Saturday, September 29, 2007

“I like it when you use my name”: Doctor Who

Roughly midway through this week’s Doctor Who, ‘The Sound of Drums’, the Doctor and Master share a conversation over their cell phones. That in itself is an amusing example of how Who has been brought into the 21st century. The scene is especially notable, though, because it serves well as a summation of everything this season’s final two episodes are going for. When you leave aside the epic threat and the explosive action, what you’re left with is a battle of wills between two men who really should never be fighting in the first place. During their phone conversation, the Doctor appeals “All we’ve got is each other” to which the Master retorts “Are you asking me out on a date?” The moment is reminiscent of a playground fight in which any attempts at sincere emotion from one party are met with immature mocking by the other. To me, ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’ can be accurately surmised as what happens when such a petty argument takes place between two people of immense power.

Admittedly, there’s more to the Master than petty anger. During a brief breather between set-pieces, ‘Drums’ takes a trip via flashback to Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords (majestically brought to life in CGI). Here writer Russell T. Davies delivers a simple but effective bit of backstory. Young Time Lords, we are told, were put to the test at age 8 and shown “a gap in the fabric of reality…all the raw power of time and space”. Some would be inspired, some ran away, and a few went mad. The Doctor ran; the Master went mad. Throughout the episode, the Master repeatedly mentions a “drumming” in his head which leads him to commit horrible act after horrible act, hoping that it might go away once he’s satisfied his own urges. It veers close to sci-fi hokum, but the Gallifrey sequence is beautifully realised and John Simm delivers every line with a haunting intensity that could turn any sceptic.

Simm is primarily what makes this episode play. In fact, that’s exactly what he does for most of it – he plays around, relishing the (increasingly rare) opportunity to bring a villain to life who genuinely enjoys himself as he takes over the world. Not that he isn’t scary – he’s completely terrifying! Whether gassing the cabinet, disintegrating the President or descending his faithful Toclafane upon the world, Simm maintains a sharp balance between the dark and light sides of his character, and steals the entire episode along the way.

Outside of his scenes, some things work and some don’t. Martha’s material is the best – early on there is a heart-stopping sequence in which her family is apprehended by the Master, one-by-one. Both Martha’s initial horror and her subsequent fury with the Doctor are effectively played by Freema Agyeman (who I will talk more about next week). Plus there’s a classic little moment when Jack first realises Martha’s feelings for the Doctor and sighs “You too, huh?” (although I hear that this line was cut by Sci-Fi - shameful). John Barrowman, charasmatic as ever, gets less to do in these last two episodes but is brilliant with everything he’s given. Weaker are all of the scenes involving President Winters, a dull and unnecessary Bush-alike who suggests that political satire isn’t really Davies’ forte. Other aspects that play weakly here – Lucy Saxon, the Toclafane, the paradox machine – are thankfully strengthened by explanations provided in the finale, although this drags ‘Drums’ down as a result.

It all leads to a barnstorming finale in which the Master takes worldwide control in one fell swoop. It’s a thrilling sequence, well crafted with moments of playfulness – the Master dancing to Rogue Traders’ ‘Voodoo Child’ as all hell breaks loose – and an epic, geek-tastic final shot of London being destroyed. Darker/character moments aside, ‘Drums’ is the most unashamedly fun Who has ever allowed itself to become, and for that reason I loved it.


"You're supposed to follow me": Grey's Anatomy

How exciting! The season 4 premiere of Grey's showcased the best and the worst of the show, but in the end left me feeling good about how this season's gonna go. Whatever she might say, I think Shonda Rhimes has gotten the message that season 3 was too downbeat and angsty and we're hopefully swinging back to the insane emotional/comic rollercoaster that was season 2. Also, the appointment of Krista Vernoff (probably the show's best writer) as showrunner is another good sign. Gotta love Shonda but she helps Grey's as much as she hurts it these days. Some new creative direction might help out a little (not that Shonda's really going anywhere, but she's spread between Grey's and PP now).

Enough business! To the matter at hand, the episode titled "A Change is Gonna Come". Good start right there! The season 3 finale was a monstrously dull affair, involving Burke leaving Cristina at the altar, Meredith and Derek breaking up for reasons too boring to list, George failing his intern exam and having to repeat the year, Callie telling Izzie that she and George were gonna try for a baby, Izzie telling George she loved him, Addison leaving for LA, Bailey being beaten to Chief Resident by Callie, Alex almost telling Rebecca he loved her but her leaving before he got to her...ugh. A cornucopia of downers, but not one exciting cliffhanger to get you excited for next year. Nonetheless I was excited for next year (now this year) because I figured, how could it get any worse?

And I was right! Sort of. What did I like about this episode? Probably the best stuff was Meredith, Izzie, Alex and Cristina, now residents, dealing with their new interns, who included George and Lexie Grey, Meredith's half-sister introduced last season. Let's get this out of the way with Lexie (Chyler Leigh): she's really pretty. Perhaps not the best actress in the world (didn't really buy her 'awesome' speech at the end of the episode) but she's so cute! When the new residents gave the same strutting speech Bailey gave to them in the pilot, with varying levels of success--Cristina the scariest, Izzie obviously the least intimidating--I was reminded of how much I used to really enjoy this show. I love all that hospital life crap. Everyone had some wacky/sad patients to deal with, too. There was a pregnant girl with a missing severed arm, a guy who kept eating cotton balls and paperclips, a guy whose head was barely hanging on to its body, injured deer. Yeah, a deer. Guess whose storyline that was. Mmmhmm. You got it.

Unfortunately, the fun of the episode was nearly dashed by an insane level of ridiculousness from Izzie. Really annoying, even for her. I liked her being hurt at her interns not respecting her. I liked that she felt empowered by the end of the episode. They could have constructed a nice little story for her between those two feelings. But instead, for crying out loud, she has to defibrillate a DEER? No wonder her interns think she's crazy. She IS crazy! Even worse was that she seemed unable to deliver any dialogue that wasn't a grating mini-speech (honestly Shonda, why do you keep doing this to poor Katherine Heigl!), and, of course, she's still pining after George. Indeed, since after Izzie and Alex broke up in the middle of season 2, all Izzie's been doing is pining: for Denny, for dead Denny, and then for married George. One of the biggest mistakes this series ever made was having Izzie not get a normal relationship after Denny died. Sticking her with George could have damaged this character FOR GOOD. I think they're gonna have to hit the reset button on Izzie again, like they did when she quit her job at the end of season two, which is just a terrible track record for the writers. Of course, it was all that much worse because at the end of the episode George showed up at Izzie's door and muttered "I love you too". On what grounds!? The man's clearly taken leave of all his senses, considering how Izzie behaved in front of him the last few episodes.

In other news, Meredith and Derek are 'broken up', which means they stare at each other mournfully and have clipped, snippy dialogue with each other and have sex at the end of the episode. Aaaah. Feel that? That's the audience soaking up the lukewarm, disappointing MerDer saga once again. It's never going to leave us, because it's basically designed as the backbone of the series, so I'm glad the writers are acknowledging that with Meredith and Derek, it doesn't really matter if they're broken up or they're together. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, they're basically gonna act the same way every episode. However, the one thing that was weird was where Lexie is supposed to fit in to all of this. Last season seemed to suggest she'd be a possible love interest for Derek cause they were flirting at the bar. Now, however, seems doubtful, cause Derek is still totally into Meredith, and I doubt he'd go so low as to sleep with Meredith's half-sister. I mean, gross. That's McSteamy territory, not beloved McDreamy (sidenote: there wasn't enough Sloane this ep. More Sloane, plz).

Weirdly, Lexie seemed to be positioned as a love interest for Georgie Porgie, which could mean he'll have slept with about half the female cast of this show by the time he's through. Not bad for everybody's favorite stammering nerd. Still, c'mon, really? Does married man George really need ANOTHER love interest? Why can't they just let him settle into his married relationship with Callie? Since they got hitched, all we've gotten from them is fighting and tension and infidelity, and it really sucks, cause they can be a fun couple (at least, I think they can. Hard to remember). I really wish they'd just forget Gizzie ever happened, have Lexie get with Alex or the Chief or someone, and let George and Callie settle down. Doesn't seem likely, but I'd like this show to embrace marital bliss for once. Literally not one marriage on this show has gone well so far, not even the peripheral ones.

I'm not going to devote any time to talking about the human patients this week, cause they were either seriously cheesy (the loving blinkfest of Mr. Blinky no-spine and his kids) or totally underdeveloped (did we ever figure out WHY that guy was eating paperclips, or was he just crazy?). I also won't say much about Burke being history, except that I'll somewhat miss his cool-headedness, but it was the right decision to fire the quite mental Isaiah Washington (who's looking forward to seeing him on Bionic Woman?). Also, the news that Elizabeth Reaser is coming back later this season had me jumping for joy, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's to put the final kibosh on that loose end and free up Alex for new ladies. Which is sad. Still, more Reaser equals GOOD. May I also formally congratulate Ms. Reaser on her Emmy nomination and Ms. Heigl on her Emmy win. Also, even though I barely mentioned them this week, James Pickens, Eric Dane and Chandra Wilson were as good as ever here. Keep it up, guys!


