Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday catch-up: Life on Mars, ER, Private Practice and Terminator

It's Friday, which means it's time for another ever-popular grab-bag post, with spoilers on, in order, "Life on Mars," "ER," "Private Practice" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," all coming right up...

Hell of a night for homages to "The Wire." First, Dwight on "The Office" talks about juking the stats, and then "Life on Mars" features three different "Wire" alums -- Chad Coleman (Cutty), Chris Bauer (Frank Sobotka) and Clarke Peters (Cool Lester Smooth) -- in guest roles. Now, Peters was already in the show's premiere episode, and you see a lot of "Wire" actors turn up on shows shot in New York because they're East Coast-based, but I'm thinking the producers are fans to put three in one episode.

Unfortunately, the guest cast (which also featured Edi Gathegi, aka Big Love from "House," as a younger version of Peters' character, plus Whoopi Goldberg) was more interesting than the episode itself. My interest in the remake is fading even more rapidly than my interest in the original. They've already softened Gene Hunt far too much (and, yes, I say that about an episode where he was prepared to execute a murder suspect without trial or any real evidence), the cases don't interest me, and I don't think I'm going to really care about the clues about where/when Sam really is until we get to an actual finale. (Based on the ratings, that should be sometime this season.) The "Ice Ice Baby" gag was amusing in the same way that sort of joke usually works in any time travel story (see also Marty McFly inventing both the skateboard and rock music), but overall, the show's pretty flat.

(Also, I was waiting for the inevitable moment where Gathegi's character raised an eyebrow at Sam telling a story about a black NYPD detective he met when he was 17 years old, which would have been the 1950s. Was the NYPD progressive enough to have black detectives back then?)

I actually watched a screener of next week's "ER" with the resurrection of Mark Greene earlier yesterday, so it felt a little like watching "Memento" to then see this episode, which sets up stuff the characters will be talking about next week, like Gates and Sam moving in together, or Gates' homeless veteran patient.

Even had I watched them in the proper order, I suspect I would have found this one to be a pretty blah episode, even by later-period standards. I'm not sure exactly what they're doing with the new interns; isn't Shiri Appleby dating (or maybe even married to) the young surgeon, and, if so, why is she drooling all over Gates? (I mean, Stamos is handsome, but he's also got 15 years on her.) Also, casting Carl Weather as the father of a boxer is one of those ideas that probably sounded great on paper but inadvertently turned that entire story into a big meta joke. (The only way it would have been weirder was if they had mixed in some "Arrested Development" cheapskate jokes about Weathers.)

Matt at Throwing Things recently argued that "Private Practice" has been this year's most improved show so far. I can see that, in that it's gone from teeth-grindingly awful to mediocrity, which is probably a bigger leap than the good-to-wonderful one "Chuck" has taken, but the show is still, at best, something I have on while doing three other things. Glad as I am to see Addison behaving like Addison again, and to see more of a focus on the cases and the ethical problems contained therein, I still don't feel attached to any of the other characters. And even when a case involves life or death, as it did this week with the terminally ill teen who desperately wanted a baby, the setting somehow makes the stakes feel much lower. I can't explain exactly why, but put that exact same storyline into a hospital show and it would have felt a lot more powerful, I think.

Finally, it's a shame nobody's watching "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" -- and that even fewer will be watching once the show moves to Fridays -- because they're really on a roll of late. Other than the subplot with Derek and his time-traveling girlfriend, where I constantly feel like they're leaving all the exposition on the cutting room floor (how does she know Derek's fence, for instance?), every storyline was clicking this week. Stupid as it is for John to not tell his mom about Cromartie visiting the house, or about Cameron going walkabout a few episodes back, his desire to have something resembling a normal life -- with a normal girlfriend who did a much better job dealing with Cromartie than any other person to date -- is understandable and a good idea for the show to explore. (When John was whining to Sarah about her not protecting him from killing Sarkisian, she really should have told him that he needs to get ready to kill a whole lot of people and things.) And Ellison's ongoing crisis of faith in the wake of learning that SkyNet is real has been very well-done. I'm still not sure exactly how much, if anything, he suspects about Shirley Manson, and I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on this apparent SkyNet civil war plotline they've been setting up, but this season has been really engaging so far.

What did everybody else think?

16 comments:

pgillan said...

The number one complaint about Terminator has been the dozens of extraneous Terminators wandering around, and yet they still go ahead with the increasingly ridiculous idea of having a duplicate Ellison show up (then immediately die) for absolutely no reason, since he was cleared of the charges by the end of the episode. They seriously need to stop sending things back in time.

Am I the only one who thought that the detective who was interviewing the witness was also a Terminitor?

Jennifer J. said...

Nope. We thought the investigator was a terminator, specifically Shirley Manson, the whole time. We really enjoy this show. We still plan to tape it when it moves to Fridays. At least it gives us something more to watch than just The Soup. ;)

Joolie said...

Private Practice had gotten much better, but I don't miss it while watching Life - I forgot to even go check it during commercials.

