Sunday, February 28, 2010

Big Love, "Next Ticket Out": If you can dodge an accusation of adultery, you can dodge a tetherball

Well, nothing on tonight's penultimate episode of "Big Love" season four was as gonzo or ridiculous as last week's Mexican adventure, but there's still too much going on and I have yet to see anything to convince me that Bill's political campaign isn't the most credibility-damaging storyline on a previously-good drama since the Dillon Panthers' backup tight end went on a 12-state killing spree.

On the plus side? Tetherball fights always remind me of good times at summer camp.

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

Caprica, "There Is Another Sky": New Cap hustler

A belated review of the latest "Caprica" coming up just as soon as I rip my arm off...
"What are you?" -Vesta
"I'm awake." -Tamara
One week after Daniel Graystone vowed to stop making profits off the holo-band business, and in the same episode where Daniel told his board that said business was finished, "Caprica" made its deepest plunge yet into the virtual world that sits adjacent to the 12 Colonies, in an episode that embraced all things cyber-punk(*).

(*) Question: has "The Matrix" trilogy so overtaken the public's conception of this kind of story that we now have to reference Neo and Morpheus anytime one comes up? Even in an episode whose visual aesthetic was much more "Dark City" than anything the Wachowskis did?

Until now, Tamara's avatar had been an afterthought compared to the Zoe/avatar/Cylon trinity. Not anymore. What started out as a kind of nightmare for the poor virtua-kid (not knowing who/what she is, in the control of people just looking to profit from her unique abilities) turned into a kind of Pyrrhic victory, in which Tamara discovered she was dead but also came to understand the level of power she has in this world, and that she has nothing to fear from anyone just plugging into the holo-band from the real world. A very well-played journey by Genevieve Buechner, and now I'm very curious to see how or if Tamara's story is going to intertwine with the creation of the Cylons.

And speaking of those lovably obedient sentient robots, Daniel and Zoe took a backseat to the Adamas (living and dead) this week, but Daniel's demonstration to the board was memorably macabre - so over-the-top and horrific that it likely distracted the board from a deeper questioning of Daniel's pitch - and an even better use of the show's shifting perspective of Zoe than last week's robo-boogie dance number. Zoe is sentient, but this body prevents her from entirely acting on her own free will, and as Daniel talks about making these robots do whatever humanity wants them to, it's not hard to understand why an entire race of Zoes might want to rebel some day.

More good material with the three Adama men(**), and of course Joseph would finally let himself come to terms with his wife and daughter's deaths at the exact moment he learned that Tamara's avatar isn't quite gone yet.

(**) Again, we're not going to go very in-depth about "BSG" for the sake of anyone who might seek that show out later, but watching this trio, it's not hard to see that hard old man Bill Adama took after his uncle, while indecisive Lee is very much Joseph's grandson.

"Caprica" the series is still forming itself, piece by piece. I'm not entirely sure where the story is going (other than the broad points we know from "BSG"), nor whether we're going to have a consistent style or tone from week to week, but every episode so far has held my interest while I wait to get a better view of the big picture. So Espenson, Moore, Eick and company are doing something right.

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

How TV shows try (or choose not) to depict Asperger's syndrome: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column (a rare visit to Page 1 of the paper for me, unless there were five simultaneous huge breaking news stories last night), I use a storyline from NBC's new "Parenthood" to look at TV's depiction (or lack of depiction) of characters with Asperger syndrome, including comments from producers of some shows with Aspie-like characters like Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory" and Brennan on "Bones."

A more traditional "Parenthood" review coming on Tuesday. I like the show, though the Asperger story was definitely the strongest part of it. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Burn Notice, "Good Intentions": Lipstick it

Snow removal Thursday and Friday and then family stuff on the weekend is putting me behind the eight ball on a couple of shows (I have yet to even watch "Caprica," for instance), so in the interests of letting people who want to discuss "Burn Notice" get to it already, I'll simply say the Fiona showcase went to a darker place than the show normally goes, but in a way that nicely filled out what we know about Fi, and Carlos Bernard delivered a nice guest turn as a more morally-ambiguous-than-usual bad guy. Also, given events late in the episode, I hope Matt Nix really has a good ace up his sleeve to make the Gilory arc feel worthwhile in retrospect.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

American Idol: Four out the door

Shoveling my way out of my house consumed a good chunk of my time and energy today (living in the mountains is awesome in spring, summer and fall, but it's awful in snowy winters), so I'll have a few belated thoughts on last night's "American Idol" results show coming up after the jump...

Over at, the Ledger's Tanya Batallas has a full "Idol" results show recap, but the gist is that Janell Wheeler, Ashley Rodriguez, Joe Munoz and Tyler Grady got the boot.

None was very good on Tuesday or Wednesday, but also none of them were memorably bad enough for viewers (whether a fanbase that's already formed at this early stage, or just casual voters feeling sympathetic) to try to save them. Tim Urban, on the other hand, was not only awful, but then got savaged by the judges, so he's still around for at least another week. As always, my number one rule of "Idol" survival is that it's better to be horrendous (and/or ripped by the judges) than to be mediocre.

Janell sounded really good in the first Hollywood episode - singing, oddly enough, the same song that was used for this season's first "Idol" group sing - and is probably kicking herself for not using her guitar on Tuesday's show. (And using it would have forced her to pick a song better suited for her voice than Heart's "What About Love."

And speaking of both guitars and group sings, I'll concede that "Idol" result shows have gotten much better over the last year through cannier booking of musical guests, but it's still schadenfreude-tastic to watch contestants like Crystal Bowersox try to look comfortable with the Up With People arrangements and pointy dance moves. I'll give credit to Crystal for trying, at least, as a too-cool-for-school attitude would bring her "Idol" run to a much-too-premature end. Once you commit to doing "Idol," you have to commit to doing "Idol," you know.

All in all, the worst four people didn't go home, but the only bootee who at any point looked like they had a shot to go far into the finals was Ashley, and it's become clear that she's not what the show is looking for this year.

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

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, "That Girl Is Like a Virus": I have a dream

A review of last night's "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains" coming up just as soon as I hide your machete...

Well, that was much more fun than last week, I thought.

Obviously, some of that came from watching the Heroes completely own the Villains at the sumo challenge from Palau. (This makes sense, of course, since the Heroes dramatically out-muscle and out-tough the Villains, and it was a completely solo contest; their downfall in previous challenges came whenever they had to think and/or work as a group.) Tom once again was the man, Colby got to beat Boston Rob after Rob took him to school in another wrestling-type challenge in All-Stars, people got muddy but no one got seriously injured, and a good time was had by all (on one side at least).

But what made the episode click was how much time we spent in each camp, and how much of that was spent on strategery rather than people yelling at each other. Ordinarily, episodes with only one challenge tend to fall flat, but the extra time saved this week gave us a lot of good stuff from both camps, including a very necessary extended stay at the Villains camp to see how alliances are forming and fracturing. (Since the first two episodes were dominated by the Heroes' bickering, some people like Randy had barely spoken at all, and some people like Tyson and Courtney have still barely done or said anything.) We got strategy, we got cattiness (Jerri and Parvati hating on each other, Jerri primarily because Parvati won the million bucks playing the game Jerri thought she was playing in Australia) and we got a touch of craziness (Coach quoting Martin Luther King on the way to Tribal).

I'm disappointed that Parvati seems to be taking her alliance with Russell seriously, since it was implied in the first episode that she was just playing along to calm his crazy ass down. But I did like that everyone at Tribal Council laughed off the missing machete, suggesting that Russell's latest "brilliant" scheme to destabilize things came for naught, even though he's wisely latched onto the most socially powerful person on his team.

And it's because Parvati is apparently so charming in person, and because she's friends with the leaders of the dominant alliance on the other team, that the Villains made a serious, serious error in not voting her out last night. Boston Rob should be smarter than that, especially given his talking head at the start of the show about the dangers of letting couples stay together. Still a lot of season left, but it's very easy to imagine a circumstance where the final six are Parvati, Russell, Danielle, Cirie, Amanda and one of the guys from their alliance. Opportunities to vote out power players don't come around that often, and it's not like Parvati is so great at challenges or at camp that they would have been weakening the tribe by sending her home.