"I'm voting for Derek Zoolander. Oh I mean Dave.":Survivor: China, the past two episodes

(Sorry about missing last week. The timing of recapping this was a little hectic for me. - J)

Boy has the Survivor franchise lasted a long time. I would never have guessed that this show, despite its massive popularity towards the beginning, would ever have lasted for fifteen cycles. Except that is what what Survivor: China is: the fifteenth season. Over the course of the series the formula has changed very little; different number of contestants, different twists; but the basic premise is the same. It remains interesting to watch still for fifteen million people; so I suppose that speaks something to the success that comes with being first. I'm still one of these people, and it is a guilty pleasure by all means, but something I enjoy watching nonetheless.

The season opened with a surprise; they actually introduced the contestants again! They have not done this for about 10 cycles now, so I am pleased. I think the show has suffered a bit from focusing too much on the challenges, and less on the contestants, locations, and culture. They have a ceremony at a buddhist temple where we get our first two standout characters of the season. One, Courtney, who basically openly mocks the ceremony, and another, Leslie, who doesn't want to participate for religious reasons. I introduce you to my two least favorite types of reality contestants: the self-absorbed bitch and the extremely vocal religious beliiever. I guess we will be hearing snarky comments from Courtney all season long and at some point Leslie will ask God or Jesus to help her do better at challenges.

In any case, after that ceremony the contestants were split into the Fei-Long (red) tribe as well as the Zhan Hu (yellow) tribe. There was a lot of time spent on them adjusting to their camps, which I appreciated, and no reward challenge, which I also appreciated. And after an immunity challenge that involved the contestants carrying a gigantic, long dragon puppet through an obstacle course before solving a puzzle with the sticks that hold it up, Zhan Hu lost and voted out Chiken at tribal council. Yes that's right, his name was Chicken. While he didn't particularly seem like a bad guy, I am glad he was voted out because I seriously could not understand a single word he was saying. Also for the first time in Survivor history, they featured a contestant being sick (Ashley) in the first episode who wasn't voted out. I found it a little funny that a pro wrestler is the one who got sick, but am surprised she wasn't voted out.

In episode two, we begin by visiting both camps. Now, I have this thing where I like to use the first couple episodes to predict the outcome of the game, so I like to pay a lot of attention to what they are showing outside of the challenges in the first couple episodes. Well basically on the Fei-Long side they just show some minor personal squabbles between people, while on Zhan Hu they make a point of making fun of the way they are not getting anything done at camp, having bigger fights, as well as the fact that they have leadership conflicts. Not looking too good for Zhan Hu who is already down one member. What's looking even worse for them is that on Fei-Long they show us an alliance between Todd, Amanda, and Aaron (with a real sub alliance of Todd and Amanda). When one team is being portrayed as hapless while we are being shown the strategy of the other, it isn't too difficult to figure out which side is probably gong to come out ahead at the merge and most likely dominate the end-game.

In any case, after this we are soon on to the reward challenge for fishing gear: a best of three challenge in which the contestants have to push these strange semi-hollowed out ball objects across a muddy field until they get it into their own goal, fighting the wrestling of the opposing tribe as they go. Fei-Long wins easily two to nothing. After the reward challenge we find out that Fei-Long gets to kidnap a member of the opposing tribe until the immunity challenge. Suddenly I realize that there is no exile island this season! I always wondered why the producers would think it is good TV to show a contestant on an island all by themselves. There are still hidden immunity idols though, but it is a little different this year: the kidnapped player from the opposing team gets to choose who gets the clue on the victorious tribe. Jaime, who was kidnapped, smartly gives it to Leslie, who the entire tribe knows has been sick. However Leslie, not so smartly shares her information with Todd from her own tribe in an attempt to gain trust. Todd plans on voting her out anyway so that he is the only one who has the information. I suddenly have a new favorite contestant. Back at Zhan Hu the camp is destroyed (another good omen), and we get more fighting, between Dave and Ashley, which is an easy indicator to who will lose the immunity challenge and who the vote will come down to.

The immunity challenge is actually pretty good, the contestants have to use a battering ram to break through two doors before working their battering ram through a puzzle based on the grooves on its outside. Fei-Long wins and there is a point made to show how bad Dave is for Zhan Hu in the challenge, falling down and basically causing his team to lose. At tribal council, despite the fact that everybody says that Dave is overbearing and unlikable, Ashley is voted out six votes to one.

Now, since the first two episodes are over I think a couple things are clear. Alliances that are revealed this early almost always break up in some way, so it looks like either Aaron or Amanda and Todd aren't making it towards the end. But it also means that one of them probably will. For now I think I am going to go with Amanda and Todd since they might have an inside scoop on the hidden immunity idol. Also it is painfully obvious that both Dave and Leslie are going to be gone pretty soon, since nobody on his tribe likes Dave, while Leslie is sick and Todd wants her out. The two contestants who I am not sure on right now are Peih-Gee from Zhan Hu and Country from Fei-Long. They've gotten enough airtime by now but it could mean that they are staying for awhile or that they are going soon, I am not sure. It looks like there might be a chance for some alliance shifting and backstabbing this season so it may turn out to be enjoyable.


Friday, September 28, 2007

"You seriously drink this stuff? What's it, like nonfat soy vegan blood?": Moonlight

I've long had a fascination with vampire mythology. I'm pretty sure it started with Bram Stoker's Dracula and Gary Oldman's wonderful portrayal of Dracula, which captured my teenage mind and, let's face it, spoke to my silly teenage heart. Since then I've sought out many television shows and movies simply due to the fact that a vampire was involved. Sometimes this obsession worked in my favor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, From Dusk 'Til Dawn) and other times...well, other times it didn't.

This is one of those times.

I managed to get my hands on the 20 minute pilot presentation CBS commissioned in the spring, and although it was kind of silly and cheesy as all hell, I still thought the premise was interesting enough to give it a shot. When they replaced all of the actors except the lead (The Shield's Alex O'Loughlin) and brought Buffy and Angel veteran David Greenwalt in to take over as showrunner, I was ecstatic because it seemed CBS was committed to really making an interesting vampire saga. Then, unfortunately, Greenwalt had to step down for personal reasons. Greenwalt's absence is strongly felt in the new pilot, which is a mess of monumental proportions.

Moonlight revolves around Mick St. John, a 90-year-old vampire/private detective whose purpose in life since becoming a vampire is to help solve crimes and punish bad guys. I think. He was turned by his ex-wife (Shannyn Sossamon), who the show would like us to believe is dead. Yeah, doubtful. His best friend is 700-year-old vamp Josef (Veronica Mars' Jason Dohring, saving my sanity just by appearing on screen for five short minutes), an uber-rich businessman who enjoys the more murderous side of being a vampire. Why they are friends I do not know since everything they stand for is in complete opposition, but as long as it puts Dohring on my screen each week I don't rightly care. Lose the suspenders, though, Joe. I can't think you are menacing when you are wearing suspenders.

Mick meets tabloid reporter Beth Turner (Sophia Myles) at the murder scene of a Hearst College student. Despite the fun Veronica Mars shout-out, the murder mystery plot is a complete bust. Predictable, plodding and boring, this procedural-type element only serves to take up space and meet CBS's requirement that crime be involved in every one of their shows. The "twist" is that Beth isn't exactly a stranger to Mick. He rescued Beth when she was kidnapped by his evil ex-wife as a child, and Mick has been creepily watching her from afar ever since. Am I the only one that is completely weirded out by this? CBS is selling this show as a romance, but his semi-stalking past makes me a little queasy.

Usually a horrible pilot isn't enough to keep me off a show forever, but it was the way in which this show was horrible that concerns me. The dialogue was completely laughable, attempting to be self-serious and "witty" at the same time and failing at both. The acting was mediocre, with only Dohring standing out as potentially interesting, and that's probably only residual Logan Echolls goodwill. The music was awful -- I mean, Evanescence? Scenes from next week as a Celine Dion video? Gag. The directing was almost strangely incompetent, stagnant with no sense of pacing whatsoever. I have never seen a less scary scene than the scene of the second murder in the diner. It was pitiful.

Most egregious, however, was the way the vampire mythology was presented. The episode opened with Mick conducting an "interview" answering all of the questions about what it's like to be a vampire. His answers conveniently included all of the vampire rules we'll need for the series -- stakes can't kill him, but beheading and fire can; garlic is delicious, especially when mixed with crucifixes and holy water; and daylight doesn't kill him but gives him a vicious bellyache. This was so lazy it was insulting, and immediately tipped me off to just how "off" this vampire show was going to be.

Out of loyalty to Jason Dohring and the vampire species as a whole, I'm going to give this one a few more episodes, but I don't have high expectations. CBS obviously wants to stretch their brand a little bit, but I have a feeling this show is not long for the world, or at least for my Tivo.

Oh, and Todd? You can say "I told you so" now. I know you're dying to let it out.


