Saturday, October 13, 2007

“When I talked about fitting in, I was thinking of something with more clothes”: Smallville

So after an episode that showed off everything good about Smallville, we get ‘Fierce’, an episode that exemplified everything god-awful about it. The story revolved around Kara’s attempts at fitting in in Smallville, which she decides to accomplish by entering a beauty pageant - a pageant attended by three oddly stunning model-types. Even after their presence is explained (they’re meteor freaks after a hidden loot), the inexplicable concept of these three taking part in a local town fair is too ludicrous to get over. On top of that, they are terrible villains of the week. One of them has a power similar to Iceman’s, which she uses to freeze people to death, and another can throw wind at people. (The third is swiftly dispatched when she turns against the other two, in a confusing and horribly shot scene.) Kara uncovers their dastardly plans and commits herself to stopping them, hoping to impress a moody and dismissive Clark.

Why is Clark in such a bad mood? Because the love of his life, Lana Lang, has just returned to him, back from the dead! Wait – that can’t be right. Clark seems to exist as two entirely separate characters in his two plot strands, overjoyed with Lana and pissed off with Kara. The scenes between him and Lana are nothing less than pathetic. She comes to see him right at the start of Act 1, a mistake in itself – a big scene like that needs some build-up! He is suitably astonished to see her, but ludicrously, his first reaction is to hug her. I’m sorry, a HUG? If I know Clark, I’m sure he’s been wishing ever since her ‘death’ that he hadn’t let anything get in the way of being with her. Therefore, I think his first reaction would be a little more than a hug. This alone I could live with, but as the episode goes on, the two barely spend any screen-time together. They talk for a while, Lana explaining everything, him understanding, but then Kara is being annoying and she leaves. The next time we see Lana, she and Clark are straight away back to normal, flirting and paling around as if nothing had happened. Writer Holly Harold takes a pivotal moment of this season and bungles it, lazily and in typical Smallville fashion. There is a suggestion that Lana is finally committed to their relationship, but somehow I doubt this will last long.

Jimmy returns (finally!), and it’s nice to have that easygoing chemistry between Ashmore and Mack once again. The two are unfortunately ill-served by bad dialogue and forced ‘romantic banter’. Ashmore is underused again when Jimmy is put out of commission by Icegirl at the halfway point. Chloe runs with the potential story after being egged on (and put down) by Grant Gabriel (Michael Cassidy, getting one scene and stealing one scene). However, she ends up disheartened when Jimmy admits how right she was about meteor freaks: “Sooner or later, they all snap!” Dramatic irony, anyone? No? Just irony then.

While all this is going on, Lex spends some quality time with Agent Carter. It’s becoming pathetic how the writers keep playing him off faceless ‘evil agent’ caricatures, only to dispatch them swiftly afterwards. I guess this is what happens when every other character hates an ensemble member - should have thought of it before, Smallville writers! Lex doesn’t do much except blather on about the “angel” that saved him (this being Kara). Somehow it takes his goons the entirety of the episode to find her, even though she’s just around the corner. Eventually Lex visits her, in an uninteresting final scene that serves no purpose except to pose the question, is Kara an angel or a danger? “Boring!” you might proclaim, and you would be right – based on ‘Fierce’, I’m not very optimistic about Kara’s long-term direction at all.

Hopefully things will perk up a bit, although next week isn’t looking too promising: Dean Cain as an evil scientist. Ingenious!


"You need to start watching more current TV": Private Practice

Yeah, I'm behind on my Shonda. While I've been very much enjoying Grey's, Private Practice is still taking its time IMO. While ratings-wise it looks like the only new show to have established any kind of foothold after a few weeks, creatively it's definitely pretty muddled, I think. I hear the episode order has been switched around, which might be why everything seems all over the place, but the characters just aren't there yet and Addison has been kinda backgrounded since the pilot. I'd be okay with one if it helped the other, but...nope. I have two episodes to write about and not much to say, and that's never a good sign.

The real problem is that Private Practice is trying to launch itself out of Grey's Anatomy as well as keeping its style quite separate from it. So while the medical plots in Grey's are often an afterthought, usually there to push home some point about the characters treating them. Here, so far has the patients have been front and center on this show, and the soapy intertwining of the characters are mostly moot. There's only a few people on staff in the wellness center and they all (except for Naomi and Sam) are perfectly fine with each other. There's much less growing and learning to be done by the doctors, instead they just gotta deal with who comes in the door. Sure, Addison and Pete glower at each other once in a while. And sure, something was going on with Naomi and Dell, and yeah, Violet and Cooper have good chemistry. But the first arcs of Grey's Anatomy had a wacky energy with all the sex and craziness--PP has been sadly tepid in comparison. The major patient plots of episodes two and three were the baby-switched parents and the 34-year-old virgin, and they dominated proceedings way too much, I thought.

It's not that they gave bad performances or anything like that. The baby-swap thing was a pretty tired story to tell, though. All the guest actors did a noble job, and I seem to remember thinking Audra McDonald was pretty good, but it was all just a one-episode plot with a storyline outta Oprah that meant nothing to the main cast. The 34-year-old virgin at least had a little relevance, because of Naomi and Addison's tepid love lives, but it wasn't played as dramatically and it felt kinda in-your-face and lame. I think I liked the B-story medical plots in the third episode better: Cooper and the case of the blue children, and the mean wife sneezing blood all over her nebbish husband. The second episode was far worse with the grandmother poisoning her son and getting away with it. Ugh, that was annoying. Anyway, I just wish they'd foster more stuff between the doctors rather than having so much material about the patients. It's making the show oddly procedural and kind of a bore.

Cause there is good stuff here. Sam (Taye Diggs, if you don't have the names down yet) is truly underdeveloped but I think he could be a funny character if they fleshed him out a little. He has a kinda bemused, square thing going on and that's funny! Just stop tying him to Naomi all the time, and bring him out of the background. TAYE DIGGS, right? As for Naomi (McDonald), I liked her freakout at Dell (Lowell) about him baking the cakes. Again though, they need to calm down on the Naomi/Sam breakup and look and different angles for those characters. I'm sure they'll be brought back together again eventually, but hold off for now, it's a lot better that way. The writers made their first attempt to flesh out the Pete (Daly) character in episode 3, which is good, cause his demi-McDreamy/soul healer act was wearing thin. His monologues to the grave of his wife were over-the-top but still effective, and his smouldering to Addison afterwards wasn't bad. Still, I'm not sure about this slow burn. One of the advantages of Grey's was it had Meredith and McDreamy hook up in the first episode, defusing at least the immediate tension between them. All Addison and Pete have done is kissed, and it barely even counts, cause it was in an episode of Grey's!

As for Cooper (Adelstein) and Violet (Breneman), they're easily the best characters and it's almost like they're in another show. Or at least a spinoff of this one. Violet's ex-boyfriend issues are really only handled by Cooper, and they're so far the best running plot the show has. The bicycle thing in ep 2 was a little on the nose, but I guess I'm a sucker for that stuff, cause I dug it. The answering machine thing in ep 3 was even MORE on the nose but I still liked their banter about it. There's elements of something a lot better with Violet and Cooper, so hopefully things for the show will similarly improve after a few more episodes. Right now it's painfully uninteresting background viewing for me.


"You're a mean, competitive...rhymes with Mitch!": Men in Trees

After being strangely and unceremoniously yanked off the air last February only 18 episodes into their 22 episode order (to make room for the detestable October Road, of all things), Men in Trees finally returned on Friday with a new episode designed to reintroduce the characters and establish the dynamics of all the relationships in Elmo. Although they were mostly successful in this quest as new viewers were easily brought up to speed, for the long-time viewer it felt a little slow.

Employing a fairy tale book structure that didn't quite work, the episode began with Marin stranded on a mountain in the middle of an arctic cyclone while the rest of the town holed up at the Chieftain bar. Cutting to two days earlier to learn how Marin got there, we learn that handyman/boring man Cash took her to visit a "soul healer" who advised Marin to write her troubles on rocks, hike them up a mountain, and throw them off to unburden her soul. Convinced the cyclone is going to miss Elmo, they make the hike and unfortunately get stuck in the storm. When Jack learns of Marin's predicament, he immediately runs to save her despite fiance Lynn's protests. Seeing as Marin's the main character, his success or failure was never in question, so this story really just dragged along to its inevitable conclusion without generating any great interest. Yawn.

Despite this failure, many things about the episode still worked. The strength of this show is its quirky ensemble and the warmth and heart the writers and actors bring to each character, and putting the entire cast together in the Chieftain and letting them simply interact with each other for an hour was a great idea that totally worked.
This episode's main goal was to get some closure in the Marin/Jack relationship before Jack's impending nuptials to pregnant fiance Lynn, and although the methods were a little tired, the closure did feel earned with a nice scene between the two in the Chieftain kitchen. As always, though, it's the periphery characters that make the show, and Annie and Patrick's struggles over Annie's insane competitive nature, Mai and Buzz's fight over the circumstances of her mail-order bride selection, and Sara's acceptance of a loan from Ben and the complications that causes with Ben's wife Theresa that really round out the hour and bring the quirk we've come to love. The less said about the fart storyline, the better.

