Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

I haven't worn a costume since a brush with the law 14 years ago (long story), but I do love this holiday. Today's All TV column is Halloween-themed. It started off as an excuse to make fun of Danni's skeletal physique on "Survivor" again, but I eventually came up with some legitimately scary TV events.

The biggest (and by far strangest) event of my weekend was being inducted into my high school's Hall of Fame. The other inductees included a pediatric cardiologist, a multi-millionaire and a record-holding fullback who went on to play at Penn State. And then there was me. Hell, I'm not even the most famous guy in my own graduating class (that would be Pete Yorn). But it was a nice honor, I got to see some of my favorite teachers, and I was able to take some lessons from all those years reviewing the Oscars and Emmys by keeping my speech as short as possible while still finding time to thank my agent, my business manager and my three attorneys.

Most of my weekend viewing was spent on advance screeners of tomorrow's shows, including "The Office" (which opens with the funniest three minutes on TV so far this season), "House" (which brings in Ron Livingston -- forever loved in my house because of "Office Space" -- as a sort of anti-House), and "Bones" (a show that spends far too much time kissing its main character's ass to make her seem more interesting than she actually is).

I also endured the opening 20 minutes of "SNL," which tends to be more painful than usual when an athlete hosts. (The main exception: Wayne Gretzky, whose episode in the late '80s included both "Waikiki Hockey" and "Fishing with the Anal-Retentive Sportsman.") Almost as excruciating was the latest "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I still refuse to buy into the shark-jumping theory here ("The Larry David Sandwich" and "Kamikaze Bingo" were too good for that), but this may have been the worst "Curb" ever. Predictable, slow, and not even the Larry/Lewis scenes had any zing.

I had already reviewed last night's "Grey's Anatomy," easily the best episode they've done so far. "West Wing," meanwhile, was like the "Back to the Future Part II" of "West Wing" episodes: an entire installment devoted to setting up the next one. Despite all the talk about how great Donna was on TV, she seemed stiff, and the White House press corps wouldn't punch themselves out so quickly on the Toby thing if our actual press is any indication. Click here to read the full post

Friday, October 28, 2005

The network that cried wolf

NBC loves hype. "Don't miss the final two minutes!" "The greatest half-hour in the history of television!" "A sexual experience so intense it could conceivably change your political views!"

At this point, I just tune that crap out, so when NBC began airing its sixteenth iteration of "Biggest. Boardroom. Ever!" promos for last night's "Apprentice," I barely noticed. I gave up on the show midway through last spring's disaster, and saw nothing in this year's first couple of episodes to make me want to come back.

Which is a shame, because from what I've been told (and what I've since read in recaps like this one), for once the hype wasn't BS. Instead of firing one incompetent at a time until he has to choose between the two least-objectionable contestants, The Donald decided to stop screwing around and canned four at once, leading to what sounds like the most uncomfortable cab ride of all time. A friend called it "a potentially show-saving move," and he may be right. The big objection to the last few seasons has been the massive number of contestants with the business sense of a coconut. If Trump (who claims to have hand-picked this cast, by the way) can't pick qualified people to start out with, the least he can do is get rid of the real morons as quickly as possible. I'll check out one of the CNBC reruns over the weekend, and may actually give the show one last shot.

At the very least, I appear to have missed the better Mark Burnett show last night, because "Survivor: Guatemala" just isn't doing it for me. All the players I like are being voted out, while the jerkwad alliance of Judd (Jersey represent!), Jamie and Stephenie should be around for a long time, even if none of them win. Plus, Danni's getting so scary thin that I'm afraid to look directly at her anymore. Lara Flynn Boyle probably outweighs her at this point.

Oh, and recent column links: a Wednesday mailbag dealing with ABC's high commercial load and the question of what all those producers listed in a show's credits really do; a review of Sunday night's terrific "Grey's Anatomy"; and today's grab-bag including reviews of "Vampire Bats," "I Shouldn't Be Alive" and "Masters of Horror." Click here to read the full post

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Good night, and good TV

Snuck out to see "Good Night and Good Luck" last night. A great-looking film, fine performances (is David Strathairn ever not brilliant?) and a great topic -- and Clooney doesn't beat you over the head with the parallels between the Red Menace and the War on Terror -- but I couldn't help feeling that anyone who didn't go in knowing a fair amount about McCarthy would be baffled. My back was grateful it's a pretty short movie, since the theater I went to had chairs designed by the Torquemada, but I felt like there could have been more set-up about the threat of McCarthyism. And that in turn would have made the actions of Murrow, Fred Friendly and company that much more heroic.

