Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pilot Watch: Studio 60 vs. 30 Rock

Can two TV shows set backstage at a faltering live sketch comedy series co-exist on the same network without driving each other crazy? Maybe, yeah. Having watched both "30 Rock" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," I could see both working -- assuming either can overcome the public's usual apathy to behind-the-scenes in Hollywood shows. (People in the entertainment industry always think the public is much more fascinated with the inner workings of the entertainment industry than we actually are.)

The usual caveat: these are not reviews. Many, many things about these shows will change, from music to casting to deleted and added scenes. These are just early impressions, keeping in mind that I've seen many shows get better or worse between now and when the final version debuts in the fall. More after the jump...

"30 Rock"
Who's In It: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Rachel Dratch
What It's About: Tina Fey plays the Tina Fey-esque head writer of a "Saturday Night Live"-esque live sketch comedy show, where she has to deal with the neuroses of leading lady Dratch, the craziness of new castmember Morgan and the unhelpful suggestions from new boss Baldwin.
Pluses: When you get Fey away from the institutionalized weekly grind of the real "SNL," she can be a very sharp writer (see also "Mean Girls"), and she has intimate knowledge of the world she's satirizing. I get to have Baldwin being funny on my TV every week. Morgan does a pretty good impression of Kit Ramsey from "Bowfinger."
Minuses: The comedy is hit-and-miss, though the hits (Morgan takes Fey to a Bronx strip club) are worth sitting through the misses. Fey hasn't quite figured out how best to exploit Baldwin's gift for being impossibly handsome and weird at the same time, though there are hints she's on her way. With the show and Fey so closely tied to "SNL" (I think Fey's even staying as Weekend Update anchor), will she wind up pulling her punches to avoid offending Lorne or anyone else?

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
Who's In It: Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, Tim Busfield, Steven Weber, Evan Handler and a cast of thousands
What It's About: When a thinly-disguised version of Lorne Michaels has an on-air meltdown during the live telecast of a thinly-disguised "SNL," thinly-disguised versions of Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme are brought in to save the show.
Pluses: It's Sorkin and Schlamme, so you know it's going to look and sound great. The meltdown sequence is riveting, even if it's cribbed from "Network" (which the script almost gleefully cops to). As the new head of the network who has to fix this mess, Amanda Peet finally gets to display the star quality everyone's claimed she had for years. (Either that, or she just looks amazing in an Audrey Hepburn-esque get-up for the entire episode.)
Minuses: This is one of those cases where it's hard for me to separate my knowledge of the people involved from the work itself. Perry and Whitford are so clearly playing mix-and-match aspects of Aaron and Tommy, just as Peet is Jamie Tarses, Paulson is Kristin Chenoweth, etc., that the Mary Sue-ishness of it makes me uncomfortable. (On the plus side, the Maureen Dowd character from the pilot has had virtually all her lines cut, and for all I know, she's no longer a national newspaper columnist who used to date Aaron, but just some woman out on a date with the Whitford character.) When Judd Hirsch (as "Lorne") delivers his rant about the evils of television, Marian turned to me and said, "Boy, Aaron really had a lot to say after his time away, huh?" For a show about a classic sketch comedy series, there aren't a lot of laughs. There's also a smugness to it; I think Aaron believes the "I have no reason to trust you and every reason not to." "Why?" "You work in television" exchange that's in all the promos is a lot funnier than it actually is.

The verdict: At the moment, I plan to watch 'em both.

Yes, there are problems with the "Studio 60" pilot, but there were also problems with the original version of the "West Wing" pilot (the scene where Leo meets with Al Caldwell and we learn that not all the Christians in the meeting with Josh and Toby are fire-breathing cartoons was added much later). And Aaron and Tommy are so talented that I'll put up with a lot of trash (most of "West Wing" seasons three and four) to get to the treasure ("Bartlet for America," "Red Haven's On Fire").

