Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hit somebody!

For today's column, we did our first mailbag in a while, starting with a bunch of letters blasting NBC and the AFA for the fate of "Book of Daniel."

Got to see "Gilmore Girls" last week on a DVD screener, so I was able to successfully stay away from the TV all night, just in case my remote control finger slipped and I wound up on any part of the State of the Union.

Really liked the "Gilmore," though. One of the weirdest paced shows of all time. We'll go a month of episodes where not a single thing happens, and then we get one like this with major plot movement: Lorelai dealing with the reality of Luke's daughter, Rory essentially taking away Paris' job at the paper (and Logan proving that even an asshole can be a useful asshole now and then), and, of course, the knock-down, drag-out Battlin' Gilmore family reunion.

Much as I'd missed Richard and Emily for the last batch of episodes, it made sense for them to be out of the show for a little while, both because Lorelai and Rory didn't want anything to do with them, and because it made the big fight into an event. Loved the frequent time cuts and mood changes, even if every family fight I've ever witnessed or been involved in goes from bad to worse and doesn't have occasional pauses for laughter. I'm also glad that they didn't suddenly forget that Lorelai has as much reason to be mad at her parents as Rory does -- or that Rory wasn't exactly blameless in all of this.

With nothing on the big four after 9, I TiVo'ed "Supernatural" to see how that's held up since I last saw it in the fall, but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. Maybe tonight before "Veronica Mars." Click here to read the full post

Let's be careful out there

When you write the TV column at a newspaper, everyone in the newsroom wants to bend your ear about their favorite show. (And, in return, I'm always bugging our Knicks beat writer about starting a campaign to get Isiah Thomas fired.) Yesterday, I got hit up by a couple of "Grey's Anatomy" fans, who had loved the latest episode but still felt like Meredith is the least interesting character on the show. Marian and I finally got around to watching it last night, and I think this was one of the stronger ones of the season -- and Meredith was a big reason why. I've seen so many actors and actresses have award-baiting crying jags that I've become numb to them, but Meredith's freak-out in the supply closet was so well-played by Ellen Pompeo that it really got to me. Every now and then, she provides evidence for why she gets to have a show named after her.

Today's column was an easy one: a review of the "Hill Street Blues" DVD set and how one of the greatest dramas of all time hasn't aged that well. But even if most of it seems terribly cliched in light of all the shows that have imitated it over the last 25 years, there are so many great moments that I felt they deserved a list. In no particular order...

  • Two different breakdowns by J.D. LaRue, who was usually played for laughs but could slay you when things got serious. The first is after Harry Garibaldi gets murdered over his gambling problem, and J.D. starts destroying the men's room at the local bar because he knew Harry was in trouble and didn't do anything. I just remember him curled up in Washington's arms saying, "I'm not drinking, I'm not drinking, I'm not drinking..." The other was in one of the last episodes of the series. A perp tries to shoot LaRue in the face, but his gun misfires three times in a row. J.D. spends the rest of the episode on a comic high, but in the last scene, Neil finds him sitting alone in the locker room, crying because, "I almost died today, and I've got nobody to talk to about it."
  • At the end of David Milch's first episode, "Trial By Fury," Furillo bends the law severely to put away two thugs who raped and murdered a nun, and feels guilty enough about doing it to go to confession. (Ten years later, nobody on Milch's "NYPD Blue" would feel nearly that guilty about doing far worse to the Constitution.)
  • From the David Mamet episode: Officer McBride (Mamet's wife, Lindsay Crouse, whose inclusion in the episode was a prerequisite for Mamet taking Milch's dare to write it) is feeling troubled about killing an armed robber, until Norm Buntz gives a her a pep talk that compares her to a hero in a war.
  • More Dennis Franz, but in a different role: bad cop Sal Benedetto reaches the end of the road by taking hostages in a bank and killing himself while being videotapes by a police robot.
  • The death of the Pickpocket With Many Names. By this point in the series, it had become almost a joke that Belker was the Angel of Death, that anyone he got close to would die in his arms in the middle of the street (Captain Freedom, the gay informant). Still, I liked this scene because it brought an end to the series' best running gag by finally having the guy tell Mick has real name.
  • Speaking of running gags paying off: Buck Naked gets almost all the way through testifying as a prosecution witness when his need to expose himself gets the better of him.
  • The best Hill and Renko domestic disturbance scene of all time: the two have to find a way to get a cow out of an amateur butcher's top-floor apartment as the guy explains to them that cows "got no down genes!"
  • An old con Esterhaus put away as years ago is on the verge of getting out and starts sending the Sarge letters that seem threatening, but when the two meet up, he wants to hug Phil and thank him for turning his life around. One of the best early examples of how the show always tried to go against your expectations.
  • Five words: Vic Hitler, the Narcoleptic Comic.
  • Five more words: Jeffrey Tambor in a dress.

Any other "Hill Street" fans out there care to pipe in? This is just off the top of my head.

Click here to read the full post

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shipoopi!

These days, Marian and I don't get around to "Grey's Anatomy" until Monday nights, so more on that tomorrow. Instead, I spent most of my Sunday doing the Fox comedy nostalgia thing: "Malcolm," "King of the Hill," "Simpsons" and "Family Guy" -- and, once again, I find myself laughing more at "Family Guy" than the others combined. Either the show has gotten a lot better in its second incarnation or its rhythms have just grown on me, but I like it a lot more now than I did years ago.

For those who didn't see it, last night's show had Peter lucking into a spot on the Patriots' roster, where he scored touchdowns but annoyed the hell out of Tom Brady with his celebration antics, highlighted by a full-length, stadium-wide performance of "Shipoopi," from "The Music Man." Knowing Seth MacFarlane's musical tastes, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the entire episode was done as an excuse to do that "Shipoopi" production number, which was both hysterical and impressively choreographed/animated.

One question: didn't Brady attend Homer Simpson's obnoxious touchdown celebration school back in the last "Simpsons" Super Bowl episode? If so, methinks he doth protest Peter's antics too much. Click here to read the full post

Come on, get happy

When my wife and I are in the car together, I have this habit of controlling the music, first with the radio stations and eventually with the playlists on my iPod. It used to drive her crazy, as there was only so much Springsteen or Stones she could listen to in a given month. But in the last couple of years, she's stopped complaining as much -- and a few months ago, in fact, she said, "You know, your taste has really expanded lately. I like it."

I thought about it, and I realized that most of the new groups and styles I was playing for her, I had discovered through TV. And she was right; if "The O.C." or "Grey's Anatomy" or "Scrubs" hadn't led me straight to all these songs, they had sent me in their general directions. New York radio is pretty awful, and I haven't made the investment in satellite radio yet, so most of my exposure to new music was coming through my job.

So when I went out to LA for press tour, one of my goals was to talk to as many of the people responsible for my new and improved taste as I could. (Or, as my friend Dan argued, maybe I just wanted them to declare me cool.) I did so many music-related interviews that I wound up with two stories: a mega story about how scripted TV has replaced radio and MTV as the place to break bands, and a profile of Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor for "O.C." and "Grey's."

