Sunday, April 30, 2006

Burning, flaming love

"The Sopranos," episode eight. From today's review:
Okay, let's all get it out of our systems now, so we can move on:

"What is this, Brokeback Gangsters?"

You probably said or thought some variation on that joke as you saw Vito and Jim the cook/biker/fireman having their idyllic roll in the tall grass. (Either that, or, like me, you saw it as a gay package tour ad.)

The Vito storyline has been a rewarding digression, but the latest chapter started to push the outer edge of the "Sopranos" envelope -- not because of the smooching, but because of the scenes leading up to it.

Dartford already seemed too good to be true -- if Costa Mesa was Purgatory, this is Gay Heaven -- and now it seems even better than that. First there was Jim's fetishized entrance on motorcycle at the house fire and the glamour shot of him with the rescued child. Then there was dialogue so corny you could butter it: "I'm glad you decided to write your book in our little town" and "Sometimes, you tell a lie so long, you don't know when to stop. You don't know when it's safe."

Now, nothing on this show is random. Right before Vito went out for the leather bar adventure that led to his exile, we saw his wife watching Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodrama "Imitation of Life." The movie's story about a black girl passing for white -- plus the Technicolor images and purple dialogue -- made it a gay cinema staple.

Either last night's Dartford scenes were a deliberate homage to Sirk or writers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider went overboard trying to illustrate how different Vito's new world is from the one he abandoned. There were times where it didn't just feel like a different world, but a different show.

But those occasional missteps didn't take much away from another fascinating episode, one that continued to push this season's themes of identity and change.
To read the rest, including talk of AJ's panic attacks, Tony's craving for smoked turkey and the Don Fanucci homage, click here, then come back to comment. Click here to read the full post

Drinking queen

Must... resist... urge to declare "The O.C." as fixed.

Yes, the hospital arc continues to be a dead zone. Yes, Marissa continues to sink to new levels of stupidity. (It's one thing if she's with Volchok because she feels she doesn't deserve anyone better, but actually believing that she could make an Eliza Doolitte out of "Kevin"?) Yes, Samaire Armstrong read every line of dialogue as if her jaw had been whacked out of alignment. (Seriously, what happened? Anna used to be one of my favorite characters, and now I cringe every time she opens her mouth.) And yes, when you gussy them up, Ben McKenzie and Navi Rawat look like they should be the faculty chaperones.

So many things wrong, and yet the lead-up to the prom (hell, even some of the Marissa/Volchok scenes) and the prom itself were so funny they felt like they could have been part of season one. Big Korea, drunken Summer, the awkwardness between Ryan and Theresa, Taylor getting heckled, etc., etc., etc.... lots of gold. (About the only missed opportunity was the Lisa Tucker cameo; while I'm sure Fox forced it on them, they could have had a lot more fun with that than just Taylor asking about Simon's t-shirts.) Plus, Seth finally, finally, finally told Summer the truth about Brown, and while the last few weeks of lying annoyed the hell out of me, the payoff was good. (Now, if in the next episode Summer doesn't remember because she was blitzed, I'm gonna be pissed.)

Plus, much as I'm tired of Ryan's life always veering into Broodsville, he's just not as interesting when he's not losing his shit and pummeling somebody every couple of weeks. One of the better recurring stories/themes this season has been the idea that Ryan's not just trouble-prone, but a rageaholic. He wasn't throwing down on Volchok to defend Marissa's honor; he was doing it because he couldn't stop himself.

Last week, I said I wished the show would just be crappy all the time so I could dump it without remorse. But this episode edged so close to vintage "O.C." at times that I feel like, if the writers could just throw Marissa and Volchok off a cliff and forget about Sandy's career, there might really be a show here next season. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A death in the family

I haven't written about it on my own blog because, frankly, I could use a spot for some lightness right now (hopefully, some "O.C." discussion later this weekend, and definitely more "Veronica" talk after people see the episode tomorrow night), but I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention it at all:

Jennifer Dawson, the wife of my writing partner and close friend Matt Seitz, died suddenly Thursday night. If you know Matt at all, even just by reading his columns or his blog, go over here to read more. I feel like I've told the story enough for the last 36 hours and, frankly, it's not about me. I just wanted to make sure anyone who would care knew.

And, like I said, I could use some distractions in my life right now, so if you just want to talk about TV, don't hesitate to comment in any of the threads going right now.

Update: Matt has posted details about the memorial for Jennifer, which will be held on Thursday afternoon. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Urine town

This post will only be about "The Office." I may not get a chance to watch "The O.C." and "Earl" until the weekend. Since "Office" isn't really a show you can spoil, I'm going to leave this all on the main page (again, now that I can spoiler-protect posts, let me know if you'd like me to do it with everything, just with some shows, or never).

Last week, I mentioned seeing an advance copy of an an episode that made me feel like "The Office" had finally made The Leap from very good to great. That's next week's show, but last night's was so damn funny that I may have to reassess exactly when The Leap was made. It's been in reruns for so long. Maybe the Christmas episode? Or Booze Cruise? Valentine's Day?

I have a constantly-expanding list of Things That Are Always Funny (Al Pacino with a Cuban accent, Homer Simpson's whiny voice, the books of Carl Hiaasen), and to that I think we can add Rainn Wilson in a goofy hat. Dwight in the sheriff's uniform with the shiny boots was bad enough, but when he put on that Smokey hat, I just about died. And him carrying a coffee cup of his own urine around the office? Jim was right: this was the absolute worst day ever to be silenced by Jinx.

And speaking of which, this may have been my favorite Pam/Jim subplot to date. The pleasure she took in putting him in situations where he couldn't talk was great (though my recollection of the Jinx rules is that she also could have freed him by saying his name, or punching him in the arm once if he spoke on his own ), and his impression of Stanley was dead-on. (I'm assuming Krasinski does impressions of everybody off-camera, and they wrote it in.)

With "Arrested Development" gone, this is now the densest comedy on TV, and I feel like I need to go back and watch it again two or three times to make sure I catch everything. There was another squirm-inducing Angela/Dwight scene (two, actually, if you count the veiled birth control discussion in front of the other accountants), Creed identifying the marijuana by brand (of course, he would know; he's Creed Bratton), Ryan trying to get a job at the urine-testing lab so he can get the hell out of Dunder-Mifflin, and any scene with Kevin. (I've met Brian Baumgartner, and he's a really bright guy; his ability to do that dead-eyed stare is impressive.)

And in the midst of all the goofiness, there was room for some genuine heart that didn't in any way undercut the jokes: notably Dwight's look of disillusionment as he walked to the sheriff's station, and the final look shared between Jim and Pam. Can't say too much about the latter, since I've seen next week's show, but I can't wait to see what the hell Daniels and company try to pull off in the finale two weeks from now.

What did everybody else think?

Click here to read the full post

Survivor: When someone other than Captain America did something

Okay, looks like I got the spoiler protection right on the "VM" post, so let's give it another shot with tonight's "Survivor." Again, if you don't like this arrangement, let me know in the comments.

In today's column, I alluded to Cirie pulling a strategic move that's the best of its
kind I've seen since Amazon Rob. At the time, I was working off a preview tape that cut off just as the votes were being cast, so I wasn't sure if she had pulled it off. Knowing that she had, I have to direct some major applause in the direction of our resident sufferer of Phyllophobia. Because, damn.

She still may not win, but there was no way she was going to win if she hadn't engineered Courtney's boot. Terry, who right now looks like the most obvious candidate to win the
final 3 challenge, wanted to bring Courtney before the jury. So did Shane, who until now had been calling all the shots about who stayed and who goes. By eliminating Courtney, Cirie has made the F2 choice much more of a toss-up, she's gained the eternal gratitude (and potential votes) of Danielle and Aras by saving each of them from a potential boot at the hands of either Shane or Terry, and now she may be in the power position in her alliance. Unless there's a purely mental immunity challenge between now and the end, Cirie's not going to be able to count on having that necklace, so now her only path to victory is by eliminating anyone who the final three winner might want to face more than her.

The downside, of course, is that after more than a month (in game-time) of getting along by going along, she has now revealed herself to be a puppet-master of the first order. (To the players, not to us; anyone who watched her talk Melinda and Ruth Marie into keeping her and getting rid of Tina knows the woman has some serious mental game.) The fact that Danielle and Aras owe her so big makes her a less appealing final two competitor, and on the flip side, she's definitely cost herself Courtney's vote. So if she's up against, say, Terry, she's probably already lost (Austin, Sally and Bruce seem firmly in Terry's pocket, though I could be wrong). No one has even though of voting against Cirie since the night Melinda went home, but when you pull the wool over two of the power players, you no longer get to fly under the radar.