And "30 Rock," frankly, made me laugh, and that quality is in precious short supply in primetime these days.
Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


That, my friends, is everything that is brilliant about "Rescue Me" -- and some of what is frustrating about "Rescue Me," too. More after the jump...

Now, you have to forgive me if I need a minute to pick my jaw up off the floor after that last scene -- and I first saw it weeks ago. Here we have Tommy, still destroyed by his son's death, having just come out of a fight with his ex where she accused him of not doing all he could to save Connor, and he sees a little girl he just pulled out of a fire lying dead on a gurney -- and this time, dammit, he's not going to do anything less than everything to bring back this kid whom even the paramedics have already written off. And after furiously performing CPR for minutes (I'm ignorant on this stuff, but wouldn't he have crushed her chest doing it that hard for that long?) and having to scare the guys off with his Halligan, he somehow, miraculously, brings her back to life. And then, triumphant, he marches through the members of his crew -- all of whom, like him, have just entered a pact to quit smoking -- and, as Stereophonics' "Devil" drops off the soundtrack so all we hear is the clomp of Tommy's boots and the flare of his lighter -- he pops a cigarette in his mouth, lights it and walks away.

Over the top? Sure. Incredibly awesome? Hell, yeah. Best TV cigarette-lighting since "Two Cathedrals."

Denis Leary's career has never been about subtlety, and "Rescue Me" has never been a show that lends itself to the kind of line-by-line interpretation that, say, I've been writing about "The Sopranos" for the last three months. What you see is what you get, important points are underlined, but moments like that don't feel hamfisted -- they feel iconic.

And I love that the payoff to this heavy, heavy moment came from a funny subplot like the smoke-out plan. The moment when Chief Reilly suggests they all quit right then, followed by a pause, then Tommy's "How 'bout, like, three minutes from now?," followed by frantic puffing by all the guys, was comic perfection. And I loved Lou (should I spell it "Lieu" since his name is Kenny and the nickname is short for "Lieutenant"?) smelling the cigarette on Garrity's breath and then pretending he could identify the brand because he saw the pack on the floor.

When "Rescue Me" is really clicking -- as it was for most of tonight -- the funny and dramatic moments feed off of each other. The best episode from season one, and the one that Leary and Peter Tolan always point to as the model for what they want to do, was "Inches," where the guys are all caught up in a dick-measuring contest until Billy dies in a fire. Comedy to tragedy, and then back to funny again (sort of) when Lou/Lieu reveals that the late Billy "was packing ten" and won the contest posthumously. Tommy lighting up in that moment wouldn't have had half the power if they hadn't spent so much of the episode goofing about how hard it is for him to stop smoking.

On the other hand, you have subplots like the one about Tommy's godson being hot for teacher, and vice versa. Now, I'm all for seeing Paige Turco on my screen, as she's a good actress and now qualifies as what Lenny Clarke, in a press conference for "The Job," once said of then-ABC president Susan Lyne: "She's a hot older lady." But this show spends so much timing giving depth and heart to all the guys (even Garrity and Probie have their serious moments, though we rarely see them), while the women are all caricatures. Sheila's both a nag and a doormat, Tommy's sister is a psycho party girl, even Janet is usually portrayed in a negative light. To quote Matt's review from this morning:
Not so with the women, who are usually defined in relation to the men and often seem to embody the men's Neanderthal attitudes rather than challenging them. Tommy's ex-wife has good reason to loathe and distrust him, and her sadness is real (and sharply played by Roth). But she puts the screws to Tommy with such relish that she often seems like a divorced male persecution fantasy come to life.
Mrs. Turbody isn't a person: she's a character in a Penthouse Forum letter. And I don't even want to get into what they did to Diane Farr last year; she's one of the few actors whom I've ever considered better off having gone to work on a procedural crime show.

