Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Hey there, shaky shaky-cam

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" just as soon as I run a few suicide sprints...

I never got around to writing up last week's episode, but as I was contemplating it, I had a conversation with Fienberg about the obviously NBC-mandated changes the series had undergone lately. I pointed to the speechifying, the way characters who were originally presented as mysteries for us to unravel were giving regular monologues about their feelings and aspirations. Dan pointed to the more traditional cinematography, the loss of the jittery documentary look of the pilot and first few episodes. It wasn't that the show had become bad, just that it had lost many of its most distinctive elements -- had started to feel like just another TV show, albeit a very well-made one -- in a futile attempt to bring in more viewers.

I don't know if Kevin Reilly just had his back turned the week tonight's episode was produced, or if this was the point in the production cycle where Peter Berg and Jason Katims said, "Screw it; we're going back to making our show," or if it was just a fluke, but tonight's episode felt the most "Friday Night Light"-ish since very early in the season.

The shaky-cam made its triumphant return, along with a cameo appearance by the car window cam. While Taylor did a bit of monologuing with Smash, most of the interesting interactions featured things unsaid (Riggins father and son bonding by falling off the wagon at the same time) or said casually (Taylor having a laugh with Street). And I got chills when Smash gave his pre-game prayer all the way through the arrival of Mr. Riggins (even though I could see it coming), the first time the show's affected me deeply in a while. I know it would get old if they showed Smash's prayer every single week, but the use of prayer and religion has always been one of this show's goldmines, and it was good to see that back, too.

Not everything was perfect. Tyra and Julie are apparently best friends now -- even though Tyra looks like she's 10 years older than Julie -- as part of the ongoing Operation: Give Adrianne Palicki Something to Do. And Grandma Saracen, senile or no, seemed out of character both in the scene where Tyra gave Julie advice on how to manipulate Matt and the one where the rally girls kidnapped Matt in his boxers.

But I'm excited to see the next episode, just to see if this one was a fluke or a return to the original form. (Plus, I never object to seeing Hey It's That Guy Brett Cullen, here suitably seedy as Pa Riggins.)

What did everybody else think?
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Ugly Betty: How's it been?

Back in late October/early November when "Earl" and "The Office" were showing original episodes every week and "Survivor: Eugenics Wars" was starting to get good post-mutiny, "Ugly Betty" inadvertently dropped off my radar. I let a half dozen or so episodes build up on the TiVo, then kept saving them for a time when Marian and I could watch them together, and it never quite happened. I intend to catch up at some point, after life gets less hectic, but I'm curious whether the people who stuck with it remain pleased. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, how's our girl holding up? Click here to read the full post

Late links

Some personal stuff has gotten in the way of the professional column-writing (blog posts are much easier to put together), but I've had a couple of pieces in the paper this week, with at least one more to come. Monday featured another mailbag, while today is a grab-bag review and news column, with the second item -- a preview of tomorrow night's very silly "30 Rock" -- probably of the most interest to What's Alan Watching? readers. Click here to read the full post

Veronica Mars: Detectin' ain't easy

Spoilers for "Veronica Mars" coming right up...

As most of you know, after the Dean O'Dell arc wraps up, "Veronica" goes off the air for a couple of months for the CW's "aspirational" reality show about the Pussycat Dolls, then comes back with five self-contained episodes as a test to see if that's the direction the show should go in next year. (Assuming, of course, there is a next year.) And if the last couple of episodes are an indication, maybe done-in-one is the right direction, since the Mysteries of the Week have been by far the best thing about each.

While trying to blackmail a judge was one of the two or three dumbest things Veronica has ever done, the story overall worked very well. Early on, there was just enough ambiguity that I would have buyed either the Twue Wuv or blackmail explanations for Wendy's behavior, and by the time Max bought her freedom, the two characters had been so well-established that the show could get away with several scenes in which all the regulars were either absent or besides the point. I can't remember the last time I invested this much in one of Veronica's clients, and it's a credit to Diane Ruggiero that I cared about both Max and Wendy.

On the other stories, we're now two weeks into the O'Dell mystery and I don't feel like we've learned a whole lot, plus they've played the same note twice in a row about Keith's fame getting in the way of a good undercover op. The 'shipper scenes felt character-consistent, but I'm tired of stories about Veronica's trust issues, and the promos for next week (which, in fairness, are probably as non-representative as all the CW promos have been) looked like we're in for even more angsty dullness.

Some other thoughts:
  • So I guess the mission to smuggle in every line of "Lebowski" one piece at a time has now been overtaken by a quest for "Galactica" references.
  • Am I the only one who absolutely didn't recognize Madison until Veronica identified her? Either a bad wig or a bad hairstyle or something.
  • Favorite scene: Keith saluting Lamb at the stoplight. Diane gives good one-liner, but sometimes the best comedy is silent.
  • Somebody with more free time than me want to go back and do the math on how many episodes each non-Veronica/Keith/Logan regular has been in this season? Rob said in his TWoP interview that the supporting cast (other than Parker) would be featured more heavily in the rest of the season than they were in the rape arc, but Wallace has been MIA for a couple of weeks and Weevil was the only non-Holy Trinity member to show up here.
What did everybody else think?
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House: And I never learned to read!!!

I'm guessing last night's Very Special Episode of "House" was a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most people, though my reaction was more in the middle. I appreciated the attempt to avoid the formula, laughed at the early clinic scenes and even enjoyed House's struggle to be human for five minutes with his patient, but I really hope the writers don't want us to think that House's Deep, Dark Secret explains everything about why he is who he is.

The Cameron story, meanwhile, missed the mark, assuming there was a mark in the first place. And I'm not sure the first episode after the Tritter quagmire is the best time to do a non-formula episode. Better to get back to doing what the show does best for at least a few weeks before trying to reinvent the wheel again.

What did everybody else think? Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Studio 60: I hate snakes

Spoilers for "Studio 60" coming up just as soon as I figure out why NBS would allow its "flagship" show to feature so many plugs for NBC series...

Wait, I'm confused: was it Sorkin's dream to write for "SNL" or to write for "Three's Company"? Because between the Two Dates On One Night and Locked On The Roof, all the episode was lacking was the Misunderstood Overheard Phone Conversation where Matt started to believe that Harriet was pregnant. Doesn't matter if you have Danny comment on the hackiness of the roof situation; it's still hacky, and no amount of highbrow name-dropping can disguise that. Commedia Del'Arte, this ain't.

I'll go with the cell phone issue, as the latest TCA press tour was held at a top LA hotel where you could only get reception in the strangest of places, and being outdoors wasn't always a help. But Tom lying to Lucy about the dinner was the most idiotic of Idiot Plots, a decision made for no reason except that the plot wouldn't work without it.

(Speaking of both TCA and Tom's lie, I don't think I've ever been at a dinner where they had the actors wait tables, but Jimmy Kimmel once cooked burgers for us and I once ordered Martha Stewart to serve us all lunch, so there's at least a little precedent.)

And the fact that Sorkin has stretched Harriet's dinner across three episodes makes all the telegraphing even more painful; any viewer who's intelligent enough, in Sorkin's mind, to watch this show would be intelligent enough to see every single plot development coming at least twenty minutes, if not an entire episode, in advance. The trip to Pahrump didn't need two episodes, and this story sure as hell doesn't need three.

Aside from Snakes On a Soundstage, every storyline was just dragged along from last week, so I don't have much new to say. Of course Jordan is starting to warm towards Danny now that he's backed off even a tiny bit, of course Hallie's awful reality show idea that no one in 2007 would actually want to watch is moving full-steam ahead, and of course Simon is still acting like a complete jackass towards Darius.

And with so much story carryover, I've realized a problem that goes far deeper than the unfunny sketches, or the score-settling writing, or the condescending, factually innacurate vibe: I don't like any of these people. Well, I like Jack sometimes, and Cal is amusing enough in his limited doses, and Matthew Perry has enough personal charm that I can enjoy him sometimes in spite of the negative chemistry levels between Matt and Harriet, but there's no one I care about, no one I feel affection for, nobody who's so compelling that I don't care if he or she makes awful decisions.

Sorkin has said that his backstage world is so much more squeaky-clean than what we know of "SNL" because he likes to write about characters working together to achieve a common goal that the audience can root for. And I don't want to root for these characters.

What did everybody else think?
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Heroes & 24: The not-so-big reveal

I'm combining my thoughts on "Heroes" and "24" because both shows did something that's increasingly driving me nuts of late. I'll deal with that up top, then deal with specific spoilers for "Heroes" and then "24" after.

The newspaper business is in a constant state of hand-wringing over how to survive in the age of instant news on the Internet. If a big story happens at 10 a.m. on Monday, for instance, why would anyone wait to read a standard account of it until Tuesday morning? So the focus in a lot of places is shifting more towards analysis and looking forward.

I mention this because the TV business still needs to learn some lessons from the Information Age. We live in a time when every major casting announcement is hyped weeks or months in advance, especially for geek obsessive shows like "Heroes." Is there a fanboy worth his salt who didn't know Mr. Sulu was going to pop up as Hiro's dad? Especially since the NBC PR team arranged for a new series of stories and other promotion about it to run yesterday to make it clear that this would be George Takei's first episode? So why wait nearly the length of the episode to introduce the guy? Why waste one of his episodes on a single, brief scene when we've all been waiting a while to see Takei and Masi Oka work together? And why try to string out the suspense of who the kidnappers' boss was when it absolutely had to be Papa Nakamura?

The "24" audience isn't as inherently nerdy (a good chunk of the fanbase is made up of middle-aged white guys who used to go to Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies), but every single promo for this episode featured James Cromwell as Jack's dad, and yet again we had to wait nearly the entire hour for him to show up. His arrival wasn't treated as quite the surprise as Takei's was supposed to be -- after all, Jack had spent the length of two episodes looking for his old man -- and he got more to do than Takei, but given all the hype, it still felt like bad pacing.

Shows like "Heroes" and "24" that live and die on shocking the audience with what happens next need to keep in mind what that audience already knows, and devote the last act or two to the real surprises.

Moving on to specifics...

