Cable catch-up time, with spoilers on, in order, "Californication," "Saving Grace," "My Boys," "The Bronx Is Burning" and, as promised long ago without fulfillment, "Top Chef," coming up just as soon as I get a plastic surgery consultation...
After last week's kerfuffle over my pan of the "Californication" pilot, I decided to give the show at least one more episode to prove me wrong. Sorry to say, Duchovny fans, but I'm out. This was a retread of all the things I disliked about the pilot (women throwing themselves at Hank with little provocation, Hank acting like a 12-year-old boy in a way we're obviously meant to find charming, an unexpected ongoing focus on pubic hair), and now we've added in the "Studio 60" Problem: we're told Hank's this brilliant writer, but his first blog entry (penned in an Apple product placement scene that makes all the Mac love on HBO seem tasteful and subdued) was a smarmy cliche-fest. I'm glad for showkiller Paula Marshall that she's kept herself in such good shape, but I don't think I need to see any more "Californication." I think it would be a badly-written show with any leading man, but maybe a different actor would be able to find the appealing side of Hank instead of playing him as a one-note, self-satisfied douche. I really like the actress who plays his daughter and look forward to her popping up in something else.
As a counterexample to Duchovny on "Californication," I give you Holly Hunter on "Saving Grace." Here's another self-destructive, substance-abusing, middle-aged person who sublimates her pain by having lots of sex with her many willing suitors, but I both like her and understand her appeal to the opposite sex (even though Holly Hunter herself needs to spend a few weeks following Dr. Nick's steady gorging process, combined with assal horizontology). That's a credit to Hunter's performance. There's a thin line between charming rogue and irritating jerk; she stays on the right side of it in a way that Duchovny can't or won't.
That said, I'm falling out of love with "Saving Grace" as a whole, thanks to the police stuff. There's a weird epidemic going on in TV right now -- both with current series and a lot of the fall pilots -- of cop shows with interesting, original leads and completely uninspired procedural stories. I understand that cop shows are more instantly commercial, which is why Grace or, say, that immortal guy from "New Amsterdam" carry a badge and gun, but the genre's so oversaturated right now that almost no one can find anything original to do with the cases. The Oklahoma setting provides a small amount of novelty -- not going to see a story about bull seed on "Cold Case," I don't think -- but not enough to keep me from zoning out until Grace heads to the bar or her love shack.
Good casting in the latest episode of Frances Fisher as the cool aunt Grace has modeled herself after, but did I miss a previous reference to her father having died in the Oklahoma City bombing? I know she lost her sister (or sister-in-law?), but this seemed like new info.
Speaking of potentially new info (or yet another example of how I need to pay closer attention), "My Boys" revealed for the first time (maybe) that Kenny runs a sports memorabilia shop, which answers the final question of how PJ knows all her boys. (Andy's her brother, Brendan and Stephanie went to school with her, Bobby's a rival beat writer and Mike used to work for the Cubs.) Mike and Kenny are funny as usual together, and the "negotiation" at the bar managed to work Gaffigan into their dynamic nicely. Didn't care much about the Jeremy Sisto romance subplot (though it did make me listen to a sample of "The Wrong Girl" just because it was on a mix tape between my beloved Fountains of Wayne and the Flaming Lips), and we the beginnings of the douchey Brendan storyline that's going to pay off nicely next week.
The writers of "The Bronx Is Burning" are lucky the cops caught Son of Sam as relatively early as they did, since it gave them an excuse to dump that subplot with a few episodes of the miniseries left. The show works much better as an all-baseball affair (like I said at the start, either they needed to cover all the stuff from Mahler's book or just the Bombers), even if the Reggie/Billy/George dynamic is feeling repetitive by this point. Two complaints about the first World Series episode: 1)I love "Blitzkrieg Bop" as much as the next guy, but it feels like they've already played it 57 times so far. The Ramones' catalog is consistent (simplistic?) enough that you can substitute a lot of other songs and get the same effect. 2)How in the world do you incorporate so much of the Howard Cosell/Keith Jackson telecast of game two and not include Cosell saying "Ladies and gentleman, the Bronx is Burning"?
Finally, I've been watching "Top Chef" all season, but often so many days late that a blog entry has seemed beside the point. (A big part of the problem: the show inevitably makes me very hungry, and I don't want to be snacking at 10:30 at night, so I have to wait until I can see each show close to a mealtime.) I've been enjoying it a lot and wish I had started with the franchise sooner. (Though I hear season two was very skippable.) All the "Bizarro Apprentice" stuff I admire about franchise sibling "Project Runway" (competent contestants, creative challenges, rational judges), only with a subject I care about.
That said, this show tends to telegraph its exits even more blatantly than latter-day "Survivor." Anytime two contestants declare their undying friendship (in this case, Casey and Tre), you know one of them's out. Tre compounded the sledgehammer foreshadowing with all his overconfidence, and by the time we were halfway through the judges' visit to Restaurant April, I knew he was done. He had been the obvious frontrunner early on, but he'd been through a lot of ups and downs and was clearly the main reason for this loss. If, as the judges have said elsewhere, the judging isn't supposed to be cumulative, he was the right choice. (If not, CJ should have been tossed.) It's interesting, though, that the remaining field includes a few people who have consistently been either brilliant or awful (Hung, to a lesser extent Howie) and then a bunch of people who have had some good moments and some bad ones, but nothing really remarkable on either end. Usually in this kind of show, there's a more obvious pecking order by this stage, and I honestly can't tell who's going to win, or who should.
What did everybody else think?