Monday, December 31, 2007

The Wire week 1 thread for the On Demand'ers

As I understand it, HBO is again going to be debuting each episode of "The Wire" six days early via On Demand. (Last season, episodes tended to go live sometime after 9 a.m. on Mondays.)

Because the majority of viewers still see the show for the first time on its Sunday broadcast window, my own recap and analysis of each episode won't go live until after the Sunday airing. But because enough viewers watch early with On Demand and want to be able to talk about those episodes, I'm going to do the same thing I did last season, and open up a thread each Monday morning for the On Demand'ers to comment. I would also encourage any On Demand viewers to read and comment on the Sunday night posts, but only so long as you keep those threads free of spoilers from the next episode after Monday rolls around. (In slightly clearer English, in the post for episode one, don't start talking or even hinting about stuff you've seen in episode two On Demand.)

People were really good about this last season -- when, in addition to the On Demand airings, there was that matter of the entire season having been leaked on-line before a single episode had aired -- and hopefully that behavior will continue.

So if you've seen it, talk about episode one, "More With Less," here. My own column preview of the season will run Sunday morning, and I'll have my specific thoughts on this episode up Sunday night at 10. Click here to read the full post

All TV: In memoriam

I had hoped to announce the first entry in the Strike Survival TV Club either Friday or today, but my bosses have asked me to wait until Thursday so there's room for a splashier announcement in the paper. In the meantime, today's column is the annual look back at some of the TV people who died in the last year. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 28, 2007

Letterman and the WGA cut a deal

Over at the blog, news of Letterman's production company and the WGA reaching an interim agreement to let him and Craig Ferguson return to work with their writing staffs. Could be great for the WGA (if Dave and Craig destroy Jay and Conan), or could be awful (if Jay and Conan continue to win even without writers). Click here to read the full post

Great moments in Wire history?

With the premiere of the fifth and final season of "The Wire" a little more than a week away, I'm already starting to work on my review (short version: still brilliant) and the standard-issue greatest hits-style sidebar. For other shows, I tend to do best episodes ever, but while "The Wire" certainly has brilliant episodes, each one is so much a part of the whole that it seems besides the point to single them out.

So I'm either going to do a best moments ever list, or possibly a funniest moments ever list, seeing as one of the themes of my review will be how consistently Simon, Burns and company manage to find the black humor in these incredibly depressing stories. (Season five is easily the funniest yet, in a way that doesn't at all diminish the drama.)

And as usual with these lists (whichever version I decide to do), I have a lot of the items already in mind, but I never want to miss a good one, so let me open the floor for suggestions in either category. With a lot of scenes -- like the one pictured above, the legendary all-F-word scene -- both categories will no doubt apply. Fire away. Click here to read the full post

Sepinwall on TV: Best of 2007

Two columns today celebrating the best stuff I saw in 2007, starting with my top 10 list:
  1. "The Sopranos"

  2. "Mad Men"

  3. "30 Rock"

  4. "Friday Night Lights" season one

  5. (tie) "Dexter" &

  6. "The Shield"

  7. "House"

  8. "Extras"

  9. "The Office"

  10. (tie) "Chuck" & "Pushing Daisies"
To read the full column where I elaborate on why those shows got the nod (and include video links to great scenes wherever possible), click here.

Meanwhile, I did a second story about the best episodes and/or moments of shows that either just missed the cut (say, the "Price Is Right" episode of "HIMYM" or the mugging episode of "Flight of the Conchords") or weren't good enough for top 10 consideration but had rare moments of genius (say, the "Lost" finale or the "Day Man"/"Night Man" episode of "It's Always Sunny"). Lots and lots of YouTube links in that one, so click here for it all.
Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Chrismukkah to all, and to all a good week

No matter what holidays you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) at this time of year, I hope you're feeling happy. And, if not, there's always the TBS 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story" starting tonight at 8, and that movie's good fun for Christians and non-Christians alike. (Even Ken Levine agrees.)

I'll be back on Friday with my two best of 2007 columns, and I may also announce the first entry in the How To Survive The Strike By Watching Canceled Shows That Were Awesome series. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sepinwall on TV: The dishonor roll (aka Happy Festivus!)

Today's column, as promised, is the annual Festivus list of TV disappointments:
Festivus is two days away, everyone! Are you ready for the Feats of Strength?

I traditionally avoid writing a list of the year's worst shows, because a sense of journalistic pride would require me to expose myself to enough bad TV to say with authority why "The Hills" is worse than "Rock of Love" (or vice versa). Instead, taking a page from the alterna-holiday created by choleric "Seinfeld" dad Frank Costanza (and/or by "Seinfeld" writer Daniel O'Keefe's dad), I like to gather my TV friends around the aluminum pole to explain how they've disappointed me over the past year.

So keep in mind that Festivus isn't over until you pin your father, and let's get with the guilt trips:
To read the full thing, click here. Top 10 and related stuff coming up next Friday. (The Ledger feature section devotes the final week of the year to every critics' Top 10 list, with me and our film critic traditionally going on the last day.) Click here to read the full post

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stewart and Colbert get back in the game

Over at the blog, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announce their intention to return to work on Jan. 7, strike or no strike. Click here to read the full post

What good is a blog...

...if you can't use it to scratch a particular itch? I was having a conversation with someone today about the SAG Award nominations, and somehow the subject of James Mason impressions came up. (If you don't know Mason, he's a classic movie star who has one of the most distinctive voices you'll ever hear; here's a clip of him in the original "Lolita" to fill you in, and go rent "North by Northwest" afterwards for Mason and so many, many other reasons.) Anyway, I remembered that I had once seen a stand-up comic doing an impression of Mason as Moe from the Three Stooges, warning Larry and Curly that he was about to beat them up, and I can't for the life of me remember who the comic was. I want to say Kevin Pollak, but so far the only luck I've had with Google was one reference to it on a message board with a link to a YouTube video that has since been removed. This ringing any bells with anyone?

And since I brought up the SAG-ies, might as well offer a few thoughts on them (including the full list of TV nominees) after the jump...

-Glad to see "Mad Men" continue to get awards show love. There's not 100 percent overlap between SAG nominees and Emmy acting nominees, but at least I feel like there's a chance Jon Hamm might get a nod when the nominating ballots go out.

-"The Closer" for best ensemble? Whatever. I understand why people like Kyra Sedgwick, even if I think the performance is overdone, but the job description for every other actor on that show might as well read, "Stand slack-jawed as Brenda Leigh does something unconventional."

-The lack of "Friday Night Lights" is proof, once again, that, as Heldenfels likes to say, showbiz awards operate on the Chamber of Commerce theory where making the industry look good is the most important thing. "FNL" films in Austin, not an industry town, and while Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are recognizable, they're not big enough stars to overcome the geography problem.

-I didn't watch ABC's latest Mitch Albom movie, but I'm guessing Ellen Burstyn's screentime for her nominated role was a bit longer than her infamous 14-second Emmy-nominated turn in "Mrs. Harris."

-Hey, the Screen Actors Guild (unlike the Golden Globes voters) remembered that James Gandolfini was on "The Sopranos," and that he was great this year.

-I like the Christina Applegate nomination. "Samantha Who?" as a whole is a big mess, but she's sweating up a storm trying to make it work.