And speaking of music, a few weeks back I wrote about the bizarre recurrence of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" at the exact same time whenever I worked out. For the first time in a while, I didn't hear it at all when I exercised yesterday; at the point where that song usually came on, I got "Time For You," by The Tories. (You may remember it as the theme song from "Jesse" -- or, as my friend Phil puts it, the only good thing about "Jesse.") Click here to read the full post

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Galactica

It's not often that I find myself liking a TV episode more than its creator does. There are plenty of times where the opposite is true (see any episode of "7th Heaven"). But I was still surprised to hear Ronald Moore trashing Friday night's "Battlestar Galactica" in his podcast after I'd enjoyed it so much.

Basically, Moore spends the entire podcast rending his garments and throwing himself on the audience's mercy because he feels the episode doesn't do a very good job of establishing the questionable ethics of the fleet's black market, or of Apollo's relationship with his past and present women, and that pretty much every scene feels like something you've seen dozens of times before in other movies and TV shows.

And, in retrospect, I think he's right about a lot of the show's faults, but in the moment, I thought it worked much better than he did because of the performances of Jamie Bamber and guest star Bill Duke. I dismissed Bamber in the miniseries and early episodes as the token prettyboy that every sci-fi show, even the good ones, gets stuck with, but I've developed a real appreciation of him over time. This whole suicidal Apollo arc could feel out of left field, but he has me buying it.

Duke, meanwhile, is one of those guys for whom someone dreamed up that cliche aboutreading the phone book and making it interesting. I like Michael Clarke Duncan and all, but how much better would "Daredevil" have been with Duke as the Kingpin?

So while I think the overexposition by the hooker at the end was awful, and that the child prostitute thing was a cheat, I loved the two central performances, as well as a deeper look at the rest of the Rag Tag Fleet. Hey, they can't all be "Pegasus."

Meanwhile, I have this one reader who hated "The Office" on first sight, yet out of some masochistic or loyal notion, gives it another shot every time I write an article about it. So when he saw my profile of the supporting actors, he tried it yet again and hated it yet again -- with one exception. Even he had to admit that this exchange between Stanley and Michael was genius:
Stanley: "This wasn't a hate crime, Michael."
Michael: "Well, I hated it!"
This is the first time since the pilot that they've even come close to borrowing a British plotline, since the original had an episode where David gets all worked up because someone e-mailed around a photo of his head on a naked woman's body, only to cool it at the end when he discovers the prankster is his buddy Finchy. At this point, though, the American characters are all so well-defined that even when the plot is similar, the episode isn't. Loved Jim's increasing levels of annoyance with Kelly, Michael's creepy stalker look at Ryan the receptionist, Dwight trying to be caller 107, Ken Howard as the perfectly-named Ed Truck, and the two poignant moments: Pam's 7 voicemails to Jim, and Michael's realization (in the scene with Ed) that he has no friends or family outside the office. I know I've been tough on Carell at times in the past, but I think both he and the writers have finally gotten a handle on the irritation/pathos ratio with Michael.

(Interestingly, when the cast and crew were at press tour, Greg Daniels said that he and the other writers got a better idea of how to write Michael sympathetically after they saw "40-Year-Old Virgin.")

And, as promised 8,000 years ago, "Lost." After the great Mr. Eko episode a few weeks ago, we've had two stinkers in a row: first, the characters' chronic inability to ask follow-up questions reaches its ridiculous apex when Jack and company fail to come away from their parley with The Others with any new information; and this week, yet another attempt to apologize for Charlie's whiny uselessness by bringing up his family issues. Unless they involve a new character (say, Libby) or the writers think of something really new to say about an old one, the show just needs to abolish all the flashbacks. They're adding nothing except another excuse for the writers to delay answering anything. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Too far to care

Still way out of synch. Haven't gotten to "Lost" yet, but I saw "Veronica Mars" last week at press tour.

The good:
  • Rob and company faked me out on Veronica and Duncan's break-up. I should have seen that coming, since A)Veronica never acts that jealous and stupid, and B)Veronica is always 12 steps ahead of the plot, but they got me. Part of it is that I didn't notice the use of the Paula Cole theme from "Dawson's Creek" during one of her moping scenes; that should have tipped me off right away, since Rob used to write the mopey adventures of Dawson, Joey and Pacey.
  • More Lamb. I just love this guy's smugness. Even when he's right (Veronica was pulling one over on the FBI), he's wrong (he never should've fallen for the ATM card scam).
  • Lucy Lawless. Ever since she became an honorary TV critic for being the "date" of one of the critics at the TCA Awards a couple of years ago, and a tremendous good sport overall, I get excited whenever she pops up on TV, even in schlock horror like "Vampire Bats." So it's extra-cool to have her pop up on a good show, and in a good role. Rob Thomas told me that she was such a pro on the set that she actually gave several of her lines to the local actor who played her partner, because she felt he didn't have enough to do. Okay, so... gorgeous... talented... funny... a pleasure to work with... why doesn't she have another full-time job? (Of course, if she just wants to work occasionally while spending more time with Rob and the kids, I understand.
  • Duncan's gone. Whether it was the writing or Teddy Dunn or both, the character was always a drag on the show, a blank slate who didn't seem nearly interesting enough for Veronica to be into -- especially when he turned cold and distant this year. The show's miniscule budget has meant that only Veronica, Keith and Logan can appear in every episode. I'd rather have seen Duncan split town with his folks and spent his money on extra appearances for Wallace and/or Weevil. Hell, spend it on Dick and Beaver. (And not in that way.)
  • Enrico Colantoni is so f'ing good. The scene where Keith tears into Veronica for lying to him was painful, both because of the performances and because the writers have spent so much time building up the trust between them.
  • Not one, but two Old 97's songs ("Adelaide" and "Four Leaf Clover") on the soundtrack. Great, underappreciated band. And once again I ask, does anyone know where I can find a copy of their theme song to Showtime's "Going to California"?
The bad:
  • Again, Duncan. I'm just so disinterested in him that I find it hard to get too worked up over his exit, or over Veronica's loneliness after the break-up.
The meh:
  • Logan/Weevil. These guys play off each other so well that I almost don't mind the trouble I'm having following the Felix/Fitzpatricks storyline. Almost. More than anything else this season, I think this subplot is going to play much better on DVD, when the constant references to minor off-camera characters will be easier to follow.
  • The near-total detour the show has taken from the bus crash mystery. I know you can't have every minute of every episode be about the crash, but even in the season one episodes that had very little to do with Lily Kane or the rape, you always got the sense that Veronica was working on both in the back of her mind. Now that the Meg/baby stuff is pretty much over, I look forward to getting back to the season's big piece of business.
  • Wallace and LeBron James run over a homeless guy. Not enough in this episode for me to judge it one way or another. It's supposed to be a bigger plot point next time, so we'll see. More Wallace, though, is good.
Meanwhile, because the news editors who put my WB/UPN/CW on page one yesterday wanted a straight news story, I had to save the analysis, snark and predictions for today's column, the meat of which is my projected CW schedule. (And, for what it's worth, I ran it past someone who's going to work there and was told I wasn't very far off the mark.)

More after I've seen Charlie, Mr. Eko and company. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Catching up

Well, the announcement that UPN and the WB are going to merge into a new network called the CW pretty much derailed my day yesterday. The best news to come out of it, for me, was a Les Moonves quote where he described the idea of pairing Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars as "a dream come true for Dawn (Ostroff)."

I actually called Rob Thomas' office at Veronica Mars to let him hear that; his assistant said Rob was in a script meeting, but when I started leaving the message, he said, "Hold on. I think they're all going to want to hear this." They piped me in on the speaker phone, and there was an audible sigh of relief when I told them what Les had said. It's not often that I get to give someone in TV good news (a couple of times, I've inadvertently informed people like Ed Zwick or Tommy Schlamme that a project of theirs was dead), so that was nice.