As much as the writers spin this as a show about the search for love, what this show is really about is community, as evidenced by things like the "Emergen-tree" storm warning system. Luckily for viewers, this is a community that is just plain pleasant to be invited to watch for an hour each week. Let's just hope ABC realizes what a cute little gem they have in this show and allow them to air without interruptions and time slot changes this year.


Friday, October 12, 2007

"Do you think that all human beings are capable of evil?": Friday Night Lights

"What is this?!" David said to me last week as he watched the season premiere of Friday Night Lights for the first time.

"What do you mean?"

"It's all happy. Everyone's bouncing around happily. It's wrong."

He was talking about the opening credits, but he soon launched into some other criticisms of the show that, frankly, I hadn't thought of (many of which I simply didn't agree with). (And after that, we talked about how Dillon must have a big sign of Riggins outside of it where a constant tally of how many women in the town he's slept with is updated daily.) I started to see some of these criticisms reflected elsewhere (over at Alex Epstein's place, for instance), and I started to wonder if I WAS being too harsh on the show, if I needed to overcompensate this week and say just how great so much of the show is and so on and so on. Sadly, this second episode was a step down from the premiere and full of stuff that just didn't ring true. None of it is at the level of Tyra and Landry's murder and cover-up (that's the sort of thing that could drag the whole show down if it devours the series), and most of it is easily forgotten in the rear-view mirror, but in the moment, some of it just sucks to sit through.

Let's talk a little about Coach Taylor being off in Austin. My greatest problem with this is that it's false drama. The show isn't going to send its central character off into another town for the entire season (and, honestly, if they don't have him back coaching the Panthers by episode five, I'll be very surprised). To that end, the only thing we're wondering about is why, exactly, he's going to leave TMU and go back to Dillon, and the show has made THAT easy for us too. EVERYthing's falling apart without Coach Taylor, and the new coach is a real hardass whom no one likes. The Taylor family is a mess with Tami trying to deal with a new baby and crippling sadness and her daughter, who's out being a normal 16-year-old girl in every way that implies. What's more, Coach Taylor is pretty unhappy in his job at TMU, finding himself the low man on the totem pole. I could buy one of these sending Taylor back to Dillon, maybe even two. But all three together just create a situation where the audience can fill in the rest of the storyline for the show. That makes the inevitable return of Coach Taylor to Dillon something of an anticlimax. Why not make the new coach someone everyone rather likes (Epstein's suggestion)? Or why not have Eric absolutely love his new job but realize that his family is more important than that? By just changing even one piece of this equation, you get some real drama that won't lead to a foregone conclusion.

I DO like that Coach Taylor is finding himself having to babysit players but still being able to argue for them to continue playing, even after they flaunt the rules. When the head coach tells him that he must have been a great high school coach, it's a compliment, but it's also the kind of slap to his confidence Coach Taylor doesn't need right now.

I'm still seeing complaints about Lyla's conversion to Christianity (with some saying that the conversion is only because of her strained family situation), but I'm still liking it. It seems likely to me that a girl like this might try to find something INCREDIBLY stable to center her life when her family crumbles, she loses her boyfriend and she can't stop looking over at the bad boy she swore she wrote off last year. I could see Lyla deciding to go gung-ho for some sort of creed after that, and, to be honest, I've known a lot of people who turn to religion after something in their lives goes sour. Even more interesting to me is how she's interacting with her father, who is falling apart more and more with every week. Buddy Garrity was my least favorite character on the show last season, but I'm liking him more and more this season as a pitiful drunk who can't reconnect with his children, who deeply resent him (with reason).

Julie's storyline is another one I'm finding mostly believable. Her flirtation with the Swede is the sort of thing a girl who wants to try being bad for a little while would do, and her tearful breakup with Matt was completely realistic (I also love the push-pull you can see on the Swede's face every time he looks at her -- he really wants to kiss her but knows he probably shouldn't). I'm not as sold on Matt's new live-in nurse. If she's just someone for him to talk with while his life is going nuts, fine. But if the show tries to steer a love connection between the two, I'm not sure I'll buy it at all. Still, it was nice to see Grandma Saracen again (and she got an awesome tiara).

Then there's Tami's story. Connie Britton is selling her character's depression incredibly well, and the scenes where she desperately tried to figure out what was wrong with her baby worked too. I was also willing to go with the baby coming along to school (because that sort of thing happens), but I'm less sure about this science teacher character. He seems less of a fully developed character and more of a plot point, a way for the show to drive home how much Tami and Coach Taylor lean on each other and how lost they are without each other.

Then we come to Tyra and Landry. I'm still deeply disturbed by how wrongheaded this storyline is. I'm also deeply disturbed by how Jesse Plemons and Adrienne Palicki are acting the crap out of it. I mean. . .Plemons was pretty amazing in this episode, and I see why the writers wanted to give him more to do. That STILL doesn't mean I believe a SECOND of it. And why are the writers simultaneously doing the "Landry tries out for football" storyline? It just muddles things up and takes the storyline even further into the realms of unbelievability. Furthermore, having Tyra come to Landry at night and make love to him further reeks of the sexism this storyline can't quite rid itself of (I mean. . .this is Landry's reward? what?). I don't know how much further I can give the show the benefit of the doubt on this plot point. Ah well.

Also, Jason Street better not be cured. Because I'm out for sure then.


"I forgot. The doctor called. I can walk!": Ugly Betty

When watching Ugly Betty, one has to expect a little chaos. The show's bread and butter is its campy, frenetic, soapy fun but with all the over the top stories, there are the inevitable misfires. This week's episode, "Betty's Wait Problem", was funny, but fractured. For all the good, there was equal bad and it was easily the weakest episode in a still young season.

First off, we cleared off the Daddy Meade storyline early in the episode, with Amanda finding out that she really hadn't committed incest all those times with Daniel, which was a relief, but still left her a relative orphan. To raise her spirits, she and Marc set about plotting a fabulous coming out party for her to take place at the Black and White Ball. This show is love and never so much so as when Amanda and Marc are scheming. Beautiful.

Justin, still interning, (and obviously still desperate for a male role model) reached out to Daniel, by asking Daniel to teach him how to play basketball, something his father had loved. The people at Mode are hard and business-oriented but all soften under the pure sweetness that is Justin. The training is not very productive, but ultimately reveals that a wheelchair-bound Daniel is faking it to score with his physical trainer. Nice. Ironically, this makes him an even better father figure for Justin, as it's more true to Santos' true character anyway. Go figure.

Betty was a bit of a mess this week. While I loved her storyline (and chemistry, for that matter) with Freddy Rodriguez (who I hear is scheduled to appear in multiple episodes) it just felt kind of ... well, lame. It's difficult to see the show harkening back to seemingly abandoned plotlines (Betty is a writer! Remember? Sure you do!) from early first season. I realize why they're doing it, but I can't help but wish it was something they'd cared enough about to keep up with up to this point.

There was also continuing drama between Wilhelmina and the Meade clan but nothing interesting enough to really point out, beyond the fact that the wedding is back on, Claire has been unceremoniously dismissed by Bradford and the show seems to be setting up the inevitable return of Alex(is)'s memory and the return of Fay Summers. All will be loverly developments, I'm sure.

What really got me this episode was the Ignacio plot. While I know that it was just last week that I was calling for the ending of his Mexican plight, I never imagined that the circumstances under which they would come would be so bizarre and off putting.

As one can about imagine, the man whom Ignacio believed he killed was not really dead and wanted revenge. But first, he wanted Ignacio (his former cook) to make him flan. Because he missed it.


No really.
Go back and read that again.
I am not even making this up.
Yeah, that's what I thought.


Anyway, there was a lot of talking and long story short, Ignacio ends up back in America. Hooray. Except, what the hell? Really? That's what a season-long arc regarding psychotic immigration workers, deportation hell, Mexican isolation, murderous secrets and the like get us? A flan ultimatum (which, coincidently, is the name of my band: The Flan Ultimatum) and a trip home? Lame.

I say again, LAME.

Despite that absolutely baffling conclusion of events, we can all take heart that the plotline is finally finished and we need not worry about it any longer. As for next week, need I say more than: VICTOR GARBER and (to a lesser, though hilarious extent) JAMES VANDERBEEK? I thought not. Word.


"Look! They're doing math!": Mad Men

Man, what an episode!

Mad Men rewarded my faith in it with an episode that managed to wrap up most of the big plots from season one (the Draper marriage the one last real dangling thread) and drop kernels for where it might head in season two. This wasn't one of those episodes that clumsily dances around one theme and beats it over the head (like that long, rather boring episode where Roger had a heart attack). It was more about how the winds of change are sweeping through Sterling Cooper and the country at large and how those winds threaten to blow so many of these characters away.