This ep has me convinced to stick with the season a bit longer, but it's going to require some time-juggling issues, since it'll be up against both the NBC comedies and, for the next two weeks, an "American Idol" results show. So it may be one of those things I don't get to until much later in the day on Friday, or even on a weekend. We'll see how it goes.

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

Spring TV preview: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I give another rundown of mid-season premiere dates (or, in some cases, return dates for shows on long mid-season hiatuses). Lots and lots and lots of good stuff coming up, folks (most notably HBO's "The Pacific," pictured above, which Dan and I talked about a bit in this week's podcast), and while I'm still not sure how I'm going to handle covering it all (especially since I need to take some time off in early April), we'll figure that out as we go. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 25, 2010

American Idol: Hello, Bizarro World! Hello!

Ugh... where to start with last night's "American Idol" semi-final episode with the Top 12 guys? With a series of vocals (Tim Urban) and song choices (John Park) so brutal that the upbeat semi-competence of Big Mike Lynche's "This Love" made him seem deserving of an instant pass to the finals? With the way the show seems to have learned not a darned thing from the Paula Abdul/Corey Clark mess in the way it's playing up Kara's attraction to Casey James? With Ellen still looking terrified every time she has to say anything vaguely negative? With Andrew Garcia already looking like a one-trick pony (albeit one with a pretty good trick)?

Or should we start with the judges doing a complete 180 from the night before? On Tuesday, they kept beating the women over the head with orders to not do soundalike covers, to instead ape Blake/Cook/Lambert/Kris and either rearrange songs or find someone else's obscure arrangement. Wednesday night, they kept complaining when the contestants did exactly that. I'm not saying the rearrangements were all good - Todrick Hall didn't have the vocal chops to back up his reconstruction of "Since U Been Gone," and Andrew's gimmick becomes less charming the more he keeps doing the exact same iteration of it - but what exactly happened between night one and night two? Did the producers give the judges a talking-to for some reason? Did the judges have nightmares about an entire season of Adam Lambert's "Ring of Fire"? Or is it as simple as Fienberg (whose own recap is here) half-jokingly suggested on Throwing Things: that it's the easiest way to sabotage the guys and ensure that the show gets the female winner everybody clearly wants this year.

Whatever the heck was going on, this was one of the worst "Idol" performance shows I've ever seen. Just brutal, brutal, brutal. Another week or two like this, and I may have to seriously consider just jumping ahead to halfway through the finals, when most of the really awful people are gone, and just skim YouTube for the performances I hear are good.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Firewall & Iceberg podcast, episode 5: Parenthood, American Idol, Lost and more

It's Wednesday, so time for another episode of the Firewall & Iceberg podcast. The post at has the full rundown of topics by time so you can avoid spoilers and/or shows you don't care about.

More technical issues this week than last, I'm afraid (karma for us getting cocky, I think), and there's still a specific roadblock to getting on the iTunes store that we have to work on. But stream/download away. Click here to read the full post

Life Unexpected, "Truth Unrevealed": I'm on the radio EVERY DAY!!!!

A review of last night's "Life Unexpected" coming up just as soon as I go to prom with a thesaurus...

Okay, they're getting there. Definitely getting there. That's a couple of episodes in a row completely free of Pilot-itis, and Baze being obnoxious on Ryan and Cate's show was a blast. And even though I unsurprisingly like the adult characters more than the teens - and even though I could see every beat of this particular story coming way in advance - I felt engaged throughout by the Lux/Jones/Bug triangle.

On the other hand, Cate's late visit to Lux's story was the only part of the episode where I liked her at all. I recognize that the writers have stuck Cate into a lot of difficult situations, and also that there are times when the two men around her get off easy for the same actions she gets slammed for (case in point: the listeners don't hold the secret relationship against Ryan), but the character still comes across as grating, particularly in the scene where she accuses Baze of raping her eyes by having sex with her boss. I thought it a nice bit of symmetry that Cate and Lux tell the exact same story to their respective men, only Cate's lie gets Ryan back while Lux's truth sends Bug running, and yet I feel little sympathy for Cate after an episode that was designed (I think) to put us in her shoes and make us realize how tough this situation is on her.

(Some of this, I think, also comes down to performances. Baze was an ass on the radio, I think, but Kristoffer Polaha has an innate charm that I'm not sure Shiri Appleby does. If you put an actress in a role that's supposed to be adorable, and that actress doesn't present as adorable, the character will just seem annoying. Case in point: the early career of Monica Potter.)

But Cate did give Lux good advice, even if it didn't work out, and even if she didn't have the guts to follow it herself. So "Truth Unrevealed" wasn't a total loss for her.

Overall, the show remains pleasant but unremarkable, with occasional drops of sharp dialogue (Baze describes Cate's voice as "like seagulls fighting over a cheese sandwich"), some characters I like, some I don't. With the TV schedule getting busy again next week post-Olympics, and with "LuX" heading for the 8 p.m. trainwreck slot in two weeks, my reviews of it may become more intermittent, with me checking in with a post if an episode's particularly good or bad. But I'll be watching.

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

American Idol: Holding out for a Taylor

With "American Idol" competing with "Lost" every Tuesday for the rest of the season, my reviews of the performance shows are going to come at irregular times, and usually not until the day after. But I'm awake, and since I don't do the song-by-song breakdown until the finals, anyway, I'll have some thoughts on the Top 12 women (or the female half of the Top 24, if you prefer) coming up just as soon as someone explains how we got three Beatles songs on a Billboard Hot 100 theme night...

Not a very impressive start for the women, was it?

I thought Lilly Scott was wonderful; even if it turns out she used someone else's cover of "Fixing a Hole," as David Cook so often did covers-of-covers during his season, I love her voice and stage presence. And there were several other songs that were well and confidently performed, even if they were all much more karaoke and therefore my enjoyment depended largely on whether I enjoyed that particular song or artist being covered (Crystal Bowersox doing Alanis(*), Didi Benami doing Ingrid Michelson) or didn't (Michelle Delamor doing the show's umpteenth Alicia Keys impression). There were also a bunch of performances that were all over the map, some of which I ultimately sort of liked (Haeley Vaughn's "I Want To Hold Your Hand" started off sounding like the version from "Across the Universe" and then got weird, quickly), some less so (Lacey Brown's "Landslide"). Overall, though, I really only care about ever hearing Lilly, Crystal and Didi again, preferably in some kind of all-guitars Top 4 with Andrew Garcia.

(*) I also give Crystal points for guts in devoting such a large percentage of a brief performance to a harmonica solo. Either that, or she just has no idea of what typically constitutes a successful "Idol" performance. Based on her confusion about the show's viewership numbers in Hollywood, I wouldn't be shocked if that was the case.

What was most interesting about the show tonight was the judges.

After seeming pretty lively and on point during our glimpses of her in Hollywood, Ellen was very flat tonight. She didn't do a lot of schtick, but she also rarely said anything of substance, and was particularly bad whenever she had to lead off the critique. (She seemed most confident when she had other opinions she could piggyback off of.)

Somewhat shockingly, the two sharpest judges of the night were Kara and, especially, Randy. When Randy began giving Haeley constructive criticism about her range and the type of songs she should sing, I was stunned. Where the hell had this guy been for the last 8 years? This is what they hired him for in the first place, not all the "dawg"s and "molten lava hot"s and "you can sing the phonebook"s. And after equaling Randy in uselessness last year (while adding a healthy dose of chip-on-shoulder), Kara was also fairly observant and coherent tonight. One-night aberration, or has Simon's impending departure - which will create a hole for a new alpha dog but could also lead to a wholesale judging shakeup - forced the two of them to get their acts together?