Speaking of professional good deeds, while I was out in LA, I spent a day on the set of "The Office" to interview all the background characters who recently got promoted to series regulars. Several of them had never been interviewed before, and the main castmembers were as excited as I've ever seen actors be to learn that a reporter's there to interview someone else. The story is up here.

Between the jet lag, time spent with my family and, you know, actual work, I'm still way behind on my viewing. I've seen last week's "Scrubs" (best joke by far: The Todd getting the worst atomic wedgie of all time) but not last night's, for instance. And now I'm going to be occupied for virtually all of today writing about music on TV and the ramifications of the UPN/WB merger.

One day, I may actually get back to blogging about stuff I watch. One day. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

That's their mama?

For the people who discovered this blog after the Sorkin/Schlamme or "Arrested Development" items, it was lousy timing that I almost immediately went out to LA for press tour and didn't have much time to, you know, watch TV.

Well, I'm back, and hopefully I'll get caught up quickly. Between iTunes and some advance network screeners, I got to catch up on half of last week's shows, plus I got home in time to watch Ted meet his potential future bride on "How I Met Your Mother."

Since that's the freshest, we'll start there. After spending a good chunk of CBS' press tour party haranguing the "HIMYM" producers for the whole "Aunt Robin" mess, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Josh Radnor can be just as good working opposite another love of Ted's life. And I thought Ashley Williams matched up with him very well. (She also looked really good after putting on a few extra pounds since her "Good Morning, Miami" days; someone playing a baker shouldn't be a size zero.)

If Victoria turns out to be the mom -- and you'll note the distinct absence of Future Ted narration at the end of the show -- then I can get behind that. If, however, she's yet another missed opportunity, then I think we have a big problem. I'm not married to this pairing after only one episode, but the writers sold the thing so hard that if it doesn't work out -- after we already got the Ted-Robin hard sell in the pilot -- then I just won't be invested in any of Ted's future girlfriends. Then he's just a schmoe who's in love with love, and who has to make every relationship into the greatest love of all (even though it's not inside of him). And at that point, I'll want him to just go away so I can watch Barney score at massage parlors and Marshall wax poetic about his new favorite cake.

More later on "Galactica," "Lost" and "The Office" (my story on the supporting actors will be running tomorrow or Thursday). It'll probably take me about a week to totally get back in rhythm. On the plus side, I've already seen this week's great "Veronica Mars" (directed by Rob Thomas), so that's one thing I'll be able to comment on quickly the next day.

Good to be back. So why does it still feel like the crack of dawn?
Click here to read the full post

Sunday, January 22, 2006

My life is now complete

I just got something better than a Mr. Eko lunchbox, or t-shirt, or underoos. I got a Mr. Eko freaking hug, baby! Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was the only "Lost" castmember to come to ABC's press tour party. There was a throng of about a dozen people waiting near the entrance for him, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was one of them. When he saw the crowd, he cheered, "My people!" and grabbed us all in a huge bear hug. Then he turned out to be maybe the best interview subject of the whole damn tour, articulate, funny, candid, you name it. When someone asked him how to pronounce his name, the guy sang it to us, for God's sake. He was very, very, incredibly cool.

I'm sure I'll write some about this over on the official tour blog (which has some more on the future of "Arrested," plus other recent tour anecdotes), but since I've explored my man-crush on Eko so often on this site, I felt I had to bring it up here first. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why don't he write?

Sorry the entries here have been few and far between the last couple of days. It's tougher than I had hoped to write a newspaper column and two different blogs in a given day when I'm also spending most of the day interviewing people.

A quick link catchup: In Wednesday's column, I wrote about Fox canceling "Malcolm in the Middle" and "That '70s Show," along with some stuff about censorship issues on the WB's college human sexuality class drama "The Bedford Diaries." Today's column, meanwhile, is a grab bag about CBS News' search for a new anchor, "American Idol" ratings (in a huge shocker, they're still huge), a very funny "24" practical joke story (in an actual shocker, who would've thought Carlos Bernard was the big prankster?) and a few comments from Josh Schwartz about how the new Kaitlin Cooper is going to introduce viewers to "the Muppet Babies version" of "The O.C."

And over at the other blog, I've got a couple of new entries up: one about David Mamet (including his reaction to "Glengarry Elf Ross"), one about the budding "Freaks and Geeks" alum vs. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum feud on "How I Met Your Mother."

And since I can't use curse words in the official blog, let me clarify a couple of quotes here: First, the quote from the Delta Force guy is "How about the way they wear their fucking berets, for openers?" while Neil Patrick Harris described Barney as "Yoda with a boner."

Don't you feel much better for knowing that? I know I do.

Today I'm heading over to the set of "The Office," followed by an interview with the music supervisor for "The O.C." and "Grey's Anatomy," so blogging in either location may be even rarer until tomorrow.

In terms of the actual mission of this thing, the only TV I've watched since I've been out here is a rough cut of next week's "Veronica Mars," which UPN close-circuited in the hotel. I'll talk a lot more about it after it airs, but that there is some good fucking TV (no berets or boners involved). Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TELL ME WHERE THE TREE IS!!!!!!!

Half the critics out there are blogging. One of my favorite moments so far this tour: Ellen Gray asks Kiefer Sutherland about his Christmas tree rampage. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Well, I just cracked up Mimi Rogers...

... by asking her whether her marriage to Tom Cruise in any way informs her performance in Fox's upcoming comedy "The Loop." A bad question turned into a good moment. For more on that, hit (say it with me now) the press tour blog.

Matt's last press tour dispatch ran today (mostly about the WB's ratings). I'm very badly jet-lagged, but I stayed up to watch the damn Golden Globes. Best speech by far, was Steve Carell's tribute to his wife, the lovely and talented Nancy Walls. Click here to read the full post

Monday, January 16, 2006

Boy, are my arms tired

Got to the tour a few hours ago and have already been to two sessions without crashing. The official tour blog ought to have my first entry up any second now (it's about a quintessential session that's funnier than the show it's plugging).

And in my haste to get out the door to the airport this morning, I forgot to link to my review of "Love Monkey." Fortunately, it's not airing until tomorrow. Out of respect for people who don't have the time or patience to jump from blog to blog to column, I'm going to start including the first paragraph or two of reviews to give you a flavor of what I had to say, so here goes:

Once upon a time, there was a man named Ed Stevens. He had a wife, a great Manhattan apartment and a promising corporate law job. Then he caught his wife cheating on him and moved back to his hometown of Stuckeyville, where he bought the bowling alley, set up a law practice inside and set about wooing his old high school crush, Carol Vessey.

That story was told on NBC's late, great "Ed." Tomorrow night, CBS introduces "Love Monkey," which is the story of what happened when Ed dumped Carol, moved back to New York and got a job in the music business.

Well, not exactly, but close enough.

One of the things I'm looking forward to doing while I'm out here is interviewing Nic Harcourt, deejay of LA's outstanding "Morning Becomes Eclectic" and the guy picking most of the music for "Love Monkey." And because I'm either very thorough or very lazy, the book I read on the flight? "Love Monkey." Funny enough that I hope the show borrows more from it in the future, though I always find it cheezy when the narrator of a book or movie compares his life to the character in another book or movie (in this case, to Rob in "High Fidelity") and suggests his is more realistic, even though it's almost exactly the same. ("Love Monkey" guy even starts making Top Five lists within a chapter or two.)