Came home to see a pretty good "Veronica Mars" episode. This year's mandate to ease up on Kristen Bell's crippling workload gave us a Wallace-heavy episode, and Percy Daggs delivered. Given all the talk about how jealous Wallace's girlfriend is of Veronica, I wonder why the writers haven't bothered to look at this subject from Duncan's point of view. For that matter, have we ever seen Duncan and Wallace so much as talk to each other? He filled a major purpose last year, but Duncan seems to be taking up space right now.

For me, though, the highlight came from Enrico Colantoni during the scene where Veronica plays Keith the bus crash voicemail. He made me feel shaken, and I know this is all fiction. Sometimes, actors who get stuck on bad sitcoms ("Hope & Gloria," "Just Shoot Me") deserve it; other times, they're much better than the material allows them to show. Maybe it's time to pop in my "Galaxy Quest" DVD again. Never give up, never surrender. (Say it with me: I'm a big fat dork.)

In terms of Tuesday TV, I've officially dropped "Amazing Race," and with "House" and the NBC comedies taking the night off, the only shows I watched (in between glimpses of the World Series) were "Gilmore Girls" and "Boston Legal."

A much better "Gilmore" than the week before, but Alexis Bledel's limitations are just killing the show right now. There are all these Rory scenes that I know are supposed to be funny, but her mush-mouthed delivery is ruining them. We got an excercise bike recently, and I try to kill two birds with one stone by riding it during primetime. The bike has become my new measuring stick for TV. If I'm enjoying something, I can ride a long time without even noticing the exertion; if the show's not that exciting, all I can think about is how I can't wait to stop pedaling. During "Gilmore Girls," I slow down for Rory and speed up for Lorelai. And with the heavy dose of Rory lately, I had to stop watching the episode for a while and pop in a "Battlestar Galactica" DVD just to get through my ride.

"Boston Legal" is one of those shows I half pay attention to while catching up on e-mail, but it's become a kind of fun party game to figure out which scenes are from last year and which ones are new. Obviously, anything with Julie Bowen or the other new lawyers were shot for this season, but was the Monica Potter stuff a leftover, or did they actually bring her back to dazzle us with more bad acting?

Off to write a review of "Vampire Bats." In a shock, it's a horror movie where horny college kids get attacked whenever they try to have sex. Never seen that before. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Since I been gone

Spent the weekend in Boston, which should be my last travel weekend for a while, but it still leaves me lagging behind on TV.

Before I get to what I have seen lately, some links:

  • Monday's All TV column, with Matt giving what may be The Star-Ledger's first positive review of a Lifetime original production in three years (since "Any Day Now" got canceled).
  • Today's All TV column, leading off with my review of the disappointing season finale of "Over There" (which was pretty disappointing all season, frankly).
  • Ellen Gray in the Philly Daily News delivering a backlash against the predictable "Desperate Housewives" backlash.
  • A column by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic Rob Owen about the rise of dramas with female leads.
  • Melanie McFarland from the Seattle P-I giving some blunt advice to Martha Stewart and Tyra Banks.

As for what I've watched in the last day or so, let's go in reverse chronological order:

"Prison Break": Hey, did you know this show is on Fox? They were so subtle in plugging it during the baseball playoffs that I wasn't sure if everyone knew about it. (As Phil Rosenthal pointed out to me, the "Prison Break" ads weren't as unintentionally funny as the "Skin" campaign ("His father is THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!!!!!!") or last year's "House" ads ("You're risking A PATIENT'S LIFE!!!") because none of the main characters on "Prison Break" yell much.)

Way back in August, I called this the best new drama of the season. It probably still is, but more by default, and I spend more time multi-tasking while watching it than I should during a thriller. I'm a sucker for stories about men of different backgrounds forced together to do a tough job ("The Magnificent Seven," "The Professionals" and, of course, "The Great Escape"), and the scenes inside the prison walls are fun, if completely ridiculous. I mean, the chief hack strangled a cat, for God's sake! But whenever we cut back to The Conspiracy, I zone out. Not even the relevation that Patricia Wettig is the Vice-President was much of a shock, given that this is the season of "Commander-in-Chief."

"How I Met Your Mother": Not as good as last week's club episode, but passable. The angel and the devil battling for Ted's soul was the highlight, along with Barney's constant costume changes (you can read more about them on his blog), and the trick photo of the parrot on the pirate's shoulder. Given that last scene, though, I think the creators are making a big mistake being so definitive that Robin isn't Ted's future wife. Ted is a lot more interesting and likable when he's with her than he's been with any other woman, but barring some real Houdini writing, they're destined to stay apart.

