Saturday, July 21, 2007

“Stop that modern talk, I’m an old fashioned cat!”: Doctor Who

It’s a return to New Earth in one of the best episodes of Doctor Who’s third season, ‘Gridlock’. As befits such an integral instalment, it’s written by show runner Russell T. Davies. His scripts rarely miss their mark and ‘Gridlock’ is no exception – in fact, it may be the best episode he has written for Who so far.

On our last trip to New Earth, in season two’s aptly titled ‘New Earth’, we visited the higher levels of New New York and spent most of our time in the city’s hospital. This time Davies takes us to the lower levels, or the slums, and into a vast underground motorway where all of the planets’ surviving inhabitants (although they are not aware of this status) are all driving – or rather, edging along at a snail’s pace. One couple we meet have been on the motorway for twelve years and yet have travelled only five miles. It’s an ingeniously subtle concept - a dystopian hell based around tedium. It also contains within it one of Davies’ favourite themes: the overriding strength of the human race. The thought of being trapped within a car for years on end sounds like torture, and yet most of the drivers we see have taken it in their stride, refusing to give up hope that one day they will be rescued by the people on the higher levels. The Doctor at first assumes that they’ve been abandoned, but it turns out to be quite the opposite – due to a virus outbreak in the city, they are the only remaining survivors of New Earth.

That is, apart from the lovely ol’ Face of Boe, making a welcome (and possibly final) re-appearance. In ‘New Earth’ he confirmed that he had a message to deliver to the Doctor, but that it could wait until their next and last meeting. Here he finally delivers those four words which will prove so important towards the end of the season: “You are not alone”. I was always irritated by the Doctor simply brushing off the message as a mistake (it stinks of a stall tactic) but I guess Davies’ idea was that he is in denial. Rest assured it all pays off in a big way.

More than anything else, ‘Gridlock’ is a hugely powerful episode. Two moments in particular get me every time: all the drivers singing a hymn (‘The Old Rugged Cross’) together as a symbol of their unbreakable spirit; and the final scene, in which the Doctor finally tells Martha the truth about Gallifrey. Early on in the episode she asks about his home planet, and if they could visit it. He duly describes it, but neglects to mention that it has long since been destroyed, indicative that their relationship is not yet in the same league of that which he shared with Rose (he told her the story of Gallifrey at the end of their first adventure, 'The End of the World').

After the events of the episode woke her up to how dangerous travelling with the Doctor can be, Martha demands that he at least talk to her properly. The Doctor proceeds to tell Martha the truth about Gallifrey, and paints her (and the viewer) an evocative picture of the heavenly place it once was. It’s a beautiful monologue and Tennant plays it beautifully in what may be his best bit of acting on the show. Like ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ before it, ‘Gridlock’ here shows that Who can be gut-wrenchingly sad when it wishes to be. Just like the final scene of 'The End of the World', it also represents an important turning point in the Doctor and Martha's relationship. It should be noted that 'Gridlock' is a visually beautiful episode (making the most use of CGI of any episode so far). Yet it's that wonderful last scene which has stayed with me the most. Indeed, if anyone were ever to claim that Doctor Who is just a bit of fun, one needs only to show them 'Gridlock' as proof of how very wrong they are.

Next week: Daleks in Manhattan. Sounds a lot cooler than it actually is, sadly.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Julie and Julia: Er, I mean, the cooking shows, of course.

This week on Top Chef, the episode started with a vaguely bizarre quickfire challenge requiring the chefs to utilize the wonder ingredient that is . . . frozen piecrust? Yeah, that's what I thought. So in the end, it seemed that everyone ended up doing some sort of tart; be it meat-filled or fruit-filled (except for Hung, who's ingenuity lead him to make some disastarous chocolate mousse) and in the end, it was Joey, owner of one disturbing neck mole, and his trio of tarts that won immunity.

Moving on to the main challenge, the chefs were informed that they would have three hours to put together Latin themed lunch for the cast of the Telemundo soap Dame Chocolate. However, it was mentioned in the description of the challenge that the life of a soap star is hectic and their filming schedule always changing. Hm, upcoming twist? I think so.

After another fascinating trip to the supermarket, the chefs return to the kitchen to luxuriate in their three hours of cooking time. Except three hours is too easy, so in comes Chef Tom Colicchio to inform our poor put-upon chefs that the timetable has been moved up and in reality they have only an hour and a half to cook their meals. Bugger. So now, as one might expect, the kitchen is aflutter with stressed out sommeliers running around like chicken . . . well, you know. Now, I understand the producer's need to inject challenges with surprises and to raise the stakes, but forcing a dozen or so people to hurry around a room with open flames and very sharp knives seems like a (pun very much intended) recipe for disaster. This point seemed to be proven when Hung very nearly gave Casey a free nose job with an ill-timed whirl with a blade at face level.

As often happens, most every dish came together relatively well, but ultimately it was the cast of Dame Chocolate who passed down judgement. Some who attempted classic Latin flavors succeeded, though some failed miserably. It was Joey paired in the top two with Howie, these nemeses turned best friends sang each other's praises with Howie taking the top prize and then giving it to Joey. They are in love. Hung again misfired this challenge, but it was Lia, last week's winner, self-admittedly out of touch with Latin flavors that was eliminated.

Next week? Back to groups!

On Hell's Kitchen this week . . . okay, you know what? No. Nothing ever happens on this show. Nothing different. It's the same thing week to week and no piddly paragraph I write or don't write on it is going to change things. For those of you that want a play by play go here. It's far more thorough and shows an interest I could never feign.

Instead, let me tell you about a fantastic book about cooking and the average girl. Julie and Julia follows one woman's journey through the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just a year. Yes, I know this book came out a long time ago, and in truth, I read it a long time ago, but that doesn't change the fact that it's hilarious and touching and all about fantastic (and sometimes less than fantastic) food. A must read for foodies and non-foodies alike.


"The fact is, even in our modern times, easy women don't find husbands.": Mad Men

Meet Mad Men, easily the best new show of the summer and probably the one that will have the hardest time surviving to season two. What seems to work in the summer for basic cable is light, fluffy escapism (see the USA network lineup), and this is far from that. It's a slow, reflective examination on how different the America of just 45 years ago feels from the America of today as well as a look at how that America gave way to the one we now live in. As someone who has a lot of misplaced nostalgia for the look, feel and sounds of the post-war U.S. (or at least, the post-war U.S. up until the late '60s, which is what we talk about when we say, "The '60s"), this was both intoxicating and a sobering reminder that the attitudes those things were based on (and, indeed, couldn't exist without) a system that kept the personal freedoms of people who weren't white men down. You can have the swanky, glamorous society of legend, or you can have a world where the American Dream actually means something to everyone.

Don Draper, the central character, is played by Jon Hamm, an actor I'm mostly unfamiliar with prior to this show, and he's got the look of the late '50s/early '60s man down pat. He's an appealing presence as a leading man, and he makes his occasionally scummy character (even if he's scummy because he holds attitudes everyone else does) something of a white knight. I'm surprised I haven't seen him at the center of a million pilots before this, and he's a great find for the show. Similarly, I've never been a huge fan of South Dakota native January Jones (one of the ten famous people from my home state) until this series, where she's got the look and submissiveness of a mid-20th century housewife down (though I think the decision to structure the pilot so it's supposed to be a "surprise" that Don is married is a bit odd, as I just assumed he was from the first -- wouldn't it be incredibly odd if he weren't?).

There's some stuff here that's clumsy and a little overplayed (some of the jokes and lines -- like the one about the machine that makes identical copies -- just scream, "Hey, guess what?! We're set in the '60s!"), and I'm not sure how I feel about the one ad guy's repressed homosexuality (they're making it a little too obvious what he's repressing, if that makes sense), but I'm, in general, on board with this show, simply because the pilot is so sumptuously filmed and mostly perfectly pitched (that opening scene, where Don asks an older black man why he smokes the brand he does, so perfectly encapsulates everything the show is trying to say that I was almost sold from that moment alone).

Mad Men is mildly famous as one of those great, unproduced pilot scripts that floated around LA for a few years. The script even got creator Matthew Weiner work on The Sopranos, which probably led to AMC greenlighting the show as a series. And it's easy to see why this script appealed to so many people, including David Chase. The show captures the casual racism and sexism of the era in so subtle a way that it never calls attention to itself for an instant (something you wouldn't see on most other dramas). And it gets most of the period details dead-on, even if a few of them seem to be winks to the audience.