I'm beat, but I've now written two blog entries for two different sites in under 20 minutes. When I was in college, my best stuff often was written when I was either exhausted or drunk, but right now I'm too beat to tell if that axiom still holds true. Click here to read the full post

Coastal change

Well, I'm going to California in a few hours (and I don't mean this way, though if anyone knows where I can find the Old '97s theme song, I'd be a very happy man). I'll be taking over the press tour blog sometime tonight or maybe tomorrow, and with the long schedule and writing demands, I'm guessing most of what you'll see here for the next week are links over to the official site. But maybe not. I've never done two blogs at once.

I won't have time to watch much, if any, live TV while I'm at tour, so there'll probably have to be an enormous catch-up post sometime next week. In the meantime, some very brief thoughts on "SNL":

I'm told that was the first time the show ever opened with a cartoon, and it may have been the first non-live cold opening ever (still researching that). I'd like to think this is an example of Lorne responding to my pre-tape more theory, but I doubt it. Still, that was the closest thing the episode came to following up on the huge response to "Lazy Sunday," since Parnell and Samberg got minimal airtime. (On the other hand, Smigel got two different cartoons on, so maybe Lorne preferred "Christmastime for the Jews.")

Overall, decent episode, with some very funny stuff ("Smorgasbord," and especially the Swedish Chef ringtones ad; Scarlett doing a great Noo Yawk accent in the chandelier ad), some recycled stuff (the house music talk show as the first sketch?, Taco Town for the 8000th time?), and some stuff that hit the target a little too well (the endless Duluth morning show theme song).

Off to the airport. See you when I see you. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Guess who's *not* coming to press tour

I don't leave for press tour for another couple of days, but some friends who are already out there told me that Sorkin and Schlamme are not going to be on the panel for the "West Wing" press conference. When I checked with someone at NBC, I was told that their inclusion on the guest list "was a clerical error," and that they were never scheduled to come.

Ah, well. If NBC picks up "Studio 7," Aaron and Tommy will be back at the tour in July, but that won't be quite the same as them giving their old baby a proper send-off. Click here to read the full post

Cain of fools

First up, the press tour blog roars back to life with some "Sopranos" semi-news: David Chase definitively saying that the show isn't going beyond that two-part sixth season. It's what everyone assumed, but it's still useful to hear it out of the decapitated horse's mouth.

And speaking of cable shows that cleave their seasons in two, "Battlestar Galactica" continues to kick large amounts of ass with the conclusion of "Resurrection Ship."

I think everyone knew going in that Admiral Cain had to die. Even a show this fond of messing with the status quo couldn't plausibly keep Cain around much longer than this. While I appreciate the poetic justice of Gina Six being her executioner -- and how exactly is it that Ron Moore and company are talented enough to make me sympathize with a genocidal madwoman? -- I think it was a bit of a cop-out to have Cain fall by the hand of a Cylon. It's like all those dramas where pregnant women miscarry before they have to decide whether to get an abortion; the end result is the same, but you don't have to change your opinion of them. (And, yes, Adama did call off the assassination even before Gina punched a hole through Cain, but that's a luxury the writers had because they knew where the story was going.)

So much to love here: a suicidal Apollo watching the battle while floating through space in his EZ chair ejector seat, Fisk saving Helo and the Chief from being tortured while still remaining pro-Cylon torture, Starbuck adopting Cain's point of view (mainly because Adama's not savvy enough to tell her the story of Cain's civilian fleet), Baltar severing ties once and for all with the imaginary Number Six, Boomer and Adama having the "Why do they hate us?" conversation, etc. Really, there wasn't a minute of this where I wasn't totally engrossed.

So where do we go from here? Unlike the original show, Galactica 2.0 managed to kill off its Cain while keeping its Pegasus in play. Before, Fisk obviously had his doubts about his boss' methods, but his speech at the funeral suggests that Cain's murder has hardened him once and for all to her side of the Force. Adama outranks him, but can Fisk cause problems for the fleet? Does the increasingly hawkish Starbuck stay on Pegasus? Does Apollo come the hell out of his funk? Will the new Pegasus XO be as willing to spill drunken secrets to Tigh? And was Adama kissing Roslin a tender gesture of respect or a signal of some future fraternization between the executive and military branches?

Best show on TV right now, easy, and I'll be curious to see whether Sopranos, The Wire and/or Deadwood can reclaim that title when they come back later this year. Click here to read the full post

Friday, January 13, 2006

"Arrested Development" lives... sort of

From a Fox press release (some spoilers included in the second paragraph):
A two-hour season finale episode of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT will air Friday, Feb. 10 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

In the season finale, George Sr. hires a new attorney who asks the Bluths to participate in a mock trial to help prepare them for the real thing. The attorney gets actor Judge Reinhold to preside over the mock case. Meanwhile, Buster fakes a coma to get out of testifying and George Michael and Maeby participate in a mock wedding to entertain hospital patients. Back at the office, Michael discovers he may have a long-lost sister named Nellie Bluth (Justine Bateman). In an effort to get to the bottom of things, Michael tracks down Nellie and hires her as a consultant for The Bluth Co. Unfortunately, Michael discovers Nellie’s hands-on approach is more than he bargained for. Meanwhile, Gob goes to Iraq to perform his Christian magic act on the USO tour and ends up incarcerated. Michael learns George Sr. sent Gob to Iraq to burn down the model home he built there, so Michael and Buster fly to Iraq to spring Gob from prison. Together, the Bluth brothers head to the model home, where they make a discovery that could end the family’s legal troubles forever. Back in Orange County, Lucille decides to throw a yacht party to celebrate. The Bluths gather aboard the Queen Mary for a trip that ends up being far from smooth sailing.
Well, it ain't a pickup by Showtime or ABC, but at least we don't have to wait for the DVDs to see the last four episodes. And Fox is doing this in sweeps, no less -- albeit a weird sweeps where everyone is mostly playing dead opposite the Olympics. Feb. 10, not coincidentally, is the night of the opening ceremonies, so Fox is just using "Arrested" as cannon fodder. Click here to read the full post

There's such a fine line between stupid and clever...

...and "The O.C." has been on the wrong side of it all season. Two years ago, last night's episode would have been filled with meta references and gags -- at the very least, this should have been the show where Summer wore the "Donna Martin Graduates" t-shirt -- but here the silly Marissa plot was played straight. And for anyone who's actually watched the show for more than a few minutes knows what a bad idea that was.

Everytime the episode tried to firmly clamp itself to Marissa's ass, I found myself calling bullshit. Marissa was incredibly popular before Taylor's mom got her kicked out of school? No; she's been a Harbor School laughingstock ever since she OD'ed in Mexico. She was "a model student"? Um, isn't this the girl who basically stopped going to school for most of season two while she bunked with Alex?

Meanwhile, in the craptacular tradition of Evil Dean, we get another cartoon villain in Taylor's mom, who hates Marissa because... why? I get that once upon a time, it may have been a calculated move to increase her daughter's social standing and get her some friends, but now Taylor actually has friends, and mama Townsend is still waging vendetta against Marissa? Huh? Even before Julie had her occasional heart of gold moment, there was a little nuance to the awful things she did, most of which she thought were for the good of her family.

