Thursday, April 24, 2008

"If I'm such a bad dad, why are we all dancing?": Thursday night TV

We just realized we have a couple of Ugly Bettys from BEFORE the strike (thanks, TiVO!), so we'll catch up with that show over the weekend, hopefully, and see if I'm still the only critic in America to prefer season two to season one. In the meantime, look below the jump for thoughts on the NBC comedies and the return of Lost.

So, Earl's out of the coma now right? Because I kinda zoned out there and paid attention to just about everything else in my apartment instead of that episode of My Name Is Earl. It's not that it was bad, per se, just that I find that I don't terribly care about the show anymore. Jamie Weinman had a great post about how the show kind of never lived up to its promise because it was always going too ironic, but I'd go one step farther and say that the show's tone shifts have always been a bit awkward because the show doesn't want you to take it seriously until it does, and when it does, it never really prepares you to do so. I liked the second season of the show a lot, but the third season has left something to be desired. Some of the stuff in prison was all right, but everything since Earl got out (even before the strike) has been more miss than hit.

Scrubs, meanwhile, is a show that used to be able to do those tonal shifts and has had trouble in recent seasons. This episode, however, was probably the best of this problematic seventh season, and it did manage to pull off the tonal shifts very well, mostly because Bob Kelso is a character we know and love and his forced retirement has been a well-handled storyline, played out mostly in the background until these last couple of episodes. Ken Jenkins has always been one of the more underrated parts of the Scrubs ensemble, and it was wonderful to see Kelso's wry smile as he drove away from Sacred Heart for good (though I suspect this was planned when only a handful of episodes remained, and now they'll have to shoehorn him into a whole new season -- Libby speculates they'll toss him on the hospital board somehow).

The dinner party episode and the chair model episode were probably more emotionally consistent, but tonight's episode of The Office made me laugh more than either of those episodes. I think the problem with these episodes is that they feel a little rushed, now that the series only has a handful of episodes to cram big bundles of plot into. That said, the new pace is a little thrilling, just because of how unusual it is for the show. The plots where Jim ends up being Michael Jr. are always darkly funny (I especially loved Toby's desperation in that plotline), and it was good to have Ryan back and see just how desperate his life has become since he was promoted to corporate. This show's really firing on all cylinders recently, and I'm glad they found the form they had a few seasons ago.

And then there's 30 Rock, which was one of their funniest episodes of the season, if only because the elaborate Amadeus riff (of all things) was so perfectly timed and executed. I don't have a lot to say about this one except to say that I enjoyed it a lot, and it was the perfect capper to a string of comedies (I love this new schedule they've got going -- it makes a lot more sense than 30 Rock following Earl).

Finally, tonight's Lost was another great example of why I continue to be endlessly devoted to the show. There was some dumb stuff (the seemingly endless parade of extras that died under the gun fire from the soldiers and the dumb "I know Morse code!" reversal), but everything in the episode that focused on Ben (which was. . .about 90% of it) was pure pulp awesomeness. The scene where the monster swooped into camp and took out the soldiers, crackling with lightning all around Ben as he knelt over the body of his dead daughter, weeping? Simply terrific, and the sort of bold, cinematic storytelling this show can pull off when it's confident that it doesn't constantly need to catch up viewers who just might be tuning in. I daresay that being forced to squeeze eight episodes into five or six is going to make the show even better -- or at least less open to in-the-moment scrutiny. This was, for better or worse, Michael Emerson's Emmy tape, and it could very well win him the prize. Emerson's an incredibly versatile performer, and his work in the scene where he realized that, yes, he was going to lose his daughter was a masterful run through a huge number of emotions. Meanwhile, the filmmaking in the episode was as strong as the series has ever been, particularly the hazy, shady last scene, where Ben threatened Widmore in his own bedroom, shot elegantly in shadow, and the terrific gun battles with the soldiers. It was dumb to play the "IS CLAIRE DEAD" beat and then have her survive an EXPLODING HOUSE, but Emilie de Ravin is shore purty, so I'll allow it.

So that's a night of television. And now I'm realizing that there was an episode where Betty became manic and insane because of magic perfume or something? What?

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