And here's the nominations list (I deleted the names of the actors in each ensemble category for brevity's sake; to see them all, follow the link at the top of the post):


Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries

MICHAEL KEATON / James Jesus Angleton “The Company (TNT)
KEVIN KLINE / Jacques “As You Like It” (HBO)
OLIVER PLATT / George Steinbrenner “The Bronx is Burning” (ESPN)
SAM SHEPARD / Frank Whiteley “Ruffian” (ABC)
JOHN TURTURRO / Billy Martin “The Bronx is Burning” (ESPN)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries

ELLEN BURSTYN / Posey Benetto “Mitch Albom¹s For One More Day” (ABC)
DEBRA MESSING / Molly Kagan “The Starter Wife” (USA)
ANNA PAQUIN / Elaine Goodale “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (HBO)
QUEEN LATIFAH / Ana “Life Support “ (HBO)
VANESSA REDGRAVE / Woman “The Fever” (HBO)
GENA ROWLANDS / Melissa Eisenbloom “What If God Were the Sun?” (Lifetime)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

JAMES GANDOLFINI / Tony Soprano “The Sopranos” (HBO)
MICHAEL C. HALL / Dexter Morgan “Dexter” (Showtime)
JON HAMM / Don Draper “Mad Men” (AMC)
HUGH LAURIE / Dr. Gregory House “House” (FOX)
JAMES SPADER / Alan Shore “Boston Legal” (ABC)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

GLENN CLOSE / Patty Hewes “Damages” (FX)
EDIE FALCO / Carmela Soprano “The Sopranos” (HBO)
SALLY FIELD / Nora Walker “Brothers & Sisters” (ABC)
HOLLY HUNTER / Grace Hanadarko “Saving Grace” (TNT)
KYRA SEDGWICK / Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson “The Closer” (TNT)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

ALEC BALDWIN / Jack Donaghy “30 Rock” (NBC)
STEVE CARELL / Michael Scott “The Office” (NBC)
RICKY GERVAIS / Andy Millman “Extras” (NBC)
JEREMY PIVEN / Ari Gold “Entourage” (HBO)
TONY SHALHOUB / Adrian Monk “Monk” (USA)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

CHRISTINA APPLEGATE / Samantha Newly “Samantha Who?” (ABC)
AMERICA FERRERA / Betty Suarez “Ugly Betty” (ABC)
TINA FEY / Liz Lemon “30 Rock” (NBC)
MARY-LOUISE PARKER / Nancy Botwin “Weeds” (Showtime)
VANESSA WILLIAMS / Wilhelmina Slater “Ugly Betty” (ABC)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series


Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Journeyman: Fellow traveler

Spoilers for the final episode of "Journeyman" coming up just as soon as I figure out where Livia hides her cell phone in 1948...

Damn. Just about the only good to come from the writers strike was NBC's willingness to air all 13 episodes of this ratings catastrophe. "Journeyman" got markedly better as it moved along, the producers saw the writing on the wall early enough to make something resembling a proper series finale, and the thing actually aired all the way through. In a normal season, cancellation comes somewhere around the Dylan McCleen episode (right before the writers started to figure things out).

"Perfidia" had the same strike-induced raggedness as Monday's episode -- there were a lot of jarring narrative jumps, notably the revelation that Evan had been shot by Vogel's bodyguards -- but once again, the emotions were right on. The missions always worked best when there was a personal stake for Dan, so having him help another time traveler -- and, as it turns out, the man whose death led to Dan's own time-hopping -- was a good call. And because we'd just seen the danger of monkeying too much with the past with the Zach/Caroline switcheroo on Monday, it was much easier to get into the pathos of Evan's story. The dance scene was the first time in the whole series where I cared as much about Dan's target as I did about Dan and his family. (There was almost a "Cupid" vibe to that sequence, I thought.)

Between Evan's chatter and Dr. Langley's elevator conversation with Dan (which confirmed, as I suspected, that he was just lying to protect Dan the other night), we got about as much explanation of Dan's predicament as was possible -- and, for that matter, necessary. I don't know that I ever needed to know exactly who or what was controlling the trips, because the show wasn't about that. It was about the time traveler himself, and his wife, and the last two scenes (Katie giving Dan permission to keep traveling, and Dan waking Katie so she could finally see him disappear) beautifully brought that point home.

(My one and only disappointment is that Langley didn't explain how he was able to call Dan in the past, but it was such a cool moment at the time that I'll forgive the non-explanation.)

Godspeed, Dan Vasser, whenever you are.

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Strike odds and ends

Hey, there's almost no scripted programming to write about at the moment, but at least the various factions involved in the strike are helpfully providing some news fodder. The latest:
  • Jimmy Kimmel followed Jay and Conan's lead and will be back on the air, sans writers, on Jan. 2.
  • Rob Burnett, head of Worldwide Pants, Letterman's production company (as well as co-creator of "Ed" and "Knights of Prosperity") put out a statement about attempts to cut a separate deal with the WGA: "We are willing to agree to the writers demands that are within our control, so we have no reason to believe that an interim agreement can’t be achieved with the WGA. As a result, our only focus is on returning January 2nd with writers."
  • The WGA refused to grant a waiver for the Golden Globes to use WGA writers to write the monologues, introductions, etc., and for the Academy Awards to show footage of WGA-written movies. (The Oscars haven't asked yet for the writing waiver, but I'm sure the WGA will refuse that one, too.) If the strike's still going on when each show airs, they'll be picketed and the celebrity turnout could be minimal.
Meanwhile, after the last post, some people asked me whether, with the strike eliminating so much original programming, I'm still planning to do another series where I go back and revisit an old series on DVD. The answer to that is yes, though I may not get a chance to do it properly until the new year. Still debating what show to start with -- maybe "Cupid" on YouTube, maybe "The Wire" season one (as a parallel to my planned blogging on the final season), maybe "Sports Night," maybe something else -- but I'm looking forward to it, and soon. Click here to read the full post

Mediocre housekeeping

With most of the shows I watch either out of episodes or dormant until sometime in the new year, it's time for a state of the blog address.

I'm going to write about the small handful of shows that have new episodes left this week/year ("Life on Mars," "Journeyman," maybe even "Gossip Girl"). I'll have my Festivus column this Friday, and a couple of Best of '07 columns the following Friday. Beyond that -- and barring some miraculous development with the strike -- things is gonna be slow until '08. Maybe it's time to start linking to funny YouTube videos again?

Also, someone reminded me that the two "Wire" documentaries I mentioned a while back -- "The Wire Odyssey" (about the series as a whole) and "The Wire: The Final Word" (about the state of the media theme of season five) -- are already available via On Demand. (If you don't have that, they're debuting Thursday and Friday night at 10:30. I pop up from time to time in both, though I feel kind of silly with my presence in the latter, where the other talking heads are real reporters and I'm the lone TV critic.

(Note: "The Final Word" mildly gives away some developments in the final season -- I've seen episodes 1-7, and there are scenes in the documentary that were new to me -- so if you want to enter the season unblemished, you may want to stick with "The Wire Odyssey.") Click here to read the full post

Journeyman: I turn my camera on

An actual original episode of a network series I watch in late December? Is that allowed? I guess it is if the show's been canceled. Spoilers for the penultimate episode of "Journeyman" coming up just as soon as I throw out all my red turtlenecks...

I have to assume that this was shot after the strike began, because "The Hanged Man" felt like a first or second draft. The idea of Dan accidentally making significant changes to both the world at large and his own family was a very cool one -- about time Dan experienced the butterfly effect -- and I loved Kevin McKidd and Gretchen Egolf's performances in the Dan/Katie emotional tug of war about their child of variable gender, but too much of the episode needed polishing.

Almost all of the dialogue from Dan's trips to the past seemed like placeholders -- "I saved your life," "Thank you for saving my life!" "Son, it's the man who saved our life!" "Oh, thanks for saving our life" -- waiting for someone to take another pass through the script. Really, the entire mission was just an excuse to make Dan deal with the Zach/Caroline issue; in later drafts, I imagine it either would have been punched up or those scenes would have been cut even shorter to focus on the real heart of the episode.

As for that heart, Zach vs. Caroline is one of those time-travel dilemmas that's more than theoretical. Dan's got a living, breathing, very sweet little girl staring him in the face, but he's also the only one who remembers the living, breathing, very sweet little boy who's supposed to be there. He knows Katie's never going to remember this daughter -- not that this is any consolation to Nanotech Katie -- but he's still making a choice to erase this girl from existence. (There are also countless other changes in the Nanotech timeline he's erasing, but this show has been at its best when it focuses on personal matters directly affecting the Vasser family.) That's a hard choice -- even if it's one Dan knew he had to make, if only to appease The Powers That Be who sent him to save that kid's life in the first place -- and McKidd did his best work of the series in playing those scenes.

Jack investigating the late FBI agent was interesting, but what do you suppose was up with Dr. Langley? Did Dan inadvertently change something else about the timeline by letting the corporate espionage lady get killed, or was Langley simply pretending not to recognize him because the security guy was there? (Their previous encounters have either been one-on-one or in places away from where Langley works.) One episode to go, and I'm hoping we at least get an answer to how Langley was able to call Jack while he was in the past.

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

All TV: Late-night hosts return, even if writers don't

Today's column is a twofer (or, if you're Tina Fey, a toofer), starting with some talk about Leno and Conan agreeing to cross the WGA picket next month (and Letterman trying to find a way around the strike):
Just how badly do late-night talk show hosts need their writers? With Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien returning to duty next month without their writing staffs, and with David Letterman reportedly in talks to come back with a full staff, we may get some empirical evidence.
The second half looks at "The Simpsons Movie" on DVD, where I was especially struck by one feature:
The commentary track does contain a cool element I've never encountered before: Whenever the writers realize they're about to go off on a long discussion on a single point, they actually pause the movie so they won't miss the chance to talk about whatever happens next.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Extras: Keep your girdle on

Brief spoilers for the "Extras" finale coming up just as soon as I give a male friend a hug near an open window...

