Saturday, June 23, 2007

"You and Michael Richards can open a taco stand together!": Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Wow, and I thought a three-part episode was excessive. I had expected all of the decidedly melodramatic storylines of ‘K & R’ to be wrapped up in this episode, leading into a feelgood finale that would gather all the loose ends. Instead, Sorkin and co. have decided to stretch out the drama right up to the end. Personally I prefer the more laid-back episodes of Studio 60 (4 AM Miracle) or the ones which centre on the performance of the show-within-the-show (The Disaster Show) so I think taking up four (almost five) episodes with downer stories that are completely separate from the show itself has been a mistake. But it’s far too easy to be all negative about Studio 60, so first of all, what was good?

Well, um…Bradley Whitford is still great. The scene where Harriet tried to teach him how to pray provided him some good pieces of dialogue which he absolutely nailed. Sepinwall commented that he and Harriet might have made a less irritating couple than her and Matt, which somehow when I thought about it, brought me to the realisation that this show had been doomed from the beginning. Other positives, though. The early scenes between Jack and Simon were truly great and very funny, showing how little use Studio 60 has made of its greatest asset: Steven Weber. He was absolutely hilarious in these scenes – slimy, yet sympathetic. Also, Captain Boyle continues to get some stand-out lines and his scenes with Tom were the most gripping of the episode.

All that said, this was a pretty poor instalment. Virtually nothing happened – Danny’s custody issues were only touched upon, Tom made no final decision on whether or not to use the ‘K & R’ option, Jordan’s fate still hangs in the balance…you get the picture. The flashbacks were, as usual, nothing special. The circumstances surrounding Matt and Danny’s firing seem predictable, not to mention unbelievable – surely Danny, always shown as a responsible person who understood the importance of keeping one’s job, would have given in and told Matt to cut the sketch? Kari Matchett’s character is fast becoming pointless, the chemistry between her and Matt only barely touched upon this week.

I won’t keep going, partly because I'm really tired, but as usual Studio 60 is more frustrating than ever. Next week heralds the end, which should allow for some summing-up of everything that made Studio 60 both interesting and awful. Tune in if you can still muster up the energy to care.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

'She could really debate": Rescue Me

It's a bit of a shame that Rescue Me is being greeted with such apathy by the critical community for its fourth season. But, then again, it's hardly surprising (and it's pretty legitimate). Rape controversy aside, the season was somewhat lackluster in its midsection, with storylines going nowhere and a bunch of just odd plot developments.

I've seen the first three episodes (thanks Todd!), and while there are cool moments in the first two (along with a couple dull plot strings), the third episode is really where some actual PLOT THINGS like, y'know, happen. Still, I pretty much enjoyed yesterday and last week's episodes ("Babyface" and "Tuesday"), especially the comic side of things. While Denis Leary and Peter Tolan can lay a claim to writing some of the most visceral stuff on TV, it's always been the firehouse banter where this show truly succeeds. The running story about the courting the talented basketball player probie had Lou running up some great quips (I figure that dude is gonna be prominent, cause I think he's played by Larenz Tate of Crash). Even better was the spank-bank conversation in ep 2, where Garrity blurted out Tommy's wife Janet's name as cast member in his mind-porn. Tommy's fury was amusing enough (even though he's kinda all-bark no-bite these days), but Sean's horrified attempts to cover his tracks had me on the floor. A few moments like that every episode, and I'm still sold.

In fact, these two eps showcased Steven Pasquale, who's really just gotten funnier and funnier every season. Garrity always gets great material, but I think this could be the season that really showcases the guy. Think about it: every year of Rescue Me has always been like a long Emmy tape for one of its supporting actors. Last year was the booze and misery-soaked, but still bleakly hilarious Lou (John Scurti); the year before it was the Chief (Jack McGee), wrestling with his wife's Alzheimer's and co-habiting with his gay son; in the first season...well I guess Franco and his kid? Anyway, Sean's constantly unpredictable marriage to hellraiser Maggie is gonna be the highlight of this season, so say I. It's something about his righteous indignation that quickly transforms into blind terror when he tries to stand up to Maggie (or to Tommy, for that matter). The spank-bank stuff was the best, but his porn plot with Maggie in episode was just about as sweet as this show gets.