I'm particularly interested in how Weiner views the women in this world. The main character is Don, but Peggy bears the eyes we see the office through (and it's always nice to see Elisabeth Moss get work). What's more, the number of regulars who are women outnumber the number of regulars who are men (unless I'm missing someone), and while the men are all playing variations on a type -- the glad-handing, backslapping backroom dealer of Madison Avenue -- the women are all struggling against the bonds that society has placed on them in different ways. Don's mistress is self-employed. Peggy is considering sleeping her way to the top (or to the country, where she won't have to worry about working, as her colleague explains). And Rachel is taking over the family business, always ready to undercut the sexism and anti-Semitism she experiences. Only Betty (Don's wife) doesn't emerge as a fully-realized character in this way in the pilot, and that's because she's only in five minutes or so of the episode. It looks like she'll have lots more to do next week, now that she's not being kept a secret from us.

Vincent Kartheiser (Angel's son on that series) plays Pete, and he uses his weird, nervous energy to suggest a hungry young man who doesn't yet know his own boundaries. Weiner uses the character of Pete to suggest everything that would bring the world the Mad Men were selling us crumbling down -- a rootless, relentless ambition that had little regard for the people outside of the self. Kartheiser's not the villain of the piece -- it could never be so simple as that -- but he does suggest the antithesis of the laid-back Don. Similarly, it was great to see John Slattery and John Cullum (one of my favorites) turn up in guest parts.

What's best about Mad Men (aside from how handsomely it's filmed by Alan Taylor -- also a Sopranos vet) is how it suggests that the world we desire and want so much was simply a creation by a bunch of upper-class white men in the '50s. Now, this isn't exactly a new notion, but Mad Men branches out, suggesting that the ideas we have of love and family and security all stem from a bunch of slightly bored men sitting in board rooms, smoking away their lives and harassing their secretaries. They built the America we believe in, until it was forcibly taken from them and turned into the America we live in. To watch Mad Men is to know this was a good thing, but it also acutely reminds you just how much you want that little island of security in the suburbs.


In which I halfheartedly complain about the Emmys because that's what TV fans do

Meet the cast of Boston Legal, one of the FIVE BEST DRAMAS on TV.

Were you under the impression that its throwback speechifying, its weird, shaky-cam vibe and its stagey, hammy performances could be all right under extremely specific circumstances but paled next to, say, The Wire or Friday Night Lights or even The Riches? Did you think the David E. Kelley train had left the station years ago? Well, you were wrong.

To a very real degree, I've given up on complaining about the Emmys. It's just pointless. The entire system, particularly in regard to dramas, is broken and unable to judge the serialized dramas that have revolutionized the television landscape in the wake of The Sopranos (even though the mobsters themselves continue to make the list, probably because they're just so darn unimpeachably good). The Emmys are always going to be out of touch, and last year, I decided maybe it was time to stop caring. I've read so many pieces this morning by critics who write about how they feel like Charlie Brown racing toward Lucy, only to have her yank the football away. It's really better when you just don't care and realize we live in a world where the Emmys refuse to make a lick of sense.

But, oh well, complaining is so much fun! Let's do a little bit of it for old time's sake. I'm only going to cover the ten categories we did for the SDD Emmys, but if you want to check out the rest of the categories, go here. The writing and directing categories (where I was thrilled to see Battlestar Galactica, Lost and Friday Night Lights), in particular, are better than the major categories.

Best Drama Series:
Boston Legal
Grey's Anatomy
The Sopranos

The Sopranos, of course, belongs here, but aside from that, this is the weakest drama slate in recent memory. Heroes is probably my second-favorite here, and I found that deeply uneven in its first season. I don't have a problem with Grey's or House being here, as they're the two monster drama hits of the moment, but couldn't it have been one or the other, after both had rather uneven and problematic third seasons? And Boston Legal? The less said the better.

The problem is that this new panel system just isn't equipped to look at serialized dramas. You swap out any of these shows (except Sopranos) for The Wire or Friday Night Lights or even Lost, and you've got a much better lineup instantly. But the panels can't just watch an episode of these shows (even the FNL pilot, which is miles more ambitious than the Heroes pilot) and know what's going on. I don't know the solution to this problem, so I'll just move along.

As far as predictions go, this is The Sopranos to lose. If it does lose, I guess Heroes is the dark horse.

Best Comedy Series:
30 Rock
The Office
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty

Now this list isn't so bad, simply because a comedy, even one with serialized elements like The Office, isn't as hard to break down into a single episode as a drama. Funny is funny, and that makes this a more natural fit for the panel system. The only two here that wouldn't make my list are Entourage and Two and a Half Men. Even I liked the Entourage episode that show submitted to the panels (the one where the boys made a trip out to the Valley to see Aquaman, before the show disappeared into its own self-love), and I don't personally like Two and a Half Men (How I Met Your Mother would be a better traditional sitcom), but I can see where it gets credit for being the last multi-camera show standing. This list isn't perfect, but its defensible, so I can go with it.

I think this race is probably between 30 Rock, The Office and Ugly Betty. I'll take Betty for the win, as I think ABC wants it enough to shore up their nearly floundering hit in the ratings on a tough night.

Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series:
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Hugh Laurie, House
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
James Spader, Boston Legal
Kiefer Sutherland, 24

Another poor drama list, though not as poor as the series list. Gandolfini and Laurie (who, perhaps surprisingly, hasn't won yet -- I'm starting to get a Martin Sheen in The West Wing, "I'll never win" vibe from him) will probably face off for the win, but Leary and Spader are potential spoilers. Of the list, Spader's the only one I actively dislike, even though his performance used to be fun. Sutherland was the best thing about 24's lackluster sixth season, and Leary's still electrifying, even when the scripts he supervises let him down. Still, it's just not a very exciting or unexpected list, and the absence of Ian McShane, who will now never win for his Al Swearengen work, is well-nigh unforgivable.

I think Gandolfini beats Laurie, but it'll come down to which tape each submits.

Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

Just like the series list, three of these guys (the first three) would make my list. Eventually, I'm just going to accept that Tony Shalhoub is the new Kelsey Grammer and that he'll get in for his uneven, hammy work every year. Not a huge fan of Sheen, but he rides that "I'm on a big hit" thing for all it's worth, and he IS on a big hit, the only one of the five here that can claim that.

It's Carell vs. Baldwin here, I imagine. I know the easy money's on Baldwin, who has swept everything, but I'm going to go with Carell, who will probably have a tape where he feels more stereotypically like a lead and does something sympathetic (addictive to Emmy voters).

Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series:
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order SVU
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

One of the peculiarities of the Emmys is that they let in additional nominees not in the case of an exact tie, but in the case of shows being within a certain number of votes of the top five. This is why you'll see categories with six, seven or even eight nominees, unlike at the Oscars or the Tonys, where you need an exact tie for the fifth spot to make it in (something that the Oscar nomination process makes very difficult indeed).

That said, let's look at this list. I'm as surprised as anyone Arquette won a couple of years ago, so I guess this nomination is a re-affirmation. I thought Driver was one of the things keeping me from wholly embracing The Riches. Falco, of course, is unimpeachable, and I really like Sally Field's borderline comedic work in Brothers & Sisters too. Hargitay, last year's winner, and Sedgwick round out the category as two tough-laced female detectives, proving the Emmys still have an infatuation with the type. It's not the list I'd come up with, but at least it feels a little riskier than the other two drama categories so far.

I'm guessing that Sedgwick will take this, but Falco could win as part of a Sopranos sweep (she didn't have as much to do this season as she had in the past). And I think Field has an outside shot too. She's a Hollywood legend in a comeback role. Catnip for awards voters.

Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Weirdly, this is the only actress category with only five nominees. It's also probably the strongest acting category overall. Huffman's the weak link here, and when you can say that, it's a damn fine category, because she's good even when her show is letting her down. Ferrera, Fey, Louis-Dreyfus and Parker all made the SDD Emmys list, so we're not going to complain about much.