Jon Hamm anchored this episode after spending a handful of episodes floating around the margins of the storyline, and he was rewarded with a script that gave him an acting challenge he was more than up to. Hamm's central challenge here is to play, essentially, two characters, both in the past and in the present. He's Dick Whitman, and then he's Don Draper after the brief moment in Korea that kills the real Don Draper. What I love is that both Hamm and the episode make clear that Don Draper is simply a character that Dick Whitman, a scared kid who never had a chance to grow up, plays. Don Draper's inscrutability comes simply from the fact that Don Draper is an affectation, not any sort of reality. It's to Rachel's credit that she's able to see through this, and in that moment, Maggie Simm makes up for a whole season where she was a little underused by puncturing as many holes as she can in the Draper mystique (even calling him out on his infidelity -- not necessarily to his wife but definitely to his children).

The Whitman flashbacks suffered from having some pretty crappy production values (it looked like AMC hauled everyone out to the MASH set and turned on the cameras), but the story of how Dick Whitman took on the identity of Donald Draper was pretty cold, especially in how he totally shunned his brother at the train station (likely leading to the depression that apparently stalked and killed the younger boy). It's as though Dick suddenly decided that the way to be Don was through complete and utter indifference.

The show's genius is in how it trusts Jon Hamm to carry all of this jerkiness without turning off the viewers. Really, the show doesn't work if you can't buy that Don is a cold bastard but capable, somehow, of being both better than his contemporaries and himself. A lesser show would have given Hamm a big monologue in that scene where Peggy is weeping about the injustice of the world, a monologue in which he would have told her that she was wrong and that everything would be OK. Instead, he just stares and gives her a drink. He's not going to tell her anything she's saying about the world (that it's a cold place where some men skate by, shifting the burden of the world to other men) is wrong. But he is going to give her something to take the edge off a little, to help her calm down and just make it through another lousy day.

I do love how the show is making Peggy more and more into the character that will obviously shift with the times (reportedly, the series will skip ahead in time in season two). Her burgeoning social conscience (reflected in how bad she felt about getting those two innocent guys fired) and her growing separation from the other young kids in the office (largely because of her relative success as a working woman) both point to a character who will seize her own destiny in future seasons and one who will probably sympathize with the younger generation that is coming up (of which Kennedy, newly elected in this episode, is emblematic).

Cooper also seems likely to shift with the times. His love for Ayn Rand (one would think) led him to seemingly dismiss Pete's accusations against Don outright (his line "Mr. Campbell, who cares?" was one of the funniest of the season). He's an old man, and he doesn't understand what the kids are down with at all, but he's certainly got the money to pull him through. He may not support John F. Kennedy, but he knows he can buy his way to having a seat at the table, and that's all that really matters to him.

I also loved how the episode spent so much time (15 minutes, according to Sepinwall) with the kids during the election party. The loose, free-and-easy feel of these scenes was a marked contrast to the other scenes at the office, where everyone can feel a little stiff. This was just a bunch of kids having a good time, even if Peggy and Pete, our two most reliable windows into this world were both ostracized from it for one reason or another. The desperate little flirtations between the young guys and the young girls spilled over into actual sex, and a happily married man cheated on his wife with Hildy, a woman who has been, so far, sort of distanced and aloof. Joan also kissed Sal, then gave one of the hardest to read expressions in the history of acting. Did she like it? Hate it? Realize he was gay? Who can tell?

All in all, this was a surprisingly packed episode for Mad Men. We could probably go on at length about other story points in the comments, but I'll cut the post short for now. I did miss having Betty in the episode, but it looks as though next week's episode will focus on the Draper marriage and make amends for that.


"She was a yoga teacher. It was the bendiest weekend of my life.": Supernatural

For all of the things it does well, one thing this show always has a hard time with is subtlety. So when I heard they were doing a storyline about Dean meeting a child he might have fathered, I knew we were in for a few anvils to the head...and yes, I definitely had to duck a few times during the episode to avoid a good bludgeoning. Despite these shortcomings, however, last night's episode was a step up from the premiere, full of scary fun and interesting revelations about the Winchester family that set up things nicely for the season to come.

Let's deal with the anvils first. Dean decides he wants to investigate a job in Indiana where a man was (disgustingly, awesomely) killed by his own table saw under suspicious circumstances. The real reason he's interested in the Hoosier state, though, is that old fling Lisa lives there and Dean wants to look her up and get bendy with her again. He shows up on her doorstep just in time for her son's 8th birthday party, and the kid is a total mini-Dean, from tight black t-shirt, to ogling girls, to loving AC/DC. Because lots of 8 year olds are like that. Naturally, Dean starts to wonder if the kid is his, but the mother debunks that theory. This doesn't stop the show from showing us, time and time again, that the kid is just! like! Dean! It's mildly amusing a few times, but mostly just tiring.

While at the party Dean meets the ex-wife of the man that was killed by saw earlier in the episode and her creepy, creepy daughter. The mother confesses to Lisa that she thinks her child isn't actually her child, and generally acts like a psycho. It turns out she's not so crazy, because at home later the child continues to act strangely, and when the mother sees her in the mirror she sees a monster instead of her child. This causes her to freak out and drive her kid to the lake, where she full-on Susan Smiths her kid! It's pretty amazing, especially when she returns to her house and the supposedly dead, soaking wet kid is sitting at the table, smiling, and requesting ice cream. *shudder*

Back at the subdivision, Dean realizes that there have been several other "accidents" happening to parents there and he and Sam deduct that changelings are taking over the kids in the neighborhood and killing their mothers by sucking the life force out of them. Isn't that what all kids do anyway? (I kid, I kid. Oh, bad pun. Sorry.) Of course, Lisa's son Ben is taken next which compels Dean into action. Somehow Dean knows right where to go and he and Sam find all of the captured children in a partially constructed house in the neighborhood. When they arrive they discover that the local realtor is the head changeling. After a fun fight, Sam fries the realtor with a flamethrower and all of the other changelings disappear, because...well, I don't know why. For such an exposition-heavy show, sometimes they leave these sort of important explanations out. The kids are returned to their parents and all is well. Dean gets a few decent scenes where he muses on the fact that he'll never have this suburban life, but since we've sort of seen it all before in previous seasons it doesn't quite resonate like it should.

While Dean is contemplating that which he will never have in life, Sam is back in the kick-ass portion of the episode, busy being visited by the Mysterious Blond Woman. MBW shows smarts immediately by saying she's interested in Sam because he's tall. So, so tall and pretty. You got me there, girlie. Oh, she also lets the cat out of the bag that's she's a DEMON and that she's following him because he's the sole survivor of YED's special kids, and that he's the chosen one. She also tells Sam that his mother Mary had some secrets of her own, and now all of Mary's friends are dead because someone is trying to cover up what Mary knew, and is systematically taking out anyone who knew about it as well. When Sam questions why he should have anything to do with a demon, she says that if they work together she can get Dean out of his crossroads deal.

I can't tell you how much I love this development. I did not see it coming that MBW was a demon, but now it makes perfect sense. I'm more than interested to know what YED did to Sam that still has any sort of repercussions on his life, considering that YED is dead. Also, what was Mary's secret? We know she knew YED because she recognized him when he fried her in the nursery. We also know that right before he fried Mary, YED made Sam drink his blood and therefore Sam has demon blood in him. Sam never told Dean either of these secrets. Of course, he's probably going to keep all of these new MBW developments from Dean as well because Dean doesn't want to get out of the crossroads deal, for fear that Sam might die.

I can see where the season is headed now,, this is going to get good.

Next week: The second female regular is added to the cast, and she has a British accent! Also, Jared Padalecki says something funny.

Question for the Supernatural superfans out there: is it just me, or does the show feel different this year? Did they get a new production designer and/or cinematographer? I abandoned the interwebs when the new cast member tirades started so I think I missed something. Or maybe I'm just crazy.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

"I see you ate one. Am I?": 30 Rock

I haven't laughed as much at an episode of television as I did at tonight's 30 Rock in a long, long time. The final third of the show wasn't quite as laugh-riffic as the first two acts (even if it did have Dr. Spaceman discussing the ACTUAL nutritional benefits of food), but those first two thirds were just 30 Rock genius, the jokes flying fast and funny, reminding me of the show's finest (half) hours from season one. I thought it might take the show a few weeks to find its rhythm again (it often does for comedies), and I didn't think that rhythm would be found in week two.