At the moment, the female character on the show I'm most interested in is Tommy's younger daughter Katy. She had a great scene in last season's finale where her refusal to believe in the afterlife scared the pants off Garrity and New Mike, and I was intrigued by that opening scene (assuming it wasn't part of Tommy's nightmare) where she and Tommy are actually able to crack jokes about Connor's death. With this show, I can never tell what's actually supposed to be character shading and what's just a refusal to stick with a tone if it gets in the way of a good gag, but I want to see more of these two together.

Some other random thoughts:
  • When the guys were freaking out about the menagerie in that one apartment, was I the only one screaming out "SNAKES IN A FIRE!"? Just me? Okay. That entire scene was really funny, especially Probie's entrance with the boa constrictor over his shoulders.
  • Again, I'm really against the Mrs. Turbody story, but I loved Leary's delivery of "I got Sister Mary Shovelface, and you get Sharon Stone!" Also, his rundown of the kind of porn available on the internet was nice. Not quite up to the level of the "Happy Scrappy Hero Pup" scene from "Clerks," but close.
  • Janet and Tommy's brother, eh? If it gives Dean Winters more to do, cool. I just worry that, once again, it's an excuse to make Janet look bad for having a normal emotional reaction to something.
  • Does Charles Durning have some kind of deal where he has to play the father of every middle-aged male character on television? Is this like that period where Michael Caine was required to appear in every movie made between 1981 and 1987?
  • Are the Chief and Rose already having an affair, or is he still trying to be faithful to his wife? I would think if they were sleeping together, we'd know (again, this is not a secretive show), but the scene where she offers to chip in for his wife's rent suggested they're on the way, if they're not there already.
  • More uncomfortable woman stuff: Lou/Lieu and his fixation on his Madonna/Whore who turned out to be just a Whore. I'd rather we just forget about that story altogether.
So what did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Pilot Watch: CBS

Well, that sneaky bastard Dan Fienberg has stolen my idea of stealing his idea of doing trailer reviews and applying it to pilots -- not to mention adding the twist of suggesting potential roles for Eric Balfour in each show -- but I'm going to go ahead with my own takes anyway, starting with CBS. I've also seen most of the Fox dramas and got the full stack of NBC pilots today, so I'll try to do these as I go.

One caveat: these are not reviews. Many, many things about these shows will change, from music (the "Jericho" pilot uses The Killers' "All These Things That I Have Done" and I'll bet my house it doesn't make it to air that way) to casting (Eric Balfour?) to deleted and added scenes. These are just early impressions, keeping in mind that I've seen many shows get better or worse between now and when the final version debuts in the fall.

"The Class"
Who's in it: Jason Ritter, Andrea Anders, Lizzy Caplan, that British guy who was in the bad WB sitcom with Harold from "Harold and Kumar" and Finch from "American Pie," plus other people I don't recognize.
What it's about: Former third-grade classmates reunite as late twentysomethings, all with their own problems.
Pluses: Like his dad, Jason Ritter is enormously likable and looks really comfortable standing next to a fake living room couch. Lizzy Caplan has my eternal loyalty for taking Jason Segel disco dancing in the "Freaks and Geeks" finale. David Crane, the co-creator, also co-created "Friends."
Minuses: A lot of characters -- eight regulars plus at least as many spouses/girlfriends/parents/sidekicks who will be recurring -- get introduced in a very short period of time, which means every one -- and every joke -- is really very broad so you can keep track of who's trapped in the bad marriage, who's the type-A overachiever, who's secretly gay, etc., etc. Very sitcommy, but not as funny as the "Friends" pilot -- or the "How I Met Your Mother" pilot, for that matter.