“Lex, redemption doesn’t suit you” – Smallville

First of all – two new regular cast members? One of whom we’ve never even seen before? Unheard of! John Glover and Erica Durance both had a whole season as recurring guests before they were promoted, but apparently the producers have enough faith in Laura Vandervoort (aka Supergirl) that they’re happy to stick her up there straight off the bat. Aaron Ashmore was more expected, but still a great addition. Also notable is the welcome disappearance of Annette O’Toole. Amusingly, her character’s absence wasn’t even given a passing mention this week, which I hope isn’t setting a precedent – although O’Toole was pointless as a regular, her character could work well on a recurring basis, with Clark popping in on her every now and then.

Anyway, onto the season opener. It’s called ‘Bizarro’, suitably enough, as it is more than a little strange. Most Smallville premieres are packed to the brim with action, plenty of fights and even more plot backtracking, as the writers desperately attempt to restore the status quo (lest they risk offending viewers by daring to change anything). While ‘Bizarro’ half-heartedly ticks all these boxes, it’s also the most daring opener Smallville has ever attempted. A genuine attempt is being made to take the characters somewhere new and different. Clark, grieving at the apparent death of Lana, reveals in a monologue – that’s right, a monologue – that she was the only thing keeping him in Smallville. Lex’s similarly intense grief leads him to turn himself in to the police, hoping to prove that he didn’t kill his wife. Even Chloe is much less cheery than usual, even before she finds out about Lana. Last season she brought Lois back to life with her newfound meteor ability, but died herself as a result. That twist doesn’t last long (like, one ad break), but once alive Chloe angrily brushes off Clark's questioning about what happened to her. Writers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson should be commended for dealing with their character’s grief and anger this week, rather than only getting to it after all the action was done and dusted.

Unfortunately, Smallville doesn’t do grief or anger especially well. Most of the happenings – everyone reacting to Lana’s death, Clark’s (brief) anguish to Chloe’s death, and his wondering at whether he’s any better than Bizarro – simply don't work, either because they are so obviously temporary or because we really don’t care. Michael Rosenbaum just about redeems his tired lines with a terrific performance; he’s probably the best actor in the ensemble, and continues to sell Lex’s overriding love for Lana. Tom Welling is the worst actor of the ensemble, but even he doesn’t do too badly with what Clark is given. His aforementioned monologue could have been far more cringeworthy than it ends up.

Anyway, we don’t expect much depth from Smallville. Mostly we’re more interested in entertainment, something ‘Bizarro’ ultimately fails to deliver. The initial sense of excitement wears off quickly, replaced by disappointment at the terrible handling. Welling has tried to play evil before, and failed; here he does no better, lending Bizarro zero menace with his lazy effort (grinning and swaggering about does not a good villain make). The eventual defeat of Bizarro – a big ol’ punch – is so laughable that I couldn’t believe that was really the end of him. The Martin Manhunter (Phil Morris) is again underused, despite his potential as a Giles-type mentor figure.

Most disappointingly, the character shifts presented lose their legitimacy with the final reveal that Lana is alive and well in Shanghai. Now, I never thought it a possibility that Lana would actually be dead, but ‘Bizarro’ gave me a brief glimpse at the kind of stories which, had she really died, could have been pursued. And I liked them! I enjoyed this momentary sight of what Smallville might be like if it actually dared to change itself. Ah well. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the light pleasure that it continues to provide, starting with the first proper appearance of Supergirl next week.


"It's no secret you turn to potatoes in times of need.": Ugly Betty

Previously on Ugly Betty . . . everything was in the crapper. Our sophomore season premiere finds us in a steamy telenovela featuring everyone's favorite nerd love triangle - Betty, Henry and preggers Charlie (Jayma Mays). It's hilarious kitschy fun and of course, only a dream. As though her dream life isn't complicated enough, Betty's real life is exponentially worse. Her father is still in Mexico, Hilda won't leave her room, Daniel and Alexis are both still hospitalized after their season finale car accident and Henry hit the road with Charlie, who may or may not be having his baby. Drama. Thankfully though, Ugly Betty always tempers it's drama with heavy doeses of insanity.

On the insane front we have a newly fat Amanda who found out three weeks ago (damn, that's some hard core eating) that Fay Summers is really her mother and is forced to confront her parents about their deception. That storyline gets creepier as her return home implies that she's interrupting a 'swinging' good time, though at the very least she and Mark determine that, well, the identity of her father is indeterminate.

Meanwhile, Claire Meade's hiding out in the Hamptons and pretty honked off at Wilhelmina; Wilhelmina is still trying to figure out a way to take over Mode for REALS; Mark is trying to solve Amanda's daddy issues; Christina is trying to convince Betty to slow down; Betty is trying to convince Daniel to talk to a comatose Alexis; and oh yeah, did I mention that Hilda hasn't left her room?

Let's talk about Hilda's storyline for a bit. All throughout the episode we only see Hilda in her bedroom, a sunny, vibrant place where she and Santos (who ended the finale with bang, getting gunned down in a convenience store) hide away and exchange vows and cuddles and all things sweetness and light. Unfortunately for the Ugly Betty writer's room, I've watched far too much TV to be sucked in by such a turn of events. To me, the inevitable reveal at the end of the episode was pretty obvious and as a whole, not as well done as several shows have done it in recent memory. (See: Everwood's "The Last of Summer" and Scrubs' "My Screw Up")

Of course, this IS Ugly Betty we're talking about, so that wasn't the only ending we had. After a touching scene where Daniel takes Betty to bury her past with Henry, he himself buries his drug-using ways and finally goes to talk to his sister. This goes well for him, as Alexis wakes up a mere two sentences in (man, too bad no one thought about talking to her before!) only to reveal that she's thirsty.

Oh. And she doesn't know why Daniel is calling her Alexis. She's Alex. Ya burnt!

And as if that wasn't enough excitement, the episode ends with a shot of Henry getting off a bus at the green-screeniest Times Square in recent memory. Huzzah!

All in all, it was an action packed start to the new season. While it occasionally felt overstuffed, with as many loose ends as they left last season, I can forgive an extravagant premiere. This show is still easily the most colorful, vibrant show on tv. Honestly, it's one of the few shows that routinely leaves me giddy. So kudos to the Betty gang on a season well started.


Big Shots and CSI: open thread

I didn't like Big Shots much. It might, indeed, have been my least favorite pilot of the fall season. But maybe you guys loved it! Prove me wrong.

And I hear there was a big cliffhanger resolution on CSI. What did you think? I haven't watched it yet.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

"I've been involved in a number of cults, both as a leader and a follower.": The Office

(Erik will be taking over this show next week, but since there's no new 30 Rock until next week, I'm on it for now. -- ed.)

I don't really like the hour-long episodes of The Office. I always think I do, and then I think about all of the hour-long episodes and realize how few of them I really do like. They usually just have a lot of padding that's tiresome (witness tonight's long monologue from Michael about finding a new god to worship, then proposing a long series of bizarre animal hybirds -- yawn) or they're very self-consciously two episodes stitched together by one very thin connective tissue (again, witness tonight's episode, which was two half hours -- one on Michael hurting Meredith and the next on the fun run). Some of the hour-longs are all right (I like Benihana Christmas quite a bit, and Casino Night had its moments), but most of them just feel too long and too gooey. This is why I was thrilled to find that The Office wouldn't turn into an hour-long show (as rumored briefly last May) this season. But then they opened with four hour-longs. I get that there are fewer Scrubs this year (and that that show will never be a hit), but couldn't we have done something else, rather than sap the season's momentum from the top.

Another problem was that the episode just seemed to go too far in places. I'm a fan of dark comedy, and The Office has engaged in it before, but the plotline where Dwight killed Angela's cat (thinking he was doing a good thing but horribly botching it) was just. . .sort of horrific. I'm not automatically opposed to Dwight's "farmer" sensibility conflicting with Angela's love of her cats, but the way he put the cat down was so ridiculous and over-the-top that it simply called attention to just how much of a bastard Dwight was about the whole situation. The descriptions of the freezer where Angela's cat died were sort of shocking. I hate to try to tell TV shows what they can or can't do because down that road lies madness, but The Office's dark comedy really should aim to not make the characters completely loathsome human beings (or maybe my general dislike for Dwight has spread to all aspects of the show). Michael was also probably too much of an ass in the episode, but compared to Dwight, he seemed positively giving.

Jim and Pam revealed their couplehood, and I liked that the show was sort of low-key about it (that shot where he took her hand gave me tingles -- and I don't even particularly LIKE the Jim/Pam pairing). I hope that this doesn't grow to take over the show, but I liked that the show was much more subtle about their love than it has been in the past. It was nice to see the two joking around and sharing a table at lunch again, hearkening back to the show's season two heights. I've grown less enamored of the way this storyline has played out with moony eyes since the second season (when it was at its best), and I loved the character of Karen (sadly relegated to one wordless scene tonight), but I'm on board with Jim and Pam as a couple if it stays mostly low-key. And I did like when the cameraman briefly became a character and confronted Jim and Pam with their relationship (Kevin's sleuthing was funny as well).

I think I marginally liked the fun run bit better than the first episode (particularly Jan's role as the water-table lady), but I found both sort of silly and forced. They relied on us believing that Michael was even stupider than usual. I get that as sitcoms go on and on, they tend to broaden their characters, but The Office is built almost entirely on a brand of specificity that you rarely see on TV. Once the show abandons this to entirely chase the broader shadings of, say, Dwight, it's probably game over for the series as a whole (though it will probably paradoxically become a hit at that point).