On "Heroes," I will never complain about getting a chance to watch Christopher Eccleston work, but I shouldn't be rooting for him to throw the show's main character off a roof, should I? It does occur to me that the last time I enjoyed Peter's presence was when they paired him off with someone (in that case, Mohinder) who spent all his time making fun of Peter's pushy whininess, so this could work.

I remain baffled that anyone on that writing staff could possibly think that anyone gives a damn about the Parkman marriage. I remember the first season of "Law & Order: SVU," which began with a mission statement as the "L&O" show where you actually learned about the character's home lives, only the veteran "L&O" writers didn't know how to do that, so you got these pointless scenes of Chris Meloni fixing the kitchen sink. This was worse, because at least Stabler was interesting when he was at work, where Parkman has become this show's biggest drag. (At least Simone has the decency to disappear for a few episodes at a time, though the previews make it look like we'll be forced to endure a lot of her next week.)

The comic book geek in me finds it interesting that the children of people with abilities have completely different powers. Micah's machine-talking has nothing in common with intangibility or super-strength, and Claire's mom is a firestarter. (And, based on the previews, I'm guessing her dad is Nathan.) Beyond that, though, not my favorite episode of the series. Even Sylar's escape and confrontation with HRG felt more inevitable than stunning.

"24," meanwhile, suffered from keeping Jack off-camera for the episode's middle chunk. I understand that the producers have to pay lip service to the real time conceit by having Jack take at least 15 minutes to drive anywhere (though how LA isn't one big parking lot as people panic and try to escape the nuke's fallout is beyond me), and I also understand that they have to give the rest of the cast enough to do that Kiefer doesn't collapse from exhaustion, but this is the least inspiring collection of supporting characters and subplots that they've had in a while. Outside of watching Peter MacNichol casually give Karen Hayes a career beat-down, I didn't care about anything that happened when Jack was off-screen.

And getting back to the promo issue again, this was the first episode all season I watched live on Fox. (The first four were DVD review screeners, and I downloaded last week's on iTunes.) Have the promos this season consistently given away this much of the plot? I know Jack's going to find a way to escape his brother's goons, but they showed exactly how, and then they showed what's going to happen next with this wacky sibling rivalry. Felt as bad as a Robert Zemeckis movie trailer.

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, January 29, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: NORM!

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" just as soon as I go out and buy a 'Vette and a Members Only jacket...

Bi-polar episode. Loved the Let's Torture Baltar II: Psychedelic Boogaloo portion, completely bored by the endless love quadrangle. In what little I've listened to of the podcast so far, Moore says the quadrangle story was intended as a light comic break from all the usual bleakness, and it wasn't until they watched final cut that everyone realized that it was just as bleak as everything else they do. I'm trying to figure out what the original vision was, but mutual adultery with two decent cuckolds isn't an overtly wacky concept, and they've been playing the same note since "Unfinished Business" that I'm just tired of it. I admire the show's willingness to let two of its main heroes do selfish, despicable things, but this story's just running in circles now. Either have Lee and Kara actually get together for a while, or leave it alone. I would have much rather had the Bonus Scene integrated into the episode, plus whatever else was cut from the A-story, then to go through all this again.

(Plus, oddly, Jamie Bamber's accent completely changed for this one; it was still non-English, but he didn't sound anything like he usually does.)

But the Baltar scenes? Genius. He's been looking more Christ-like ever since he grew that beard, and this episode's imagery played into that (as well as, as Matt pointed out, a little "Macbeth" homage with the three Sixes standing around the cauldron-like resurrection bath). Adama's "In his eyes, he's the victim, not the criminal" describes Gaius to a T. He didn't think he was dooming humanity; he thought he was having a lot of sex with a hot blonde. Of course, from that point on, his mistakes become harder to defend objectively (giving a nuke to a Cylon rape victim being the worst of those), but some argument could be made. Marian doesn't watch the show very often, but as she was sitting through this one she kept asking of Baltar, "So he's the bad guy, right?" And I had to say, "He's not bad; he's just self-interested." And smart, too.

It occurs to me now that one of the big reasons I had an issue with the latter half of season 3.0 was the sidelining of Adam and Roslin, a flaw that came into sharp relief after seeing so much of them both, and Roslin in particular, in this episode. With a different actress, the shift from Laura playing nice with Baltar to Laura as screaming Airlocker-in-Chief would have felt jarring, but Mary McDonnell sold it with that one little head shake after Baltar insisted he didn't collude in the genocide of humanity. She's so amazing, it feels wasteful to have her in only one or two scenes an episode.

This is later than I wanted to post it (the above link to Todd VanDerWerf's review on Matt's site goes into more detailed analysis of Baltar's hallucinations), so I'll jump to some other quick thoughts:
  • On the one hand, "Occupation" aired so long ago that I wouldn't have remembered Baltar giving Laura her glasses if the show hadn't bothered with that flashback. On the other hand, it reminded me of one of David Simon's recurring complaints about "The Wire" pilot and how HBO made him put in a flashback at the very end in case the audience was too dumb to recognize the murder victim from earlier in the episode. This is obviously a much longer gap, but there's a part of me that thinks it would have been cooler if Laura's gesture had gone unexplained, a little something for the real obsessives to appreciate.
  • Where did Lee and Dee get wedding rings, anyway? When Billy proposed to Dualla with his class ring, it was with the implication that there isn't a jewelry store ship as part of the rag-tag fleet. (I assume that's one of the reasons Starbuck and Anders got those marital tattoos; ink's more available than jewelry.)
  • My recording cut off before the closing credits. Do my eyes deceive me or was that Hey It's That Guy Tom Bower as Joe the bartender?
  • About the only thing I found interesting in the quadrangle stuff: Lee, the alleged straight-arrow good guy, is the one lying to his spouse, insulting her when she calls him on it, and passive-agressively running back to her because he's afraid of being with Kara (and also to spite her for what she did to him on New Caprica), where Kara the psycho rageaholic is capable of having an honest, even loving discussion with her spouse about what she should do. She doesn't deserve Anders, but at least she's not trying to fool him about what he's in for in the future.
  • Oh, and I also liked the acknowledgement that Cally is to Tyrol what Dualla is to Lee, and yet I believe the Chief when he says he doesn't think about Sharon anymore. He's more straightforward than Lee.
  • The bonus scene with Roslin and Caprica was superb -- loved the disdain dripping from Laura at learning Six's nickname -- and I can't think of a single quadrangle scene that deserved to make the regular cut over it. But then Sci-Fi wouldn't have had an excuse to drive people to their website, would they?
What did everybody else think?
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Extras: The trouble with Harry (and his Johnny)

Spoilers for "Extras" just as soon as I can convince Marian that our flatscreen isn't too big for the room...

And here's where season two launches itself into the laugh stratosphere I was expecting when I heard Gervais and Merchant were doing a new show. Everything worked, from little stuff like Darren trying to unload his TV to more obvious comedy like Horny Harry Potter. (While the celebs don't generally have anything to do with how they're written, Daniel Radcliffe came up with saying "Ring don't mean a thing.") I've seen the scene with Radcliffe, Andy, the unwrapped Johnny and Diana Rigg a half dozen times, and it still makes me double over in laughter.

This was also one of the better fake movies they've done, as I can totally imagine Radcliffe getting typecast in bad fantasy movies for a long time after the Potter series ends. And I like that Dame Diana escapes with her image totally unscathed. For a moment, I thought that when he asked about the "Avengers" catsuit, she was going to invite him to her dressing room, but having her maintain her dignity was much funnier.

But the real genius of the episode was the Down syndrome subplot, which Gervais said they came up with in season one but wanted to save until Andy was famous. I skim the covers of Us Weekly and In Touch at the supermarket, have Defamer and Deadspin bookmarked and have helped Marian recuperate from back surgery by regaling her with very-detailed tales of the Cameron Diaz/Justin Timberlake/Jessica Biel Golden Globes kerfuffle, and the way Andy was treated by the press was only slightly exaggerated, if that, from the way he would be in real life. Loved the reporter literally digging through the trash and then acting like he was just stopping by, telephone game exagerration of the incident, and especially Darren baiting the talk show host into playing Guess The Mongoloid.

What's interesting is that Andy should know better about everything, should know by now not to say anything potentially damaging to Maggie the blabbermouth, should know that Darren will never, ever make any situation better. So while he's not as actively creating his own misery as David Brent, he's not an innocent victim, either.

What did everybody else think?
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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Gilmore Girls: The G.G. problem

Coming very late to "Gilmore Girls," I'd rather steer clear of the episode itself -- though I can never complain too much about an episode that features Gil, or one that has a vintage scene like Lorelai venting to Rory about her writer's block -- and deal with a question that the show has awkwardly sidestepped:

What's up with G.G.?

In all of the awkwardness surrounding Lorelai's impulse buy of a marriage to Christopher, the arrival of a little girl into her home and life has been all but ignored. Back when Lorelai and Luke were together, there was some tension over his desire to have a kid and her feeling that she was done with that part of her life, and now she's got another woman's four-year-old running underfoot. That's a major, major lifestyle change for her, almost as big as Zach and Lane's impending twins -- hell, even if they have a nanny to take care of her, that's still another person inserted into Lorelai's life -- but it's not treated as such. G.G.'s just kinda there (and not played by the best kid actress, to boot).

It's not even that G.G.'s high maintenance, since she's seemed pretty easy-going since Lorelai had her parenting intervention with Chris. But the arrival of any kid, especially one that young and non-self-sufficient, would throw anyone's life majorly out of whack, and it's barely been commented on, let alone mined for potential conflict.

Anybody else bugged by this, or is it just me? Click here to read the full post

Friday, January 26, 2007

The O.C.: Where's Ned Ryerson when you need him?

Spoilers for "The O.C." just as soon as I figure out what holidays would have been left for Josh to write about in season five (Purim?)...

An attempt to make peace with cancellation. On the one hand, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that there are only four episodes left. In my head I understand the vagaries of ratings and the TV business, but the show is so creatively vibrant right now, which almost never happens in a final season. (Or, if it does, it's with a show like "Seinfeld" or "Cheers" where the stars don't want to keep going.)

On the other hand, I can see some wisdom in letting things wind down. Since the Marissa shiva ended, the season's been long on character and short on plot. There have been some significant events (Summer kicked out of Brown, the arrival of Ryan's father), but overall things happen largely as an excuse to give certain characters more to do, or to generate some phony conflict, like the pointless ups and downs of Ryan and Taylor's relationship.