Who's In It: Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker, Amy Smart, Jonny Lee Miller, Franky G
What It's About: A master thief and his crew try to pull off a few more jobs so he can retire before his ex-con wife figures out he hasn't gone straight yet.
Pluses: Have you looked at that cast list? Okay, subtract Franky G and add Shoreh Aghdashloo, who has what I hope will be a recurring role as Liotta's fence, and that's as talented and pedigreed an ensemble as I've seen in a while. (Then again, ABC has a show that somehow features both Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, so maybe this is just a season where a lot of indie character actors got mortgages.) Cool setting and some nice moments, particularly an early scene that establishes Baker's sniper as the kind of amoral sociopath you usually don't see on network TV. (Fienberg is convinced it will be cut before September; I'm more optimistic.) Smart is also really strong as a damaged woman of a thousand identities, all of them involving low-cut tops.
Minuses: It's by John Wells, so you know it's going to be competent but glum. What's there so far isn't nearly as much fun as an "Ocean's 11" and not nearly as stylish as a Michael Mann caper story. However, the pilot runs almost 60 minutes without commercials, so there's plenty of room to add some scenes to tip it one way or the other. (Either they pad it out to two hours or they cut off all the fat.)

Who's In It: James Woods, Jeri Ryan
What It's About: Celebrity criminal defense attorney has a come-to-Jesus moment and joins the DA's office after one of his clients goes bad after acquittal.
Pluses: It's James Woods chewing scenery for 41 minutes. Really, do you need to know anything beyond that? Sort of a flip side of "True Believer," my favorite Woods movie.
Minuses: The producers clearly want to do "House" in a courtroom, but by the end of the pilot, they've softened Woods' character in ways that the "House" producers haven't felt the need to do in two seasons. Woods is a great enough actor that we're going to like him even when he's being a bastard, so let him be one -- please. Also, Ryan (as Woods' disapproving boss) has less to do than Lisa Edelstein and the eager beaver prosecutors learning dirty tricks from Woods are all interchangeable.

Who's In It: Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney, Sprague Grayden, Pamela Reed, Ashley Scott
What It's About: After a series of nuclear explosions cuts a small Kansas town off from the rest of America, residents don't know what's happened, how much of the country (or world) survived, how to deal with dwindling supplies, etc., etc.
An intriguing concept, though skiffy fans hoping this will be another "Lost" are going to be disappointed, since there are no hints of any kind in the pilot that this will involve monsters, psychics, Skinner's Boxes, cursed numbers or anything the least bit paranormal. (That part's a plus for me, too; there's enough potential in dealing with the reality of a situation like this that they could get years out of it without having to tease the audience with half-baked mysteries and clues.) Either McRaney has gotten much better with age or I've just appreciated him more since he's been on "Deadwood," but he's really strong. There's a nice disaster movie-style sequence with a wounded Ulrich and Grayden trying to take care of a busful of scared kids. Of all the pilots I've seen so far, this was the one where I most wanted to see a second episode.
Minuses: Skeet Ulrich. I was hoping he could pull a Matthew Fox and develop some charisma as he got older, but 'tis not to be. Other than McRaney, all the other characters are types at best so far. But there's plenty of time to add in some shadings.

Off to watch "Studio 60" and write about "Rescue Me." More late tonight or early tomorrow. Click here to read the full post

Sparks will fly

The most important piece of business this morning: the first appearance of Matt Seitz's byline in weeks, with his review of the "Rescue Me" season premiere. "Rescue Me" is one of the summer shows I'll be doing morning after write-ups here at the blog, so look for something either late tonight or first thing tomorrow. In other linkage, a mailbag column (link now fixed) that's mostly about the divergent opinions about my "Idol" finale story (I like the woman who declared that I am "absolutely nothing"), but which has a pointer on the second page towards a possible explanation for the Homer Simpson statue on "Lost."

Meanwhile, with the bulk of the TV season over, I could finally get back to "Everwood" -- just in time to see the farewell episodes. Sigh. When the WB stopped showing it on its Sunday afternoon Easy Pass window, I lost track of Andy, Ephram and company, popping back only when the other shows I watched in its timeslot were in rerun. I would always feel bad that I was missing so much of an obviously well-written, well-acted, heartfelt show like this, and yet I never felt the addictive pull that so many other dramas give me. I understand why so many people were passionate about the show -- a few of the reporters at the CW's first press conference looked like they wanted to hop over a rail and throttle Dawn Ostroff for keeping "One Tree Hill" instead -- but I think once the focus shifted from the father-son battles to the town in general, it never felt unmissable to me.