My love of "Extras" -- well, at least, of the second season and now of this movie -- hasn't been shared by the world at large, or even by the much smaller world of Ricky Gervais fans. Previous columns and blog posts on the subject haven't generated much feedback, and most of the original recipe "Office" fans I know seem either unaware of or uninterested in Gervais and Stephen Merchant's follow-up.

That's a shame, because while "Extras" will never have the bracing, fresh quality of "The Office," it's an even deeper, nastier examination of the cult of celebrity that's pacifying Western Civilization. And of the two works, it's the one I find myself going back and revisiting more. (I will never say a bad word about the character of David Brent, but it often pains me to revisit him in a way that Andy Millman doesn't.)

I mostly said my piece on the movie-length finale in my column on Thursday -- much of it is a thematic rehash of the season two finale, but parts of it had me laughing so hard I gasped for air, and Ashley Jensen is superb, both in the more serious moments and the funny stuff -- so for the three of you who care about this special, I'm just gonna rattle off a list of the moments that had me especially pained with laughter or wondering why the living room was so dusty:

-The department store sequence, complete with racist Michael Richards doll;

-Maggie assuming Andy would be Jewish in a world without Christmas;

-Maggie watching the heavyset "While the Whistle Blows" actor pick over the last of the craft services food, only to be saved from deciding whether to eat it when Andy calls her to his dressing room;

-Andy's girdle exploding in mid-audition (and "exploding" is a pretty good description for my laughter level at that moment);

-Darren and Barry coming up with a system to deal with his busted zipper;

-The mortified look on Maggie's face throughout the Clive Owen/whore scene, followed by Clive's reaction to Maggie's elderly replacement;

-Andy acting above the whole "England's number one catchphrase" thing, followed by that all-catchphrase episode of "When the Whistle Blows";

-Maggie being shown her spider-infested new apartment (one of those scenes that was hilarious and tragic at the same time);

-The neighborhood kids calling Darren and Barry gay (a cheap joke that was expensively set-up, if you know what I mean);

-Darren trying to jump over the plexiglass barrier, followed by Darren's usual goofy smile seeming like the saddest thing in the world when he realizes Andy won't give him a pass;

-"Fame is a mask that eats... into the face!"

-Darren, Barry and the other Carphone Warehouse guy doing their ridiculous dance every single time that one ringtone goes off;

-Andy as a farting slug alien on "Doctor Who";

-The "celebrity" "Big Brother" contestants insisting they haven't given up their dignity, followed immediately by them doing the Chicken Dance on cue;

-The entirety of Andy's anti-fame rant (maybe more on the nose than Gervais and Merchant's usual stuff, but they've said this is the last work they're going to do on celebrity, and they clearly had a lot to get off their chests);

-The lad mag girl being moved by Andy's speech, but still insisting on putting on a bikini before walking out;

-Andy and Maggie riding off to the sunset as "Tea for the Tillerman" plays one last time. (Can't wait to hear the exit music for their next series.)

What did everybody (or all three of you) think?
Click here to read the full post

Dexter: Variations on a theme

Spoilers for the "Dexter" season two finale coming up just as soon as I floss...

Well, that was... inevitable, wasn't it?

I would call the season two finale "predictable," but that doesn't seem fair. Unlike season one, which had a genuine mystery about the identity of the Ice Truck Killer, season two hasn't been a whodunnit -- it's been a character study. There was always the question of how Dexter would get out of this mess, but we all knew that he would. And I can't fault a series for delivering a payoff episode that builds off of everything that's come before and plays fair with the audience, can I?

And yet... after what had, for the most part, been a superb sophomore slump-avoiding season, I came to the end of "The British Invasion" saying to myself, "Huh. That seems about right, I suppose."

Where the season went wrong in the end -- and, before I continue, let me say once again that I consider the season as a whole to be outstanding, something that's easily going to be near the top of my Top 10 list for '07 -- was with the Lila character. There was so much potential in the idea of Dexter trying to take a slightly eccentric but not irreraparably damaged person under his wing, but making Lila out to be just as crazy as Dexter was the easy way out.

They already had Dexter confront his cracked mirror image with Rudy in season one, and at least there, they forced Dexter to make a choice between his own blood and the life (and Code) Harry had created for him. Here, Dexter did make a choice in the previous episode when he decided to continue the frame of Doakes, but Lila's actions then absolved him of having to deal with the consequences of his choice. Doakes died before Dexter had to tell him he had changed his mind, before he could loudly protest his innocence and argue for Dexter's guilt during a protracted trial, etc. Sure, it's Dexter's fault that Doakes is dead -- both for leaving him in the cage and for "creating" Lila -- but he still gets off pretty clean.

(This clean feeling was symbolized by the hilarious recreation of the opening title sequence -- which I'm thinking might have just been alternate angles of each shot, as opposed to something they filmed a second time.)

Also, with the death of Doakes -- the far more interesting character and dilemma for Dexter -- so early in the episode, we had to spend the bulk of the hour on more of Lila the kooky-crazy stalker. And for the second season in a row we had the villain (if you can call Lila that; more in a second) abduct and attempt to kill people Dexter cared about. The episode wasn't so much bad as anti-climactic. We spent so much of this season on Dexter (the true villain, a danger even to himself) wrestling with his confidence, his methods, his history, only to wind things up with him deciding everything's okay because the kooky vampire lady solved his Doakes/Butcher problem for him? It seems like one of the least imaginative destinations the creative team could have arrived at.

I'm glad the writers didn't sell out Lundy in the end, that Dexter escaped the noose without Lundy having to look the fool. (Even here, you could tell Lundy knew something wasn't right with the way he said the evidence against Doakes was "overwhelming, really.") Even his affair with Deb came to a better end than possible. Sure, Deb could get on another plane at some point, but she knows she won't, because Lundy is right about her needing to be a cop. Following him from city to city as his groupie isn't the life for her, even if he's a hell of a cook. Bye, Keith Carradine. Please bring your flinty goodness to another show I like, soon.

But back to Dexter. He and Deb both spent this season recovering from what Rudy did to each of them. Thanks to Lila, Doakes and Lundy, they're back to normal -- relatively -- and Dexter is already talking about "new rituals." His monologue at the end about no longer caring about the morality of his actions is an interesting approach for the character -- part of what's always made Dexter so vaguely sympathetic is his own awareness that what he's doing is wrong, and his attempt to be as good as possible given his condition -- and while I think I'm okay with an amoral Dexter moving forward, I don't want the series to let go of those questions.

I don't know what kind of story arc they can do for a third season -- Dexter's been hunted in different ways for the first two seasons -- but whenever this damn strike is over, I can't wait to see what it is.

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some 'Lost' better than nothing?

So ABC became the final network to announce a strike schedule, and the big news is that, unlike what Fox is doing with "24," they've decided to air whatever "Lost" episodes they have, truncated season or no.

Also, "Lost," which comes back on Jan. 31, will air away from Wednesdays for the first time ever -- no doubt to get away from "American Idol," one of the few other guaranteed ratings draws in a strike season -- and will take over for "Grey's Anatomy" on Thursdays at 9.

So, before I present the full ABC press release after the jump, let me put it to you, "Lost" fans: would you rather wait to get all 16 episodes as Cuselof intended them, or will you take whatever "Lost" you can get, even if it means the "season" ends oddly?

The full release:
ABC will premiere four new series, “Cashmere Mafia,” “Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann,” “Eli Stone” and “Oprah’s Big Give,” in addition to the premiere of the much anticipated fourth season of “Lost” on Thursday, January 31 at 9:00 p.m.

“Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann” premieres with a special two-hour episode on Monday, January 7, followed by 90-minute episodes through January. “Notes from the Underbelly” and “October Road” will continue to air at 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., respectively. “Samantha Who?” will return with original episodes in February at 9:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Bachelor” start new seasons on Monday, March 17.

“Just for Laughs” returns Tuesday, January 1, at 8:30 p.m., following the Rose Bowl, and will air back-to-back episodes Tuesday nights (8:00 and 8:30 p.m.), beginning January 8. “According to Jim” will also return January 1, with two episodes at 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. The series will regularly air at 9:00 p.m., followed by “Carpoolers” (9:30 p.m.) as of January 8. “Dancing with the Stars the Results Show” will return at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25. “Boston Legal” will continue airing Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m.

