Friday, December 30, 2005

See ya next year

Just popping in for a minute to link to my review of ABC's "In Justice," and to wish everybody a happy and safe new year. Midseason kicks into high gear starting next week, plus I'll be weighing in on some of the flicks I saw in theaters and on DVD -- including that noted crowd-pleaser "Munic" -- while I was waiting for late-December reruns to go away.

Oh, and I can't let 2005 slip away without at least one more reference to "Lazy Sunday" (which, if it had debuted even a week earlier, I'm sure would've been somewhere on my Top 10 list): it's so popular that even the paper of record had to weigh in on it. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Best of the best

Merry Chrismukkah, everybody. My top 10 list ran in today's paper (Matt's is here). For posterity's sake, here's my list, if not the descriptions:
  1. "Battlestar Galactica"
  2. "Deadwood"
  3. "Veronica Mars"
  4. "Arrested Development"
  5. "Sleeper Cell"
  6. "Grey's Anatomy"
  7. "House"
  8. "The Daily Show" & "The Colbert Report"
  9. "Bodies" & "Viva Blackpool"
  10. "Rescue Me" (FX)

Honorable mentions: "Lost," "The Shield," the finales of "Six Feet Under" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Project: Greenlight," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Office," "Survivor: Palau" and "The Amazing Race: Rob & Ambuh."

Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 23, 2005

How much is that gorilla in the window?

First, the links. Because I haven't written enough about "Lazy Sunday" this week (it's now available on both NBC's website and for free at the iTunes store), I wrote about it some more in today's mailbag column (expounding the same theory about the show needing to pretape more).

Today is also Festivus, which means it's time for Matt and I to write our annual Festivus column about the TV folks who disappointed us in the past year. (Cookie Monster, you're in trouble...)

Went to see "King Kong" last night. After being warned by every movie critic I know that it's too damn long, I had braced myself for the kind of butt-numbing experience I haven't had since "The Green Mile"). But I was into it pretty much the entire time. Could it be trimmed? Yeah, particularly in the first hour, when a lot of time is spent, as my friend Dan said, giving elaborate backstories to people who are just going to get eaten. But that stuff was over before I had time to get bored, and once they land on Skull Island, that picture moves. It didn't even occur to me to look at my watch until we were back on Broadway. I liked Naomi Watts (especially after I noticed that she and my wife have the same nose), thought Jack Black was restrained but still Jack Black enough for my taste, and Andy Serkis needs to win some kind of special Oscar at some point.

For those who celebrate, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas or just Happy New Year. Not a lot to watch in the next week, so there may not be much blogging before 2006 rolls around. With all my family's been through, I'll be damn glad to see the back of '05. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Too much to do, too much to see

The only new TV of note was the "Nip/Tuck" finale, but I gave up on the show again five or six episodes into this season, and after listening to my friend Rich describe all the contortions of the finale ("And did I mention that Quentin doesn't have a penis?"), I feel comfortable with that decision.

Instead, I want to talk about the problem of too much TV -- or, rather, too much TV bonus content. There was an article by Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe a few days ago that summed up one of my growing concerns about this job:

In the coming months, you and your TV addiction are going to be reeled into an expanded ''environment" of your favorite network show, one that may require a cover charge for entry into certain exclusive zones.

You'll be invited to visit characters' blogs at, or pay for mobile phone episodes (known as mobisodes), or buy DVD packages and video games containing new and additional plot information. Your once-simple affair with your TV ''story" could have as much to do with your PC, your cellphone, and your DVD player as it does with your TV set.

I've always prided myself on keeping up with as much TV as I possibly can on this job. In the 10 years I've been doing it, that mission has become exponentially more difficult. When I started, there were six broadcast networks, one of which (UPN) could pretty much be written off every season after I watched the pilots, and maybe a half-dozen cable shows of any real note. Now there are dozens of channels with original programming that interests me (or that I feel I should be watching because of general reader interest), and there aren't enough hours in the day to see them all.

And now I not only have to keep up with all these shows, but their assorted podcasts, blogs and web and mobile phone episodes? Does someone want to give me one of those time-travel gizmos like Hermione has in Prisoner of Azkaban just so I have a prayer of getting to it all?

I'm actually in favor of all these new bonuses. If I was an average TV viewer with two or three shows that I absolutely loved, I'd be in heaven to be able to extend my entertainment beyond those two or three episodes a week. But as a professional TV watcher, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

I just spent two days jumping through ginormous logistical hoops to replace our two broken cell phones, and I'm pretty sure the new ones we got aren't capable of downloading and playing video, so unless I want to shell out several hundred bucks to upgrade, I won't be able to watch any mobisodes until our new cell contract ends in two years and we can get cheap new phones. I love that Ronald Moore does podcast commentaries for every "Battlestar Galactica" episode, but it feels wasteful to me to watch each episode twice (once without commentary, then with) when there are so many other things I need to get to.

I usually like to think I'm staying close to the leading edge of entertainment technology, but for my own selfish reasons, I feel like I'm turning into a Luddite. "In my day, we didn't need no fancy podcasts! We got 22 episodes a year, with lots of reruns in December, March and April, and we liked it! We loved it! Flibble-dee-floo!"

Oh, and love for "The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia" continues to spread. Just remember, Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious! Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A most ingenious paradox

This is a tricky time of year to be a daily TV columnist. On the one hand, I have so many midseason shows arriving in the mail that I barely have time to watch them all. (Today's jackpot: the first four episodes of "The Shield" season five.) On the other, I can't write about those until closer to when they air, so I have almost nothing to fill the column with. Other than my top 10 list and our annual Festivus list of TV shows and people who disappointed Matt and me, it's an idea vacuum. Today's column, dealing with a couple of religious news specials and some more speculation on the post-John Spencer "West Wing," may be our last non-list column of the year.

"Arrested Development" was decent, not great last night. The J. Walter Weatherman's lessons gag is played, and we got three different lessons-within-lessons last night. Glad to see the return of Bob Loblaw (and the introduction of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog), plus the return of Tobias' gay single entendres, and even the brief snippets of the GOB/Franklin "It's not easy being white" duet, but overall, pretty meh.

"How I Met Your Mother" is about to have to do some fancy footwork. Either the producers saw that they had underestimated the level of Ted/Robin chemistry or someone at the network started sending very angry notes on the subject, because it's clear that, whatever Future Ted may have said about "Aunt Robin" in the past, the two of them are going to get together, and soon. Maybe we discover that Future Ted has been playing a large mindgame on his kids, and that Robin's name isn't really Robin so they wouldn't realize their dad was talking about their mom. But, like the other really strong episodes (the one at the nightclub, the one with Drunk Ted), the writers stuck to a single plotline and made Present Ted as upbeat as possible. Best moment: Marshall running out of the fog to the strains of "You Give Love a Bad Name."

I also half-watched "Two and a Half Men," which Marian enjoys more than I do but isn't bad. Senses-jolting moment: when I realized that Alan's hot but insane girlfriend was played by Josie Davis, the wallflower middle sister from "Charles in Charge" (aka "Bob Loblaw in Charge"). And, apparently, I've seen her before in things like "Titans" and the awful "LA Law" reunion movie without recognizing her. It's one thing for a former child star to turn hot in front of your eyes (Natalie Portman, the pre-anorexia Lindsay Lohan), but to have one disappear and turn up as a babe 15 years later? Unsettling.

Getting back to midseason for a second, I already blogged about "The Unit," and I got to see the excellent pilot for "Book of Daniel" (Vicodin-addicted minister pals around with Jesus) six months ago. In the last few days, I watched "Courting Alex," the new Jenna Elfman sitcom where she essentially plays Greg to Josh Randall's Dharma. Not a lot there, but if Randall starts wearing his "Vote Dukakis '88" t-shirt, I might be willing to give it another look. I hated Julia Louis-Drefyus' "The New Adventures of Old Christine," but Marian laughed hysterically at it, so either it's a show with a large gender skew or her standards have really dropped since sitcoms went into the tank at the end of the '90s.

And the "Chronicles of Narnia" rap remains firmly lodged in my head. "Google Maps is the best! True dat! DOUBLE TRUE!" Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia

Slow, slow, slow weekend of TV. Decent "Simpsons" Christmas episode, especially the last act, which felt very "22 Short Films About Springfield," and I liked what I saw of "Family Guy" (especially Stewie's trip through the psychedelic "Sesame Street" pinball game), but most of what I watch in primetime was in repeats.

So instead, I'm going to write about "Saturday Night Live." I know, I know, I'm blogging a dead horse here (very dead horse), but I was a fan for so long and this current season pains me so much that blogging about it is cathartic.

There were exactly three funny things in the episode: Jack Black's "King Kong" song, the TV Funhouse about Jews on Christmas, and the short film with Parnell and Andy Samberg rapping about their trip to see "The Chronicles of Narnia." What do they have in common? All three were written outside the traditional "SNL" creative process, by outside people. If Black didn't write all of the Kong song, he wrote most of it, Robert Smigel writes and produces TV Funhouse on his own, and the Chronicles video (which I've gone back and watched at least three more times in the last 24 hours) was made by Samberg and his buddies from The Lonely Island, who were hired to make films for the show this year.

