole militant, schitzo-clusterfuck thing she seems to be going for lately isn't really evident here. It's a very simple song, mixing sexual politics with her usual socioeconomic candor. I don't know about anyone else, but I dig it. I think it could fit on Kala quite nicely if maneuvered correctly. You can check it out here.

NOW, where to begin? Where to begin?

Ah, yes. Leslie Feist. She released one of my favorite albums of 2005. She is a charter member of that mostly brilliant collection of Canadians, Broken Social Scene. She is arguably one the more beautiful faces in the independent music scene; not to mention, she has a voice that sounds like buttah and melts you in just the same way. With her latest outing, The Reminder, none of that has changed really. Feist can fairly easily rope you in to any stanza of which she is in charge. The only real problems I had here were A) my expectations were probably a bit too high (even though that is MY fault) and B) Leslie has seemingly devolved into far to slight of a version of herself. She appears to have slowly adopted this indifferent persona that is only communicated through her faint presence in the background. Again, her voice still has that rapturous quality it has always had, but it doesn't seem to be backed up anymore by those genuine tugs at the heart strings. The Reminder, save for several admittedly remarkable tracks, is mostly elevator music with Starbucks' best kept secret crooning behind the mic. Not necessarily a bad album, but a marginally disappointing one.

Moving on, I was pretty late in obtaining the new Deerhoof album entitled Friend Opportunity. No matter though. This is every bit as ingenious and invigoratingly ridiculous as The Runners Four. The only difference is that they seem to have actually found a cohesive structure that, lo and behold, makes them a lot more accessible upon repeated listens. Really, you either like Deerhoof or you don't. I'm not gonna sit here anymore and argue as to how they are actually a pop group, or that the brilliance in their compositions is that their is no composition because none of that is actually true. Truth be told, Deerhoof are probably one the most meticulous rock groups working today. Their eccentricities in regards to overall song construction and, of course, vocals, only compound the nature of their brilliance. Friend Opportunity is exhilarating, manic, delicate, and inspiring. This is Deerhoof's best album to date.

Sticking within the same species, (ba dum ch!) Deerhunter also seem to be making waves lately. The folks over at Pitchfork seem to be thoroughly in love. Meanwhile, you can check out the group's myspace page for various hate mail they've received or gotten wind of from when they toured with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and people didn't seem to take kindly to their particularly brand and geeky, gangly, no-wave. That aside, Cryptograms is without a doubt one of the most enthralling albums I've heard in recent memory. Atmospheric and eerie in all the right spots, Deerhunter are a relatively young band who have such a mature understanding of their abilities and shortcomings. It's like they out Sonic Youth Sonic Youth here. Roll your eyes all that you want, I say believe the hype with these guys. One of the best albums of the year.

Well, that's all for now. I'll be checking in here shortly, though. So don't get TOO comfortable without me. Until then, continue being nice to the boss, and I'll see ya next time.

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"One minute, I'm in a car wreck, and the next minute, I'm in a pirate ship in the middle of the jungle?": Lost

Or: The weekly Wax Banks and Jason Mittell discussion post. Though, seriously, go read their blogs.

For some time, now, half of the fun of watching Lost has been hating on Lost. Sure, most in the professional media stuck with the show through all of season two, loving it all the way (and, to be honest, I liked it quite a bit in the moment and think it plays marginally better on DVD), but the blogs and the TWOPpers and the other message board denizens have all been out for the show's blood for a while now. Even I, who was so geeky for this show for so long, was basically unconvinced by the season's opening six and that weird Jack gets his tattoos episode that came shortly after the return.

But, I think it's time to revise that opinion again. Lost isn't what we all hoped it might be (namely, some sort of grand unified theory of American pulp fiction) after season one, but it's also not completely unbearable or awful or anything, especially now. Put another way, it's not The Wire, but very few shows are (actually, only one show is). Its ambitions outstrip its abilities far too often, and that makes a disappointing episode of the show completely disappointing (as opposed to, say, Heroes, which has mostly just enjoyed giving the American public a rough tour of 75 years of American comics as synthesized by a hit-and-miss cast) in a way that almost defies description. It leads those of us who had faith in the show to stand outside the local TV store, dressed in sackcloth and crying out about how we've sinned and misled the world.

But Lost is coming into sharper focus now, in the back half of season three: It's a really big, really messy novel by a Stephen King wannabe. It's the sort of thing you take on the plane and read during vacation and then put back on the shelf, pulling it out occasionally to skim through it in the bathroom. It has a kind of emotional purity and something approaching metaphysical weight to it, but it leaves you feeling curiously unfull.

And I refuse to say this is a bad thing. In fact, I greatly enjoy these kinds of books, and I spend a lot of time at the local giant chain bookstores pulling preposterous horror and science fiction narratives off the shelves just to see if they can live up to their ridiculous premises. My grand unified theory of Lost is this: The target may have shifted along the way and the thin plotline constructed to build the show on may have been completely mangled, but who cares when we can get a stretch of episodes as enjoyable as the one we've been treated to in these last few weeks (slightly boring Desmond episode aside)?