Taylor's funny and Chatty Ryan is interesting, so a faux-arc can be entertaining on a short-term basis, but I don't know that there's another year's worth of stories to tell about these characters.

In a way, in fact, this episode felt like it could have been the finale. Kirsten's pregnant, Ryan and Taylor are back together, Che has found happiness with Groundhog Girl, and Julie has tentatively agreed to marry The Bullet. Obviously, there's more to come with her and Frank, and with Seth and Summer, but there's nothing that has me on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next. So in that way, it feels like the right time. Hell, they even brought in Showkiller Allison La Placa to play Taylor's therapist. Will Jason Gedrick be popping up in the finale?

Some other episode specifics: Peter Gallagher hasn't had a lot to do this year, but his reaction to the baby news was beautiful. I'm surprised Che didn't try to turn their night on the rooftop into something amorous; it was amusing to see him try to reconcile his heterosexuality with his belief in the validity of spirit visions. I was also expecting more wacky mistaken identity hijinks with both Summer and Taylor in the groundhog suits, and I can't decide whether I'm happy they didn't go there. And Chatty Ryan feels like a completely different character, but not in a bad way.

What did everybody think of this episode? And have you made your peace yet?
Click here to read the full post

A tale of two Davids, part deux

David Mills interviews David Simon some more. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

24: Do sharks have siblings that jump over them?

Belated "24" spoilers coming right up...

Let's begin at the obvious love-it-or-hate-it twist: Evil Bluetooth Man, the mastermind behind all of last season's mayhem, is Jack's brother? Um... uh... really? They're going there? Ooookay...

This obviously wasn't something that was planned last year, any more than I believe that the writers knew President Logan was evil any more than a month before they did that script. For the last few years, they've only been working a few weeks ahead at any given moment, nevermind saving stuff for later seasons. I can't find the link off-hand, but I remember Howard Gordon doing an interview after the spring finale where he was asked what happened to Bluetooth and admitted that they just forgot about him.

Do I think it's silly? Yes. Did I groan when they revealed it? Absolutely. But here's the thing: I had almost the exact same reaction to the Logan reveal, and while I never felt like the show explained or earned the twist, I learned to live with it, because Gregory Itzin was such a good actor and because the writers got so much mileage out of the twist. Paul McCrane is also a terrific actor, and while I think the Evil Brother gimmick is even cheesier than Evil President, I expect McCrane and Kiefer to really sink their teeths into this stuff. The genius of "24," as I've said so often in the past, is that it never stops moving, and the bad ideas can be left behind quickly. We forgave them for the amnesia, and the cougar, and that thing with Chase and Chloe and the baby that I never saw in season three but heard about later, and whether this latest idea works or not, the show is very quickly going to be on to five or ten others. We're only at episode five and already we seem to have abandoned Jack Bauer, Reluctant Torturer. Time to move on to somthing else. It's what makes the show fun, and it's what arguably makes it shark-proof.

Since I'm coming so late to the party, others have already commented on the possible Rocket Romano vs. The Helicopter shout-out, as well as the probability that McCrane and Rena Sofer's son is really Jack's.

I'm disappointed that Assad is being shipped off to Washington, as that will A)take him out of action for at least four episodes, and B)probably eliminate any future Jack/Assad team-ups. I'm intrigued by how the Peter MacNichol character was written far more sympathetically this week; maybe he's not this year's token Disloyal Presidential Subordinate. And I continue to love Bill Buchanan's absolutely deadpan reactions to whatever crazy stuff Jack tells him each week. "I thought you were out." "I'm back in." "Um, okay."

What did everybody else think?
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Veronica Mars: Would you like to buy a monkey?

Some brief spoilers for "Veronica Mars" just as soon as I figure out why "Stop Being a Hater and Learn to Love the O.C." didn't include an author's photo...

So good to have this show back, and with an episode that was largely firing on all cylinders. I've lost all interest in the LoVe 'ship, or whatever it's being called at the moment, and feel like they should have let the separation play out over more episodes (even if six weeks have passed in Veronica Time), but beyond that subplot, I was very pleased.

Best Mystery of the Week in quite some time. Even though I suspected the male lab jockey almost from the start (mainly because I recognized him from ABC's short-lived "Night Stalker" remake), there were some good twists and turns, an ethical conundrum for Veronica (the monkey was awfully cute, I'll admit) and a refreshingly downbeat ending (Veronica gives back the cash and another monkey's going to get capped). I like that Veronica isn't subtle when she goes undercover; she's a blunt instrument, where Keith occasionally can be a scalpel. (Even if his own minor celebrity screwed him over with Landry, I thought he made a good approach.) And, most of all, I was glad to have Mac get by far her biggest showcase of the season, to see some bonding amongst all three ladies (the trolling for guys nature of the story made Wallace's absence less obvious), and to see Kristen Bell break out her metal face twice in one hour.

Landry's such an obvious suspect in O'Dell's murder that I'm guessing upfront he didn't do it. So who else is already in the suspect pool? Mrs. O'Dell, Tim the TA, the shady alumnus, maybe the Lilith House women (though probably not)... anyone I'm missing?

What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Studio 60: Look who's stalking

God bless this series of tubes. I'm still TV-less, but I just got through the latest "Studio 60" episode over on NBC.com. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I pay royalties to the "Veronica Mars" guys for stealing one of their episode titles for my subject line...

I quote my friend Phil: "Boy, when Sorkin says the show's going to lurch into more of a romantic comedy, it really lurches, huh?" If this is a sign of what the new direction is going to be, I don't think I'm in danger of having to write a "Boy, 'Studio 60' has sure gotten better" column anytime soon.

Could Danny possibly be any creepier in his pursuit of Jordan? I know that dogged pursuit in the face of constant rejection is a classic romcom trope, going back to '30s screwball comedies, even back to Shakespeare, but those stories always take place in some elevated plane of reality. This, on the other hand, is a show that tries to trade on taking place in something resembling the real world, and in the real world, Danny's a walking sexual harassment suit. Jordan's already been a tabloid joke for months, and now he's calling around to every celebrity he knows to get them to help him woo his pregnant boss? Is there any way that doesn't wind up on Defamer or Page Six or PerezHilton?

And the thing of it is, the show has Jordan go and make this point, and has Danny play contrite for all of 30 seconds, only to have him insist that he's going to go right on doing it, anyway. If they had chopped off that very last bit, it would have been fine, would have shown that Danny can be arrogant and impetuous and overbearing but is also capable of listening to the woman he's allegedly interested in. That would be a decent jumping-off point for their inevitable coupling. What Sorkin actually did, however, just squicked me out.

Also squicky? Simon acting like Darius has to be his manservant for the next 75 years because he happened to be standing next to Matt when Matt offered him a job.

Just plain boring? Matt and Harriet. No chemistry, nothing interesting about the two of them behaving like five-year-olds, no point except that they're The Couple We've All Been Waiting For or somesuch.

Really frustrating? The FCC subplot, which would actually be really good if Sorkin had bothered to give Jack and Wilson a cause that only a complete imbecile would be on the wrong side of. Have them support the First Amendment by going to bat for some fictionalized version of Howard Stern or Sarah Silverman, and you have a much more complicated, much more interesting, much better storyline.

And continuing with the show's complete disinterest in nuance, we have Jordan's new nemesis from Illiterate Programming. Leaving aside the fact that both Jordan and Sorkin's condemnation of reality TV ignores Sturgeon's Law, why does the new VP have to be such a blatant conniving bitch? Bob Rumson was more sympathetic. And her show idea was just as lame and unlikely to gather a huge audience as "Search and Destroy."

(Oddly enough, the first time I heard of "The 48 Laws of Power" was on "The Contender," where one of the contestants had read it and was using it to manipulate the others.)

But I'll give "Monday" this, and maybe only this: I could see Dylan's chubbby gymnast idea being very funny.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

HIMYM: Naked came the Barnatee

The Internet helped me out with "How I Met Your Mother," and I have a few minutes downtime, so quick spoilers just as soon as I ponder whether Marshall spends as much time weekly rewatching that Ford Expedition commercial with Nessie as I do with "Dick in a Box"...

Bryan Cranston and his little feet do their best to prop up the first exclusively Ted-centric A-story in a while, but all it did was to remind me why the show hasn't done one in so long. As straight man for Barney or Marshall or the ladies, or as friendly mocker of Swarley or the New Dart, he's perfectly fine, but as a solo comic character, he's an empty (nude?) canvas.

The nude painting subplot wasn't quite legendary, but I liked Marshall's reaction to the painting in the bar, Marshall squeezing more money out of Barney, and the fact that the gang isn't limiting their merry prankstering to just Barney.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

I'm otherwise detained

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was away from TV last night and may be tonight as well. ("Heroes" was a DVD screener I had watched in advance.) So my thoughts on "Studio 60," "24" and "How I Met Your Mother" will have to wait, at least until tonight, if not beyond that. Sorry, folks. Like I said when I left press tour early, occasionally the real world becomes more important than television.

Also done in advance, like the "Heroes" post: today's column, which is primarily a wrap-up of network scheduling announcements made in the tour's final days. Someone here had asked about the online fate of "Day Break," and there's an answer to that, too. Click here to read the full post

Monday, January 22, 2007

Heroes: See him, hear him, touch him

"Heroes" spoilers coming up just as soon as I figure out what inspired me to transcribe Mohinder's latest coma-inducing closing monologue...

One of my regrets about having to bail on press tour early was not getting to ask Tim Kring his take on the whole "Save the cheerleader, save the world" semi-resolution. Given the push on the "Are you on the list?" as the new promotional tagline, I still don't know whether Kring feels he paid off the first one or if he's waiting to drop the second shoe.

I care because, as I've said in the past, the chief pleasure I take in "Heroes" is as The Show Where Stuff Happens All the Time. It's not as artful, not as deep or well-executed as a "Galactica" or "Lost" (when "Lost" is good), to name just a couple of current quasi-skiffy shows, but it provides constant instant gratification, and that covers a lot of sins. I know Kring has pledged to keep up that approach, but if he starts doing it in half-measures without realizing it, then here there be problems.