As for Simon, he's made it clear, both in interview comments and again tonight, that he wants a Taylor Swift type to win this season. When the judges start declaring performances in week one of the semi-finals to be too safe and derivative - case in point, Ashley Rodriguez, giving the exact kind of performance that would have gotten a tongue-bath from the judges a few seasons back - you know that the show is shifting directions, hard. Ultimately, the whole "you have to reinvent a song and make it your own" thing will start to feel just as derivative as the sort of stuff that was doing well before Blake Lewis, David Cook, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert showed up, but for now, it's what the judges (and the producers) want, so it's what we're going to get. So those who can write songs - or are at least good at searching iTunes for obscure reinventions of songs that match that week's theme - are going to be at a decided advantage over the pageant-y likes of Katie Stevens.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lost, "Lighthouse": Classical composition

A review of tonight's "Lost" coming up just as soon as I lie to a samurai...
"Jack is here because he has to do something. He can't be told what that is. He's got to find it himself. Sometimes, you can just hop in the back of someone's cab and tell them what they're supposed to do. Other times, you have to let him look out at the ocean for a while." -Jacob
"Well, next time, how about you tell me everything upfront? I'm not big on secret plans." -Hurley
Midway through "Lighthouse," Hurley tells Jack, "This is cool, dude. Very old school." And I agree with him - just not in a good way. If last week's "The Substitute" evoked great past episodes like "Walkabout," "Orientation" and "The Brig," "Lighthouse" mainly reminded me of those pre-"Through the Looking Glass" episodes of the show where characters would wander around aimlessly for most of the running time and fail to ask any good questions when given the opportunity, only for things to be saved by a really good cliffhanger.

Here's the thing: I'm on record as saying I don't require answers to everything in this final season, so long as good stories are told. But in two out of these first four episodes, we've gotten no answers and flat stories.

I know there are certain storytelling devices you just have to accept when you watch "Lost," like the way characters rarely seem to share information or don't ask good questions, but it was easier to accept that in the show's earlier days, when we knew Lindelof and Cuse (who got script credit for this episode, the show's Number-iffic 108th) had to stall because they didn't know how long they'd have to stretch things out for. But the finish line isn't just set; it's in sight, and now it feels particularly stupid that Jack apparently doesn't know any more about what happened to Claire than what Dogen told him at the end of "What Kate Does," and maddening that the island's movers and shakers still feel the need to manipulate our heroes through misleading or purposely vague instructions.

Watching Jack smash the lighthouse's mirrors, and recognizing that this is exactly what Jacob must have intended when he told Hurley to bring Jack along, reminded me once again of Ben's overly-convoluted plan to get Jack into performing spinal surgery on him. Back in the middle of season 3, I asked Lindelof why Ben required such a ridiculous scheme when he could have walked up to the castaways' beach on, like, day 5 and offered them shelter and food (let alone a trip home on the Dharma sub) in exchange for some tumor removal. Lindelof countered that "that version is considerably less intriguing for a mystery show." The problem is that if that's the only reason things are vague and overly-complicated - if it doesn't come from the characters, or the needs of the story, but from an external need to maintain an air of mystery - then it doesn't work. It's obvious and distracting and irritating, especially this late in the game, when there's no damn excuse for it.

Yes, Jack Shephard can be a stubborn ass who doesn't always do or believe what he's told, but he's that way in part because of what's happened to him on Craphole Island. He came back to the island in a much calmer, accepting state of mind, and while that state of mind got all blown to hell when Faraday's plan failed to work (and killed Juliet), I have to believe that if Jacob's ghost stood next to Hurley and through him told Jack exactly what was going to happen and what he needed him to do to make things better, Jack might've listened. Would that have made for compelling drama? No, but if that's the case, tell a different story! Don't build an entire hour around our characters once again being led around by the nose, following some plan they don't much understand, getting vague promises of more information down the road. Because that damn sure isn't compelling drama.

Nor, for the most part, was the flash-sideways to Jack's life as every-fourth-weekend dad. As I've been saying for a couple of weeks, I think all the 2004 scenes may eventually play better on second viewing, after we find out what they really mean, but until that happens, they might as well be extended dream sequences - yet another thing we don't particularly need to be messing about with here in the final season.

Last week's Locke story at least worked as a kind of coda to the life of a character who's dead in the main timeline, and brought us back to a relationship we knew well from several previous episodes. Jack's relationship with son David, on the other hand, was brand-new, created from some previous marriage Jack had due to whatever circumstances are different in this timeline versus the one we know(*). So we were starting from scratch, and while Matthew Fox and Dylan Minnette were both quite good at portraying the unsteady father-son dynamic, it was a lot harder to invest in than seeing Locke reunited with Helen. I suppose you could look on it as something of a happy ending for alt-Jack (he finally bonds with his kid) just like Locke got last week, but if so, the payoff didn't feel as strong because it mostly came from new material (though Jack's daddy issues date back to the comparable episode from the first season), and because the character is still with us on the island in 2007, and it therefore felt less necessary.

(*) And between Jack having a kid and a different ex-wife (or, at least, having married Sarah at a much younger age) and Locke being on great terms with Anthony Cooper, it's clear that this timeline's changes go much deeper than the island being sunk and Others like Ben and Dogen being on the mainland. I also have to wonder if Jack ever had his appendix out in either timeline, or if the scar he was so puzzled by came from something on the island, and is being explained away by whatever force created this other timeline.

So of the three stories in the "Lighthouse," the only one that kept me engaged throughout was Jin's nightmarish stint at Claire's tent, with its creepy homemade baby doll in the cradle Locke built and the variety of deadly tools and surgical instruments. Turning Claire into a second-generation version of Rousseau is an intriguing direction(**) and a nice turn of events for Emilie de Ravin, who didn't exactly have the most dynamic character to play for the first four seasons. The sense of dread and insanity in that tent was palpable, and I enjoyed watching Daniel Dae Kim portray Jin's dawning acceptance of who and what his friend had become, and how desperately he needs to get away from her.

(**)Though it does leave me wondering if, like the post-"Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" Locke for most of season 5, we saw a character we knew die, for all intents and purposes, a while back without realizing it. Did Claire (at least as we knew her) really die when the mercenaries attacked New Otherton? After Christian's ghost came for her? Or is this more Claire than Smokey is Locke?

The return of Smokey (or insert your own fake nickname here)means things can only get better next week. And they'd better. I didn't want to believe the complaints of the last two weeks that Team Darlton was under some sort of obligation to write the series differently because we're in the final season. But I see it now, and I'm starting to get impatient waiting for things to either get in gear, or just get more entertaining. 'Cause when Terry O'Quinn and/or Josh Hollway aren't around, things are dragging - far more than they should at this stage in the series' lifespan.

Some other thoughts:

• Sayid's accent remains decidedly more British post-resurrection. I have to assume this is deliberate, and not just Naveen Andrews getting a little sloppy, because sooner or later someone would correct him.

One of my Twitter followers compared Jack's pep talk to David to the scene where Casey tells his son he'll always be proud of him, from the "Sports Night" season 1 finale. If you've seen said episode, you'll likely agree.

• With this season's episodes deliberately following the structure of season one's (a group premiere, then a Kate episode, then Locke, then Jack, etc.), it made sense of Jack to return to the caves he first discovered in that season's comparable "White Rabbit." The cave is also where Jack and Kate (in the next episode, "House of the Rising Sun") found the Adam and Eve skeletons, and here Hurley again gets to play the voice of the fans in suggesting the corpses might be two Oceanic 815 passengers sent far back in time.

• Hurley's time travel comments, by the way, for some reason made me think of the kayak shootout from last season when Sawyer and company kept skipping through eras. Is that the only bit of time travel from that season that never got entirely explained (i.e., we never found out who was in the other boat)? And, if so, do you think we'll ever find out the answer, or is that one of those minor loose threads we just have to accept won't get tied up?

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

Even on NBC's tape delay, Olympics dominate ratings: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I lament how well NBC's Olympics coverage is doing in the ratings, given how frustrating so much of it is.

I asked a week ago what you thought of NBC's coverage, and most of you were unhappy with it. That still the case? Click here to read the full post

There is a new blog logo. Discuss.

Unresolved Sexual Tension is out, and a new blog logo theme is in. Talk about it in the comments. As a reminder, you can find links to, and explanations for, all the previous logos in this post.

Also, I'm running low on my backlog of logos, and I'm open to suggestions (several previous logos were reader-conceived). Just e-mail the ideas to me, rather than posting them in the comments, so others won't have the idea given away before they even see it. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 22, 2010

Men of a Certain Age, "Back in the S--t": Talking to Mike Royce

In this morning's column, I spoke with "Men of a Certain Age" co-creator Mike Royce about the genesis of the show, its future prospects, and why people underestimated Ray Romano's acting talents before they saw him on this gem of the show.

In lieu of a review of the first season finale - which I felt went for a bit more closure than the show usually likes to deal with, but which Royce argues below may not be as neat and tidy as it seems - after the jump I have a full transcript of our interview. Feel free to talk about it, or the finale (the guys on their walk was the season highlight for Scott Bakula), or the season in general.

