Friday, May 19, 2006

Odds and sods

The Cone of Silence is lifted, baby! In this entry, in order, the "Grey's Anatomy" finale, "Lost," the latest "American Idol" boot, the CW schedule and "The O.C." finale. (Since it's freshest, it's way at the bottom, so you have plenty of time to slam on the brakes if you haven't seen it.)

"Grey's Anatomy": This three-hour finale illustrated everything I love about this show and everything about it that drives me absolutely freaking nuts. On the one hand, you have scenes like Cristina choking on her big moment during Burke's surgery, or the "Breakfast Club"-inspired series of This Is Who I Am monologues during the inquisition, or Alex finally displaying some humanity after Denny dies. On the other, you have Katherine Heigl being asked to cry -- twice -- and Callie being transformed from a cool, tough woman into quivering mess, and Meredith and McDreamy doing a note-for-note recreation of that painful "Sex and the City" arc where Carrie was cheating on Aidan with Big, and Shonda going so far in trying to exorcise her high school demons (as she admits on her blog) that she has all the characters go to prom, and...

Why must you be so good some of the time, "Grey's Anatomy," and so cringe-inducing the rest?

Here's the thing: Shonda's repeated defense of Meredith is that she wanted to be able to write female characters who are deeply flawed, who are allowed to do the same awful things that male drama characters like Doug Ross or Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey get away with all the time without outraged cries from the audience. And while I do think there's a certain double standard about what people will accept from a woman versus a man, those guys I mentioned are interesting and charismatic and likable enough when they're not breaking hearts and decapitating corpses and killing cops that you're willing to follow them week after week even when they're doing the bad stuff. On those occasions when Meredith's not involved in a plot about her love life (either dealing with her mom or helping out one of the other interns), I do kind of like her, but those moments are so infrequent compared to her constant angsting over McDreamy -- not to mention all those seemingly unrelated storylines that always turn into a metaphor for that relationship -- that I really, really can't stand her. Or him, for that matter. Either be with your wife or don't, dude. Waffling and sneaking off for a quickie with your ex while you're out on a date with the missus is not cool on pretty much any level. And Meredith wins the "You stay classy, San Diego" award for doing the same with McDreamy about 30 seconds after her boyfriend professed that he had finally gotten over the death of his wife thanks to her.

And the notion that Izzie might have gotten off thanks to the interns' "I am Spartacus" tactics just makes my blood boil. If you're going to have one of your characters do something as insane and dangerous as that, you have to have the show treat it as something that insane and dangerous -- you have to be willing to go all the way and either destroy her career or take down all her accomplices in the process. Instead, Webber let himself be bamboozled, and then Izzie took everyone off the hook with her confession.

Again, Shonda has that David E. Kelley thing where the good moments are just so damn good that I'm willing to suffer through the bad ones for a while, but my patience for Kelley usually gets tried by season three. As I said the last time, I get that Shonda is head over heels in love with all her characters and that that devotion no doubt is responsible for how popular the show is right now. But in the long haul, a creator needs some kind of emotional distance from the people they write about, or else things will go sour and self-indulgent in a hurry.

"Lost": Hey, look, another clip show! Oh, wait, it's not a clip show but an incredible simulation! All right! Way to kill time, guys! Like "Grey's," "Lost" is a show that does certain things so well that I put up with a lot of the junk that comes with it, but unless the finale lays a lot of cards on the table -- and I'm talking enough cards for the Brady kids to have a house-building contest -- I may be out. I appreciated some of the added glimpses of The Others, but aside from Miss Clue, did we learn anything significant that we didn't already know? Michael was captured by The Others and blackmailed into freeing Henry? Already figured that out. The Others aren't who they pretend to be? You showed us the fake beards months ago, fellas. Michael really loves his boy but doesn't know much about him? Shock. Shock. There were some nice moments here and there -- Eko suddenly becoming the button's biggest acolyte, while Locke goes back to being the knife-wielding man of action he was early in season one -- but fool me once (the season one finale), shame on you; fool me twice (an equally vague season two finale), and I'm watching Tina Fey's show.