As far as predictions go, I still think this is Ferrera's to lose, and if she submits the pilot, she'll likely win. I think Louis-Dreyfus and Parker are the runners-up, though you could make a case for Fey, who I think will be too subtle.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Michael Emerson, Lost
T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Masi Oka, Heroes
William Shatner, Boston Legal

This is probably the runner-up in the acting categories for overall strength, losing only because Shatner's a far weaker link than Felicity Huffman is. Emerson and O'Quinn were both great on this season of Lost, and it's nice to see that show back in the acting races. I would have gone with Jack Coleman over Masi Oka from Heroes, but Oka was such a fun presence from the start of the show that I can work with it. And Knight wasn't my favorite in Grey's third season, but I liked him a lot in the prior two years, so I'll just consider this a make-up nom for those seasons.

I'm going to predict O'Quinn for the time being, but it seems far more likely that the Lost guys split the vote and Shatner dances to yet another win. Only needing to submit one episode will help him the most of all.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Rainn Wilson, The Office

Seeing Neil Patrick Harris made the nominee list almost made up for all of the disappointments I felt when I read the list this morning, but it wasn't quite enough to fix things like Jon Cryer. I don't mind Cryer, but this is blatant category fraud (he's a co-lead), and that's never fun. I like Dillon far less than everyone else, but I get that he's a big part of the appeal for many Entourage fans. Piven's a far better choice from that show, even if the character's getting old. And I'm glad The Office cracked this category, but I would have rather it wasn't Rainn Wilson alone. John Krasinski's the soul of that show, and Wilson's work is good but often the thing that ruins the show's illusion of pseudo-realism.

I think Piven's going to win this category for years and years until we all get tired of him. Insofar as a runner-up, let's go with Harris, who has a host of great tapes to submit, even if he's on a show that's completely under the radar (let's hope it pulls an Everybody Loves Raymond and finally gets recognized in season three -- both by the general public and the Emmys).

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers and Sisters
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Aida Turturro, The Sopranos
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

This always felt to me like one of those years where a show (Grey's Anatomy) gets a bunch of undeserved acting nominations in the supporting categories, and here you go. Strictly speaking, though, I'm not sure they were undeserved, outside of Heigl, who's the black hole of that show. A lot of people have complained about Bracco making it, but she probably did for that scene where she threw out Tony, and she's worthy for that. I'm not as sure about Griffiths, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Turturro was fine on Sopranos, but barely in the final season (outside of Sopranos Home Movies, which she must have submitted).

I think Chandra Wilson or Lorraine Bracco win, but there's an outside shot for Sandra Oh, especially if she submitted the finale.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Jamie Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty

The Two and a Half Men two were the biggest surprise to Libby when she read the list, but they've both gotten in at the same time before. Hopefully, they split the vote and Taylor doesn't rise to the win, but I'm afraid she will. I would have preferred Becki Newton from Ugly Betty, but Williams was fun for most of the season. And I have no problem with the other three nominees, who were all great.

I'm going to predict Pressly for now, but I have a secret fear that Taylor will come up along the outside and win. Fischer probably should win for the last five minutes of the finale alone, but subtlety is not the friend of the Emmys.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

"You have definitely taken the 'uni' out of 'unitard'":Big Brother

(I am covering for Carrie this week, as she is unavailable to recap. -J)

First of all, let us observe a moment of silence for Big Brother's lack of a nomination in the 'Outstanding Reality-competition Program' category at the Emmys. ..... Teehee.

It is now the end of the second week of Big Brother, and things are getting a little more interesting because obvious alliances are formed or break, people are starting to get really sick of each other, and tensions are beginning to flare up a bit. I think this is the time when people are still willing to kick someone out because of personal feelings, since they aren't close enough to the money yet and the thought of spending 10 more weeks with certain people must be absolutely horrifying. Personally, if I were stuck in the Big Brother house with Joe or Jen I might have to claim to have an anxiety disorder, just so I can get their doctor to give me large amounts of sedatives so that I don't go completely insane. Of course, it doesn't get that interesting, because this is, after all, Big Brother.

Previously, KKKail was HOH, made some boring and safe nominations, and Carol was booted. Poor Carol, we hardly knew you. Of course even if you stayed and won the game we would probably have still only heard you speak about five sentences the entire game. After Carol is eliminated, Jen wins a very controversial HOH on a tiebreaker question invovling guessing how many gallons are in the teacup in the backyard. We covered this previously, however the houseguests were not very pleased at the result, Joe in particular ranted the most, calling Jen an idiot. Because you know, Joe is such an obviously intelligent person. I also want to mention that I actually thought of the possibility of this being a trick question, but my real question is this: in a game designed so that whoever guesses the closest without going over wins, why on earth does nobody ever think to answer "one." Haven't these people ever seen The Price is Right?

Since Jen is HOH this week, the Jen show continues, and for this I am glad, because even though she is really annoying, the way it pisses off the other houseguests and the sheer audacity of the girl is very amusing to me. I seriously wonder if she is playing an act, because how could anyone really be like that? Anyway, in what will probably be one of the better scenes of the week, there is a hilarious montage of different houseguests commenting on how self-centered Jen is, and how she always turns every conversation into being about her. The Big Brother editors even go to the extent of including a portion with a little 'ding' each time she says 'I'. Personally, I think they should have had a 'ding' every time she says 'like', but that's just me. It's still funny. We also see her HOH room, where she complains about her pictures, especially the only picture they give her of her mother, which to the horror of everyone present she takes down because she doesn't like how she looks in it. I wonder what this girl is going to do twenty or so years down the road when she doesn't look as good. One of her friends, if she has any good friends, should keep her on suicide watch, I'm guessing.

This is Big Brother, so we can't forget that there are some really low budget competitions to get to. So, on Sunday, we have the food competition: "Name that Pie.", where the contestants are forced to guess the ingredients contained in a pie. Whenever they do this game on Hell's Kitchen I always think about how awful I would be at it. The contestants do surpsingly well though, and the team of the girls + Joe (I'm not going to comment on that one, too easy) loses to the team of the rest of the boys, putting them on slop for the week. Now, this is one thing I don't like about Big Brother the past two seaosns. At least when they were on PB&J the contestants weren't turned into lifeless zombies when they lost the food competition. It doesn't make for good TV at all. Plus three people are on slop for multiple weeks in a row (Danielle, Jameka, and Jessica), and I don't like this not only because the former two are a couple of my favorite contestants, but because I am pretty sure that if they keep doing this slop thing to Danielle she is going to die of malnutrition. The girl is way, way, way too skinny as it is people.

At the end of the show it is time for nominations, and Jen nominates exactly who I would expect her to: Danielle and Dick. Uh oh, father vs. daughter! Of course it kind of pans out exactly as anyone might have predicted, where Dick isn't going to campaign against his daughter but Danielle will do whatever she needs to stay. Jen's intended target is Danielle, probably because she is jealous that Nick likes her more. She fails to realize that he probably wouldn't start liking her if Danielle were to be eliminated, though. Right before the nominations, not that it probably affected anything, Dick totally goes off on Jen for sitting in the bedroom and talking about herself while he was trying to sleep. He basically threatens to make her life miserable and as soon as he leaves, Jen just smiles and waves at the camera. See, it is moments like this that confuse me to see if she really is as oblivious as she seems or if she is playing an act on purpose. She also has the brilliant idea of revealing the keys in the exact order of how friendly she is with people in the house, with the exception of taking Jameka and announcing her safety first.

On Tuesday, when we see the reactions to the nominations, everyone is mad at Jen as usual. And Amber cries. People, Amber cries a lot. She cried, if I count correctly, in three different diary room entries and two different times to other houseguests in one episode. Someone gets nominated? She cries. Someone threatens her? She cries. Someone eats her cookie? She cries. One of these times was after the competitors were chosen for the Power of Veto competition (chosen: Jen, Danielle, Dick, Mike, Joe, Amber) when Jen threatens Amber about putting up her friend Dustin if she helps Danielle/Dick win and threatens Joe to put up... who? ... if he helps them win. Like, Jen, you know like, when you like, talked about like, positivity like, in your nomination speech, you maybe should have like, taken your own advice later, and not like, aliented like, every other player by being blatantly threatening, and like, killing any chance you would like, have to like, win a jury vote, even though like, your chances already, like, aren't very good. So yeah, Jen threatened Amber, she cried, then later went to maybe apologize, Dick went off on Jen again because of this (Hee, I like when this happens), and Jen thanks him for going off on her, which only has to irritate him even more. I can't imagine both of them staying in the house for very long without some violence happening.