The transcript coming up just as soon as I Google the word "happy"...

(We began our conversation with Royce mentioning that he had listened to the "MoaCA" segment of last week's Firewall & Iceberg podcast.)

Your compatriot was remarking that it should be a 30-minute HBO show, and that's exactly how it started. It was a long development. We started writing it ourselves, and then HBO made a deal, and then it got caught up in all the (executive) transition there. They passed on it but were nice enough to let us shop it around. Once we were going to do that and we realized we'd be going to basic cable, there would be commercials, we realized we had a 40-minute pilot, so we asked ourselves, "Are we going to go back to 22-minutes? Really?" I think what actaully gets in people's way is not that it's too thin, but that the commercials are a pain in everybody's ass. For this show in particular, we don't have a lot of cliffhanger act breaks.

This is not exactly "The Shield" in that respect.


So while we're on the subject of the show's development, how did it start? Were you and Ray looking to do a project together, or was this like the "Raymond" writers room where you were talking about your lives and then the story idea came.

The last one, basically. We started getting together becaue I was waiting for "Lucky Louie" to get picked up, and he was in between stuff. We got together to write a movie or something, and as we got together, we were both at this point in our lives, all we started talking about was this. All this stuff in our heads about where we were at this phase we seem to be going through. It came out in a bunch of personal stories, stories of other people's lives. Raymond was really taking stories from our lives, and working from there. This just felt natural to say, "Let's do something with this. If you see this in movies or on television, it's usually in a cartoony way."

Well, then can you talk about how you've worked to try to deal with this subject in a non-cartoony way while working in some humor?

When we wrote the pilot, we were allergic to trying to do anything that felt in any way like we were pushing the comedy, and we were trying very hard to make sure every moment felt real - I hate that, it's sort of a weird word - but we didn't want these to be goofy characters. We erred on the side of not-funny in writing the pilot, and what we found out in the shooting of it was that we could be funny. We got more comfortable with our style of what could be funny. When the guys banter, we never want it to feel like they're bantering, we wanted to get their voices better and also real. Even the possum thing in the pilot went from being a huge part, which may somehow make its way to the DVD. We had, like, 15 minutes. In the original pilot that we wrote - to TNT's credit, they asked us to shoot an alternate to this - the possum crawls off and goes into the woods and they walk into the woods to look for it because Joe can't let it go. They find it's wounded and not dead and they have this whole thing where they can't decide what to do, and they get their courage up to put it out of its misery, but then they leave it there. We found we were caught between two basic horrible situations: killing something on screen like that didn't feel right, but neither did walking away from a dying thing. It never struck the tone we were going for. It's funny, it's blackly humorous. The reason we cut so much out is that it didn't come across the way we thought in the writing.

So was there a point in the writing of the early episodes where you felt like you really captured the tone you were going for?

One thing we were very pleased in was the diner scene in the pilot where they're talking about Sisyphus. We told them to loosen up, don't depart too much from the script, but they could go off on tangents and make it feel conversational. We did two takes that way, and if you look at the word-for-word thing, it's pretty much what's in the script, but now it's, "I believe they're freinds." It's not, "I'm delivering the single guy point of view" and "I deliver the married guy's point of view," even though that's what they're doing. That style we've maintained, we're not like "Friday Night Lights" where they throw out the script sometimes, and that's brilliant. We don't go quite that far, but we're not, "It says 'the' here, and you said 'a.'" These three characters are really archetypes, and wanted to use that and not make them feel like stereotypes. That approach has made all the humor feel like we're not pushing it. People are expecting a different kind of show, it's not going to be a laugh riot, though the date show had more humorous moments than most. That was a good indication of how far we can take things.

Years ago, I visited with you and the other "Raymond" writers for a feature story, and Lew (Schneider, who's also a writer here) talked about how Ray Romano is much more neurotic than Ray Barone. Is that where Joe's anxiety came from?

In way that's true. But that's also us overstating things to be funny to you. (Ray) is definitely a dog with a bone when it comes to certain obsessions and neuroses. He'll say he's very neurotic and I guess technically he is, but he's not "Bored to Death" or Woody Allen. He's not a walking mass of tics, but he can get a thought in his head and have a very hard time getting it out. We've had a very good time with that on the show and will continue to do so.

Well, I knew from watching a lot of "Raymond" that Ray could be a very good actor when called on to do so, but one of the most frequent reactions I get when I write about this show is, "I can't believe that he's this good."

I think he unfairly gets put in the category of stand-ups who did sitcoms. Seinfeld never gave a s--t if he was a good actor. I don't want to say he didn't try, but he owned the fact that he was a little stiff and wasn't going to try to do things. I think Ray somehow gets lumped in with him. A large part of what made "Raymond" work was the way he would take lines and be a little off-kilter with them. In a four-camera sitcom, that's a little hard to tell, it feels like verybody's shouting. But within the context of other four-camera sitcoms, especially back in 1996, why "Raymond" premiered, there was a subtlety there that he brought to it.

I had an unfair advantage. We all knew, anybody who worked on "Raymond" knew he had that capability, but I had an even earlier experience. When we were both stand-ups in New York, I went to see him in an acting class, and he did a hybrid scene where he started out doing stand-up and talked about this thing that went into the pilot of "Raymond" about his father cracking the code to his answering machine and listening to the messages. And then he started talking about it in a more personal way. It was frustrating him, and his wife was upset, and he wanted to tell his father off. He wished his father was there right now, and he turned the chair around like he was talking to his father. He did this whole thing like he was talking to his father, and it was like, 'Whoa.' It was so heartfelt. I always had that in the back of my head. He is a really good actor. So it was less of a surprise to me.

But given everyone's expectations of who Ray is as a performer, was there ever any pressure, either when you were at HBO or here with TNT, to go in a broader comic direction because that's what people wanted from him?

We never really got that, and that's to TNT's credit. We came to them with the thing written, and other than the possum thing, they never got on us to change it. Once it was shot and they were deicding whether to pick it up, they came to us saying, "People are telling us this is a little bleak." They wanted to know the direction of the show. We always felt the pilot was bleak - albeit not as bleak as other people thought it was - but we wanted the pilot to put people in (the characters') mode. In any case, I think they just wanted to mae sure they weren't going to start dying off. I think we wanted to reassure them that this whole series is two steps forward, one step back. There will be all these moments of hope, and plenty of moments of bleakness, too

Well, it feels like in the finale the guys all take several steps forward. Like I said on the podcast, it felt a little like you and Ray had written a series finale just to hedge your bets in case you weren't renewed.

There was that aspect of, "If this is the last episode, we want it to have at least something to it, some sort of closure." But at the same time, we were setting things up for the second season. That's the way we viewed it as well.

The other thing is, we felt like these last two episodes were paying off a lot of stuff we'd been settign up. They're more plotty than we usually do - at a certain point things need to happen. So we just felt like those were the things that needed to happen after the stories we'd told so far. The situation between Owen and his father, there will never be a circumstance where they don't see each other. Doesn't mean he won't leave the dealership again; he's going to be working for his father now in a much worse capacity than ever. Terry's whole situation is going to be very fluid. Terry is somebody who's obviously searching. We've got a lot of interesting ideas about where he goes from here and whether acting is a part of that or not. And then Joe, with his gambling situation, we felt like that needed to come to a close right now. Next season is a whole different - anything you saw there, there's plenty of room there for many things to happen.

In terms of Joe and the gambling, Manfro reaches out that he wants to be friends even though Joe's allegedly quit. And while I don't want to lose Manfro, that seems like a situation that'd be very fraught for Joe.

We're thinking that's a good thing. We have a lot of ideas around that, too. But when I say, "a lot," they're pretty disparate. Part of what's interesting, Manfro we really enjoyed that character. We certainly, if possible, want to see him again, but we want it to be believable.

I like how you played things down the middle with Manfro, in that he likes Joe, but only to a point, and not to a point where he'd ever let Joe off the hook on a debt.