Still, Bravo. At this point, she needs to pray that Terry loses the next challenge so they can force him to cough up the idol, then stick close to Aras and pray he can beat Terry in the final challenge.

Good to see the return of Bruce, though he still looked a little green around the gills on that jury bench. (Or maybe he just suffers in comparison to Austin, who now looks like a catalog model after a week of bed rest and grooming.) Oh, and Shane? Greg Buis called; he wants his coconut phone gimmick back.

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

Veronica Mars: "Look Who's Stalking"

This post will be about "Veronica Mars" and nothing but "Veronica Mars." If I've done this right, then all my actual discussion of the episode will be on a separate page, which I'm trying out due to the weird air schedule this week. Given that everyone watches TV on a different schedule, let me know in the comments whether you'd like me to do this with all the posts about current TV. Anyway, once more unto the breach, with spoiler protection:

So, I don't know that I owe Rob an apology, but I definitely feel better about The Gutte's role in the grand scheme of things after watching this episode. By making Woody's potential guilt such an in-your-face part of the hour, Rob and company have done one of two things: either Woody is yet another red herring or he is the bad guy and they're not going for some cheap, contrived "Gotcha!" in episode 22. If Woody really did it, I'm okay with that, because at least it won't feel like the writers are deluding themselves about pulling one over on the audience.

I'm leaning towards red herring myself, though. My current theory: Woody has a history of molesting boys, including Beaver and Lucky, and Lucky was stalking the Goodman kids as revenge for that, not for the bus crash. But I could be way, waaaaayyy off. We'll see. And even if I'm right, I have no idea how or if that would tie into the crash. Will we wind up looping back to Aaron as the big bad for two seasons in a row? I have a sinking feeling that he's going to somehow go free altogether, even on the attempted murder of Veronica and Keith, and we could have one of those "The Wire" situations where season three is devoted to finally putting away the villain of season one. Hmmm....

I haven't looked at any message boards yet, but I'm guessing the bulk of the fans are a lot more interested in the events of Alterna-Prom than they are in any clues about the crash. Again, I'm not a 'shipper, but when Bell and Dohring play a scene together like that almost-kiss, even I was on the verge of screaming, "Kiss him, you fool!" On the other hand, wasn't crazy about the scene at the door the next morning, not because I don't buy Logan wouldn't call Kendall over for a drunken quickie, but because that whole set-up (half-naked guy blocking the doorway as his love interest proclaims her devotion, followed by the awkward reveal) is such a movie and TV cliche that the only way the scene would have worked was if Veronica made a snarky comment about how embarrassing it is to go through such a scene.

(Also, my favorite Alterna-Prom moment may have been Veronica finally getting the bitchy upper hand with Madison. I hope that girl suffers far worse before the season ends.)

So, two episodes to go, a murder trial to be staged and a mass murder still to be solved. I know this season has meandered a lot, but now I'm very psyched about the conclusion, whatever it turns out to be.
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You read it here first

Blog as column idea incubator, take 26: today's column about Terry, Shane, Cirie and the rest of the wacky folks on "Survivor: Bizarro Island." Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


(Testing out my new attempt at spoiler protection, this morning's entry, in order, will include "Idol" results, "Gilmore Girls" and "Scrubs.")

Well, call me a minx and slide me over a plate of sal-mon and calamari, because I never would have guessed Kellie Pickler could go from bulletproof to gone so quickly on "American Idol." Yesterday, I boasted "I have no doubt it's going to be one of" Kat or Paris going home, and while Paris had another scare, Kat was in the top two, while the Pickle, who had never even been in the bottom three, got kicked off so fast she couldn't even sing a farewell.

(Probably for the best. I don't think anybody wanted to suffer through her "Unchained Melody" again, and the bit where she said she wouldn't be on TV much longer because a commercial was coming up was the most authentically charming thing she's said in a while. Or maybe I'm just going easier on her now that she's gone.)

So what went wrong with my "better to suck than to be mediocre" theory? It usually stops being effective around final four or final three, when the gap between the genuinely talented singers and the ones getting by on personality becomes so obvious that the audience at large overwhelms the crazy fanbases. There was a talent gap between Pickler and everybody else so wide Robbie Knievel would break both legs trying to jump it, not to mention she gave two absolutely horrific performances in a row. The pity vote will save you one week, but when you're hideous back to back...

...ahhh, what the hell do I know? If that was the case, John Stevens wouldn't have lasted remotely as long as he did. Let's stop trying to analyze Pickler's demise and just enjoy it. Next week's theme is a twofer: Songs from the Year You Were Born and Songs From This Week's Billboard Top 10 Lists. Open-ended themes generally lead to boring shows, but with the deepest final five we've ever had, maybe we'll finally, finally, finally get the damn goosebump performance I've been whining about for weeks.

(And speaking of which, either in the comments for this thread or yesterday's "Idol" thread, anyone who wants to suggest their all-time favorite "Idol" performances, have at it. I'm finally writing up the goosebumps theory for a column next week, and I want to be able to cite some classic performances beyond the obvious ones like Kelly's "Stuff Like That There," Clay's "Solitaire," Fantasia's "Summertime," Bo's "Whipping Post," etc.)

Moving on from the show we all dislike and yet are obsessed by, let's get back to some of the Tuesday shows I missed, starting with "Gilmore Girls." While the episode was written by new showrunner/crazy person David Rosenthal, I'm not sure how well it serves as a barometer for what next season will be like. When you have obsessive/prolific showrunners like Amy and Daniel, or Milch, or Sorkin or David Kelley, it doesn't really matter whose name is on the script, because by the time the showrunner has taken a few passes through it, theirs is the only voice you hear.

A good episode in some ways, not so good in others. The opening scene with Sookie and a hungover Lorelai was damn funny, particularly the recreation of Lorelai's drunk "Next Top Model" audition video. ("I didn't come here to make friends!") And for the first time ever, Luke gave a reason for not wanting April and Lorelai to spend time together that actually sounded plausible (his fear that April would prefer Lorelai to him), but way too late in this stupid storyline to please me. Sherilyn Fenn's reasoning was also good, but again, I just hate everything about this subplot -- except April herself, who wouldn't be a bad addition to the show if she wasn't being used as such a lame obstacle for the wedding -- that I don't even care when people make sense about it.

Or maybe I'm having a hard time getting the big honkin' spoiler in the middle of the Ausiello interview interview with the Palladinos. (Michael does good work, but simply putting in the words "Spoiler Alert" and immediately following them with a ginormous spoiler doesn't work; the eyes can't always just slam on the breaks like that.) If it's true, then I'm doubly pissed: both that Amy and Daniel would try such a stupid, soapy plot twist, and that they would blow up the show and then leave someone else to pick up the pieces. (When Sorkin left "West Wing," you at least knew he was trying to fuck over his replacements.)

Over in Rory-ville, the Paris phone call to the doctor wasn't believable, but I laughed, anyway, and I liked Rory's angry call to Mitchum and his silent entrance to the hospital. We all bag on Alexis Bledel, and rightfully so, but she's a decent dramatic actress; it's really the comedy where she falls down, especially when she's not working with Lauren Graham.

And speaking of the age-old interchange of comedy and tragedy, we have the darkest "Scrubs" since Brendan Fraser died, if not ever. Lord, McGinley is good at this stuff, but I'm afraid Cox's shame spiral is going to get so bad that it could turn into a comedy black hole for the next few episodes.

Or maybe not. In the same episode where Nicole Sullivan finally bit it and Cox was getting ready to throw himself off a cliff, we also had the first-ever Todd-centric B-story. Just last week, there was discussion here about whether The Todd was a virgin or gay, and now we know that he's... neither? I think? Really, I'm appalled by the whole thing -- which I think was the point. Though much as I love The Todd and his banana hammocks, the funniest thing in the whole episode was The Janitor's chiropracting career; Donald Faison sold Turk's fear and pain so well that I hurt laughing at it.

Allegedly, I'll be getting a copy of "Veronica Mars" this morning, and I'll spoiler-protect my review somehow for the benefit of people waiting for the Sunday airing because of basketball pre-emptions. To answer a question I've been getting a lot in e-mails: no, I don't think this is going to affect the show's future. In talking to people who will be involved at the CW, they're paying little to no attention to ratings for the UPN shows since the merger was announced, since the soon-to-be-former UPN affiliates are doing anything and everything they can to make the product damaged goods for the CW (i.e., basketball pre-emptions). If the CW winds up having just mind-boggling development, then maybe "Veronica" doesn't come back, but I still feel pretty confident about the start of a third season. (Now, whether it makes it all the way through a third season, or even to November sweeps...)
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Hey, did you hear that Eko?