All this is a preamble to discussing "Godsend," in which a whole lot of things are set up for the second "pod" of episodes, payoffs presumably to follow shortly. Hiro steals The Sword, but it isn't really The Sword. (I did get a kick out of the writers finding a cheap yet fair way to make Isaac's Hiro Vs. Dinosaur painting come true.) Peter encounters Claude the Invisible Man, but don't get past the "Who the hell are you?" stage of the MeetCute. Parkman doesn't get any closer to nailing HRG, and then his home scenes made me fall asleep. (I woke up just long enough to laugh at the lameness of him using "pick a number" as his proof.)

Now, they're coming back from a long break, so I don't have a problem with a show that only moves a couple of stories along more than incrementally. I'm just slightly more wary about believing this will wrap up interestingly.

Stuff I liked, and other random thoughts:
  • Loved Hiro's reunion with "FLYING MAN!" Nathan, and Nathan reluctantly entertaining the idea of doing some real superheroing.
  • Also liked Claire re-enacting her fall from the pilot (and her baiting her father with the "Where'd you find me?," which had a double meaning about both Homecoming night and how he came to adopt her).
  • Out of curiosity, I checked to see if Primatechpaper.com was a real website. Of course it was. Geeks, enjoy.
  • Ali Larter's really growing on me, particularly her ability to switch between Niki and Jessica without seeming like a ham.
  • Nice "12 Monkeys" time loop touch with Peter booking a trip to the Nevada desert to avoid blowing up New York, when we all know that his Nevada trip will make him cross paths with Radioactive Man.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

For "The Wire" fans...

David Mills interviews David Simon. Click here to read the full post

Studio 60: Getting personal

Today's column is my account of last week's TCA visit to the "Studio 60" set:
Aaron Sorkin isn't happy with me. But then, he also isn't happy with bloggers, comedy writers, the Los Angeles Times and numerous other people and groups who have written unflattering things about "Studio 60."

It's an uncharacteristically chilly SoCal morning, and several dozen TV critics and reporters have gathered to hear Sorkin explain how "Studio 60" began the season with more hype and promise than any show on television and will be lucky to end it with a renewal for next year.

The show, set backstage at a fake version of "Saturday Night Live," has its devoted viewers and critics, but as many or more (including yours truly) have attacked it for, among other reasons, a smug attitude; the unfunny nature of the sketches on the show within the show; the lack of resemblance to what we know about the real "SNL" and its backstage culture; and Sorkin seemingly using the series to settle old scores with former colleagues and girlfriends.

"We get a lot of negative press on this show," he says. "We got it on 'West Wing,' we got it on 'Sports Night,' I got it on the plays I've done, the movies I've done, and public comments that I've made... It's the cost of doing business."

The cost, however, seems higher than it has in the past.
To read the rest, click here. And in reading, you may note that at one point he directly adresses me by name in response to somebody else's question about the autobiographical nature of the show. I'm the only person he did this to (on several occasions over the hour), and it's not because I was the most famous critic in the room, or the best writer, or his friend. It was because he's been reading my stuff and, as the first line of the story says, he's not happy with it or me and wanted to make that clear. As the visit was wrapping up, I made a point of seeking him out to at least discuss things, and he said I had "made it personal" by writing so much about the real-life parallels in general, and his relationship with Kristin in particular.

Now, I resolved a long time ago to make my criticism be about the work and not the person doing that work, so Sorkin saying I had crossed that line struck as big a nerve with me as my writing had with him. I could make an argument that identifying what feels to me to be score-settling in the show is a criticism of the work, but I feel like I've made that point several times over in just a half-season.

So here's the deal: that column and this blog entry are the last time I'm going to write about "Studio 60" and Kristin Chenoweth together. The show's flaws, to me, go beyond that one angle, and going forward I'd rather focus on the other stuff -- both the bad and, hopefully, the good -- than to keep hammering at this one point. Back tonight or tomorrow morning with thoughts on "Monday." Click here to read the full post

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Showdown at slap o'clock

"Battlestar Galactica" is back and it's slap-tastic. Spoilers (posted early because I may be computerless for a bit) coming right up...

Ron Moore has said that, with the exception of "33," he's never been completely satisfied with the self-contained episodes, and that the arc episodes -- usually at the beginning, midway point and ends of seasons -- are almost always better than the standalones.

Now, I've liked a lot of standalones besides "33" ("Flight of the Phoenix," "Flesh and Bone" and "Scar," to name just three), but "33" is the only one that can hold a candle to a "Pegasus" or the entire New Caprica storyline, and these last two episodes on the algae planet have been an order of magnitude better than anything we've seen since "Collaborators."

So why is that? Why are the arc shows so much better? I can think of a few obvious reasons:
  1. Awesome cliffhangers (Adama shot, Pegasus and Galactica at war, "One year later," etc.);
  2. The entire cast is involved in significant ways, whereas many of the standalone shows tend to focus on one or a handful of characters;
  3. There are consequences to what's happened before and in what will happen after.
It's that last one that's the big issue, one of the main elements that's elevated "Galactica" over the "Star Trek" spin-offs and virtually all of modern TV skiffy. There is no reset button. Grudges are held. Lost lives and resources aren't magically replaced. What the audience has watched before matters, and it makes what they're watching now better.

Take a scene like Helo shooting Sharon. That's a huge emotional moment under any circumstances, but it resonates more because so much time has been spent on the theft of Hera, on Sharon's re-assimilation into the Colonial fleet, and on the basics of Cylon resurrection. And because the writers and the audience have put the time in on all of that, it becomes obvious what Sharon's asking Helo to do, and why, and what the ramifications of that will be, well before he does it. And then he does it in a way that I, at least, didn't expect, in mid-embrace, and it just slayed me, no pun intended.

Now compare that to, say, "Hero," which involves a character we've never seen before and will probably never see again, an inner conflict for Adama that doesn't track with anything we know of the character and that gets resolved in the course of the hour, relatively minimal stakes... that could've been a "Next Generation" episode involving an old friend of Picard's from the Stargazer with minimal changes.

Overall, I wouldn't put "Rapture" on the level of a "Resurrection Ship" or "Exodus Pt. II," but what made it good was how it either paid off or paid forward so many storylines: Sharon and Helo's stolen baby, D'Anna's messianic obsession with The Final Five, the Lee/Kara/Dee/Anders quadrangle, Caprica Six's disenchantment with her own people and Tyrol's spiritual background and struggles, among others. And even if some of those stories weren't the most riveting along the way (D'Anna's, notably), by the time we got to the end of them, I felt like my patience was mostly rewarded.

Some specific scenes I liked, other than Helo/Sharon:
  • The Sharon/Boomer showdown, and Caprica Six making what seems to be a very foolish choice by snapping Boomer's neck and helping Sharon escape. (Sharon always had one respected human ally on her side in Helo, while Caprica's only friend is even more hated than she is.)
  • Dee going for the premature slap-ulation to keep Starbuck awake -- and to punish her, however mildly, for screwing with her man.
  • Apollo and Anders doing a live grenade alley-oop, in a moment that could have been even cooler if I had a better understanding of the rules of Pyramid.
  • Helo looking much bigger than Madame President as he explained, "If you hadn't lied and stolen our baby in the first place, we wouldn't be here at all."
  • The callback to the paintings in Starbuck's apartment, which made me wish I didn't have my DVDs out on loan so I could check and see if the Eye of Jupiter was in the background of that scene or if the writers are just being retroactively clever.
  • Placing Baltar in a bodybag to keep his presence a relative secret.
  • The final scene with D'Anna and Brother Cavil. The rough cut didn't have the FX completed, so all I saw in the final shot was one of each, as opposed to hundreds. Given the CGI team's track record, I'm going to guess the finished product looked cool.
So what did everybody else think? And how would you suggest improving the standalones to avoid another slump like we had in between "Collaborators" and "Eye of Jupiter"?
Click here to read the full post

Extras: Pathetic little fat man, no one's bloody laughing

Spoilers for "Extras" (posted early because I may be computerless for a while) coming up just as soon as I find a vagrant to help me make change...

Of the early episodes of season two, Ricky Gervais said, "We go through the journey of seeing the difference between fame and infamy. Fame without respect is nothing." Boy, howdy. Having sold out completely to the BBC to get "When the Whistle Blows" on the air, Andy is quickly learning that difference, illustrated handily when he meets David Bowie, a man of genuine fame and talent who quickly sizes up Andy for the desperate hack he's become, then uses the talent that made him famous to instantly pen a devastating musical take-down. (In real life, Bowie wrote the music, and it sounds like Gervais and Merchant did the lyrics.)

My favorite part of that scene was Maggie helping Bowie write the song, yet another example of her congenital inability to lie, no matter how much she needs to. (Ditto her crumbling on the autograph scam in the face of Andy's suspicious new neighbor.) I think Darren's the most consistently funny character on the show (loved him explaining the pointlessness of critics), but I just enjoy watching Ashley Jensen work. (And since "Ugly Betty" has unintentionally fallen off my radar, this is the only place I'm seeing her right now.)

The scenes with Andy and the bum were the most "Curb" this show has felt in a while -- probably too much. Andy isn't Larry David, and I couldn't help but feel like asking the bum to make change is the sort of thing Larry would pull (and then act outraged if the bum refused to do it). Much better was his encounter with the scary-obsessive fan who kept repeating "the wig, the catchphrase, the glasses" over and over like it was his mantra. It's both sad and hilarious that Andy had to go see the guy again to pick himself up after the Bowie fiasco.

The Bowie song aside, this was probably my least favorite episode of the six, but it's also a necessary one to establish what's to follow, in terms of Andy's newfound celebrity and the complete worthlessness of same.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Friday, January 19, 2007

Earl & 30 Rock: KAT COU SUC

Spoilers for, in order, "My Name Is Earl" & "30 Rock" coming right up...

Well, I suppose "My Name Is Earl" has to go back to the formula every now and then, if only to make episodes like the last few feel more special. As generic "Earl" goes, this was pretty good, particularly the weird touches like the building super's blase expertise on Murphy bed deaths and pretty much any scene with John Waters.