Anyway, there was a lot of funny stuff in the episode, and I thought that some of the plot elements seem promising (I'm already enjoying Ryan as the corporate guy), but I thought this was a rather lackluster premiere, especially when compared to last season's nearly perfect "Gay Witch Hunt." The Office writers should have taken lessons from My Name Is Earl, which actually managed an amusing one-hour episode tonight.


"I get the feeling that autistic kids all over are going to look at her and say "wow!": America's Next Top Model

Personally, I don't watch the Oprah. I have a low-paying job where I spend day in and day out being told what to care about, what to think and what to do. Additionally, I have a husband. So, since I've never felt a void in my life I wanted to fill with the inane pontifications of a television personality, I've always shied away from the Big O. Unfortunately for me, I've been ambushed. This season of ANTM has unleashed a completely Oprah-fied Tyra Banks. Evidently her scant two years as host of her own talk show has led Banks to completely lose touch with reality and caused her to begin a creepy transformation of Single Black Female proportions.

I rest my case.

So color me surprised when this week's episode of Model featured Tyra saving the world in a multitude of ways. Gone is the stretch hummer that used to cart the models around for the previous EIGHT CYCLES, as Tyra evidently got word of an energy crisis/pending environmental disaster/bad earth thingy, and jumped on the green bandwagon just as fast as her 5-inch heels would allow. Not only that, but Tyra took a firm anti-smoking stance, going so far as to ban smoking in the model house. Smoking is bad, ya'll. And nothing says drama like rail-thin girls having nic fits, trying not to gain any weight after being forced to quit smoking cold turkey. Word.

The rest of the episode? Manipulative. The models' first photo shoot was an anti-smoking ad featuring some of the worst special effects makeup I have ever seen. Most of the girls were understandably nervous with a few standouts, namely Heather and Lisa. I would explain the 'challenge' the girls underwent this week, but all I remember is OLD NAVY OLD NAVY OLD NAVY OLD NAVY. Which, actually, was probably the point. Huh. Really makes you think. The other irritating thing about the episode was the editing choices made. I love Heather and think her story is compelling all on it's own. I certainly don't need the ANTM editors to try and enhance it by showing just how bitchy the other girls are about it. Ultimately, it just furthers my already low opinion of these childish models and certainly isn't going to inspire me to stick around once Heather is eliminated (later, rather than sooner, hopefully). Other annoyances were the silly inexplicable infighting amongst some of the contestants who seem to be fighting merely because they have nothing better to do. Lovely.

Ultimately, the judges eliminate sweet, vacant, dead-eyed Mila, whose pictures were mediocre, who inappropriately laughed through her photo shoot as a chemo patient, and who stood through panel looking like a cardboard cutout. If you listened closely, you could hear the poor, trapped moth fluttering about the cavernous expanse that was her skull. In other words, like shooting fish in a barrel, this elimination was.

As for next week, it appears that next week we have catwalks and straight jackets to look forward to as well as ... more fighting. Awesome. Also returning next week, my lovely co-blogger Mr. Andy Hall.


"I can't even win a yacht without getting arrested.":Dirty Sexy Money

When I was thinking about what would be fun to write about in the new fall schedule Dirty Sexy Money was my number one choice for one reason: the potential for what I referred to as "trashy goodness" at the time. Well I've seen the pilot now and I must say that I am not disappointed in that respect.

You have seen similar shows before; the life and times of a large, eccentric family; usually rich, with little of substance to do, always getting into trouble. I am not really old enough to have watched shows like this in the 1980s seriously, so I won't repeat the most obvious comparisons you have heard already from that decade. The idea I like better (thanks, Todd) and have heard less is that this show is similar to in both in character makeup and in setting to Arrested Development, but with a more trashy, less wacky bent. The mechanics and pace are obviously different since this is not a sitcom, however, and it is nowhere near as funny, but the similarity is still there.

Peter Krause plays Nick George, a lawyer who has worked for good causes and little money during his career so far, however one fateful day his father dies in a plane crash and his life is about to change. His father's employer, the extremely rich and famous Darling family, wants him to take over his father's previous position as the family's attorney. He refuses at first because he remembers how much of his childhood was ruined because of all the time of his father's that was required; but eventually caves because of the exorbitantly high salary he is to be given. Will people do anything for enough money? They will when the plot requires it! He quickly discovers that this job is more than he has bargained for (of course) as he is called into every little problem the family has; practically every family member has a crisis needing his attention on his very first day alone. However despite any inclination he might have to quit instantly, there's an over-arching mystery surrounding the death of his father which will act as Nick's motiviation for keeping the job. The show does need a reason to exist after all.

Krause does well as the lead, and there is a very large and talented supporting cast here that has a lot of potential. My favorites are Donald Sutherland (Tripp Darling, the family patriarch and potentially only sane member), Natalie Zea (Karen Darling, in love with Nick despite being engaged to someone else), and Glenn Fitzgerald (Brian Darling, a villainous Episcopoal minister). I also like Zoe McLellan as Nick's wife Lisa; hopefully some balance can be brought to the proceedings by focusing at least a little bit on Nick's own (likely failing) personal life as he works for the Darlings and attempts to discover who murdered his father. Not all is roses though as some of the family members seem like they could grow old and tired quickly. Seth Gabel (as Jeremey Darling), the youngest and continually wasted son is really not very interesting and a little bit stale of an archetype. William Baldwin's (Patrick Darling) plot line seems like it will evolve into one of the least interesting stories as well, even though there are some funny lines created for Krause at his expense. I mean, a politician with a dark secret: shocker! The one I am not too sure about yet is Samaire Armstrong (Juliet Darling), who could either turn into a good or bad Paris Hilton parody.

I think the overall strength of the show will be a combintion of Krause, who will be the baffled witness to the hysteria of some of the better supporting turns. The two potential weaknesses that are the most dangerous are probably too many supporting arcs that can't all be good, as well as a little bit too much smarminess. I think a good comparison would be Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which was a little bit too self-aware ("Look at how cute I am!") for its own good. I am not sure what the show will be like long-term yet; if the funny moments stay fresh it could do well, but the milage out of the "we're self-absorbed and completely oblivious to reality" jokes may vary. Nevertheless, this is my third favorite pilot of the season, and looks to be much more interesting and entertaining than Cain, the other new large family show.

It may not last long enough however, if the ratings are any indication. I think ABC missed an opportunity of scheduling here. They should have put this show on at 10 PM on Sundays, after Desperate Housewives, which would have been a much better fit for a lead-in. Then they could move Brothers and Sisters to Wednesdays at 9 PM, and Private Practice to Thursdays at 10 PM, to capture the post Grey's Anatomy audience. Well, it is just an idea anyway.

My favorite moment: the limo scene with Krause and Baldwin; I had seen part of it on the preview already, but I love that "I'm not going to go into a hotel and give a tranny hooker a check!" bit.


"A lot of men have enjoyed seeing me naked. A lot!": Private Practive

It's almost silly how excited I was for this show. Actually, strike that. It's not that silly! Addison is probably my favorite character from Grey's Anatomy. The cast ABC assembled is unusually strong, but the backdoor pilot proved they could function well without stepping on each other's toes, despite the fact that Diggs, Daly and Breneman have all played lead roles before. Marti Noxon's a writer I admire and she's gonna be showrunner. So why not be excited?

In the end, Private Practice looks like it's been hobbled by its own hype (purely in terms of its ratings, which were not as fantastic as hoped). Still, I enjoyed this actual pilot, and there's major potential for a fun series here. It was a little clunky at times though, and also a little less sensational than I had hoped it would be. The laughs were minor and the drama was a little weaker than Shonda can usually manage. NONETHELESS. I think some critics are being a little too hard on Private Practice because of its incredible pedigree, and I'm still excited for what's to come (I also hear episode two is better).

A lot of people complained about Addison's supposed wimpiness here, and I know they reshot a couple scenes to make her tougher, but in the end I think she came off well. Addison being freaked out by the sudden loss of her hi-tech equipment and loyal army of slave-interns and nurses is an obvious reaction, and something the writers have to touch on, especially in the pilot episode. The medical world of Grey's Anatomy is so intense and co-ordinated, and it makes sense that Addison would be fish-out-of-water. She's in a kooky wellness clinic! Anyway, her speech at the end of the episode was the right mix of badass and ditzy for her, the kind of rambling that Kate Walsh really specializes in, and I think that redeemed any of her lamer moments in the episode. However, her actual patient of the week was pretty much a total snooze, and they didn't even properly exploit the patient to create big sexual tension with Tim Daly! I mean, a pregnant teen whose dad disapproves but eventually comes around when zzzzzzzzzzz. Hopefully they'll spice up the patients a little more, cause I didn't really care about who Addison was working on and it didn't sell that she'd fallen in love with the place by treating this one patient.