"The West Wing": I once asked my mom what she thought of some depressing Oscar-bait movie (I think it was "The Hours") and, after a long pause to figure out something nice to say about it, replied, "There was a lot of acting. Basically, it was all about acting." This week's "West Wing" was all about acting, but in a good way. I don't for a second believe that Toby would have let the leak investigation go as far as it did before he martyred himself, but the scenes between him and CJ, him and Babish and him and the president were terrific. Too bad the flash-forward from the season premiere eliminates any suspense over Toby possibly doing serious jail time.

"Grey's Anatomy": Apparently, the DGA has some sort of clause that requires every hospital drama to hire Mark Tinker to direct at least one episode. First he was one of the executive producers on "St. Elsewhere," then directed episodes of "ER," "Chicago Hope" and now "Grey's." This was another episode with stories we've seen a million times before on other doctor shows, but they felt specific to this one. "ER" played the trapped in an elevator bit for major suspense; here, it was more of black comedy. And next week's episode looks an awful lot like the "Subway" episode of "Homicide," but I expect just enough variety to keep it interesting. The highlight of the episode, by far: Sandra Oh's bored, embarrassed porn story. That, and all the references to the Hmong making me think of the "Wayne's World" sketch where Garth was freaked out by the word "mung."

Click here to read the full post

Friday, October 21, 2005

'Blackpool' and Bobby Jon

The "Viva Blackpool" review ran this morning. I also wrote the second item of today's All TV, riffing on NBC's dueling Tina Fey/Aaron Sorkin behind-the-scenes at "SNL" shows in development.

"Survivor" was a little better than it's been of late, mainly because we had one guy go crazy and another make a drunk ass out of himself. "Survivor" has had plenty of batshit contestants in the past, but I think Bobby Jon may be the batshittiest. While the grand return of Stephenie has been a bust -- not only does she seem like just another contestant, but an unlikable one at that -- last night was some of the vintage Bobby Jon caveman routine from Palau. As for Judd (Jersey represent!), whoo boy is he a moron -- and a poor sportsmanship, too. Multiple beer + fatigue + malnourishment + overabundance of maletosterone - any real brain power = memorable Tribal Council flareup. And it looks like Amy is kicking "Goad Gary" into overdrive next week, which should be entertaining. Hogeboom seems like a nice guy, but Jon Lovitz was a more convincing liar.

Finally got around to this week's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and I sure hope the pissing and moaning about this season lets up now, because that was brilliant from start to finish. The chicken/kamikaze scene, the suicide poker game (loved Phil Rosenthal obsessing over the food in the background), the hateful Bingo lady, Larry's dad watching porn at rock concert volume -- I was gasping for breath a few times from laughing too hard.

Today's mission: get caught up on "Everybody Hates Chris," "Bodies" and whatever else I have lying around on the TiVo. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Buddy ball

My big viewing extravaganza for the evening was going through the special features disc on my new DVD copy of "Hoosiers" (only my favorite movie and the inspiration for my hopeless addiction to underdog sports stories). Thanks to the deleted scenes, I now know how Buddy winds up rejoining the team and what Barbara Hershey was doing in the movie in the first place. Good times.

I saved the new "South Park" to watch tonight, but I got to Wednesday's other two big shows, with mixed but mostly positive reaction to both:

"Lost": Another flashback with no real new info, but Jin and Sun are two of the show's best (and most underused) characters, so I was happy to see them get some time in the spotlight. In the present tense, I like Mr. Echo a lot, especially now that I'm no longer expecting him to throw Sawyer over a table and do to him what Adebisi did to Peter Schibetta. On the other hand, Ana-Lucia seems to exist solely to complain whenever any of our heroes (and, by extension, the audience) try to get answers about what's going on, and if I didn't think she could stomp me good, I'd want to punch her. Good to see Jack has temporarily removed the stick from his ass, and that Jin is slowly getting to use English outside of dream sequences. From a What Did We Learn standpoint, not much here; from a Did I Enjoy It point of view, lots to chew on.

"Veronica Mars": Shortly after season one's "The Girl Next Door," Rob Thomas told me that he wasn't crazy about Veronica getting involved in adults-only cases, that it felt too "Rockford Files" for him. (No disrespect intended for ol' Jim Rockford, TV's greatest private eye, but this is a very different kind of show.) The A-story about the paranoid fiancee-to-be was a slight improvement -- Veronica's airhead bimbo routine is always worth some laughs -- but still felt like it didn't belong here. Lots of ongoing subplot business in the background, though I think I need to rewatch the Veronica/Weevil scene at least three more times before I can figure out what the hell they were talking about. Good to see the return of Mac and the Mars Investigations office, but outside the Veronica/Logan argument (because when aren't those great?), a B- episode. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

It's my birthday too, yeah

Today is my birthday, which may have contributed to yesterday's long dark tea-time of the soul. As John Astin liked to say on "Night Court," I'm feeling much better now.