“Wife Swap” will premiere at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 2, and “Supernanny” returns with special back-to-back episodes at 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. that same night. The new drama series “Cashmere Mafia” premieres in its regular timeslot at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 9, following a special premiere on Thursday, January 3. Beginning February 27, “MEN IN TREES” will air Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m.

On Thursday nights in January, “Ugly Betty” will continue to air at 8:00 p.m., followed by “Grey’s Anatomy” at 9:00 p.m. and “Big Shots” at 10:00 p.m. “Lost” will premiere on January 31 at 9:00 p.m., followed by the premiere of “Eli Stone” at 10:00 p.m.

On Fridays, drama encores will air at 8:00 and 9:00 p.m., followed by “20/20” at 10:00 p.m.

On Sunday nights, “Oprah’s Big Give” will premiere on Sunday, March 2 at 9:00 p.m.

ABC’s midseason primetime schedule is as follows (all times Eastern; new shows in bold):

8:00 p.m. “Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann”
9:30 p.m. “Notes from the Underbelly”
10:00 p.m. “October Road”
8:00 p.m. “Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann”
9:00 p.m. “Samantha Who?”
9:30 p.m. “Notes from the Underbelly”
10:00 p.m. “October Road”

8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars”
9:30 p.m. “Samantha Who?”
10:00 p.m. “The Bachelor”

8:00 p.m. “Just for Laughs”
8:30 p.m. “Just for Laughs”
9:00 p.m. “According to Jim”
9:30 p.m. “Carpoolers”
10:00 p.m. “Boston Legal”

8:00 p.m. “Just for Laughs”
8:30 p.m. “Just for Laughs”
9:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars the Results Show”
10:00 p.m. “Boston Legal”

8:00 p.m. “Wife Swap”
9:00 p.m. “Supernanny”
10:00 p.m. “Cashmere Mafia” (“MEN IN TREES” beginning Feb 27)

8:00 p.m. “Ugly Betty”
9:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy”
10:00 p.m. “Big Shots” (after special premiere of “Cashmere Mafia” on Jan 3)

8:00 p.m. “Ugly Betty”
9:00 p.m. “Lost”
10:00 p.m. “Eli Stone”

8:00 p.m. Drama encores
9:00 p.m. Drama encores
10:00 p.m. “20/20”

7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
9:00 p.m. “Oprah’s Big Give”
10:00 p.m. “Desperate Housewives”
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30 Rock: Merry Sheinhardt to all

Spoilers for "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I give my daughter a block of wood...

Since I now apparently have to begin every blog review with a note about how may episodes are remaining, I should say that this was episode 8 of the season, and we know that 10 episodes were made. (Tina Fey lamented in several picket line interviews that she was contractually obligated to act in the 10th episode, the last script they had finished.)

(Note: Turns out I don't know how to count, and this was episode nine. Also, turns out the 10th episode may not have been completed, in which case, never mind. This is what happens when you blog at 7 in the morning.)

So we'll have two more in the new year (or not), which is probably a good thing, as "Ludachristmas" was one of this season's weaker episodes. If we're going to be deprived of "30 Rock" for a long time, I'd at least like to see them go out on a high note.

(Please note: the usual "substandard compared to other '30 Rock' episodes isn't the same as substandard compared to the rest of TV comedy, and I hold the great shows to a higher standard" caveat applies.)

I was so over the moon with last week's episode that all I did was list the jokes I liked enough to jot down in my notes. This week's list would be far shorter -- though Jack's move to slide the donut tray under the coughing stripper may have been the funniest thing in either episode -- as I thought a lot of the jokes and stories were either predictable or not fully formed.

Take the Andy Richter brother character, for instance. The idea of a character permanently stuck in a single day in 1985 is strange enough for a "30 Rock" joke(*) (or an "Arrested Development" joke, for that matter), but, other than Cerie taking pity on him (or having some fun at his expense, depending on your opinion of Cerie), I don't feel like they did anything with it other than to put Richter in a ski jacket and make a handful of '80s references over and over. And then to let his condition be easily cured with a few references to the present sold out the joke and made Liz and her parents look like fools.

((*) Though wasn't this basically the plot of that Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie, "50 First Dates"?)

I appreciate the "SNL" legacy quality of having Buck Henry (the most frequent, beloved host of the Belushi/Radner era) play Liz's father, and I liked Jack's initial confusion about ("What did your mother mean when she said you were a beautiful genius? Was she taunting you?") and then affection for the Lemons. But, again, I think having Jack's mom turn out to be right seemed an easy way out -- that, or it wasn't executed well enough.

There were some nice touches in the Ludachristmas subplot, like Jenna singing the scales to "open-pit barbecue sauce" or the running gag about the paper shredder/photo scanner, but it wasn't as funny or memorable as your average "30 Rock" B-story. (Also, that was some of the worst green-screen work outside of "Pushing Daisies" in the sequence where the gang rushes out to destroy the Sheinhardt Christmas tree. I know "30 Rock" films in Queens and not at the actual 30 Rock, but since they went to the trouble of bringing half the cast to Rockefeller Plaza to film the skating scenes, couldn't they have brought the rest in a van? Or would putting the neon Sheinhardt sign up on the big tree have been a problem?)

I suspect this is the point at which people tell me I'm being too harsh, so fire away. What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pushing Daisies: The fickle finger of fate

Spoilers for "Pushing Daisies" coming up just as soon as I buy some vanilla extract...

I'm not sure whether this is the last episode completed before the strike shut down production (when the strike began, the LA Times said they'd be able to complete nine episodes, and this was show nine), but if so, I'm as disappointed as I've been as my other favorites have, one by one, run out of episodes. This was another strong, confident, weird, pretty episode and I may need to borrow some mood enhancers to replace the giddy feeling it often provides me.

Nine episodes admittedly isn't a huge sample size -- this will be a lot more surprising by episode 30 (if the show makes it that far) -- but I continue to remain impressed by the sick-but-sweet imagery the show cooks up, in this case the corpse-containing snowmen, plus Aunt Lily's hallucinations. (The bees under their winter covers were also cool to look at.) Couple that with some more eccentric guest characters -- notably the perky to the point of homicide Make-A-Wish lady -- the usual Emerson and Olive one-liners and some understandable romantic angst, and you've got another winner.

I'm glad that the writers didn't use Chuck's discovery of the truth about her father's death as a wedge to split up her and Ned for a bunch of episodes -- the whole no-touching thing is as much Unresolved Sexual Tension as any show needs -- and I thought Friel did a nice job of playing the head vs. heart conflict Chuck was dealing with.

Because the heat in my house has been off all day for some minor home repairs my fingers feel as frozen as Emerson and Ned's must have last night, so I'm going to move on to bullet points and then put on a pair of gloves:

-Vis a vis Chuck's desire for Ned to bring her dad back for a minute, wouldn't the guy be a skeleton by now? How comforting would that be for her?

-This show usually calls upon the comic side of Chi McBride's vast talents (see his complains about the non-word "Ginormous"), but Emerson's confession about his daughter was a potent reminder of what a great dramatic actor he can be. If forced to choose, I'd pick Funny Chi, but the man's a true double-threat.

-Has Chuck's mom even been mentioned before? Does she believe her mom died in childbirth or something? And which is worse: Chuck's mom making her think she's her aunt, or Chuck making her aunt/mom think she's dead?

-God, I love morgue attendant guy. One scene per episode, a couple of lines at most, and he's always funny.

-I didn't mention Paul Reubens when he first appeared, but I hope he comes back now and then to (literally) sniff around Chuck. I like how he's chosen to dial down his own innate weirdness, since the character as written is so weird that a more understated performance actually accentuates what's on the page.

What did everybody else think?
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Mad about the Globes?

I'll get to "Pushing Daisies" shortly, but I wanted to say a few words about the Golden Globe TV nominations (with a full list) after the jump...

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is such a weird group that there's no point in getting worked up about their choices for nominees and winners. (Not that the Emmys are much more credible these days, of course.) But while everyone focuses on the movie nominations, I'm always interested in their TV choices. The HFPA may be a joke, but they invariably nominate a more diverse (and often deserving) batch of shows and actors than the same-old, same-old Emmy voters.