For a long time now, the only time you know something on "SNL" is going to be funny is when someone's bringing in outside material (Dane Cook doing his stand-up act for the monologue), when it's being produced in advance (the commercial parodies, which are great even when the rest of the show is awful), or both. It's clear that either the talent or the process is badly flawed, and I'd like to believe it's the latter. If Lorne was willing to let a third or a half of each episode be shot on film, or even pre-taped, I think we'd see a radical jump in quality. As it is now, even the season premieres feel like no one bothered to think up sketch premises until Friday afternoon. You still leave enough time in each episode to respond to current events, and to let the actors who work well in front of a live audience do their thing, but you don't keep cranking out 90 minutes of live crap just because that's the way it's always been done.

(And even there, "always" is a relative term. The first year of the show featured regular films by Albert Brooks -- one of which was so long they had to put a commercial break in the middle -- and in the last few years of the Dick Ebersol era, about half of the show was put together in advance, including some all-time classic sketches like Eddie Murphy as Mr. White and men's synchronized swimming with Harry Shearer and Martin Short.)

If you look at the sketch comedy shows that have been outd0ne "SNL" for brief periods -- "The Ben Stiller Show," "Chappelle's Show," some of the early film parodies on "Mad TV" -- you see shows where the writers and producers took their time to make sure every joke was as funny as they could possibly make it, and not just as funny as they could get it by 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 17, 2005

RIP, John Spencer

I was about 90 seconds from leaving work last night for our office holiday party when my editor walked up and said, "John Spencer died." After a minute to process this, Matt started working the phones while I began looking for archival quotes so we could write the obituary.

John Spencer was one of the nicest celebrities I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He always considered his post-rehab life to be time he hadn't expected to have, so while 58 is way too young to die, he enjoyed every damn minute of the last 16 years.

It's obviously much too early to know what "West Wing" is going to do without him. The show caught a bizarre lucky break when Leo wasn't included in the flash-forward to the dedication of the Bartlet presidential library in the season premiere. At the time, I heard lots of speculation about his absence: Leo's busy doing some VP assignment; Leo is actually the president (Santos having died sometime after winning the election) and is therefore the guy coming out of the limo; Leo suffered another heart attack and died. I'm almost certain they have to kill him now; the only question is how close production was to the election episode.

About the only silver lining of this whole situation is that it could spur Sorkin and Schlamme to come back to write and direct Leo's farewell. Hell, if we're really close to the end of the series, maybe Santos chooses a familiar face to be Leo's replacement: Sam Seaborn. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bah, humbugowitz!

Before we get to discussing the worst Chrismukkah ever, I have to give some props to what is easily the greatest newspaper headline since the NY Post's "Headless Man Found in Topless Bar." In today's Star-Ledger, we have Mailman by day, award-winning pimp by night. If it was just "pimp by night," it would still be brilliant, but it's the award-winning part that kicks it up several notches. According to the story:

And when agents searched his homes this week, including one in South Jersey, they found a 4-foot-high trophy Thompkins won in 2003.

International Pimp of the Year, it proclaimed.

Who would've thought "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" was so prescient on this thing? To quote Flyguy, "My bitch better have my money, through rain, sleet or snow. My whore better have my money, not half, not some, but all my cash. 'Cause if she don't, I'm gonna put my foot in her ass."

In more depressing news, not even the annual Chrismukkah episode could help salvage this "O.C." season. Aside from Summer wearing a "Donna Martin graduates" t-shirt and Julie embracing her trailer-trash roots (maybe a bit too quickly, but still funny), there wasn't a lot to enjoy here. Johnny "My pride is too big to accept charity so I'll rob a convenience store whose cash register will be full enough to finance my arthroscopic knee surgery" Harper is such a moron that he and Marissa completely deserve each other; those two should go off and live barefoot in the wilderness together to raise a dozen or so idiot children. The Bar Mitzvukkah was a dumb idea (glad that Schwartz let Sandy explain exactly why before he rolled over and let it happen), but even if I'm willing to go along with it, how can the show spend so much time building up Ryan's inevitable humiliation and then cut away before we actually get to see any of it? Gun, meet third act. Third act, meet gun. Figure out what went wrong.

Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Go Danni, go!

Still working on the sports movie post (it's an obsession of mine, and I want to do it right), but in the meantime, some brief thoughts on the "Survivor: Guatemala" finale:
  • I couldn't be happier that Danni won, not only because she seemed like one of the nicest contestants this time around, but because when her back was up against it and the whip came down and the going got tough and the cliches started piling up, she didn't roll over and accept that the numbers were against her. She fought and she schemed and she was the only one smart enough to bid on the damn immunity clue in the auction. If any of the other five had been smart enough to realize the threat that Danni would pose if she won that immunity challenge, the game could have gone down very differently. Hell, we could've had a Steph/Judd final two, which would've been really distasteful.
  • As Danni started wasting away to Lara Flynn Boyle dimensions, I mentioned my concern for her well-being to a friend at CBS. "Don't worry," he told me. "She'll clean up real well for the reunion." And he was dead on the money; it's amazing what an extra 10-15 pounds can do.
  • Why do so many players that I like have to turn into moralizing twits at the end? Tom from Palau got pretty damn sanctimonious with Ian at the end of last season, only forgiving the guy after Ian guaranteed him the million dollars. Now we have Rafe, who in back to back episodes gets all "Well, if it were me, I would have given away the cars, but Cindy will just have to live with her decision," and then "Danni, I'm going to tell you that you don't have to keep your promise to me, but what I really mean is that you had better keep it or I'm going to piss and moan for 18 hours."
  • Two very cool variations on familiar challenges, with the mega-maze and then the rope balance game. As soon as all three started leaning into the posts, I knew Danni was going to win. She just looked much stabler than the other two, and while I don't think this is an exact challenge she ever faced on the pageant circuit, balance is a big thing in that world.
  • Aside from Judd, one of the least bitter jury segments we've ever had. Nice. On the other hand, this is the second time where one of the two finalists had a chance to argue that she didn't need a second chance to make it to final two (Sandra in Pearl Islands was the other, since Lill got back in on the Outcasts twist), and didn't do it. Then again, I'm guessing Danni didn't think she needed to. She had Gary and Bobby Jon in the bag, and Judd and Jamie were so pissed at Steph that she had the win locked up right there.
  • Probst had his good moments and his bad in the reunion, but I felt like there were a lot of follow-up questions he should've asked but didn't. Why didn't anyone but Steph bid against Danni for the immunity clue, and why did Steph drop out so soon? Why did Gary insist on keeping up his stupid secret identity gag even after Danni outed him? (And, show of hands, how many people actually believed he was a landscaper after Danni started talking?) If Danni had chosen Rafe instead of Steph, who would've won? I appreciate that, unlike Rosie or Bryant, Jeff actually makes an effort to let everyone answer at least one question, but I'd be willing to sacrifice a moment with Morgan or Brianna or Brooke (who?) to get more info on the people who stuck around and affected the final outcome.
  • Speaking of Probst, he's delivered some pretty withering looks at contestants in the past, but I don't think I've ever seen him quite as disgusted as when Lydia, Danni and Steph admitted to eating the sacrificial chicken. I was sitting on the couch, and even I felt like whimpering, "I'm sorry, Mr. Probst. I didn't mean to!"
  • One last Probst thing: on the conference call before the season started, he said that Bobby Jon and Steph would be returning to the show "in some capacity," and I asked him flat out if that meant they were actually competing for the million bucks. I'd heard a rumor that, if they lasted until the merge, they would automatically wind up on the jury, but that no one would know it until/unless it happened. Jeff hemmed and hawed and gave an ellipticial answer that to me hinted strongly that the rumor was true. Whoops.
  • The spring season looks promising, because it's obvious Burnett and Tom Shelly have realized that they have to keep shaking up the game to safeguard themselves against casts who don't click the way they had hoped. Guatemala definitely didn't have the best bunch of personalities ever, but the season turned out pretty well thanks to twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue, the Gift of the Car-gi, etc.
Another season down. Who'da thunk we'd still be so hooked on this show a half-decade later? Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Coughing up, catching up

If the blog's seemed like a ghost town the last few days, it's because I've been hip-deep in toddler triage, which involve such lovely Catch-22s as my daughter refusing to drink anything at all because she doesn't feel well, even though fluids are pretty much the only way she'll feel better.

Fortunately, there hasn't been much to watch during this battle of wills, but here's what I did see in between calls to the pediatrician:

"Veronica Mars": Ahhh, the "12 Angry Men" homage, which is almost always the sign of a show with a budget or scheduling crunch. It's a testament to what an amazing movie that was that everything from "Happy Days" to "Picket Fences" to "Veronica Mars" can steal from it. This version was okay, but nothing special, especially for this show; the only part of the plot that really felt like it belonged was when Veronica's car got vandalized again. I'm disappointed that they got rid of Leo, who I didn't like at first but grew on me, and I'm damn glad to have Wallace back. My one worry at this point is that the two major story arcs -- Who Killed Felix and Who Engineered the Bus Crash -- are developing too many tangential branches over time. Last year's two big mysteries felt a little purer and straightforward to me, while here we keep diverting from the plots for things like Meg's baby. How long until the next episode again?

"Survivor": FYI, this is being written before I've watched the finale and reunion. I'll say this for Guatemala: what the season may have lacked in dynamic casting, it's more than compensated with clever twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue and now the Car Curse Question. I think Cindy was placed in a no-win situation there; keep the car and some people (surprisingly, Rafe) resent you for your lack of generosity, give four cars away and suddenly you're so popular that no one wants to face you in the final two. Unless she could have leveraged the car giveaway into a guaranteed berth in the final three (and, as Judd and Jamie both learned, no promise lasts forever here), she was better off keeping the SUV in hand. For all my bitching about Stephenie this season (including this column that ran the day before Probst officially announced his desire to stick around), she came across as fairly likable in this episode. I still think Rafe has the inside track to the win (and I can't believe the preview for the finale gives away the results of the 4--->3 immunity challenge), but pretty much anything can happen.