In lieu of commentary on all those shows I haven't seen yet, I give you my long-delayed (mainly because there hasn't been an episode to prominently feature him since January) interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje:

Any conversation with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje begins with his names. Not just his triple-decker moniker in real life, which he will helpfully sing to you so you can learn to pronounce it (it's "Ah-day-wah-lay Ah-kin-noy-yay Ahg-bah-zhay"), but the name of Mr. Eko, the stick-swinging pacifist he plays on "Lost" (9 p.m., Ch. 7).

When the "Lost" producers approached the "Oz" alumnus about becoming the series' newest castaway, they didn't have much of a character in mind, and the name they wanted to use was Emeka. As Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who was born and raised in London but has occasionally lived in his mother's native Nigeria, explained to them, Emeka is a name common among a different Nigerian clan from the one his family belongs to. So he proposed Eleko, which translates roughly as "Lord of Lagos." After trimming it down to Eko, he suggested that people refer to him as "Mr. Eko."

"And they objected," he recalls. "They said, 'Nobody has a title on this island,' and I said, 'That's precisely the reason we should do this, to create that.' They wanted the character to be very mysterious, and I said, 'You have that tool to implant whatever you want into the mystery.'"

And with that one decision, Akinnuoye-Agbaje created one of the great character names in TV history (up there with Emma Peel and Napoleon Solo), and a fitting one for arguably the most intriguing man on the "Lost" island.

For the rest, click here. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nothing to see here

Just FYI, due to various circumstances beyond my control, the only Tuesday TV I've gotten to was "American Idol." No "Gilmore Girls," no "Veronica Mars," no "Scrubs," no "House." I hope to get to all but "Veronica" tonight, but please save your comments on any of them until after I weigh in. Click here to read the full post

Could you ever really love these women?

My daughter's been having some sleep issues the last couple of nights, and I spent a good 45 minutes to an hour in her bedroom tonight sitting silently as she moaned from the crib about not wanting to go to bed. Finally, Marian relieved me and I went down to watch "American Idol" -- where I spent most of the hour wishing I was back upstairs.

Shouldn't the show be getting better as we winnow out the weaker performers? On the one hand, I suppose I'm pleased I finally got the trainwreck I've been asking for for weeks, or at least half a trainwreck. But at this stage, I'd rather be dazzled than appalled, and between the theme and some crappy song selection within it, way too much ugliness. In order (and after the singer and song title, I'll be sure to list their alleged celebrity supporter -- or, at least, the celebrity the director cut to right after that performance):

Katharine McPhee, "I Have Nothing Except Sasha Cohen": Why, Katharine? Why? Why would you do this? There are exactly two singers in the history of this show who have sung Whitney and not come off looking like a fool. One was Tamyra, who actually had the chops to pull off a straight cover; the other was Fantasia, who had the charisma and savvy to change the song up to fit her. Kat doesn't have Tamyra's pipes or Fantasia's inner funk, so what we were left with was a very pretty girl in a very low-cut dress being overwhelmed by a song tailored to one of the great oversingers of our time. She deserved every second of that pile-on by the judges -- and, frankly, she should be grateful for it, because the only thing that could save her is the sympathy vote. (More later.)

Elliot Yamin, "A Song For You and Kevin Nealon": I've been asking for a goosebump-inducing performance for weeks, and this is the closest we've come since Mandisa on '50s Night. Great song, great voice, great arrangement (as we all know by now, Randy has a pathology about needing to hear note-for-note copies sung by contestants beating their respective gimmick into the ground, so he can STFU here), real emotion, just about perfect. And yet I didn't feel the goosebumps. Not sure why, other than that Elliot, for all his vocal genius, doesn't have the stage presence of a Kelly or a Fantasia. But close your eyes, and that was pretty f'ing great.

Kellie Pickler, "Sela Ward's Unchained Melody": Never has a guest vocal coach's commentary been more prophetic than David Foster (who was great all night) saying that if you sing this without passion, it's the most boring song ever written. And if ever there was an "Idol" finalist with a passion gap, it's Pickler. (Well, Carrie's version would've put me to sleep, too.) Couple the Sominex effect with her continued effort to invent new vowels, plus a deliberate sabotage attempt by the hair and makeup people (Pickler's not a supermodel, but she's a much prettier girl than they made her into here), and you have as big a mess in its own way as Kat's opener. Not that she's going home, but if she's not bottom three this week, you know she's winning it all, whether the producers like it or not (more on that in a minute).

Paris Bennett, "The Way We and Joely Fisher Were": She didn't take Foster's advice about starting softly, and pretty much bull-dozed her way through the whole song. Still, if there's someone in this field who can get away with that, it's Paris. I hate Streisand and I hate this song, but I enjoyed this. On the other hand, when you take her audience disconnect and then add some of the most lukewarm praise I've ever heard from the judges (some of it inspired by Simon's tantrum over being cut off while tearing Pickler a new one), and you have the set-up for one of those quintessential "shocking" boots. Say it long, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud... No, wait, that's not it. Say it again: On "Idol," it's better to suck than to be middle of the pack.

Taylor Hicks, "Just Once, I'd Like to Graduate with Tori Spelling": Geez, maybe he should go back to the stupid dancing. There were spots in here where his voice sounded great, but not enough of them. There has to be a happy medium between him looking terrified while standing rigid at the mike and him bouncing around like a Ritalin case, and the only time he's really hit it was with "Living for the City" on Stevie Wonder Night. He really seems to have peaked and is now coasting on an obsessive fan base's love.

Chris Daughtry, "Have You (and only you, and no Special Celebrity Fan) Ever Really Loved a Woman?": For a split-second, I thought I heard Chris say he was going to sing "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" by Derek and the Dominos, which would have been awesome in just about every way (great song, and anguished enough to merit Chris' usual Hillside Strangler intensity). Instead, he sings a cheery little ditty from "Don Juan DeMarco." Sigh... So let's see: Chris gets bottom two last week, and this week he not only gets to go last again (the first finalist to do so), but he gets another elaborate production number like on "Higher Ground," and another tongue-bath from the judges that's several degrees above a very solid but not spectacular performance... ya think they want him to win? There are a lot of things I like about Chris. He has a much better voice than you would think, given his influences and usual singing style. He is the only contestant who consistently carries himself on stage like a professional capable of being on the radio and MTV tomorrow. He has charisma to burn. But the type of music he likes to sing and that come-hither-so-I-can-kill-you look bores me after a while. When his coronation is complete, I think he'll be one of the more deserving winners, and I'll feel bad that he'll be stuck with this year's crap-ass ballad, but at this point I think I'm pulling for Elliot, who seems like the only one left capable of making me want to download his performance and put it into heavy iPod rotation.

Sorry, I'm rambling. To sum up:

Should go home: Either of Kat or Pickler, and preferably Pickler, since she's been awful for so long and since at least Kat has the potential to tramp it up next week if she survives.

Will go home: Kat or Paris. I have no doubt it's going to be one of those two, and I suspect it's going to be the latter, not the former.

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


A so-so night for the Fox Monday thrillers. Not sure I have anything to say about "Prison Break," which needs to figuratively slap me across the face to get my attention again. It's competent wheel-spinning, but that's all it is right now.

"24" was better and I especially liked the scene where William Devane apparently committed suicide to foil Henderson's plan (I say "apparently" because you know the writers are going to be short on inspiration a few weeks from now and one of them will say "Did we show a body?"). But for me, the highlight was the realization that Paul McCrane had been hired as the leader of the latest evil cabal. Paul McCrane and Peter Weller involved in the same conspiracy? At what point will Kurtwood Smith pop up holding a machine gun? Will Nancy Allen become the new new new new head of CTU? And does the season end with Jack tossing McCrane into a toxic waste vat?

I still have a hard time warming in any way to Audrey, but at least I'm thankful that Jack's stupid decision to leave her in a room with Henderson didn't lead to another Henderson escape. At the very least, he should've double-kneecapped the guy before heading to the airport.

Gearing up for Silly Love Songs Night on "Idol," or whatever they're calling. "Veronica Mars" is again being pre-empted by a Nets game, and I won't have a copy in hand until Thursday morning, unless I can find a good download somewhere. (Not that I would ever illegally download a show. Never. Never.) Click here to read the full post

How he met a hooker

A "How I Met Your Mother"-only post this morning; I'll try to hit the Fox dramas later today.

Hands up, anyone who actually thought Mary was a hooker when she first appeared. Now, hands up, anyone who didn't believe it at first but started to at any point in the episode (for me, it was in the elevator with the "not for all the money" feint). Now, hands up, anyone who even for a second believed that Ted would get to have sex with Mary, ho or no ho?