Ah, perhaps I am defensive too much. But this show, which has gotten so much hounding from all corners, tends to make those of us who still defend it feel in such a way. Look, George Eliot completely shifted the narrative of Middlemarch to make room for plot twists that readers demanded (or so my English professors told me), and no one gets mad at her for the convenient way that book wrapped up! Granted, George Eliot was 500 times the writer anyone on Lost is, but, increasingly, we hold TV, an inherently collaborative art, to an impossible standard I'm not sure it can meet. The Wire is the happy accident. A lot more often, ambitious TV is going to look like Lost or (God help us) 24 -- stuff that has its flaws but also engages and entertains in a way that makes its audience nod with delight.

I suppose I should say a few things about the episode, which I found mostly riveting. For once, all of the plots clicked, and even the flashback imparted new information (it was an on-island flashback, and those have worked out nicely in the past -- here's hoping there will be more of them next year). The three-men and a woman scenes in the Black Rock between Sawyer, Locke, Locke's dad and Rousseau were well worth the TiVo spot on their own, a twisty, sweaty way through the maze of connections the writers have established between their characters and now must somehow undo elegantly. Now, there's no way that they'll be able to do this with everybody all the time, but this first attempt to bridge those gaps was pretty good, largely because Josh Holloway gave a career best performance and Terry O'Quinn continued to force Locke, who has been greatly underwritten for a while now, to make some sort of sense. This was probably the last time we'll see Kevin Tighe on the show, but he made a worthy adversary for the two, even chained to a wall, and his theory that everyone on the show is in Hell is neat for how it sidesteps the first season writers' claim that the show doesn't take place in Purgatory and still wraps up a lot of maddening loose ends. (Though not all -- how, exactly, does one find Hell with a helicopter? Last I heard, the only way there was by drilling straight down in a Siberian mine shaft.) I don't for a second believe that this will prove to be the ultimate solution, since Juliet sure didn't have to die to arrive at the island, but I think it will prove to be a part of something.

It was also nice to see Sayid back because I knew he would get a variety of answers out of our dear parachutist. I know he must have seemed a little too paranoid to her, but could you blame him? Similarly, the refusal of the parachute rescue crew to trust Jack sets up the season-ending conflicts nicely, as does Jack and Juliet's refusal to tell Kate something. Normally, people not giving other people information makes me groan, but I'm more willing to let it slide this close to the finale because I know I'll be getting information soon (yes, readers, it really is all about me).

There wasn't a ton else going on in this episode, but I liked all of what I saw. This and D.O.C. are a remarkably consistent duo for the show, more than enough to prove that Lost is back on its stride and cranking out some fun TV. And the scene where Ben tried to get Locke to kill his dad, who was tied to a pole? Instant classic!

OK, Wax and Jason (and hopefully Luke). Take it away! Any theories on the maddening insistence of the show concentrating on Sawyer's bare feet? It felt like a literary illusion I couldn't put my finger on, but I think I'm just thinking of Firefly's "Objects in Space."

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"I know, you bought Yale and named it Rory"- Gilmore Girls















Something of a biggie this week, as indicated by show-runner David S. Rosenthal taking sole writing credit; although I’m pretty sure ‘Lorelai? Lorelai?’ is going to pale in comparison on the biggie-meter to season seven’s final two episodes (and possibly the final two episodes of Gilmore Girls ever). One notable thing Rosenthal accomplished was giving every cast member (apart from Michel) something to do, rectifying at least for a week what has been one of season seven’s main faults: wasting great characters such as Emily, Richard, Paris and Lane (poor Keiko Agena can’t feel like she’s earning her salary).

The episode opened with an amusing dream sequence reflecting Rory’s growing fears about her future, or lack thereof. For long-time Gilmore viewers such as myself this sequence had great nostalgia value, with Rory donning her Chilton threads once more and Headmaster Charleston making a fleeting re-appearance. Sigh…things were so much simpler back then, weren’t they? They certainly ain't back in present day Gilmore land, where matters are growing increasingly serious. After being denied her coveted New York Times fellowship and missing out on a couple of other opportunities, Rory begins to sense her future crumbling around her and has a minor meltdown. Thankfully she doesn’t mope for the whole episode and instead Rosenthal takes full advantage of all his characters being in Stars Hollow – an increasingly rare event on Gilmore these days – by gathering everyone at a karaoke night.

The karaoke night itself was a mixed bag. Neither Babette and Miss Patty’s double act nor Kirk’s performance were nearly as funny as Rosenthal seemed to think, but Lorelai’s number paid off the set-up with her choice of song (“I Will Always Love You”) taking on a whole new meaning upon Luke’s entrance. Through a neat little sequence of shots and Graham’s pitch-perfect (sorry) performance, a considerable amount was conveyed. While it certainly wasn’t up there with Gilmore’s most powerful moments, I liked it very much.