"Saturday Night Live": Sometimes, I think Lorne Michaels is just screwing with me. Even if I didn't have the Season Pass, I would've tuned in for Alec Baldwin's latest appearance. (At this point, I think he and the show would both be much better off if he was a permanent castmember.) But this was easily the most underwhelming Baldwin episode I can remember (even "The Tony Bennett Show" sucked)... until the very last sketch of the show, which took the greatest five minutes of Baldwin's entire career and transplanted it into Santa's workshop. As scripted, it was brilliant, and made even better by Alec's screw-up on the Always Be Cobbling line; I'm sure he has so many people quoting "Glengarry Glen Ross" to him that he recites those lines in his sleep. The funniest "SNL" blooper since the first Debbie Downer sketch. So why was it at the very end of the show? Because, my paranoid brain is telling me, Lorne knows that this season is awful, but he knows that longtime fans/suckers like me are afraid that they're going to miss out on some great watercooler moment if they don't watch the whole thing, so he sticks it at the 12:50 mark as a warning shot to anyone who wants to tune out after "Weekend Update." It's a plan worthy of Dr. Evil, I think.

More "Survivor" talk on Monday, and if I have time before then, keep an eye out for my ode to the underdog sports movie. Click here to read the full post

Thwack it! Thwack it all!

My job may not be the most glamorous in the world, but every now and then it allows me to get my butt off the couch and meet interesting people in unexpected places. I once sat on the field at Dodgers Stadium talking to Rupert from "Survivor" about skirts and strategy. I once sat on the back steps of a small West Orange nightclub talking jazz and comedy with Bill Cosby, then had a front-row seat to see the legend do his thing. And one time I sat on a curb outside a funeral parlor and hit Steve Van Zandt up for some music recommendations. (Two words: Boss Martians.)

On Friday night, I wasn't at the most exotic location the job has ever taken me to, but it hands-down had the coolest name of any place I have ever set foot in: Drumthwacket. For those of you who don't know (and you could count me among them a week ago), that's the name of the New Jersey governor's mansion, and for the second time in a week, I found my path crossing that of our beloved interim governor. Before he departs office (one he would have kept in a landslide vote if he had Jon Corzine's war chest), he's getting in as many photo ops as he can, and his latest brainstom was to create an award for New Jersey filmmakers, and the first recipient was "Sopranos" don David Chase.

It was a very cold, very strange night. As I got out of my car and tried to straighten my tie and switch from parka to suit jacket in the least clumsy fashion possible, I was greeted by two silver trumpets. I felt like Frank Drebin in that scene in "The Naked Gun" where he mounts the Queen of England, and I wasn't alone. A little while later, I was taking a self-guided tour around the mansion when I passed the guest of honor and Mrs. Chase, both looking dazed and confused. Chase saw me and did a doubletake; he said he was so thrown by the trumpets that he forgot where he was and why he was there.

There was a very nice turnout by the cast. Guys like Steve Schirripa will show up for the opening of a envelope, they enjoy being in the spotlight so much, but I was pleasantly surprised to see James Gandolfini mingling among the great unwashed for the evening. He has to be more uncomfortable in public settings than any major star I've ever been around -- not because he's an arrogant asshole, but because he's painfully shy and doesn't understand why people are so interested in him -- and he spent almost the entire night smiling politely as guest after guest hit him up for an autograph or a chance to pose for a photo. That's how much he likes his boss.

I eventually drifted over towards Terence Winter, the "Sopranos" writer I tend to bump into more than any of the others, and we spent a lot of time talking about how much we liked the name Drumthwacket, and how we feel that every home deserves a name. (Winter: "I think we could call my apartment 'Dirty Socks.'") I mean, think about it: your great, memorable literary homes all have names like Tara. I'm thinking if I want to add some style to my life, I need to give my little split-level a name. Bob? Dude? The House That Sipowicz Built?

I'm wide open to suggestions on this one, people. Fire away. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To thine own self be true

As Harry Callahan once said, a man's got to know his limitations, and I came face to face with my own twice yesterday.

First, I popped in a review tape of Bravo's "Project Runway," a show I missed altogether in its first season. After hearing so many fellow critics rave about it, I gave season two a shot, and I had a conflicted reaction to it. On the one hand, it was as well-produced as any reality show this side of "The Amazing Race." On the other hand, all the debate about muslin fabric and whether pretty=fashion just put me to sleep.

I didn't want to slam the show for the sin of not being tailored directly to my tastes, and I also didn't want to ignore it. What to do... what to do? In a nice bit of deus ex machina, our fashion writer Jenifer Braun -- who briefly wrote about TV before I got hired a decade ago -- walked past my desk at exactly that moment. The light bulb went off, and a couple of hours later, Jen had written a very special guest review for today's column (which also features me begging Mark Burnett to never, ever, ever let former contestants compete again).

Then, as I was casting about for things to watch for upcoming columns, an editor forwarded me a press release put out by our state's interim governor (a very popular guy whose recent "Daily Show" appearance was hysterical) condemning an assault by a radio talk show fan who assaulted a local TV reporter. I told my boss I had no idea what this was about, and she said, "Well, maybe you should make some calls and find out."

Now, I work for a daily newspaper, but I've never pretended to be a real reporter. In college, I wrote movie reviews for the school paper's weekly entertainment magazine, and I've been writing about TV since my third or fourth week here at the Ledger. Fortunately, the paper employs plenty of genuine reporters, several of whom helped me and Matt chase down the story:

Opie & Anthony have some running contest on their show called "Assault on the Media" where fans are encouraged to appear in the background of live TV shots holding O&A signs. Some idiot took the game's title way too literally and blew an air horn directly into the ear of a local TV reporter. That kind of thing can cause permanent hearing damage, moron. Our governor, who already is anti-shock jock ever since a local radio bozo made fun of his wife's postpartum depression, issued one of those "the offender will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" press releases, and I sure hope it happens. People that stupid shouldn't be allowed to breed, let alone live free.

And speaking of idiots, Michael Scott was in rare form on last night's "The Office" in a cringe-worthy but very funny episode that made good use of the entire office staff, including tightly-wound Angela's meltdown over losing control of the Christmas party, Creed giving Jim the laziest Secret Santa gift of all time and, best of all, a drunk and topless Meredith throwing herself at Michael, who just flashed her picture and ran away. On "My Name Is Earl," it was nice to see Brett Butler acting in something other than "Vampire Bats," but I wanted to see more of Randy and Catalina during the hands-on-the-car contest.

Oh, and today's "Arrested Development" moment: Rita deliriously singing along to "Hot Potato" by The Wiggles, which I sadly know by heart. Ah, parenting. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 02, 2005


I had expected the long-awaited Letterman/Oprah interview to be the highlight of Thursday night TV, but like so many things, it failed to live up to the hype. Dave went into the fawning mode he usually saves for beautiful young starlets, and even Oprah seemed shocked by what a straight interview it was. ("Thank you for being nice to me.")

Instead, the best moment came on "Survivor," when Judd proved once and for all what a poor sportsmanship he was. After saying minutes earlier in Tribal Council that getting voted out wasn't personal, just business, when he discovered that he had been voted out, his anger management problems bubbled over again and he called all the other players "Scumbags!" (Between this and that "Daily Show" interview with our governor a few nights ago, I've never been prouder to be from Jersey.) Not since "Survivor: All-Stars," when Lex told his backstabbed pal Ethan to learn to lose with a little class, then became the sorest loser of all after his pal Boston Rob did the same thing to him, has a contestant been this big a jackass at their exit.

Since I didn't watch anything else last night (I didn't realize "The O.C." was new, and upon realizing that I'd missed it, didn't feel that bad), a few other "Survivor" observations:
  • Cindy's identical twin sister is named Mindy? That's some good parenting right there. And seeing the two of them sitting next to each other and looking very different was one of the better reminders of the physical toll the show takes on people.
  • Unless they edited a lot out, this was the first food auction I can remember where all the contestants didn't wind up getting some grub. Weird, since the whole point of it is to prevent a lot of late-in-the-game whining about how everyone's too tired and hungry to do anything interesting. But if this is really all that happened, then Danni had a genius performance: she gets the two major sources of protein (the jerky and the steak sandwich), plus the clue that allowed her to stick around.
  • I can't believe how much I despise Stephenie this time around. It's so obvious that what we thought of as pluck and grit in Palau ("I can't believe how much I'm losing") was actually her enormous sense of entitlement, which has been allowed to flower by her position in this game.
  • In all, this is turning out to be a better season than I'd expected. Not remotely in the class of Australia, the Amazon, Pearl Islands or the original, but certainly a step up from Africa or Thailand or Vanuatu.
Two links: My review of "Sleeper Cell," and my column on NBC's scheduling moves. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Eko... Eko... Eko...

Okay, I need to get this off my chest right away: I want a Mr. Eko lunchbox, a Mr. Eko t-shirt, and Mr. Eko Underoos. I want a Mr. Eko & Locke spin-off where they kick ass and debate philosophy every week. If I was being given a $10 million bar mitzvah, I would want Mr. Eko to be at the top of the celebrity guest list. He's not only my favorite character on "Lost" right now, he's probably my favorite character on all of television. (It helps that Vic Mackey, Tommy Gavin, Al Swearengen and Paulie Walnuts are all on hiatus right now, but still.)