"American Idol": Elliott's a nice guy, and he was Marian's favorite, and it's a shame he won't at least get the runner-up treatment, since I doubt he'll have the post-show opportunities that Chris and Paris will get. But he only occasionally made me do more than shrug and say, "That was nice." And with him gone, we have the unofficial Dave Kingman Memorial "American Idol" Finals, with two singers who swing and miss a lot but occasionally knock one into the vacant lot across the street. Unless there's a phone capacity issue the way there was in season two, I think Taylor wins in a walk, but it's a moot point; given Taylor's rabid cult audience and the producer's high image of Kat, I think we're in for another Ruben/Clay co-winners situation.

My big fear is that they'll follow last year's format, where each finalist has to perform The Single (and I cannot wait to hear Taylor attempt to tackle the latest ode to the Diane Warren catalogue), then another crap-ass original song, and then a reprise of something they did earlier in the season. I know The Single is obligatory, and the encore is nice, I'd like to see at least one fresh, potentially Moment-worthy performance of Taylor and Kat's choosing on Tuesday instead of further proof that the "Idol" songwriting team should be working at Guantanamo Bay and not the Kodak Theater.

After I got back from the CW upfront, I thought about blogging it right away and decided I would rather clean out the TiVo so I could do a bigger post like this. Not much that hasn't already been analyzed to death all over the place, but a couple of observations:
  • When Alexis Bledel and Kristen Bell did their scripted online patter about the similarities between Rory and Veronica, it was another stark reminder that Alexis is not a good comedienne at all. If "Veronica Mars" doesn't succeed in its new home, any chance Rory can get into one of those "Dynasty"-style car accidents where she emerges from plastic surgery played by a new, blonder actress?
  • It was funny to compare the crowd reaction to the return of "Veronica" and the return of "One Tree Hill." The former was greeted with wild applause; the latter was more like the sound of one hand clapping. If they weren't going to bring back "Everwood," they might as well have sent "One Tree Hill" to oblivion while they're at it. It's one thing to have a schedule dominated by returning shows and another to have one of those returning shows be something only enjoyed by 12-year-old girls hoping to become the third Mrs. Chad Michael Murray. You send a bad message that way, both to the audience and to potential show creators.
  • Fienberg (who has a very good "O.C." finale breakdown, in case you don't find mine satisfying enough) has started a plan to have the Kevin Williamson midseason soap "Hidden Palms" nicknamed "Hairy Palms" by everyone he can find. I am wholly on board with this plan; spread the word.

And now, we're coming to "The O.C.," so stop reading if you don't want to know who died. Seriously, just stop. Oh, what the hell, you all know, right?

Look, I wanted Marissa dead as much as the next fan. I've wanted her dead pretty much since Oliver showed up in season one, if not before. The combination of bad actress and wholly unsympathetic character was always a toxic one, and when I started hearing the rumors that Marissa was dying along with Mischa's career (good luck in the movie business, where there are dozens of actresses at least as pretty but with actual ability), I cheered.

But I don't like the way it played out, at all. Ryan has always been and will always be an angsty character. It's his reason for being on this show. But there's a difference between the "Sorry, nice rich Jewish man, for accidentally burning down your father-in-law's model home and getting into fights at every cotillion" kind of angst and the "My explosive temper triggered a series of events that led to the tragic death of the only girl I've ever loved" angst, and I don't see how either Ryan or the show pulls out of this. Julie can still be funny and bitchy after her wrinkly sugar daddy husband dies, but her daughter? Does Summer get over her best friend dying anytime soon? Is Taylor quite as amusing taking Marissa's place in the inner circle? Bah. No good can come from this.

Aside from finally recognizing what a horrible mistake the last two years' worth of Sandy at work stories were and sending him back to the public defenders office, I'm not sure I like any of where next season is heading. If NBC doesn't blink and leaves "Studio 60" in the timeslot, it and "Grey's" are definitely going to get higher priority from me.

Anyway, I think that's quite enough from me, so let's open it up for the comments. And, of course, I'm finally getting back on schedule just as most of the shows I follow have finished their season. Get ready for a whole lotta cable dramas and open question threads in the coming months.


Johanna said...