Funny episode with lots of good running gags: "You've been lawyered" (I like that they didn't even bother to set that up, just put it in as something Marshall and Barney have started doing), the telepathic communications, the parody of the NY1 anchor who really does read the paper on TV, Alexis Denisof's hair, the vampire kung fu movie host.... everything was clicking. On the other hand, I think it would have been funny if Ted's revenge on Barney went beyond the credit card thing and involved him actually managing to have sex with Mary, after all.

And hands up, everybody who told me I was being naive (like Kay Adams) for thinking Ted/Robin was over with. You all owe yourselves a beer. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Think fast, Bacall!

"The Sopranos," episode seven. The opening of today's review:
My thought process while watching "Luxury Lounge" went something like this:

"An entire episode about Artie? Did they learn nothing from season four?"

"Hey, maybe they did. This isn't bad."

"Holy (bleep), did Christopher just punch Lauren Bacall in the face?"

Yes, "Luxury Lounge" spent most of its attention on the one character who historically gets less respect (from fans and wiseguys) than Bacala. Yes, it was fairly slow and quiet. No, it didn't move any of the season's major storylines forward much, if at all.

To put it in Artie's language, the first six episodes of this season were like that buffet at Da Giovanni: one amazing dish after the next, always something to savor and chew on and analyze exactly what the ingredients are. An all-Artie episode could have been a pit stop at Arby's for a roast beef, but it was better than that. Not the bountiful feast of the season so far, but a tasty side salad to let the stomach rest before the next course.
To read the rest, click here. Then come back to comment. Click here to read the full post

Il returno de Sam Seaborn

When Rob Lowe left "The West Wing" in a fit of pique over lack of money/screen time/respect/whatever, all I could think was what a foolish egomaniac he was. Lowe may have been the big star coming into the series, but by the time he left, he was clearly behind Sheen and Spenser and Schiff and Janney and Whitford in terms of most important/beloved regular. And when he signed on to one embarrassing flop after another, I felt secure in my belief that he had grossly overestimated his value, both to "West Wing" and in general.

It helped that his exit coincided with the period when Sorkin was going completely off the rails, followed quickly by the awful transition to the Wells era. So for the last three and a half years, I never doubted my theory.

Then Lowe/Sam came back last night, and I realized how much I had missed him. No, he may not have been as essential as Jed or Leo or CJ, but the show really did lose something when that stammering Boy Scout left to... um... why the hell did he leave, anyway? When they did the election storyline, it was said repeatedly that if Sam lost the race, he'd get his job back. He lost, yet he never came back, and there wasn't even any discussion of that in the reunion with Josh. (I'll give them a pass on that, just for the call-back to the best scene in "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen.")

With Sorkin long gone and without a three-year transition to get used to hearing other people's words coming out of his mouth, Sam didn't seem quite like Sam last night -- as the show's token idealist, I think he'd leap at the offer -- but Lowe and Brad Whitford settled back nicely into their old rhythms. And deputy chief of staff is a much more plausible idea than vice-president. (And, speaking of which, I'll believe they're going to make Vinick the VP -- suggestive promo or no suggestive promo -- when he actually gets confirmed in an episode.) Still would have liked some kind of explanation for why he stayed away after the election fiasco, but good to have him back for a few weeks at the end.

Other than Sam, kind of a blah episode -- though, of course, I'm not a Josh/Donna 'shipper, and this was mainly throwing them one last bone. The surprise reveal about Bartlet and Santos playing good cop/bad cop felt forced -- even if Santos had kept it from Josh (because somehow, after all this time, they still don't trust each other), no way Jed doesn't tell C.J. -- and I've never cared much, if at all, about Mrs. Santos. (On the plus side, the writers did find a plausible way for Josh and Donna to both have White House jobs and still date.)

So, only three more episodes ever. Weird. I hope they can at least hit the last one out of the park. Click here to read the full post

"Get your own women!"

Inspired by the popularity of the Things You Think Nobody Loves But You thread, here's a spin-off: what's your favorite unsuccessful work by an otherwise popular actor/writer/director/musician?

For me, it has to be Bill Murray's "Quick Change," a bank heist comedy which came and went from theaters in about two weeks in the summer of 1990. Co-directed by Bill and starring him, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid and an all-star roster of Hey It's That Guy!s, including Jason Robards as the police chief (and the man on the receiving end of the quote in the subject line), Bob Elliott as a braggart security guard, Phillip Bosco as a bus driver who's serious about the exact change rule, Tony Shalhoub as a cabbie of unknown ethnic origin, Stanley Tucci as a wiseguy, Phil Hartman as a gun-toting yuppie and too many others to name (I think Kurtwood Smith pops up at one point), it works as both a hilarious caper movie and satire of what a pit New York was at the time. Basically, the robbery is easy; getting out of town with the cash is the hard part, as Bill, Geena and Randy run into trouble a mugger, the fire department, city utility workers, the MTA and, in my personal favorite scene, a pair of Latino men jousting on bicycles. (Quaid: "It's bad luck just seeing a thing like that!")

It's not as funny or as deep as "Groundhog Day," but I'll put it up against any of Bill's other comedies, and that includes "Stripes," "Meatballs" and "Ghostbusters."

I now open the floor for other nominations (in any medium you like) and explanations. Click here to read the full post

Zach attack

Some unfinished business in today's paper: I finally got a chance to write up the interview I did with Zach Braff and Bill Lawrence when I was at press tour in January.

It was the best week of Zach Braff's life. Then came the clown suit.

It was January 2004, and the South Orange native had just spent a dizzying few days in Park City, Utah, where his feature directorial debut, "Garden State," was the talk of the Sundance festival. So when he returned to his day job playing bumbling Dr. John "J.D." Dorian on NBC's "Scrubs," his producer Bill Lawrence decided to remind his star who was in charge.

'I was at Sundance feeling very proud of myself," Braff recalls on a warm January evening at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. "And I come back, and the first thing up for me to do at 'Scrubs' is to be in a full clown suit having children hit me with balloons."

"And Neil Flynn do what to your face?" Lawrence reminds him, reveling in the memory.

"Spray seltzer water in my face," says Braff. "And that was my welcome back. There wasn't any time for me to come back and say, 'Oh, sorry, this is my Sundance jacket. Let me just take it off'."

"And the great thing about Zach," says former Moorestown resident Lawrence, "is, not only did he do the scene, he got the joke and went with it and it endeared him to everybody."

It wasn't as if the clown suit was the first public humiliation Lawrence subjected Braff to -- nor would it be the last. Since the series began in 2001, Lawrence has taken enormous pleasure in putting his leading man into every embarrassing costume, location and situation he can think of, whether he's parading around in a speedo despite a physique that Braff says "looks a little like a melted pear" or professing his love for best friend Chris Turk in increasingly disturbing ways (sample dialogue: "Don't listen to her, Brown Bear! Your body is fierce! Like Taye Diggs!").

"I'll say, 'You know, filming what you're asking me to be in will be extremely awkward and embarrassing,'" says Braff, "and he'll look at me and applaud."

You can read the full profile here. Click here to read the full post

Friday, April 21, 2006

Meet the new boss

Not a whole lot to say about Amy and Daniel bailing on the next and presumably final season of "Gilmore Girls," except to note that, for all the ups and downs of the last few years, the show isn't going to improve with the loss of its creative voice. Uneven as the last couple of David Milch-run years of "NYPD Blue" were, or the last year and a half or so of Sorkin's tenure on "West Wing," the best those shows could hope for after the people who wrote most of the words went away was competency, and even that was a struggle at times.

On the plus side, the new showrunner, David Rosenthal is... umm... eccentric. An excerpt from a 2001 profile of him in the New York Observer (the full story is behind a paywall):
Today, some people think David Rosenthal is crazy. It has been nearly a year since Mr. Rosenthal, 33, left his marriage and abandoned Hollywood, leaving barely a trace. He estranged himself from close friends and colleagues, moved into posh hotels and gave away a million dollars to young women, some of whom he barely knew. He wrote an angry play called Love, which contains an extraordinary amount of cursing. Love also details Mr. Rosenthal's feelings about faith, monogamy and his desire to have intercourse with the supermodel Heidi Klum. Mr. Rosenthal said that after he sent a copy of the play to his father, his father took him to a mental hospital, where Mr. Rosenthal was kept for 48 hours.
So this may skip past comptence altogether and go someplace very bizarre. Who knows? Click here to read the full post

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Two colleges and a digestive block

Lots and lots to get to, and while few of them are thematically related, I don't have time for many, many posts. Actually, the best thing I watched all night was a review screener of "The Office" episode airing May 4, which is the funniest damn thing I've seen in a long time, but I can't write more about that now. In order: "The O.C.," "Survivor," "South Park" and "Alias."