Between this episode and those skeevy commercials with that 14-year-old girl doing a Lolita impression as the long-lost Kaitlin, I think I may be out. The only reason I watched this one live was because I'd already seen last night's "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" in advance. And speaking of which...

I thought last week's "Earl" (written by an ex-"Arrested Development" guy) was one of the stronger so far, but this was a bit of a backslide. Some jokes worked, like retainer girl's crush on Earl (cheap but effective), but Favreau's karma-free life wasn't ridiculous enough for it to work. At the very least, would it have killed them to put in a mug that reads "Who's the big winner?"

"Office," on the other hand, was brilliant. I didn't think they could get broader or slapstickier than the martial arts episode, but somehow, they did. The bizarre cause of the injury, Dwight's frenzied attempt to get to Michael even after crashing his car, Ryan's constant look of anguish at realizing Michael is about to ask him to do something horrible, Michael trying to stick his foot in the CT machine... I was in pain for all of it, and not the usual kind of pain associated with watching this show (that kind popped up during the staff meeting with the wheelchair-bound building manager). Originally, the episode last night was supposed to be a follow-up to Jim telling Michael about his thing for Pam, but I guess NBC wanted to go with the stronger show early in the new timeslot.

Morning links: Matt reviewed AMC's first original drama, "Hustle," in today's column. The press tour blog hasn't been updated as of this morning, which means either a slow day (nothing to blog about) or a busy one (no time to do it) at the tour. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence...

...so what the hell is five times?

Ever since I recovered from the car accident, one of my goals has been to get back in shape and not look quite so much like what you imagine a professional couch potato would look like. Got a bike, and I ride it at least five times a week. Got free weights, and I use those every other day.
To motivate myself and keep all that stuff from gathering dust like it usually does whenever someone buys exercise equipment, I spent hours poring over my CD collection so I could build a kick-ass workout playlist for the iPod that would make Barney jealous for it's level of psyched-upedness. And so far, it's worked -- with one bizarre side effect.

I always put the iPod on random play, but for the last five workouts, every time I've started to do crunches (the last, and because of my big buddha belly, toughest part of the workout), "20th Century Boy" by T-Rex has come on. Every freaking time. There are over 100 songs on that playlist, and I rarely hear anything else repeated from workout to workout, but T-Rex, every time at the same time?

Add to this the fact that, whenever I stumble across "The Karate Kid" on cable (and it's on every day of the year), it is always at the exact same scene: Daniel-san picking up Elisabeth Shue to go to Golf 'N Stuff.

To quote Matt Kennedy Gould, what is going on here??????? Click here to read the full post

Smoke and miracles

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I want a Mr. Eko lunchbox, a Mr. Eko t-shirt, and Mr. Eko Underoos. I want a Mr. Eko & Locke spin-off where they kick ass and debate philosophy every week. I think the only "Lost" episode I've ever anticipated this much was the first Hurley lottery episode, and this one was just bursting with coolness.

Start with the usually annoying Charlie getting off a great one-liner in "What, you're gonna beat me with your Jesus stick?" Then there was Eko's backstory, which explained away both Eko's spirituality and his massive ass-kicking prowess, and also established a thematic link with Sawyer, who also took on another man's identity out of massive guilt. The first time you see an actor in something, especially if it's as a really strong character, there's a tendency to assume the actor and character aren't too dissimilar, and while I never imagined that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaie wandered around in a tiny wool cap killing and raping everyone who annoyed him, I still didn't expect the level of gentleness he can bring to Eko when he's not breathing fire out his nostrils and threatening to beat people with his Jesus stick.

But, much as I hate to descend into slobbering fanboy mode, the scene where the black smoke took the measure of Eko and vice versa was TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME! I usually don't let myself get sucked into the show's bogus mythology, but that was just perfectly shot, edited and played by our large new friend. This is the kind of reveal of "the monster" I was hoping for back in the first season finale, and it was worthy of the build-up -- especially since I hadn't seen any spoilers or hype about us finally getting a real look at the thing. I imagine several dozen bloggers, podcasters and webmasters have been up all night Zaprudering the sequence of flickering images as the smoke and Eko get nose to nose.

Rest of the episode did a good job of checking in with most of the other castaways. I'm still waiting to find out why the producers bothered bringing in Cynthia Watros (who I like but hasn't had anything to do), but I liked that Jack seems to have quietly accepted Sawyer's victory in the Kate love triangle, that Jin is fitting in more and that the Walt/computer cliffhanger wasn't completely ignored.

I have to take Julia to the toy store today to get some new alphabet refrigerator magnets, since she's hidden so many that we can no longer spell words with A's, E's or O's. I'll have to check the action figure aisle for any Eko-related merchandise.

Oh, and links: Matt's still blogging from press tour, and he reviewed the return of "24." Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Open thread: Scrubs and The Shield

Since I watched the season's first four episodes of both "Scrubs" and "The Shield" in one great clump a few weeks ago, it's hard for me to separate memories of one episode from another. I'm pretty sure, for instance, that one of last night's "Scrubs" had the gag where Elliott's hands get transplanted onto J.D., and that Forest Whitaker gives Aceveda his chewing gum test on "The Shield," but I'm afraid to discuss either one for fear of mixing up episodes -- which, in the case of "The Shield," would be a big fat spoiler.

So, since the comments have kicked up ever since that Sorkin/Schlamme item, I'll open it up to anyone who watched either show and wants to comment. Did you like Whitaker? Do you think the gags on "Scrubs" are getting too bizarre even for that show? Whatever. Click here to read the full post

It's better than Irwin...

I used to think there was no activity more boring than sitting around an airport during a flight delay. After watching last night's "House," I know there's something worse: watching two TV characters debate their non-existent relationship while sitting around an airport during a flight delay.

Look, I like Sela Ward, and when she's just shutting down House's bullshit outside the boundaries of their great undying love, she's fine. But their incessant yammering about whether to bump uglies made me hope the annoying kid would come back and hit one or both of them in the head with his new rubber ball.

Much better was the bickering of the three House-ettes without papa to maintain discipline, and in honor of their using a reporter named Fletch, I present my list of Best "Fletch" Quotes, in no particular order:
  • "Why don't you two go to the gym and pump each other?"
  • "It's Dr. Rosenpenis."
  • "Using the whole fist, doc?"
  • "Can I borrow your towel? My car just hit a water buffalo."
  • "Look, defenseless babies!"
  • "Does this proposition entail my dressing up as Little Bo Peep?"
  • "I like men. I like to be manhandled. I like you."
  • "Hey! It's all ball bearings nowadays!"

I could go on all day with those. Me and my friend Fitz went entire years in college without having actual conversations; we'd just quote "Fletch" at each other. Good times.

Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Danes' Dames

It usually takes critics about a week of press tour before they lose their marbles (which means I'm going to get my head bit off a few dozen times just for saying "Hello" when I show up next week), but it looks like the insanity is happening early this time, judging by Matt's first blog entry and this column by Lisa de Moraes, who deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for her skewering of the tour.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, as we sat down to watch "Gilmore Girls" last night, Marian asked me, "How long has it been since we've seen a new one?" I don't know exactly what it is that makes the WB's scheduling practices different from the other networks, but it always feels like there are longer gaps between batches of new episodes than there are at, say, CBS. And, of course, Lorelai and Rory enter Luke's diner with some meta references to their long absence from Stars Hollow.