Manfro is his own lonely hearts. In Joe, he has a friend that he doesn't have in any of his other clients. He has a guy to whom he feels a weird kinship, and Joe feels the same way about Manfro. Even in a way he doesn't connect with his friends, he connects with Manfro, he tells Manfro certain things that he doesn't tell Owen and Terry. It's an odd relationship

In the finale, we see Owen kicking ass and taking names at the rival dealership, and his father suggests it's just Owen succeeding through spite. It's been unclear throughout the season whether Owen is a bad salesman just because he's lazy, or because being under his father's thumb all these years has made him that way. How do you see it?

I would say all of those things. There's a moment with Owen we had to cut from the pilot, and I miss it. When he's selling the two old people who are complaining and Marcus comes over and takes over the sale - where that scene started in the original cut, it's just him daydreaming and the old people are talking and he doesn't quite tune in for a few seconds. For the same reason that we had him falling asleep at his desk. It's that he's been at this job for a long time and it isn't his dream job. He doesn't hate it so much, but it's not where he thought he'd be. The only thing keeping him there is that, "Some day, I'm going to be the boss." He doesn't have a fire for that particular job. Hopefully, what we covered in the finale, all those things are true. He has the ability, but he was being lazy. So his father's totally right, a lot of people said after the pilot, 'He's a lazy f--k.' His father's right, but also Owen's right.

And Andre is an actor who doesn't have a lot of vanity. He's there with his shirt off whenever and wherever you need him to be.

I have to hand it to him. He came in raring to go in the pilot. When we filmed the bedroom scene, he said, "I should be in my tightie-whities." The truth is, when he was first mentioned to us, we just said, 'No.' The notion of Andre Braugher was this commading presece, but when we met him, I'm saying it nicely, he'd filled out a lot. And if he wants to do it, you can't deny, acting-wise, that he can do it. The combination of those two things made us go okay. Who are we to say no to this guy? He proposed doing that, we wanted him doing that. We wanted to make sure, in a way, it really worked in the show. (The audience) would see a guy they knew as being thinner and younger being a little bit heavier and older. And in the "Mind's Eye" show where he's sitting there naked for a long time, we said, "We kind of need you with your shirt off here, because we have a bunch of fat guy jokes coming up." He said sure. After it aired, he was watching the show with his wife, and she said, "That's a lot of man." Since then, he has lost a lot of weight.

Well, you introduced that storyline earlier this season where Owen resolves to eat better. And I've interviewed Braugher over meals in the past, and he ate as badly as I do. So how do you deal with him either not losing weight if you had a story where Owen's getting thinner, or if Andre really does take a lot of weight off when you weren't planning for that?

I don't think we're at the point yet where we would ask him to lose weight, and I also don't think we're at the point where he's going to come in forty pounds lighter or heavier. We just picture the character the way he eats in real life. He's always going to have those urges, there's always going to be temptation, and he's not necessarily going to be disciplined about it. Owen promised his son, but there's going to be some stumbles. When we got picked up, I called him and he was doing Shakespeare in the Park, he was walking through Central Park. He said, "Great, great. I gotta go. I just want to let you know: I'm staying fat, and I'm staying funny."

With him, it's sort of the opposite of Ray, where people don't think of him as someone who's funny, but when "Homicide" asked him to deliver a joke, he could do it well.

When we had people in reading, and he was nice enough to read also, we had a lot of really funny guys, and good actors, but it just never felt like they were really friends. He didn't go for the joke at all, but it felt real and the moments that were scripted to be funny, he made funny. He's really become quite the comedy savant.

And Scott has his feet in both worlds, since he's done a lot of comedy and drama.

And I have to give him a lot of credit, too. I think he was somewhat underserved in the first few episodes, and his stories got a lot more intersting as they went along. We cut a couple of very good scenes for him from the pilot. He took a leap of faith with us, that we were going to cut these great scenes for the good of the series, and he has really delivered, when he 's supposed to be funny and supposed to be dramatic. He made it really something real, I love that scene in the second episode where he confronts the guy in the doorway about almost running him over, and he's "What am I doing here?'"

And he worked well with Carla Gallo.

She was great, and she really did a great job in the whole series. That's another person where, in the beginning, there wasn't much there for her to do, and I really liked their relationship as it went along. I think it became very sincere and not a cliche of older guy/younger woman.

After last week's episode ended with her mad at him about the surfing thing, I said it was his fault for not acknowledging that he missed the lesson, but a lot of my readers felt that since she was the one who pushed him to do the movie, she had no right to be mad.

We had some discussion, but we ultimately fell where you were. But we had done a whole show about her telling him, "If we're going to be together…" and she calls him on the carpet about being on time. This was a bigger line that he was taking on himself: he tells her, "No, I'm going to do it," and she tells him don't do it unless you're going to, and he insists on it, and then forgets about it. Who knows if we're going to see her again? This could be temporary. It's final for right now. He made such a big deal of, "I'm announcing that we are taking this relationship to the next level," he pulls her close, he plunged in. And then, suddenly, it's like nothing happened. He's distracted, has a lot going on, and she, I think, just wished there was some acknowledgment. If he had just said, 'Oh, god, the surfing!," she would have been fine with it.

So how do you maintain a show where the stories and the stakes are deliberately so small?

This is just not going to be one of these shows that goes for 10 years, whether the ratings hold up or not. I think we view the show like they're in this phase of life. It began with the pilot, and the series finale is going to be when they get to some other side with it. Midlife is like this weird second teenager-hood where your brain is operating on levels you're not familiar with, you're making some bad decisions and changing your life in ways that maybe isn't wise. Things, at a certain point, settle down from that. We think that's the arc of the series. I don't think that's going to take 200 episodes.

But given that you don't do big cliffhanger act breaks and there aren't a ton of promotable moments, was TNT ever worried about the commercial viability of it?

The reviews have been pretty good, and that reassured them. It's also the first show that they have produced as a studio. So I think they're kind of proud of it, they're certainly not shy about giving us notes. I have to give them a huge amount of credit. They never made us do anything. They will give us notes but always defer to us, and I know that is not the case on many other programs.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at
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Big Love, "Blood Atonement": One-armed bandits

We're in the home stretch for this season of "Big Love," and things continue to feel much too busy to me. You may feel otherwise, and since the point of these posts at this point is to let you discuss the show, have at it. Click here to read the full post

'Men of a Certain Age' finishes strong first season: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I talk to "Men of a Certain Age" co-creator Mike Royce about how the first season went, why people underestimated Ray Romano as an actor, etc. We talked for a long time about what's quickly become one of my favorite shows, and I'm going to have a full interview transcript posted tonight after the season one finale airs.

And speaking of that finale, if you watch the show on regular TV (as opposed to downloading or other options), check the note at the end of the column for why you want to be sure to watch or record tonight's 10 o'clock version and not any later ones. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Caprica, "Gravedancing": The Oswalt report

A review of last night's "Caprica" coming up just as soon as I'm careful with the cello...
"We're not company spokespeople. We're parents!" -Amanda
"Actually, no. We're not." -Daniel
Due to a quirk in the scheduling (Syfy didn't want to counterprogram corporate sibling NBC's coverage of the Olympics opening ceremonies), we've had two weeks to dwell on Joseph Adama's request that his brother kill Amanda.(*) "Gravedancing" drags out the suspense for an additional hour, as Joseph keeps flip-flopping on whether he wants Sam to go through with it, and as outside circumstances keep delaying Sam's opportunity to do it.

(*) That scheduling quirk also made this episode feel uncanny in its timing, as Daniel tries to make a big, televised apology on the same day that Tiger Woods tried something similar in the real world.

In the end, it turns out to be a bridge that neither Joseph nor the show are willing to cross. And while that's understandable, it also made "Gravedancing" feel a bit emptier than the previous episodes. There's a lot of talk about big plot developments, but unless you count Daniel Graystone's pledge to stop making money off of the holo-band (and whatever that means for his company, which depends so heavily on that revenue), not a lot actually happens in this one.

But even if "Gravedancing" was light on plot movement, the world-building and character development are still keeping a tight hold on my interest.

We learn that the colonies (or, at least, Caprica) legalized drugs in an attempt to eliminate drug-related crime (which would give the show the Bunny Colvin/David Simon "Wire" Seal of Approval), and I continue to enjoy just watching the production's mix of cutting-edge and retro, like the press gaggle all using cameras that look like something out of the 1930s while filming the raid on the school, even as Sister Clarice and Keon are swapping notes on their Caprican iPads.