More powerful (for me anyway) was an earlier scene in the episode that, while undramatic, still had a quiet impact. It involved Lorelai coming into Luke’s, ordering a coffee, sitting at the counter and talking to Luke for a while before leaving. A jarring but extremely welcome return to the Gilmore format of old, the scene was short but probably among the best season seven has had to offer. It’s hard to believe we’ve gone the whole season without these scenes which used to be such an integral part of the show. It is also evident how much Rosenthal has missed these simple little things – what a shame that by fully committing to resolving the mess left behind for him by the Palladinos, Rosenthal felt the need to wait this long before beginning to restore the norm.

The final scene of the episode both frustrated and enthralled me in equal regard. I was irritated by Lorelai’s naïveté – surely she would have worked out straight away why Logan wanted to talk to her? Her expression in the final shot was also seemed a tad overdramatic. Still, Logan’s pending proposal should make for some very dramatic stuff next week. I look forward to it.

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"Our three needy children.": American Idol

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Well, the fundraising is over, but the self-congratulation's just beginning. Lovely.
Thankfully however, we had some awesome tunes to distract from the Idol's inflated sense of self-worth. Except, yeah. Tonight was Jon Bon Jovi night, so ...

Sorry, Carolyn, we'll always have The Boss. That being said, tonight wasn't as horrible as I was anticipating, so, there's something to be said for that.

Up first:

1. Phil Stacey - "Blaze of Glory": Wow. Eh. This was not sucky. In fact, this was decidedly not bad. I am disturbed. While I have long stated that Stacey has the best voice of the remaining men, well, HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THIS GUY?! I'm sorry, that was cruel ... but seriously people ... Okay, beyond that Phil Stacey picked a great song and sang it well. Honestly, he's peaking at the right time, so good luck to him.

2. Jordin Sparks - "Living on a Prayer": Okay, yeah, now that performance just sucked all the air out of the room. I thought this girl could do no wrong, though, yeah, this was unpleasant. Don't get my wrong, I think she handled herself with aplomb in the face of criticism plus, with the sheer number of votes she had to have raked in last week, she could have set an American Flag on fire and pranced around the stage while ululating and she'd be back next week. So, you know, six of one, half dozen of another.

3. LaKisha Jones - "This Ain't a Love Song": Well-played, LaKisha. The girl found the one torch song in the JBJ ouevre and belted it for all she was worth. However, the writing may already be on the wall from last week, as there's no way the votes of this week will be enough to change the decisions made during Celebrity Whorefest 2007. See: above.

Before I get to the next performance, I feel the need to give a little background information. I've been informed by management that no one watches "How I Met Your Mother" on CBS, so you've all missed out on some seminal television. Shame on you. I'm going to take this opportunity to share this clip with you, which breaks down a fundamental societal truth:



With no further ado, I give you:

4. Blake Lewis - "You Give Love a Bad Name": After weeks of showing America that he can (kind of?) compete with the singers in this competition, Lewis returned to what makes him truly special among these remaining contestants. Lewis went out on a limb this week (or for him, returned to form) and decided to strip down this JBJ classic, remix it and beatbox his little heart out, making this easily one of the most entertaining things I've seen on the show in my limited experience. Also, he dyed his hair tonight to sort of a chestnut brown color, which I liked until I realized who he reminded me of. See? Weird.

5. Chris Richardson - "Wanted: Dead or Alive": Well, if I have to choose, then dead. Easily. Gah. I'm sick of himmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm and he would have been gone last week if not for the stupid lovefest so then I had to listen to him singagainandhedoesn'tevenbotherlearningthewordsandijusthatehimsomuchand
GODWOULDSOMEONEPLEASEJUSTENDTHISHORRIBLECHARADENOW!?

So, yeah. He sucks.

6. Melinda Doolittle - "Have a Nice Day": I'd tell you about the version of this song that my cats have, but you wouldn't get it. So instead, let me just ask you this: Is there anything Melinda Doolittle can't do? I can't wait for her to be the next American Idol. Or for her to be eliminated, causing me to throw a huge fit and give up reviewing this show. So, win/win, really.

And then, as though all of this mediocrity wasn't enough, I was forced to watch the president. THE PRESIDENT. He got on television and thanked people for donating money to disadvantaged children in Africa and America. Was anyone else struck by the irony of the fact that he was doing this? I mean, honestly, we'd have a lot fewer disadvantaged children in America and the rest of the world if not for his absolute disaster of a presidency. Think of all the homeless and displaced children in New Orleans, their lives forever imprinted by slow reaction times and indecision. But he was there to thank AI's viewers. Lovely. Mission accomplished, American Idol (and ironically timed to boot! -- ed.). Disgust critical mass reached.

Ugh.

End political rantings and ravings. (See, we don't normally do this at SDD, but when the president goes on one of the shows we cover, all bets are off! SEE YOU ON GILMORE GIRLS, CHENEY! -- ed.)