There's still a lot of problems here though. Chief among them is Janet. Not to sound cruel or anything, but this show has such a high body count as it is, why can't they just off her? She has literally been tiresome since the pilot--a sniping, demanding, unfunny series of plot devices that Tommy, for some reason or another, seems to still adore. The latest development, in which the whole family lives together but all kinda hate each other, is possibly the most annoying the show has ever devised. Tommy's bitching at his daughter can be amusing enough (I've always thought the younger one was funnier), but with Janet in the mix, especially looking all tired and pissed at her new baby that hates her, there's just this pall over all the domestic scenes. Really hoping for a development there.

The other plots are mostly serviceable but feel a little stally. Siletti's plot with his dying mom gets a nice showcase next week, but I bet that's all just gonna send him into some black spiral of depression. It happens to a few of the firefighters every year, and I think his number's up again. The girl that Franco's supposedly in love with barely registers to me, and her Tourette's-afflicted brother was a one-joke machine that wore thin by the end of last year (figure Susan Sarandon's gonna show up and stir all that up--there's no way they're leaving that story alone!). While Uncle Teddy is always amusing, he better start doing relevant things again (or at least show up on Tommy's radar a little more often), cause otherwise they should just spin off him and Charles Durning to a new FX show called "crazy old men bickering!". Finally, there's Callie Thorne as the irrepressible Sheila. I wish I could just lie back enjoy her super-vampy, super-campy strutting, but the character has become so ridiculous that it's all I can do during her scenes not to fast-forward. Every episode, she progresses from a being a cool-headed, manipulative minx into a screaming, Tommy-obsessed harpy in about 2 minutes, then back again. It's literally tiring just to watch it. If she calmed down and became more of a floating, background character who occasionally snipes at Tommy, like she was for most of season three, I'd be perfectly happy. But all this stuff about insurance fraud...ugh.

Anyway, ep three is pretty good, and it has a big TWIST that I'll be discussing next week, so I'm sure I'll see you all there. Don't give up now, folks. Rescue Me. It's still worth it. I promise.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Consider, just for a moment, a universe in which you work for me.": The Closer

To be perfectly frank with you, there was a time a few years back where I heard tell about a new television series called "The Closer" and I was terrified. Now, my fear stemmed mostly from the fact that I was afraid this television series was a further adaptation of the play (or worse, the film), which it is not, but discovering that the series was actually yet another procedural, this time helmed by Kevin Bacon's wife, sporting QUITE the Southern accent did little to assuage my early misgivings.

So perhaps it is not surprising that it has taken me years to build up the intestinal fortitude to actually sit down and watch an episode of the forementioned show. And, honestly, it wasn't terrible. I'll even go beyond that and say that it was definitely okay. The episode (the premiere of season three) began with handheld footage taken at a crime scene where three members of a suburban family were brutally stabbed to death in the middle of the night. While the footage seemed overly processed in order to look different and gritty, this served as a convenient device to introduce new viewers to the characters and to the show itself. (Note: It appears that their foresight was spot on.)

From there the episode played out as it would on just about any procedural on television, though with it's own little quirks. Where as the CSI(s) have their science and Law & Order(s) have their "both sides of justice" viewpoint, Cold Case has nostalgia and Numb3rs has ... well, numbers, The Closer has Kyra Sedgwick. As center of The Closer's world, Brenda Leigh Johnson, Sedgwick serves as both heart and haraguer of the show, taking the weight of the world on her slender shoulders and oozing southern hospitality as she does it.