"The O.C." is really frustrating me lately, because parts of it are just good enough that I want to keep watching, while others are at the same baffling, cringe-inducing level that's typified most of seasons two and three. If the show would just be bad all the time, I could walk away, but it keeps teasing me with these reminders of what it used to be like.

The good: The return of Anna, even if she was there as Seth's fairy godmother/plot device, and even if I'm puzzled by how Samaire Armstrong now looks like she's using Drea de Matteo's stylist and sounds like a cross between Drew Barrymore and Kellie Pickler, neither of which were true as recently as her time on "Entourage." Wha happen? Also good: Ryan happy. I feared we were going to get back on that cosmic treadmill where, just as he's breaking out the smile, someone slips a flaming sack of karmic crap next to the pool house door. On the other hand, given Theresa's history with honesty and this baby, shouldn't he ask to see a copy of the paternity test?

The bad: I hate, hate, hate plots that only can continue if the characters involved won't sit down and talk honestly for, oh, three minutes. All Seth friggin' had to do was blurt out the phrase "I didn't get in!" during that walking tour, and we could move on. This is all just dumb and protracted.

The unknown: because it was late and because I just don't care anymore about certain characters and subplots that have been on this show for far too long, I fast-forwarded through every Marissa scene that didn't feature Ryan or Summer, and every Sandy and Kirsten scene whenever it became obvious that it was about the hospital storyline, so I have no idea what happened with any of it. Did Ryan's freshman buddy turn out to be a jackass?

You watch "Survivor" long enough, and you can pretty much tell by the pacing when there's not going to be a Tribal Council for some reason. With the way the episode was moving, plus Bruce's intestinal distress, plus that long-ago teased footage of someone being med-evac'ed out of the game, I think we all knew where this was going. I'm assuming he's going to be well enough to return to the jury at some point, if not in the very next episode, then before the end (and they can show him the raw footage of Tribal Council at the hospital in the meantime to keep him as informed as the rest). Otherwise, what's the option? Bring Nick back? Have an even-numbered jury pool and risk a tie vote for the million bucks?

Not an especially satisfying ending, but one of the most entertaining iterations of the chopping challenge to date. Because Terry was the only obvious target, once he went out, it got ugly in a hurry. Loved seeing Courtney and Shane wig out over the answers, loved that Cirie knew everyone would have picked her as the least likely to survive on her own (and Aras picking Terry? WTF? He may be a sucky strategerist, but in terms of survival ability, I'll pick Top Gun over the leaf-phobic, the nicotine junkie, the hippie who wants to hold a sacred burial ceremony for every dead creature and plant on the island, the Boston chick who hasn't done squat from day one, the 57-year-old man with the rock garden, and even the yoga dude who loves to sleep in the teepee in his daddy's backyard).

Loved pretty much all of it, even though I'm not sure how much it changed anything. Shane's a tool, but I do believe he was playing Aras and Cirie -- as we all know by now, he's a sometimes actor, and that interview he gave about what he did was one of the few times since the season began where he didn't seem like this character he'd invented to go fame-whoring with Johnny Fairplay for the next five years. Bruce was the only one who would have had his feelings hurt by being targeted quickly, and that's moot. So the only real fallout is Courtney's flakiness -- and if Shane thinks she's his best final two partner, he'll have to screw over his two strongest allies to bring her there. He's not that dumb, even if he believes they could be the first alliance to survive the post-merge game intact. (Um, Tagi? Porno Brian's group? Team Tom?)

Now, where does this week's "South Park" rank among the show's freakiest? Above or below Lemmiwinks? In case you didn't see it -- and, if not, you'd better hurry, as this may join "Trapped in the Closet" on the Never To Be Re-Aired list very soon -- what started as a parody of the James Frey/Oprah controversy turned into a surreal hostage drama involving two of... um... Oprah's orifices, each of which spoke with a different British dialect. ("Gary," and you know what that is if you saw it, sounded a bit like Terry Jones playing the mom in "Life of Brian.") I really don't know what else to say about it, except that I think Trey and Matt may have been smoking Towelie for the entire writing period.

And, finally, "Alias." I had basically given up on it a couple of years ago, stopping back in every now and then to see if it made any more sense or if the producers had just introduced another Everything You Thought You Knew Was Wrong evil conspiracy to distract the audience from the fact that they had no idea where the plot was going. (I'm thinking that, at the end of this season of "Lost," Kate is going to wake up in an alley behind the hatch with a scar on her belly and a few missing years in her life.) But I figured I'd stick around for this five-week curtain call and... I just think I've outgrown it. Lena Olin and Victor Garber are awesome, but my mind kept wandering and wandering and wandering. What's the name of the new evil group? The Fifth Pope? The Seventh Seal? Shark Sandwich? Whatever it is, anytime anyone mentioned their name, I zoned out. Out of nostalgia for what I used to like about the show, I'm going to stick around till the end, but if the remaining time commitment were more than a month, I don't think even Jennifer Garner in another rubber dress would keep me around. Click here to read the full post

Two weddings and a bus crash

(This entry, in order: "Veronica Mars" and "Gilmore Girls.")

Curiouser and curiouser, "Veronica Mars." All this time I had just thought Charisma Carpenter had been brought in to wear outfits like the one above to try to goose the ratings, and here Rob's been hiding a potential femme fatale right under my nose.

So Kendall Who Isn't Really Kendall is in bed with the Fitzpatricks (and I think we can all assume that's in a literal as well as a figurative sense) and has as good a reason as any to have wanted the bus to crash. Hmmm... For now, my impulse is to think she's a red herring. We've gotten no real hints until now that she was capable of this, and now her potential guilt came with so many flashing neon signs that it almost has to be misdirection.

On the other hand, I can't help shake the feeling that Rob thinks he's being sneakier than he's been with regards to Woody. There have been at least as many obvious clues about The Gutte's guilt (he warned his daughter to get off the bus, the C4 was in a hangar he owns, he has access to demolition materials and a motive to drive a wedge between the rich and poor elements of town, etc., etc.), and yet Veronica and Keith have shrugged off or just completely ignored them. It's like a magician telling you not to pay any attention to the that rabbit-shaped bulge pushing against the edge of his top hat.

Maybe I just wasn't trying as hard last season to identify Lily's killer, but I was both shocked and pleased to discover it was Aaron. Until proven otherwise, one of the safe assumptions in my life is that Rob Thomas is smarter than me, and the reveal will be both surprising and satisfctory, but we'll see.

Just a really good episode all around, both in terms of moving the arc and on its own merits. The Keith-in-danger cliffhanger was perfectly done, and Enrico remains awesome whether he's pleading for his life or crawling into Veronica's car after smashing through a picture window. Weevil essentially wraps up his entire character arc (though, again, there's a chance he could wind up going to jail for Thumper) in a very noir fashion, and we discover just what a clever bastard Aaron is with his plan to frame the MIA Duncan. (On the other hand, isn't Aaron destined to go away for a long time just for trying to burn Veronica and Keith to death? Or does he get a pass in Neptune because his potential victims were poor?)

Over on "Gilmore Girls," when you combine a lavish party with the phrase "written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino," you know it's gonna be good. Of course Mrs. Kim has a mother she fears and lies to just as much as Lane did to her for so long; after all, Emily always had to take all that crap from Lorelai the First. So here's the question: Rory and her mom obviously get along, but are she and Logan gonna have a kid one day who can't stand her grandma, or have they broken the cycle?

The "58 seats and 62 Koreans" joke got beaten into the ground, but slapstick and women running in heels is funny, and Sebastian Bach has risen to become maybe my second or third-favorite person on the entire show. A few unanswered questions:
  • Whatever happened to Mr. Kim? There were references to him as being alive but unseen in the early seasons (sort of like Vera or Maris), but Lane walked down the aisle unescorted.
  • Did the cold medicine make me doze off during it, or was the show missing a scene that set up the whole Yummy Bartenders concept? Seemed to come out of nowhere.
  • Exactly how long is this field trip of April's? Rory was able to go from Philly to New Haven, put in some time at the paper, and still get back to Stars Hollow in time for the wedding.
  • I know Chris is now richer than Trump or something, but man does he have some good in-house childcare. He's out for a few Saturday afternoon errands (on a day he presumably would be doing some daddy-daughter bonding) when he abruptly changes direction, goes to a wedding, gets very smashed and spends the night sitting next to his original baby momma. That sitter/nanny/au pair had better get a health plan.
What did everybody else think? Click here to read the full post

In a Pickler

(I'll dispense with the "Idol" results right now, since they're freshest. I've also now seen "Gilmore" and "Veronica," which I'll get to blogging about ASAP; "House," "South Park" and maybe "Alias" to come later today or tomorrow.)