For starters, the show put Jack in a corner and let him fight his way out. The show is always at its best when Jack is calculating and scheming, not caving to someone more powerful than him. Here, Jack saw what he wanted (to be the head of the company someday) and was unapologetic in going after it, even when Devin (the good-time-guaranteed Will Arnett) tried to get him to overexert himself and blow out his heart (still recovering from his season-one-ending heart attack). Jack's gotta be something of a straight man for the show to work, and watching him cruelly one-up Devin at every turn (but somehow righteously -- Jack's way better than Devin) gave this episode an engine that kept it going. I especially liked the newly-straight Devin's attempts to avoid contact with strapping, virile young men who seemed to be everywhere. (Even better to have him still lusting after poor, bejiggered Kenneth.)

Even though Liz had very little to do in this episode, I really liked her story as she tried to help Jenna fight the power, only to find her good intentions subverted when Jenna became the subject of a new T-shirt sporting her catchphrase (shown above). Jenna's desire to sing and roller-dance at the same time was funny; seeing it in action was hysterical. And her sessions with Dr. Spaceman (who apparently has done work for both ALF AND the Unibomber) were funny too, if only because Chris Parnell has created such an amusing character, unhindered by facts or medical opinions or anything like that.

Liz's attempts to create a more just world backfire, of course, and her refusal, still, to get rid of the wedding dress (which comes in handy when she needs to assemble her Blerg) is funny as well. (Basically, I'm just going to say that everything in this episode was funny, apparently. But that's the way it was!)

Finally, we come to Tracy, who had one of those odd storylines that could only apply to him. I think the biggest laugh of the episode for me (indeed, of the whole television season so far) came from Tracy's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" video ("Boys becoming men; men becoming wolves"), which only didn't get the quote spot because his "inscrutable" vanity license plate was so, well, inscrutable. Props to Sherri Shepherd, good yet again as Tracy's wife, especially in how she reduced Kenneth (yet again) to a quavering mess.

Sadly, not every episode of every show can be as good as this episode was. This is why you must hoard it on your TiVo and watch it over and over.

Crap. I deleted it.

Favorite lines? Sight gags?


"I think we can agree to those terms, but you can't wear those shoes...or that hair.": Gossip Girl

First, I'd like to pause for a moment to squee like a tweener in the front row of the High School Musical concert, because despite piddling ratings Gossip Girl was picked up for a full season! Hooray! Or whatever hip exclamation the kids are using these days.

Now on to the matter at hand. Last night's episode, "Bad News Blair," took some familiar stories and handled them in completely familiar ways, and still managed to be decently entertaining. How do they do that?
(Also, I just realized their episode titles are takeoffs on movie titles, because I am slow.)

Instead of throwing all of the characters together like the first three episodes, this one splits the gang up into two separate groups, Catholic school style -- by gender. Nate and Chuck hole up in Chuck's hotel suite for "The Lost Weekend," an annual party supposedly filled with debauchery. All we see are some hookers who don't seem to have sex with anyone and a pub crawl, so this weekend of hedonism seems awfully tame in comparison to the boys' sexual assault-filled parties of yore. It's rather disappointing. Chuck, who was looking forward to a boys weekend with his one true love Nate, is chagrined when old friend Carter returns from some sort of Christopher McCandless sojourn into douchebaggery (complete with hemp poncho!) and becomes instapals with Nate again. Chuck warns Nate that Carter is bad news, but Nate doesn't listen and ends up in a laughingly stupid game of cards with a bunch of sharks. Listen, Nate. If you can't spot the sucker within your first half hour at the table, you're the sucker. He really needs to watch more movies.

Anyway, of course Nate bets more money than he has on him and loses, and of course it was a setup by Carter to steal his money, and of course lover Chuck comes to bail Nate out of trouble at the last minute. The only interesting thing about this story is that Nate tries to get into his trust fund to pay Chuck back only to learn that his father drained over $200,000 from it recently and now he has no money. Hmm. So that's why Nate's dad is so insistent he stay in a relationship with Blair! It looks like our dear Nate has left the movie plots and decided to go classic, and is now a (female) character in a Jane Austen novel. That explains the lip gloss, at least.

Meanwhile, Serena and Blair's truce is holding up as they begin to start trying to be friends again. Blair's horrendous mother (who I think is a recast from the pilot) gets in the way, though, when she asks Blair to be the model for her new clothing line and then swiftly fires her when her minions think Blair isn't up to snuff. Blair actually seems to be fine with this development, until she learns that her mother has chosen Serena as her replacement and goes bananas. To her credit, Blair's horrendous mother tricked Serena into thinking it would be a co-campaign with both her and Blair as models
, and once Serena learns the truth she quits immediately. She and Blair make up, again, and get back at Blair's horrendous mother by stealing all of the clothes from the photo shoot and wearing them around town and having a photo shoot of their own. It's a very cute scene, but I hope I'm not the only one hoping Serena and Blair's truce doesn't last, because they are just too fun when they are battling it out for queen bee status. Blake Lively and Leighton Meester have fabulous acting chemistry when either friends or foes, though, and it makes their scenes so much fun to watch.

Serena and Dan also have a subplot where they try to go on a date but it doesn't work out. They are cute together, but Dan sort of sucks so it's difficult to get behind them as a couple. The one good thing that happens this week is that Dan apologizes for being judgmental, which is so on the money. I have a sneaky suspicion his judgmental attitude will return the next time Serena does something he considers to be "rich" but for now at least it's a start.

Again, Dan's father Rufus and Serena's mother Lily have a subplot. Again, it is painfully dull. They are trying to create some sort of atmosphere of lost love between them, but it's simply not working. They are not compelling enough to be carrying off their own storylines, and I want them to sort of disappear into the background and only show up in breakfast scenes with their kids once in a while.

Next week: I don't know, because due to a Tivo failure I watched this on iTunes. But I really want to know! Help a sister out.


"Having fun being hot? I am.": Reaper

I've read complaints the third episode of Reaper was as 'disappointing' as its second, but while this wasn't the knockout that Chuck's third ep was, I think this laid out how pleasant this show's gonna be week-to-week. Now, I said in my review of the pilot that monster-of-the-week only does so much. Still it's a formula many a successful show had adopted, so I'm happy to have some laughs, some will-they-won't-they and some Ray Wise for now. If Reaper gets a back nine pickup, I'm gonna want more, but now I'm satisfied having fun.

Yeah, the weakness of this episode was definitely the villain. The fakeout reveal that it wasn't the creepy-looking guy but a sultry woman is nothing new and barely registered. And there was next to no explanation of why, or how, although the guy's little monologue about how he really was just in it for the sex was kinda funny. Still, I'm glad they've gotten the Sam-doesn't-want-to-be-Reaper thing out of the way now. I was worried there'd be more and more of him wrestling with his position as bounty hunter, which really isn't necessary unless you add a new dimension to it. I'm also glad they're not having him wrestle over his future and working at The Work Bench either. One thing Reaper has over Chuck, I think, is that it has a cooler setting. Chuck's nerd-herd is a lot of fun but there's something very eerie and alien about those vast, colorless Home Depot places where there's all those high shelves and no attempt at layout or design or anything. At the core of Reaper (it seems) is this malaise at the reality of 21st-century America, and these warehouse places, in their way, emphasize what's so creepy and lazy and soulless about it. Like, Sam and Sock and Ben (especially the latter two) are all really excited to have these crazy fantasy adventures, without really thinking about the fact that they're in league with the King of Evil and, hell, that SATAN exists and all of the celestial and spiritual ramifications that has. I'm babbling, and I dunno if this show is thinking like I am, but I reckon it might end up doing so, if it lasts long enough. In conclusion, I think the Work Bench is a cool setting.

Anyway, Sam isn't wrestling about his future because he knows he doesn't have one, he's doomed to hell for all eternity anyway and he's kinda got two jobs going already. So the writers make Andi the focus of this storyline, and she's all the better for it, cause like, Andi being smart and motivated just makes her all the more appealing. Still, we know she can't leave The Work Bench, but I liked that they had her wrestle with it and I liked that they're filling in her backstory a little bit. Cause she's awesome and it's cool that she's all sarcastic and hanging out at the Bench, but they do need to address why she's in the funk she's in,'s all good. Peregrym's chemistry with Bret Harrison is good, but she's so appealing you reckon she'd have good chemistry with most anyone. Anyway, I like that they're giving Andi a bit more depth, because she was almost TOO perfect, with the lazy charm and forgiving Sam's bizarre Satan-related foibles. They need to integrate her more, though, let her in on the secret (ugh, you just know they're gonna get her and Sam together and then have the secret split them up!) and, yeah, get her and Sam together.