But I would have to have been made out of stone to not get a little choked up at that last scene where Edna broke down after seeing Irv's ghost. The writers never quite knew what to do with Irv, especially after they dropped his voiceovers, but that marriage was always sweet (even when they were separated), and Debra Mooney was just about perfect as Edna begged Irv not to leave. (Like Veronica Mars' occasional freak-outs, it was especially effective because Edna is a rock 99% of the time.)

The rest of the episode occasionally felt labored, as if the writers were trying to make it up to John Beasley by devoting an entire hour to showing just how important Irv was to the community, but Bright with the military recruiter was hilarious, and I liked the broken mug motif.

Since I don't think I've blogged about the show before, not sure how many of you are fans. If any of you are, what do you want to see happen in the finale next week? Click here to read the full post

Friday, May 26, 2006

'Lost' link

This morning's column, which features slightly expanded thoughts on "Lost" and a breakdown of the NBC schedule revamp.

Between now and when "Rescue Me" premieres on Tuesday night, I hope to get through a bunch of pilots and offer some brief thoughts. I've already seen a few of the CBS shows, so I may post an entry on them by this afternoon. And if not, happy Memorial Day weekend, everybody; go enjoy some barbecue. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Nevermind Broadcasting Company

So, as alluded to in the last post, NBC has completely ripped apart the fall schedule they announced last week and replaced it with this one.

Have to get back to the column, but discuss away and I'll try to answer questions based on Reilly's press conference call as the afternoon moves along. Click here to read the full post

"Lost" finale: where's George Jetson when you need him?

And the Cone of Silence has been lifted on "Lost." Unfortunately, I have to spend the next 30 minutes to an hour on a conference call where Kevin Reilly explains why he ripped apart virtually the entire schedule he announced last week, all to move "Studio 60" away from "Grey's Anatomy," and after that, I'll have to write my column for Friday.

But I wanted to open the floor for comments, starting with my own brief take. My Zen-like state of not needing anything on this explained to me has never been more useful than with this finale, which was complete gibberish and a hell of a lot of fun. In terms of crafting a coherent narrative, Lindelof and Cuse are miles out of their depth. In terms of creating riveting individual moments (Locke snatching Eko's Jesus stick, Desmond with the key) or haunting images (the statue of Homer Simpson's foot, the pile of discarded pneumatic tubes), they are amazing.

I'll try to update with more detailed thoughts later this afternoon, but let the comments and hypothesizing commence! Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

There is no joy in Mudville...

... Dave Kingman (er, Katharine McPhee) has struck out. I did a liveblogging-style story for the Ledger, which has been posted here. Feel free to come back here to comment.

In the meantime, how about that Prince? Can't he just perform for two hours straight next year?

Oh, and because I had to cover "Idol" live, I won't get to see "Lost" until tomorrow morning. Cone of Silence, back in effect! Click here to read the full post

Alimentary, my dear Wilson

Spoilers for the mind-bending (albeit not as mind-bending as it was intended to be) "House" season finale, after the jump...

First open question: Is there anyone here who hadn't figured out that the entire post-shooting episode was a hallucination long before it occurred to House? Second question: If you figured it out, when? For me, it was as soon as House woke up from his beating of Wilson and Elias Koteas (whose character in the script was named Moriarty, in a nice touch to our hero's inspiration) knew more than he should have been able to observe while lying in a neighboring hospital bed. I probably should have figured it out after House's sidekicks found a way to get him out of his handcuffs and took him out to a Mexican restaurant (and one in a neighborhood that doesn't remotely resemble anything in or around Princeton or Plainsboro), but I suppose I was too impressed by Cameron's sunglasses to notice. (Seriously; those were very cool.)