The identity of last night's "American Idol" boot wasn't a big shock -- I had feared for Elliot, but Ace has been living on borrowed time ever since Lisa Tucker went home (time to think about "Yvan eht nioj") -- so the more interesting thing to talk about is the annual time-wasting game at final 7 where Seacrest sets up two groups of three, then tells the seventh person (George two years ago, Bo last year) to go stand with the group he thinks is safe. This year's stooge was Taylor (it's the part he was born to play, baby!), and he eventually sided, correctly with Kat/Elliot/Pickler over Ace/Paris/Chris.

Several things we can take out of this: 1)Paris has been in the bottom three far too much at this stage for someone with her talent. I just don't think she's connecting with the audience, and could even wind up going home before Elliot. 2)Chris, who seemed destined to sail to the win without ever having to sweat through one of these farces, will no doubt decide that Simon is full of crap when he talks about showing another side of himself and that, like Taylor, his best bet is to one-trick pony his way through the rest of the finals. and 3)Pickler could win.

This wouldn't be a huge upset. I half-jokingly predicted her as the winner before the finals began because she was such an obvious Carrie clone, and Simon has so consistently talked up her, Taylor and Chris as the final three that I have to assume they've been outpolling the field by a wide margin for a while now. She'd never been in the bottom three before, and she was so obviously the worst on Tuesday that I'm sure it sent her fanbase into a panicked power-voting frenzy to save her annoying ass. (Say it with me, folks: On "Idol," it's better to be awful than mediocre.)

But if Kellie seemed like a deserving front-runner going into the finals (based mostly on her strong Melissa Etheridge cover in the semis), with each passing week it's become more and more obvious that she's thriving on personality, not performance. And let me just say that I am shocked -- shocked! -- to see that there's gambling in this establishment... er, I mean, shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that people aren't voting on this show based purely on singing talent. It's never been that way before. Never, never! Not when Nikki outlasted Tamyra, or when Carmen outlasted half the season two finalists, or when Jasmine outlasted La Toya, or when Savol hung around and around and around....

... but I get an invincibility vibe off of Pickler that I've rarely seen in previous seasons' token controversy-starters. Nikki went much further than she should've, but she still finished third. Ditto Jasmine. For all that the show drives people nuts about the boot order, it's fair to say that each season's winner has been either the best or second person in the group. (Carrie bored me to death, but girl could sing.) If Kellie made final three or even two, but Taylor or Chris won, people would deal. But what the hell happens if she wins? I'm sure they can put together a passable country album for her with a little Studio Magic help, but the larger "Idol" audience -- the people who create those enormous ratings but don't power-vote or buy records -- are going to know she didn't deserve it. Simon and Nigel and Ken like to say that controversy is good for the show's ratings, and they're right, but it's one thing to be mad when someone finishes fifth when they should have finished second, and another when somebody wins who should have gone home in seventh place or lower.

Ahhh, what the hell do I know? Much like Pickler, "Idol" is invulnerable until proven otherwise. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

RIP, Scott Brazil

I know I've been pissing and moaning the last couple of days about my stupid sinus infection, and it is painful and uncomfortable, but I got some really awful news today that, to borrow the cliche, put things in perspective:

Scott Brazil, the director-producer on "The Shield" (in addition to directing all the premieres and finales for the first four seasons, he also taught Shawn Ryan how to, you know, run a TV show), died on Monday of a horrible combination of Lou Gehrig's disease and lyme disease. His lungs gave out. He was only 50.

I can't pretend to call Scott a friend, but we talked many times, ate or drank together many times, and he was always a talkative, smart, funny, genuinely nice guy. TV is a writer's medium, not a director's, but he had no trouble taking a back seat to Shawn (or to the many great writers on "Hill Street Blues," where he got his start, or any of the other great dramas he directed). All he cared about was the work.

I hadn't seen him in a couple of years and didn't even know he was sick; I'm told that the ALS got so advanced that he wound up directing with a cane, then a walker, then (for the fourth season finale, the last "Shield" he directed) in a motorized scooter. Here's part of an e-mail I got from Shawn:
He was the kind of man and artist who often goes unnoticed by the public, but was responsible for so much of what is good about "The Shield" and other shows he worked on. While Michael Chiklis and I got more attention than we probably deserved, Scott was always hard at work, making sure the casting, look and direction on the show stayed consistent and top notch.

When he wasn't producing the show, he was on the floor directing himself, helming 11 episodes including many of our best. Simply put, despite our ability to get almost anyone we wanted to direct, he was our best director, every single episode. He preferred to stay in the background and merely smiled as others of us got the spotlight.
Rest easy, Scott. You'll be missed. Click here to read the full post

The Return of Dr. Jan I. Tor

"Veronica Mars" isn't the only show from last night I haven't seen yet. Due to a need to sleep off this demon virus that's invaded our home, all I watched were "Idol" and "Scrubs." (I'll try to get through "Gilmore Girls," "House" and the first of the unaired "Love Monkey"s from VH1 later today, but my pace may be slower than that.)

Anyway, on to "Scrubs." At a press conference a few months back, Bill Lawrence joked that "when we find out when the show is ending, there will be an entire episode with (The Janitor's) voice over." Since our custodial pal took over narration duties last night, should we be scared for the show's future? Not yet, since, immediately after Bill made that prediction, Sarah Chalke reminded him that what he had always told them was, "He's going to be 'Janitor' until his name is revealed. And when his name is in the script, then we all have to be worried, because that's the last episode."

So with that load off our collective minds, I'll say that I had higher hopes for our eventual mop-centric episode. As weird as the show has been this season, an entire half-hour devoted to The Janitor could have been acid-trippingly weird. Instead, this may have been the most normal episode in months. I don't need to know that, deep down, The Janitor has feelings that can be hurt, that he really wants to fit in and contribute, etc., etc., etc. Why can't the show have just one major character who's goofy for the sake of being goofy? Are we going to get an episode next week where we discover that The Todd is just overcompensating for being a virgin?

Not a bad episode, though, just a disappointing one, given the possibilities. Cox mocking Turk's lack of blackness was the best, especially when he randomly snuck up on them as they test-drove the minivan. (And how can they afford a top of the line rig like that when Carla's on a nurse's salary and Turk's still a resident?) Also loved Cox's imitation of Elliot's walk, and Keith's panic at meeting Elliot's mom. The Dudemeister has quickly become a worthy addition to the show.

Off to hold my head over a pot of boiling water. I'll try to watch and write more later. Click here to read the full post

Is there life on Mars?

To whom it may concern:

I have not seen last night's "Veronica Mars." I repeat, I have not seen last night's "Veronica Mars," thanks to the local UPN affiliate bumping it for a basketball game. I will hopefully get to see it tonight, so please confine any and all comments about it to this thread so I don't risk reading them until after I watch it. Will have a review up tomorrow. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Standard deviants

Well, we didn't exactly get a time capsule "American Idol" performance on Rod Stewart Sings The Great American Songbook Night Even Though You'd Rather Hear His 8 Billionth Performance of "Maggie Mae" Night, but overall, this was the best show of these finals since '50s Night. When you devote an entire night to standards, you're assured that the songs are all going to be great -- and, more interestingly for "Idol," that the performances will be less about vocal gymnastics than stage presence and emotion. Only one real stinker, though it was the one you probably would have predicted when they announced the theme. In order...

Chris Daughtry, "What a Wonderful World": For a split-second, I thought he was going to do the Joey Ramone version, but my hat's off to Chris for doing it completely straight and doing it well. Understated and pretty, which are two adjectives you wouldn't think you could use to describe a Chris Daughtry performance, yet he pulled it off without seeming like a chameleon phony. Plus, how often do you see the ascot/chain-wallet combination? And do you think Randy could come up with a compliment other than "da bomb" for this night?

Paris Bennett, "Foolish Things": Talk about a singer born 50 years too late. She sounded like she'd been playing the Blue Note for decades. Again, I buy her little girl with an old voice quality on older songs than when she's doing, say, Beyonce, but this was impeccable.

Taylor Hicks, "You Send Me": First of all, I think he meant to say "Humor's a great form of flattery," not the other way around, during that interminable Seacrest-erview about "SNL." The first half felt way too soft and without the gruff quality to his voice that makes even his bad performances interesting, and then midway through, he turned back into Taylor, for good (growly, passionate vocals) and for ill (that one spastic fist shake over and over and over and over). I would have liked a more natural transition from gear to gear, but he's in no danger.