Tonight's winner: Melinda Doolittle
Tonight's loser: Jordin Sparks
Special loser runner-up: George W. Bush
Tomorrow's loserS!: Chris Richardson and LaKisha Jones

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"How is it you have so many friends? You don't even like people.": Veronica Mars

So. After overcoming my initial surprise at this show still existing and being broadcast over the commercial airwaves (seriously, how long has it been?), I settled in to judge just how well this arc-less experiment would work. Now, Alan Sepinwall says next week's episode is pretty great (and with Paul Rudd, how couldn't it be?), but this first attempt at doing an episode where there was no big mystery hanging over everyone was hit and miss.

The biggest problem was that the mystery -- an Arab family wanted to find out who had defaced their business with the word TERRORISTS -- just wasn't that great. Veronica has never been your classical get-everyone-in-a-drawing-room-and-sort-em-out kind of detective, but her lack of Clue-esque shenanigans was always balanced out by the big, overarching mysteries and the soap opera angst. Now, all we have to cut to are Keith B-stories and soap opera angst, and the flaws in the central mysteries are more palpable.

That's not to say that the mystery here couldn't be salvaged -- just that it was the least interesting part of the episode. And if you're going to do a show about a college girl detective, you really have to hit all three of those parts equally or the show falls apart. It didn't help that the mystery had some of the worst speechifying this show has seen. Veronica Mars often takes pains to make everyone who's a suspect have a believable and occasionally sympathetic motive, but it rarely has them make speeches about their positions. Who wanted to hear the perpetrator issue some of the most cliched "my brother was injured in Iraq!" dialogue, followed by the Arab business owner talking about his ideal of the American dream? This might have worked on The West Wing or something, but it clashed with what we understand to be Veronica Mars.

The soap opera stuff wasn't quite as on as it has been, though I'll officially toss my hat in the ring as the only denizen of the Internets who genuinely likes the Piz and Veronica pairing. Maybe it's because Piz is a fast-talking nerd (like someone I know) and not the brooding bad boy that is Logan, but I like the different energy he and Veronica have when compared to the practically gothic Logan/Veronica pairing. I'm not as fond of the Parker/Logan pairing, just because Parker's not as interesting of a character as Piz (she really feels like someone who was gradually trimmed down as the season went on), so I wasn't invested in all of the scenes trying to prove that Logan and Parker were totally in love FOR ALL TIME. As for Mac flirting with test provider guy, well. . .I like Mac. And, look, I KNOW Piz is on the Grey's Anatomy spinoff. I know that he wouldn't be back in the unlikely event of a fourth season. But I can dream, kids! I can dream!

The one thing that was an unqualified success was the Keith subplot, involving him culling out the police officers who weren't loyal to him by cracking down on fake IDs (and running afoul of his own daughter and her friends in the process). The plot was amusing and well-paced, and it gave Wallace, Piz and Keith all something to do, something I was concerned about in this arc-less world. The plot just proved that Enrico Colantoni is perfect in this role. As David said, it's sad that he'll never find anything that uses him as well as this role does. If anything, Veronica Mars should come back just so we can get a little more Keith Mars.

Am I right?

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"I look upset.": Heroes



The 'alternate reality future' storyline is an absolute hallmark for any comic book (employed most notably by the X-Men in 'Days of Future Past' and the epic 'Age of Apocalypse') and Heroes dived in this week with the suitably awesome "Five Years Gone" on Monday. There's so much that can be done in an alternate future: characters can be evil, or insane, or missing limbs (or all three!) and there's little repercussion on the main storyline!

Actually, this episode did tie everything in really well to the main plot, as we enter a three-part finale over the next three weeks. Specifically, Linderman's Ozymandias-esque plan to unite the world through disaster was shown her as having gone spectacularly wrong. The absence of Linderman himself was particularly telling--he was referenced only once, so either he ran off or was murdered. Of course, the real reason Linderman's plan failed was because Sylar murdered Nathan and assumed his identity early on. Which means the writers weren't technically saying that Linderman's plan, in theory, couldn't work--just that in practice outside forces would bring it down. Which is a bit daring of them! Anyway, it's definitely confirmed that the plan is bad, and unless we want Peter and Niki to get together (please God no), they have to STOP THE EXPLODING MAN!

Now, early on we were told Sylar was the exploding man, which had me thinking "huh?" because of Peter's dreams. Thankfully that was righted and it was happily revealed that Peter WAS indeed the exploder. Even better news: because of Claire's healing power, Peter SURVIVES the explosion! Which seems to confirm that the regeneration powers are pretty substantial, even better than the almost godlike status Wolverine enjoys in comic books these days (apparently, the only way to kill him would be to cut off his head and keep it a considerable distance from his body). Future-Peter was a little dour, and while his scar was cool I had to wonder how he got it if he can regenerate any wound. No matter--at least we saw him displaying a better mastery of his many abilities, tossing people around telekinetically and so on. Only shame was that budgetary restrictions obviously kept him from being a true powerhouse--especially in his big showdown with Sylar, which was hidden behind a door Mohinder was frantically keeping shut. Damn you, Mohinder, you killjoy! Maybe they want to save their dollars for the big finale.