The Eko/Locke scenes were the highlight of an especially strong episode of "Lost." I bag on the show a lot for all the narrative foot-dragging, but for once, the writers didn't screw around with the audience. We finally know what Kate's crime was (not that it was a shock, but it was still well-played by the usually uneven Evangeline Lilly, and especially by the actor who played her adoptive dad), we know what was on at least one of the gaps in the Dharma film (though there could be others), Sawyer is finally conscious again, Jin finally got the damn handcuff off his wrist, Walt made another appearance (sort of), etc., etc., etc.

But best of all was Eko's Bible story to Locke (and if there were any doubt before over whether the guy used to be a priest, there shouldn't be now), and his later suggestion that John not confuse coincidence with fate. Someone's needed to tell our resident zealot that for at least half a season now.

Between that and "Veronica Mars," that was about as good a two hours of TV as you're gonna find, and since I'd already seen "Veronica" last week, I didn't have to tape one and watch the other.

Far too many highlights to list 'em all, so I'll give just a few: the Cordelia vs. Willow smackdown (though the best line in that scene -- and possibly the season -- was Logan's "Rode Hard, meet Put Away Wet."); Logan and Weevil doing the whole "48 Hours"-style "We'll team up, but only after we kick the crap out of each other" thing in the men's room; the (now former) vice-principal manipulating Veronica into doing his wetwork; and Trina Echolls showing actual emotion (her hug with Lunchlady Doris put almost as much dust in my eye as the Rose/Bernard hug last week on "Lost"). The alternate ending on was an interesting little bonus feature, but I'm glad the real show didn't go in that direction. Without spoiling it (and, if you haven't seen it yet, the only change is in the last two minutes), it would paint Veronica and the show into an uncomfortable corner that would take weeks, at least, to get out of.

Finally, today's All TV column makes fun of Fox's usual switcheroo scheduling. NBC predictably followed that by moving "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" to Thursdays, while having back-to-back "Scrubs" episodes airing Tuesdays at 9, starting Jan. 3. (More details in tomorrow's column, or you can just read the press release here.) J.D. and Turk are back, baby! Is it time to do the Rerun dance? Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A quick one, while I'm not away

First thing's first: three day's worth of All TV column links. On Monday, I mused about the end of "7th Heaven," a show that, even though I hated it, holds some sentimental value for me as the last surviving new show from my first season as a TV critic. ("EZ Streets" gets 10 hours, and "7th Heaven" gets 10 years? A good system. Definitely.) On Tuesday, Matt interviewed Turner Classic's head of programming, while I wrote about the end of "Alias," the invasion of former "Ed" castmembers in primetime and the unfortunate return of "The Simple Life." And today there's a grab bag of news and reviews, including Matt on "Creature Comforts" (BBC America cartoon from the "Wallace & Grommit" people) and me on tonight's "Veronica Mars."

As I said yesterday, a lot of my Tuesday shows were pre-empted, and I'd already watched the "House" episode, which was good but not as strong as last year's "Three Patients," which it was emulating. (Two key differences: reality didn't get bent enough this time, and Chase is a less interesting character than House.) On the other hand, the twist of making Foreman the boss for a few weeks is vedddy interesting. Foreman's always been the most House-like of the three junior docs, so will being in charge make him even crankier or bring out his warm and fuzzy side? I almost think it would be funnier to put Cameron in charge, because her Let's All Hug approach to medicine would drive House nuts, but this should be pritt-ay, pritt-ay good.

Beyond that? Well, my TiVo grabs "NCIS" whenever "Gilmore Girls" is in rerun. As I've written a bunch of times in the last three years, "NCIS" isn't going to change the world or elevate consciousnesses, but it's well put-together, blending the '80s TV of Don Bellisario's middle age with enough modern touches to not feel too corny. It's the kind of show I can watch while doing three other things and not miss much. Only one complaint about last night's episode: hasn't the "Probie" been a probie for more than two years now? At what point does the hazing end?

With "House," the NBC comedies and "Supernatural" all out of play and "Amazing Race" off my radar until spring, I decided to check out the second Steven Bochco-produced episode of "Commander in Chief." I only got about 15 minutes in before I got caught up in other things, but it sure seemed to me like Bochco came in and decided to fix a whole lot of things that weren't broken: putting the kibosh on the First Gentleman stories and giving Rod a real job in the administration, bringing in Mark-Paul Gosselaar to critique everyone else's jobs, separating Natasha Henstridge from Evil Donald Sutherland, etc., etc., etc. I'm not saying there weren't things that didn't need improvement in the Rod Lurie version -- for starters, Evil Donald Sutherland -- but most of what Bochco's done is just a blatant attempt to make sure viewers know a new team is in charge of the show. As far as I know, the network's only problem with Lurie was his slow production pace, but viewers obviously liked what they were seeing, based on the ratings.

I finished "Sleeper Cell," which sagged in the middle but finishes strongly. Asking viewers to commit 10 hours of their time in a little over two weeks seems like a bit much these days, and the mini could stand to be trimmed by at least two hours. I also watched the first installment's of Sci-Fi's new miniseries "The Triangle." It's not the second coming of "Battlestar Galactica" (or would that be third coming?), but it's a decent B-movie skiffy story, complete with a B-list cast that includes Sam Neill, Bruce Davison and Eric Stoltz.

And speaking of Eric Stoltz, with sweeps slowing down, I've been poking through the "Back to the Future" collected DVD set. They don't show any of the footage of Stoltz as Marty McFly (he played the role for a few weeks until producers decided it wasn't working and started from scratch with Michael J. Fox), but there are a few photo stills of him in the part, and it's bizarre to see him sitting on the bed with Lea Thompson or shooting video with the Doc. Stoltz did okay without that part, but the person I feel really sorry for is Melora Hardin, who was cast as Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, then got fired along with Stoltz because she was too tall to play Mike Fox's love interest. It's hard to say how much the role would have done for her career (Claudia Wells, who replaced her, dropped out of acting for health reasons a few years later), but she got stuck with the TV version of "Dirty Dancing," one of the two Lambada movies of '90, and other jobs of no note before making the awkward transition to middle-aged roles (because we know how much Hollywood loves middle-aged women) like Rachel McAdam's mom in "The Hot Chick" and Steve Carell's boss on "The Office." Would her career have been any different if she'd been short enough to star in one of the biggest, best hits of the '80s? Or would she still have wound up romancing a schoolteacher-by-day, Lambada-instructory-by-night? Unless I can get my hands on a Delorean with a flux capacitor, I guess I'll never know. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Get outta here!

Working through the last two days in reverse chronological order:

"Prison Break": Well, the good news is that they didn't bust out yet, since I still can't imagine enjoying the post-escape show based on the ham-fistedness of the conspiracy scenes (exemplified by the reformed Secret Service baddie failing to shove the evidence into Veronica's hands before Kellerman pulled up). The bad news is that, even for a show where you check your disbelief at the door or you don't get to come in, the foiling of Michael's plan was damn hard to swallow. The guy has contingency plans on top of contingency plans, and one random janitor screws everything up? I'll be back in March, but my bullshit meter may need recalibrating before then.

"How I Met Your Mother": I got to see this one last week, and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy an all-Ted episode this much. Of course, the reason I liked it was because Drunk Ted is much, much funnier and more likable than regular Ted, a fact that his friends -- and, I hope by proxy, the writers -- all pointed out. But just because we're stuck with Present-day Ted doesn't mean we have to be stuck with Future Ted, too, since the voiceovers are shutting off a lot of good potential storylines. Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar was good as Drunk Ted's one-night stand, and I'd like to see her again, but Future Ted has already declared that she never turns up again, so that's what we're stuck with. Ted and Robin are both much more interesting when they're together than when they're apart, but Future Ted has already put the kibosh on them ever getting together (at least, not for very long). Go away, Future Ted, and stop ruining the fun for the rest of us!

"King of Queens": By default, one of the better remaining sitcoms on TV, though the return of Ray Barone was just okay. On "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray's best moments were always reacting to other characters, and he and Doug are too alike to play to that strength. The fashion show, while predictable, was probably the highlight.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm": This is starting to feel like "SNL" to me: I tune in every week, knowing it's probably going to suck, but hopeful that for one night they'll recapture the glory days (which aren't nearly as far back as the "SNL" days). This was just awful again, full of people doing and saying things that they never would, even in Larry David World, notably Larry critiquing that woman's breast implants.

"Grey's Anatomy": In which Dr. McDreamy is revealed to be Dr. McPricky (during his taunting of Meredith), kind of appropriate given the priapism storyline. Sooner or later, every hospital show has to do an erectile superfunction gag subplot (Chicago Hope did it, and I'm pretty sure St. Elsewhere did it back in the '80s), and this one was well done. Not enough of the Nazi for my tastes, but another solid triple.

I'm running way late on this, so that's all for now. More tomorrow, which should come sooner given the number of shows that I watch being pre-empted for sweeps programming (Gilmore, Earl, Office, etc.). Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wha happen?

I know, I know, I know... the four of you who actually read this blog have all been complaining about the tardiness of the latest entry, so I'll try to tackle Wednesday through the weekend (or what I've seen of it) as quick as I can.