I'm hearing complaints about Tyler Labine. Have at thee, complainers! Cause he's great. I said it last week but I'll say it again, Harrison/Labine/Gonzalez have had instant magic together from episode one. Ben bickering with Sock over wanting to order a salad, or Sock and Ben acting like dismayed parents when Sam told them he'd been offered an assistant manager job--it's great. Almost all of it. I'll admit Sock's rambling cancer story to his ex could have been funnier. And the brief breakup where Sam wants to go it alone before they get back together five minutes later was kind of a weird diversion that must have just been hasty padding. Still, it's all good here. And how about Ray Wise? All the guy needs is three scenes a week. Setup, conflict, resolution. That's what he's there for and he does it so well. Plus, seeing Satan grin and give a thumbs up was funny. I like the idea that he's on Sam's side in all things, and maybe not even for some ulterior motive. He just wants to see his guy get the girl, cause he's Satan and he's competitive.

Anyway, not much to say again this week, but keep it up, Reaper, and aim high! The back nine will come. Also: apologies, my internet was down all weekend and is still being a bitch, so I'm gonna have to hit some of my shows with two-week reviews. But it'll all be there soon.


"It is never safe to fly during your turd trimester." South Park Season 11, Episode 2, "More Crap"

Oh, sweet Lord.

So, it figures that my very first foray into the TV spectrum of this blog would deal mostly in fecal matter and bestiality. You get what you wish for, kids. I say this is a valuable lesson. However, I bemoan this chain of events, you understand, not because I find any of it disgusting. I find it so funny, in fact, that I fear I will only succeed in shaming myself with my juvenile sense of humor while covering these particular shows and their respective seasons. Enough theatrics, though. On with the constipation and canine ass licking!

Comedy Central has quite the hour on its hands Wednesday nights. They have their usual Wednesday night staple, South Park at Ten. Now, though, the classic gross-out satire is paired up at 10:30 with indie comic darling Sarah Silverman and her Program. This match-up is pretty much a no-brainer and quite easily produces probably the "blue"-est hour on TV (maybe ever?) The results are sinfully enjoyable.

First up is South Park. I have always been a mild fan, but usually find Trey and Matt's targets a little too easy or the satires a bit too "on the nose," you can say. When examining South Park, though, you mostly have to look at it from the perspective accepting the fact that as simplistic as their metaphors may seem, or however easy their targets may one is ever really saying what South Park is saying; and if they are, it is no where near as clear or pointed or funny. You have to respect that. The mild issues I have with South Park are always in theme; the larger picture. However, joke for joke, there are few funnier shows on TV. This is a rare show that seems to get better and better with age. Trey Parker has deliberately let all of his characters naturally evolve and the comedic situations he presents always work so well because of the simple nuances presented by each character with their own hilarious foils. All animated shows on television have secondary characters, or a town that has interesting inhabitants. The Simpsons may have done this first and best. The town of South Park, though, is a very important character in the show. Ya know, it being the title and all. This is not the South Park KIDS, or the Eric Cartman Show. South Park is, for lack of a better term, a brilliant ensemble comedy.

I ramble, sorry. SO, Season 11, Episode 2 entitled "More Crap" features one of my very favorite ancillary characters: Randy Marsh (Stan's Dad.) He has been eating too much P.F. Chang's lately and is...a little backed up. Farly early on in the ep we get an excruciating and...uh..candid window into his bathroom habits, which is funnier than any of us would like to admit. The end result is what he believes to be the "biggest crap" that he has ever taken. Incidentally, the word crap is uttered AT LEAST 100 times in this ep, clearly on purpose...though I don't really feel like counting. Since this glorious stool must be admired by all, he SAVES it and eventually puts in on a rack like a trophy in the basement. After some egging on from him buddies (much to the chagrin of his wife) and a rejection by Guinness, he is referred to a European entity known as the European Fecal Standards and Measurements Office that deals in matters such as these. They have their own way of determining the veracity of such claims. Careful examination of the shit reveals it to be 8.5 Courics in size (yes, Courics) and, INDEED, the largest crap ever recorded. Here's where things get tricky!

The previous title holder is none to pleased to hear this news. The title holder being Bono (of course.) Bono is the best at everything, you see, and refuses to be number 2. The little intros used every time he makes an appearance with accompanying YEAH YEAHs are begrudgingly hilarious. When Randy is going to be presented with his award, Bono makes a surprise announcement that he, AGAIN, holds the record for largest crap, negating Randy's previous go at the title. Later, falling into a deep depression, Randy (with the continued support of his friends) reluctantly decides to try to beat Bono again. The only catch is that he has to take to crap in Europe, in front of European Fecal Standards and Measurements council this time.

While in Zurich, a little detective work by Stan reveals a shocking secret about the head of the Council and Bono himself. Bono doesn't HOLD the record for largest crap; he IS the record! Bono is a piece of shit! Get it?! The head of European Fecal Standards and Measurements crapped him out in 1960. He was so large that he kept him, nursed him, and eventually grew him into a walking, talking, singing, philanthropist, piece of shit.

This is really the crux of the episode: Bono is a piece of shit. That's kind of funny and all, but I can't help but to be left thinking that they have done this kind of stuff before, and done it much better. The setting of the episode is funny enough, and there are the usual hilarious visual gags (at a couple of key gross-out moments an Emmy flashes across the screen with "Emmy Award Winning Series") but, ultimately, it seems like a long way to travel simply to call Bono an asshole.

The flip side of the coin, however, shows Trey Parker being able to still write small. So often in the last several years South Park has been very guilty of many of the things that they call out others for. Simply to full of themselves and making everything about an issue. This is something that they are very aware of and allude to in many jokes in previous episodes. It is nice to have just a simple episode calling someone a dick without wrapping social issues into nice little packages at episode's end.

This wasn't a bad episode by any means, but it seemed a little lacking in purpose. Trey is a probably a little more mindful that they have tread these waters before than I am letting on, but however self aware the episode may be, it still just wasn't that great. Also, while it was nice, and is always nice to have Randy the center of an episode, I did miss others in the cast conspicuous by their absence; namely almost all of the main characters. Again, clearly a purposeful decision, but hurtful for the episode in the end.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"I'm not God, but if I was, I'd be an angry God.": Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies cleared a significant hurdle in its second episode, when it managed to lay out a rough template for what the show would be going forward -- and, indeed, it's going to be a mystical Moonlighting. So be it. The episode was a step down from the pilot, but in some ways, it was even better, because it felt like an episode of a television series, not a mini-movie. Also, there was a moment somewhere in the second act (or thereabouts), when I swear I heard all of America say, "So. . .it's a musical?" and turn the channel in befuddlement. I apparently have complete faith in America's ability to dissect the twee and not in its ability to handle singing and dancing.

The weakest thing about the episode was the mystery. I mean, did anyone NOT figure out who the killer was from the second the killer appeared? And that was all mixed in with the twee-est thing the show has attempted so far -- the experimental car called the Dandy Lion. The Dandy Lion factory was art directed within an inch of its life. Even though I like that the show seems to take place in its own universe that's just a few inches away from ours, the car factory was a little too fanciful (much less the Dandy Lion itself). And the mystery itself had a lot of twists and turns to reach an ending that we knew had to be coming -- of course it was the boss and not the girlfriend who did it. I don't mind that the show is going to do weirder, slightly darker mysteries than you might see on the usual show, but it should really earn those twisted twists and turns, I think. Still, I liked the flashbacks to the love affair between Janine and the dead guy. The omnipresent narration in the show can get a little tiresome, but I like it when its summarizing a story like this, weirdly. It helps that the narration doesn't aim too hard to be profound, aiming, instead, for whimsy and wistfulness. (All that said, one thing I did like was the crash-test dummy disguise. It's just another expressionless mask, but it was a good one.)

That said, I like the show for even doing a mystery in week two, especially as it was praised so much for having that daffy fairy tale premise in its pilot. The show's apparently stealing the time-honored model (at least since the '80s) of having a single story per episode and then layering the continuing character stuff on top of that. Numerous other shows have tried it, from Buffy to X-Files to CSI (every so often), and it usually works better than the heavily serialized stuff. I'm happy to see this model return to TV, even if it can make for something a little more uneven and erratic than others.

What I did like about the episode (in spades) was the way it added some nice nuance to Emerson and Olive, the two characters who didn't get a whole lot of definition in the pilot beyond their very stock types. I liked that the show made Emerson a knitter, which is just the right sort of quirk to give a character who's mostly used to deflate the quirk of others -- normal, but not so completely normal that it seems banal. It also helped that the introduction of the knitting needles had a payoff in the final moments of the mystery.

Olive is still that necessary character in a romantic comedy -- the woman who wants the guy and may eventually get in the way of the guy and the girl (for good reason here) -- but she's helped by a completely game Kristin Chenoweth, who showed off her singing voice (more later) tonight as well as her sheer ability with physical comedy (when she slammed into the wall, it was one of the greatest things I've ever seen). Chenoweth is not a horribly subtle star, so the show is doing well to make her broader and broader.

But it was her singing that I suppose will prompt the most talk around the water cooler. I'm guessing it may be the last straw for some people, but as someone who has been known to sing when I think I'm all alone, I kind of went with it, especially as they gave her first the dog and then the floor waxer as dance partners. Olive may not be the show's most original character, but, by God, Chenoweth is going to dump everything she has into that part.