There's so damn much on every Tuesday night that it's difficult to get through it all for a timely Wednesday morning blog entry (especially in a week where I'm still catching up on Sunday and Monday shows). Would it kill the networks to put some decent stuff on, say, Friday? Please?

Anyway, on to what I've already seen (comments on "Commander-in-Chief," "Amazing Race" and others to follow):

"How I Met Your Mother": I was on the verge of writing a column about how this show has fallen prey to Herskozwickitis, a disease (named after the "thirtysomething"/"Once & Again" guys) where a TV show's supporting characters are infinitely more entertaining than the leads. I enjoyed everything about last week's episode except the Ted stuff, and had concluded that maybe a "Valerie's Family" situation was in order -- maybe change the title to "How We Dumped Your Father"?

This week's, thankfully, was strong in all parts, easily the funniest they've done since the pilot. Jason Segel got to dance (took 'em long enough), the subtitles in the club was a joke I hadn't seen before, and I could relate to both Ted's hatred of clubs and Marshall's fear of becoming a boring married guy. Good stuff, and if they can do episodes like this every week, I won't care if we don't meet the mom until season three.

"Gilmore Girls": Wow, was that a waste of time. When the writing is clicking, it doesn't matter if nothing happens in an episode (which is most of the time), but this was an episode with no plot and no memorable banter. When even Richard and Emily aren't funny, there be problems.

"My Name Is Earl": This is the first episode so far that didn't make me wish it was funnier. (It helped that Victor Fresco, creator of the brilliant "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," wrote the script.) The ESL classroom scenes were great (the first time I've liked that particular joke since they did it in "Stripes"), the flashbacks to Bad Earl were good, and Giovanni Ribisi (who'll always be the kid from "My Two Dads" to me) provided some additional Bad Earl-type mischief.

"The Office": First real dud of the season. Greg Daniels (the executive producer, who wrote this one) has been making a concerted effort to make Michael less of a bad guy this year -- not mean, just socially clueless -- and this went so far in that direction that I spent most of the half-hour feeling sorry for him. The Dwight/Jim scenes almost saved it -- almost.

"The Daily Show": One of two shows I watch every weekday ("PTI" is the other), and I won't be commenting on it all the time, but last night's Bill O'Reilly interview was just so damn bizarre it warrants mentioning. The interviews have always been the weakest part of the show, since Jon clearly feels uncomfortable savaging people to their face. This is the closest I've seen him come to outright dissing a guest, and he only started doing that after O'Reilly baited the audience and got repeatedly booed for it. But the mockery was still pretty gentle, and not helped by O'Reilly's belief that he should be funny, too. (At least, I hope O'Reilly thought he was being funny, because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.) Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Revived by 'Viva'

Every writer, whether they're writing novels, news, scripts, reviews or technical manuals, faces battles with that damn blank screen (or page, depending on your style). There are periods in my job when there just isn't enough space, even with a daily column, to write all the things I want to. Then there are days, like today, where that blinking cursor just taunts me.

I got back from three rainy days in Montreal and was struggling with material for either the column or this blog. (While I was gone, by the way, I missed the chance to link to a couple of All TV columns, including a mailbag dealing with the bizarro re-editing of "Boston Legal" episodes and today's column (written by Matt) about the "Nightline" anchor change .) And as I sat at my desk, I had nothing. This is one of those slow periods, in between the burst of fall premieres and the arrival of November sweeps. Few new shows to review, too early to revisit stuff I wrote about a few weeks ago, only so many times I can write about how bad the ratings for "Apprentice: Martha" have been. And while I was in the Great White North, the only shows I saw were a French-dubbed episode of "That '70s Show" and Sunday night's "Grey's Anatomy" (a good one, and my suspicions about Ellis Grey and the chief were proven right).

So nothing to write about for the column (a non-issue, since my editors opted to use the space for other stories on a busy day), and not even much to blog about. I was on the verge of writing a long, boring essay on how much I've been enjoying FX's "Spin City" reruns (it was just a pretty good sitcom at the time, but compared to most of what passes for funny now, it's a frigging masterpiece) when I decided to head home, ride the recumbent bike and hope like Hell I found something interesting enough to watch and write about.

Enter "Viva Blackpool." It's a mystery, a love story, and a musical. And it's fucking brilliant. And it's the kind of show that smashes through writer's block in about five seconds.

The short version, since I'll be reviewing it before next Monday's premiere on BBC America: Ripley Holden is a wannabe Trump (with Elvis sideburns and David Carradine's wardrobe) who builds a casino in a dumpy seaside resort town. His wife Natalie (Sarah Parish, who may be my favorite British TV actress since Diana Rigg) is so neglected and unhappy that she works at a suicide hotline to cheer herself up. Then a dead body turns up on the casino floor and a Scottish cop (played by David Tennant, aka the new Doctor Who) rolls into town to investigate Ripley and romance Natalie. I've seen a lot of Dennis Potter homages since "The Singing Detective" ("Six Feet Under" and most of David E. Kelley's work wouldn't exist without Potter), and this may be the best.