Once it became obvious that this was all a dream/delusion/holodeck program gone awry, the episode wasn't as much fun as "Three Stories," but there were compensating moments. The exploding eyeball was just about the grossest thing I've seen since... ever. (I've always had a thing about eyeballs, which is one of the reasons I never got contact lenses.) House using the robot surgeon for some foreplay with Cameron was as sexy and as silly as it was intended to be (I laughed and applauded at the end of that scene). And House's mind unconsciously analyzing itself worked as well as "Detox," in that it explained things about the man without fixing them. Which leads me to...

... "Tell Cuddy I want ketamine." On the one hand, I'm a big champion of shows that are willing to shake up the status quo, and I'd be somewhat in awe if the "House" writers took away their hero's raison de cranky. On the other hand, I feel like being without the limp would so fundamentally alter House that either the show wouldn't be as much fun or the writers would feel compelled to have the leg pain return in six or seven episodes. So we'll see. Maybe the line was just a wink at the audience.

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

Three-legged links

Yesterday was one of those perfect storm days at the office. I came in planning to write a column breaking down some of the best and worst of season finales (basically a Best of the Blog kind of story). Then, as I was a few minutes into watching my tape of the "Alias" finale, I found out that ABC News was having Charlie Gibson replace Elizabeth Vargas behind the "World News Tonight" desk. Ordinarily, I pay little attention to TV news and write even less about it, but with Matt (our news junkie) still out, that one fell on me, too. And as I was bouncing back and forth between the finale story and the Gibson story, my editor strolled over and asked if I could write a live story breaking down the final "American Idol" performance night. Since I was already going to blog it anyway, this wasn't a big issue, but it's still a weird day to have my name in the paper three times. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

When Taylor beat Katharine

Well, that wasn't very close, was it? It's the final performance night on "American Idol," and one of these contestants had to be damn near perfect to win, and she wasn't. In order...

Katharine McPhee, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree": This was one of my two favorite Kat performances of the season, and a smart choice for her to reprise, but it felt like she was holding back vocally throughout. I've listened to the MP3 of the original a few dozen times in the last couple of weeks, and her voice has this raw, letting it all hang out quality that was completely lacking here. I started to wonder if she was losing her voice during her third performance, but when they showed the dress rehearsal footage during the montage at the end of the episode, it was obvious Kat had already lost it before the show began. Given that, this was better than it should have been, but not a patch on the first time she did it. (Also, good call getting up off her knees; given what was coming next, she didn't want to be known as The Girl on the Floor.)

Taylor Hicks, "Living for the City": This was my favorite Taylor song of the finals, even though he smiled like an idiot through it the first time. He had the goofy grin at the start here, but quickly shut it down once he got moving. Yes, Taylor has three or four moves that he repeats ad nauseum, and yes, he's a predictable doofus, but the boy has stage presence and he understands the limits of his voice much better than Katharine does and makes every note count.

Katharine McPhee, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": On the one hand, this was far and away the best thing she did all season. On the other hand, she did it last week. Diana DeGarmo did this with "Don't Cry Out Loud" in the season three finals and got killed for it. (Oddly enough, Diana also had a malfunctioning earpiece when she reprised "Don't Cry"; cue the conspiracy theorists...) Given what bad shape her voice was in, this was really quite lovely, maybe even a bit better than last week (if nothing else, her expressions were less smiley). You can argue that she should have done "Someone to Watch Over Me" or "God Bless the Child" or something else we haven't heard in months, but this was her one perfect moment tonight.

Taylor Hicks, "Levon": As my sister points out, this is a song about a rich jerk whose son can't stand him, and Taylor believes "it's about family values." Whatever problem he may have parsing the lyrics isn't apparent when he sings it. We're back with Sad, Quiet Taylor again, and I like this incarnation of him. Not quite on par with "Over the Rainbow," but much closer than Simon tried to make it sound in the hope of creating some suspense for the final round.