The POV competition is Big Brother! Cutthroat! Christmas! in which the contestants will play a curling game in order to win prizes. The farthest person is eliminated each round and chooses a present. The people in following rounds have the option of stealing their presents. Except, probably due to their extremely high production budget, Big Brother only provides them with one curling thingy, so the possibility of them knocking each other out is taken away, thus eliminating the only thing that is really interesting about curling. Also, Canadians aren't allowed on Big Brother, so nobody really understands the game. Joe is out first, and wins a slop pass. Second is Jen, who is forced to wear a 'unitard' (a skin tight full body outfit) for the remainder of the week. Jen is, of course, absolutely elated at this. So are America's teenage male Big Brother viewers. Mike is out next and wins a 'Big Brother Date' with the houseguest of his choice. Then Dick, who wins a plasma TV. Finally, when Amber and Danielle are left, Amber gives a really bad throw, throwing the competition to Danielle. She 'wins' a day being chained to the houseguest of her choice, and she chooses KKKail. She could have stolen the TV from Dick, mind you, but I guess the idea of being chained to KKKail for a week is more appealing to her. After the competition, Danielle takes herself off the block, and beforehand pretty much everyone pushes Jen to nominate Joe. She briefly considers putting up Nick after seeing him together with Danielle again, but I guess reason prevails and Joe ends up going up.

On the live show, there is the usual reaction to the new nominations, and the usual questioning of the houseguests. Danielle had on way too much makeup. They then go to the 'plotting which happened since the new nominations' section in which Joe campaigns very hard to stay, and KKKail tries really hard to help convince people for him to stay, because, well, she knows that Dick is going to get her voted out eventually. Dick notices this, and because of a previous deal he made with KKKail in which she would not put up Danielle in the first week (so he could have some time with her, remember, he was immune), he would not go after her. He basically calls off their deal in front of everyone, calls her a liar, and mocks her. See this is why I like him, he calls out everyone in the house that annoys me. Then it is time for the live vote, which is weird, since I've never seen them do a live vote with this many people left in the house before. But first...

There is the obligatory Joe vs. Dustin drama segment, in which they need to have someone from their real lives talk about them, since Joe might be leaving, and Dustin's friend Nate comes on and basically says what we already know: Dustin is cool, Joe is a lying miscreant and should not be trusted for a second. He also has really, really, really big ears. Poor guy.

What have I left out? Oh yeah, there was some boring showmance coverage this week between Nick and Danielle. Yawn. Also, there were a couple of America's Player things which Eric failed to complete, even though he basically did what was asked of him, because the producers are too cheap to give him $4,000. America also wants him to vote out Joe. Maybe he will earn 'complete' his second task finally.

It is time for the vote. I actually think they do this segment in the worst possible way, because when the vote is a landslide it is sort of anticlimactic and then you have to wait to watch the other people's useless votes. Anyway, everyone but KKKail (Jen, as HOH, cannot vote) votes to evict Joe, even her supposed Mrs. Robinson alliance mates Zach, Nick, and Mike. Ouch KKKail, I wouldn't want to be you right now. I also wouldn't want to be you when you have to face people who saw you admit that you're a bigot on national television. Joe leaves, hugging everyone but Dustin, showing how petty he really is, especially considering that Dustin leaves him a pretty nice goodbye message.

In the HOH competition, it is your standard boring true and false questions, in which houseguests are eliminated until it is time for a tiebreaker between Danielle, Dick, and Mike. The question is, how many hours has Jen been wearing the unitard, answer: 125. Dick is closest without going over at 120, so he is the new head of household. I guess that means that KKKail, Jen, or Mike goes home this week. Hopefully it is KKKail, because if you haven't noticed I really don't like her at all. If not her then hopefully Mike, because he's just really boring. Jen I kinda hope stays around, just because she has high entertainment value.

Live Feed Clip of the Week (the first couple seconds only echo a bit):

Jen and Jess speak in some kind of secret language, what exactly are they saying?


Emmy Nominations

-30 Rock
-The Office
-Two and a Half Men
-Ugly Betty

-30 Rock, The Breakup
-Entourage, One Day in the Valley
-Extras, Orlando Bloom
-Scrubs, My Musical
-The Office, Gay Witch Hunt
-Ugly Betty, Pilot

-Battlestar Galactica, Exodus pt. 2
-Boston Legal, Son of the Defender
-Friday Night Lights, Pilot
-Heroes, Genesis
-Lost, Through the Looking Glass
-Studio 60, Pilot
-Sopranos, Kennedy and Heidi

-Boston Legal
-Grey's Anatomy
-The Sopranos

-Martin Landau, Entourage
-Ian McKellen, Extras
-Stanley Tucci, Monk
-Beau Bridges, My Name Is Earl
-Giovanni Ribisi, My Name Is Earl

-Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
-Forest Whitaker, ER
-David Morse, House
-Eli Wallach, Studio 60
-John Goodman, Studio 60
-Tim Daly, Sopranos

-Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock
-Dixie Carter, Desperate Housewives
-Laurie Metcalf, Desperate Housewives
-Judith Light, Ugly Betty
-Salma Hayek, Ugly Betty

-Jean Smart, 24
-Kate Burton, Grey's Anatomy
-Elizabeth Reaser, Grey's Anatomy
-Leslie Caron, L&O SVU
-Marcia Gay Harden, L&O SVU

-Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
-Ricky Gervais, Extras
-Tony Shaloub, Monk
-Steve Carrell, The Office
-Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

-Kiefer Sutherland, 24
-James Spader, Boston Legal
-Hugh Laurie, House
-Denis Leary, Rescue Me
-Janes Gandolfini, Sopranos

-Tina Fey, 30 Rock
-Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
-Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Old Christine
-America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
-Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

-Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
-Mariska Hargitay, L&O SVU
-Patricia Arquette, Medium
-Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
-Minnie Driver, The RIches
-Edie Falco, Sopranos

-Ellen DeGeneres, 79th Academy Awards
-David Letterman, Late Night
-Stephen Colbert, Colbert Report
-Jon Stewart, Daily Show
-Tony Bennett, An American Classic

-Kevin Dillon, Entourage
-Jeremy Piven, Entourage
-Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
-Rainn Wilson, The Office
-Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men

-William Shatner, Boston Legal
-T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
-Masi Oka, Heroes
-Terry O'Quinn, Lost
-Michael Emerson, Lost

-Jamie Pressly, My Name Is Earl
-Jenna Fischer, The Office
-Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
-Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
-Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty
-Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds

-Rachel Griffiths, Brothers and Sisters
-Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
-Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy
-Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
-Aida Turturro, Sopranos
-Lorraine Bracco, Sopranos

-Late Night with Conan O'Brian
-Late Show with David Letterman
-Real Time with Bill Maher
-The Colbert Report
-The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

-30 Rock, Jack-Tor
-30 Rock, Tracy Does Conan
-Extras, Daniel Radcliffe
-The Office, Gay Witch Hunt
-The Office, The Negotiation

-Battlestar Galactica, Occupation/Precipice
-Lost, Through the Looking Glass
-The Sopranos, Kennedy and Heidi
-The Sopranos, The Second Coming
-The Sopranos, Made in America

That's most of 'em. The full list, with all the trimmings, can be found at:


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If we picked the Emmy nominees. . .

(Cross-posted on Emmywatch.)

Choosing your own list of Emmy nominees, especially in this day and age of top ten lists and leaked reports to Tom O'Neil, is usually a lesson in futility. The Emmys tend to be even less daring when it comes to the nominees than other awards shows. For every advance made (like, say, giving a trophy to Arrested Development), the show hangs on to, say, Will and Grace for ages too long. The new voting system, introduced last year to open things up a little, only showed just how little taste the TV establishment had and made the whole process more baffling.

Oh, who are we kidding? This sort of thing is fun to do! To that end, your SDD TV writers have banded together and listed our big, top favorites for the TV year past. Toss in your own lists below. We'll offer commentary on those who WERE selected tomorrow night. And, of course, you can check here for the Emmy nominees the second we know them.