"Gravedancing" was also a strong check-in on the Graystone marriage and the relationship between the brothers Adama. Whatever coldness exists in their marriage related to Zoe, Daniel and Amanda made a formidable team on Baxter Sarno's show(**) and even managed to find some humor in their dire situation by episode's end. And I'm really enjoying Sasha Roiz's work as Sam. He's a killer and a crook, but he's also gentle and charming and far prouder of his culture than Joseph, and it's easy to understand why Willie is drawn to his uncle far more than his dad.

(**) And I thought Jane Espenson's script and Patton Oswalt's performance neatly captured two "Daily Show" interview dynamics: both the one where Jon Stewart is determined to lecture his guests and the one where Stewart finds himself too impressed by the guests to keep asking follow-up questions.

Zoe didn't do much but dance this week (that and find a way to get out of that purple dress she's been wearing since the pilot), but the Zoe/Cylon shifting-POV gimmick continues to be fun to watch even when nothing is happening, since Alessandra Torresani has such expressive eyes (perfect for a sequence like this where Zoe's just enjoying the lab dork's attention) and looks so completely the opposite of a killer robot.

What did everybody else think?
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Lost: I'm a substitute for no other guy

If you didn't get enough podcast flavor from me in this week's edition of Firewall & Iceberg, I also popped in on this week's episode of Ryan McGee and Mo Ryan's DVD commentary-style "Lost"-themed podcast "Orientation: Ryan Station," where we kibbitz while watching "The Substitute." (And if you missed my review of that one, here it is.) We talk about Sawyer's love of vintage punk, Hurley's business-casual look, that photo (pictured above) in Locke's cubicle, and a whole bunch more. Click here to read the full post

Grey's Anatomy, "The Time Warp": Back in the day

Been a while since I've written about "Grey's Anatomy," but since several of my regular Thursday shows were off last night, and since the episode was both off-format and fairly interesting, let's have a review coming up just as soon as I throw you a chocolate...

Sooner or later, most dramas will resort to flashback episodes like "The Time Warp." They're an easy way to shake up a familiar formula for a week, they allow the writers to fill in some backstory, they allow the actors to play different versions of familiar characters, and the fans tend to like some or all of those things. This one didn't live up to some others I've seen - in particular the "St. Elsewhere"(*) two-parter "Time Heals," which told stories from throughout the hospital's 50-year history - but it hit most of the necessary marks, and was a particularly good showcase for Chandra Wilson as the young, mousy "Mandy" Bailey.

(*) Speaking of "St. Elsewhere," the Richard/Ellis storyline took place in the same year as that show's first season, and since I know what a 1982 hospital drama looks like, it was weird to see how the hair and wardrobe choices seemed to be from several years earlier than that, more '70s than early '80s. Then again, most flashback episodes have this problem; whenever "Friends" showed us Chandler in the '80s, his allegedly trendy haircuts were always years out of date.

There were moments in that '80s storyline where the show went for the easy choice, particularly when the attending was revealed to be a racist and a sexist. I'm not saying that there weren't plenty of doctors with those attitudes from that period, but as drama, it felt cheap. Either make him a lot smoother and subtler in his bigotry, or limit him to being one of racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic, but not all four. Still, Sarah Paulson was a very good choice as the young Ellis, really evoking what we saw of Kate Burton in seasons past. J. August Richards was handicapped by a distracting hairpiece, but I also saw less of James Pickens Jr. in him.

A few questions on the more contemporary stories: First, whatever happened to the evil surgical attending played by Missi Pyle? (Another character, by the way, who was a little too blatant a villain, even though I'm sure such surgeons also exist in every program.) I know the series' timeline is always going to be wonky (which is also why it was probably a mistake to give us a specific date for Bailey's intern year), but Bailey's up on stage talking trash about someone who, if she's left the hospital, only did so a short time ago.

Second, how does everybody feel about the continuity insert of Karev and Callie hooking up briefly back before she met George? This is a show that already has had too many characters sleeping with too many other characters - so much so that my wife was under the impression we'd already seen these two have sex - and I don't know what's necessarily gained by adding another coupling in the past.

Overall, though, pretty good, and Richard's oath at the end (paralleling his AA speech at the beginning) was a very nice moment for Pickens. What did everybody else think?
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Burn Notice, "Partners in Crime": Crimes of fashion

A review of last night's "Burn Notice" coming up just as soon as I question the credentials of a lowly crime scene investigator...

After all the recent complaining about the Gilroy arc, "Partners in Crime" did a few interesting things. First, Fiona came right out and asked Michael why he can't just shoot the guy, and Michael gave a reasonable answer. Second, it kept Gilroy himself (and the hammy actor playing him) off-screen and just had Michael and Fi dealing with the Polish security guy. And third, the revelation of what Gilroy's trying to do - bust a terrorist supervillain off of a secured private flight - finally has me wanting to see where this goes from here. This mission has nothing to do (that we know of) with Michael getting unburned, but Michael trying to foil a mid-air hijacking, or whatever Gilroy's specific plan is, could be cool.

The case of the week was a mixed bag, I thought. Michael's cover identity was an entertaining one, particularly in the scene where he's going through the trinkets in his mark's office looking for something to kill him with. (And, since Jeffrey Donovan had already busted out a Russian accent earlier in the hour, he wasn't asked to provide a second, potentially goofy one for this guy.) We also need to see Michael take paying gigs every now and again just to explain how he affords to pay for yogurt and explosives and such.

But while I like the idea in theory of Michael screwing up and letting a client die, it didn't feel like "Partners in Crime" did enough with that, as it was too busy moving on to the new client, and contact mic shenanigans, and Bruce Campbell doing a Horatio Caine impression.(*) One of the series' big emotional arcs is Michael developing a conscience and a sense of compassion for others, and I think the writers missed an opportunity here to show how Michael dealt with the death of someone he wouldn't have cared about two or three years ago - particularly a death he felt like he could have prevented.

(*) Didn't love that, either. The "lowly crime scene investigator" line was about as meta as this show should ever get, and having Sam say a cheesey kiss-off line and snap on his shades - not once, but twice - was way off-tone for the way "Burn Notice" usually rolls.

Weird that we only have two episodes left of this season, but that's the way these USA shows roll in terms of splitting things up. The plus, I guess, is that the wait for season four won't be nearly as long as the gap between seasons of, say, "Breaking Bad."

What did everybody else think?
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Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, "It's Getting the Best of Me": Puzzle palace

A review of tonight's "Survivor" coming up just as soon as I come down with a case of crybabyitis...

After the giddy rush I had jumping back into the "Survivor" pool last week, episode two reminded me of some of the reasons I'd become wary of the show before, and also why all-star seasons are often more fun in theory than in practice.

When you watch the show long enough, you begin to get a strong sense of how the editing works. So when the two teams headed to an Immunity Challenge midway through an episode where the only talk of voting someone out came from the Heroes' camp, I knew they were gonna lose and go to Tribal Council - just as I knew that the vote would go against Stephenie and not Amanda, since Amanda had gotten precious little screen time this week. So I had to sit through the Immunity Challenge, the plotting afterwards, and Tribal Council all knowing what the outcomes would be.

And, in the process, I had to sit through a bunch of the "Heroes" - Stephenie and James in particular - being really unpleasant to each other.

With the exception of Boston Rob, no player has returned to the game a second time and become more likable, and often it's less. Colby looked bored and less than invincible in All-Stars (as he does here). Stephenie came back for Guatemala and seemed much more obnoxious in success than she'd been in repeated defeat on Palau. And James somehow managed to be a complete ass about how the Immunity Challenge went, even though he was exactly right. That was one of the uglier Tribal Councils I can remember, capped off by James continuing to be a jerk even in victory when he told Stephenie "Shut your mouth" after she vented when she was voted off.

It certainly doesn't help that the Heroes have lost twice now - either they really stink at puzzles or they simply lack a puzzle savant like Rob - and therefore have had to turn on each other. The only tension on the Villains team at the moment came from Rob's fainting spell(*) and then from Russell's predictable jealousy that Rob has become his team's leader while no one is bowing at his altar. The Heroes, meanwhile, are eating each other alive, and it ain't pretty (and not just because the current dominant alliance features a couple of players I dislike in Rupert and James, where Tom currently looks to be in big trouble).