Elliot Yamin, "It Had To Be You": He really should never be shown in tight closeup like that, though he did look good in the tuxedo jacket and pocket square. One of his more consistent vocals of the last few weeks, but I'm afraid he's at more risk than anybody else tonight. When there wasn't a significant difference among the vocals of the top five performers, then it comes down to personality, show placement, etc., and I don't think the larger audience has fallen in love with this guy.

Kellie Pickler, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered": Like her performance of "Walking After Midnight" a while back, there was that weird vocoder quality that made some of her vowels sound like whale song. Even if she really is dumb enough not to know what "on paper" or "sal-mon" mean, she's smart enough to fall on her sword and apologize for the performance before the judges could tear her to pieces over it. Not that I'm going to watch it, but the results show is going to be a really interesting sign of how the rest of the season's going to play out. If Pickler's just another contestant, she at least makes the bottom three, even if she doesn't go home; if she's this personality-driven phenomenon I fear that she is, she won't make bottom three and you can pencil her into the final three right now with Chris and Taylor.

Ace Young, "That's All": Who the hell was that? No multi-layered t-shirts, no slack hair or anything; he actually looked the part. Almost sounded it, too, except for that stupid f'ing falsetto that Randy and Paula are in love with for reasons that completely baffle me. A very fine boy band rendition of a standard, and maybe enough to save his ass after being in danger for the last month or so.

Katharine McPhee, "Someone to Watch Over Me": A perfect match for her voice, though I don't know that I'd call her significantly better than Paris or Chris or even Elliot. The end of episode placement and Simon's raves seemed more about boosting a contestant TPTB like who hasn't quite caught on yet. It was great, yes, but not Kelly on "Stuff Like That There" great, or Fantasia on "Summertime" great, or any of the other "Idol" classics I've been name-checking for the last few weeks.

Should go home: Pickler
Will go home: Elliot, I fear; or maybe Ace's averageness kills him

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

Things to do in Jersey when you wish you were dead

In between hacking up a couple of lungs today, I tried to cheer myself up by popping in my DVD of "Used Cars," one of the great underrated comedies of my lifetime. When we first got HBO when I was a kid, my sister Stacy and I would watch this movie over and over and over again. (Possibly the only movies I watched more during my childhood were "Just One of the Guys" and "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training," and that was just because they were on more.) To this day, we still quote lines like, "If I can build and install a pacemaker into this man's chest..." or "Twenty-four thousand dollars? That's too fuckin' high!" at each other.

"Used Cars" may hold up on repeat viewings for me, but it was a flop at the box office and remains fairly obscure. It's far and away the movie I take the most pleasure in introducing to friends, and without fail, they burst into some combination of laughter and applause by the time Rudy buys the 250 cars. (If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about; if not, go rent it already.)

So before I load up on Tylenol so I can get through "Idol," here's today's open question: What book/film/TV show/etc. do you love but have trouble finding someone else who's even heard of it? I'm not talking about something like "Freaks and Geeks" or the movies of Terence Malick, that have small but rabid fanbases; I'm talking about something that makes you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness. Click here to read the full post

I hab a code ib by dose

So, let's count the number of things going on in Casa Sepinwall:
  • All three of us are sick and not sleeping much, which in turn makes us barely awake during the daytime;
  • I didn't have the energy to sit through "Prison Break" and let Marian channel-surf during that hour instead of recording it (damn you, single tuner!);
  • I see that my UPN affiliate is showing a Nets game tonight, which means I won't be able to see "Veronica Mars" until sometime Wednesday night.
In other words, I'm basically useless for today. Maybe I'll have the energy to blog "Idol" tonight, but no promises. Anyone who wants to offer commentary on "Prison Break" or "24" (which I did watch but don't remember very well) or anything else, feel free to treat this as an open thread. I'll try to check in a few times today. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Heeeeere's Johnny Cakes!

"The Sopranos," episode six. Here's the opener from today's review:
Did you hear the one about the Jersey mobster who walked into a Norman Rockwell painting of New England? Neither did I, because usually you can't get there from here.

My hat's off to David Chase and company for once again defying expectations. I read a lot of theories in the last week about Vito: that he was going to kill himself in that motel, that he was going to turn federal witness to avoid the wrath of Tony and Phil, that Phil would find out before Tony and blackmail Vito into helping him get revenge for his brother. That last one was mine, and it was about as far away from what they actually did as the friendly confines of Dartford, New Hampshire are from the valley of the malls that Vito fled.

No strip clubs and big box stores allowed in Dartford, no sir. In Vito's picture-postcard hideout, his landlady doesn't need cash in advance, the local diner makes its own sausages and, most importantly for Vito, a gay couple fits right in.

That Vito should find safe harbor in a place marinating in its own authenticity makes sense, since his inability to be who he really is drove him out of Essex County.

This episode was called "Live Free Or Die," but in Soprano country, it's not a choice but a combination: Live free and die.
To read the rest, click here. Then come back to comment. Click here to read the full post

Bye, Leo, we'll miss you. Now LET'S SMOOCH!

I came down harder than many on last week's "West Wing" for making the death of Leo almost a sideshow to the end of the Santos and Vinick campaigns. I had higher hopes for "Requiem," since, with the election over, the hour's focus could turn entirely to paying tribute to Leo/John Spencer. With Sorkin long gone, I wasn't expecting "Two Cathedrals Part II," but I was expecting more than the wacky bedroom hijinks we got last night.

Look, I get that life goes on, and in the world of politics there's very little time to stop and mourn. I actually liked the scenes with Santos interfering in the Speaker's race and talking with Amy (though if Santos somehow winds up with a female VP, it'll be Nancy McNally). I was pleased and moved to see virtually every important character in the show's history, save Sam and Mandy (was Mandy an important character?) sitting in the cathedral for Leo's memorial. Loved the Toby/Charlie scene and the look on Toby's face as he gave his phony excuse for not going to the cemetary. I thought Martin Sheen was amazing in that sequence where Bartlet went from pained silence to joyous life of the party because it was what his friends needed from him, and I loved the final exchange between Jed and Josh. (Though I would have liked some kind of reference to the fact that both Josh's father and his father figure died during successful presidential campaigns.)

But I felt like too much of "Requiem" was a missed opportunity. How do you gather seven year's worth of great actors and not let a single one of them speak during the funeral? How do you skip over the trip to the cemetary? How do you spend so much time on CJ/Danny and Josh/Donna trying to get laid?

Again, I get that life goes on, and that the show has a lot of stuff to wrap up before we see Santos sit behind that desk in the Oval Office a few weeks from now, but this was an extraordinary circumstance. Rather than devote parts of two crowded episodes to Leo's passing, couldn't we have just gotten one all-Leo episode? If you take his death out of it, does "Election Day" need to be a two-parter?

What did everybody else think? And did anybody watch "What About Brian"? Click here to read the full post

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Rusty Trombone

And no, I'm not just using that subject line to drive up traffic. Not at all. Never. Never. That's really the title of last night's finale of "The Loop." You can look here if you don't believe me.

Not much to say about the finale, in which Sam tried to balance going to a Dandy Warhols concert and crunching the numbers for a merger with a Dutch airline except to kneel at the altar of Philip Baker Hall and his ability to slay me with his delivery of lines like "It's time to sneak one past the Dutchies on the left-hand side" and "The Dutch may have their fingers in their dikes, but they're sure to find out if our airplanes have gone queer."

Bye, "Loop." I'll miss you, brave little show. Click here to read the full post

What about Alan?

Potentially recommended weekend viewing: "What About Brian," which I liked much better than I expected, given that it's a Barry Watson vehicle. Here's the opener of my review:

Meet Brian. Brian is young, smart and funny. He's handsome in a bartender on a reality show way, or maybe a third lead on a WB teen drama way. He's also a nice guy, but everywhere he looks, he sees his friends getting married and having babies and he -- and they -- wonder why the love of his life hasn't appeared yet.

If this all sounds a little familiar, that's because this was the basic premise of "Love Monkey," which was canceled by CBS after only three episodes (VH1 has rescued the five unaired hours and is running them Tuesdays at 9, by the way). And it's the premise of half the books and movies inspired by Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" and, with the genders reversed, all the spawn of "Sex and the City" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."
But "What About Brian" manages to transcend its recycled roots. It's not as smart or cutting as the works of Nick Hornby, but the characters and their situations are precisely defined, and there's potential for a 21st century "thirtysomething" -- or, at least, a more mature "Felicity."

Click here to read the full post

When Captain America didn't fail?