Onwards then. . .

Best Drama Series:
Friday Night Lights
The Sopranos
The Wire

One thing you're going to find on this list is that we really, REALLY like Friday Night Lights. It was the only show on all of our lists. The Wire was only on half of our lists, but those of us who like it REALLY like it. We're also rewarding Deadwood and The Sopranos for going out strong and Lost for coming back strong. This is a strong crop of nominees, especially in a time when there's a lot of great drama out there.

We also like: Battlestar Galactica -- But we all seem to think that the third season started out ridiculously strong, then kind of faded there in the middle before roaring back in the finale. It was a strong sixth, though.

Veronica Mars -- The third season was the series' weakest, but we wanted to throw it out there, just to recognize it the last time we can.

But what about?: The Shield -- Apparently, none of us watch The Shield consistently. Well, I do, but it wouldn't make my top five.

Best Actor in a Drama Series:
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Matthew Fox, Lost
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Ian McShane, Deadwood

We really like FNL, and we really like Chandler too. He'd be our pick for the winner, if we had our druthers. I'm not a terribly huge fan of Matthew Fox, but my colleagues are, and even I'll admit he was pretty great in that devastating finale. Gandolfini, of course, is a master, and Michael C. Hall showed new sides of his charming self in Dexter. McShane rounds out the list as TV's foremost monologuist.

We also like: Hugh Laurie, House -- But we're a little disappointed in his third season, where he occasionally seemed to be going through the motions. He didn't have the huge, monster moment the five men listed above all seemed to have.

Edward James Olmos, Battlestar Galactica, Denis Leary, Rescue Me and Michael Chiklis, The Shield -- We like all three of cable's finest, but only if we watch their shows (which doesn't seem to be the case for all of us). It doesn't help that the third season of Rescue Me seemed to indulge Leary's worst tendencies.

But what about?: James Spader, Boston Legal -- OK? You know we don't like that show, right?

Best Actress in a Drama Series:
Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers and Sisters
Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica

Her show might have had its ups and downs, but Bell was good to the end. Britton would (again) be our winner, if only for that scene where she gives her daughter the sex talk. Falco didn't have as much to do in the last nine episodes of The Sopranos, but her constant presence was enough. Field saw a career resurgence by being the strong center of a show that could be too kooky without her. And McDonnell also didn't have as much to do but was somehow able to make every scene she was in her own.

We also like: Nobody, really -- It was pretty much these five with a few other names thrown in here and there. But mostly these five.

But what about?:
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer -- One of us listed her, but most of us just don't find her histrionics to do anything better than the five women listed above. And Andy would probably kill us all if she made our list.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Michael Emerson, Lost
Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights
Josh Holloway, Lost
Robert Iler, The Sopranos
Gerald McRaney, Deadwood

I asked the gang to limit themselves to one actor per show, but in the two supporting actor categories, it was clear we had a split decision. Here, both Emerson and Holloway rose above the other actors on their show (well, Terry O'Quinn got some votes too), simply from their ability to make even some of the unbearable moments on their shows bearable. Gilford was perfect as the starry-eyed and naive backup quarterback who became the starter. We were never believers in Iler until this season, when he made a descent into depression wrenchingly real. And McRaney rejuvenated his career by being the very picture of evil swagger.

We also like: Well, we liked a lot of other guys, but here are two that stood out and came oh-so-close.

James Callis, Battlestar Galactica -- For his winningly goofy work on the show's third season. He kept the wacky "Life among the Cylons" subplot grounded and kept much of the season's back half afloat. An honorable mention to Michael Hogan from the same show.

Enrico Colantoni, Veronica Mars -- For being the other half of the best father/daughter duo on TV for three years running.

But what about?: Anyone from The Wire -- To be honest, we all picked someone different. If there were an ensemble category, I'm sure this show, with its sprawling, perfectly-pitched cast, would walk away with it.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
Paula Malcolmson, Deadwood
Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica
Aimee Teegarden, Friday Night Lights

Malcolmson was the standout from Deadwood's huge cast of supporting females in its third season. Mitchell was half soccer mom/half creepy femme fatale and easily the most intriguing new character in Lost's history. Oh makes our list almost solely for her post-wedding meltdown in the lackluster season finale -- but what a meltdown! Sackhoff loved and lost, then died and was reborn, which is more than enough to crack the list. And Teegarden appeared on one more ballot than castmate Adrienne Palicki, pushing her onto the list for her sweetly gorgeous riff on the virginal teen girl.

We also like: Again, a lot of people. But, especially. . .

CCH Pounder, The Shield -- Quiet and collected, she just missed our list.

Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos -- She had more to do than she did in most other seasons, but that still wasn't enough to make it.

Autumn Reeser, The O.C. -- The best thing about the show in its lackluster third season, she was an integral part of the show's return to form in its final season.

But what about?: Anybody else from Grey's Anatomy -- Actually, all of the supporting females received votes, except for Katherine Heigl. We loved her in Knocked Up, and we know that Izzy Stevens has her fans, but none of them are at SDD.

Best Comedy Series:
How I Met Your Mother
My Name Is Earl
The Office
30 Rock
Ugly Betty

Mother grew from a pleasant diversion into one of TV's best comedies in its second season. Earl took more chances. Some critics hated that, but apparently few of them were at SDD. The Office made everyone's list (with good reason), as did 30 Rock (again, with good reason). And Ugly Betty was the rare example of a camp-fest that we camp-averse SDD-ites found entertaining.

We also like: Weeds -- This one just barely missed our list, probably because only a few of us actually watch it. Still, thought we would single it out.

Entourage -- OK, it's more like we're split on this one. Some of us hate it. But it made enough lists for me to feel it merited a mention here. Honorable mention to HBO's other comedy this year -- Extras.

But what about?: Desperate Housewives -- Did you read that whole thing about camp? We can apparently only stand it when America Ferrera's involved.

Scrubs and Everybody Hates Chris -- These are two comedies we at SDD love, but they're just unfortunate enough to be on the air during a strong period for comedy. Regrettably, neither made a single list.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series:
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Jason Lee, My Name Is Earl
Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother

Baldwin was maybe the funniest thing on the air this year -- and that took doing. Carell is a reliable performer, always revealing new facets of his gonzo character and making all of that oddness believable. Gervais played more of a straight man on Extras than he did on the original The Office, and he was winning in his slow descent into despair. Lee is the best thing about a winning cast. Radnor managed to step it up in season two and become the sly straight man HIMYM didn't know it needed.

We also like: Zach Braff, Scrubs -- Not as much as we once did, but you're still in our hearts, Zach-o.

Tyler James Williams, Everybody Hates Chris -- Don't grow up too fast!

But what about?: Adrian Grenier, Entourage -- You're kidding, right?

Tony Shalhoub, Monk -- *yawn*

Best Actress in a Comedy Series:
Tichina Arnold, Everybody Hates Chris
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Used to be this category was difficult to fill out without a Desperate Housewife, but no more! Arnold is a comic dynamo on one of TV's most underappreciated shows. Ferrera was a revelation as the world's favorite receptionist. Fey won a most-improved award for how she grew through the season. Louis-Dreyfus makes hamming it up for a live studio audience look like the greatest thing since sliced bread. And Parker's performance is so loopy in its rhythms that we can't look away.

We also like: Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls -- For old time's sake!

Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Show -- Not enough of us watched it, but those of us who did listed her.

Jordana Spiro, My Boys -- Because she's so darn cute!

But what about?: Any of the Desperate Housewives -- Eh. We're tired of 'em. Even Huffman. Yes! Even. Huffman!

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
John Krasinski, The Office
Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother
Michael Urie, Ugly Betty

Here's the other time we had to include two actors from the same show. Oh well. Harris gets all of the raves, but he and Segel are TV's most underrated comic duo at the moment, playing off of each other so well that it's remarkable they don't get even MORE acclaim. Krasinski is the soul of The Office -- to the point where episodes rise and fall on his mugging. McBrayer beat out castmate Tracy Morgan by one vote, thanks to his wonderfully guileless NBC page. And Urie was the OTHER wacky assistant and half of another blazingly funny comic duo (see the supporting actress category for the other half).

We also like: Jeremy Piven, Entourage -- But not as much as we used to. He's still great, but the scripts are increasingly letting him down.