The drama series nominees, for instance, include big hits like "Grey's Anatomy" (sigh...) and "House," but also newbies like "Mad Men," "Damages" and "The Tudors," plus under-the-radar "Big Love." The acting nominees include Michael C. Hall and Jon Hamm, of whom I would be pleasantly stunned to see on the Emmy roster come July.

Showtime, as usual, gets more love than it ever gets from the Emmys ("Brotherhood" is their only major series to not get a nomination, I think), and even BBC America gets some attention, with a few nominations for "The State Within" and "Jekyll."

I'm not in love with all of these nominations -- "Grey's," "Entourage," "Californication," no "Shield" and almost no "Sopranos" -- but they at least acknowledge that TV changes and evolves each year, and that new and obscure shows are just as worthy of celebration as the familiar hits.

My friend Rich Heldenfels has this theory that Hollywood awards shows are basically like Chamber of Commerce awards: they're not about what's best, but what's best for business. So it makes more sense to reward shows that film in industry towns, that are ratings hits or feature movie stars "slumming" on the small screen, etc.

The HFPA has its own starstruck qualities, and their love of the new also means they lose attention quickly, but at least there's something to talk about with these nominees beyond, "God, not them again!"

Here are all the nominees for TV (to read the full movie list, you can go to the official site):
Series, Drama: "Big Love," HBO; "Damages," FX Networks; "Grey's Anatomy," ABC; "House," Fox; "Mad Men," AMC; "The Tudors," Showtime.

Actress, Drama: Patricia Arquette, "Medium"; Glenn Close, "Damages"; Minnie Driver, "The Riches"; Edie Falco, "The Sopranos"; Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"; Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"; Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer."

Actor, Drama: Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"; Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"; Hugh Laurie, "House"; Jonathan Rhys Meyers, "The Tudors"; Bill Paxton, "Big Love."

Series, Musical or Comedy: "30 Rock," NBC; "Californication," Showtime; "Entourage," HBO; "Extras," HBO; "Pushing Daisies," ABC.

Actress, Musical or Comedy: Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"; America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"; Tina Fey, "30 Rock"; Anna Friel, "Pushing Daisies"; Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds."

Actor, Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"; Steve Carell, "The Office"; David Duchovny, "Californication"; Ricky Gervais, "Extras"; Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies."

Miniseries or Movie:
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," HBO; "The Company," TNT; "Five Days," HBO; "Longford," HBO; "The State Within," BBC America.

Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Bryce Dallas Howard, "As You Like It"; Debra Messing, "The Starter Wife"; Queen Latifah, "Life Support"; Sissy Spacek, "Pictures of Hollis Woods"; Ruth Wilson, "Jane Eyre (Masterpiece Theatre)."

Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Adam Beach, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"; Ernest Borgnine, "A Grandpa for Christmas"; Jim Broadbent, "Longford"; Jason Isaacs, "The State Within"; James Nesbitt, "Jekyll."

Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie:
Rose Byrne, "Damages"; Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers & Sisters"; Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"; Samantha Morton, "Longford"; Anna Paquin, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"; Jaime Pressly, "My Name Is Earl."

Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie:
Ted Danson, "Damages"; Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"; Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"; Andy Serkis, "Longford"; William Shatner, "Boston Legal"; Donald Sutherland, "Dirty Sexy Money."
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All TV: An 'Extra Special' treat for a bleak season

Today's column reviews the Christmas finale to "Extras":
A year ago at this time, I listened to Ricky Gervais tell me that he had no interest in continuing "Extras," his comic follow-up to the original British version of "The Office."

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

Demonstrating a rare sense of TV perspective, he followed that up by admitting, "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?' "

Still, he seemed like a man who had a story to tell -- in this case, about a film extra and wannabe actor named Andy Millman (Gervais) who becomes famous but miserable as the creator and star of an awful but popular Britcom; had spent two seasons telling it, and was done.

So what, then, is the point of "Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale," which HBO is airing Sunday night at 9?
To read the full thing (which gets more positive as it goes along), click here. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Life on Mars: Voice of the future

Dark days ahead for this blog, I fear. The studios now seems determined to break the union, which means the strike could go on a really long time (not that anyone but critics care, but the mid-winter TCA press tour just got canceled), and most of the shows I follow are either out of episodes or almost out. For the first time that I can remember on a weeknight in-season, my DVR didn't have anything set to record in primetime. I briefly pondered watching ABC's two-hour bloc of "According to Jim" and "Boston Legal" before deciding to be kinder to myself by watching another "Wire" episode, then introducing my wife to McLovin and "Superbad."

Thank God, then, for "Life on Mars," which returned to BBC America's lineup tonight. I'd already seen the premiere, but at least it gives me something to blog about for the evening. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I throw some punks off a rooftop...

I hadn't realized how much I missed Gene Hunt until he broke down the door of Tyler's apartment and boasted that their next case was "as big as Shelly Winters' ass!" Between that entrance, his response to Sam's question about whether he keeps a reporter in his basement for random beatings ("Don't have a basement") and, especially, him threatening to torture cremains to make a suspect talk, it's safe to say they didn't soften up ol' Gene for the second season.

It's also safe to say that they haven't lost that tricky balance between spoofing the cliches and political incorrectness of '70s police dramas and embracing them. Gene provides the comic relief, but he also keeps these stories grounded because you believe he existed back in 1973, while Sam provides both the pathos and the fantastical elements that open every other part of the show up for questioning. Is Sam really in the past? Is he crazy? Some combination of the two? Will he have a crossover with "Journeyman" in the series finale?

I watched all of season one in a rush a year and a half ago before it premiered here, and the episodes have blurred in my memory since, but I think this is the first time Sam has been this overt in his talk of the future (except with Annie) and his attempts to change it. I'm curious to see whether Gene took any of Sam's ranting seriously or if he dismissed it as yet another eccentricity of his second in command, but with the series' end coming with this batch of episodes, I imagine Gene will have to confront the future at some point.

As always when I write about shows that have already aired in another country, I'm going to ask that we keep the discussion contained to the episodes as they air here. No spoilers or even loud hints about what's to come, got it? The one thing I think is fair game is to discuss how the original British cuts differ from the abbreviated versions that are going to be airing on BBC America. I believe my screeners (which I'll be watching one at a time, so I'll be guaranteed at least one interesting scripted show per week for a while) are the original cuts, but I imagine some of you who already watched the show will be doing it again on BBC America. If you want to mention important or memorable scenes that got chopped, feel free -- just so long as you're talking about this specific episode and not something that's going to play out three weeks from now.

What did everybody else think?
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Journeyman: Christmas with Dad

Spoilers for "Journeyman" coming up just as soon as I find a black sweater that I can wear in any era...

And we're back! After a week off to try "Life" in this timeslot, "Journeyman" resurfaced, and it looks like the last two episodes will air next week (one on Monday as usual, the other in the "Life" timeslot Wednesday at 10). So there will be closure of some kind.

Another solid episode. The decision to include some kind of personal stake in every mission was a wise choice. I don't know if it's something that could be accomplished were the show to run five years ("Honey, you'll never believe who I ran into while I was back in 1983. It was my second cousin Frank!"), but in the short term it's made the time travel a lot more interesting than it was in the first few episodes. The trip back to the newsroom's '79 Christmas party was doubly important for Dan, as it gave him a chance to slightly alter his own history with his dad (more on that in a second) as well as a chance to save his job and other people's in the present.

Not sure I loved the blackmail resolution, though. Times are tough in journalism, and real newspapers everywhere are laying people off, regardless of who's in charge; can Dan really hold that secret over the publisher's head in perpetuity? And what's to stop the publisher from admitting that he was in the room while denying that he waited to call for help?

(Also, on a more nitpicky, Gen X-centric level, it was strange to see Robert Pine play the publisher in 2007 and the very shady-looking Anthony Starke play him in 1979, when any "CHiPs" fan worth his salt knows that Pine looked like this in '79. I'm guessing there's not a lot of "CHiPs"/"Journeyman" crossover audience.)

As for Dan and his father, what interested me wasn't so much that Dan was able to change something about his own life without personal consequence. Rather, I was struck by the fact that Dan didn't remember the revised timeline, even after he came back. The show has suggested this before -- Dan remember a conversation with Jack that he later erased from the timeline -- but never this directly. Some time travel stories adopt the theory that if you change the past, you only remember the events you experienced in the unaltered timeline ("Back to the Future"), while others suggest you either remember the new version only or somehow remember both ("Frequency").

Even though Jack is now openly helping Dan with research on his trips, it's interesting that Dan chose not to explain the role he played in their dad's confession. On the one hand, it might have been something they could have bonded over. On the other hand, this is ancient history as far as Jack is concerned; learning the truth behind it all these years later could freak him out, re-open the old wounds, maybe even resent or mistrust Dan again. If you're Dan there, what would you have done?