Surrounding Sedgwick is a supporting cast of utterly forgettable individuals. It's as though the writers poured all of their efforts and ideas and idiosyncrasies into creating Johnson and just had nothing left over for anyone else. Beyond that, the rest of the characters are faceless and interchangeable, despite obvious efforts to make them as ethnically diverse as possible. (Note: I said ethnic; Sedgwick is obviously the only female detective in Los Angeles. I'm just sayin'.)

The only exception to this (and a notable exception it is) is the work of J.K. Simmons. Though Simmons is ostensibly playing the same character he always plays (himself), he serves as a breath of fresh air the show desperately needs periodically. Simmons, playing Johnson's long-suffering boss, is the only person who can share the screen with Sedgwick without being completely overshadowed, and it seems like the show would do well to utilize him more often.

Taking all of this into consideration, The Closer makes a case for being one of the finer procedurals currently running. Add to this the fact that it runs during the summer, and it makes it one of the finer television viewing options during that drought-ridden season. But really, Age of Love could make anything look like distinguished fare.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Big Love Tuesdays: Season 2, episode 14, "The Writing on the Wall"

Near the end of Big Love’s latest episode, “The Writing on the Wall,” Bill Henrickson’s second wife, Nikki, (ChloĆ« Sevigny) delivers a long monologue to first wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), about how she doesn’t trust love as a foundation for a marriage, perhaps, especially, a plural one. This comes after Barb tells her that she still wasn’t sure if she believed in the principle the family bases its life on (the show tosses off American quasi-religious terms like “the principle” and “testimony” without really bothering to explain them). Nikki, raised on the polygamous Juniper Creek compound, is largely flummoxed by the world she found herself a part of when she left the compound to marry Bill (Bill Paxton) and move to the suburbs. If the season premiere, “Damage Control,” focused on all that Barb left behind when she allowed Bill to take a second wife, “Writing on the Wall” turned its gaze on Nikki, a character who could be a bit too unbelievably manipulative and shrill in the first season. While the main plotlines all focus on Bill (who finds himself thrust into compound politics again and trying to fend off a vandal marking up billboards for his Home Plus stores), writers and creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer use the hoary old device of a husband forgetting he and his wife’s anniversary to illuminate the least-developed Henrickson.

In the first season, Nikki was a bit of an enigma. Sevigny portrayed the character well, but it sometimes seemed like she was a cardboard cutout villain, driving the Henricksons into debt or needlessly antagonizing Barb or unnecessarily involving her family at the compound with her suburban family. The audience never got a sense of Nikki as anything other than a character who seemed resentful of Barb’s status of first wife. But in this episode, just as the last episode gave us a sense of what Barb gave up to enter this relationship, we get a sense of what Nikki gave up. Nikki, in many ways, comes from the opposite direction of Barb. While Barb has had a taste of something like independence, the sheer freedom of not living on the compound often seems terrifying to Nikki. She overspends and, in this episode, she seems put off by the simple act of going to the bank to put money in an account for Barb. She even swindles a little bit of extra cash from Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) when trying to make the deposit for Barb. Nikki has one advantage over the other two wives, though: She believes wholeheartedly in the principle, and she’s going to do her best to see that no one else in the family gives up on it.
There's more here. And leave a comment!


"Right, because being the keeper of your secret coded goodbye message shouldn't have given me any anxiety.": Kyle XY

Did you ever have a friend in middle school that was all sweet and fun and easygoing, but when you returned from summer vacation the next year they were suddenly all Goth and tortured and complicated? And although you still liked them and understood why they changed you just kind of missed your simple, happy friend who would rather listen to Boyz II Men than KMFDM? Just me? Okay then. Well, unfortunately I think Kyle XY just might be in danger of becoming the television show version of that friend, and just like when I was 14, I'm not very happy about the change.