Everyone on Scrubs -- They all got mentions! McGinley, Faison, etc. The whole lot of 'em.

Ethan Suplee, My Name Is Earl -- Possibly the most underrated part of Earl's ensemble, he always seems to be on the outside, looking in.

But what about?: Everyone else on The Office -- Weirdly, Krasinski was the only one of the supporting guys any of us mentioned. For all of our love of the bit players (and our ambivalence toward the overplayed Dwight), we seem to really, really like Jim.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Becki Newton, Ugly Betty
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Jamie Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother

Fischer's sweet soulfulness made up the heart of The Office this year. Newton paired up with Michael Urie to make every scene the two shared absolute perfection. Perkins was an acerbic presence on Showtime's hit. Pressly scored again as Earl's whacked-out ex-wife. And Smulders overcame her more famous castmate (Alyson Hanigan, who also received votes) with a season full of willing goofiness, pulled off with a grin.

We also like: Judy Reyes, Scrubs -- Even after all these years.

Kelly Bishop, Gilmore Girls -- One of the two things that still worked in the last season, when the show almost fell apart.

Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock -- She gets a bad rap for having an underdeveloped character, but she made many of her scenes laugh-out-loud funny.

But what about?: Alyson Hanigan, How I Met Your Mother -- I mostly just feel bad she was the only HIMYM cast member to get left out. Sorry, Lily Aldrin!

That's all for now. Post your picks in the comments, or come back for more tomorrow, when we post the list of nominees, along with our commentary. And we'll also be adding AMC's Mad Men to the stack of shows we cover. Don't miss it!


"You stepped over a dead body because of a golfing schedule?": Meadowlands, the past three episodes

(I apologize for the lack of posts about this show for the last two episodes. I had stuff to do. Like play with my new Macbook. And be addicted to Big Brother feeds. And other things besides watching this crappy show. But for those of you who care, I provide a recap. -J)

Previously on 'Take a swing on the Golf Course of Baleful Portent':

After killing Jack (of all trades, how many times does the show have to throw that into the dialogue) Donnelly upon witnessing his attempted rape of his son, Danny Brogan forces his son to help him bury the body in the garden on the side of their house. That is a pretty good hiding place, I mean, nobody is going to ever think to look in the freshly disturbed piece of ground in your yard for a missing body of a man who only about an episode ago got beaten up by the local policeman for harassing your daughter. Brilliant! Actually you're English, so that can mean sort of almost anything can't it? Brilliant! Anyway, the cop, Wintersgill, proceeds to spend the episode looking for Jack, then suspecting he's dead, then suspecting Danny killed him, than harassing the various family members trying to figure get some sort of confirmation. Meanwhile, the son Mark, probably because he just saw his dead beat someone to death, gets even weirder, and learns that all problems in life and bad-father issues can all be solved by soccer, thanks to a friendly townie, who also happens to be one of the weird secret agent people running about town. Evelyn has a creepy (what else, on this show, come on) encounter with Dr. York, who in the middle of questioning her about the fact that she is planning on having a baby with Danny blurts out that she should have a baby with him instead. Yet she doesn't make any attempt to find a doctor who doesn't stare at her like a rapist, even lets him examine her afterwards, and agrees to bring back a blood sample from Danny. I'm trying to remember what the daughter Zoe did this episode, and I assume it must have been something, but it couldn't have been very memorable because I dont' even remember it and it was only about four hours ago that I watched it. Finally, at the end of the episode Wintersgill tricks Mark into implicating Danny in Jack's death and so he throws him in jail.

In the next episode, Danny spends the majority of the episode being tortured by our friendly psychopathic policeman. Except now we learn why exactly he is so crazy. They don't tell you right away, because the WEIRD SHAKY FUZZY FLASHBACKS are such effective television so you don't want to do the reveal right awa. Theres a few cases of him having flashebacks where we see these sort of disturbing images of sort of mildly hippie-looking people laughing in a rather evil manner at a poor young kid, the policeman about 40 years ago. And incidentally, I have known some hippies in my time and none of them ever really acted very evil, at least that I noticed. They were usually too busy laughing at something silly to throw a menacing cackle around at a poor kid. But I disagress. You see, it turns out the cop is so insane because when he was ten his mother and her AWFUL HIPPIE FRIENDS gave the poor kid ACID and it messed him up for life! Nice little bit of propagnda there. Meanwhile, Zoe, who I actually remember this episode, probably because it was from only two hours ago or so, learns that all problems in life and despondence about crushes on recently decceased psychopaths and arrested fathers can all be fixed by... no, not soccer, wait for it... golf! while she befriends a local named Tom who teachers her how to play. Mark continued to be weird, as usual, but he uses his infinite charms of being unable to speak coherently and waving his hands around in inexplicable flailing motions like, well, I suppose a disturbed person, in order to score his first time with the hideously looking and hideously friendly neighbor Mrs. Oglive, who he has been spying on since the show started. Finally, Evenlyn gets the test results back and it turns out that Danny is infertile and alawys has been, so, dun dun dun, the kids are obviously not his! Meanwhile, between visits to Danny in jail, she is convinced by the cop of Danny's guilt by some files he has on him from his past that he obviously never told her about, so in her last visit she gave Danny the impression that she was going to leave him thus propelling him to sign a confession to Jack's murder. The episode culminates in a 3 year birthday party for Meadowlands, where Mrs. Oglive's daughter's speech is interrupted by the policeman only to announce Danny's... innocence? The family, for some reason, is there, and takes him back without any trace of the suspicion they had of him the entire episode. I guess not only can Danny's secret agent handler force the sheriff to let Danny go (which she did, and they showed), but she can also erase memories from the Brogan family in order for them to like him again (which they did NOT show). Brilliant!

Now, on to the present.

The episode opens with Tom, the golfer from episode four, walking right by Jack Donnelly's dead body lying in the middle of someone's yard. A few moments later, Zoe walks by, notices the body, and screams! Look, there's your boyfriend! Don't worry, you'll get a new one soon. Apparently this body was moved there by the Meadlonds Secret Agency, since it is revealed that Mark moved the body from where Danny buried it (wow, you got points on your dad for smarts at least) into the woods before Wintersgill dug there. Anyway, Danny hears about a body being found, so he drags Mark (because you know, dead bodies and murder are always good father-son bonding experiences) to the woods in order to dig up the body to make sure it is Jack. Mark rightly points out that doing this makes absolutely no sense whether it is Jack or not but Danny insists, and the find a fake dummy body. Danny later drags this fake body into his secret agent handlers office to accuse them of lying, fearmongering by dumping a body in the middle of the town, etc (was this show trying to make a lame statement abot fear mongering by those in power? I am not sure). She basically owns him by saying that if he is so into the truth perhaps she should call up his wife and tell him what he did. Oh... snap.

Meanwhile, it is time for Teenage! Detective! Fun! Starring! Zoe! She is mad about her dad being framed, if only she knew, so she wants to investigate the murder and prove that Wintersgill did it. She decides to enlist the help of her new friend Tom, who (shocker!) turns out to have been an investigative reporter in his life prior to Meadowlands. Too bad for her, a frame up job is created while she investigates, and Ormond, who was present at the Brogan's house fire (pre-show, leading them to Meadowlands), who also moved in across the street from the Brogans, and who showed up at the Brogan's right after Danny killed Jack and thanked him for doing his job for him turns out to be 'guilty'. This is explained to the town in that he committed a revenge killing since Jack, a long time ago, raped and murdered his sister, Grace Diamond. They don't explain to the people why he was in Meadowlands in the first place. I guess they don't do very good background checks there. Eventually she breaks into the police station in order to steal files, and steals a file on Jack Donnelly and Tom, her new friend. Meanwhile, the secret agent people threaten Tom to stop investigating. Zoe goes off to look at the files, doesn't find much, but while she is doing this her father gets wind that she and Tom are looking into this and goes to pay Tom a visit. Oh yeah, and she kissed Tom, who is probably twice her age, ew, and steals his car keys. Danny, even though he doesn't notice his daughter is sort of hanging around, does notice the giant typical television investigative flow drawing on Tom's wall clearly implicating him and threatens him to stop investigating as well. Tom then notices a photo on the wall and its flashback! time! It turns out that Tom had a wife who strongly resembled an older Zoe, who got blown up by a car bomb meant for him because of an investigation he was running. The secret agent people are sending him a message! Or maybe attempting to kill him! Anyway, he realizes his key is missing and goes running out, Danny follows, to stop Zoe from getting blown up in his car just like his old wife. You should really quit the investigating thing, dude, you seem much more chill when you are talking about 'life is a metaphor for golf', or whatever nonsense you spewed in episode four. He succeeds, and luckily for Zoe, but perhaps unluckily for the interesting factor of the show, Zoe is not blown up.