"Lost": The whole Zen "no answers" thing works out really well for an episode like this, which was basically a one-hour expansion of a few lines of Ana-Lucia dialogue from the week before. If you're willing to accept that there's going to be wheel-spinning and hedging and no new information except when the writers have absolutely no choice, then you can enjoy the character and thriller aspects. I liked the extended look at the tailaways, and the sort of parallel structure to the main characters, with Ana-Lucia as Kate, Mr. Eko (my favorite character on the show by far these days) as Locke and Goodwin seeming to be Jack. Brett Cullen, who played Goodwin, is one of my favorite Hey, It's That Guys (TV division), and once again he got the job done. Hopefully, either this or "West Wing" is going to lead him to another regular job. (He has a supporting role on a WB midseason show with Rebecca Romijn, but it's so lousy that he'll probably be looking for a new gig inside a month.) The scene on top of the mountain where Ana-Lucia and Goodwin pleasantly chatted while each was sizing the other up for the kill was the kind of character-based suspense this show does so damn well that I'm willing to ignore the non-info thing.

The one problem the producers have is that they introduced Ana-Lucia in a way designed to make viewers just despise her -- sneering in every scene, bullying three of the main characters, yelling loudly whenever anyone tries to get answers and, last week, killing Shannon -- and now they're backtracking and trying to show why you should like her. It doesn't work that way, which J.J. Abrams (who I know isn't very hands-on these days) should remember from the "Alias" season with Melissa George. She was also intro'd in a manner where fans had no choice but to hate her (disrupting their long-awaited Sydney/Vaughn romance), and when the effort to make her sympathetic didn't work, J.J. admitted defeat and turned her evil full-time. Ana-Lucia has built up so much bad karma with the viewers over only a few weeks that she may never enter their good graces. Maybe she'll have to go and join The Others at some point.

"Veronica Mars": An odd episode, tonally darker than even this show usually gets. Sheriff Lamb is one of the show's better recurring characters, so I like giving him some depth, so long as he doesn't suddenly turn into a nice guy. (His jerkiness is his most likable trait.) Little movement on the bus crash and only slightly more on Logan's case, though the idea of having Logan and Duncan live together is genius, since it forces Veronica and Duncan to trade insults on a regular basis.

"South Park": I'm the only person I know who saw this one and was underwhelmed. I just feel like Tom Cruise and Scientology are like a turkey shoot these days, and this could have been a lot savager and funnier than it was. The two best jokes: the "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" caption over the history video, and Stan (and, by proxy, Matt and Trey) daring the Scientologists to sue, followed by a closing credits full of John and Jane Smiths.

"Survivor": Hogeboom lives to landscape another day! Woo-hoo! What I liked about this episode the most was the irony Jamie becomes so paranoid that his allies are going to turn on him that his paranoia drives them to turn on him. Ever since Alanis Morissette ruined everyone's definition of irony, you rarely see the concept in its 100% pure form like this. Oh, and this blog entry has been brought to you by Folger's. Damn, that's good coffee! And hot!

"The O.C.": Well, I give them points for not letting Summer be dumb enough to fall into Taylor's jealousy trap -- yet -- and for letting Julie plausibly outsmart 7 of 9, but the show's overall IQ has dropped so many points since the first season that I feel uncomfortable watching it. Season three "O.C." is the kind of show that season one "O.C." would have mocked.

"ER": I'll give 'em this: as stupid as I thought the plane crash in Chicago idea was, it got me watching the show for the first time this season. Incredibly stupid, but entertaining in a C-level disaster movie way. No "ER" disaster episode is ever going to top season one's blizzard episode (where the producers didn't have to blow the budget on snow and crash effects, since everything took place inside the hospital), but this wasn't any cheesier than the helicopter crash, or the train crash, or the toxic waste spill, or the spree shooting, or... (As Matt put it, "Did they build this hospital on top of a Hellmouth?")

"SNL": I'm starting to feel like one of those monks from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who wander around constantly smashing boards into their faces as mortification. Why else am I watching this show week after week? The problem isn't just the lousy writing and flimsy premises (a house music parody? a sketch designed to let the cast showcase their impressions of late '50s celebrities?), but the fact that it's a cast full of second and third-tier "SNL" types. The writing has been uneven practically since the show began, but the good casts always have at least one or two people who are funny even with lousy material: Gilda, Belushi and Murray in the original cast, Lovitz and Hartman in the late '80s, Will Ferrell in the late '90s. This group has some talented impressionists (Heder's Pacino is the best I've ever seen) and people who can be funny on the rare occasion when the sketch is working, but the closest thing they have to people who can rise above the material are Will Forte and Amy Poehler, but even they only occasionally can make something out of nothing.

"The Simpsons": Not the funniest episode of the season by a long stretch, but I give them points for a relatively coherent Homer-Lisa story, though the California recall election parody felt like filler between emotional beats of the story. This is two weeks in a row where they've tried to return to smaller stories about the family, and it's clear that most of the current writers have either let those muscles atrophy or never had them in the first place (the younger ones who grew up on the years of the show where Homer flew in the space shuttle and toured with Hullabalooza). Still, I appreciate the effort now and then; the first couple of seasons weren't always that hilarious, but there was a heart to those stories that kept me around, long after our hero turned into Jerkass Homer.

More on "Grey's Anatomy," "Curb" and other Sunday shows either later Monday or on Tuesday morning. I'll get a relatively fixed schedule on this thing sooner or later. Really. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stay tuned...

Sorry for no update yet today. I half-wrote my entry and then got tied up with stuff at work. I'll definitely have it done at some point this weekend. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A copy better than the original

If it seems like it takes me longer than it should to catch up on a specific night's worth of shows, it's because I've been spending a lot of time catching up on "Battlestar Galactica." One of the downsides of sharing the workload with another critic is that, if I'm not reviewing something, I rarely can make the time to watch it on my own. Matt snagged the "Galactica" miniseries back in '03 and proceeded to dump all over it in his review ("The Sci Fi version is better than the original, I guess, but that’s not much of a compliment," he wrote. "It’s like saying one brand of American cheese smells better than another.") So I filed it away as a show I didn't need to bother with, and moved on.

But when the first season began airing late last year, I began seeing reviews by other critics whose opinions I trust, and they were raves. Diane Werts wrote at one point, "Is this the best show on television right now or what?" Since Diane is the person who turned me on to "The Shield" and "Titus" long before they premiered, I had a George Bluth moment and said, "I've made a terrible mistake."

So when the miniseries plus the first season came out on DVD, I raced through all of them in about a week, and was embarrassed that I'd missed out on such a terrific show for so long. (When I confronted Matt about it, he admitted sheepishly that he really regretted his negative review of the mini, and later expressed that reversal of opinion in print.) Once I got out from under all the fall premieres, I got ahold of all the second season episodes to date, and when given the choice between one of them and most of what's been on the networks, I've chosen "Galactica." I was messing around with a rough draft of my year-end top 10 list today, and I'll be damned if this show didn't keep winding up at or near the top of every version.

It was swell for a while to be able to watch as many episodes as I wanted on whatever schedule I wanted, but now that I've finished with "Pegasus," I'm in the same boat as the rest of the show's fans, having to wait to find out what happens next. (Same thing happened to me with the Harry Potter books; after years of parceling them out slowly, I read the last three in a six-month span and now have no new Potter until J.K. gets around to writing the finale.)

But while I wait for what's surprisingly become my favorite show to return, I have to get back to the rest of the schedule. Back tomorrow with reviews of "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "South Park" and whatever I get to watching tonight. Much as I've been making fun of it -- as does Matt in today's All TV column (the token "Arrested Development" mention is on page 3) -- I have to admit that I'm probably going to check out the stupid "ER" plane crash episode. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sometimes, I amaze even myself

Another day, another attempt to mention "Arrested Development" in the column for at least an entire week. (Today's column talks about it in context of the ratings for "Prison Break.") So as I'm sitting around, scratching for an excuse to name-check it again, Matt says he just heard that HBO is pushing the premiere of "Deadwood" back to June so that the new Bill Paxton polygamy show "Big Love" can get the post-"Sopranos" timeslot. I call up one of my friends in the "Deadwood" production office, and after we discuss the scheduling move, he says, "You know what you should write in your column? Write that HBO should pick up Arrested Development." Bingo. These things write themselves from time to time.

On to the last couple of nights of TV...

Well praise the lord and pass the ammunition: Rory and Lorelai finally got back together on last night's "Gilmore Girls." Took 'em, what, nine episodes into the season? I'm so glad to be done with The Passion of the Rory that I'm willing to overlook all sorts of awkwardness, like:
  • Rory actually being rewarded for stalking the newspaper editor, when said behavior would have at best gotten her tossed onto the sidewalk by security while the editor told her, "And you can forget about that recommendation." There's a difference between perserverance and simply refusing to accept reality as it is.
  • Lorelai letting Emily off the hook for the many awful things she's done to both herself and Rory in the last season or so.
  • Rory magically getting reinstated at Yale with only a few weeks to go in the fall semester.
  • The reconciliation scene coming together so quickly that, even though we've been waiting months for it, it felt rushed.

But whatever. They're back together, and much like Lorelai, I'm just gonna let all that other water wash under the bridge. (Or is it over the bridge? My cliche dictionary's missing.)