(And having Waters guest star on your show is usually -- usually -- a sign you're doing something special, as his other TV guest spots were on "The Simpsons," "Homicide" twice, and... "21 Jump Street.")

One thing that interested me (aside from the TWoP shout-out, which I'm sure made the folks there happy) was Randy's comment about not liking legal massages. Admittedly, I haven't seen every episode, but this was the first time I remember Randy being written with anything higher than a 12-year-old's attitude and experience towards sex. Michael Scott's having sex, Randy is at least no stranger to happy endings -- is NBC's new Thursday quickly becoming a virgin-free zone?

"30 Rock," meanwhile, feels like a show that's already made The Leap midway through season one. I don't know if their joke-per-minute rate is approaching "Arrested Development," but there's a real confidence to the writing (dare I say that it has the boldness of a much younger woman?) such that even if one subplot is largely a dud (Tracy's autobiography was meh), the other two will be so funny that it won't much matter. Highlights: Liz and Jenna's freak-out seeing Jack in the page uniform, the entire Brian Williams bit (highlighted, of course, by the half-cleaned graffiti), Liz trying to talk geek TV with The Hair's pretty friends, both Jack and Kenneth rattling off TV show ideas, and the callback to the hot dog gag from the pilot as the reason why Liz fell for The Hair. (Also, subtle foreshadowing in that scene when The Hair says, "Hey, all of us have uncles who are cops.") Just splendid.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Grey's Anatomy: Break like the wind

I won't have a chance to watch 30 Rock and The O.C. until later today at the earliest, if not some time this weekend. In the meantime, spoilers for "Grey's Anatomy" coming right up...

Cue Silvio Dante: Everytime I think I'm out, they pull me back in! It's not even that "Six Days" (parts 1 & 2) was a magnificent effort on the level of "Into You Like a Train" or the Super Bowl bomb two-parter, but it managed to minimize most of the annoying tics that had me on the verge of bailing, allowing me to focus on the things that Shonda and company do so well.

Take the fart scene. Lovely little moment, and the sort of tension-breaker that anyone facing the death of a loved one has probably experienced. (For me and my sisters, there was a stupid, funny out of all proportion "Talk to the hand" joke as our father was in his final hours.)

Or the subtler little moments, like George's nod to Callie to come into the room, or the way that Bailey didn't feel compelled to admit to Izzy (and blatantly spell out for the audience) that she's just as capable of becoming too involved in her patients' lives, or Meredith finally connecting with her dad over something so minor as the snoring.

(Not that you couldn't see that one coming, or Izzy paying for Egg Veal's back surgery. I'm glad that they at least didn't try to play that one like a huge shock, since I think everyone who watched last week knew where that story was going.)

The one annoying spot: Alex and Addison. Meh. When relationship shows start playing mix-and-match with whatever characters happen to be single at the time, I grow weary. Plus, I think it's a more interesting character arc for Alex the sexist porker if he develops a strong interest in a "woman's specialty" and respect for a strong female boss without it coming down to him getting in her pants.

Still, pretty good, and a reminder of why I put up with so much of the badness. What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Office: Hard-working. Alpha male. Jackhammer... Merciless. Insatiable.


Spoilers for "The Office" just as soon as I tell my drill instructor, "I GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!!! I GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!!!"

First of all, awesome music choice with the Muzak version of "Up Where We Belong" in the background of Michael's reconciliation with Dwight. I already had the "Officer and a Gentleman" theme running through my head as soon as I saw Michael walking into the Staples, then I wondered if they were going to play the real thing (and somehow violate the documentary conceit), then heard what sounded like random Muzak, then realized that it was "Up Where We Belong." Just perfect. To quote Marv Somebody, YES!!!!

This one wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny as "Traveling Salesmen," but that's because they were going for more of a poignant tone. Everybody's out of sorts in this one. Dwight's working elsewhere, Andy is trying to become Dwight (but is oddly turning into Michael), Michael seems normal in comparison to Andy (his only real bad moment was at the Party Planning Committee meeting), Karen's refusal to play accomplice briefly turns Jim into Tim from British "Office," Angela is (temporarily) human, and the reunion of the Jim/Pam Prank Squad clues Karen into what a terrible mistake she just made.

(Minor) credit to Jim for manning up and admitting the truth, even if he had to wait to be asked by Karen. So what do you do if you're her? You're young and smart, but the economy sucks, and you've already moved once in the last few months. Do you stay with Jim and spend the rest of the relationship waiting for the other shoe to drop? Do you break up with him but stay at that job and feel humiliated every day? Do you join Fat Guy Who Isn't Kevin, Non-Stereotypical Black Ex-Con and Nursing Mother on the bread line?

Some random thoughts, good bits and lines:
  • Was that Kevin Reilly as Dwight's first job interviewer?
  • Oh, one other Michael-as-Michael moment: he explains Ebonics. (On the flip side, the revelation that he was hiding behind the door during what seemed to be B-roll of Andy looking for him was beautiful.)
  • Jim to Ryan: "I liked you better as a temp." Ryan to Jim: "Me too."
  • Phyllis thinks she has a big personality?
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Scrubs: You're the only man who's ever been inside me

Spoilers for the "Scrubs" musical episode coming up just as soon as I think of a good rhyme for hypothalamus...

As I mentioned in my column the other day, I wish I had seen "Guy Love" and "Everything Comes Down to Poo" for the first time in the context of the show. "Guy Love" in particular was my favorite number of the night, but having watched it a few times in advance, it had lost a lot of its kick by the time I got to it here. Still fun, but not rolling on the floor, crying my eyes out fun.

And that's the way I felt about the whole episode, I think. I'm glad they did it, I enjoyed a lot of the numbers -- particularly Carla and Turk's tango, the Les Miz-ish pre-intermission song (complete with curtain pull), and the "Avenue Q" songwriters getting around John C. McGinley's minimal singing ability by giving him a "Modern Major General"-type speak-sing number -- but I wasn't over the moon about it the way I was with, say, "Once More with Feeling" on "Buffy." I think I'd probably even put the "Chicago Hope" musical episode over this one.

Again, I don't want to sound too down over this. I've been very pleased with the last couple of episodes, but I was ecstatic when I first heard that they were doing a musical and that a bunch of "Avenue Q" people would be involved(*), and I built it up in my head beyond a point they could live up to.

((*) Keep in mind that "The Internet Is For Porn" was my ringtone for a really long time until I started to worry that Julia could understand it; now it's Fountains of Wayne's "Maureen.")

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Losing Isaiah

Back in Jersey, and it looks from a skim of TV Tattle that a whole lotta stuff went down while I was in the air. Not surprised but pleased to see "Earl," "The Office" and "Heroes" get full-season pick-ups for next year, and only mildly surprised that "Idol" was even bigger than ever in the numbers. (People love the freakshow.) And it looks like my Trump/Rosie proposal was as futile as I expected it to be.

The one bit of news I want to talk about began before I left California: the latest round in the Isaiah Washington-T.R. Knight kerfuffle. Shonda and ABC have done their best to manage the problem to date, but it sounds like things have escalated beyond their control. So, two questions:

1)Given how public and ugly this has become, is there any way that both Washington and Knight will be on the show next year?

2)If not, is there any way that Washington won't be the one to go?

In terms of 1, I think we're past the point of no return. There have been TV shows where the leads couldn't stand each other ("Moonlighting," to name a classic), but the viciousness has rarely become this public. Something has to be done, and I think it's the bouncing of Washington. He wasn't even the first choice to play Burke (Paul Adelstein, aka Kellerman from "Prison Break," had the part but couldn't get out of a movie commitment), one of the character's more interesting facets (his friendship with George) is being wiped out by real-world factors, and they already have Brooke Smith on hand as a replacement heart surgeon (if not as a new love interest for Sandra Oh). George, meanwhile, is one of the show's most popular characters, and T.R. Knight is the victim in all this.

Am I wrong? Does Isaiah remain employed next season? Click here to read the full post

Press tour: another POV

Since I'm cutting out early and will be in the air for much of tomorrow, here's Ken Levine on what press tour is like from a producer's perspective. At one point, he cites this incident:
For one of our sessions we followed a producer who insulted all of the critics, made fun of one member’s accent, and listed every euphemism for vagina he could think of. By the time we got up to speak there was almost a mutiny.
This occurred at my very first tour, the summer of '96, and involved Jamie Tarses' dad and one of the worst sitcoms ever made. And Tarses was every bit as hostile as Ken makes it sound, if not moreso.

Oh, and while "American Idol" premiered tonight, I won't be watching much or commenting at all until at least the Hollywood rounds, if not the semi-finals. The freakshow audition version has never done much for me. (Given how highly-rated those episodes are compared to the rest of the season, I suppose that puts me in the minority.) Comment on it here if you want, but I don't really pay attention until the audience gets involved in the process. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

That's it for me! You've been great!

As mentioned over at the official tour blog, I have to go home several days early to deal with some matters that are more urgent than the timeslot for "Hidden Palms." The good news is, at least I got to end my tour on an interesting note: a face to face with Aaron Sorkin on the "Studio 60" set. I'll be writing that up for Monday's column, I think, and any details that don't make that will be blogged here.

Gotta pack. Click here to read the full post

Notes from the TCA underbelly

Since yesterday was primarily an off-day, I fill most of today's column with short reviews of stuff airing later in the week ("Dresden Files," "Galactica" and the "Scrubs" musical), plus a few leftover news tidbits (including the fact that, yes, Lucy Punch is no longer working on "The Class").

Instead of watching the Golden Globes, I went out to see "Pan's Labyrinth," about which I'm still pondering. The fantasy sequences are amazing, and I loved Sergi Lopez's performance as the fascist captain, even if he was maybe too relentlessly wicked (as a fairy tale for adults, shouldn't there have been just a little nuance). I'm just not positive the two halves hung together well enough.

As for the Globe results themselves, happy to see America Ferrera and Alec Baldwin get some love, though neither was a surprise. She's a Young Ingenue, he's a Famous Hollywood Star, and those are the types the HFPA typically fawns over. Would've liked to see Sacha Baron Cohen's speech, but beyond that, I'm good. These days, I only watch awards shows if I have a professional obligation to do so.