The Amy Breneman thing (don't worry, I'll figure out all the character's names' by the next episode) was better, seemed more like Shonda Rhimes--a wacky setup (woman crawls on floor in mall!) with a weepy conclusion (kid died of cancer. aaah). Breneman, however, is an absolute ACE at this material, and I know, cause I used to eat cereal and watch Judging Amy repeats on daytime TV all the time. Even though I'm a bigger fan of Daly, and Diggs, and Adelstein, and Lowell, I get the feeling Breneman could be the real standout of this cast. She has the best backstory and already has some good chemistry going with Adelstein. She also seems like a good buddy for Addison to have--get the feeling those two could spark off each other in terms of girl-talky scenes. They're gonna need to work on smoothing that out, because the stuff where the whole cast was giggling and bouncing around about naked people and sperm and so on felt really forced. On Grey's Anatomy it's fun because the interns are like dirty little kids and the residents are like wise-beyond-their-years teenager babysitters and the attendings are like rich socialite sex addict parents (wow, that was a terrific analogy). But when basically everyone on the show is late 30s-early 40s, it feels a little creepier.

Gotta say, Audra McDonald was a marked improvement on Merrin Dungey. Dungey was fine but her friendship with Addison felt oddly forced and you could kind of tell she wasn't that into it. Audra worked better in her scenes with both Walsh and Diggs. Nonetheless, the Diggs/McDonald dead sperm donor storyline was probably the weakest of the bunch. I like Diggs, but he needs to loosen up a little. And all the stuff about why he left her is still so vague and lame, and it's been two episodes (so to speak) already! I'd like to see the two of them really go at it, or trade really fun nastybanter, but instead they seem sort of half-heartedly mad at each other. Enh. Take my advice, Noxon: fun them up!

You know what one of the best things about this episode was, though? JIMMY PICKENS. YEAH. Really just made me inappropriately excited for Grey's Anatomy season 4, which starts tomorrow and I will be covering! Eeeee! So I'll see you guys then.


"Oh, exactly what this situation needs – Chuck!": Gossip Girl

Now that’s more like it.

After a pilot that was uncomfortably serious in tone, episode two (“The Wild Brunch”) proves that there might just be life in this show after all with an installment full of threesomes, cattiness, secret reveals, social climbing and manipulation, with a fun dash of humor thrown in to make everything go down more smoothly. Also, someone got in a fight in the middle of a fancy party, which always makes everything better. Just ask Ryan Atwood!

Perhaps this episode felt improved because it was familiar, as it really seemed like an episode of The O.C.: Manhattan Edition. It’s the day after the “Kiss on the Lips Party” (again, yeah) and it’s time for the next party of the season – the Bart Bass brunch, thrown by Chuck’s father. Despite both Serena and Blair’s best efforts to the contrary, everyone ends up at the brunch together, with Serena bringing Dan as her date. Both Serena and Blair are pretty unhappy to see each other there, especially now that the cat is out of the bag regarding Serena and Nate’s affair. Nate, because he is an idiot, decides he must talk to Serena right away in Chuck’s suite and sends her up there with a key. Chuck, because he is deliciously evil, decides to encourage Blair to be deflowered by Nate in the middle of the brunch up in Chuck’s room. Blair drags Nate up to the suite and they of course run right into Serena waiting on Nate. Nate is seriously very dumb for even allowing he and Blair to enter that suite knowing Serena will already be there, so he deserves everything that comes to him.

Blair decides to exact a little revenge on Serena by going directly downstairs and blabbing to Dan about Serena and Nate’s little tryst. It’s a fun, fast paced scene that ends with Dan and Chuck in a fight and Dan walking out on the whole upper crust life for good. Serena tries to tell Dan she’s changed, but just like a stupid judgmental teenage good boy he washes his hands of her completely. Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts. Meanwhile, his crafty sister Jenny is busy becoming a mini-Blair, completely allowing herself to be manipulated and used to become a part of Blair's inner social circle. Delicious.

With all of the exposition out of the way in the pilot, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were free to explore their characters a little further in this one and pick up all of the storylines they introduced in episode one and run with them. While they still have a ways to go, there definitely appears to be a solid foundation to work with. Blair is a load of catty fun, and Leighton Meester is obviously relishing her role as the troubled bitch. Serena showed a little bit of who she used to be in her nasty fight with Blair at the brunch, and it was nice to see Blake Lively with a little bit of fire in her veins. Jenny has become surprisingly interesting, and her desire to still want to be part of the upper crust despite now knowing what it’s really about (RAPE) should be an good struggle to watch unfold. Dan showed a nasty judgmental side (reminding me of none other than the detestable Dawson Leery) when he shunned Serena after learning of her affair with Nate, but still has potential to be three dimensional and not hateable in the future. Chuck doesn’t need to be three dimensional, because he’s pretty much designed to be a fun caricature and nothing more and I love every second of it.

Nate, however, is the only real trouble spot so far in the younger set. He’s a stock character (rich boy who wants out from under his father's thumb but feels trapped) with no discernible personality and portrayed by an actor with little to no charisma. His plight to decide between his love for Serena and his desire to please his father and stay with Blair is obviously going to be a central element to the series, and so far it’s just not working. He sort of just looks bored all of the time. If I'm going to get invested with him, something interesting needs to happen, and fast.

As for the parental shenanigans, does anyone even care? These adults are no Sandy and Kiki, and especially no Julie Cooper – that’s for sure. I wouldn’t mind if they just sort of dropped off completely a la One Tree Hill. Especially since one of them is a former rock star named Rufus. Ick. Also, the voiceover was not nearly as bad as the pilot, but it still feels completely unnecessary. I'm all for Kristen Bell picking up an easy paycheck, though.

Next week: more high school power struggles, even more parties, and more Chuck! I kind of can’t wait.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bionic Woman, Life and Kid Nation: open thread

(Erik -- still on vacation -- will take over Bionic Woman and Kid Nation duties next week. Look for posts on Top Model, Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money through the day. -- ed.)

Bionic Woman was one of the pilots I was most looking forward to. What resulted was sadly disappointing but just full of enough promise that I'll keep tuning in for a while longer. The show's biggest problem is just how much it tries to find something dark, resonant and mythic in a pretty silly premise. That dark, resonant myth is in there (what's it take to be a woman with a job AND a family? -- time-honored and a bit cliched, but something that could be played with), but the show just aims for sort of a BSG-lite look. And the pilot tries to cram too much stuff in there to really work -- we get to learn about the earlier Bionic Woman (Katee Sackhoff, stealing scenes) AND the ongoing project AND what happened to Jamie AND her family situation AND her love life. But we never get a whiff of what this show might be from week to week. Plus, the government scientist dude is compelling but just isn't badass enough for me to think that he's going to be a worthwhile antagonist. Unless the antagonist is the bionics themselves, which might be kind of cool. In that case, it would have been nice to get a hint of that. It'll be nice to have women that kick ass on TV again, but I wish they weren't so bland and stuck in such a schizophrenic show.

Life, on the other hand, just feels like someone took a bunch of hit shows and blended them into one. It's House/Prison Break/CSI/any show with rich people as the protagonists. Damien Lewis is a terrific actor, and he's created a character here that almost works in spite of all of the writerly quirks and affectations the creator piles on our hero. But the show itself, while admirable in how sturdy it is, just feels like every other cop show with a lone wolf hero out there. House worked because it reclaimed the lone wolf hero from the cop genre and tossed it, disconcertingly, into the world of medicine. If NBC wanted a House clone, why didn't they set it in a law firm or a high school or something? Bah.

Anyway, I didn't watch Kid Nation tonight. Anyone have thoughts on it or the second episode of Back to You, which was marginally better than the pilot, but not enough better to make me think that this is the second coming of the sitcom?


"You ever have sex with blonde cheerleader?":Prison Break

Everything this week on Prison Break is all about the mysterious Australian, Whister. Last week we learned that Michael would need to stage yet another escape at the request of the Company in order to break this guy out; well this week everyone seems to be after him. There are apparently no secrets in a Panamanian gladiator prison, because it doesn't take long for all four Americans to find out that the prison leader Lechero has put out a bounty on him because he has apparently killed the mayor of Panama City's son. To the killer; a meeting with a judge friendly with the mayor who could potentially get them out of Sona prison. Now, I wouldn't believe this for even a second if I was in prison there, but there has to be some pretense for this show right? Okay, continue.

All four inmates who were in season two act pretty predictably to this situation; I'm not going to ruin it for anyone. However, I will say that the Whistler bounty leads to Bellick finally getting some clothes, and for this I am a very happy viewer. I guess the writers have decided that its time to stop beating up on one character and beat up on another instead (guess who); plus they have also probably decided it would be a good idea to stop inducing projectile vomiting in their viewers. I continue to find it kind of odd that T Bag, who is clearly the most vile of the villians on the show, actually gets the best treatment.

Also happening in Sona: a good old fashioned prison riot! Although this time it is against the establishment prisoners. While handing out water one of Lechero's henchmen gets into a fight with another and accidentally knocks over the entire supply. Oh, tragic! Despite pleas on his telephone to the perimeter guards no new water can be supplied. Now, can I just say that I find it hilarious that there is a working telephone and television inside this prison but they do not have any running water? Yeah, that is kind of weird isn't it. Well it doesn't stay that way for long as Michael pulls some real McGuyver style action and makes a sort of improvised bomb that somehow turns the water back on. If anyone can explain to me the mechanics of how this possibly worked, and how he possibly knew it would work in advance, I would be very interested.