Fortunately, this episode was packed with enough funny that it didn't take too long to get reacclimated. In particular, Paris was gold in every single scene. She and Doyle are clearly meant to be; their constant sparring in the apartment reminded me of Clouseau and Cato in the later Pink Panther movies, though Clouseau was never smart enough to think of a safeword. ("Saroyan! Saroyan!") She was even better tearing Logan a new one at the Yale Daily offices; I don't even think Logan looked that intimidated when Richard was accusing him of stealing Rory's flower. I think Amy was right that Liza Weil wasn't exactly right to play Rory, but I'm very glad she came up with another part for her to play.

Speaking of the actual Rory, Alexis Bledel was actually really funny during Rory's therapy breakdown. She usually does better with the dramatic stuff, or when she's letting herself be carried by Lauren Graham or someone else, but this was all her. Other great moments: Lorelai's horrified reaction to the new apartment (the only way it could've been better was if Alyson Hannigan randomly poked her head in and yelled, "Oh, HELL no!," though I think every comedy could be improved by such a moment), Sookie shutting down Luke's attempt to contribute in any way to the wedding planning, Lane turning into a darker version of Mama Kim (is it just me, or does Keiko Agena really look her age without the glasses?), and Mama Kim breaking out the dreaded spirits to help Lane get over Zach and the band.

The only thing I didn't like was Luke being struck by a case of Ebert's Idiot Plot Syndrome, where all the problems would be solved if the characters actually spoke to each other like grownups. I don't think I'm going to like next week's episode very much, judging by the previews. Also, when Sherilyn Fenn did that "Hmmm..." gesture after Luke left her house, was it "Hmmm... that went better than I expected" or "Hmmm... why did I break up with him again?"

More on "House" and "The Shield" after I get to the office and watch the former. And speaking of work, today's column includes a review of ABC's "Crumbs," which could be a lot better if it didn't have a laughtrack; it's basically "Ordinary People: The Sitcom" (or maybe "Garden State: The Sitcom"). Click here to read the full post

More HIMYM hijinks

While we're on the subject of "How I Met Your Mother," a couple of other thoughts:

1)Whoever's responsible for Barney's Blog over on the CBS website is having an awful lot of fun with it. In the latest entry, he details his method of getting unpsyched by watching "classic films in reverse-adrenaline order," starting with "Top Gun" and ending with "Days of Thunder," and he includes his drinking game rules for "Top Gun," including "Each time a Mig (a Soviet fighter jet) appears on the screen, everyone yells "Screw the Russians" and drinks a sip." As someone whose first brush with media celebrity came as the result of a drinking game, I can appreciate that.

2)My friend Phil points out yet another reason that Future Ted must go far, far away as soon as possible: How creepy is it going to be when he starts telling his kids about the first time he scored with their mom? To quote Phil, "I think that would be their Armin Tanzarian moment, the one where they just have to say, 'Let us never speak of this again,'" and forget that Future Ted ever existed. Click here to read the full post

Lazy, but not free

Another big acquisition for the iTunes store: current and classic "Saturday Night Live" sketches for $1.99 a pop, plus a bunch of the "Best of" compilation DVDs for $9.99 apiece.

There doesn't seem to be any duplication between the compilations and the individual sketches, so you can't just download "More Cowbell." But the solo sketches include some classics and some head-scratchers. In Volume 1:
  • "Word Association," with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase. ("Honky honky!") A no-brainer, one of the best sketches of all time, and appropriate given Richard's death.
  • "Brownie," with Gilda Radner. Another easy one; Judy Miller was Gilda's best character, and this is just pure Second City-type comedy, one actress bouncing around a set and playing off of herself.
  • "Samurai Night Fever," with John Belushi. There are other Samurais I prefer ("Samurai Delicatessen," maybe), but not a bad one.
  • "Theodoric of York / Medieval Barber": Quintessential Steve Martin, part one.
  • "King Tut": Quintessential Steve Martin, part two.
  • "Julia Child," with Dan Aykroyd: So memorable that when the real Julia died, the first image that came to mind was Aykroyd bleeding profusely from the finger.
  • "Point / Counterpoint," with Dan and Jane Curtin: Easy choice, probably the highlight of '70s Weekend Update.
  • "James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub Party," with Eddie Murphy: The only Eddie clip; even though he's the biggest star to ever come out of the show, it wasn't under Lorne's watch, so those years are always referred to in obligatory fashion.
  • "The Contestant," with Martin Short and Christopher Guest: Ed Grimley talks a Wheel of Fortune staffer out of committing suicide. The Guest/Short/Billy Crystal year is arguably one of the best the show ever did, but again, it wasn't a Lorne year, so we only get one sketch from them.
  • "One More Mission," with Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman: A sentimental favorite of the people who worked with Phil; it popped up in the Best of Lovitz special, and was talked about during the "Lost in the '80s" documentary. I've never been crazy about it, though; I can think of better material for both guys.
  • "Five Timers' Club," with Tom Hanks and a cast of thousands: One of the most memorable monologues ever, even though it turned into a sketch halfway through. An argument could be made that this episode, which also featured Mr. Short-Term Memory doing a game show with Tony Randall, "The Global Warming Christmas Special" and Hanks and Dana Carvey with dueling Dennis Miller impressions singing "Jingle Bells," may have been the best "SNL," from start to finish, of all time.
  • "Massive Headwound Harry," with Dana Carvey: Massive Headwound Harry, Meet Massive Headscratching Alan. What the hell is this doing here? If you have to pick a one-joke Carvey sketch, go with Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual.
  • "Mr. Belvedere Fan Club," with Tom Hanks and Phil: This may be the first one I buy, if only because I don't think I've ever seen it in reruns. Incredibly random, creepy and funny, particularly their quest to come up with their own nickname for Mr. Belvedere ("Brocktoon") and Phil's poem about Mr. Belvedere ("...to tear the flesh, to wear the flesh...").
  • "Perot/Stockdale," with Dana and Phil: One of Phil's finest moments. "GRIDLOCK!!!"
  • "The Chris Farley Show," with Chris and Paul McCartney: Remember when Chris asked Paul if he remembered when he was in The Beatles? That was awesome.
  • "Motivational Speaker," with Chris, Phil and Julia Sweeney: The first Matt Foley sketch. I was always more of a Bennett Brower fan, but there ya go.
Of note on the Vol. 2 list are "Schwetty Balls" and four sketches from this season, including "Lazy Sunday" (which is no longer free), "Lettuce" (the other digital short from The Lonely Island), "Christmastime for the Jews" and "Elf Motivation" (or, as I call it, "Glengarry Elf Ross"). Obvious absences are the lack of anything featuring Bill Murray, Chris Rock or Mike Myers. (Plus Spade and Schneider, but I never liked those years.)

Still, not a bad start. "Brocktoon." I would like some of whatever they were smoking the night that got written. Click here to read the full post

How we met their mother?

First up, links du jour: my review of "The Shield" (I'll have more spoiler-y discussion tomorrow), and a mailbag column about Dick Clark, "Arrested Development" and a short-lived Newark cop show called "The Street."

Meanwhile, things either got pret-ay, pret-ay interesting over on "How I Met Your Mother," or just worrisome. After the last few episodes had me convinced that either the creators or CBS had decreed that Future Ted was a scumbag liar and that Robin actually was the future Mrs. Ted, the very end of last night's episode hinted strongly that the actual mom-to-be is some random hottie at the wedding, played by Ashley Williams.