Episode two ("Homecoming") picks up right where the season premiere left off, with Kyle returning to the Trager home. He and Brian Taylor have concocted the perfect excuse for Kyle to stay for good: his "parents" were unexpectedly killed in a car crash, and named the Tragers as Kyle's legal guardians. Naturally, the Tragers are suspicious yet ultimately accepting of the story as it brings Kyle back into their lives. Even more craziness is piled onto their plate when they hear the "true story" of what happened to Kyle's five missing years: he was abducted by Adam Baylin because Kyle reminded him of his dead son, and Kyle only escaped after he witnessed Baylin kill himself (I think - I'm a little fuzzy on the details.) Wow. I mean, I kind of hated Baylin, but that is harsh.

Now that Kyle is back with the Tragers he only has two people left to see - Declan and Amanda, who both have new, terrible haircuts. Although his reunion with Amanda is lovely and sweet, things don't go so well with Declan. Declan wants the truth, and Kyle just isn't willing to give it to him. Just like a jilted lover, Declan does NOT take it well, and their confrontation triggers something curious in Kyle. It seems like when Kyle gets angry or stressed, he has a hard time controlling some of his abilities and glass starts to shatter. This ties back to last season when Kyle had a seizure from trying to use his supersonic hearing, and it's pretty awesome.

Meanwhile, Kyla XX is on the loose and Madacorp (who apparently are the people behind the Zzyzx Project, although I don't quite understand how Adam Baylin fits into all of this) knows all about it and are determined to get her off the streets. To do this they hire a super hot yet super boring ex-military bounty hunter type, Emily Hollander, and we spend half of the episode watching Emily hunt Kyla while Kyla figures out her way in the world, much like Kyle did in the pilot. Oh, except that she sorta kills somebody which is something Kyle managed to avoid. In her defense, he was not only a potential rapist but a redneck, too - two equally unforgivable sins in TV land. At one point, Kyle and Kyla end up in the same park and it seems like they can sense each other's presence, which is totally wicked cool and could lead to some interesting things in the future. Eventually Emily tracks Kyla down and shoots her full of tranquilizers, but not before she sees Kyla's photo-perfect drawing of Kyle. Ruh roh. Madacorp is not going to like that, as they think Kyle's been "eliminated."

I didn't want to do this so early on in the season, but I'm a bit worried about our dear little Kyle XY. It's only two episodes in, but already the mytharc of the show seems to be taking over, and this is not a good thing. Half of this episode was spent with Kyla and Emily Hollander, two characters that are boring so far. Also, I'm not sure if we should sympathize with Kyla or be afraid of her, and it's not a good kind of ambiguity. It's sort of an annoying kind of ambiguity. We understood Kyle's motivations in the first season through his voiceover, but as she doesn't have this window into her psyche I just sort of want her to start talking already because I am BORED and would kind of rather watch Kyle and Declan make eyes at each other rather than her stumble mutely around a park.

The thing is, I get it. I understand the need to evolve the mytharc of the show to avoid being stuck in a story rut. However, I really think they need to work on walking the line between moving along the story, yet still managing to focus on the characters and their relationships. Also, they need to get Kyle back into some teen situations immediately to get back some of the humor that's been so sorely lacking. I'm definitely not ready to give up on season two yet, though. I just want it to be great, you know?

Random thoughts:
- Sour Patch Kids sightings: 1 (YAY! Who knew I would be so happy to see product placement? What can I say, I love me some Sour Patch Kids.)

- Although all signs point to no, I still think Brian Taylor might be evil. I'm very stubborn.

- "Look me in the eye and tell me all of it was for nothing." Declan actually said that to Kyle. That's some straight-up Joey/Pacey-speak right there, complete with woe-rock in the background, and it made me laugh very, very loud. Oh, Declan and Kyle, you star-crossed lovers you. You'll work it out someday.

- Charlie waited in line two days to buy concert tickets? Apparently, Charlie lives in 1990, or hasn't heard of that new invention called "the internet." A cheater and an idiot, that Charlie.