Meanwhile, outside the prison, Lincoln meets again with the strange brunette woman from the Company. She scolds him and says she wants daily progress reports on the breakout. I guess they wanted to give her some screen time because since Sara is gone there is no female presence on this show anymore; their conversation served absolutely no purpose as she could have told him this the first time they met? Afterwards Lincoln goes to visit Michael in prison, and while there Michael gives him one of the mysterious "Versailles 1989 V. Madrid" notes that were given to both Michael and the man he defeated in the fight in the last episode. Later on he sees a truck conveniently pass by which tells him to go to the Banco de Versailles. I mean it must be really nice when you are trying to decipher what a mysterious cryptic note means if a helpful message comes along like that. Goodness knows if it wasn't shown to him directly I don't think Lincoln is smart enough to figure out much of anything. Anyway at the bank he meets up with the woman who was screaming outisde the prison in last week's episode. It turns out that she is Whistler's girlfriend! In a sort of uncharacteristic move Lincoln mugs her and takes what she got out of a security deposit box for himself; too bad for him that the older Company man that we saw talking to Michael last week was watching him. Well Brunette Company Lady comes back and threatens to kill Lincoln if he does not give her what he found, a bird guide, and he does. But what she doesn't know is that he gave her a fake! Score Lincoln! Maybe you're smart after all.

Finally, this episode marks the return of Sucre! He buys a gun and goes to visit Bellick at Sona to find out where Maricruz is; I will forgive him the mistake of bringing a gun to a prison visit because he is trying to save his girl. Well, we find out that Bellick was lying the whole time and never really kidnapped her! I call B.S on this one, people. The fact of the matter is that the writers had to make up this story because there is no way they could plausibly have her not be dead (even by this shows reality standards) without this cop-out because they didn't want to do a plot line about Sucre finding her. While I thought it was ridiculous, I am actually glad because this is really the last plot line I would really want to see. Anyway, earlier talking to Lincoln, Sucre got scolded by him becaues he wanted to go back to America and visit her. In this case Lincoln is completely right, because he is only going to cause her all kinds of problems if he does. Not to mention that he'd go back to prison for sure. However he is stubborn and insistent on going back; that is until he sees a woman with a young child and he tells her about his pregnant girlfriend and .... CLICK .... he realizes that he should stay in Panama for the good of her and their future child. This is good because he is needed somewhere in the storyline to help in the escape effort I am sure.

This was not too bad of an episode. It was not as blatantly absurd as the last one but still perfectly absurd in many respects. That is why I keep watching after all. What do you think?


"That was nice. I can be nice!": Reaper

I watched a screener of Reaper a while ago, when Nikki Reed was the female lead, and I really liked it. Over time, though, it had diminished in my mind, half cause I kept comparing it to Chuck (which I really like too--damn you, similar settings!) and I sort of forgot how, well, good this is. The premise is one thing (it's cute, but a little thin on the ground), but the characters are a lot sharper than I remember, and there are some really great little throwaway moments. Like when Sam asks Ben (Rick Gonzalez, who's an excellent actor, but I never knew he could do deadpan so well!) to punch him in the face, and Ben just pats him on the back? That was terrific.

Anyway, when I say the premise is a little thin on the ground, I mean how Satan keeps reassuring Sam that he's doing an essentially good job and that God wins in the end. The specifics of hell's overcrowding don't really need to be explained (it's a pretty easy joke to get), but I hope there is a little more exposition, or at least a few more throwaway jokes, about the celestial stuff in weeks to come. Other writers have mentioned how Satan's assurances seem to be letting Sam off too easily, but I figure he's the Prince of Darkness, right? He could easily just be lying--about the nature of some of the guys Sam tracks down, or God's supposed eventual triumph. I wouldn't put it past Lucifer, that's for sure. Forgetting all that, though, the casting of Ray Wise is just utter genius. The second I heard about it I knew it would be great, and he's just as good as I thought he would be. There's something so essentially charming but also completely demented about him. My favorite Ray Wise performances are when he's at his most insane, like Leland from Twin Peaks, Leon Nash in Robocop, Frank in Dead End (a bizarre little movie nobody's seen). That's why I was so disappointed that his appearances in 24 was such a dud, and why I'm so thrilled he's gonna get to play SATAN week-to-week. Hell (pun unintended), if anything, Wise wasn't in the pilot enough! Using him sparingly is a good idea, but I kept waiting for him to show up again.

Not that the rest of the episode was at all boring. It zips along better than any other pilot this season, and the balance between jokes, action and drama is excellent. It's almost amazing how accomplished a director Kevin Smith proved here, considering I've never really seen him rated as a director before. I would complain that the drama was maybe a little sparingly used--made the ep a lot more fun, but scenes like where Ben is in the hospital or, more importantly, where Sam told his mother that Satan had released him from the debt, should have been lingered on just a smidge longer. Still, those scenes were good, so I don't think the show will have any problem with darker moments in the future. I'd like some darker moments, though, because this is a show about Satan and Sam is essentially doomed to be tortured in hell for all eternity (although I'm sure they'll figure some way out of that by the series finale).

Bret Harrison (I never saw The Loop, but I'm told it's good) is a good heart-of-gold nerd lead, but this show is clearly gonna live and die by its supporting cast, so it's good they have such great talent. Tyler Labine (I still miss Invasion) as Sock had inflated to exaggerated proportions in my mind, but he's actually quite nuanced and great for anyone to bounce dialogue off of. He's probably already booking a ton of lame Hollywood comedies that he can be the funny best-friend character in. There are other potential breakout characters here, though. I really liked Sock's interplay with his ex-girlfriend, especially whenever he shouted slanderously about her in public places. Is she in the credited cast? She was funny! Also, Gonzalez as Ben, who I mentioned before, had some nicely dry humor and could round out the workplace cast well, I think. As for Missy Peregrym--I was worried because early word said she was bad, and I had enjoyed Nikki Reed in the original pilot, but Peregrym was actually a marked improvement, I thought. She's more appealing, but she's still not intimidatingly pretty, so you can see her with Sam. I think the problems critics had was that her re-shot scenes were sort of jarringly inserted with the original material, but obviously that's not a problem after the pilot, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.

The episode's plot itself I won't say too much about, but monster-of-the-week is a nice formula to fall back on...for a while. Like I said, they're gonna need to explore the universe as we get further into the season, but for now, this looks like some of the best fun you can be having on TV right now. Who's with me?


"House, not the season finale!": House

At the end of its second season, House left us with the suggestion that its titular character would be losing his limp, and lose it he did – for a grand total of two episodes. It was a ridiculous cop-out and one of the several reasons why I disliked House’s third season, to the point of giving up on it halfway through. Despite being repeatedly told my brother David to give it another chance, I never bothered until I was given the task of recapping its fourth season for SDD. It did indeed improve in later episodes, particularly the concluding three. It’s true that last season’s finale (which ended with all three of House’s team either quitting or being fired) suffered from shoddy handling. Nonetheless, I liked it because it was an attempt at resetting the status quo and taking the show in a genuinely new direction. Even though House’s old team members will apparently be back next week, I don’t see this as a disappointment simply because I like them. Before that though, we have a clever and unique season opener to enjoy!

Appropriately titled ‘Alone’, the episode is all about House working on a case without a team behind him for the first time (that we’ve seen, anyway). It’s a jarring and slightly depressing shift – the moment where House writes out the symptoms on the board and then calls out “Go!” to an empty room has a surprising sense of tragedy to it. The whole episode is very pessimistic about House as a character. Shore and co. don’t so much suggest as say outright that without a team to bounce off and abuse, House is just a lonely asshole. The writer’s portrayal of House has rarely pulled punches, but ‘Alone’ is a step up. In one scene, having run out of people to talk to House resorts to shouting out symptoms in the middle of the E.R. After solving the case, he thinks Cuddy has come into his office and says “I did it all by myself, mommy!” only to find that it wasn’t her, and when a second later she does come in, he repeats it again in the same babyish voice. It’s the kind of moment that you really don’t want to think about too much.

At least he’s as funny as ever. In fact, ‘Alone’ is one of the funniest episodes of House in recent memory. This is primarily because it pairs up House and Wilson for a good portion of the screen time. I have always maintained that Wilson is the best (and most underused) of the supporting characters; this week he gets loads to do, such as kidnapping House’s guitar and using it to blackmail House into hiring a new team. The two have been locked in a battle of wills before, but somehow it never gets old. Robert Sean Leonard is fantastic as Wilson, but his chemistry with Laurie brings to mind Laurie’s past partnerships with Stephen Fry – which is a pretty big compliment. House and Cuddy become more tiresome after a while, but it’s still nice to see Edelstein getting plenty to do. And lets not forget Dr Buffer, an obvious but still very funny idea. (The moment where the patient actually addresses him as Dr Buffer had me in hysterics.)