Finally, we got our first glimpse of Livia's life in 1948 -- and, conveniently, her period dress didn't look too out of place at a disco party. Here's something I wonder about Livia that I doubt the show will have time to address before it runs out of episodes: when she would travel into the '80s and '90s for long stretches to attend college and law school and to date Dan, was she gone for equally long periods in the past, or did she return not long after she left but much older? Either way, I imagine her life back then was a lot more complicated than Dan's is now -- though, as she explained a few episodes back, her trips got longer and longer over time, just as Dan's might if the show were to continue.

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, December 10, 2007

HIMYM: 8 simple rules

Spoilers for "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I leap in slow motion...

On this season's "HIMYM" vs. Sitcom scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing "HIMYM" at its most distinct (say, "How I Met Everyone Else") and 1 representing a leftover "Suddenly Susan" script with the names changed to protect the innocent (say, "We're Not From Here"), I'd have to put "The Platinum Rule" at a solid 9, maybe even a 9.5. Flashbacks within flashbacks -- with characters referring back and forth to the previous flashbacks to explain why they're reliving them -- Barney presenting another dating rule, a bit of meta main character mockery with the talk of how much Ted obsesses over his stupid hair, more anti-Canada bigotry ("What's the opposite of name-dropping")... Really, the only thing keeping it from a 10 is that I'm pretty sure Lily has never before sported the hairstyle she had in the neighbor flashbacks, even though those scenes would have taken place not long after "Slap Bet." That's the sort of continuity error the show doesn't usually make.

Then again, maybe "Platinum Rule" ought to score higher. There's a reason I've spent so much of this season harping on what is and isn't a "HIMYM"-y episode, and it's that the way Bays, Thomas and company play with structure is at least as important as -- and sometimes more important than -- the characters, or the plots, or even the jokes. Told sequentially, the three storylines here would have gotten repetitive and predictable in a hurry (Robin's in particular; the guy didn't remotely seem like an ex-hockey player, and overall they have yet to crack the code for giving her a good dating subplot), but the way they kept folding in and out of each other became part of the fun. Sequences like the three-tiered break-up, with Robin and Marshall/Lily trying to dump graciously while Barney was candid to a fault with Wendy the Waitress worked precisely because they were placed next to each other in that "Slaughterhouse Five" chronological style that "HIMYM" does so well.

I've liked some of Barney's previous rules better than this one -- Lemon Law's hard to top, and Crazy/Hot did come with a visual aid -- but there were enough amusing moments to compensate, whether Marshall performing charades for "We just go across the hall!" or the gang ordering Barney to marry Wendy the Waitress to keep from losing the bar. And Neil Patrick Harris had some wonderful slapstick moments, with both his slide across the apartment to prevent Ted's exit and his slo-mo leap to slap the taste of burger out of Marshall's mouth.

Meanwhile, I'm still undecided on whether "HIMYM" is going to make the cut for my Top 10 list for '07. "Slap Bet" and "Single Stamina," the high points of season two, both aired at the tail end of '06, and season three has been up and down. Since I'm planning to pair the Top 10 list with a list of great episodes (or even moments) from shows that didn't make the list (either ones that just missed the cut or ones that are usually not that great but had a transcendent show), I'll have room to mention "HIMYM" somewhere, but my question is this: if you had to pick a single episode of the series that aired in this calendar year as the best, what would it be? "Showdown"? "How I Met Everyone Else"? Something else?
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Return to 'Mars'

Before some personal issues conspired to prevent it, I was going to write a column for today or tomorrow about the premiere of the second and final season of "Life on Mars" on BBC America. I've only had the time to watch part of the premiere (featuring Marc Warren from "Hustle" as the villain), so I point you to Mo Ryan's review for now. Given the number of shows that are running out of episodes right about now, I may have to move "Life on Mars" into the regular blog rotation, probably starting next week. Click here to read the full post

Dexter: The Doakes stays in, the Doakes goes out...

Spoilers for the penultimate "Dexter" of the season coming up just as soon as I have the Showtime promo department killed...

First things first: given that the Showtime promo department, like their counterparts at every other channel at the moment, seem determined to give away all the fun surprises of their episodes, I want to remind people to not talk about anything in the promos for the finale. There was a kerfuffle last week when someone started talking about Lila going to the cabin, and other people complained that they had deliberately turned off the show before the promo aired to avoid stuff like that. Admittedly, this episode spent a good chunk of time preparing us for Lila's trip, what with her stealing the GPS unit, but even so... geez.

I was actually so annoyed to have the episode's climactic moment ruined that I wound up breaking my pledge to watch the final episodes at the same rate as the regular audience, and watched the finale as well. (Hey, I'm using all my willpower to watch "The Wire" as slowly as possible.) I won't say anything about the finale here -- not even whether I liked it -- but that means I'll have to be more delicate, and probably briefer, about "Left Turn Ahead" than I otherwise might. (I promise to go on at greater length about the finale to compensate.)

Sorry for that opening digression. Let's get to the core of the episode, which was the back-and-forth between Doakes and Dexter. We already saw last week that Doakes' approach to Dexter had changed from how he treated him before the Butcher discovery. How much of that was simply him playing his captor and how much was Doakes treating Dexter better because he finally understood him is unclear, but the bonding only deepened this week. It was beautiful -- albeit kind of sad, since you knew Doakes would go back in the cage -- to see them finally team up to take out the two drug soldiers. Even before Doakes talked Dexter into giving himself up, you could see him pushing Dexter closer and closer to that decision. Doakes has been a one-note character at times over the years, but Erik King has done some very nice work these last couple of weeks as Doakes has tried to talk his way out of this deathtrap.

(Also a nice touch to have Dexter thank Doakes for giving him someone to talk to about his work. Harry's been gone a long time, and Rudy died not long after Dexter discovered who he really was. Gotta be hard being a monster with no one to discuss it with.)

And at the same time, did anyone really think Dexter's decision was going to stick? Even without the knowledge that he's the star of the show and therefore has to remain free to kill, we've seen how in flux Dexter's been this season -- "flying without a code" and all that -- and it was only a matter of time before he'd find some excuse to justify his continued freedom. The only real question was whether it would be Rita (my guess) or Deb (the correct answer) who would inadvertently talk him into betraying Doakes.

Unfortunately, I continue to to be unhappy with the Lila storyline. She was a lot more interesting before she became unambiguously crazy and eeevil. The idea of Dexter trying to turn a slightly eccentric woman into his sidekick had a lot of potential; this, on the other hand, is just frustrating. (I was amused, though, after all of Deb's mockery of Lila's skinniness -- really a pot-kettle situation, come to think of it -- that Lila was able to take advantage of that to steal the GPS unit.)

Since I know where this is all going, I'll cut things short here and open it up to you. What do you think? And remember, no talk of the promos, or of the obnoxious finale spoilers floating around the Interwebs; just this episode.
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Friday, December 07, 2007

FNL: End of an error

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I feed the ferrets...

I've made my feelings on the Unfortunate Incident pretty damn clear by now. I'm glad it's over -- even if they had to completely skip over any ramifications for Chad over the stupid car fire -- and yet I wonder how well the characters of Tyra and Landry will survive it. Plemons and Palicki totally justified the writing staff's faith in them, even though they couldn't keep this albatross of a story airborne, but when the show comes back in January (I think there are five or six episodes left, more than most shows since they started production early), is Landry just back on the team, goofing around with Saracen like nothing happened? Or does the look in his eyes in the final shot imply that, even though the legal part of this story is behind us, the season will continue to be haunted by the rapist's death? Ordinarily, I hate when shows don't deal with the emotional ramifications of a life-altering event, but I'd almost prefer that they treat this like the people of Springfield treated Armin Tamzarian, you know?

I might have been more engaged by the later stages of the storyline if it hadn't taken place in complete isolation from the rest of the show. After his big moment on the field, Landry's barely shared the frame, let alone dialogue, with Coach or his teammates, not least of which one-time best friend Saracen. Not that I necessarily wanted even more time given over to this story, but wouldn't word of this get out, cop's son or no cop's son? Wouldn't Buddy, even with Santiago on his plate, be aiming to put the fix in for the team's new star tight end? Wouldn't Matt be able to tear himself away from his live-in love buddy long enough to reach out to Landry? Wouldn't Riggins be pointing out to Coach that that Lance kid has brought far more shame to the Panthers than he ever did?