Even better was future-Hiro and present-Hiro hanging out together. Future-Hiro seemed like a bit of a sad sack, so I was worried everyone's favorite happy-go-lucky time-traveler might get a bit tiresome as the show goes on, but apparently future-Hiro was just sad about Ando's death in his timeline. So as long as Ando's alive, there's no need to worry about Masi Oka adopting his natural low timbre (I was as surprised as you!) and growing a soul patch. Another cool thing was that they finally solved the whole "save the cheerleader, save the world" riddle rather effectively, and almost as an afterthought. Even though, as a Brit, I never really suffered the brunt of that advertising campaign, I'm glad to know they actually revealed a point behind it instead of just letting it dangle and hoping people would forget about it. I liked that Hiro retained his idealism, even in the sight of all the future-horror. I guess he knows he has to kill Sylar, but he doesn't seem to be willing to give up on life as we know it just yet.

Let's look at some of the other character transformations we witnessed. There was Greg Grunberg obviously relishing playing Matt as an evil interrogator, simply because it gave Matt something to do. I don't think he totally pulled it off (really, Matt's just a little too schlubby to be totally evil). Still, it was a welcome change nonetheless. Mohinder was kinda evil too, although really only a little, as the hero-experimenting professor/right-hand-man to President Petrelli. Definitely a more enjoyable Mohinder too, but again, hardly a revolution. I loved HRG and the wireless girl being hero protectors (sorry, but can the writers come up with an official name for people with powers? So far we've had "special" and so on, but there needs to be a noun!). I was...fine with Claire the raven-haired waitress, but she seemed vaguely tacked on (her appearance was essential, but I dunno, it didn't ring quite true with me). The less said about Niki, the better. We learned that she had fully excised the Jessica personality from herself, but it hardly made her character more compelling--if anything, she was more annoying.

Anyway, despite some niggly complaints, this was mostly a rather exciting hour, and seeing what had happened to everyone in the future really fed the nerd in me, especially as I've been binging on superhero comics recently. And I'm really hyped about the finale now, although I'm not especially looking forward to lots of Sylar next week (apparently it's his rehab episode). Still. IT'S TIME TO SAVE THE WORLD!

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"I know what it's like to feel like it's never going to end.":24

Oh, me too, Jack. Me too.

Actually, I found 24 almost engaging tonight for a minute or so. When Jack was kneeling by Audrey, pledging his troth as the guys outside the room tried to cut through the door to get to them, it felt like the grand operatic 24 of old. I've never been a huge fan of the Jack/Audrey pairing, but the actors really managed to elevate the moment there, making it feel as if this was just a show about two crazy kids trying to make it in a terrorist-ridden world all along and we'd just gotten distracted by Jack hanging on to the bottom of trucks and nukes going off in Valencia and the like.

The show's just been so grim and despairing of late that it's been easy to forget what made it so damn lovable in the first place. Sure, it's always been set in a world where constant vigilance is a necessity because there are VERY BAD PEOPLE who wish to do VERY BAD THINGS to Americans, but it's also had its share of over-the-top melodramatic moments that kept the show on its own ridiculous plane. And the Jack/Audrey moment tapped in to some of that (and it did ultimately do some good as she blurted out a piece of information that would prove helpful to the CTU folks). Of course, the end of the episode brought it all crashing down again as Audrey's father (the impeccable William Devane, back from the dead and loving it) entered Jack's holding cell to remind him that everything he touches falls to ruin. "You're cursed," he told Jack, then elaborated upon this thesis by pointing out that everyone Jack cares about seems to die.

Yeah, I wouldn't want him pledging to reverse months of torture and brainwashing in my daughter either.

Anyway, I just wanted to elaborate on that moment because it's clear that the 24 writers still have some idea of how to get to these grand moments. They're just not doing a very good job of getting to them with the sort of frequency they did in seasons two or five (for my money, the show's two best) or even in the weirdly paced but insanely conceptualized season three.

The rest of the episode, as it was, so perfectly exemplified everything in the season that hasn't worked (from dull CTU plotlines to White House shenanigans that seemed tired to too little Chloe) that it's almost not worth comment, but I thought I would point out something that infrequent SDD contributor Jon pointed out to me -- this episode was really, really mean to women.

I mean, think about it. The best woman in the episode is an addled shell of her former self who only manages to be worth a damn by deciding she can trust her former lover with two syllables. Other than that, she rocks back and forth and mutters to herself. The other women in the episode ranged from heartsick ninnies (I don't know WHAT that Chloe scene was about) to bed-hopping traitors (nice knowin' ya, whalien gal!) to ineffectual bosses (sorry, Nadia; you lose!). Now, 24 has always had a variety of female characters who were, at the very least, interesting, so I don't think that this was an intentional gambit on the part of the creative team, but it was a discomfiting coincidence nonetheless.

Anyway, when I watched the "Next week on," I actually groaned when I found out there are three episodes (and four hours!) of the show left (stay strong, VanDerWerff!). At the very least, the show seems intent on making the Chinese the new politically correct villains for this sort of entertainment. Things really haven't been the same since the USSR crumbled, I guess.