Today's a set visit day, the highlight of which should be a stop by the "Studio 60" studio -- if only because I look forward to Sorkin's defense of the show, and/or Sarah Paulson attempting to say nice things about the material she has to play. Click here to read the full post

Monday, January 15, 2007

24: Bing, bang, boom

"24" spoilers coming right up...

Rest in peace, Curtis Manning. I had you pegged in my "24" Dead Pool almost from the moment you appeared this season. Frankly, I'm stunned you survived this long as Jack's sidekick. At the very least, I would have expected you to have lost a limb by now. I'm sorry I didn't care about your inner torment over what Assad did to you and your buddies in the Gulf, but you did something no one's been able to do since Nina capped Teri Bauer: you made Jack weep.

And rest in peace, Raphael Sbarge and the people of Valencia. Damn. In the can-you-top-this world of "24," what happens when a nuke gets detonated in a populated area in the season's fourth episode? Ordinarily, I'd speculate, but I think Surnow, Cochran and Gordon know only slightly more than I do about where things are going from here.

The 2x2 premiere worked well this time, if only because episode three was by far the weakest of the bunch, and it was immediately followed by the double-whammy of Jack killing Curtis and the nuke going off.

Some other random thoughts:
  • Episode four wasn't perfect, either. The Chloe/Morris/Milo scene is giving amnesia and the cougar a run for their money in the Worst "24" Ideas of All Time sweepstakes.
  • Speaking of non-existent titles, I didn't see "Kingdom of Heaven," but between "Syriana" and this, Alexander Siddig may start challenging Colm Meaney for Best Post-"Deep Space Nine" Career. He's got a long way to go to catch Meaney, but I like what I've been seeing out of him lately.
  • The Morris/Milo silliness did at least yield one good line, Morris' "Let's just stop this mad psychotic terrorist bad guy before he detonates a nuke on Wilshire Blvd."
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Denying The Donald

From the official blog: in which I take a valiant but futile stand against celebrity PR feuds. Click here to read the full post

End of the island?

Today's column, in which Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse try to detonate a nuclear bomb in the middle of press tour:
The "Lost producers have a plan that they think will finally satisfy their legion of demanding fans:

They're going to end the show.

Maybe.

"That's one of the things we're in discussion with the network right now, picking an endpoint to the show," producer Carlton Cuse told a roomful of skeptical critics. "Once we do that, a lot of the anxiety and a lot of these questions, 'We're not getting answers,' a lot of them will go away. I know there's a lot of anxiety, people think we don't know what we're doing. J.K. Rowling has announced that there's going to be seven Harry Potter books, and it gives people a certainty that the story will reach a conclusion. It's time for us to find an endpoint for the show."

Cuse and fellow showrunner Damon Lindelof have insisted in the past that they do know what they're doing, that there is a master plan, but that they have to reveal things in haphazard fashion because they don't know how long they have to stretch out the story. By setting a finishing date far in advance instead of following the usual TV business model of running a show into the ground, they feel they'll be able to have a more coherent storytelling approach going forward.

To read the full thing, click here. Also, Lindelof helped bring the funny to an ABC showrunners panel later in the day. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Extras: What a damned handsome man

Since the Ricky Gervais interview post is so damn long, I'll handle the details of the "Extras" season two premiere here. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I Google Keith Chegwin...

As I've said in the past, I didn't love season one. I felt like Andy was a bad fit as central character for Gervais and Merchant's style of uncomfortable comedy, since more often than not he was the victim of circumstance, where David Brent always brought the humiliation on himself. There were too many incidents where I just felt sorry for him.

But with Andy so brazenly selling out his creative vision with "When the Whistle Blows," it's become much easier for me to laugh at him, as well as with him. (As opposed to Barry from "Eastenders," since according to Darren, "The thing about Barry is, people will laugh at him, they never laugh with him.") I still felt some sympathy for him at the end, at his realization of how much people enjoyed the stupid wig and glasses and catchphrase, and at that look between him and Maggie, but it's the same way I can feel bad for Michael Scott for growing up friendless and still find it painfully funny when he can't bring himself to fire Creed.

Orlando Bloom's guest spot was one of the funnier ones (though not up to Kate Winslet or Patrick Stewart), particularly the scene where he was so desperate to get Maggie to look at all the magazine stories discussing his magnificent beauty. However, Bloom couldn't hold a candle to Keith Chegwin. I have no idea who he is, save what was said about him, but the whole sequence where Keith couldn't get anything right was a scream. ("Door's stuck." "That's lunch.") And, of course, the racist/homophobic exchange afterwards (particularly David's inability to think of a single funny English black man) was the sort of thing they probably couldn't get the more famous guests to do.

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

24: Taking a bite out of crime

I feel like I gave most of my thoughts on the first four "24" episodes in my column on Friday, so this is mostly an excuse for people to comment. However, I have to discuss one spoiler-y thing after the jump...

Dude! Jack totally bit out some guy's carotid!!!!! Dude! DUDE!!!!!

Sorry, but moments like that unleash my inner 14-year-old, and also excuse the usual "24" sins, in this case including a higher talkiness quotient than usual. The stuff about civil liberties vs. security is interesting to a point, but mostly I'm guessing that it, like Jack's temporary crisis of confidence, will last only until the writers get distracted and move on to something else. For a guy who was barely capable of moving early in episode one, Jack got limber in a hurry, what with the way he kicked the bomber off the subway car.

What did everybody else think?
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Talkin' comedy with Ricky Gervais

As briefly discussed last month, I interviewed Ricky Gervais in advance of the new (and vastly improved) season of "Extras." The story's in today's paper:
So, Ricky Gervais, do you want to make a third season of "Extras"?

"What's the point?" he shrugs. "Got other things to do, really."

Then he pauses, realizing what just came out of his mouth.

"But then again, that's like saying, 'Do you want to be on telly?' 'What's the point?' I've just reduced my life's work to 'What's the point?' My gravestone: 'He did "The Office." What's the point?' That's the terrible thing. When you're not a pioneering heart surgeon or a leader of men, what's the point?"

Legacy has been very much on Gervais' mind as he comes to the end of what he and writing partner Stephen Merchant jokingly call "our Picasso blue period," or, more plainly, "our fame period."
To read the full story, click here. Or, if you're just drowning in free time, a full interview transcript is below.


(If you're reading this transcript without having read the Ledger story, here's what you have to know about season 2: Andy's "Office"-like sitcom gets noted to death by the BBC until it's "When the Whistle Blows," this broad, hacky, "Are You Being Served?"-style sitcom where Andy has a floppy wig and oversized glasses and a catchphrase he's required to recite every 10 seconds. There will be some spoilers, mainly of jokes. In certain cases, I tried to obscure them in the transcript; in others, it was impossible to. So you may want to save this until after you've seen all six episodes.)

Watching the new season, I couldn't help thinking that "When the Whistle Blows" is what I feared the American "Office" was going to be.

I suppose, like most of the stuff I do, it's a bit of "There but for the grace of God go I." Like, that could have happened. What would I have done if, when I walked into the BBC and said, "Listen, I've got this thing called 'The Office.' There's no stars, no jokes, there's no plots. I want to write it and direct it, which I've never done before, and I want to be in it." They went, "Alright." What if they'd said no way? What would I have done? Would I have walked away? Who knows. Luckily, I didn't have to make that decision, whereas Andy did. The chance of not making it was too unthinkable, so he chose, against his better judgment, to take the compromise, and now he's got to live with it.

Wow. I'm just thinking about how American networks operate, and you have no idea how fortunate you were to be starting on that side.

I know that, and I think, whenever I say what a great job Greg Daniels has done and Steve Carell, I also give a nod to NBC. They could have panicked, and they didn't. They could have watered it down, they could have had crazy things happening, but they stuck to their guns, they didn't panic when the ratings weren't as good. I remember Greg Daniels sending me an e-mail saying, "We scored really bad on the focus group." And I said, "Yeah, so did we. That's a good omen."

I remember talking to Greg about the pilot, and I told him that in the scene where Michael pretends to fire Pam, I found him almost menacing. And he took a step back and said, "That's not good." And they've definitely softened Michael since then.

The thing is about the first episode, it was largely pointless. They were really trying to fit these new characters into the old box. He's not David Brent. He's Michael Scott. It's not Tim and Dawn, it's Jim and Pam. They've really found their own -- it's clearly based on what we did, but there's no need to compare and contrast anymore. It's a different show, and it's my favorite show on television at the moment. The most amazing thing about it is, they didn't think it would work on network TV. The English one certainly wouldn't. But they took what we did, the essence of it, and made it work on network America.

They've been able to keep true to the spirit of what they were doing, and yet make it just palatable enough to a mass audience.

And they had a harder job to do than us. One, we were unknowns. We came out of nowhere. We did 12 episodes. They were coming off the back of this show that all the critics were saying they'd ruin, and they've got to keep things going for 50 episodes, at least. I'm in awe. I'm in awe at what they've done.

They've also, obviously, had to make concessions to Michael's competence, show him closing a deal now and then.

Of course, because American offices are different than British offices, they're run differently. And, yes, their teeth are cleaner and whiter, because American people's teeth are better. That's a fact of life. The other thing is, the expectations are different. Americans are taught they can grow up to be president of the us, and most believe it. English people are taught, 'It won't happen to you.'

It also seems like there's more room on British television for a more overtly negative central character.

In England, we like the underdog until he's not the underdog. In America, you stick by him. If an American works hard and buys a Rolls Royce, people go, 'Oh, I'm gonna work hard and buy a Rolls.' In England, they'd spit on it and go, 'Who do you think you are?'

How was the experience writing your episode of the American show? It's the world you've created, and yet it's not.

I treated it like a writer's job, like I was writing for this new show called the American "Office." I didn't play it out as David Brent. Well, I probably did. And what you've got to realize is, it's certainly a co-write. Because at the English "Office," we'd write, we'd rewrite, we'd write again, we'd tear it apart. With the American episode, we wrote 20 pages, gave it to them and said, "Do what you want with it."

What percentage of the final script would you say was your work?

Oh, I don't know. But the story was. The story was a convict comes because of this new directive, Michael Scott worries about what he's done and, obviously, the more he tries to be politically correct, the more he puts his foot in it. That's remained. Everything else is theirs, really.