Over at Seriocity, Kay Reindl (who doesn't much like this show) theorizes that one of the things that keeps people coming back and back to a television show is the actors and the characters. That's one of the reasons movie stars often flop on TV -- they feel too big for the screen. We want our TV stars to be friends, and that's the best thing Daisies has going for it right now. That cast is warm and friendly and inviting. And they want to give you pie. I mean, what more do you want? The second episode of Pushing Daisies didn't work in all ways, but it was probably the most successful second episode I've seen this season in convincing me of one thing (assuming we ignore Mad Men, which debuted in the summer, after all): This show can be a series.

(Side note: What's up with ABC Wednesdays and the compulsive consumption of desserts?)


"Let Her Go" - Life, episode 1.3

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I'm pleased to have the opportunity to write weekly about this fall's most quietly winning show, NBC's Life. We're now three episodes into the season, so a quick recap is in order to bring everyone up to speed.

Los Angeles: Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) is a police officer recently exonerated after twelve years in prison for murder. Charlie's settlement from the city affords him the chance to live in luxury with the company of his boarder/financial adviser Ted (Adam Arkin). Charlie (now an fan of Zen) has opted not to furnish his new home, no doubt preferring the open rooms to the confinement of his cell. In the first two episodes much is also made of Charlie's compulsive consumption of fruit. (Again, I'm guessing there isn't much fresh fruit available in prison) I was all set to start a weekly index of the fruits mentioned on Life but tonight Charlie kept his feelings to himself. I'm pretty sure I saw him working on a candy apple at one point, though.

The other part of Charlie's settlement returns him to the police force with a detective's badge. Charlie is assigned to partner with Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), whose history of alcohol abuse and compulsive sex hasn't endeared her to the brass. Dani is expected to report any non-by-the-book behavior of Charlie's to a lieutenant (Robin Weigert of Deadwood) who seems to have something invested in getting Charlie off the force.

So there are two layers to Life. Charlie and Dani work a homicide each week, each learning to trust the other. Tonight's case involved a woman shot in her car and a husband (Charles Malik Whitfield) who can't remember anything. A witness points Dani and Charlie to a 500-pound Samoan named Manny (Tyler Tuione) who carjacked the victims. There's a stylishly filmed chase scene in which Charlie, after having his hearing knocked out by a "flashbang," runs down Manny and then almost gets into a knife fight before Dani intervenes. The knife (against LAPD regulations) leads to an interesting moment between the partners. Dani confiscates the knife from Charlie but later lies to the lieutenant to protect him. Charlie, having none of it, owns up to having the blade.

The conclusion to this case is sadder and more human than many cop shows would have played it; it reminded me of something we'd see on Without A Trace. Manny gets his comeuppance with the help of some Latino car freaks. Sarah Shahi didn't have as much to do this week as in the first two episodes, but she does some great underplaying in a garage scene when she's told one of the guys who knows Manny's whereabouts wants to airbrush her on to his car.

The other part of Life, the "mythology" if you will, involves who set Charlie up twelve years ago. Last week we learned that there was a witness to the murder- a young girl - Charlie went down for that the cops left out of the report. Charlie confronts the detective who nailed him (Roger Aaron Brown), which may violate the terms of his settlement. He goes so far as to pull a traffic stop on his remarried ex and her husband (which he also pulled in the pilot) to see if she knows the girl's location, since the murder victim was a family friend. There's a room in Charlie's house with one of those only-in-cop-show flow charts about the twelve year old murder, which features Charlie's lieutenant among others. We'll be watching this storyline play out all season.

There's enough stand-alone stuff in Life that one could dip in and out week-to-week. But you'd miss Lewis' bone-dry performance and the rapport he and Shahi have going. I haven't checked the ratings, but if there's any justice Life will knock out Dirty Sexy Money and stick around on Wednesday nights.


Heroes Tuesdays: Season Two, Episode 26, "Kindred"

In “Kindred”, the third episode of Heroes’ second season, some of the characters revealed their powers to others and encountered acceptance, even intimacy. This in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing--the struggle superheroes have reconciling their loneliness is one of the genre's common themes. It’s just a shame the writers are exploring it by keeping their characters trapped in sub-par, meandering story arcs that do little to advance the grander mysteries of the show. After the first two equally slow-moving, but somewhat more intriguing episodes of this season, “Kindred” (written by J.J. Philbin and directed by Paul Edwards) seemed to finalize that this is indeed the tone that the writers are going for. The fast-paced, head-spinning ridiculousness of last year is gone for now: instead we’re stuck with a self-contained adventure soap material moving at a snail’s pace.
Read the rest of the article here.


“Is he a Vulcan?”: House

I keep expecting House to start shifting focus from its titular character onto others. After all, not only has the show brought in several new team candidates, but it has barely touched upon his past team members who are now on their own journeys. I keep waiting for the writers to set House himself aside for a week and spend more time on any of these characters, but the one constant of the first three (otherwise radically different) episodes of House’s fourth season is that they maintain a strong focus on House’s emotional state.

House would seem to reach his lowest point this week by deliberately killing himself. Perhaps context might be helpful here: a patient comes into the clinic, and the moment House comes in to talk to him, he jams a knife into a plug socket, electrocuting himself. House is fascinated, and wonders throughout the episode why he would have done this. Finally he speaks to the patient, who explains that his experiences in the moments between life and death have been the best of his life. After being berated by Wilson and angered by his teams, House decides to give it a go. He survives of course, and seems physically fine. But I hope the writers don’t brush over the larger psychological implications this has for House’s character. The man has shown himself willing to risk death in order to experience something better that his current life! Sure he’s done crazy things before, but suicidal tendencies? I don’t find this an unlikely or overdramatic twist – I totally believe it, and I like the possible dark direction this could mean for House in the future. My only worry is that the writers will present getting Cameron, Chase and Foreman back around House as all he needs to make him happy (or at least happier); or, god forbid, will ignore this event altogether.

Back to the lighter stuff. House continues to torment his team applicants, splitting them into two groups (of boys and girls) and pitting the groups against each other. Two of them are closely explored this week: Amber (Anne Dudek) and No. 13 (Olivia Wilde). The former is manipulative and irritating; thankfully, this almost definitely marks her final appearance. The latter interests House because she is ‘mysterious’, which in this show means she refuses to talk about their personal life when he asks. Wilde is a charismatic actress, and she is instantly appealing even before her character gets more do to. Her moment comes when she realises she made a big error early on in the case. It’s a plot that has been done a millions of times on every medical show, but Wilde played it beautifully. Plus it concluded in a touching final scene between her and House, in which he informed that she’d been hired. House, having one of those ‘wise mentor’ moments he obviously enjoys so much, informs her that it was the mistake which convinced him to hire her, because he knew she’d never make a similar error again. We are left with the suggestion, however implicit, that House may end up being saved not by his old team, but by his new one.

The episode has a lot of stuff going on, but it manages to keep all its balls in the air very well. The writer slip in a couple appearances for Cameron and Chase, who we see have become a solid couple and more confident individuals. Foreman gets a proper return, with a clever little sub-plot showing how he has become like House even far away from him. When talking with his team, Foreman seems to be making a strong and awkward effort to always be polite and nice. It clearly doesn’t suit him, although it fits with his character that he would persist in acting this way nonetheless. Eventually, however, he makes a gutsy ‘House-esque’ call that gets him fired. Based on early word, he’ll be back working with House by episode five. Personally I’m looking forward to it very much – the interactions between House and his former team are so far episode highlights.

Occasionally the story felt overstuffed – there are technically three patients – but that worked, at least for this week. It may well be setting a precedent for the rest of the season too, that is if the show’s format will continue to shift between House, his old team and his new team. But whether or not we’re seeing the new format now or it’s yet to be fully established, House is off to a very strong start.


"Now that's what I call moving some merchandise": Chuck

So that was fun, wasn’t it? For the most part, Chuck’s third episode delivers everything I like and hope for from this show: fun, amusment and Adam Baldwin throwing microwaves at people. Seriously, that is possibly the greatest moment in television history. Adam Baldwin throwing a MICROWAVE into someone’s FACE. And then proclaiming: “Now that’s what I call moving some merchandise”. For that moment alone, Chuck deserves an instant back-nine order.

The plot, such as it is, involves bad guys using a painting to transfer plutonium hidden in its frame. Chuck, Sarah and Casey suit up for an auction which will be attended by La Ciudad, a villainous arms dealer. From hereon in, writer Matt Miller mostly just plays around, having everything possible go wrong on Chuck’s first mission. First La Ciudad is thought to be a dodgy-looking British guy, who turns out to be MI6. (He doesn’t show up again, apparently happy to leave the proper spy work to the Americans.) Turns out La Ciudad is actually a woman, one of the weaker twists in the tale as its been done too many times before. Still, it’s following this reveal that things get really fun. We get a shootout, a knife fight, Casey throwing someone in a freezer, and the aforementioned microwave-related piece of genius. All in all, the story develops well (the odd dull moment aside) and the execution is lively.