Whenever I have one of those stupid existential crises about the value of TV criticism, along comes something like "Viva Blackpool" to remind me why I do what I do, blank screen or no. Click here to read the full post

Friday, October 14, 2005

What's 'What's Alan Watching?' take two

I'll be away from the computer until Monday night or Tuesday, but wanted to get some old business (if a blog I started a week ago can have anything that qualifies as "old") out of the way.

The name. Most of the other TV critics who've seen it got the reference right away, as they should, since the original 'What's Alan Watching?' was a busted pilot that aired on CBS in 1989, back in the days when networks still aired failed pilots to get their money's worth. This one was produced by Eddie Murphy (before he chose a lucrative but soul-deadening career as a children's entertainer) and starred Corin Nemec (before he out-Ferris-Buellered the kid from "18 Again" on "Parker Lewis Can't Lose") as a boy named Alan whose every waking minute was spent either watching TV or daydreaming about TV. (The most memorable bit: Eddie in a cameo yelling "Free James Brown!")

As a boy named Alan myself whose every waking minute was spent either watching TV or daydreaming about TV, this show spoke to me; even though it only aired once (allegedly because it was too expensive to go to series), I always intended to use the title somewhere. This, apparently, is that somewhere.

("What's Alan Watching?" trivia: It won an award from the Television Critics Association for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials. Eddie did not show up to accept.)
Click here to read the full post

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Hurley, Hamlin, Hogeboom and hating

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, but I've caught up on most of my Wednesday and Thursday shows.

"Lost": Hey, an episode that gave every castmember (except Malcolm David Kelley) something to do! Is that allowed? They've only done a few of these ensemble pieces, but I liked it; it's refreshing to take an occasional break from the various Big Mysteries to just spend time with the people of the island. (And we did get a fair amount of development in the story of the other Flight 815 survivors, including the touching and surprising introduction of Rose's husband.)

Also, I can never complain about an episode where the main character is Hurley. On the other hand, I don't think any of this season's flashback stories have been especially illuminating. We already knew that Jack had married a woman whose paralysis he'd miraculously cured, that Michael was upset about losing Walt, that Locke was bitter about losing his kidney, and that the lottery money was the worst thing to ever happen to Hurley. Admittedly, this was a slightly different angle on that than the cursed numbers, but I'm starting to wonder if we just need to stop seeing flashbacks of anyone but Sayid, Sawyer and Kate, all of whom still have some secrets in their past.

(By the way, I downloaded an earlier "Lost" episode from iTunes to get a sense of the quality, and about the most I could enlarge it was to 3" x 3", which isn't good enough for a widescreen show like this.)

"Veronica Mars": Well, that didn't take long. Veronica appears to have solved the big mystery by the end of episode three: Logan's dad hired his old stunt driver to crash the bus he thought Veronica was on. Except that nothing on "Veronica Mars" is ever that simple, and I'm sure that by the time the season is over, we'll discover that Aaron had absolutely nothing to do with the crash.

I've heard complaints about the season so far, and I suppose it's human nature to decide instantly that the new stuff isn't as good as the old stuff ("I loved Dave Pirner until he sold out and started dating Winona Ryder, man!"), but I'm not seeing it. Was the season premiere a little heavy on exposition? Yeah, but so was the pilot. I'm really enjoying all the new storylines and characters -- Dick Casablancas Sr.'s "Shred everything!" exodus was like something out of "Arrested Development," only he got away with it -- and the writers haven't lost their touch with the older ones like Sheriff Lamb, whose staredown with Veronica was hysterical. With a lot of my cable favorites on hiatus, I'd say this is the best show airing on television right now.

"Survivor": This is around the point where I've dropped previous seasons like Thailand and Vanuatu, but this episode may keep me around a while. For the first time all season, it didn't feel like "The Stephenie Show" (and the more I see of her, the less I'm liking her; it's like Rupert on All-Stars, where knowledge of her celebrity has ruined what made her so appealing in the first place), as we got decent glimpses of Brian, Amy, Blake, Danni and others. The environment still seems too brutal for decent scheming and plotting, but I'll give it a few more weeks, if only to see whether Danni creates a spin-off of "Bait Blake" called "Goad Gary." ("So, Gary, didn't you play quarterback for the Cowboys?" "No, but I worked for the Cowboys, in a helmet-wearing capacity." "Oh, okay.")