Finally, Danny haers that it was Ormond who was framed for the killing, and since he saw him before he was ever in Meadowlands, he is naturally suspicious. So he goes to the jail to question him, where the guy tells him nothing but makes vague assumptions that THERE IS MORE TO MEADOWLANDS THAN MEETS THE EYE. From the look of the preview for the next episode, it looks like either there are going to be a lot of hallucination sequences or things are about to get supernatural.

After five episodes now, it just seems like this show could have been pulled off so much better. Like maybe a bit less of the cut-out caricature characters. And maybe a little bit of oddit and weirdness that serves the plot and just doesn't seem like a blatant surface attempt to make the show seem "different", when it really isn't. And stop having those stupid slow-to-fast motion overhead shots of the surburban houses with the creepy sound effects. They even did it once with a golf course. It is silly, really.


Big Love Tuesdays: Season Two, Episode 18, "Dating Game"

Big Love’s halfway point for its second season, “The Dating Game,” written by Doug Jung and directed by Jim McKay, is frustrating first because it’s so good and then because it seems to mire itself in the plotline that’s the least interesting on the show. Up until about 10 minutes from the end, the episode is unconcerned with wacky antics at Henrickson Home Plus or on the Juniper Creek Compound. It’s simply an examination of how the process of bringing another person into a plural marriage can warp and break some and bring spirit to others. But then, the episode turns to some unfortunate business with a third band of polygamists who have come back out of hiding to fight with Bill (Bill Paxton) and Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) over the ownership of Weber Gaming. While we haven’t ever seen an all-out polygamy war on TV (and at least it will give Roman’s character something interesting to do), this plotline stands to bring in more of the weirdness for weirdness’ sake that occasionally weighs the series down (though, admittedly, it’s hard to normalize bands of polygamists who go into hiding at the drop of a hat -- but did the leader really need a seemingly transsexual right-hand woman?). Still, if the plotline brings a definitive close to the often draggy Juniper Creek stories, the show will be all the better for it in season three.

But enough of those concerns. The episode was owned by Ginnifer Goodwin, who finally got a perfect showcase for her powerhouse performance as Margie, the youngest and most naïve of the Henrickson wives. In last week’s episode, Margie accidentally discovered Bill was romancing Ana (Branka Katic), a waitress at a local restaurant. At first, she seemed crushed by Bill’s actions, even though it’s a part of the life she has chosen. At the end of the episode, though, she went to the restaurant and seemed determined to find out more about Ana. As this episode picks up, Ana and Margie are becoming fast friends, even as Bill and Ana’s relationship is progressing. In a short scene set in Ana’s dingy apartment, Ana talks about how much she misses her girlfriends in her native Serbia. Margie thinks for a moment, every thought crystal clear in her eyes (the show is only giving us broad hints about who Margie was before she met Bill, and it’s probably better that way), then admits to Ana that she’s a polygamist, describing her entire family and her husband (the first word she thinks of to describe him is “thoughtful” -- an unusual one for someone she knows is contemplating complicating her life even more). Goodwin plays the moment as a huge relief -- as though Margie had been waiting to make this confession to a friend for a long, long time, and her giddiness afterward, when she sweeps Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) of all people into a hug, is palpable.
Read more here.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"I think we need to expand the definition of normal when it comes to you.": Kyle XY

DON'T TRUST FOSS. With those three words, the annoying Tom Foss subplot (and Kyle's increasingly tedious "what's my brain for?" storyline in general) suddenly got much, more more interesting. What it means, however is still very unclear.

Let me back up and explain where the message came from, shall I? While searching for answers in Adam Baylin's journals and workbooks, Kyle suddenly finds himself having strange visions of a postcard bearing a Hungarian phrase. A few days later, the mailman delivers the exact postcard from his vision. Kyle tells Nicole about these strange visions, and then Foss, who gets bent out of shape because according to Foss everything Kyle does must be the biggest secret in the history of secrets. Later Kyle has another vision, this time of Adam Baylin, and discovers that not only can he recall photo-perfect memories at will, he can also manipulate those memories to see things he might have missed the first time. By doing this, he discovers that Baylin hid a CD-ROM in a Hungarian book which he retrieves and tries to listen to. In the end, after a lot of fancy smartypants tricks, he figures out that the vocal recording is actually a cryptogram that can only be deciphered by using the decibel levels of the audio. What does that cryptogram reveal? Yep - DON'T TRUST FOSS. When Kyle goes to confront Foss, he of course is gone without a trace.

At first glance, this is an awesome twist. Foss becomes the bad guy again, or a fun red herring. I will admit to saying, loudly, "AWESOME" when the message was revealed. However, some quibbles. Why was Foss gone when Kyle went to see him? He didn't know the message existed. He had no clue Kyle was suspicious at all. I hope there is a good explanation, because it is all too convenient. Also, if Foss is actually evil, why couldn't Adam Baylin just have told Kyle this to begin with? Why was Baylin even allowing Foss to help them if he was evil? I think a much more compelling twist would be if Baylin was evil and his evil friend Brian Taylor were doing evil things behind Foss's back. I know, this doesn't make any sense but I am sticking to my "Brian Taylor is evil" credo and can't let go.

This week's episode was once again very Josh-heavy, which would normally be a bit tiring, but his new friend Andy is so darn cute I forgot how annoying Josh can be. You see, Josh is about to go out on his first date with your typical television big boobs/small brain stereotype. Andy, because she is of course secretly in love with Josh, decides she needs to help him prepare for the date so he doesn't embarrass himself. You can see the ending of this story a mile away, but the journey Josh and Andy take from friends to maybe more than friends throughout the hour is honest and sweet. Andy could be your typical TV tomboy, but the actress and writing really elevate her to so much more than just a stereotype. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy watching this relationship evolve. (If it's allowed to evolve -- did anyone else see that suspicious headache Andy got? Is she going to be a cancer girl? I hope not.)

The triangle of Lori/Declan/Jessi hasn't gotten any more interesting, however. Poor Lori needs a new guy because Declan does nothing but dump on her and cause her to turn into a Seattle version of Julie Emrick, which is never a good thing, and Declan is too busy making out with zombies to notice. Wake me up when Jessi's character makes any sense, honestly. I totally don't get the insta-sparks between Declan and Jessi and why he would even put up with such a strange girl after the awesomeness that is Lori Trager. The one great thing to come out of Jessi's storyline this week actually came from Emily Hollander, when we learned that she has a child of her own who she visits every night. I'm not sure how this will play in the future, but I'm sure it will have some sort of consequences for Emily.

Now that Stephen is working at Madacorp, he also has an opportunity to interact with Emily Hollander and their interaction is not making me very happy. It seems that Emily might have been directed to infiltrate the Trager family on more than just a surface level, as they are hinting at a potential Stephen/Emily affair. Hands off, Emily! I am not afraid to hurt you. And neither is Nicole Trager, I'm sure.

Next week: Kyle dances! Since he's awesome at everything, I hope Matt Dallas has some mad skillz. Like David Silver.

Random thoughts:
- Sour Patch Kid sightings: 0

- The postcard was addressed to "Kyle Trager." Aw.

- Did the corporate video playing in the Madacorp lobby remind anyone else of the Skynet presentation during Terminator 2 ride at Universal Studios?


Monday, July 16, 2007

“Good old J.K.!”: Doctor Who

Generally the period episodes of the revived Doctor Who do not excite me as much as the others. Actually there have so far been very few instalments actually set in the past, and those few are all worthy stories (‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ are both exemplary, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ and ‘Tooth and Claw’ are entertaining and ‘The Unquiet Dead’ isn’t half bad) yet still I tend to dread these offerings. Perhaps it’s because they always seem to be trying too hard in their attempts to ‘jazz up’ period settings and make them exciting. In this regard ‘The Shakespeare Code’ is no exception – even its title comes off as a teensy bit desperate. However, thanks largely to the surprising depiction of Shakespeare and the ever-growing chemistry between Tennant and Agyeman, I enjoyed ‘Code’ very much.