(*) I believe that Rob did have a moment of exhaustion, but how much of his tearful speech do you reckon was authentic, versus Rob vying for attention? It doesn't seem like him to pull such a move, but he's also such a reality show veteran at this point that he has to know how to create a memorable moment.

So, so far this season, we've had one episode I loved and one that really annoyed me. We've got one more episode to break the tie before the NBC comedies come back, but if it's another one like last night's, I think I may walk away before I start to hate everybody on this season.

What did everybody else think?
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'The Ricky Gervais Show' & 'The Life and Times of Tim' review: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I review HBO's new Friday animated comedy bloc of "The Ricky Gervais Show" and "The Life and Times of Tim":
HBO's new Friday animated comedy pairing of "The Ricky Gervais Show" and "The Life and Times of Tim" both feature protagonists (one real, one fictional) defined by their simple-mindedness and their stoicism in the face of one unending humiliation after another. But it's the second season of "Tim" that surprisingly mines more laughs from the idea than the debut of the latest work from the creators of the British "The Office" and "Extras."
You can read the full column here, though a lot of it is duplicating what I said about the shows on this week's podcast, if you listened to that. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Human Target, "Lockdown": No one dies harder than Christopher Chance

Another fun "Human Target" last night, with Chance working his way through a secured office building, Winston and Guerrero pulling an Aunt Linda and a bunch of recognizable guest stars playing largely to type (Kevin Weisman as a lovable dork, Autumn Reeser as a lovable and cute dork, Mitch Pileggi as a tough guy administrator, etc.), and a few more hints about Chance's backstory.

That said, the show at the moment doesn't have enough meat to really justify the episode-by-episode blog treatment, does it? It's basically "Burn Notice" on a broader canvas with much less of a serialized element (and suggests Dan was right on yesterday's podcast when he said "Burn Notice" shouldn't avoid arcs, but just bad arcs). It's fun, Mark Valley is a good action hero, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley have turned into a good comedy duo, and... that's pretty much all I got, week after week. So I'll keep watching, but may reserve future posts on it for episodes that more explicitly break the mold in some way.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Firewall & Iceberg podcast, episode 4: Olympics, American Idol, NBC comedies and more

It's Wednesday afternoon, which means it's time for another episode of the Firewall & Iceberg podcast, this time with Dan and I talking about the Winter Olympics, "Idol," HBO's animated comedies, the state of NBC's Thursday sitcoms, "Burn Notice," "Men of a Certain Age" and "Lost."

Sound quality is much improved on both ends this week. Now we can move on to licking other problems like putting it on the iTunes store, a theme song, etc. Click here to read the full post

Reader mail: Show respect to Rick Castle, and more

Another reader mailbag column today, with readers wanting more attention paid to some of their favorite procedural crime shows, and another question about what NBC should have done to fill the 10 o'clock hour once Jay Leno was sent back to latenight. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lost, "The Substitute": Happy John

A review of tonight's "Lost" coming up just as soon as I describe myself as a people person...
"John Locke was a... believer. He was a man of faith. He was a much better man than I will ever be, and I'm very sorry I murdered him." -Ben
I saw a lot of fan anger after "What Kate Does" aired last week, in part because it was a Kate episode, but mainly because many people felt like it was "filler" at a point when people feel the show should be going pedal-to-the-metal towards a conclusion while providing as many answers as possible along the way. Some even went so far as to call it the worst episode since the one about Jack's tattoos.

Now, I didn't love "What Kate Does," but my issues had to do more with the Kate end of the equation than any notion of filler. I'm still not sure what the purpose of the flash-diagonals is - and still suspect those scenes will all play much better on a second viewing after they're explained to us - but I know I cared about what was happening in those scenes a hell of a lot more when it was John Locke at the center of things.

And if the alternate timeline (or whatever it is) accomplishes nothing else, it at least gave John Locke - or a John Locke - the relatively happy ending (for now) that he was so cruelly denied by Ben and the hand of fate in the version of reality we know. On the island, Locke is eulogized as both a good man (by Ben) and a scary scared one (by Sawyer); on the mainland, he's a guy who's had some tough breaks but is doing alright with the love of a good woman.

I know many of you want - and deserve - answers to many of the questions the writers have raised over the previous five seasons, but to me this final season of "Lost" needs to be at least as much about doing right by the surviving characters as it is about explaining what the Numbers are(*).

(*) And the cave ceiling at least tells us the Numbers came from (or were used by) Jacob, but still not what they mean.

Smokey has Locke's memories and some of his personality - witness the priceless moment where Smokey screams out Locke's "Don't tell me what I can't do!" catchphrase - and Terry O'Quinn is still gainfully employed, but the man we know and care about died (in at least one timeline) in a grubby motel room. And for one week, we got to see a version of Locke who was still alive, and happier than we'd seen at any point in the run of the series. This was a Locke who was occasionally frustrated by circumstances, but capable of maintaining a healthy relationship with Helen, of laughing off an indignity like the sprinklers going off in his face, of enjoying the small pleasures of being a substitute teacher. And Terry O'Quinn's typically wonderful performance captured every bit of pride and joy and frustration of this alternate version of the character we know and mourn, and to provide some closure for that version of him no matter what happens to the monster wearing his face on the island.

And speaking of Smokey-as-Locke, I guess I'm in a particularly Zen mood about the answers (or lack thereof) so far this season, because I was mostly amused by the idea that Smokey - who claims to want to explain the plot of the series to anyone willing to listen - spends most of the episode paired with Sawyer, the regular character who cares the absolute least about the mythology of the island. In fact, I found myself caring more about watching Josh Holloway blend the grief-stricken Sawyer of the season's first two episodes with the sarcastic, self-destructive guy he was for most of the previous seasons more than about whatever it was Smokey was going to tell Sawyer, or Richard, or whomever.

It can be fun to speculate about whether Jacob was the good guy or the bad guy (and it's not hard to envision a scenario where he's bad, based on what he put all our heroes through), to wonder if the blond boy who reminds Smokey of "the rules" is some kind of higher island power who kept Jacob and Esau trapped on the island over the centuries, about whether Jin or Sun is the "candidate" Jacob had in mind when he scratched "Kwon" into the cave ceiling (and what it means for characters like Kate who don't seem to be on the ceiling at all).

But the thing about the Jacob/Esau/Smokey/backgammon stuff is that it's made me oddly less interested in the mythology, not more. We know now (or seem to know) that the characters on the show are only game pieces to these two abstract, supernatural figures - that most of the key decisions made on and off the island by Jack, Sayid and the rest have been in service to Jacob's plan - and the controlled, predestined quality to it all leaves me a little cold. Like, the characters' actions are already dictated by a pair of omniscient beings in Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse - albeit omniscient beings who prefer to perform light comedy together rather than try to kill each other - without layering another pair in between.

In the early days of the show, Lindelof liked to say that when the time came for he and Cuse to start revealing the big answers, viewers would be invariably disappointed, either because the reality wasn't the same as what they'd imagined, or because it was too much like what they'd imagined (and therefore wasn't surprising). None of the Jacob material feels like Cuselof have played unfairly with their audience, but thus far, the more I learn about the mythology, the more I want to focus on the people, on the comedy, the action and the many other parts of "Lost" that don't have to do with answering questions and cosmic games of dice.

And so an episode like "The Substitute," which offered more mythology hints but also had two great beating hearts in Locke in the real world and Sawyer on the island, was damned satisfying, even if I still don't know why The Others couldn't have children or who The Economist is.

Some other thoughts:

• Loved the Smokey-eye-view tour of various island landmarks. Were we supposed to take that as Smokey taking a quick lap before untying Richard, or a bit of out-of-sequence storytelling (i.e., the New Otherton stuff was from later in the episode when Smokey goes to fetch Sawyer)? And is this how Smokey sees things even while in the form of Locke?

• Hands up, anybody who wouldn't watch a spin-off about Benjamin Linus, snotty European History teacher? Certainly, Michael Emerson's gift for making incredibly mundane things sound funny has rarely been used better than in the scene with alt-Ben bitching about the coffee pot.

• So far, Jeff Fahey hasn't gotten much more to do as a cast regular than when he was a recurring guest star in seasons 4 & 5, but he makes the most out of his small moments, like Lapidus' eye roll and exasperated "This is the weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to" after Ben's eulogy for Locke.