(And speaking of Danni, I haven't been this concerned about the well-being of a TV character since Christopher tried to strangle Adriana. Lots of people make the mistake of going on the show without fat they can afford to lose, but she may be the first contestant who went into the game with a negative body fat percentage. When we got a sideways look at her in the pool, Marian gasped and said, "She needs to be in a hospital right now!" I mean, at this point, she makes Calista Flockhart look like a Picasso model. Check out how far her hip bone is jutting out here.)

"Everybody Hates Chris": Last week's two-laugh episode had me worried, but this one was at least as good as the pilot, if not funnier. The sausage, the detention lady, the montage of Rochelle quitting her jobs for no reason -- everything was clicking. And after two weeks of ratings dips, the numbers actually went up last night. Die, "Joey," die! Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Catching up

First of all, today's All TV column about "Freddie." Didn't turn out as vicious as I had wanted, but I think I used up too much bile on "Hot Properties" last week.

I called Fox about the non-mention of "Arrested" and "Kitchen Confidential" at the start of Monday's playoff game, and was reassured that it was a "Prison Break"-specific promo, that "Arrested" would be returning with back-to-back episodes on Nov. 7, and that "Kitchen" would be on the week after that. And, to head out any other nervous media queries, Fox put out a press release about their return this morning.

I'm still running behind in my TV-watching (two hours got taken up last night by my wife's desire to watch "Hitch," the highlight of which was me winning a bet over whether there would be running in the climax), but here's what I've gotten to:

"Grey's Anatomy": Yup, Cristina miscarried, just as I figured she would from the minute she got pregnant. You can count the number of TV characters who've had abortions on one hand (Maude, Joanna Cassidy on "Buffalo Bill" and Claire Fisher are the ones that come immediately to mind), not because Hollywood writers are anti-abortion, but anti-controversy, and this is the hottest button we have. So when they make a character pregnant and then decide they don't want to deal with a baby, the writers induce a miscarriage to avoid the inevitable advertiser boycotts.

Predictability aside, this was a very strong episode, with two major personal/medical developments unfolding simultaneously (Cristina's miscarriage and the staff's discovery that Meredith's mom has Alzheimer's). My only worry is that this show, like other soaps of recent vintage ("The O.C.," "Desperate Housewives") is burning through so much plot in such a short period of time that there won't be enough material for the long haul. This is one of those leftover first season episodes, and already Meredith's secret is out and Izzy and Alex are on the verge of sleeping together. I respect shows that don't drag their feet on this stuff, but they all pay for it down the road.

One last "Grey's" thought: did Meredith's mom have an affair with the chief of surgery when they were younger? I couldn't tell if his concern was just friendship or something deeper.

"How I Met Your Mother": That left turn at the end of the pilot, where we find out that we won't be meeting the mother for a very long time, has left this as a kind of formless show. It's the best "Friends" knock-off ever made, but it's still a "Friends" knock-off. Willow and Doogie will always make me laugh, and I liked the subplot about Robin's discovery that no one watches her channel, but the main plot dragged. Plus, someone needs to sit the writers down for a "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" marathon so they'll give Jason Segel more to do.

"The Amazing Race": Not enjoying this family tour of America, at all. This episode featured some of the least interesting challenges the show has ever done, and though we finally stopped at an airport, it was only for a 500 mile flight. When "House" comes back after baseball, this could fall off the viewing list until the next edition.

"The Office": Not as good as last week's office Olympiad, or, especially, the episode with the Dundies, but still some good stuff with Jim trying to keep everyone entertained during the fire alarm. For the record, my desert island books would be "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," "Empire Falls," "Lonesome Dove," "The Princess Bride" and "The Right Stuff" (or one of my other books on the space program, like "A Man on the Moon"). Also, the more hints we get about Michael's personal life, the more I'm convinced that Andy Stitzer wasn't the first virgin Steve Carell has ever played.

"My Name Is Earl": I know Earl's redemption is the whole premise of the show, but I enjoy the flashbacks to Bad Earl much more than the present tense scenes. Jason Lee is one of my favorite actors, and part of that is his ability to be likable while playing absolute pricks like Brodie and Banky and Jeff Bebe. The nicer he plays, the less interesting he is. Click here to read the full post

Whose call? Run's call.

I'm a slow starter. I don't drink coffee or anything else with caffeine, so it usually takes an hour or so for my brain to get up to speed after I wake up, and it takes me about a half-hour after I sit down at my desk to get into a rhythm. Today, I was running late, and as I sat down, the phone rang, and someone mumbled, "Hi, is this Alan? I have Revlon for you. Hold on."