The case this week slightly lets the rest of the proceedings down. House has done the ‘did you really know your partner’ idea before, as has every hospital drama out there. The final shocker at least put a twist on this, revealing that the patient had in fact been wrongly identified and wasn’t related to the people who had been with her. A bit melodramatic maybe, but at least it’s something different. It’s also one of the saddest endings House has ever done - while House succeeded in saving his own patient, the husband’s actual wife turned out to have already died. ‘Alone’ also suffered from some structural problems: without the interactions between House’s team to serve as padding, the pacing felt off and the procession of scenes was occasionally jarring.

Niggles aside, this is still a great premiere and a good indication for what’s to come. A part of me wishes we could have had one or two more episodes before Cameron, Foreman and Chase show up, but another part of me is really excited for their return. And the promise of House putting new team candidates through a torturous application process is positively titillating. Barring any sudden downturns in quality, I think House is back on strong form.


Heroes: Season 2, Episode 24, "Four Months Later"

The first season of NBC’s zeitgeist-seizing sci-fi hit Heroes made its name by ending with a bang. Virtually every episode concluded with a mind-bending cliffhanger or twist, redeeming the dullest hour and leaving even casual fans eagerly anticipating the next one. This tactic built the series' reputation as the "anti-Lost." Where the latter seemed to look further and further inwards, adding layers to its mystery without actually solving anything, Heroes satisfied its viewers week-to-week with answers, consistent excitement and twists that paid off. NBC's series confounded its champions, however, by ending on a cataclysmically bum note. Last May’s first season finale was the whimper to end all whimpers, and left many critics disgruntled. It’s unfortunate, then, that Season Two began just as ponderously, doing little to allay fears that Heroes might have contracted “second season syndrome” earlier than expected.
Read the rest of the article here.


Cane: open thread

There's a good way to start a dark, ravishing soap, and there's a bad way to start a dark, ravishing soap. Cane falls somewhere in the middle, and that somehow makes it duller than either theoretical show proposed above. While a series set in a multi-generational Hispanic family has a lot of potential and it would be nice to have a Dallas for the new millennium (though sugar? really?), Cane throws way too much at the audience in the pilot to really make an impression. You're left clinging to Jimmy Smits, who's a great television presence, and a lot of characters you don't entirely know.

I admire the show for playing around in the moral murkiness of big business (particularly in the show's closing moments), and it's nice that it's pulling in modern issues (the war in Iraq! the attempts by the U.S. to reduce dependence on foreign oil!), but this just doesn't feel like a television series quite yet. I'll probably keep an eye on it because Tuesdays at 10 don't really have anything else to interest me, and I did like Jimmy Smits, but Cane is going to have to go through some painful growing pains before it gets anywhere near the simple pleasures of good folding socks TV like Brothers & Sisters.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Babies taste kind of like fish.": Bones

(Libby and I will be switching back and forth on this until I find something better to do on Tuesdays. -- ed.)

Bones is probably my favorite procedural on the air right now. Its pleasures are deceptive and problematic, largely because the show's light-hearted wackiness and romanticism clashes with its oft-grisly crime scenes. Most of the time, the show is able to minimize this perfunctory crime solving in favor of showcasing the characters, but some weeks, they emphasize the crimes too much, and the show sort of flops around on the floor. Usually, they right themselves with the next episode (it is a procedural, after all), but the attempts to tell these darker types of mysteries usually work against what the show does best.

Sadly, the third season premiere was one of those lesser episodes. Even more sadly, it launched what appears to be a continuing storyline. Most sadly, that continuing storyline features an SDD favorite -- secret societies. There's not a lot more you can do with secret societies (that well's been gone to over and over), but cannibalism was a worthy effort on the part of the good folk at Bones. It's just that the whole thing was so ostentatious and so self-serious that it gave the whole premiere an element of ponderousness it didn't really need. I hate to be one of those fans that says what they "want" from a show, but I honestly think Bones is better when it's hanging out with the kooky squints in the lab and exploiting the chemistry of Booth and Brennan.

That said, the chemistry is officially reaching the point where the writers seem to strain to put the two characters into a place where they have to rub up against each other and be placed into a pseudo-sexual situation (in this episode, Booth tackled Brennan to the floor to protect her from an explosion that never came, putting the two in close proximity, their lips almost touching). At some point, this will just seem ridiculous, as the two haven't even really seriously pondered that they might be attracted to each other. Obviously, they're both workaholics (which buys the show more time), and the focus of the show is on the cases and the interplay among the staff members. In addition, the Angela and Hodgins pairing gives the show some room to dance away from the inevitable Booth/Brennan pairing. Still, the show's reaching the point where it needs to put up and shut up. Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron said that when he hooked up David and Maddie, he hoped to tell a story about two people who worked together, fell in love then realized that was a bad idea. Unfortunately, outside events prevented him from doing so, and David and Maddie's coupling is blamed for ruining the show. This has prompted years and years of wheel-spinning will-they/won't-they stories, and, to be honest, Caron's idea for a story about coworkers who sleep together IS pretty compelling. Let's put it together, Bones!

Angela and Hodgins are probably my favorite supporting characters, and they were mostly squandered on a storyline about Angela trying to get her old marriage annulled so she could marry Hodgins. Hodgins got some good stuff in the secret society plotline (where he would naturally know what was the what), but I was sad to see the two of them spend most of the episode with a private detective dude.

Zach also returned from Iraq, presumably burdened with some sort of deep, dark secret that we'll get to see puzzled out over the first half of the season. I like that Bones is trying a little serialization, but it would be nice if they didn't immediately go to the deep, dark secrets and the weird conspiracies. Been there, done that, television.

I don't want to make it sound like I don't like this show, because I do. But what I like about it is so incidental to the plot of any individual episode that I can't be bothered with the plot-heavy installments. I've seen enough cop shows to last a lifetime. What's unique about this show is its weird collection of characters and the nice chemistry between Booth and Brennan. I don't want it to go all Moonlighting wacky, but I don't need the cannibals.

Also, where's the cable rerun deal on this baby? It's about time for people to catch up with this underappreciated show thanks to rampant overplay on USA or TNT, don't you think?


"I forgot that you weren’t just recently a prick, it goes back years.": Journeyman

What would you do if you fell asleep in the present and woke up in the past, with no idea how you got there or how to get back? Would you have fun collecting oodles of money from gambling like Biff Tannen? Or would you observe your life from afar, careful not to change anything and affect the present, and help random strangers? If you said yes to the latter rather tame scenarios then you’re nothing like Biff Tannen, but a lot like Journeyman’s somewhat enigmatic hero Dan Vassar.

At first glance Vassar seems to have your typical idyllic television life, complete with amazing house (In San Francisco! On a reporter’s salary!), loving wife Katie, and too-precocious kid Zack. Things start to fall apart, however, when Dan inexplicably begins to travel back and forth in time, leaving his family for days at a time with no logical explanation. Not only is he traveling back in time, but his travels put him directly in the path of his deceased fiancĂ©, who is alive and well in the past and with whom Dan obviously has unfinished business. In the past he visits dead fiancĂ© Livia in several different scenarios, from an informal introduction taking place before they ever even truly met to a heartbreaking scene where he sees her right before she died.

To Dan’s credit, he tells his wife and police detective brother Jack about his time travels and how he sees Livia when he is in the past. They of course think he’s a nutjob and Katie even goes so far as to stage an intervention because everyone thinks he is using drugs. Right before Katie decides to leave him for good, though, Dan pulls a clever trick with her wedding ring that proves his time travel story and puts her well on the path to believing him. One of the interesting things about the past sequences is that we learn his wife Katie used to date his brother Jack, which is all kinds of wrong on Dan’s part and sort of makes me hate him and Katie a little bit. I think Jack still hates them as well, so I’m in good company. It will be fun to learn how that whole scenario came to pass, at least.

While in the past, Dan also keeps running across someone named Neil Gaines. First he saves him from killing himself in front of a streetcar and learns that Neil’s girlfriend is pregnant but doesn’t want to keep the baby. Dan then decides to visit Neil’s girlfriend for himself and in the process of their conversation easily talks her out of having an abortion. Later, in the future, Dan decides to Google Neil Gaines and learns he killed his wife and son. On his next trip to the past he stops Neil from committing the murders (by getting him hit by a bus!) and upon returning to the present learns that he wasn’t trying to save Neil at all, but Neil’s son who performed an act of heroism he wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been born or had been killed by his father. That’s the strangest pro-life argument you will ever see on any network television show, folks. This episode was brought to you by the 700 Club, apparently.

The way the pilot breaks down, it seems future episodes will have two main elements: the continuing mystery of why and how Dan is time traveling (and what, if anything, that has to do with Livia’s death), and the helping-person-of-the-week story. Seeing that the former is far more compelling than the latter, one can only hope the mythology of the series can remain interesting enough to overcome the formulaic and static nature of the person-of-the-week melodrama.

Although the story of Neil Gaines and his family left me cold, I was quite intrigued with the Dan/Livia drama. Their connection is strong and when Dan saw what appeared to be a future Livia within one of his time travels, I was mesmerized. Future Livia seemed surprised to see him and warned him to “go with his instincts” and “don’t mess with anything,” and when Dan asked her what happened in her plane crash, she mysteriously said she left before the plane went down. Does this mean Livia is alive and time traveling? Is this just some sort of Livia apparition? Is Dan’s time travel specifically linked to Livia, or does his ability simply exist to help random strangers in the past? I have to say, I’m surprisingly anxious to find out.