When "Friday Night Lights" is at its best, it's about a community, and about how one part of it (the football team) reaches out and touches everyone in it. The Landry story, and the Carlotta story, and most of the plots this season have been so compartmentalized from each other that it feels like each one has its own separate writer, and their scenes get jammed together to fit a script that covers a given week of the football season.

That said, some of the stories are working even though they're disconnected from everything else. Take Santiago, who's on his own little island with Buddy and, from time to time, Coach. I really liked what the show did with him this week, and not least because they finally put the kid at linebacker, where the team and the show had a far greater need. They're doing a nice job of showing how damaged this kid's psyche is, and of how Buddy's fumbling along, partly out of self-interest, partly out of a growing recognition that Santiago needs help. As predictable as Santiago's sack and forced fumble were, that sequence did something that Landry's big game didn't: it put us inside the head of a neophyte tossed into the pressure cooker of big-time Texas football. It's obvious how that would intimidate Santiago, just as it's obvious how he might start to feed off it, especially after the O-lineman started talking to Santiago like someone from his juvie days.

Street's story was amusing enough -- Herc is always funny, and Scott Porter's reaction to the girl's golden shower fetish was priceless -- but I'm wondering what the guy is still doing on the show. When he quit the team, he seemed to realize that he needed to get the hell out of Dillon and start his life anew, and yet here he still is, first in his folks' place, then in Herc's nearby apartment. I realize that making a big change is hard for someone in Street's physical and financial condition, but his behavior here didn't really seem to follow the decisions he made a few weeks ago.

Riggins getting out of his own rut with Ferret Guy was more interesting, if only because it's pushing Coach back into the surrogate father role that's as much a part of his job as the X's and O's. Eric's not a perfect man, and he doesn't always relate to these kids and their problems as sensitively as he could (he was oblivious to the way his yelling made Santiago shut down in practice, for instance), and the town as a whole has turned a blind eye to Tim Riggins so long as he does a good job blocking for Smash, but when the kid turns up asleep in his truck in front of your house, it's hard not to notice the problem. I liked the wordless sequence of Coach inviting him to crash in the garage (Kyle Chandler's best moments tend to be ones where he's allowed to let his expression do all the talking), and look forward to the Taylors turning Tim into their new project to replace Tyra. (Anyone want to place odds on a Julie/Tim romance arc?)

Finally, the christening story featured the usual acting goodness from Connie Britton, but Tami and Julie's argument where they kept saying the same things at each other seemed too on the nose, and none of it really tracked with where their relationship was last week after the Noah thing. If this means Julie's going to be less of a brat going forward, then I'm okay with it. But as with the Landry story, it felt like the writers just decided they wanted to be done with this arc with as few consequences as possible.

What did everybody else think?
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ER embeds

One of the regrets from the "ER" disaster piece yesterday is that I didn't get around to inserting YouTube links to some of them. (In particular, the shot of Romano realizing a chopper's about to fall on him is as unintentionally hilarious as always.) I remember the last time I tried embedding YouTube clips directly into the blog, some people complained about office firewalls and/or slower load times preventing them from accessing the site. So I want to try an experiment today: I'm going to embed a bunch of "ER" clips, but only after the jump, so if you don't want to/can't view them, you don't have to. If it still causes anyone problems, let me know in the comments, or e-mail me (asepinwall(at) and I'll take it down.

Disaster video coming right up...

From "Hell And High Water," Doug trying to get through the grate the kid is trapped behind:

From "Random Acts," the Mark Greene beat-down:

From "Be Still My Heart," David Krumholtz gets stabby with Carter and Lucy:

From "Freefall," Romano walks into his own death:

Also from "Freefall," Susan's husband Chuck (remember him?), thought to be dead on the chopper, turns out to be very much alive:

From "The Show Must Go On," the balconies collapse and Ray does triage:
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Three hospitals, many tragedies

Since I actually watched -- and enjoyed -- all three Thursday medical dramas on the same night in the first time since forever, it's time for a stethoscope-themed blog post. Spoilers for, in order, "ER," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scrubs" coming up just as soon as I swab a camel...

After having some fun with all those disaster episodes of "ER" yesterday, not to mention the chaotic-sounding 300 patients premise, the 300th episode turned out to be a fairly low-key affair. I'm actually happy with that; while people tend to remember the episodes with the pyrotechnics and the weeping, one of the things I've always admired about "ER," in good times and bad, is how it can be so buttoned-down when it wants to be. I think of episodes like Doug and Mark's road trip to bury Doug's dad, or the ER staff preparing for the paramedic's death in "The Healers," or even Abby's black-out sex with Moretti a few weeks ago, and think about how a lot of other series (including a certain other Thursday medical drama to be discussed later) would try to underline all the emotions for the audience with sweeping music, teary-eyed close-ups and whatnot. I'm not saying "ER" isn't often guilty of going over-the-top, but when they tighten up, it often turns out to be more affecting.

There were tears in both the resolution of the Down's syndrome story and Luka/Abby, but they felt real and earned. (And the Luka scene was made far more uncomfortable -- and fascinating -- by our knowledge of what Abby was refusing to tell him even as he tried to take all the blame on himself.) The moment when Abby called out Neela about Ray, meanwhile, stung precisely because there weren't a lot of fireworks in the scene; the casual coldness is what made it seem so painful. I'm not wild about the chaplain character, but the tribute to the patients the ER lost in the last year was also a nice, understated tribute to the series as a whole which has killed off a lot of doctors and patients.

And I want to say a word about Scott Grimes, who I couldn't stand when Morris was introduced (at the time, I was surprised they dumped Coop and kept Morris) and now find delightful. His reaction to the arrival of the food poisoning patients was among the funniest non-"30 Rock" things I saw last night. The key difference, I think, between when Morris first appeared and now is that he's at least semi-competent. If the guy's an obnoxious clown and also a terrible doctor, then I spend all my time thinking about how the writers are contriving to keep their comic relief character on the show. By making Morris a vaguely good doctor, and by occasionally providing serious glimpses into his personality (like the conversation with Lowell about being abandoned by his own father), I feel freer to laugh at him when he's acting the buffoon.

I remain baffled about ABC's scheduling decision with this "Grey's Anatomy" two-parter. Thanksgiving night generally has a lower audience than a regular Thursday, so why air part one on turkey night, then air a rerun, then put this one on a week after that? ABC has a weird history of doing this (I remember them interrupting an intense "NYPD Blue" two-parter with a Barbara Walters special in between), and it never makes sense to me.

While parts of "Crash Into You" part two were just as strong as in part one -- Bailey's marriage falling apart while George played messenger, anything with Lexie and Seth Green, Karev telling off Ava, Meredith telling Dr. Hahn to shut up (a rare instance where Meredith was justified in telling anyone to shut up, whereas there are so many instances when others are justified in telling her to) -- more of the parts of "Grey's" that I dislike creeped into this one.

Remember that "Scrubs" scene where Dr. Cox rattles off a list of all the things he cares about more than his final week with J.D. as a resident? That's basically how I feel about the state of Meredith and McDreamy at this point. Now it's just getting stupid, the attempts to keep them apart, and Dempsey has zero chemistry with the computer geek nurse. Zero. I'm glad that Shonda continues her "Okay, so maybe Izzie and George are a mistake" theme, but if it's now as obvious to the characters and their creator as it is to us poor, frustrated viewers, why can't they just break up already? Why must we now spend as much time with them angsting about their incompatibility as we did with them angsting about whether George should break up his marriage for his One, True, Perfect Love?

Finally, "Scrubs" gets back in the groove with its best episode of the season, and better than almost anything I can remember from last year. The pathos was just right on Elliot's ALS plot (and helped by the occasional absurd touch like the patient's home care nurse "flying"), J.D. was credible in the scenes where he was required to act human, and the one-upsmanship and Janitor dating stories were both very funny at the same time they were providing some insight into the characters. The only real disappointment is that is much less elaborate than The Todd promised; no Tranny-Todd feature anywhere. But if they can be this entertaining and well-rounded going forward, I'm going to be a lot sadder when the episodes run out.

What did everybody else think?
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30 Rock: Jenna behaving badly

Spoilers for "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I adjust my lapel pin...