"Survivor"-only post this morning. (Maybe "The Loop" and "The O.C." later today.)
He arguably should have used it at the merge, but at this point, I have no problem with Terry holding onto the idol. If he could have gotten some of the Casayas to flip so that he would have a majority alliance after TC, so be it. But he didn't, so the idol is more valuable to him than Sally. Plus, Sally's absence means that he's guaranteed to get rid of a Casayan whenever he actually pulls the thing out of his bag. (Though can someone like Bruce try to steal it? It's still not clear to me if that's allowed.)

That said, Terry and/or Sally could have tried some better mental strategery to sway these people. Basically go to as many Casayans as you can and say, "Okay, we have the necklace and the idol, and if you don't join with us, we're voting you out." Do whatever you can to scare yourself three extra votes so that the idol doesn't even have to come into play. Hell, go to Aras, who very clearly knows he's the target the second Terry is gone, if not before, and try to form an alliance with him, Shane and/or Bruce to get rid of the three Casaya women.

What's going to happen now is very interesting. We've seen immunity monsters before like Tom and Colby, and we've seen a last man standing like Chris turn that to his advantage, but we've never seen a combination of the two. I really don't think Terry can pull this off -- even if he makes it to final two, five of the jury members will be from Casaya, and they would have to really hate the other finalist to not give him/her the dough -- but I'm curious as hell to see if he can do it.

Quite good episode overall. Aras is still a superior tool, but at least he showed some brains (wanting to go to Exile Island to suss out whether Terry had found the idol) and heart (carrying the water for his entire alliance in that challenge). The only person in Casaya whom I will excuse for bailing on that challenge is Cirie, who was never going to win it and who, I believe, is the only one of them to not get a food reward yet. (Maybe Danielle hasn't, either, but if you want the right to bitch about Terry's boasts of unbeatability, you need to, you know, try to beat him.)

And Cirie's reaction to Shane's exposed junk again makes her my favorite to win. In fact, since I don't think Terry can pull the superhero thing off, she's not only the person I'm rooting for, but the one who I think has the best shot. Nobody is going to think of her as a threat in any challenge (Terry, Aras), and nobody is going to rush to get rid of her because she irritates them (Shane, Courtney), and against anyone else left, she's going to be the most likable. And I'm not sure any of these bozos are wise enough to realize that that makes her the greatest threat of all.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya..."

An open topic for this weekend, inspired by something I did last weekend. For our anniversary, Marian and I spent a day in Manhattan -- musuems, good restaurants, that sort of thing -- and the highlight was getting tickets last-minute for a matinee of "The Drowsy Chaperone," a new musical that's still in previews. The book was written by two of the writers of "Slings & Arrows," if that helps suggest the tone. The basic idea is that a middle-aged gay theater fan is sitting in his crappy apartment one afternoon when he puts on the soundtrack album of a long-forgotten 20s musical, which is then performed for us, with frequent breaks for the fan to explain why, say, a certain character didn't seem quite so racist in the 20s, or why the leading lady was known in real life as "The Oops Girl."

What's great about it is that it simultaneously functions as a musical parody and as a great musical. If you're into this sort of thing (hand raised here), there's tap-dancing, big production numbers, slapstick, etc.

Which brings me to the open question: what's your favorite parody that also works as the thing it's parodying? For me, the easy winner would be "The Princess Bride," which is brilliant whether you take it straight or not (Inigo and Westley goof around, then have an Errol Flynn-level sword fight), but I've also become very partial to "Galaxy Quest," which plays on one level as the best "Star Trek" movie since "Wrath of Khan."

It can be a movie, a TV show, a book, a play, whatever. Nominate and explain away.
Click here to read the full post

You can't do that on television

(Haven't seen "Lost" yet, so this entry will present comments, in order, on "The Loop," "South Park," the "American Idol" results and "House.")

Why is "The Loop" first in the batting order today? No particular reason, except I liked that picture the best -- and it wasn't even from last night's episode, or even last week's. I'm capricious; sue me.

With only one episode to go and ratings so bad that it's almost certainly not coming back, I've realized that I'm really gonna miss this show -- not just because it's often funny, but because I remain in awe at the shit they're able to sneak past the censor. Two weeks ago (the episode pictured above), the writers set up an elaborate scenario where one of Sam's friends had to give him a hand job (off-camera, but still) to save his real job. Last week, they figured out an excuse for Mimi Rogers' character to stick her hand up a dog's ass (off-camera, but still). Last night was fairly mild in comparison, but it did have Sam getting his pubes disintegrated (semi-off-camera, but still), not to mention one female roommate referring to the other's snooch being visible (to her, not to us, but still).

Matt once had a long talk with the Fox censor, specifically about why "The Simpsons" seemed able to get away with so much. His response was along the lines of, "If I think it's funny, I'll let it slide." The thing that separates "The Loop" from your standard tasteless Fox comedy is that it's a smart tastless comedy, not a stupid one. The writers earned that hand job joke, just like they earned the dog joke (which also involved a wireless thumb drive that could still transmit so long as Sam kept his laptop right next to the dog's butt), etc. They put in the time and thought to set them up properly, so it wasn't cheap. (Well, the snooch joke was a little cheap, but I'll give it to them.)

Tonight's season (series?) finale -- titled "The Rusty Trombone," don't forget -- features a Very Special Guest Star who would have been a lot more special a year and a half ago (if you want to know, Google "Brett Harrison" and "roommate"). It's no "Arrested Development," but "The Loop" deserved better than Thursday burial.

Over on Comedy Central, "South Park" pulled off the double-switch. Since everyone was assuming they would do another Terrance & Philip stunt like they did with part two of "Who is Cartman's father?," they did it again, and after a minute or so of that to scare away the most gullible, they got back to "Cartoon Wars."

Not sure this needed to be a two-parter, though. Most of the points got made last week, and the only new touches were the presence of Bart Simpson (and he's done things much worse than decapitating Jebediah's statue) and Trey and Matt's acknowledgement that "Family Guy" may have some advantages over them: "At least it doesn't get all preachy and up its own ass with messages." Oh, and were all the people in the Al Qaeda video supposed to be recognizable? Dubya was obvious, and I spotted Carson from "Queer Eye," but it was late and I was too tired to freeze frame and study carefully.

Not much of a stunner on "American Idol." Bucky wasn't going to win, but inside his own unchallenging box, he's been more entertaining than Ace for a while. But we're now in that stage of the competition where the middle-of-the-pack contestants are in bigger danger than the awful people. I wouldn't be at all stunned to see Elliot and Katharine go before Ace, followed by a Paris boot before the inevitable Chris/Taylor/Pickler final three. Then again, Elliot and Kat seem better-equipped than most to kick ass on Great American Songbook Night (featuring the dessicated remains of Rod Stewart), so maybe they'll snare enough casual voters to hold off the latest object of Paula's obsession for a week.

And then, there's "House" (or "Maude," I forget). Good to see the doc and friends all clean up nice -- House's double-take at Cameron in the red dress was a nice touch -- and seeing House playing cards in that tuxedo, I couldn't help but wonder how much more fun "Casino Royale" would be with Hugh Laurie sipping the vodka martinis instead of Daniel Craig. ("The Gun Seller," the Laurie-written book I mentioned a month or two back, is basically a James Bond parody, which may have also put the idea in my head. The Bond movies are practically parodies of themselves, anyway.)

So of course, I make a comment in yesterday's blog about John C. McGinley generally getting more dramatic material to play than Laurie on a night when Laurie gave his most interesting performance since "Three Patients." House's patients have occasionally died in the past, but it was always because he found out too late what was wrong; to him, the unsolved mystery is worse than the unsaved patient.

After last week's Foreman-centric episode, this one started off looking like a House vs. Chase dynamic, with the cock-blocking at the party and Chase's bitching about House's Esther obsession. But they dropped that theme about a third of the way through, which is a shame; Chase's petulance and his longer history with House usually brings the funny. My eyebrow raised at Chase's reference to House having assistants before him, which made me wonder: what exactly is the chronology of House's time at Princeton-Plainsborough? It was unclear to me in "Three Patients" exactly when House suffered his leg injury, and as I recall, the episode implied that he wasn't on staff there at the time, but got the job out of pity (or to stave off a malpractice suit). I could be wrong, but the fact that Esther was his patient 12 years ago and someone who worked with both Chase and House knew about it started the mental gears turning.

Like I said, I'll get to "Lost" later today, and I'm annoyed that I gave up on this season of "Amazing Race" in the very week that I hear there was finally an episode with some good challenges and suspense. Meanwhile, links: Wednesday's column, in which I detail the stunning way by which ABC turned "Commander In Chief" from a show that was going to be around for years into something that likely won't be on next year's schedule; and today's column, where I revisit "Everybody Hates Chris." Click here to read the full post