Journeyman isn’t the most original or innovative show, but it’s just compelling enough to keep me wondering what will happen next and a decent intellectual companion for Heroes. (Compliment or insult? You decide!) I’m a bit concerned that Dan’s affection for Livia is being portrayed as stronger than the affection he has for his wife, because although I wouldn’t blame him considering Moon Bloodgood is absolutely luminous, it makes his attempts to save his marriage ring a little bit hollow. However, if they can solidify that aspect and put a little more juice in the more formulaic portions of the show, this could be a solid addition to NBC’s Monday night schedule.

Now that I say that, it will probably be canceled in three weeks.


“That’s not an X-Box, and you’re not an X-Man”: Chuck

Chuck is a show which has invited a lot of comparisons in the weeks/months leading up to its airdate. First there was a very brief fuss over plot similarities to Jake 2.0. It’s also frequently been brought up in relation to Gossip Girl, Josh Schwartz’s other new show this season, which has an entirely different sensibility. The most rampant comparison, however, has been with The CW’s Reaper, an understandable phenomenon as the structure and character dynamics of the two shows are very similar. Personally I preferred Chuck’s pilot to Reaper’s – both have a similar charm, but Chuck’s premise seems to lend itself to a series a lot better than Reaper’s. Regardless, I hope this is the last time I need to compare the two, as Chuck has a lot going for it, all of which deserves mentioning.

For starters, it’s fun. It’s very, very fun. Writers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak use the typical necessity for exposition in network pilots to their advantage, and stuff loads of plot into a forty minute show. Although there are overarching mysteries left dangling (such as the big question of why Bryce sends the government secrets to Chuck in the first place), there’s plenty of action, car chases and people running about mixed in with quieter character moments. It pulls off that very difficult pilot challenge of establishing all the essential plot points without ever becoming mundane or plodding.

The ensemble isn’t too big, but it’s still always impressive when a pilot introduces each character and provides them with depth without slowing down as a result. Chuck himself, as played by the charming and likeable Zachary Levi, is your typical lovable nerd. Morgan, his best friend and obvious candidate for the ‘comic relief’ label, is well-played by Joshua Gomez. The character isn’t actually as funny as he should be, but he at least has a grounding in reality, unlike Tyler Labine’s larger than life alternative in Reaper. (Damn, another contrast with Reaper! Why must the parallels between them be so in your face?!) Chuck’s sister Ellie is the only normal one of the bunch, a status I hope she retains as she continues to bring Chuck back down to Earth whenever he needs it. Then there’s the two agents, best defined as ‘the hot one’ and ‘the funny one’. Yvonne Strzechowski thankfully keeps Sarah lively and layered, and gives the predictable reveal that she and Bryce were once together a surprising emotional resonance. The only character who isn’t explored at all is Adam Baldwin’s Major Casey, but Baldwin is so damn funny in the role that it doesn’t really matter. Oh, and Captain Awesome? Awesome, and hilarious.

One senses that Schwartz and Fedak are often just having some fun. The sequence following Bryce’s escape from a secure facility is well staged, on a par with most recent action films (say what you like about McG’s movies, but he’s a damn good TV director). Sarah neutralising all the agents while dancing with Chuck is fantastically zany. Of course the whole thing is more than a little tongue in cheek, and requires the viewer to use their imagination a bit – but that’s no bad thing. In other words, Schwartz and Fedak aren’t the only ones having fun. As geeks themselves (presumably), they know what the geeks who will watch their show want. Male fantasy it may be, but as long as it never takes itself too seriously, who honestly cares?

From what I hear, things are mostly looking good for future episodes; apparently episode two is a bit plot heavy, but as long as episode three lives up to the hype I’m pretty sure that can be forgiven. Schwartz has promised a combination of ‘villains of the week’ (I’m on board!) and a larger mythology (could go either way, but I have faith!). And if that’s not enough, perhaps a multi-episode guest arc for the lovely Rachel Bilson is geek-tastic enough for you. Either way, Chuck is one of the best, if not the best new show of the season, and I’m confident it’s only going to get better.


Happy fall season!

Randomly, Nielsen Media Research has decided we're one of the top TV blogs. Now, it's pitting us in a battle to the death against OTHER TV blogs. This sounds more fun that it actually is. You won't be seeing me standing over the decapitated body of Jace from Televisionary, covered in blood, my mouth curled in a horrific snarl. And I somehow doubt that this is going to end with Sars or Wing Chun from TWOP feeding David into a wood chipper (because, let's face it, none of us can beat Television Without Pity). Instead, they're asking you go there and register for their site and vote for us. Now, I know this is a lot of work, but we must win! Or at least get second! Or something! And there's some other cool stuff on the site, so check it out here.

Anyway, I posted the St. Elsewhere credits because what happened to the 80s-style workplace drama, where earnest professionals worked together to solve society's ills, often through semi-serialized storytelling? Let's bring some of that back, Hollywood. A little TV throwback excitement!

Also, read this and this. Good times.

Expect a link to David's Heroes review, as well as posts on Chuck, Prison Break and Journeyman throughout the day.

And if you want to review Dancing with the Stars for us, let me know.


"You've been here for a few months, Butler. I think it's time I saw some commitment to excellence from you.": Heroes

(David is blogging this show for House Next Door, and Erik will be doing second opinion articles in weeks to come. Trust me when I say that those two may do a better job with this show than I will. -- ed.)

In its second season, Heroes increasingly resembles what would happen if director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took on an adaptation of Justice League of America. It's superficially serious, somewhat interested in conforming to its genre and overly impressed with itself for bouncing from country to country, language to language, barely a care in the world. The second season premiere exacerbated the most-criticized thing about the first season, by jumping from storyline to storyline heedlessly. What could seem exhilerating in the first year is starting to seem a little overdone.

One of the things I find fascinating about Heroes is that series creator Tim Kring is not the show's best writer. On most series, the creator is the person most in tune with the voice of the show. Here, Kring often seems really impressed with the bargain-rate Joseph Campbell stuff that Mohinder spouts, while the other writers (at least last season) were more interested in telling a big, sprawling serialized story.

Anyway, what happened?

The best storyline was probably Noah (formerly HRG) having to deal with working at a copy shop. Maybe it was because it indulged a rarely seen penchant for humor that made the whole thing work. Maybe it was because Jack Coleman is a strong actor, no matter what you throw at him. And maybe it was because I really, really want to see the spinoff, where Noah and the copy shop guy work together and get into petty conflicts over their office-based drudgery. But I liked this subplot! More copy shop!

I wasn't as sold on the Claire storyline, but that probably worked about the second best here. The problem here is that this is all a foregone conclusion -- we know that Claire won't keep herself from saving the world OR from being a cheerleader forever, so this is all a bit perfunctory to watch (and what was up with that rival cheerleader girl, whose California accent sort of sounded like her mouth had been numbed with Novocaine?). Still, the story's pretty serviceable teen angst stuff, and it was cool to see that guy hovering outside of her bedroom window, even with the whiff of "been there, done that" in it.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, a couple of people we've never met are yelling at each other in Spanish, and it's not horribly interesting or involving.

Nathan's not dead, but he's feeling bad about Peter and sure that the kid will come back (this IS television, after all, and maybe Nathan is suddenly growing aware of his role in a serialized narrative -- "Hey, this stuff happens to me every week!"). Nathan's grown a beard, apparently from eating lots of Dominos Oreo dessert pizza (hat tip to Libby for that joke), and he sees a deformed version of his brother in the mirror (in one of the episode's coolest moments).

Peter, of course, is living in a box in Ireland and has forgotten everything (of course! amnesia! no one will see that coming!).

Mohinder, meanwhile, is fielding an offer from Stephen Tobolowsky, and Matt is living with that little girl who can find any hero and dealing with all of the issues of being her pseudo-dad and the creepy drawings she makes of giant, flaming eyes. It's all interesting enough, but it doesn't ever ignite.

Finally, Hiro is stuck in the past, delivering exposition in Japanese. Keeping the show's breakout character separate from everyone strikes me as a bad idea, even if Masi Oka is an entertaining actor, and it's always nice to see David Anders. And in the future, Ando is working with Hiro's dad, only to find that he's being killed by a shadowy figure (who will it be? I'll say Invisible Man Claude for now). Hiro and Ando's chemistry is one of the best things about the show, and the episode suffers for keeping them apart.

The biggest problem with the premiere is that it doesn't really tell a coherent story. The best episodes of serialized television both advance the overarching storyline AND tell mini-stories that work in and of themselves. Lost's season two premiere (since we're going to be comparing the two shows until the end of time) featured both a story that introduced a new mystery to the island (there's a DUDE in the hatch? What?) AND gave us the self-contained stories about the characters entering the hatch for the first time and Jack's first meeting with his wife (in flashback). This Heroes premiere doesn't do anything beyond setting up a lot of storylines, so it never feels like it goes anywhere. It's just, "Hey, look, we're back. Didn't you miss us? Look where everyone is now? SPOOKY!"

So here we are. Heroes season two. Will any of this coalesce? Or are we doomed for a season of subpar television?