“Last night our valedictorian wrote 500 words on how Graham Holt is the most important spiritual leader since the time of Christ.”: The 4400

What is it about The 4400? It’s a popular enough show that gets good ratings (especially for the USA network) and has a clever premise which is broad enough that the show could run for over ten seasons and still have plenty of stones left unturned. Of course, this would be incredibly boring, and The 4400’s writers clearly appreciate this. Rather than maintaining the show as a sci-fi procedural with a different 4400 each week, they have made a conscious effort to keep things interesting and vary their storylines. So why is the show generally dismissed by critics and only half-embraced by audiences? Maybe it’s because only some of the writers’ efforts have been successful. For instance, the introduction of promicin reinvigorated the show just when it was getting tired; but on the flipside, all the scenes involving troubled teens Shawn and Kyle continue to be dreadfully dull.

First, though, the good. Billy Campbell has been added to the main cast of the show this season, a great move as he has a rousing presence no matter what role he’s in. His Jordan Collier is also the least moralistic and therefore the most enjoyable character of the ensemble. Another new introduction is Meghan, the new boss at NTAC, whose scene with Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) was an enjoyable bit of back-and-forth and a welcome relief from the main storyline. Lets not forget Gretsch either, who I have admired since his fantastic powerhouse performance on Taken. His character on The 4400 is not all that interesting, but he serves well as a lead and Gretsch brings all the necessary humanity to the role.

The season opener, “The Wrath of Graham”, was built around a very fun premise, involving a teenager called Graham Holt who takes promicin and becomes a god in the eyes of everyone around him. He soon finds that everyone he meets become his slaves (kind of like Professor X if he were evil). This situation escalates from thumb-wrestling in gym class to an attempt at world domination. Graham’s power is to some extent the ultimate wish-fulfilment for a high school teen who feels inadequate and unremarkable, making him more of a sympathetic character than an evil one. Cameron Bright (Thank You For Smoking, Birth) was well cast in the role, believable both as an outcast teenager and a power-hungry maniac. The only big problem was the conclusion, which felt rushed and not totally believable (the story could perhaps have worked better as a two-parter). Regardless, I’d like to thank the show’s writers for opening with a mythology-light episode – I’m still having trouble getting to grips with all the story and characters.

On the negative side, while the ideas of The 4400 are often sound, the characters are lacking. Tom and Diana are no Mulder and Scully, Shawn and Kyle are (as stated) unforgivably boring, Isabelle should have been dumped after last season’s finale effectively concluded her arc, and Collier’s partners in crime Tess and Kevin, despite the best efforts of Summer Glau and Jeffery Combs (both of them performers I like) are annoying moaners. It remains to be seen if good plotting will be able to overcome The 4400’s lack of an engaging ensemble.


Monday, June 18, 2007

"I'm a little delicate after purgatory.": Meadowlands

Fire! People in masks being driven through the English countryside! A family barely escapes with their lives! Now, masks off, it is time for them to move to... the surburbs? Welcome to Meadowlands. By the way, in case you didn't pick this up from the advertising, Meadowlands is no ordinary place.

The Brogans (Danny and Evelyn, parents, and Zoe and Mark, twin siblings) arrive after the initial, unusual pre-credits flashback sequence, to their new, seemingly utopian suburban paradise, to begin life anew in the witness protection program. But very quickly we learn that not everything in Meadlowlands is as it seems, because for every carbon-copy cut-out home there seems to be a resident with a personality disorder. Almost right away we meet two of them; Evelyn, the so-friendly-she's-creepy neighborhood gossip who doubles as a lonely exhibitionalist, and Jack, the local neighborhood sex pervert who wastes no time advancing on the daughter. Or, to be more accurate, he accepts her somewhat implausible and immediate advances. The son is no slouch in the odd department either, as he constantly wears gloves, stares at his middle-aged neighbor through his window at night, and looks at people rather creepily instead of speaking, which he apparently hasn't done for four months prior to the family's arrival to their new home.