Now, she was one of the few watchable things about "Good Morning, Miami" (the "Four Kings" of its day), but I can't help but feel that the producers are missing out on how much more likable Ted is when he's with Robin. If his chemistry with the new potential mama isn't as strong, then they've screwed up and will either stubbornly stay the course (ala "Ed," where Carol Vessey was always the least interesting woman Ed dated) or struggle to find an escape hatch.

And the thing of it is, I can't get too worked up about who Ted's going to impregnate, because the longer this show has been on, the less I could care about the premise. The best parts of this episode had little or nothing with Ted's quest to get laid: Lily making fun of Marshall's dream wedding, the fast-forwarded fight, Barney trying to score with the psycho bride, the psycho bride trying to kill Ted. Even Ted was funny in the non-Robin parts of the plot.

Then again, I could have given a rat's ass about Ross and Rachel after about a half-season of "Friends," and yet that was obviously what obsessed most of the fans, so what the hell do I know?

Meanwhile, over in warmer climates, Matt and the rest of the TCA (at least, the members who bothered to come for the first day) are getting ready to rap with Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter about her new Disney Channel sitcom. Not every press tour session can be a winner. Click here to read the full post

Monday, January 09, 2006

His name is Leo and he dances on the sand

So let's see... HBO has the lights off until March, "Grey's Anatomy" was a clip show, continuing to avoid "Desperate Housewives" was on my list of New Year's Resolutions, so in terms of things I actually watched...

"The West Wing": Sadly fitting that the first episode to air after John Spencer's death was all about Leo. Even sadder is that it wasn't very good. Even by post-Sorkin standards, this was a predictable one -- anyone who didn't see Leo doing fine in the debate, not to mention that he was the source of the leak, needs an eye exam. I liked the interplay between Leo and Annabelle, Josh and Toby on the phone was good, and I appreciated a glimpse inside the Vinick camp that didn't make them look like the Evil Empire (maybe because Vinick was nowhere to be found), but overall: meh. I'm incredibly sick and tired of Josh being a complete moron, solely as a means to make Santos look smarter for always disagreeing with him (in this case, by telling Leo to skip the debate prep). Couldn't care less about Will and whatsername having the least romantic TV dinner of all time. Here's hoping Sorkin and Schlamme are coming back for multiple episodes.

"Cold Case": I wrote about this both in Friday's column and in a Friday blog entry, but just coming back to it for one reason: in this New York Times interview, "Cold Case" creator Meredith Stiehm says she was on the nose with all the songs on purpose, and that she originally wanted the episode to have no dialogue whatsoever, to let the songs tell the story. I'm sure she got talked out of that by someone at CBS or Bruckheimer Inc. who thinks deviating from the formula too much is bad for the bottom line, but I think the show would have been much stronger had she been able to go with the original plan.

"The Simpsons": This is the Be Careful What You Wish For season. I wanted more narrative coherence, I wanted more focus on the family and their emotions. I'm getting both, and yet the couch gags are almost always funnier than the rest of the episode combined. (Lenny and Carl as the new parents was the best family photo.) Now, Homer having an epiphany about Abe while lost in a multi-million dollar mini-sub isn't quite on par with Lisa developing a crush on her substitute teacher or Homer buying Marge a bowling ball, but if this season keeps going the way it has, I'm going to start asking for more wackiness for the sake of wackiness, sort of like...

"Family Guy": One of the better ones, and I loved the random cameo by Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank from "American Movie" as Quagmire's production crew for the lesbian video. Question: are we approaching a point where getting to do a guest voice on "Family Guy" is considered a bigger deal than "The Simpsons"? Probably not; if "The Simpsons" is good enough for Ricky Gervais and Michael Chabon, it's good enough for me.
Click here to read the full post

Links now, reviews later

My review of "Country Boys" is up, as is a column where Matt reviews "Emily's Reasons Why Not" and I review "Jake in Progress," both of which can be summed up as "Meh."

Meanwhile, with the TCA winter press tour starting tomorrow, we're reviving the All TV in LA press tour blog. I already wrote a long introduction to press tour that somehow hasn't been posted yet (don't ask me why), and Matt (who's covering the first week of the tour) should start posting live sometime tomorrow afternoon our time.

When I'm at the tour next week, I won't have much time for amateur blogging, so I expect most of my posts here will be directing people over to the official blog, in a weird bit of self-referential theater not dissimilar from what killed "Arrested Development." (Or maybe not.)

Reviews of "West Wing," "The Simpsons" and more later today, after I get done paying the bills with a review of "The Shield." (In which Forest Whitaker is all kinds of awesome as the Internal Affairs guy who's hopefully going to take Vic down.)

UPDATE: The new version of the press tour blog is finally up and running. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Just two good young boys

Still basking in the warm, relieved glow of finding out the answer to the vending machine gag mystery. Today's links: my review of the return of "Battlestar Galactica" (it's not too spoilery), and a short review on the "Cold Case" Bruce Springsteen episode where all the songs are very on the nose (i.e., pathetic ex-jock sits around a bar talking about his high school years as we hear "Glory Days").

Sometimes, the whole getting episodes in advance thing can backfire. I'd already watched tonight's "Earl" and "Office" (not to mention next week's episodes) a few days back for my review. I will refuse to watch "Dancing with the Stars" up to and possibly even after my bosses tell me they want a column about it. (Matt still owes me one for when I covered the Emmys this year, so that may be a Don Corleone at the funeral parlor situation.) I spent just enough time watching "ER" to confirm that, once again, a primetime network drama goes out of its way to keep a regular character from getting an abortion, then bailed. So that left... nothing.

Fortunately, the last week and a half of '05 had already prepared me for nothing. I suppose the answer to non-television is non-fiction. I've spent a lot of time watching and rewatching "Country Boys," an amazing PBS documentary by David Sutherland (who did "The Farmer's Wife" eight years ago) about two troubled kids growing up in Appalachian Kentucky. It premieres on Monday (look for my review then), and while I'm reluctant to overhype anything, I think it's already a lock for my '06 top 10 list.

I watched the first two hours on my plane flight to LA for last summer's press tour, and I was just riveted. I usually spend a lot of the PBS portion of press tour catching up on my writing, but I made a point to be at that session, just so I would get a chance to meet Chris Johnson and Cody Perkins, the two subjects, and to get a sense of how they turned out after the cameras went away. Chris (a poor kid with negligible parents and anger issues), unfortunately, seemed to be stuck in the same place he is at the end of the documentary, but Cody (a born-again Christian metal singer with a dark autobiography) seemed to be doing just fine. I bumped into him and his wife (his girlfriend in the documentary) at the hotel pool, and we talked for 20 minutes or so about the experience, and also about how he was finding LA. (Being flown out there on a TV network's dime was obviously a much bigger deal for him than it would be for Third Actor From Left on Crap-ass Sitcom.) He said he did the tour of the stars' homes, making sure to stop for a while in front of Ozzy Osbourne's house. Then he went to Venice Beach. After being the only guy in his school with dyed hair, painted nails and multiple piercings, he was amazed to see everyone letting their freak flags fly in Venice: "It was like the family I never had."