This was terrific, Alan. I've been checking the blog for days, waiting for the Cone of Silence to end. And it was totally worth it. I agree completely with everything you said about Grey's, Lost, The O.C., Idol. Everything.

And thanks for The CW upfronts recap, too. Loved that. Laughed out loud at the third Mrs. Chad Michael Murray comment. Ha!

dez said...

I liked parts of this last ep of "Lost," mostly the part involving Sayid being the only one smart enough to realize Michael's a big ol' lying liar. Hope we get to see some wrath of Hurley once Michael is exposed, too. And those Others need to die. All of them, except Alex, of course. But the rest? Dead! Miss Clue? Dead! Gorton's Fisherman? Dead! Niedermeyer? DEAD!

I am shameless in my bloodlust.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I think you're being a little unfair to Lost. The complaint is always that questions are raised and either never answered or left to hang for far too long. So when a big new questions comes up (why did Michael kill Ana Lucia and Libby) and they answer it definitively two eps later, they're telling us stuff we already know. Not really--we could have been wrong; we just happened to be right. Hell, I was pretty sure that killing Ana Lucia was deliberate; know we know that she just got in the way.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tosy and Cosh, it's one thing to confirm everyone's obvious suspicion. It's quite another to devote an entire episode to confirming it. Either move the plot forward significantly or give me some really strong character moments, and I'm happy, and this episode had neither.

undercover black man said...

My apologies for being off-topic(s), but I just have to say... how freakin' cool is the "Deadwood" promo on HBO, with the Beatitudes? A small work of art unto itself, that promo... and it accomplishes its mission of making me thirst and hunger for the new season.

Sars said...

Aw, a Kong reference. Well played, sir.

Tosy And Cosh said...

I guess I found the ep valuable in that it not only confirmed what was going on with Michael, but made his actions believeable. I'm glad we got to see the process of how they broke him. And the Eko hell monologue was worthy of the price of admission all by its lonesome.

Anonymous said...

OC was really good. Grey's overblown but effective. LOST was dull. AI is not too interesting.

jim treacher said...

I'm not as disgusted with "Lost" as you are, but I'm not holding out much hope for next Wednesday either. Anybody who thinks we're ever getting any real answers, see: Alias.

rebecca said...

your blog was linked from TWoP... i must say, your assessment of Grey's Anatomy is exactly how I feel about the show. It has its priceless moments, but the finale was filled with so much blind self-indulgence (Mer/Der and Izzie) that it completely jumped the shark.

Anon said...

You know, after reading Shonda Rimes' defense (which I'd never seen before), I'm actually more sympathetic to Meredith as a character. But the truth is, if you want to write a character like Doug Ross or Vic Mackey, you have to write him/her from a place of strength, not weakness. The character doesn't have to be correct all of the time, but he/she does have to present a certain degree of resolve, a certain sense of self that makes his/her actions plausible, even if despicable. Meredith does despicable and stupid things explicitly because she _lacks_ a sense of self.

Frankly, I would advise Shonda Rimes to look at how several of the shows you have mentioned have failed to capitalize on their female characters, with the writers unable to figure out what to do with strong, capable female characters (and actresses) -- Camryn Manheim and Lisa Gay Hamilton on "The Practice," Cynthia Nixon and (to a lesser extent) Kim Catrall on "Sex and the City," and, my current idee fixe on this topic, CCH Pounder on "The Shield" -- the woman easily stands toe to toe with Chiklis' Vic Mackey (Hell, she scares the entire Strike Team), and yet she's never been given a story arc worthy of her talent (This may change in the final season, by giving her the captain's job and _actually allowing her to perform it_). In police procedurals you can tell the writing staff has hit a wall via the pointless promotion or demotion -- Pounder (in season 3, was it?), as well as Melissa Leo, Isabella Hofman, and Michelle Forbes from "Homicide". On other shows they just leave on a pretense, like Khandi Alexander on "NewsRadio."