Then a familiar voice came on the phone, but I was so confused that I just said, "Hello?" Then it clicked: he hadn't said "Revlon," but "Reverend Run," aka one third of Run-DMC (my all-time favorite rap group) and star of a new MTV reality show called "Run's House." I had been trying to set up a phoner with him for a few days, but had forgotten about it by the time I got in today. So there was some stammering and homina-homina-ing, but eventually I settled down and we did the interview. I even got to quote "It's Tricky" lyrics to him and not sound like a total dork. (Emphasis on "total.")

Nice guy, but I'm not sure he realizes what he's in for -- or, at least, what his family is in for. If you're already famous, nothing good ever comes of doing one of these shows. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oh, yeah, TV...

Today's All TV column is up and running, with the aforementioned Lorelai/Rory commentary, plus some brief thoughts on "NCIS" (one of my guilty pleasures) and the weird producer shuffle at "Commander-in-Chief."

Still haven't gotten around to the Sunday ABC shows (or CBS' Monday comedies, for that matter), but a co-worker spoiled me on one element of "Grey's Anatomy." I won't say what it is until I see it, but it sounds like they did the exact thing I feared they would with the Sandra Oh storyline. Click here to read the full post

No Joy in Mudville

This isn't a sports blog, especially since the guys at Bronx Banter do it so much better, but since I spent most of last night watching Yanks-Angels (with occasional breaks for the "Firefly" DVD so I could skip through the commercials and Tim McCarver), I felt like I had to say a few words about the Bombers.

I hate that we have a crotchety, irrational owner who considers anything less than a championship season to be a colossal failure. I hate that his expectations suck the joy out of watching this team, so that I only feel relief when they win and dread at how Steinbrenner will overreact when we lose. I hate that I couldn't really enjoy the Yankees improbably push for the division crown because all I could think about is how this would affect the stupid organizational civil war between New York and Tampa. I hate that a team that used to be both rich and smart is now just rich, and throws bad money at bad solutions like Tony Womack and Jaret Wright. I hate that the morning after the season ends, I have to see articles like this, this, this and this.

I know, I know, cry me a river. My team's been in the playoffs every year for a decade, they've won four championships, and I even got to see them win the first one in person. I've certainly got it a lot better than, say, a Pirates fan. But mornings like this ain't fun.

Ah, well. On the bright side, I don't have to get an extra VCR just to keep up with the playoffs and all the good Tuesday shows.

Congrats to the Angels, who were the better, more consistent team throughout this series. Wait 'til next year... Click here to read the full post

Monday, October 10, 2005

That didn't sound good

At the start of tonight's Yankees-Angels game 5, the Fox announcer declared:
"'Prison Break' will not be seen tonight but will return in two weeks with an all-new episode."
No mention whatsoever of "Arrested Development" or "Kitchen Confidential," which were also postponed by the game. Something to make calls about tomorrow... Click here to read the full post

This Things I Believe, Part 1

As promised yesterday, it's Crash Davis time (or, possibly, Johnny Calhoun time), so here are just a few things about TV I believe:

  • I believe there is no occasion in one's day that can't be greeted with a thematically-appropriate "Simpsons" quote -- and if a quote doesn't immediately come to mind, there's probably a "Seinfeld" quote you can insert in its place.
  • I believe "The Wire" is as good as TV crime drama can get (and, yes, I'm the guy who devoted 11 years of his life to kneeling at the altar of "NYPD Blue").
  • I believe that "The Sopranos" is a classic, but it's no "EZ Streets."
  • I believe that "The Daily Show" puts Weekend Update to such shame that "SNL" should just dump the segment.
  • I believe that "Arrested Development" is so silly that the Monty Python guys must secretly be writing it.
  • I believe the only thing that could salvage this season of "Survivor" is if Gary Hogeboom pulls a Kareem-Abdul Jabar in "Airplane" and starts secretly threatening Danni.
  • I believe that the writers of TV romantic comedies don't really understand the "Moonlighting"/Sam-and-Diane problem and spend far too much time dragging their feet before letting characters hook up.
  • I believe laughtracks aren't inherently evil, but if I hear audience laughter for more than two jokes I don't think are funny, I'm gone.
  • I believe that if I wasn't a TV critic and it wasn't one of the most popular shows on TV (and if my wife didn't like it), I would never bother with "Desperate Housewives" again.
I also believe that I believe lots of other things about TV, but this is a starting point. More in the days and weeks to come. Click here to read the full post

Sunday night TV

I promised the list of Things I Believe for the second entry, but I'm still feeling my way here, and I wanted to get in my reactions to what little non-baseball Sunday TV I got to see. I taped "Desperate Housewives" (which I'm looking forward to less and less) and "Grey's Anatomy" (which I'm looking forward to more and more) to watch with my wife, but forgot to record "West Wing," which I think says as much about the current quality of the show as it does about the new timeslot.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm": After I watched a screener of last night's "Curb" a few weeks ago, I handed my copy to Matt and said, "You'll like it. It's blasphemous." "How blasphemous?" he asked, and as I thought about it, I realized that Larry stealing his father-in-law's "Passion of the Christ" nail to hang a mezzuzah probably wouldn't be in the top five most offensive things the show's ever done.