As I said to Libby after watching the episode, "24 is better in every conceivable way than Heroes (by which I mean, it's better acted, better directed, better edited, etc.), but Heroes, at least, KNOWS IT'S FUNDAMENTALLY STUPID." At this point, I'm sad I decided to take this show to recap, instead of foisting it off on one of my partners in crime. Heroes is doing so well by taking a page from the old 24 playbook -- it's audacious, and it's not afraid to show it, no matter how bizarre the story turns.

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"It was a lovely and responsible night.": How I Met Your Mother

Man, it's weird to have Mother gone for so long. It feels like the sort of thing that should be on every week without fail, and I'm not one of those people who tends to complain about reruns (I get them; they're necessary). It's just solid comfort food TV, even when it's not hitting on all cylinders, and I can't think of a show I just ENJOY more than this one right now. It's great for sitting back and putting your brain in neutral, even when the episode isn't quite as solid as it could have been, as was the case tonight.

Tonight was another essentially plotless episode of Mother -- the sort that the show whips out when it's stalling between big relationship moments (and considering Lily and Marshall's wedding two-parter kicks off next week, I'm guessing that episode will be full of them). The episode bounced between four plots -- Lily trying to gain five pounds to fit into her wedding dress, Ted trying to write his best man toast for the wedding reception, Lily and Marshall trying to stay apart for the two weeks leading up to their wedding and Barney taking part in The Price Is Right. One of these plots was head and shoulders above the other three, but none of them exactly fell down on the job.

The Lily plot was probably the weakest. It was a nice idea to flip the old TV convention of "I have to lose this much weight to fit into my dress!" on its head, especially on a show where you can't exactly accuse either of the female regulars of being even a bit overweight. But seeing women stuff their faces always bumps up against the Lucy problem (namely, Lucy and Ethel did it so well in that conveyor belt episode of I Love Lucy that it's hard to watch anyone else do it without feeling they suffer in comparison). It's a funny idea on paper, but it's almost never that funny in execution, and, alas, Alyson Hannigan couldn't make it work here, despite her best efforts.

Marginally better was Ted trying to write a good toast for Marshall. I liked the idea of Marshall censoring the real details of his life for his sensitive Midwestern family (and it hit a little close to home, to be honest), and the use of "holding hands" to stand in for bathroom sex was pretty clever, though not as well done as the innuendo in the last episode (which had that great runner with the vibrator mistaken for a miniature sewing machine). The storyline also nicely dovetailed with the Marshall/Lily one.

I actually quite liked Marshall and Lily's inability to go without each other. The fact that the two of them met the first day of college and have been together ever since has always rung true to me for. . .various reasons, and it was sweet to see another example of their bizarrely romantic co-dependence. The fact that Lily was able to pig out around Marshall also worked, and it finally gave Ted some material for his toast.

But the plot line that I liked more than any other was Barney on The Price Is Right, which, honestly, would have been hard to screw up. Some of it felt like sucking up to the network (by having Barney congratulate Bob Barker on 35 years of Price), and some of it felt like an episode that had to be padded to preserve most of the wedding for next week, but most of it was just Neil Patrick Harris goofing off on the Price Is Right set, and it's hard to go wrong with that, especially as the prizes he won got more and more ridiculous (and he presented them all to Marshall and Lily as wedding gifts in a nice capper). And did I mention that Barney believes Bob Barker is his father but decided not to mention it to Bob? Like I said, it would be hard to go wrong with this set-up, but it was still hysterical to watch.

So I'm ready for a wedding. And if you don't renew this show, CBS, David is going to FLY OVER from GREAT BRITAIN and. . .well, I don't know what he'll do, but you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

"I liked it better when you worked clean.": Everybody Hates Chris

One of the threads I've liked best about this season of Chris is the gradual evolution of Chris from nerdy junior high kid to stand-up comedian. Granted, this has progressed very slowly, but it's been thrilling to see Chris realize that he could get out of bad situations by telling jokes and that he was really good at it too. The most obvious example of this was in the season's second episode, when he won his class presidency by giving a really funny speech, but tonight's episode returned to the story as Chris listened to some "blue" material and then began passing it around to friends at school. Of course, once one kid had heard the dirty jokes, everyone had, to say nothing of George Carlin's "7 Words You Can't Say on Television" routine.

The deployment of the Carlin routine was the best part of the episode, as it allowed the characters to skirt the inherent problem in any episode involving swearing (the characters can't literally swear on the air without violating broadcast standards). Namely, everyone said the number of the swear word in question instead of the swear word they meant. It was actually a clever solution to the problem, and anything that leads to Chris Rock (someone who's not averse to a well-placed curse word or two) screaming "THREEEEEEEEEEEEE" is well worth the trouble needed to set up the joke.