I laughed at the line then, but after watching the entire miniseries recently -- in which we learn about Cody's mother's killing herself when he was a baby, about his father's involvement in a murder-suicide when Cody was 12, about the aunt who didn't want to have him in her home but was just fine being the guardian of his inheritance -- I realized he wasn't just dropping a one-liner.

Life sucks a lot of the time. "Country Boys," thankfully, does not. Click here to read the full post

And the heavens open up

I asked a half a dozen TV critics about that "Office" vending machine gag, asked at least as many friends who are as obsessed with pop culture as I am, and nobody could identify the previous show to use that gag. And just as I was on the verge of cold-calling sanitariums, I found this comment to that blog posting by Melissa:
In an episode of Undeclared, when they're trying to get even with the RA, they put all of his belongings in the vending machine in the hallway. That's the only thing I can think of. Hope it helps.
Melissa, whoever you are, thank you, thank you, thank you. That's it. It was like an itch that I couldn't scratch for days and days and days. Click here to read the full post

It's M-m-m-m-m-m-Matt day!

Because we can't do anything separately for too long (we're like Multi-Racial Siamese Doctor from "Scrubs"), Matt has started up a blog of his own, The House Next Door. In addition, he has both of today's Ledger TV stories: a column on all the coverage mistakes surrounding the mining disaster, and a review of "Four Kings" that's kinder than I would have been (other than Seth Green and a running gag in the third episode about punching people in the chest, it's unwatchable). So while we have to do most of the same things together, we're not always obligated to share the same opinions. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Guess who's coming to press tour?

The January TV critics' press tour kicks off early next week, and the latest version of the schedule contained quite the surprise at the end: the very last session of the tour will be for "The West Wing," and here's the list of panelists. Note which two I bolded.

"THE WEST WING"
Kristin Chenoweth, Star
Allison Janney, Star
Josh Malina, Star
Janel Moloney, Star
Richard Schiff, Star
Martin Sheen, Star
Brad Whitford, Star
Alex Graves, Executive Producer
Chris Misiano, Executive Producer
Lawrence O'Donnell, Executive Producer
Tommy Schlamme, Executive Producer
Aaron Sorkin, Executive Producer
John Wells, Executive Producer

Sounds to me like, at very least, Sorkin and Schlamme are coming back to write and direct the Leo farewell episode -- or, as one critic suggested to me after he got a look at the schedule, maybe they're just coming back to do the finale. Or they could be just one and the same.
Click here to read the full post

Leading the way

Back when I started writing reviews in high school and college (I think my first one was "Basic Instinct," which my 12th grade journalism professor surprisingly didn't kill), I could begin the review at any point -- middle, end, start -- and then go back and fill in the rest. But one of the bad habits I've developed over the years is an inability to write anything unless it's from the top down. Even if I know exactly what I went to say about why a show is or isn't any good, I can't start typing until I've got my lead figured out.

So when I got pressed into service at the last minute yesterday to do a combined review of "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" moving to Thursdays, I had a problem. I'd blogged enough about both shows to know my main points ("Earl" needs to try harder and to show us more of Bad Earl, "The Office" would be better off with less Michael and more of the supporting characters), but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with a decent lead.

I had some kind of metaphor in mind about having to retake a hill with a couple of pop gun, but it kept coming out more and more labored. So as the clock ticked down towards deadline and my editor started sending impatient e-mails my way, I fell back on an old trick: quote the show to write about the show. So here's what I wound up writing:
You know the kind of network executive who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his ratings stink? Well, that was Jeff Zucker. Every time something good happened to him (like getting promoted further and further up NBC's corporate ladder), something bad was always waiting around the corner (like falling further and further in the primetime ratings). Karma.

That's when someone at NBC realized they needed to change. So he made a list of everything bad they had done, and one by one tried to make up for its mistakes. He's just trying to have a better network. His name is Kevin Reilly.

Not Pulitzer material, but much better than what I had. (And I got to use the hill/gun thing more briefly later on.) The full review is here.

Since I'd already seen "Scrubs," last night I ceded control of the remote to Marian, who immediately set on TBS' "Sex and the City" reruns. I hadn't really bothered watching the basic cable versions, but yikes. They're just massacring them. The one we saw was "Anchors Away," the Fleet Week episode. Obviously, TBS was going to cut both of the breast shots (Miranda nursing her baby and Charlotte flashing a sailor), but they just shred anything that wasn't directly related to the plot so they could squeeze a 30-minute episode into 21 minutes plus commercials. There's a brief snippet of the scene where Samantha papers her ex-boyfriend's neighborhood with posters warning women about what a sleaze he is, but they cut the payoff where a female cop lets her keep going. And the episode's climax, where Carrie (in one of the few moments where I've ever liked her) has a steamy dance with a sailor played by Franco from "Rescue Me"? Gone entirely. Yeesh. If ever there was a case for only watching the DVDs, this is it.

And speaking of DVDs, best news I read all morning: "Futurama" may join "Family Guy" as a Fox cartoon resurrected by DVD sales. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

In which I lose my mind all at once

The part of my brain that stores useless pop culture trivia has apparently exceeded its maximum capacity. I was watching an upcoming episode of "The Office" today, and there's a scene where Jim and Pam place all the items from Dwight's desk -- including his wallet -- into the office vending machine.

I laughed at it, and then I realized I had seen a similar gag (possibly involving someone's clothes) on another sitcom in the not too distant past. But for the life of me, I cannot remember what show it was. I've asked a bunch of other critics, all of whom agree that it sounds familiar but don't know exactly which show.

At this point, I need to know less for my Office review than just to scratch this particular itch before it drives me insane.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Click here to read the full post

Snack attack, muthaf***er!!!!!

Okay, this is officially getting out of hand: someone has created a set of "Lazy Sunday" bobblehead dolls for sale on eBay. Click here to read the full post

Good medicine

Two thousand zero six, party over, oops, out of time... doesn't have quite the ring, does it?

So what does a TV critic do during the last week of the calendar year, when there's nothing new to watch and no news to report because Hollywood is on vacation? Take some vacation time of my own, of course -- which ended up being half-vacation, half sick time, as the daycare germ factory struck our family once again.

When I wasn't taking temperatures or hacking up phlegm, I spent a whole lot of time watching "Scrubs." NBC sent me the new season's first four episodes (my review is here), and boy howdy are they great. Just absurdly wacky stuff. Between them and the first two season boxed sets I dove through during this week, I've almost developed a new appreciation for a show I already loved. It could be absence making the heart grow fonder, or it could be the realization that, with "Arrested Development" pretty much doomed, this is again the standard-bearer for network comedy.

And speaking of "Arrested," they sure went out with a blaze of in-jokes last night, didn't they? Fox originally planned to show the Justine Bateman episode next week, but they've since replaced it with a "House" repeat. That's probably for the best; we'll get to see the last four episodes on DVD, and thematically this was the perfect finale, parodying all the reasons the show hasn't been able to catch on, sweeps gimmicks (gratuitous guest stars, 3D episodes, live episodes), etc., etc., etc. Bonus points to anyone who recognized "Head of the Class" alum Tannis Vallely (daughter of "Arrested" writer/producer Jim) as the casting director who got assaulted by Tobias' glitter package. So funny, so depressing -- especially now that I'm hearing rumors that Fox the TV studio doesn't want to save the show because it might make Fox the TV network look bad. Boo to synergy!

More later today on my end of the year movie and DVD binge. Click here to read the full post