There are episodes of "30 Rock" where I want to spend a lot of time analyzing why it worked or why it didn't. Then there are episodes like last night's "Secrets and Lies," where everything was clicking so well -- more Baldwin/Falco genius, more of Liz embracing her pathetic nature, and just the right amount of Tracy, Jenna, Frank and Twofer -- that all I really want to do is list all the jokes I liked. (There were so many of them that I was constantly pausing and rewinding the episode to write 'em all down.) It's not analysis; it's just quoting, and sometimes an episode's so good (and also so evocative of earlier episodes I analyzed) that nothing else is needed. So, bullet points ho...
  • The way Jack makes "pant suit" sound like the two dirtiest words in the language
  • Jack's stereotypically ethnic pseudonyms/disguises for CC (Lakisha Gutierez Araft, Edie Falco finally embracing Italian caricature as Mr. Spoonatelli)
  • Liz's rape whistle necklace (sans whistle) and her "Risky Business"/"Lemon out!" line
  • Liz hates the word "lovers" unless it's between "meat" and "pizza"'
  • NBC has a "bros before hos policy"
  • Jack finding new ways to insult Liz's appearance ("Try not to dress like a smalltown lesbian")
  • Tracy's diva-ish "Where are the french fries I did not ask for?"
  • Tracy and Shaq's animated movie -- specifically, "Would you call what we did last night 'sex'?"
  • "Samurai I Am Urai" (maybe my favorite Tracy movie title ever)
  • "Maiden Voyage, Newark's first offshore gentlemen's barge"
  • Kenneth bringing notecards to the dinner party ( "Liz, tell me a painful story about your teenage years.")
  • Pete getting all "The Right Stuff" and declaring "Let's fake this candle" at the start of their Pacific Rim Emmys thing
  • Jenna getting sharked by Tracy and only caring that he didn't thank her in his speech
  • Jack and CC kicking ass at party games
  • Did I mention Mr. Spoonatelli?
  • Liz rattling off all the reasons CC shouldn't take advice from her, then reaching for the tape dispenser after CC leaves
  • CC being annoyed she can't go on Oprah, and Jack's "I like when a woman has ambition. It's like seeing a dog wearing clothes."
  • Liz telling Frank and Twofer that nobody cares about their rivalry
  • Jenna's bitchy new entourage, and Jenna going to get her eyeballs whitened (no doubt by Dr. Spaceman)
  • Practically every second James "Cajun-style!" Carville was on screen, but especially him helping to rob the vending machine
  • Jenna is jealous of babies for their soft skin
  • Almost the entirety of the Confessions of a GE Republican scene, save the final "I murdered my wife" joke, which took it further than it needed to go (the scene would have been perfect if it had ended a beat or two sooner)
I'm sure I left out one or two good ones, but what did everybody else think? You as blindly amused by this one as I was?
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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Wire: All in the game, back in the day

As one of my favorite shows after another has run out of episodes because of the strike, a simple mantra has kept me sane: "'The Wire' is coming. 'The Wire' is coming. 'The Wire' is coming."

If you've read me long enough, you know I think "The Wire" is the greatest drama in TV history, and I've been waiting for some season five episodes like a kid waiting for Santa (or Hanukah Harry, if you prefer). Yesterday, the first seven of the final season's episodes arrived, and it took most of my willpower to refrain from telling my boss I was going home to spend the rest of the day watching them. (If nothing else, I need to parcel them out a little or I'll have almost nothing left to enjoy on TV in a few weeks.)

So far, I've watched two, and while I won't spoil anything major, I can say that David Simon and company are still bringing it. As a veteran Baltimore Sun city editor (sort of a journalistic Bunny Colvin), Clark Johnson (Meldrick Lewis from "Homicide") fits into the cast like he's been on the show the whole time, and there were a number of moments where I began cursing the behavior of the characters as if they were real people. (Carcetti, not surprisingly, inspired the most profanity.) There's a scene with Herc near the end of the first episode that had me loudly whooping with laughter for a good 60 seconds, though you need a bit of "Wire" institutional memory to really appreciate the joke.

Since I don't want to seem like too much of a tease, I'm going to point you towards some new "Wire" content to tide you over until January 6: three short films telling "Wire" origin stories, as we meet both Prop Joe and Omar as children and see the first night of the McNulty/Bunk partnership. Amazon is hosting all three on their page for the season four DVD set, and I'm working with HBO to see if I can link to them directly without taking you to Amazon. All are very true to the characters, and all are very funny.

Also, HBO's going to be airing two documentaries looking back on the series and previewing the final season, at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 and 21. The first is "The Wire Odyssey," about the series as a whole; the second is "The Wire: The Last Word," which looks at the media theme of season five. I was interviewed for both of them, though I have no idea how much I'll figure in, if at all. (As I recall, my answers weren't as sound byte-y as I suspect they wanted.) Click here to read the full post

Shows going to The Show

So Les Moonves gave a speech the other day in which he said that CBS might incorporate cleaned-up versions of "Dexter," "Brotherhood" and other Showtime series into their schedule if the strike keeps on going, NBC is already grabbing "Criminal Intent" back from USA for the duration, and, as Mo Ryan notes on her blog, there's a possibility that NBC could start calling up more shows from its various cable partners.

I actually think "Dexter" might not be a hard fit on a broadcast network. Obviously, they'll have to cut 10-15 minutes of content, but if that means less of the supporting cast and their lame season one subplots, I'm fine with it. Deb and Masuka are the only characters who swear a lot, and most of the really graphic violence is implied. We hear the whir of Dexter's drill and then cut away without seeing the real gore.

So here's my question: if you hadn't seen them in their original forms, would you want to watch bowdlerized versions of edgy cable series during the strike, or if you cared enough about "Dexter" to see it without subscribing to Showtime, would you just wait for the DVDs? There's going to be some kind of audience for this stuff -- ABC did decent numbers during that brief period when they would rerun "Monk" episodes a few weeks after they aired on USA -- but how much? In this age where the distinctions between broadcast and cable are rapidly disappearing, how much larger would the audience for "Battlestar Galactica" be on NBC? Click here to read the full post

Sepinwall on TV: Disaster days at 'ER'

Today's column celebrates the 300th episode of "ER" (yes, it's still on, and it's actually not bad these days) with a partial list of the various disasters to befall County General and its staff over the years. Click here to read the full post

Life: He's not attached to any of these cars

Spoilers for the pre-strike finale of "Life" coming up just as soon as I give away my Accord...

Yes, this is three "Life" posts in three days, but I can't help it if NBC schedules two episodes over that span, or if Damian Lewis was so insanely good in this episode that I felt compelled to put some of my thoughts on the show into column form.

I don't know that a lot of the plot logic of "Fill It Up" holds under close inspection -- If Jack Reese's goons are cleaning up loose ends, why leave the girl alive? On what planet is any of Hollis' confession admissable in court? On what planet does Crews not lose both his job (for enough infractions to give TPTB license to boot an embarrassment) and his settlement money (for violating Hollis' civil rights in every way imaginable)? Why would Jack Reese want Hollis in charge of the Seybolts' daughter, except as a stunning plot twist for the last act? -- but damn if Lewis didn't hold this fragile enterprise together for an hour through sheer force of will.

In the moment, watching each scene, I believed Charlie Crews to be capable of anything, both emotionally (I would not have been the least bit shocked had he killed Hollis) and physically (I was not the least bit surprised that he was able to kill two men while trapped upside down in the second of his three cars in this episode). Lewis makes me believe in both the hard and soft parts of Crews' fragile psyche, the guy who can prepare himself for a suicide mission to find Hollis and the man who could lend the girl enough willpower to make it until the paramedics showed up.

There's a danger in this kind of show, as with "House," of the star being so much more magnetic than everyone else in the cast that scenes without him become dull, but I didn't mind Charlie's partners, past and present, on their snake hunt through the marijuana jungle. Part of that was the series' continued gift for oddball imagery, and part of that was the fact that they were talking about Crews the entire time, in the same way that any "House" scene without Hugh Laurie always involves the other doctors complaining about House.

(I do wonder, though, about what purpose Stark serves whenever the show comes back. In the early going, he was a red herring for the murder conspiracy story, but this episode pretty much cleared him of that; whatever shady attitude he displayed in the early episodes can be pinned to his discomfort and shame at having to see the partner he sold out. Aside from being the token uniform at every artistically-framed crime scene that Crews and Reese investigate, why does the show still need Stark?)

What did everybody else think? Was the resolution to the murder mystery (if not the larger conspiracy) satisfying? Are the ongoing freedom of Reese Sr. and the whereabouts of the girl enough to keep you interested in the arc stuff? Do you think the show even still needs an ongoing mystery arc?
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