Perhaps sensing that trying to imbue every one of Shakespeare’s lines with genius would be something of an impossible task, the Shakespeare of ‘Code’ is instead a blokish womanizer who shouts at his theatregoing crowd ‘Shut your big fat mouths!’ At points he even becomes the comic relief – for instance, his amusingly OTT physicality when the witches take control of his body. David Lennox Kelly has fun in the role while maintaining a sense of underlying sadness (Shakespeare briefly mentions his recently deceased son at one point) that I wish had been explored a little more.

But this is Doctor Who, and there’s no place for morbidity. Instead – witches! Three of them, in fact, fulfilling every witch cliché one could think of, from hook noses to a lot of high-pitched cackling. Perhaps it’s just me, but as long as writer Gareth Roberts was sexing up everything else about Elizabethan England, couldn’t he have updated the witches a bit as well? For me they were bland and all the scenes involving them were unforgivably dull. They really ruin this episode for me.

Thankfully, everything else going on is much better. The Doctor and Martha’s scenes together are top stuff and should sell anyone on what a compelling pairing they make. Rose’s presence is still felt – the Doctor heartlessly disses Martha by saying that if Rose were there she’d know what to say. He also continually stresses that he’s only taking Martha on one trip, and then returning her home. And while the two talk out some of their issues by the end of the episode, a lot still goes unsaid. All this cements Martha’s status as an imperfect companion – not because there’s anything wrong with her, but because the Doctor has her along mostly for the sake of it and not because he really sees something in her.

All the many references to Shakespeare’s work are cleverly worked in, and the nods to Harry Potter are very funny. Shakespeare’s infatuation with Martha is amusingly played, especially the idea that she was his inspiration for the ‘Dark Lady’ of his sonnets. Plus Queen Elizabeth I’s little appearance (“Off with his head!” “What?”) had me with a big grin on my face. ‘The Shakespeare Code’ may not be one of the better season three episodes, but it has some fantastic moments and has grown on me over time.


"I don't want anyone going blind from the reflection off of your translucent boychest": Entourage

Even though this felt like a more proficient episode of Entourage than most of the fourth season so far, it still was boring and kinda off. Getting close to halfway into these twelve episodes, and every time the story is the same--Ari is always good, E is becoming profoundly irritating, and Drama and Turtle's subplots are becoming bafflingly disconnected from just about everything.

I mean, really. I really dug Turtle's girlfriend from the end of season three, but that seems to have been completely forgotten, which totally sucks (although, apart from Lisa Rinna, Turtle has refrained from chasing skirt so far this season, so maybe she'll re-appear sometime?). So, instead, week after week we get bizarre Turtle & Drama playing Dumb and Dumber as they prepare for a party, sleep with older women, hook the mayor up with a transvestite and this week, try to get into a medicinal marijuana club. It's all very well and good for a couple laughs, but it means the gang is broken up every week and that the guys responsible for humor are kept away from Eric and Vinnie, which means we get one plot of really dumb humor and one that's almost entirely humorless.

Take this week's humorless plot: it consisted of Eric finally throwing down with Billy Walsh after being called on his 'Napoleon complex', which was probably Billy's finest moment on the show so far (his "SUITS SUCK" shirt also provoked a laugh from me). Rather than agree with Eric's whiny complaints that Billy was a loose cannon that needed to be controlled, I instead found myself wondering why the show seemed to be so on the side of Eric at all. I mean, Eric surely fits the model of 'evil producer', who wants the whole movie re-cut and the visionary director locked out of post-production. It's a cliche, but it's rare the story is told from the perspective of the harried producer! Amazing how...corporate the Medellin storyline is turning out. The 'amusing' little twist at the end of this week's episode had Eric swearing he'd never work with Walsh again, before being told by Ari that he had landed Vince and Eric in some mountaineering movie, but had also promised Walsh would direct! Uh oh! More Walsh? Really? I dunno about that. My feelings for the character veer from boredom to amusement, but I think he should be tucked away for a WHILE after Medellin is wrapped up.

I actually have very little else to say about this episode. Ari's banter with Lloyd was great as usual, as was their scheming against Josh Weinstein (although the whole 'ew brokeback mtn is gay' thing was really unnecessary). The celeb cameos (Snoop Dogg and, oddly, Elvis Mitchell) were out of left field as usual. Vince is becoming more and more spectral, considering he does like NEXT TO NOTHING every week. Oh, and I was graduating last week, so you're gonna have to wait until Thursday for another two-week catchup on Rescue Me, which I hear is equally disappointing. Shame how former favorites of mine are turning out that way!


Sunday, July 15, 2007

"He doesn't have a vocabulary! He's a human parrot.": John from Cincinnati

OK. I still don't really give a crap about the Yosts (though that revelation about Cissy and Butchie was fairly interesting, given the character dynamics), but John from Cincinnati is settling in to something that I really can't wait to see each week. I've seen a lot of criticism of this episode (already!) out there, saying it was too cheesy, too self-consciously weird, too. . .whatever. But I thought it really nailed the feeling of religious harmony, the feeling of what it's like to come together with a band of disparate people and feel like you're approaching something higher than yourself. John's literal come to Jesus meeting at the end of the episode is the sort of thing I don't even want to try to bother finding a definite interpretation for (not that there necessarily is one) without having watched the episode 15 times or so, but the general feeling of warmth I got from seeing all of these fascinating players gathered together to listen to John speak to them and listen to an impromptu jazz duet was like nothing I've ever seen on television. This is still a frustrating, flawed series, but when it's on, it's well worth the time and effort I and its other fans put into it.

What's more, that closing scene was so monumental that it overshadowed the rest of the episode, even though the rest of the episode was probably the strongest of the series' run so far. I, in general, like the show more when it's focusing on the mysteries of who John is and what his mission on Earth is, and this episode was chock full of stuff like that. Heck, we even got to see Shaun and Tina fixing loaves and fishes. (This episode, in general, felt like the most "Biblical" of the series' run so far.)

What was probably the best scene prior to that final speech was the scene where John suddenly appeared to Cissy and tried to talk her out of killing herself, revealing her greatest secret (that she sexually abused her son when he was 13). I've ragged on Rebecca DeMornay more than most of the other actors over the course of watching this series, but this scene threw her whole character into another light. If there's one thing that's problematic about reviewing any TV series episode-by-episode, it's that later episodes reveal things about the characters that we just didn't know in previous episodes. This series, more than most, reveals the inherent limitations of that method. But the scene, in general, was vintage Milch. You're alive, dammit, the series seemed to say. And that's better than being dead. Chock-full of misery, but you're alive.

But the rest of the stuff before John's weird astral projection trip through Imperial Beach (which also, apparently, involved a zombie) was good too. I liked the scene where John visited Bill's home and spoke to him in the voice of his dead wife quite a bit, as well as the scenes where John, Bill and Joe waited to see if they could spot the men who knifed John. I'm still not as invested in the drama between Shaun, Cissy, Butchie and Tina, but I feel it's a little more connected now. And, apologies to Luke Perry, but he's just no Powers Boothe, making his scenes feel a little too disconnected, though his joining the gathering at the end was quite nice.

It's those scenes of communities gathering that Milch does so well, and the scenes at the hotel throughout were the best of the episode, as the various characters who seemed completely unlikely to come together in the pilot have grown into a functioning unit, cleaning up the place until it seemed like a gathering place. That final scene with John speaking to everyone was gorgeous both for how it incorporated all of the hotel's denizens (living and dead) and the way it was shot, frequently cutting away to see the fixed-up hotel. And the speech John delivered had all of the soothing quality of a litany or a sermon. I've seen the episode twice now, and John seems to be saying that bad things have a way of dominoing onto each other, but the higher being John serves can wipe away those bad things and let you start over. It's a deeply religious viewpoint for a series that uses a lot of cursing, the perfect antithesis to Seventh Heaven and so much "religious" art. Yes, there will be bad things, but with the help of God and each other, maybe we can push past that misery. We're alive after all, aren't we?