• I will never, never, ever object to some time spent with L. Scott Caldwell as Rose, who definitely gets a shorter end of the stick in the LA X timeline.

• We learned years ago that Hurley owns the box company where Locke worked, and now we finally get the sense that it's not a coincidence that both Hurley (at Mr. Cluck's) and Locke (at the box company) worked for Randy Nations, but rather that Hurley hired the guy (for whatever reason) to work at the box company after the meteorite destroyed Mr. Cluck's.

• Even more startling than the idea of Locke still being in a relationship with Helen was Helen's casual suggestion that they elope to Vegas with "my parents and your dad." Is Anthony Cooper a much less evil man in this timeline, or does alt-Locke somehow have a different daddy? And how did alt-Locke wind up in a wheelchair?

• The island activity in this episode takes place the day after the events of "What Kate Does," right? Now, it's been a while since I've really got my bender on, but Sawyer's undershirt and boxers managed to get awfully filthy in the space of a night, didn't they?

• The song playing on a loop at Sawyer's New Otherton bungalow was "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges.

• I did a major forehead slap when Ilana told Sun that Jin must be at the temple. If these two keep crossing paths without finding each other for the bulk of the season, I'm going to be annoyed.

• "Of Mice and Men" was a big source of Sawyer/Ben discussion in season three's "Every Man for Himself," and comes up again here as Sawyer briefly threatens to shoot Smokey/Locke.

• We know from the season 2 finale that the four-toed foot is pretty far from the original Lostaways beach (Sayid and company had to sail to find it), yet Ilana and Ben carried Locke's corpse all the way from the foot to the Oceanic 815 graveyard where Libby, Nikki, Paolo and company are buried? That seems quite a haul.

• Because "Lost" so often paints in bright, archetypal colors, the dialogue can veer into corniness, but really good actors manage to sell it, anyway. Case in point: Katey Sagal (on a breather from her award-worthy work on FX's tremendous "Sons of Anarchy") making me not only not wince at Helen's "the only thing I was ever waiting for was you" line, but rather feel moved by it.

After reminding you once again about the commenting rules - specifically the No Spoilers portion (and the "no talking about the previews" sub-section) - let me ask, what did everybody else think?
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Got Olympic fever yet?

I haven't watched much of NBC's Winter Olympics coverage yet (even with many of my regular shows either pre-empted or in reruns, I'd rather devote the spare viewing time to screeners of upcoming things than in watching pairs figure skating), but the ratings have been huge so far.

For those of you who've been watching so far - either NBC in primetime or the cable channels during the day - what have you thought of the coverage? Are there things NBC is doing noticeably better than at some other recent Olympics? New (or continued) sources of frustration? Have they done a good job of warning you when certain events are tape-delayed, or have you accidentally spoiled yourself on results?

Just curious. I did get sucked into USA's curling coverage this afternoon (I'm a sucker for any sport that involves elements of housecleaning), but there's no real way to dress up curling, is there? Click here to read the full post

Deja view?

"Supernatural" is one of those shows I always mean to watch more of, but due to its timeslot and the fact that more and more time passes and there are more and more episodes for me to catch up on, I suspect it's going to be one of those shows where I watch it on DVD years after it's over. For now, I've seen maybe a dozen episodes of the show across five seasons - and every time I randomly put on a repeat, as I did today with the morning TNT airing (season two's "Croatoan"), it's somehow always one I've already seen before.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and to a few friends, and all responded that this invariably happens to them with one show or another: they've only seen a small percentage of the episodes, and yet those are the only ones that ever turn up when they go looking for more.

So, three questions: 1)What show works that way for you? 2)Is there some kind of statistical theory that would explain how this happens? 3)Is/should there be a name for this specific phenomenon with TV shows? Click here to read the full post

Life Unexpected, "Turtle Undefeated": The queen of beer pong

A quick review of last night's "Life Unexpected" coming up just as soon as I have a food baby...

"Turtle Intercepted" was less prone to pilot-itis than the episodes before it. Lux never runs away from one or both parents (though Bug briefly shanghais her in the stolen car), and the conflicts were a bit more varied: Lux vs. the mean girls, Baze vs. his dad, Cate vs. her own uptight nature.

Still, I think I may wait a few weeks - or until the show does a wholly formula-busting episode - before I write another review. I'm enjoying the show, but there's not a lot of meat here right now, nor enough variation. There's only so much time I could spend observing that the drunken Cate does the exact same victory dance Baze was objecting to in an earlier scene with Lux, or that Baze and his dad's frosty relationship feels like a male, less funny version of Lorelai and Emily Gilmore.

What about the rest of you? Are you fine with the show's very familiar rhythms, or are you hoping it'll branch out already?
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Men of a Certain Age, "How to Be an All-Star": Winner, winner, chicken dinner

A review of the penultimate "Men of a Certain Age" of season one coming up just as soon as I get a tool crock...
"There's a lot of stuff happening for all of us." -Owen
"Men of a Certain Age" is not a plot-driven show, and has been content to mostly run in place with the guys over the first eight episodes. But with this first season coming to a close, things finally start happening, as each guy is forced to face the limitations of who they are: Owen's not getting the dealership, even with his father stepping down; two less-talented old friends of Terry's are now vastly more successful than he is; and Joe's gambling problem has gotten so bad that he bets 25 grand with Manfro in hopes of winning a bid on a house.

Yet for Terry and Joe, their long dark nights of the soul pass fairly quickly - for now. Joe walks out on a Gamblers Anonymous meeting - he's not ready to accept his problem just yet - and discovers that he won his big bet, and in turn gets the house. And the pity job Terry's friends give him leads to an opportunity to join their middle-aged entourage.

The good luck's not going to last, that's for sure. Winning that bet got Joe the house, but it also gave him 25,000 reasons to avoid confronting his gambling problem again anytime soon. (Even Manfro looked worried for him, not just because he wasn't crazy about having to hurt Joe if he couldn't pay up, but because he does like Joe in a weird way and knows how a big bet like that, win or lose, is only going to accelerate Joe's degeneracy.) Even Dory's understandable decision to back the hell away from him doesn't quite seem to be cutting through Joe's defenses, not when he has this nice house, and the image of his kids being happy in it, to fall back on.

And it's clear that Terry's just a flavor of the month for his ex-buddies, and that once their desire to party and make easy money conflicts with Terry's commitment to craft, he'll be back fixing clogged drains - only Annie should be gone because Terry once again flaked on a commitment to her (and didn't even remember/acknowledge that he was doing so, which might have made things okay).

Owen makes a big move of his own by walking away from the family-owned, Marcus-run dealership for a nearby Chevy rival, but it's less clear whether he's in denial like the other two or making the smart, independent choice. This will hurt his already lousy relationship with Owen Sr. (unless Sr's impressed to see Jr. finally setting out on his own), and there's no telling whether he'll do okay at another dealership. Was his dad covering for his shortcomings all these years, or holding Owen back?

Regardless of what happens in the finale, this was another extremely strong showcase for all three leading men, particularly in their moments of realization: Ray Romano as Joe flipped out in his hotel room over what he'd done, Andre Braugher as Owen went from being happy his dad was stepping down to crushed that Marcus would be running things, Scott Bakula as Terry sat through the mortifying (but ultimately rewarding) after-party chit-chat with Bobby and Rusty.

Tim Goodman wrote a column today calling this "The most surprising series on television right now." I don't know that I've been quite that surprised by it, as I knew going in that Braugher and Bakula were tremendous, and that Romano had showed much stronger dramatic chops than most people had noticed on "Everybody Loves Raymond." But if I'm not surprised by how good the show has been, I am a little by how attached I've grown to Joe and Owen and Terry over these past nine episodes, and by how reluctant I am to pop in my screener of the season finale, knowing that it'll be the last hour I get to spend with the guys for a while.

Early on in the development of this show, word on the street was that it was going to be a male, slightly older "Sex and the City." And though the guys get together for breakfast all the time - and even spent the opener of this one gauging the frequency of their respective sex lives - it's gone a whole lot deeper than that. It's funny, but the comedy often comes from a place of melancholy or despair, like the car salesmen all striking out with the kid with the phone until Owen Sr. pushed himself too far, or Joe celebrating his victory while the Gamblers Anonymous people all stare at his car.

Really good show. Looking forward to the finale.

What did everybody else think?
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