The other big development, and the one that has the message boards filled with screams of shark-jumping, is Luke suddenly having a 12-year-old daughter of his own that he never knew about. On the one hand, I think it's a stupid idea and I'm going to be pissed if Amy uses this as an excuse to bust up Luke and Lorelai for a while just as we got her and Rory back together. On the other hand, I liked the actress playing Mini-Rory, and I thought Scott Patterson was great at both the comedy and emotion of this ridiculous twist, so I'll give it a little rope. A little.

An uneven "The Office." I know Carell's the star and the boss was the main character of the British version, but at this point I think there needs to be a refocusing, because the Jim/Dwight/Pam stuff is by far the highlight of every week, while Michael works best in small doses. Michael's attempt to turn his one-night stand with the boss into something more made me uncomfortable; Jim's mission to maintain Dwight's mistake about the days of the week just made me laugh. Given Carell's movie prospects after "Virgin," I don't know that he'd object to becoming a supporting player if it freed up his schedule for more film work.

On a very special sweeps episode of "House," Lance Armstrong -- or a reasonable facsimile (who used to be on "North Shore") -- comes to the hospital for... something to do with blood transfusions, I think. Marian's a hospital administrator, so when I watch medical shows with her, she's constantly pointing out inaccuracies (I'm sure I'd do the same if someone was ever dumb enough to create a show about a TV critic), and at one point she asked me if I minded the frequent interruptions.

"It's okay," I said. "I don't really pay attention to the medical stuff."

"But the medical stuff is the whole show!" she said.

So after hitting the TiVo's pause button, we got into a discussion of whether the cases in "House" matter at all, or if they're just the MacGuffin, the excuse to hang House's funny lines and fragile emotional state on. I went with the MacGuffin route; she said she likes the medical investigations (not to be confused with this) as much as the character material. What say you?

"Prison Break" edges ever closer to fulfilling its title. I'm disappointed that, one week after the writers felt the need to introduce a Super-Evil Secret Agent to put the two Regular-Evil Secret Agents in their place, they got rid of the guy, but I'm not surprised. With a show like this or "24," killing time is one of the hardest things to do. (Can you say cougar? Or amnesia?) So the writers vamp for a couple of weeks by introducing another bad guy, then throw him down a well when he's not needed anymore. A shame, really, as I felt he was much more legitimately threatening than Kellerman or his sidekick. As for the rest of the episode, T-Bag seems like the obvious one to get dumped from the escape team (again, Abruzzi should have several dozen ways to kill him without exposing their secret), which means I'm sure we'll go in a different direction. Early on, I suggested that the writers might try to really surprise people by taking a page from the "24" season one finale and having Michael escape while Lincoln dies in the attempt. Maybe they've got the onions to do it.

We're running long here, so I'll dispense with "Grey's Anatomy" pretty quickly. I'm surprised the writers didn't follow George's "carpe diem" day to its logical conclusion and have him profess his love to Meredith. Sooner or later, they need to pull a Sam Weir/Cindy Sanders and have the two of them hook up for a few episodes, only to have George realize he's really not that into her. Burke and Cristina's strained date was really funny, and it was weird to see the lead from "American Embassy" as a contemporary of McDreamy and Mrs. McDreamy. On "Embassy," she was playing the Ally McBeal part and was supposed to be in her late 20s at most, but according to IMDb, she's over 40. Huh.

I have nothing more to add, except: "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development"...

Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Watch her like a movie"

Real estate is an obsession in the New York/New Jersey area. At every party I attended during my single days, if there were four conversations going on at once, two or three of them would be about square footage, rent hikes, crazy landlords and, as we got older, mortgage rates. A lot of people want to live around here, and there's not enough elbow room for all, so everyone's constantly hustling for a bigger space, a better rent, a parking space, whatever.

Shortly after Marian and I resumed dating after a short and stupid break, she got a tip from a friend about a ginormous two-bedroom in a prime location in Hoboken. She brought me with her to check it out, and it was as great as advertised. Her only problem was that she would need to find a roommate to cover the rent. I offered to move in with her, only half-joking, and it was as much about my love of the place as my interest in taking things to the next level with Marian. She rolled her eyes and said, "Umm... no," and found herself a roommate who we'll call Georgia for legal reasons. When she was interviewing possible roommates, she told all of them that it would be a one-year deal, and at the end of that year, if Marian wanted the place to herself, she'd get it.

By the time that year was coming to a close, we were engaged and we wanted that place. One problem: Georgia claimed to have never had the one-year conversation with Marian, and told us in no uncertain terms that she wasn't leaving. Marian had put both their names on the lease so she'd have legal recourse in case Georgia turned out to be a flake who wouldn't pay rent, but that backfired.

So the plan became for me to move in -- along with all my furniture, books, comic books, electronic equipment, etc. -- and make my presence as big and loud as possible (as any of my friends will tell you, that wasn't much of a challenge) until Georgia decided she'd rather live in a smaller place than deal with me and my stuff. Georgia responded to Operation: Sasquatch with a strategic retreat into her bedroom, gradually removing all of her stuff -- including the TV, the lamp and one of the couches -- from the living room. My friend Jennifer advised us to get a bucket of popcorn and "watch her like a movie" to make sure she didn't start messing with our stuff.

After a few weeks, Georgia surrendered and found another place. But as one final salvo in our little war, she locked her bedroom door (a keyless lock that can only be opened easily from the inside) as she left, so that we were only a few minutes into our celebration of having the place to ourselves before we had to call a locksmith.

Why am I telling you all this? It's a (very) roundabout way of saying that I've lived something close to what happened on "How I Met Your Mother" last night -- minus the dueling part -- and I could relate to the anguish over shared real estate. (This, of course, is TV New York, where a kindergarten teacher can afford to carry the rent on an apartment big enough to be converted into a Chinese restaurant, even though she doesn't live there.) Not as good as the club episode, but pretty funny nonetheless. Barney's Lemon Law subplot was also nice, and featured yet another "Freaks and Geeks" guest appearance, by Martin "Bill Haverchuck" Starr as Robin's nerdy date. (Samm Levine was one of the losers stuck outside the nightclub, and, of course, disco-dancing Jason Segel is in the regular cast.)

I'm still catching up on other things from Sunday and Monday nights (I wasted most of last night watching the ugliest NBA game I have ever seen), but I did see the latest "Simpsons," which opened with what I think is the longest couch gag in the show's history. (My friend Dan suggested the parody of "Contact" as the only other one that came close.) That couch gag was also funnier than the rest of the episode combined. After all my complaining over the years about the writers moving away from the emotional dynamics of the family, I can't get too worked up over a half-hour about Marge and Bart bonding, but it felt like a rough outline of an episode; there was sort of a story, and sort of a few jokes, but they weren't close to finished. And the Homer's dumbbell subplot? I know the show's been around for 8,000 years, but this is at least the third different episode where Homer or Marge gets randomly bulked up (the last time, Homer accomplished it by unleashing the power of apples); if you're going to repeat that joke again, at least make it funny.

I also suffered through another episode of what's shaping up to be the worst "Saturday Night Live" season since Anthony Michael Hall and Randy Quaid roamed the halls. Watching it this year is like that Tom Hanks sketch where everyone in the family has to take a whiff of the rotten milk carton so they know for themselves just how disgusting it is. I love Jason Lee, but even he can't do much when the writing's not there. The closest thing to a good sketch was the HGTV parody, and even that was a rip-off of two older sketches: Schweddy Balls and a Prince Charles/butler sketch that featured the same caulk-in-the-crack joke.

I'd write more, but someone sitting on my lap needs a new diaper. More later after I've watched "Prison Break." In the meantime, links to the two most recent All TV columns: Monday's, featuring Matt on PBS' Las Vegas documentary and me bemoaning the fate of "Arrested Development," and Tuesday's, a mailbag dealing even more with "Arrested Development." (It's my goal to mention the show every day this week if I can get away with it.) Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 11, 2005

HOGEBOOM!!!!! (and some other stuff)

Going in reverse chronological order of when I watched things from the last couple of days:

"The O.C.": Okay, I think I'm going to need some kind of flow chart to keep track of all the flirting and soulful looks going on between the regular characters and their Bizarro World equivalents from Newport Union. Marissa's on the verge of dating Johnny (aka Bizarro-Ryan), Taylor Townsend (kind of a Bizarro-Summer, though she goes to Harbor) is putting a move on Seth, and Ryan and Summer are sharing more screen time together than they have in the entire series put together. Is that all? Did I miss anyone? My brain hurts. Bonus points for the complete lack of Evil Dean, but I'm not feeling the love this week.

"The Apprentice": Yeah, I've been sucked back in, dammit, and it wasn't even a good episode. Another multiple-firing, both well-deserved, but if Trump fired every contestants who deserved to be fired every week, the season would be about two weeks long. (Episode one: meet the contestants. Episode two: everyone but Randal gets fired.) One of the duller product-placed tasks of all time.

"Survivor": Hogeboom, Hogeboom, Hogeboom. From laughingstock to crafty genius you've gone, my lanky friend. The dramatic pause before busting out the Mini-Idol was one of the coolest "Survivor" moments in a long time (and would have been cooler if the editors hadn't played up Gary's probable exit so blatantly that you knew he'd pull a rabbit or idol out of his hat by episode's end). I just hope he can exercise some of his experience at lawncare (and what was up with that weird football anecdote at one point? I thought he said he was a landscaper) to convince Rafe, Cindy and Lydia to turn against the Axis of Evil, because if any of those three idiots win, I'll be irked. (Though I have to say, I'd almost be more irked by a Lydia win, since she'd be the most inconsequential winner, screentime-wise, since Vecepia.)