The other plot in the episode -- Rochelle looked for a new guy for her mother -- wasn't as solid, largely because it felt like an afterthought. While the montage set to "It's Raining Men" with Rochelle looking at the neighborhood guys and rejecting them as unworthy of her mother was sporadically funny, the rest of the plot felt perfunctory. It doesn't help that I always think of Loretta Devine (who played the mother) as far younger than she must be (I mean, she's ONLY 57!), which makes her playing "the old woman" in things always a bit anachronistic (c'mon, TV! she was born the same year as my mom!).

But that was no matter when the A-plot was as strong as this one was. It was fun to see Chris discovering his voice (as we were promised the series would be about from day one), and hearing only the punchlines of dirty jokes somehow made them dirtier and more palatable (how many did you get?). It more than made up for the weak B-plot and the ending where Chris' parents lectured him on the proper time and place to listen to dirty jokes. Normally, I don't like a lecture at the end of my smut, but I didn't mind here.

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"I'm detecting sarcasm": Entourage



Season 3.1 (or whatever you want to call it) of Entourage has been pretty inconsequential so far, but I enjoyed the last three episodes pretty good. This was the first I'd say was actually not good--none of the individual plots really worked for me at all.

The episode was called "Gotcha!", after a Punked-esque hidden camera show fronted by Pauley Shore that punks Johnny Drama for its first episode. Now, for one, hasn't Entourage done the Pauley Shore joke before? And wasn't it not funny then? I guess maybe it's cause I've never found the Pauley Shore revival thing funny, but this seemed like a really lame retread. Also, it raised a question I've often asked myself about Drama - how famous is he, exactly? Usually we're given the impression he's never been more than a minor TV guest actor (apart from his one-season show Viking Quest), but other times it seems he's a known name in Hollywood. Would any show really want to punk him for its first episode, rather than Justin Timberlake, or whoever? I'm probably thinking too deeply about this. Anyway, the whole thing was very predictable (it was totally obvious the crazy UFC guy was in on the joke when he invited Drama into the ring), so, lame.

Then there's Vince and Amanda sealing the deal and being into each other, which is fine, except I really don't see them sticking together so long. Poor Carla. Vince seems to be quite perceptible to falling for girls, actually. The show tells us he loves 'em and leaves 'em like nobody, but as long as he's not dating a vapid model/actress he seems to get quite intense about girls. I can already see him being too into Amanda going wrong, and there was even that girl played by Lindsay Sloane earlier in season 3 who Vince totally went for. Not to mention Mandy Moore. Oh, Mandy! Sadly not enough Amanda this week (and every week, actually). Instead it was Eric instantly guessing that Vince & Amanda did the dirty (good that they couldn't keep it a secret, because that would be very unrealistic even for this show), and then bitching about it. Oh, E. You are like an annoying ginger owl.

Anyway, what about Ari, right?! Well, his plot did somewhat showcase his wife (Libby pointed out that the reason I went ga-ga for Carla Gugino is because she prances around in her underwear. Well, Ari's wife rocks too! See above). Still, it was silly and obvious. Ari's schmuck friend from his fraternity showed up, newly rich and with a gorgeous blonde radiologist on his arm. The gorgeous blonde being Leslie Bibb, of Popular, Talladega Nights and ER fame! Who will always be cast as a gorgeous blonde of one type or another. Anyway, it all led to Ari being catty and jealous of his schlubby friend, and his wife berating him about it. Jeremy Piven and Perrey Reeves have great chemistry and they totally showed it off well here, but still, M-E-H. Get to the good stuff! Next week's ep is called "The Return of the King", so I have a feeling change is afoot. Here's hoping.

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"You look like a Puerto Rican whore.": The Sopranos

(Sorry for the quote, those of you with delicate sensibilities. I couldn't find a better one that didn't have a worse swear in it! -- ed.)

Funny thing, foreshadowing. The Sopranos is rife with it, but it often doesn't pay off as you might expect it to. In Sunday night's episode, "Chasing It," though, the foreshadowing was all couched in Tony's sudden unlucky streak at gambling, money flowing haphazardly all over the place. From there, it was natural for Tony and the audience to wonder if his luck had finally run out, if he should start making alternate plans for Carmela and the other important people in his life. Though this was never stated straight-out, it informed everything that happened in the episode. Tony eventually came to the conclusion that his recovery from a gunshot wound meant that he was way up with the universe's bookie (or something -- not the best with gambling metaphors), hence the string of bad luck. But the focus on that bad luck and the emphasis on the various women in the show making steps toward creating independent personas for themselves, separate from the Soprano family, seemed to point to a world in which Tony wouldn't be the center of everyone's lives anymore.

Despite the fact that the episode had almost no violence in it, "Chasing It" was an unusually plot-dense episode of The Sopranos, as a lot of plot threads were either tied up a bit or carried forward (sometimes in the background). A.J.'s relationship with Blanca, for example, has been played in the background for most of this second half of the season, but it got some foregrounding here as he found himself stunned to see her leaving him. Robert Iler isn't my favorite actor on the show, but his look of stunned inability when she left him was well-played, and I also enjoyed his interactions with Blanca's kid.