Did you catch my drift that nothing on this show is normal, yet? It will remind you in case you forget. When we're not meeting a kooky neighbor (let us not also forget the psychotic policeman, who, I'm not kidding, rips out a guy's tooth and leaves it in a pot the Brogan's have unpacked as he's meeting them for the first time, inviting himself to their welcoming party), we're given a transitional overhead shot of tract-housing which is always accompanied by what I like to call the Foreboding Sound Effect of Surburban Doom.

Okay I think you get the point now, and this is sort of the main problem with the show. It feels like the entire premise was blown on the pilot. I am usually a bigger fan of more slow-burning shows so maybe I am biased, but it seems like a slower, less forceful introduction over several episodes may have served the series more in the long run. Now that we are fully aware of how weird everything in Meadowlands is, what is left? Well, the same stuff you can get from any other show. Probably the most interesting elements to the show so far are what we are given the least of: the interpersonal drama between the family members themselves, who all appear to be capable actors (well, I am not sure about the son yet), judging on the little bit of material that was given them. The mother and father especially do their job well, and seem to have the most unresolved issues to cover later on.

I am not sure if the show actually has anything else to say at this point or if it is just going to be "The Advertures of a Slightly Dysfunctional Family in Psycho-ville." Not to say that there isn't anything left to explore. The whole town appears to be under constant video surveillance, and nobody is allowed to leave, as their are agents used to confront anyone who attempts to leave with psychological tactics convincing them to stay. There is also a "health rehabilitation center" called of all things, considering the fire imagery the show uses, "purgatory", which seems to be the town's version of fat camp. Yeah, that's right.

If I had to call it right now, I would definitely say I'm a little disappointed. But it is summer, and that's what shows that need second chances are born for! It may not be as good as other Showtime fare such as "Dexter" or "Brotherhood", but it is certainly better than "Pirate Master."


"I just act, kid": Entourage

Well, for all the complaints about never seeing the filming process on this show, I thought Doug Ellin's idea for cramming it into one episode (cause this show couldn't stay away from LA antics for too long) was cute, despite being a little hackneyed.

What were the pluses? The production values on Medellin itself were pretty satisfying. Yeah, Vince's fatsuit isn't gonna win any Oscars, but the mini-Apocalypse Now final scene seemed pretty cool, especially considering a $30m budget. I liked Ari's bitching about the troubled production on his couch. In fact, the mockumentary was pretty well done in general, down to the mellow British director. Sure, one could ask why he really only concentrated on the main cast members and Billy, but this is a half hour comedy. Also, Perrey Reeves has been added to the cast. Yay Perrey! Not sure why Rex Lee doesn't have his name in lights too, but I'll let it go.

The minuses--Debi Mazar has been removed from the main credits! Bullshit! I know she was barely in season three, but I figured that was down to her pregnancy. She's fine as a recurring, but if you're gonna have Reeves in there...whatever. All I'm saying is, this season better have some Mazar. What else? Drama's "I hit on hot women and my career is a series of self-important anecdotes" is not funny in mockumentary form. Dillon was way too broad the whole episode. Shoulda been more Turtle--his little glances to the camera had me giggling. And Billy Walsh melting down was fine (I expected no less), but over a buxom Columbian maiden? Pretty contrived.

I'm on the fence about Medellin itself. I acknowledge that Ellin and his guys are gonna have a tough time writing a real masterpiece--we can't expect a crew of comedy writers to produce the next great gangster movie here. Still, the whole thing was like Scarface with a bit of John Woo. I'm fine if they sell the movie as a cult hit, or even a biggish hit, but seeing it at Cannes or winning Oscars is gonna be slightly more of a stretch. I figure I'll let it go, but still, Ellin knew the risk he was taking making an episode like this. As for Grenier/Vince's acting--who knew Pablo Escobar was such a mellow dude? We only saw a couple of scenes, but Escobar hardly seemed troubled during them. Maybe he was just being aloof. I'm a little glad they didn't do the Ramones movie, to be honest.