"Veronica Mars": A dark, dark episode (and, judging from the previews, not the last one this month) where things got so bad that a Veronica/Wiedman team-up actually seemed like a wise idea. Weevil, Cliff and Aaron all return, Joss Whedon and Kim from "Top Model" both don't embarrass themselves in acting cameos, and we get some quality Weevil/Logan fighting. Not happy, but damn good.

"South Park": I have a list of things that are always funny, under any circumstance. Al Pacino doing a Cuban accent? Always funny. Will Ferrell wearing a fake mustache? Always funny. Cartman being a hatemonger? Always, always funny. Not the most original "South Park" ever, but the scene with the anguished parents of the three Ginger Kids was worth tuning in for by itself. Question: is Lindsay Lohan a Ginger Kid? Click here to read the full post

Mr. F takes down the Bluths

Well, this is depressing, but not the least bit surprising. According to Joe Adalian at Daily Variety, "Arrested Development" is basically dead:

Fox has cut back its episode order on one of TV's most critically praised shows to just 13 segs, down from 22. Skein, from 20th Century Fox TV and creator Mitch Hurwitz, has also been pulled from the schedule for the rest of the month, another sign that the network may have finally given up on trying to bring an audience to the show.
And adding insult to injury:

News was nearly as grim for "Arrested's" Monday night companion, the Darren Star-produced "Kitchen Confidential." It's also been pulled for sweeps, and producers have been told the show won't be getting a full-season pickup.

I got over taking these things too hard a long time ago. The very first pilot that I watched in my very first year as a critic was "EZ Streets," which is still one of the two or three best TV shows I've ever seen. Dead on contact. Two years after that, I got my heart broken by "Cupid." Then there were "Freaks and Geeks," and "Titus," and "Greg the Bunny," and... well, you get the point. All my darlings end prematurely, and I've long since accepted my role as the Angel of Death. Frankly, I had assumed that "Arrested" would be canceled in half a season. The fact that I got more than two years of it was a pleasant surprise. Time to pre-order that DVD.

I only wish I had known about the move before I wrote my column about how boring this season has been. And, yes, I already said I probably wasn't going to do it because Melanie McFarland beat me to the punch, but Melanie encouraged me to go for it, anyway, and I didn't have a better idea for Friday, especially since I had already reviewed the "SNL" in the '80s documentary yesterday.

Comments on "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "Survivor" and the rest of Thursday TV later today. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh, Mickey, you're so fun

In today's All TV column, I review the PBS documentary "Pioneers of Primetime," which wasn't one-fifth as entertaining as the press conference to promote it from last July. One of the funniest, most bizarre experiences I've ever had. Since my column about that's no longer archived on, here it is:

Chaos Agent

Mickey Rooney once was, as he will eagerly tell you, the No. 1 box of fice attraction in the world. To that, he can add another distinction: centerpiece of the most surreal news conference in the history of the Television Critics Association press tour.

Rooney, 84, was on stage to discuss PBS’ "Pioneers of Primetime," a documentary about the early days of television, scheduled to run in November. Since Rooney appeared so infrequently on television back then that he’s not even in the documentary, no one could quite understand what he was doing on the panel — not even the Pioneers producer could explain it — but he proceeded to do his best to take over the joint.

For more than an hour, Rooney interrupted other panelists — including genuine TV pioneers like Sid Caesar, 82, and Rose Marie, 81 — answered questions not directed toward him, and randomly digressed into stories about people he had worked with in the movies and on stage.

All that stood between the critics and total conversa tional Armageddon were Carl Reiner, 83, and Red Buttons, 86, who alternately tried to get the discussion back on track or take Rooney down a few pegs.

The trouble began early, when a question about changing standards of taste in TV comedy led Rooney to get philosophical.

"I think everybody in the entertainment world is special," he said, "because God gave them that talent to move forward and to go with the good, the mediocrity of things and the good things. And people who say that they never made mistakes, dont you believe it. Everybody makes mistakes and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. But, in entertainment, you try your best not to make any mistakes. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it’s fair. Sometimes, it’s not even worth going. But all of these people on this venue today have worked with good taste, good taste, and thats what we’re all proud of."

A startled Buttons asked, "What the hell did Mickey (just) say?"

"I don’t know," Reiner replied. "I was about to ask if somebody had written it down because I want to make a sampler out of that. I want to have that on my couch."

After a Rooney anecdote about the legendary producer and director Cecil B. DeMille that only Caesar seemed to understand, Buttons asked, "By the way, Mickey, was Lincoln a nice guy?"

This didn’t have the desired effect, as Rooney started discussing Civil War generals whose last names also belonged to his own relatives. As the reporters and other panelists broke down in astonished giggles, Rooney insisted, "I don’t know why you’re laughing. It’s true!"

When Rooney began to answer a question asked of Caesar, Reiner said, "You’re not Sid Caesar," and tossed the question back to his old boss from "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar’s Hour."

Later, Rooney began listing all the actors with whom he’d worked at MGM, and likely would have kept going for several minutes if Buttons hadn’t interrupted to start talking about his love of Rooney’s Andy Hardy movies, inventing new ones like "Andy Hardy and the Hasidic Housewife." Rooney then took this as a cue to explain to the audience that Lionel Barrymore had played Judge Hardy in the first Hardy picture.

"I’m so glad I came!" Reiner dryly exclaimed. "I would not have known that!"

"Pioneers of Primetime" deals at length with the vaudeville backgrounds of many early TV stars, and Rooney made sure everyone understood that vaudeville was pre-dated by burlesque, going so far as to dust off old burlesque jokes like "Why did the chicken cross the road?" and "That was no lady, that was my wife!" as Buttons groaned, "Oh, my God."

When Rooney interrupted Buttons’ story about being on stage during the moment of the infamous 1942 police raid of Minsky’s, Buttons griped, "Mickey, I’m on."

"I’ve never seen you get off," Rooney retorted.

"It’s hard to work in stereo," said Buttons. "It really is."

A few minutes after, Buttons was listing TV stars with a background in sketch comedy, such as Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers, when Rooney non-sequitur’ed into an appreciation of movie immortal Jimmy Cagney. Buttons, unable to resist, launched into his Cagney impression, and all of a sudden both Buttons and Rooney were on their feet, shadowboxing in a way that only seemed half-playful. (You can guess which half was which.) To defuse the tension, Reiner launched the room into a sing-along of the title number from the Cagney musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Rooney sat down, but his Cagney discussion went on for several more minutes — including him reciting lines from the 1935 version of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" where Rooney played Puck and Cagney played Bottom — until "Pioneers" producer Steve Boettcher begged the reporters, "Jump in, jump in. Don’t be shy."

"I was a young girl when this panel was started," cracked Rose Marie.

A reporter wondered if anyone on the panel had a theory about why Milton Berle became a big TV star while his vaudeville contemporary Fred Allen didn’t.

"Can I answer that?" Rooney asked.

"I would be amazed if you didn’t!" said Reiner.

As the session was coming to an end, Reiner declared, "I want to say one thing in defense of Mickey," and as the audience cackled, Reiner went on at length about Rooney’s many talents.

"What I’m saying," he concluded, "is that Mickey Rooney should be forgiven for all his madness up here today because he is a genius. He’s a genius performer."

Buttons, not quite as sincerely, also tried to defend Rooney, pointing out they served in the Army together during World War II.

"One day, he saved our entire outfit. He killed a cook."

Click here to read the full post

Double feature

It's not often I can use this job to impress chicks (aka my wife), but last night was a good one. We had just finished watching "Gilmore Girls" when she said, "Oh, I wish there was more!" I took a dramatic pause, then said, "Well, it just so happens that I have next week's episode in my bag!" Major, major brownie points there.

I've complained a lot in the past about how Amy Sherman-Palladino keeps fixing Rory up with these asshole boyfriends whom she thinks are much nicer than they actually are, so it was funny to see Asshole #2 (Jess) lecture Rory on dating Asshole #3 (Logan). (Asshole #1 was Tristan, who I'm sure Rory would've started dating if Chad Michael Murray hadn't left to do that "Lone Ranger" pilot.) Of course, this new Jess was more mature and decent than he ever was when he was a regular character on the show; I could actually buy Rory going out with him now. It bothered me that Rory needed an outside voice to shake her out of this stupid funk, but it's about freaking time. The scene at the end, with Rory and Emily turning into a young Lorelai and Emily, was great, one of the few times this year where I haven't cringed at Alexis Bledel's acting. (She's decent when Rory's upset; it's the comedy scenes that overwhelm her.) Next week's episode is even better, though I can't discuss it much without spoilage.

When that was done, I zipped through "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." One of the better "Earl"s of the season, featuring not only an extended flashback to Bad Earl, but a funny karma mission. Some weeks, it seems like the writers just assume that the idea of Earl trying to do good deeds is funny in and of itself, when the comedy should be coming from the dumb screw-up ways Earl tries to fulfill his mission. (The beauty pageant episode last week was totally flat, except for Jamie Pressley dancing with her mom's ashes.) The "Say Anything"/golf club/burning cross scene is the sort of thing that should be happening every week: Earl going at his mission in exactly the wrong way and almost making things worse in the process. The "Smokey and the Bandit" subplot was funny, too, and the show followed through with the joke with the "Smokey"-style blooper reel over the end credits. (They're not the first show to use that gag, however; the best of them was on "The State," which for no reason whatsoever featured an exact recreation of the blooper reel from "Cannonball Run" at the end of one episode.)