Life on Mars is seducing me with fun clothes and good acting, I think, because the writing is totally predictable. But Jason O'Mara has charisma, and I'm enjoying Michael Imperioli's mustache. Not to mention Harvey Keitel chewing scenery. Whoopi Goldberg's hair was worth the episode. My big fear is that the show won't have an ending.

drake lelane said...

LoM does such a good job of mining great cultural items from 1973 that it makes me sad the rest of the goings on aren't on par.

Garland Jeffrey's great "Wild in the Streets" was written as a reaction to a girl getting thrown off the roof back in '73. Couple that with the fact that Jeffreys is both African-American and Puerto Rican and the choice of music is easily the most thought out point of the episode.

Dani in NC said...

I refuse to let myself watch Life on Mars because I was a big fan of the original. For me, the Brit accents and slang were an integral part of why I enjoyed the show.

Private Practice is a background show for me, too. I only watch it because my husband is watching it, but I'm usually reading a book or surfing the internet at the same time.

It is sad that Fridays and Saturdays are considered the TV show graveyard. I actually watch TV on those nights, and have since I was a kid. This means that I've gotten attached to a lot of shows that ended up being canceled. Bummer!

Steve Pick said...

When Sam started rapping in a 1990 style and the 1973 (several years before rap was even born in New York) dude recognized his mad skills, I turned Life on Mars off, never to come back again.

This was after resisting the urge to do so just a few minutes earlier, when the way-too-involved police woman said the line about, "Her lemonade was tart, but she was sweet." I couldn't believe anybody thought they could pull off a line like that.

David J. Loehr said...

The only way it would have been weirder was if they had mixed in some "Arrested Development" cheapskate jokes about Weathers.

I'd like to think he was getting snacks from Burger King throughout.

olucy said...

It was fun watching Big Love play a character who was a lot looser and had a sense of humor. And to see him morph into Lester. But I have to admit, I feel less and less compelled to watch this show every week.

Eugene Freedman said...

I was very happy to see Cameron act like a Terminator this week, killing the burglars who had ripped them off, b/c she knew they were a threat if they were allowed to live. Sarah Connor, leaving finger prints everywhere, didn't have the same sense and was clearly human.

BigTed said...

I don't think it's so weird to see Shiri Appleby drooling over the 15-years-older Gates on "ER," seeing as she dated 17-years-older Campbell Scott on "Six Degrees"... and a space alien on "Roswell."

Anonymous said...

"When Sam started rapping in a 1990 style and the 1973 (several years before rap was even born in New York) dude recognized his mad skills, I turned Life on Mars off, never to come back again."

Really? For me, that was the one great moment in the episode (or series, as this is the first one I've watched since the first couple of weeks). I couldn't believe how credible Ice, Ice Baby sounded as a word poetry jam or whatever they were doing in '73. Overall, I'm in complete agreement with Alan: how can you soften a character played by Harvey Keitel that much!?

Philip Glenister

Pamela Jaye said...

Private Practice dying girl - I feel like I walked in halfway thru the story. Never found out what she was dying of...

or what Charlotte is doing upstairs...

and Jing Mei's exposition got eaten by my DVR. (and her shredder)

It felt like all the stories were half told - while Grey's can tell their stories whole, in half the time.

And I still don't care about any of the characters.

And why does Jayne Brook(e) seem to be playing two different age groups? (or is Pete (and me) actually old enough to to be a father to someone the age of Kevin on Brothers & Sisters?)
It can't be true.
I do miss Diane Grad, though...
(is Peter MacNicol working these days?(

Andrew said...

I watched an episode of Terminator:SC on Hulu last week and enjoyed it enough that I will start DVR'ing it when it's on Fridays. But on Mondays, it's third banana behind Chuck and HIMYM.

Anonymous said...

Shiri Appleby's surgeon friend is actually her twin brother.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Shiri Appleby's surgeon friend is actually her twin brother.

Really? Huh. I guess I completely misread the line in their first episode where someone said they made a cute couple.

But at least that makes the Stamos thing make more sense -- as well as explaining why we really haven't seen them interact since that first episode.

shara says said...

Hola! Glad you're still keeping the terminator faith, I've been on board since day one and I think it keeps getting better. I have been very satisfied with this season so far. I may be alone in saying this, but I really like Riley. I hope that she is brought "into the fold" soon, because she's obviously smart and gutsy, and having her around has really added to the whole "I want a normal life for now" tension between John and Sarah. I have liked watching Summer Glau get to stretch her acting chops a bit more, and Cromartie is way more interesting than he started out. The Agent Ellison storyline got way more interesting than I had ever thought it could be, and I think that Shirley Mansion is perfect in the role - very creepy and interesting and scary all at once. I had my doubts during the first episode, but I think she is adding a LOT to the atmosphere of the show. I am soooo glad that it got the back nine episode order, they've already cancelled many of the shows that I worry about, so this is where I'm focusing my positive energy. Until Dollhouse comes out, that is. Although, since they're both gonna be on on Friday nights, I can be more effecient in my sending of positive energy!!!