Strong also were the scenes between Chuck and his sister Ellie. So far I have no complaints about her being detached from the main story, as their segments provide a pleasant relief from all the spy business. They have an easygoing chemistry, and Sarah Lancaster is sweet. Their final scene – Ellie telling Chuck what a great guy he is, followed by a brother-sister hug – at least partially allayed my fears about the show's emotional heart. I continue to worry about the suggestions of Chuck and Sarah as a couple; wouldn’t it be far funnier if her and Casey got together at some point?

The only big weak-link here is Morgan. This week he got his own sub-plot, but it wasn’t very funny and Joshua Gomez is often very annoying. Most irritatingly, his story got almost as much screen-time as Chuck’s, which won't work even if they find Morgan something more interesting to do than sitting in a cage. When Gomez gets good lines, he’s funny, but when he’s just doing the whole nervous nerd shtick (which Levi is far better at) he’s near insufferable.

Chuck has its faults, but they’re not ingrained into the show’s template or anything – they can be fixed. As long as Chuck’s adventures stay as fun as this one, the only problem is going to be finding things for Ellie and Morgan to do. I can feel myself getting attached to these characters already, so I really hope Chuck is only going to get better, as the ratings suggest it’s going to need all the support it can get.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Stop, or I'll kick you in the testicles!": Bones

Here's the problem with the modern police procedural's attempts to reconcile itself to the broader content standards allowed to it in comparison to, say, Columbo. Most of these shows gleefully play up the gross-out violence (here, it was the decomposed corpse the gang found out in the woods) and indulge in sending the detectives out to investigate all manner of sexual fetishists. The barely suppressed message here? If you have some sort of sexual desire outside of the "normal" ones, you're going to die. And probably painfully!

Now, I'm just going to admit upfront that I have little-to-no experience with the pony subculture, and what the show presented did, indeed, seem pretty ridiculous. But that's just the thing. As much as the show wants to play up Brennan's assertion that fetishes are a natural thing that stem from various psychological and social-conditioning reasons, it's really on the side of Booth. This shit's weird to look at, yo! Can you BELIEVE people actually do that? I can't either! It's a good thing we're red-blooded heterosexuals!

Look, I know there are only so many ways to kill a man for these sorts of shows, so you eventually have to start plugging in to whatever subcultures and off-the-road oddities the writing staffs can find. That's how you got stuff like that episode of CSI where the team investigated the furries at the convention (didn't one of them get hit by a car?). On that show, as on this one, the main character is the voice of reason, tut-tutting and telling the audience, "OK. Now, there are people out there who are different, and they deserve our respect." Meanwhile, we get shown that the consequences of being different frequently include grisly death. It's a weirdly conservative slant to the show that plays at odds with its ostensibly progressive mouthpieces.

So how was the episode outside of its detour into the pony world (which, I have to say, was surprisingly detailed for an 8 p.m. show -- I mean really!)? The policework wasn't awful, even if the show falls back too readily on the "question someone, then question someone else, then question the first person again" school of TV detective work. In general, I liked the gory aspects of the mystery (aside from Hodgins' bizarre act break of "AND HE WAS SLAUGHTERED LIKE ONE!"). I even didn't mind the heavyhanded discussion from Booth about how MAKING LOVE is different from just HAVING SEX, even as it stood in for this week's "Booth and Brennan are totally gonna do it someday" subtext. (Side note: Has anyone ever noticed that when David Boreanaz tries to toss off a laugh, he sounds uncannily like George W. Bush? Heh heh, indeed.)

Angela and Hodgins tried yet again to find out who her first husband was, but I found the story mildly diverting this week, especially that coolly hallucinatory interlude in Angela's subconscious (complete with a giant, buzzing wasp -- bugs took over Reaper tonight too, so there you go). I'm glad that this storyline is moving forward already in episode three, because I feared it might devour most of the season. Instead, the writers appear to be plunging ahead with the story movement, and I expect to see the first marriage annulled soon enough.

For me, though, the episode just wasn't as successful as it could have been because of the mixed messages it sent about the pony people. Our modern crime shows are going to have to get over their Puritan streak if they want us to take them seriously.


Color adjustment: The return of The Boondocks

The long-awaited second season premiere of The Boondocks (11:30 p.m. Eastern, Cartoon Network) indulges in all of the show’s worst tendencies -- shrill, pandering satire; too-obvious pop culture jokes; an anime-inspired fight scene that, while an interesting diversion, doesn’t fit with anything that has come before. If you're introduced to the series via tonight’s episode (airing in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim bloc), you might be tempted to write the show off as just another tone-deaf satirical cartoon with pretensions to political relevance (many of sprung up in the wake of South Park and the success of the Jon Stewart-hosted Daily Show). But to do that would be a mistake. The Boondocks, uneven as it is, is audacious and ambitious enough to be essential viewing. Some of creator Aaron McGruder's gambits fall so flat that you cringe, even as you admire the show for attempting them at all. But as South Park's political ear grows increasingly tin -- the show, while still funny, often seems to be trying to outguess the audience as to what position it will take -- The Boondocks observes life among African-Americans both through close, observational humor and broad satire. It often succeeds at the former -- making it sort of an African-American answer to King of the Hill -- and succeeds at the latter surprisingly often.


Read more here.


"On my current list of weird, that doesn’t even make the top ten.": Journeyman

Has there ever been a love triangle as strange as the one on this show? Check it: here we have Dan and wife Katie, who just happens to be Dan’s brother’s ex-girlfriend. Now throw into the mix Dan’s dead-but-not-actually-dead-just-time-traveling ex-fiancĂ© Livia, and you’ve got a geometric tangle of a love story worthy of a telenovela.
I think on Passions there was a love triangle that involved two humans and an orangutan, which is weirder…but just barely. The ins and outs of Dan’s messy love life came to the forefront in last night’s episode, which was much improved from the week before.

Dan runs into Livia again on his travels – which, I would like an explanation as to how does she keeps popping up like that – and finally gets a few answers from her. She was a traveler before she met Dan, but it stopped prior to their relationship so she decided not to tell him about it, I’m sure for fear he would think she was a nutjob. Her traveling seems to have picked up again right around the time she “died” in the plane crash. Not a whole lot revealed, but at least we’re getting somewhere. Dan lets it slip that he married Katie, and Livia is shocked and a bit upset by the news, but plays nice and tells Dan she’s glad he’s happy. She gives him her watch to keep the time, which comes back to haunt Dan later when Katie finds it in his coat pocket. You see, Dan told Katie he hadn’t seen anyone he knew on his trips. Katie catches him in the lie and is rightfully upset, although I’m not sure how much of a leg Ms. “I banged your brother for years before moving on to you” has to stand on, here. Like I said before, this is one messy triangle. Or quadrangle. Whatever.

This week’s time travel escapades bring Dan back to the day of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. I vividly remember this earthquake because, against my baseball-hating will, I was watching the World Series pregame when it happened live on the air. (I come from a house of baseball freaks. My mother has season tickets to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays games. THE DEVIL RAYS, for God’s sake. I know, it was a tough childhood.) Different than normal, however, is that Dan keeps returning to the same day instead of different days. He meets a gambling loser named Alan Pratt (played by eternaloser John Billingsley) and realizes he probably was sent there to help him. However, he keeps getting sidetracked trying to warn the cops of the impending earthquake and save his boss’ sister Charlotte, who died in one of the tunnels that day.

Despite his best efforts, Dan is unable to change the outcome for those who died in the earthquake, but he is able to save loser Alan Pratt from his fate of committing suicide in the future…by almost getting him killed in the earthquake. Which makes him appreciate life. Just go with it. In the end, we learn that Pratt becomes a lawyer for The Justice Project and frees several people from wrongful convictions, which is why it was important Dan save him. I’m really very tired of only getting a fifteen second, tacked-on explanation as to why these losers we and Dan have to spend 44 minutes with are worth saving, but in this case I adore The Justice Project so I am letting it slide. They appealed to my idealistic side, those sneaky bastards.

One thing that was different and interesting this week was to see Dan try to actively change something in the past that affects the people around him – in this case, his attempt to save his boss’ sister, Charlotte. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful it showed a different aspect to Dan’s journey that was enjoyable. The next step is to have him change something significantly in the past that alters the future in a detrimental manner. If they allow the show to go somewhere really dark, it could be much more compelling.


"That's right! It's resplendant!": How I Met Your Mother

If "Third Wheel," How I Met Your Mother's third episode of its second season, wasn't the laugh-out-loud fun-fest we know the show is capable of, it at least showed that the show isn't in any sort of slump. It was a sly, winking little hour about how a virile twentysomething male might navigate the waters of that ultimate sexual fantasy -- the tricycle. And at the peak moment, the show left most everything to the imagination, both of the audience and of Barney.