"The Office" ruined my theory that Carell is playing another 40-year-old virgin, but I'll survive. This is the most competent we've ever seen the character (even as David Brent in the original), and I suppose it was necessary at some point. In the British version, the boss gets fired for incompetence within 12 episodes; if this show hopes to be around for the long haul, we occasionally need to see reasons why Michael gets to keep his job. The table read of Michael's movie script was another good Jim/Pam subplot, but I worry that they're pushing this UST thing too far. Will-they-or-won't-they is a trap that's killed many a good comedy before ("Ed" dragged out the Ed and Carol thing for so damn long that I just gave up), and in the event that "The Office" is around a while, I don't want to tune in three years from now and see Jim still awkwardly pining for Pam with no forward movement. Greg Daniels has said that he really sees the two of them as friends, but if that's the case, he needs to nip this thing in the bud, and fast. Just do an episode where they sleep together and it's a disaster afterwards and get it over with. Hey, if Michael can get laid, anyone on this show can. Except maybe Dwigt.

I had already seen "House," which is the episode I had alluded to in last week's column about how the writers are smart to occasionally let one of House's patients die. Very strong hour with a great guest performance by Clifton Powell as the patient's dad and some real relevations about House's past. But am I the only who, everytime I see R. Lee Ermey, I immediately want him to shout, "What is your major malfunction, Private Pyle?" No? Didn't think so. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The longest season

So here I was, all prepared to write a column, or a blog entry, or both, on how bored I've been by most of what this season has to offer, when I went to TV Tattle and saw that Melanie McFarland had beaten me to the punch. Few things sting more than having someone write the story I hadn't gotten around to yet.

From that column I wish I'd written (well, except for the parts about Jared Padalecki's hotness):
This season of network television is boring. Not terrible, BO-RING. There's a difference. Terrible television has nothing redeeming about it, and forces us to take up odd projects, like curling or crocheting trousers. Whereas boring television is just decent enough to keep you hanging on in the hopes that this will finally be the week that a show finds its way.
My TiVo Season Pass list is shrinking rapidly. I've given up on TV altogether on Fridays and Saturdays (though the networks beat me to the punch on the latter), and there are other nights where at most I want to watch one or two shows. I've found myself multi-tasking even through the shows I couldn't bear to look away from last season. It was obvious from watching the pilots that there wasn't going to be a "House" or "Veronica Mars" among this year's rookies, but "House" and "Veronica Mars" are two of the few returning shows that still have my attention.

At first, I thought it was just an ongoing post-accident malaise, but I've been hearing the same thing from lots of friends, several of whom, like me, get paid to watch this stuff.

I was excited by the return of "Arrested Development" after baseball-induced hiatus, but every episode these days makes me feel a bit sad, since I know there probably won't be many more of them given the awful ratings. (I actually saw a "story" in the new issue of Inside TV about Fox execs conducting secret talks to turn the show into a movie -- because, of course, that idea worked so well with "Firefly.")

The first half hour was much stronger than the second, with the creative bleeping of "pussy," Michael's hatred of Ann reaching new lows (loved George Michael's exasperated "You've met her on many, many occasions" muttering) as my favorite gags. Episode two was more uneven -- it's taken, what, five episodes for the writers to figure out why Charlize Theron's supposed to be funny? -- but I applauded the surprise return of Annyong, which I'm guessing was a one-shot gag.

"How I Met Your Mother" had a Ted-centric plot, which is a problem, since (say it with me), he's the least interesting, least funny character on the show. Everytime I laughed, it was during the cock-a-mouse subplot. Is it too late to make Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan the leads and redub the show, "How We Ditched Our Depressing Roommate"?

"Prison Break" edges closer and closer to fulfilling its title, at which point I'll probably escape the show myself, but the gradual expansion of the escapees list was entertaining. On the other hand, Hollywood needs to put a moratorium on ripping off the fake-out finale of "Silence of the Lambs," because no one's even being fooled by it anymore. If you actually thought the house Mikey Palmice and friends were about to storm was Fibonacci's, shame on you.

Come on, TV season. Dazzle me. And soon. Please. Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sunday night dead

I wish I could call the awful live "West Wing" debate episode a disappointment, but that would imply I had high hopes for it to begin with. John Wells is now 0-2 with live gimmick episodes, both of which completely ignored why people watch those shows in the first place. The live "ER" ditched the action movie production values, editing and music that made the show so cool back then, while the "West Wing" episode completely abandoned Aaron Sorkin's mission statement to show viewers what goes on right before or right after the big moments you see on TV. It was slow and tedious. It completely ignored everything that happened in the previous episode (no questions on abortion or attack ads?). And despite the writers' paper-thin attempts to make viewers forget that they liked Vinick last season, Alan Alda was so damn good that I'd vote for him, even though I agree with more of Santos' positions.

Hey Mr. Wells: I know that "China Beach" usually did well with the format-breaking episodes, but you're now responsible for the two biggest formula-breaking "West Wing" episodes of all time (this and "Access," the PBS documentary from the future episode), which also happen to be the two worst "West Wing" episodes of all time. There's a lesson in there somewhere, maybe.

My TiVo screwed up the recording of "Curb" (damn IR blaster malfunction), but "Grey's Anatomy" was terrific, yet again. The male pregnancy story was funny, and kinda poignant, and managed to parallel Meredith's story without beating you over the head with it. George's continued attempt to screw up his position as Burke's "guy" and Cristina getting some comeuppance from the nurses were also good for shits and giggles. At this rate, "Grey's" may be sneaking onto my year-end Top 10 list. It's definitely the best, most consistent show ABC has (and I say this as a "Lost" fan). Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 04, 2005

Second chances

"Second Chance" was the name of an awful late '80s sitcom starring Kiel Martin as yet another dead guy too good for Hell and too bad for Heaven. To tip the scales one way or another, he gets sent back in time to try to influence his teenage self -- played by a young Matthew Perry during his show-killer years -- into being a better person. Like I said, awful, and things got even worse when Fox decided to ditch Martin and the whole time travel gimmick, focus on Perry and his imitation Fonzie pal and redub the show "Boys Will Be Boys." For me, the sad thing isn't that I remember this much about "Second Chance." It's that I remember it so well that I could recognize that "Boys Will Be Boys" took place in the weeks leading up to the events of "Second Chance," meaning that if the revamped show had lasted more than a few episodes, the writers would have had to bring back Martin or do some fancy tap-dancing. Why do I know this? Why did I recognize it at the time and why do I still remember it now? Why is my brain so cluttered with this level of TV minutiae? Why, as I point out in today's All TV column, was I actually able to spot plot logic discrepancies between "Category 6" and "Category 7"? But while we're on the subject of second chances, I gave a couple of Thursday shows one last shot last night, and I think I'm glad I did. Though a rerun of the "Apprentice" four-way firing didn't do much for me, I decided to check out the follow-up, if only to see the reaction of the contestants when nobody came back to the suite. Turned out to be one of the most entertaining episodes I've seen since the first season, with a good mix of genuinely competent contestants (Randal and Marshawn seem like the favorites to me) and people who are crazy but not repellent (Markus is gone, but Clay shows promise to me as someone whose demise will make me laugh). All that, and Trump at his socially retarded worst, asking if Clay was gay 57 different ways, harassing Adam about whether he was a virgin, and then heartily endorsing the concept of sex to him. He was about a heartbeat away from asking Carolyn to initiate Adam into the ways of love. Good times. I'll give it another few weeks at least. "The O.C." was a tough show for me to give up on, seeing as how I wrote an entire book about it and all, but the season had been just awful in the first few weeks, so when I had a VCR/TiVo conflict the night of the last episode before the baseball playoffs, I shrugged and decided to skip it. I didn't have that conflict last night, so I figured I'd give it one last shot, and it was a marginal improvement. For one thing, the evil Dean is on his way out. (And was I the only one waiting for him to answer his phone and hear Homer Simpson telling him, "Hello, Dean? You're a stupid-head!"?) For another, while Taylor Townshend is as big of a cartoon as the Dean, she's at least giving Summer something funny to do other than break up with Seth again. The show's still completely burnt-out and not what it was in the first season, but if I could ride out "NYPD Blue" for 11 years, around half of which were lame, I can probably stick with "O.C." for the one or two years until the show ends. Good "Survivor" last night, too. I knew Jamie wasn't going, because I can think of only one example in the series history where the editing was this blatant about a surprise boot that actually happened (Rupert on Pearl Islands). We've seen people get cocky about a numbers advantage in the past, but never at Jamie's obnoxious in-your-face level. My only hope is that Rafe and/or Cindy didn't pull the trigger yet because they can do the math and know that the time to pull this off is one or two Tribal Councils down the line. Because if any of Jamie, Judd or Stephenie wins, I'm going to be really mad I toughed it out. One disappointment: nothing on the Hogeboom/Hawkins blatant lie front this week. Where was Gary explaining that he learned how to carry stuff on his head from being a landscaper? Or that landscaping showed him how to gather firewood? Something? Anything? Frankly, I think "I'm a landscaper" should become the defacto lie for every reality show. Take last night's "Apprentice," where we could have seen something like this: Trump: Adam, is it true you've never had sex? Are you, in fact, a virgin? Adam: No, sir, I'm a landscaper. Am I right? Am I? Is this thing on? Click here to read the full post