With "Extras," how much time do you spend writing the show within the show, or the movies within the show? Is it harder to write a bad show, or is not something you put a lot of effort into?

What we wanted it to be was, again, it's a very fine line, because of course there would be no point in showing too much of this thing that is bad and is supposed to be bad, because then you go, "Why am I watching this? This is three minutes of a bad show." So we had to make it funny, ironically funny. But it's harder than you think. Because of course we wanted it to be a good example of a bad show. The irony is, it's more fun playing Ray than Andy. Much more fun.

Why is that?

It's always fun to play the comedy romp. David Brent was the comedy romp, great fun to play. I'm the putz, I'm the one driving people nuts. Whereas everyone else drives Andy nuts. I'm the normal guy, I'm Tim, as Andy, whereas (unintelligible jibbering in Ray's voice). It's like stretching, as a comedian, playing Andy playing Ray.

When I first watched "Extras," what struck me was that Andy was so much more normal and self-aware and intelligent (than David), and yet he would often find himself in these mortifying situations.

That's the duality of all of us. When we're in charge, we're cool. When there's a jeopardy and we're on the back foot, we're a putz, we're David Brent. When Andy is surrounded by idiots, it's "You idiot. (Sigh)" But when he meets a director or producer, he can't. It's the two sides of Bob Hope. That's the way we all behave. When we're in control, we're cool.

There's this term that's bandied about a lot: The Comedy of Embarrassment. Do you think it's more effective if the person being made to suffer is the architect of his own misery versus someone who just has bad things happen to him? You know, David versus Andy? Does it even matter?

It doesn't matter, but clearly, I think it would resonate more if you're the architect of it. You've made your bed, now lie in it. That's funny. Because if things happen to you and they're not your fault, you're a Tim. You're Ollie instead of Stan, Tim instead of David, you're Andy Millman instead of everyone else in the show. Vanity's funny. Vanity is funny. So getting your comeuppance is the cherry on the cake. No one wants to see unfeasibly handsome people doing things well. What's the fun in that? There has to be a blind spot, I think, in comedy. There has to be that gap in how they see themselves and how you see them. And vanity is just such a weapon.

In the first series, there was that one episode where Andy didn't want anything to do with the other extra who wanted to be his friend, and that one felt more like he was bringing his misery on himself.

The one with the dullard?

Yeah.

Andy is actually us, okay? We do things that we'd rather not do because we don't want to be the person who says, "Fuck you." We don't want people to go, "Oh he wasn't very nice." He can't fire his agent, he can't tell that dullard to leave. And when he does he doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. So he's burdened with a conscience. That's the point of Andy. He's nicer than he'd want to be. He wants to be Gordon Gecko. "You're fired." But he can't be Gordon Gecko, because he looks at Darren's stupid face and thinks, "I don't want a grown man to cry. One more chance."

In the last episode, where Andy's on the verge of firing him, Darren looks so sad. I almost felt sorry for him.

(Surprised) Have you seen all six?

HBO only sent out the first three, but I found the others through the wonders of illegal downloading.

Oh, great. Good. Because it makes more sense when you've seen all six. That's good, because I can talk about the arc.

Well, how would you describe the arc?

This man is at a crossroads. Certainly, for the first three episodes it's Be Careful What You Wish For. Then we go through the journey of seeing the difference between fame and infamy. Fame without respect is nothing. And then he gets some breaks, as you do. Everyone gets a break. And then, I suppose, how it resolves is that it could be alright. It could be alright. that's it, really. There's no big -- we've never liked black and white. We've never liked hero/villain. There's hero and villain in everyone, there's luck and bad luck. We just wanted to go, 'C'est la vie.'

The "Office" Christmas special had an element of hope to it that was never present in the regular series.

That's exactly it. There's an element of hope. We don't see David Brent getting married, we don't see Tim and Dawn live happily ever after, we don't see if Gareth was fired, but who knows?

And we don't know how (a development in the final "Extras" episode) is going to go.

We don't know anything.

And is that it? Are you done with the series now?

That's it. There was a story in the English papers yesterday, "Series three with Arnold Schwarzenegger." If Arnie called me up and said, "I vhould do 'Extras,'" that would be great and I would try to write something. But I don't think I'll do more "Extras."

Why not?

What's the point? Got other things to do, really. But then again, that's like saying, "Do you want to be on telly?" "'What's the point?'" I've just reduced my life's work to "What's the point?" My gravestone: "He did 'The Office.' What's the point?" That's the terrible thing. When you're not a pioneering heart surgeon or a leader of men, what's the point?

Hey, at least you're making TV instead of just watching it, so you're one up on me.

I think I'd rather be watching it, frankly. Wasn't it Noel Coward who said, 'TV isn't for watching, it's for being on.'

And I think it was Oscar Wilde who said "Being a critic is like being a bystander at an orgy."

(Uncontrollable giggling.) Oh, wow. That's great.

Speaking of which, you deal with the critics a lot in the second series. Andy really wants their respect, Darren keeps saying they don't matter. I've made peace with my own lack of influence on anything. Are the critics in England any more influential than we are?

No. It's purely personal. You read a nice review, you go, "They got it." You read a bad review and go, "They didn't get it." I'm fine with critics, and I've had a great run. It's ridiculous. It's like I wrote them myself. But you've got to take them both with a pinch of salt. I make this show for me and like-minded people. I don't make it for people who don't like it. I don't want to convert anyone. I don't care. I don't sit in people's homes watching it with them. It's still nicer to read a great review than a poor review. Just human nature. How can we really not be offended. But I've never been troubled by people saying, "I don't like Ricky Gervais. He's the worst comedian that ever lived." Doesn't bother me. It's only when they get a bit of information wrong, and I go, "Just look it up!"

With the celebrity guests, do you approach them, or have they approached you?

Oh, nobody comes up to us and says, "I want to be in 'Extras.'" But, certainly with the first series, where the English "Office" on BBC America made its biggest impact was in the industry. We probably got a million viewers, and 990,000 of them lived in LA or New York. For at least a year, whenever there was an interview with a Hollywood A-lister and someone asked what they were watching at the moment -- it got to the point where I was disappointed if they didn't say "'The Office.'" I'd come to expect it. So we thought, "Ah, they'll remember that." We basically did "Extras" for a couple of reasons. But one of them was that we were going to strike when our cachet was high. These people were fans of "The Office," and we thought, "If they're not going to trust us now, they never will." Everything came from "The Office."

How much of what the celebrities do is devised by you and Stephen and how much is, say, Daniel Radcliffe coming in and saying, "Oh, I'd love to be horny and wave a condom around"?

It's our idea, it's scripted. Daniel, for example, came up with the line, "Ring don't mean a thing," which is funny. It's all scripted. We write for it and say, "Do you like it?"

What was Dame Diana (Rigg)'s reaction when she found out she would have a condom on her head?

I don't know, but we got a call saying, "She's in." That was a funny day. I remember going, "Can we put it just over one eye?" Now, that's not a normal day's work, is it? Dame Diana Rigg!

We have this weird relationship with our celebrities. It horrifies me how obsessed we've become.

Basically, celebrity and fame, every single side of all that stuff has ruled my career in TV. "The Office" was about fame. It was clearly about fame. "Extras" is directly and explicitly about fame, but it's about what fame is, actually, and what it does to normal people. Because, eventually, it's all got to come down to normal life. Whatever you do, there has to be an empathy there... Everything I do is about people's fascination, expectation, hope. People want to be famous, and a lot of people do want to be famous, for the sake of it. There was a survey amongst 10-year-olds, and they asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And they said, "Famous." They didn't say, "Soccer star" or "Movie star" -- they said, "Famous." And they're 10, they don't understand, but when adults want to be famous, they confuse it with all that other stuff that's good. They see George Clooney and they go, "He's happy, he's successful, he's got everything, he's famous. Therefore, I shall become famous." No, no, no. He's happy, because he's successful, because he's good at something. His fame is an upshot of what he does. They actually use it as a shortcut for happiness. They don't know what will make them happy, they think, "Fame will make me happy."

And reality TV has come along and made people entitled to be famous.

You know what? Andy Warhol, did he know how prophetic that would be? Incredible. It's become truer than I imagine he knew. But 25 years ago, people got on telly in a game show, and that was it, they showed their grandchildren, "Look, I was on TV once." Now, they get a call, "You're on," and they get an agent.

The first American season of "Big Brother" was one of the biggest fiascos in broadcast history. They all thought they were going to break into showbiz after, and nobody cared.

Wouldn't that be a great joke, though? To put them in there and not film it? Actually, a celebrity one would be funnier. They'd just go in and be out of the paper for three months.

In watching "The Office," I always assumed the cameras made David's behavior far, far worse than it would have otherwise been.

Of course. But that's why it was so important that people knew they were watching a fake documentary. If we let them forget they were watching a fake documentary for a minute. there's suddenly no show. There's no point. Brent's motivation was fame and glory. That's why he's acting like that. He's in free-fall, in a bit of a breakdown, and he's going, "I'm going to show the world now that I'm not just this jerk. I'm a philosopher, I'm a philanthropist, I am a singer/songwriter, I am a poet." He can't get to it quick enough. And, of course, the lesson learned is, if someone's filming you all the time, they're going to show the bad bits, too. Through the power of editing.

But what were the good bits for David? Do you envision there were times when he successfully delivered a joke?

Yeah, but why would a documentary team put that in? The important thing there is, you're not in charge. TV's in charge. TV's in charge.

I'm making sure that when my daughter grows up, she will never, ever sign a release if someone films her.

Never, never. I hate those hidden camera things. I hate them. It's just so easy. Unless it's done with goodwill, or there's a reason to it.

I have to confess I've seen a lot of your work through the horror movie finger filter. I occasionally have to cover my ears as well. You're obviously doing it right, but...

Why am I obsessed with the comedy of embarassment? I can answer that. You've got to write about what you know, really. As a middle-class, Western male, I'm not being shot at, I'm not starving, the worst thing that happens to me is I make a fool of myself. That's it. What's the most interesting thing in a day for a normal person? The bus driver was rude, or you accidentally insulted someone, they took it the wrong way. Everyone can identify with that. Imagine watching "Extras," and suddenly Maggie gets taken out by a sniper. "What the fuck's that? What are you doing?" It's in all of us.