I also like how Tony seems to be increasingly getting closer and closer to Bobby Bacala (again, played in the background). It seems obvious that Tony no longer trusts Christopher, the guy you would expect him to leave the care of his family to. Instead, he's working with Bacala, who's actually someone that Carmela and the kids would be OK with if Tony died or had to go off to jail.

The episode also brought back the Muslims. In the past, these characters have primarily been a way to show the characters anxieties and their rather base racial profiling. In addition, it's been a way to highlight that the FBI, strained by trying to chase terrorists, has largely abandoned serious pursuit of the Sopranos (remember how important the federal agents were to the early episodes of seasons three and four? and how that woman was married to GOB?). Here, however, Tony's gaze lingered upon them. I'm not sure what this is going for (and I really hope that the show doesn't turn into 24 at any point), but I'll buy that Tony and his crew would just assume the worst of any Muslim they saw. It gibes with who they've been in the past.

Meanwhile, Carmela fretted over the bad lumber used in her model home, hoping that it wouldn't crumble, even calling her father in the middle of the night to express her worries when a rain storm poured down. Now, honestly, the idea of the home built on a shaky foundation is one of the more obvious metaphors this show has employed, but I like that it's Carmela's responsibility and that she's the one ultimately worried about it while everyone else turns a blind eye to it. I imagine it's commenting obliquely on the role she'll play when the end plays out.

James Gandolfini and Edie Falco got their first significant scenes together from this half season in this episode, and the scenes were as good as we've come to expect from these actors. The sheer anger Tony dishes out at Carmela simply because the one good bet he made could have been better with all of the money from her spec house was terrifying to witness, but she cut back into him just as well.

Finally, there was the plot with Vito Jr., acting out after the death of his father (who was outed as a homosexual in the season's first half). Now sporting Goth makeup and relieving himself in the shower (in one of the odder and grosser things seen on the show), Vito Jr. was hauled off to tough love camp after neither Phil nor Tony was able to talk sense into him, even though his mother wasn't sure it was the right idea. It was another example of Tony believing that force will make everything all right. This is probably the last we'll ever see of Vito, Jr., but it would be nice to see the aftermath of that choice. It was also interesting to see the ramifications of the earlier Vito storyline and how his inability to leave behind his old life and embrace his new, more honest life led to his death.

Four episodes in to this final stretch of episodes, I'm thinking this is probably as strong as anything The Sopranos has ever done. What say you?

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

"I loved my prom. And nine months later I had a beautiful reminder of it.": Ugly Betty

Hooray for Ugly Betty!

A recent Entertainment Weekly review of the show (which also reviewed Grey's Anatomy and Lost in some sort of ABC show clearinghouse) was hard on it, claiming the show wasn't original enough (and then compared the show unfavorably to Desperate Housewives, no less). Aside from the fact that I find originality rather overrated, I think that this reading of the show is all wrong. Ugly Betty is a pastiche -- it's trying to find emotional truth by camping up some of the staples of the primetime soap and the telenovela. As I remarked a few weeks ago, it's the show Desperate Housewives claimed to be back in its first season but could never quite live up to being.

Now, granted, Ugly Betty doesn't work every week. And when it misses its mark, it's really, wincingly painful, just because camp is inherently painful unless it's played with a deft enough touch. But the show works because it's centered on America Ferrera's performance, easily the show's least campy element, even when she's draped in a Guadalajara poncho or something. Her work allows the rest of the show to spin off into wackiness.

Anyway, those thoughts were in my mind as I watched this week's episode, which wrapped up the scandal where Daniel slept with a teenager rather perfunctorily (turned out it was blackmail and she was 20 -- a bit too easy of a solution for me, but there you go). But it also spun the various plates and plots around well enough to be an entertaining episode of the show (though David whined to me after he finished watching, "When are they going to be done with this immigration plotline?!").

Betty's fear of going in to work was well-done, particularly the weird Salem witch trials/Universal horror riff that closed the first act. Even if it felt a bit abrupt, I'm glad that she had reconciled with Daniel, Henry and Christina by the end of the episode so we didn't have to spend the rest of sweeps wondering when, exactly, she would get back together with her friends. Bonus points for giving us more Jayma Mays, too!

I'm not horribly engaged by the relationship between the eldest Meade and Wilhelmina, but it occupied minimal time in this episode, so I'll let it slide, especially as he claimed he would never leave his wife (this means more Judith Light for me!). The romantic relationship between Betty's sister and her baby daddy was better done, especially as it had a genuinely sweet proposal at its center. As far as Betty's dad going to Mexico, well. . .can we be done with the immigration plotline? It was fun and innovative at first. Not so much anymore.

Finally, we had the story of Alexis losing her girl virginity to a guy. At first, the storyline seemed sweet, but then it turned a bit too depressing for me, largely because it turned out this was another guy using her for some reason. Look, I know that she's the world's most well-known transsexual at this point, but she's also really hot. SOMEbody would legitimately want to sleep with her. For reals.

Anyway, a good "welcome to sweeps!" episode. Let's hope the last three re-attain the goofy delights of some of the season's earlier episodes.

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