Next week, I figure, we'll be back to LA as the boys try and get the movie released/have it be a hit. This arc on Entourage is always a lot more fun than the "finding Vince's next project" arc. I liked it with Queen's Boulevard and heartily enjoyed it with Aquaman. So, I'm hoping for weeks of fun. Right?

Oh, and PS: Adam Goldberg on coke! Woo woo!


Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Take this shape-changing mope with you.": John from Cincinnati

In its second episode, John from Cincinnati remains both fascinating and enervating. All of the stuff with the Yost family and their increasing entanglement with both John and the weird, supernatural occurrences plaguing Imperial Beach was fascinating, right down to the parakeet that can (apparently) heal the sick and raise the dead. But the subplot stuff with the motel and its new owner seems largely extraneous at this point. I'm sure I'll be proven wrong on this, and David Milch will tie it in brilliantly somehow, but for right now, it feels like a bit of a way to kill some time.

But before we get into that, let's get into the opening credits a bit. The opening credits weren't included on screener DVDs (apparently, this is common practice for HBO), and it was a detriment to the show, I think. The best credits sequences (and, honestly, every HBO credits sequence I can think of is great) put you in the right frame of mind to watch the series itself (David said to me earlier today that when he first saw the credits* for Big Love -- not on the DVD screeners -- he knew he would love the show). The credits to John from Cincinnati, set to "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer (legal download here), perfectly blend a hazy sense of apocalypse (the song actually contains a line about killing all the bees), surfing, the U.S.-Mexico border and a sad nostalgia for summers of long ago into a potent package that seems to promise that we definitely are going somewhere worth visiting. Just having those crystal-blue credits running before the show every week gives me some measure of confidence in the storytellers (that Deadwood and NYPD Blue didn't already).

If you want to watch them right now, here they are!

So, that in mind, let's tackle tonight's episode, another strange, elliptical episode that meandered for a while, had some terrific moments and felt full of goofy, perfect dialogue. In particular, I'm really enjoying all of the mystical stuff, from the small earthquake (or temblor) starting when the drug dealer (an essentially unrecognizable Dayton Callie -- better known as Deadwood's Charlie Utter) punched John to Butchie seemingly shrugging off his druggy haze thanks to the influence of John (seemingly).

What I also liked is that this episode threw all of the Yosts into an understandable light for me. Ostensibly, Bruce Greenwood and Rebecca DeMornay are the leads, but I finally got a sense of them as characters, not symbolic plot devices, tonight, particularly DeMornay's Cissy, who now makes a degree of sense that she didn't really before. Hospital waiting rooms are played out as settings for drama on TV now, but JFC really needed that scene where everyone rushed to the side of Shaun's bed after his tragic accident to give us a sense of them as a family. And it gave us that terrific shot of the parakeet kissing Shaun's lips and seemingly raising him from the dead (I have to say I haven't seen a lot of Christ imagery surrounding parakeets in the past).

John, meanwhile, expanded his vocabulary some more and became fascinated with the process of defecation, even though he doesn't seem to be capable of doing so. His imitation of the sounds of "dumping out" was pretty funny, and Austin Nichols is doing a great job with this blank slate of a character, reacting exactly as you or I might if we had to learn everything very fast. We also finally heard him say he was from Cincinnati, so there's the title for you.

Meanwhile, Luis Guzman, Willie Garson and the other guy I'm too tired to look up were stranded in a subplot about a haunted hotel room.

If ever there was a show that seemed designed to have people compare notes and ideas, it's this one, sort of a much-smarter Lost in that regard. After seeing this episode on the screeners, I knew I would watch the full season, and I think next week is even better. This show is hypnotic, but also fun to jaw about. So what are your theories on what's going on?

* I'll have you know searching for that video led me to find one of the weirdest things I've ever seen on YouTube -- a tribute video to Daveigh Chase's Rhonda Volmer, set to the strains of Jimmy Eat World.