And I think lot of my discomfort comes from me being able to relate to a moment where you do and say things you instantly regret.

It's strange, I've never been easily embarrassed, but just like Andy, if you're known, the jeopardy's even worse. You've seen episode three. We had that idea a while ago, and we saved it for when someone famous complained about a Down Syndrome boy without knowing he had Down Syndrome. It was going to be in "Extras" series one, but we thought, let's wait till he's famous. Because then it's a terrible thing he's done. Then it's Andy Millman who insulted a Down syndrome boy, not some random guy.

So in a given week, occasions where you say or do something you regret, or something you say is taken the wrong way, that does not happen to you?

That's my worry. I don't get easily embarrassed because I don't get myself in those situations. My big worry is hurting someone's feelings. You've seen (the episode) when I don't know the make-up girl's name? Well, that happened to me. It was a guy we were working with for a while, and at the end of the day, he said, "Can I have your autograph?" And I was trying to stall, trying to remember his name, and finally I said, "Who is it to?" And he said, "Me." So that didn't work. And I said, "How are you spelling your name?" And he said, "T-O-M." And I went, "Oh, you're Tom." Which made no sense at all. ... I wasn't embarrassed that I didn't know his name, I felt it was an insult to him. It's much less embarrassed that I slipped over, it's more, "Have I upset someone?"

A lot of actors hate watching themselves in anything. Obviously, as a writer/director/producer, you don't have that luxury. Do you enjoy watching yourself work?

If I'm being a putz. If I'm being the funny one or a putz. I haven't watched my episode of "Alias," because I'm being cool and that makes me feel ill. If I'm being fat and stupid and rubbish, I can do it. If I'm being cool, it makes me cringe to think of it.

Why is that? You don't think you're cool?

It makes me cringe.

So that's what makes you cringe!

Yeah. To me, someone thinking, "Oh, he's trying to be cool." Irony, as well. I was really concerned about the ("Extras") poster. Me with dark glasses, smiling. The joke is, I'm not a star but I'm trying to be. But I worried, "Do people think I think I'm Elvis?" That's the worry. Being accused of being vain, that's a worry for me.

Were you uncomfortable in the process of doing the "Alias" episode?

Well, everyone's play acting. But I did find it hard, the first day, not to laugh. But, yeah, me being cool... ohhhh. Also, as a comedian, I've seen other comedians pop up in things, and they've ruined it.

Is that something you'll try to avoid in the future?

I get no pleasure anyway of watching back the result. For me, it's the creative process that's exciting. I'd rather come up with an idea than see my fat face on a billboard. That gives me much less of a buzz. I go, "Oh, good, they're advertising it, I want people to watch this." I do interviews, I'm basically talking about myself for an hour, but it is my business, and I want people to watch what I've made. It's my job. It's the idea, the work. I know why I'm in it for. I know why I love doing this. I love getting up and coming up with an idea that I can then get someone to give me the money to make. That's the exciting thing for me. And that's why I worry about ratings as well. Because then someone'll go, "Do you want to do that again?"

How did the second series do over there?

Great. We got four million on a channel whose average is under two million. So we went to that channel so we're left alone, it's an arty channel, BBC1 has got things like "When the Whistle Blows." That's the point. We're BBC2.

It's not a coincidence that the last exchange of the series involves someone talking about how they like edgy BBC2 comedies.

Little in-joke. Of course. You've got to dig at yourself if you're digging at other people as well.

What I like is not only is there the uncomfortable stuff, but there's this very old-fashioned comedy sensibility as well. You talked about Laurel and Hardy and Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello...

Me and Darren, that's straight Laurel and Hardy. And I'm always Ollie. In "The Office," Tim was Ollie, Brent was Stan. That's their dynamic: "I'm with this idiot." The people who go, "I'm with this idiot," they're the ones that end up in the water. Stan never ended up in the water. It was always Ollie.

And Stephen is so funny.

He's blessed with that face, isn't he? If he had been anything else, other than a comedian...

(I bring up the subject of season two's raunch level and cite a specific scene that I wouldn't dream of spoiler-ing here. If you've seen the show already, it involves Darren and a whisk, and I shall say no more. As I'm describing it, Gervais goes into a prolonged giggle fit.)

I like that, after living that long with it, you're still able to laugh that hard at it.

Because it's a funny scenario. Scenarios are funnier than jokes. You can laugh at a scenario, you don't know what you're laughing at. ... Faux pas is the funniest thing in the world. It's not when you say something stupid, it's when you realize you said something stupid.

Behavior, I've always found, is much funnier than punchlines. It's like there's this entire generation of comedy writers here who don't know anything but setup/joke, and that's why the traditional sitcom here is pretty much dead. People don't relate to that.

It's because you know what they're thinking is what's funny. It's not what people say. It's the gaps that I like, with "The Office," with "Extras." It's funny when people have nothing to say and you know they're thinking, "What can I say?"

How planned are the gaps, how much room is there for improvising? Is it written in the script, "David says this, then everyone waits five seconds, then Tim says this"?

We wait. We know we're going to do that, but we wait and direct people on the day. It comes out of improv anyway, actually acting out the thing. It sort of comes in one package. But we just put in the script, "so and so reacts," because we're directing it and we're pretty laid back. If we were handing that over, it'd probably be twice as long, but we know we're there on the day.

So as you're editing it down, how do you decide, "This should be this long and that should be that long"?

Matter of taste. I've got a couple of examples now. One is when Gareth's massaging me after I've been told off by Neil, and I just left it on for ages, knowing you can cut anywhere. And one is a shot in episode four of Barry waiting, and we left it for ages. And we thought, "Now it's funny. Now it's not funny. Now it's funny again. Now it's still funny..." So it's a question of, do you cut on the first funny or ride it and get to the second funny? It's a matter of taste. But here's the thing: me and Steve will split frames. We'll go, "This should be six frames longer." We'll do it to a split-second. Because it's forever. We don't apologize for being totally nerdy and anal.

I think there probably is a science to it. What's the longest pause you've done?

David Brent watching Dawn cry is cruelly long, isn't it? I think for straightforward, comedy of reaction, it's Keith's appraisal of episode 2, season 2 of "The Office." Just the silences and the waiting for Keith to speak. That's one of my favorite scenes. He's amazing. Matt Groening's favorite character.

Do you have a favorite among the American characters, even among the supporting group?

I don't. I think they really are so great, so watchable. I do like the human resources guy, his face, he's the bane of David's life.

You say everything you've done so far in television has dealt with fame. Is that a theme you feel you've done enough with?

Yeah. My next stand-up is called "Fame," and that's it. We're never going to do anything to do with media again. It seemed right. We were fresh to it and we thought we had a fresh approach to it. We never would have done it if we couldn't find a new angle. There's no point in telling someone something twice. It's worth exploring the same themes -- relationships, wasting your life -- all of those things are worth because they're fundamental. It's not like humans have moved on, you know, "We're going to give up relationships." But we've pretty much, that's our Picasso blue period -- that's our fame period.

So what do you want the next thing to be?

We've got a couple of things that pre-date "Extras." One is called "Men at the Pru." The Prudential is a big building soceity, it's about a gruop of twentysomethings selling insurance in the 1970s in a seaside town where the sexual revolution never hit.

Would you be in it in some way?

Not as a twentysomething. I'd be a 45-year-old in 1970, so I'd probably be one of those people who thought the permissive society was disgusting, "That's why we're losing our Empire."

Would a wig or glasses be involved?

You know what? I don't like wearing wigs. Glasses are alright.

How much of Andy's relationship with both fans and the media mirrors in any way what you've gone through in your rise? Any of it?

Not really. Because I came at it with a completely different footing. Because I'd done "The Office," I was quite a media darling. Cool people liked it, and I avoided pubs.

Have you ever proposed something to a celebrity guest that they out and out said, "I'm not doing it"?

One. Simon Cowell. I know Simon and I just had a little idea, in episode six where I'm in the green room and Jonathan Ross is playing with the dogs? Originally it wasn't going to be the dogs that called me back, but Simon Cowell doing karaoke. And he said, "I will do anything else. I can't, I can't, I can't." I said, "That's the offer." And he wouldn't. I wanted him to be singing "Daniel." I think he knew that clip would be played forever.

I can see it being blown up on a giant screen behind Ryan Seacrest.

What does he care? He gets 35 million viewers.

"Idol" is such a brilliant idea for a show, getting back to the obsession with fame.

Incredible. So basic. You've got a little bit of everything. You've got the preliminary rounds with people bordering on the mentally ill, the most delusional people on the planet, which is cruel and fun, if that's possible, and then you've got the soap opera element, you root for someone, then you've got justice versus injustice, then you've got what it's really about: three judges doing a great pantomime

Did you watch "The Comeback" at all?

I loved it. I thought it was very underrated. Didn't do well, did it?

There were originally a lot of bad reviews, and then a reverse backlash where a lot of people declared it a misunderstood masterpiece.

And do you know what annoys me about that? If she'd have come out and she was Phoebe, critics would've said, "She's a one-trick pony," and she comes out and does something different and they say, "Oh, she's not like Phoebe." What can you do? I thought it was very good. I liked it a lot.

I ask because it's in the same territory, the humiliations you'll suffer to be famous or stay famous.

Before fame, there was the humiliations you'd go through to ingratiate yourself in some way. Could be fame, could be money. The aspirations have changed. There's a great quote, Socrates said, "Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds." Well, back then it was. You were famous if you were a leader of men or a great scholar. Now, you're famous if you're willing to go on a reality game show.

I once had a discussion with a TV executive about the success of Paris Hilton, and he said, "You don't get it. She's famous for doing nothing at all, and that's what they love about her!"

Because that means it could happen to them. And they still don't learn. People still go into "Big Brother" thinking they're going to be the next big thing. I say, look at the other 50 people who did "Big Brother"! They were on the covers of magazines for eight weeks and now they can't even work in a shoe shop because people recognize them.

Will you ever return to Brent, or are you 100 percent done with him?

Absolutely. even if I wanted to. And I do miss him on occasion. But what's the point?
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