What I liked best about "Third Wheel" was that it restored the gang's easygoing dynamic, putting Ted and Robin out on the dating battlefield and leaving the other three characters back at the apartment to give them advice. It felt sort of like a bottle show (most everything took place in the apartment or the bar, aside from Robin's scenes from a generic restaurant), but that added to the show's charm, as it recycled that old plotline where the main character has something to do and has to race between the frontlines and some other room where his friends are sequestered to get advice. Sure, it defies belief, but on a show with as fun an ensemble as this one, I'm willing to go with it.

The Robin plotline didn't work nearly as well as Ted's adventures with his dates and his friends' advice to him, so I'll start there. The whole story was a little underdeveloped, I thought, even as it introduced a pretty winning moment for Cobie Smulders to indulge in a little physical comedy. Smulders playing up the attempts of Robin to shave her legs with butter was pretty funny, as was her final pratfall, but the whole story didn't quite have the twists and turns that might have made it work a little better. I did like that she kept turning to Lily for advice (Lily seems to be the hub of this group of friends -- anyone can turn to her at any time).

Ted's encounter with Winnie Cooper and Kim Kelly (sorry, couldn't resist) was far more entertaining. It didn't hurt that I like both actresses and that Josh Radnor has a nice, flirtatious chemistry with both, and it was nice to see Ted try to figure out just how lucky he might get that evening, even as he was calling Lily to dash down to the bar and help him figure out which girl might be the better one for him. And I loved the way the episode ended on a sly note of whether or not Ted did it, choosing to center on his unreadable smile.

But by far my favorite thing about the episode was just hanging out in the apartment with Marshall, Lily and Barney (with the occasional appearance by Ted). HIMYM has gotten much better at doing product placement (remember the awful attempts to integrate Red Lobster in the first season finale?), and the stuff with the Wii was both amusing and relatively good advertising. A grown man in boxers playing Wii Tennis will never not be funny, so I was glad to see the show make the most of the placement.

What was even better to me, though, was just the incidental stuff, like the flashback to when the guys got the belt (and the crown) or the dueling flashbacks about when Barney almost got a chance to ride the tricycle. I also loved Marshall and Lily arguing about when he could have a threesome, in the event of her death (she claimed it would be impossible, as she would haunt his penis). The stuff with the gang just hanging out is always golden, and you can largely tell how good an episode is going to be by how many "hanging out" scenes there are.

All in all, an enjoyable episode. Not an instant classic, but the sort you'll gladly sit through again when this show makes it to syndication (as will surely happen).

Bonus: Those clips that previewed what we could see online (featuring Lily kissing Marshall AND Barney) that played over the credits were pretty great. They DID send me online to see what I could see.


Monday, October 08, 2007

"Bite her, mom! Bite her!": Brothers and Sisters

Initiate gushing sequence: now.

I am in love with this show. I want to have, approximately, a million of it's babies. Usually here at SDD, we try and distance ourselves from that which we love, for fear that we won't be able to see it with an appropriately critical eye (I'm looking at you, David. It's not Heroes alone that keeps you from HIMYM.) However, fear not, gentle readers, I have plenty to complain about, despite my ongoing love affair with the Berlanti-verse. That said, we'll save my griping for later.

Despite an opening scene fake out at a soldier's funeral, it's established pretty quickly that this episode brings a bruised and battered Justin home from the war. While I'm pleased about this for a number of reasons, at the top of my list is the fact that (and maybe you've picked this up from my Betty reviews) I'm not a fan of a scattered ensemble show. While I get the necessity of having Justin go back for a second tour of duty, it's just not the same without him home, so his return, while it's going to be inevitably bumpy, is more than welcome.

Additionally, the longer I watch this show, the more I'm struck by the great work of Matthew Rhys as Kevin. (Side note: Crap, I'm even more impressed now that I've visited his imdb site and found out that he's Welsh?! That is one solid American accent.) While I'm not always completely sold on Kevin's main storylines as they are, he's always beyond solid when doing fringe or ensemble work. Solid, snarky and sensitive, he is the epitome of the perfect man. Or at the very least, the perfect gay best friend. He delivers comedically without seeming one-note and emotionally without seeming insincere. His performance is always underrated and always strong, even when the plot has him doing nothing substantially more than being a good boyfriend, brother and son.

As always, the family interactions are what make this show tick and this episode was no exception. The fracas between Kevin, Kitty and Nora and the Limbaugh-lite character was stellar, as was Kitty fearing the coming fallout from her fiance. Phew. Additionally, it sure was nice to have the entire family together again at last.

Not so nice this episode was the Sarah and Joe plotline. It felt tired and rushed at the same time and while exciting rumors are swirling about a pending rebound relationship for Sarah (thanks, Michael Ausiello!) it was just too much devilry for me, pushing Joe back with his OTHER ex-wife (Yeah, remember her? And his son with her? Man, season 1 had a lot of abandoned plotlines ...)

Also, how much weeping can one make Sally Field do? I mean, obviously, it's what the woman was born to do, but SERIOUSLY.

Unfortunately there were also things that absolutely didn't work in this episode. I'm sorry and I know I'll be crucified by my fellow contributors, but I just don't dig the VanCamp. Listen, she just isn't an interesting character. She's whiny and selfish and brings nothing but crappy plots as far as the eye can see. Now she brings in a new incompetent friend (Cass from "John from Cincinnati," even!) who is evidently destined to break up Tommy's crumbling marriage. SPEAKING of Tommy's marriage is no one really going to bring up the fact that his wife is OBVIOUSLY suffering from some incapacitating grief and post-partum depression or are they just going to let their marriage crash and burn like every other marriage on this show? Gah.

Another mishandled plot is this whole, "Is Saul gay" thing. I, for one, could not care less. I guess I just always assumed he's asexual. (No really, I know, like, six people like that.) Anyway, it's not interesting because, well, there's no real way to tell either way. He kind of half-assedly pursued Holly, but it never really seemed like his heart was in it. Additionally, he doesn't seem particularly hung up on, um, Summer's dad from The O.C. So, whatever . . . I give up.

As a capper, it's also a distraction to have to avert my eyes from THIS:
Jaysus, it's like staring into the surface of the SUN! No good can come from this.


Believe me Senator Tangerine, if there's one thing that Iowans hate it's people that are TOO TAN. I, however, will overlook it for now, for besides this horrible, horrible mistake, this show is love.


"I'm basically watching pretty boobs.": Brotherhood

Remember what I said last week about nothing much ever happening on Brotherhood? Well, it still applies, even in an episode that had a major plot point like a brand new regular character joining the cast. Brotherhood is a slow burn of a series, and even though this episode had some incredibly fantastic scenes, it strikes me that the series may be too much of a slow burn for its own good (or maybe I should have just reviewed the season as a whole -- with this show, like with so many other slow-moving cable dramas, I'm flying blind).

The big development in this episode was the arrival of Colin Carr from Ireland. He's the Caffees' estranged cousin, who was apparently a bad influence when they were younger (Ma Caffee has to be talked into just having Colin around, it would seem). The show has recruited the great stage actor Brian O'Byrne to play the part, and the actor integrates with the cast surprisingly quickly. But most of the episode focuses on how Colin's presence affects pre-existing relationships, so it's hard to say just what his storyline will be going forward. If the show just wanted to give O'Byrne some work, that's terrific. But I hope that the show has larger plans for him (some of which are hinted at here, but is it really worth speculating?).

My two favorite scenes in the episode featured strained marriages. As always, the marriage of Tommy and Eileen Caffee and its slow disintegration featured prominently, especially as Tommy seemed more comfortable with his sister as his campaign manager and didn't turn to his wife for as much help. The scene where Tommy went on local talk radio was kind of a fake (especially as it doesn't seem horribly likely that anyone would be surprised or put-off at this point by Tommy's brother's criminal past), but the quiet cat fight between the two women was perfect stuff, and I loved how Eileen still seemed to know him better (probably just from the years of marriage).

My other favorite scene focused on the crumbling relationship of Declan, the cop who's struggling to hold his whole life together. After he went over to his girl's house (I'm not sure they're married, actually, and Wikipedia is no help) to fool her parents into thinking the two were still together, he tried to kiss her, only to be rebuffed. That night, he sat alone at home and launched into a monologue about how she was the only woman for him into her answering machine. The monologue was a little overwritten, but Ethan Embry made the whole thing work, almost in spite of itself.

Now, to be honest, I'm not sure there's a lot else to say here. There were plenty of developments on the crime front (it seems an Irish/Italian gang war is brewing), but I often find the crime storylines on this show a little boring and derivative. Oh well. I'm in Brotherhood for the small moments, and even if this episode was all small, some of those moments were good enough to keep me coming back.