On "Grey's," there are several women who have a strong presences: Kate Walsh, Sandra Oh and especially Chandra Wilson. I am particularly concerned that Wilson's going to be shunted off onto a kinder, gentler, I'm-a-mommy-now storyline. Her character is a confident professional woman -- a female counterpart to McGinley's Dr. Cox on "Scrubs" -- and it would be a waste to have her devolve into a weak, wishy-washy mother hen character who gets all broken up about her interns' troubles. (It would be even worse if the writers started confusing "confident" with "sassy.") I found it heartening to see her yelling at her suck-ups in the finale -- Hell, I would have liked to have seen her kick Heigl's ass, which she should have done the week before when she saw Izzy and Denny in bed together.

In short, the raw material for a female Doug Ross is there. The writers just have to look in the right spot.


Joel said...

I'm surprised no one's played the "this is TV... it's not supposed to be realistic!" card with you, Alan. Maybe that's going on in your Star-Ledger inbox :).

If Shonda wanted to see everyone in the hospital all gussied up, she could have done a hospital fund-raiser. This whole "prom" thing was just silly. And the fact that Team Intern didn't get sent home to fear for their jobs after they covered for Izzie losing her marbles just felt completely wrong to me, no matter what "TV reality" is versus "reality reality".

Izzie should have been banned from the hospital (It shouldn't have been hard for Webber to know who did what, since Izzie was the only intern who wasn't wearing scrubs and was only allowed to visit Denny during visitors hours. This means she was more culpable than the rest of them) and not even given a chance to quit after Denny died. The punnishment for Team Intern shouldn't have been to plan this "prom," it should have been a two-month suspension.

Hopefully, the severe punishments for the Denny Debacle will come next year. Shonda apparently has all this planned out already, so maybe she's just giving us a chance to speculate before she lowers the boom. I hope so.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The most notable message in my in-box at work comes from a 16-year-old "One Tree Hill" who's deeply offended by my comments about the show's survival.

I actually did have the realism debate with a friend yesterday, who argued that the show has never aspired for the realism of "ER" (early seasons), and that the hospital is really just a metaphor for family or whatever. I'll go with that to a point, but when a character does something as mind-bogglingly stupid and dangerous as Izzie cutting that wire, my willing suspension of disbelief becomes very, very unwilling. That they weren't all fired on the spot, or at least put on indefinite suspensions pending an investigation, is absurd even by this show's standards.

Anonymous said...

Hairy Palms! HA. That's really funny. Seriously. Totally original.

Amazing that you and Feiney can criticize comedies out there when that's the shit you think is funny.

larrymcg said...

I don't understand the One Tree Hill renewal, either. I mean, it makes sense to renew a quality low-rated series (Veronica Mars) and it makes sense to renew a terrible high-rated series (7th Heaven), but why renew a terrible low-rated series?

I'm disappointed they didn't go with the Spelling pilot Split Decisions. I thought that was an interesting premise with a good lead actress.

Matt said...

Allegedly, all of the CW's drama pilots tested through the floor, which was yet another reason Seventh Heaven got the last second pickup.

As for OTH's pickup, it's all about demographics. OTH has a VERY VERY loyal audience of 12-15 year old girls who think they're going to be the next Mrs. Chad Michael Murray. Advertisers seeking to target that audience will shell out for OTH ads in a way they won't for a show with a bigger more cross-sectional audience. What's truly interesting is that the CW schedule apparently nearly flipped Sunday and Monday's programming, putting the UPN staple comedies on Monday and an Everwood/Runaways block on Sunday.

NotCarrie said...

I love all of those shows and great comments on them all. (Well, I don't watch Idol, but that's ok)

I'm one of the few who didn't want Marissa to die.

Diana said...

Ok found your blog through TWoP and I love it. So funny. I IM'd the Chad Michael Murray joke to a girlfriend and we both bookmarked your site immediately. Keep up the snarky work!

Lindy said...

I'm seriously annoyed that One Tree Hill and Seventh Heaven live on while Everwood is dead. There is no justice in the TV world.

I'm with you 100% on your analysis of Grey's, Alan. It's never realistic, and most of the time I don't mind -- I don't even mind the outright silliness of something like a hospital prom. But at some point you can't ignore the voice in your head screaming "No hospital/surgeon/intern would EVER get away with that!" Izzie cutting Denny's LVAD line was that kind of moment. I'm somewhat mollified by the fact that Izzie is no longer an intern, but I'm willing to bet she'll be back at Seattle Grace in Season 3. Blech.