Frankly, this felt like the kind of episode someone would write if they were trying to imitate Larry, not the real thing. Virtually none of it clicked, though I did laugh at Jeff's reaction to the nail in the foot.

"Extras": This was the first episode when the show aired in England, and the first one I saw, but you can understand why HBO decided to run it out of sequence. I had never heard of Ross Kemp before, and half the jokes depend on familiarity with the guy's career. There's another episode coming up in two weeks built around someone named Les Dennis, who I gather is a washed-up Brit game show host, and it's equally baffling. That's the price you pay when you devote so much time to actors spoofing themselves. If you know who Kate Winslet or Ben Stiller are, it's funny; if you don't, it's a waste of time. I'm trying to imagine the BBC reaction if Gervais and Merchant built an episode around, say, Andrew Shue.

(Also, more than the previous two episodes, this one illustrates why I think "Extras" isn't as good as "The Office": Andy is, deep down, a nice guy in a way that David Brent really wasn't, so I end up feeling sorry for him when I'm clearly meant to laugh at him.)

"Breaking Bonaduce": Yes, I'm still watching, even though I panned it in this review a few weeks ago. It's appalling on a level that even "Fear Factor" and "Big Brother" don't achieve, yet there's an honesty to it that you don't usually find in a genre that has "reality" in the name. This is the episode where Danny attempted suicide (off-camera), and featured more on-screen time for the producers and cameramen than I think I've ever seen on a reality show, outside the first season of "Real World" when no one knew what they were doing. I feel mad at myself for watching this show, yet I have a Season Pass. For now.

Gotta finish up a column about "Gilmore Girls," which I'll link to here tomorrow (the short version: splitting up Lorelai and Rory has really emphasized what an albatross Rory has become to the show), and then I'll get back to the mission statement post. Now if only I can find my copy of Mike Farrell's "My Core Beliefs"... Click here to read the full post

Friday, October 07, 2005

What's 'What's Alan Watching?'

Like the description says, I get paid to watch TV, which is quite possibly the sweetest gig known to Western civilization. As a sports fan, I would've thought that being a sportswriter might equal it, but my experience is that the job ruins your love of the game. I've been watching TV professionally for almost a decade, and what's my favorite leisure activity? Watching more TV. (Sad but true.)

I have a daily column in The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's biggest newspaper and the one I grew up reading. In the column I split with my friend and fellow critic Matt Zoller Seitz, I have an outlet of about 800-1000 words a day to write whatever I want about TV: reviews, news, rants, jokes, whatever.

So why do I need a blog to write more about TV? Because sometimes, 800-1000 words a day just ain't enough. Because before I was a professional TV critic, I was writing web reviews of "NYPD Blue," and I miss the immediacy of that. Because my editors frown on me writing about the same shows over and over again, and if I want to weigh in on every single episode of "Arrested Development" (two words: Bob Loblaw), then I'm going to find a way to do it.

I'm still figuring out exactly what I'm going to do with this space, but here are things you'll definitely find:

  • Direct links to every column I write for the Ledger, since I know our website's difficult to navigate. (And on the days when my column doesn't get posted, I may temporarily put it up here.)
  • Links to other critics' columns that I enjoy.
  • Next-day impressions of whatever I watched on TV the night before.
  • Short takes on any review screeners I've watched for work, some of which I'm sure will read like rough drafts of the eventual reviews.
  • Occasional comments on the books I'm reading or movies I've seen (TV's my vocation, but I'm an all-around pop culture fiend).
  • Personal life anecdotes if they're relevant (i.e., I won't discuss my daughter's eating habits, but I might talk about her reaction to "Sesame Street").
I had planned on including a Crash Davis-style manifesto on Things I Believe for this first post, but I've already put off getting this puppy on-line for three days now, and since I'm skipping ABC's Sunday night shows to watch baseball, I can do that on Monday. (Along with comments on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Extras," which I got to see a few weeks back.)

Oh, and if anyone's actually reading this and can identify the origin of the blog's name without a Google search (you're on the honors system), I'll mail you one of the many network promotional tchotchkes cluttering my desk (Donald Trump bobblehead doll, perhaps?).

(NOTE: Not that anyone has responded yet, but a cursory glance at the Superfund site that is my desk makes me believe I tossed the Trump bobblehead a while back. Can I interest anyone in a "Lucky" deck of playing cards? An "American Dad" plastic cup?) Click here to read the full post