Katharine McPhee, "My Destiny": And her voice is just totally gone on this maudlin pile of goo. There are parts where she's just talking, and one painful big note towards the end where she gives up halfway through and looks like she'd just like to go home and watch "The Notebook" on DVD and eat a gallon of Chunky Monkey and pretend like this whole night never happened.

(By the way, no matter how much I hate Randy Jackson for the way he wastes time and oxygen every week, I will always have some affection for the D-A-double-G for his insistence, year after year after year, on pointing out how awful the coronation single is. Of course, when you just signed a contract extension, you're not really at risk, are you?)

Taylor Hicks, "Do I Make You Proud": I can't tell if his song is marginally better than hers, as Randy suggests, or if it's just that Taylor once again manages to apply his personality and bluesy growl to it, but this was a vast improvement, performance-wise. Fantasia's "I Believe" is still the only coronation song performance I enjoyed completely, because of the way she gave herself over to the stupid emotions about rainbows and puppies and balloons, but this is the only other time I haven't wanted to change the channel when a finalist was singing it. And then, just as I've rediscovered my affection for Taylor in his moment of victory, he has to go and dash the goodwill by yelling out "Soul Patrol!" 85,000 times in a row, just in case his fans didn't already understand how much he loves and understands them.

Should win: Taylor. In a walk.
Will win: Only two scenarios in which I can imagine Kat winning: 1)We get another phone line jam like season two and she has more text messages than him; or 2)The tween girls who are the show's dominant voting bloc (and who I'm sure drove Carrie's victory over Bo last year) just can't bring themselves to vote for the funny-looking guy with the grey hair.

I'm writing a live story for Thursday's paper about the results show, which, given the deadline constraints, will have to be written like a liveblogging entry. And since I can't rob from Peter (the column) to pay Paul (the blog), I'll have to come up with something else after I finish the column tomorrow night. (Assuming Taylor wins, not sure I'll have much to say, anyway.) And having to cover the finale live means I won't get to watch "Lost" until the following morning. Sorry. Click here to read the full post

Sydney goes to Sydney

I will miss "Alias," if only because I doubt any new show will offer up picture possibilities like the one above.

So after skimming through the last two or three episodes in the hopes of getting myself up to speed for the finale, I watched the final two hours and was still completely baffled. "24" makes no sense if you stop to think about it for a minute; "Alias" makes no sense even as you watch it.

Sloane, having just acquired the secret of eternal life, wants to blow up several world capitols just so he can make money rebuilding them? Huh? Why doesn't he just contact Tony Soprano and buy out that heavy equipment leasing company from Johnny Sack? If I were suddenly granted immortality, I think I'd have other priorities beyond blowing stuff up and making money. For starters, I would go eat one of those Pizza Hut pizzas with the extra layer of cheese in the crust, because I wouldn't have to worry about cholestorol anymore.

Overall, the finale felt like a lot of missed opportunities. While I'm sure the producers had been waiting for years to do that "Sydney" location card, they had one last chance to put Jennifer Garner in some ridiculous costume, and they dress her up as a waitress? Really? Couldn't she at least have had to be a waitress with blue hair? Or horn-rimmed glasses? Throw us a bone, man! Please!

While the flashbacks did set up that scene at the end with Syd's daughter, I don't feel like it taught me anything new about the clan Bristow. Couldn't they at least have brought back Danny for one of the flashbacks? Or, even better, couldn't they have revealed that he's been alive the entire time and pulling all the strings, even Sloane's? Wouldn't have been any more ridiculous than anything else that happened.

I did like certain moments in the finale. Jack burying Arvin alive for all eternity (or, at least, until gentrification comes to that part of the world and that cave is excavated to build condos) was about as cool a dying act as I've seen a TV character perform. I will never complain about a Jennifer Garner/Lena Olin brawl. Marshall standing up while captured was a nice moment for him, as was his communicating in code by using the children's books. And Rachel busting out the snake to interrogate Peyton was a lot more effective than the Jack Bauer shout-and-shoot method. (As Rich Heldenfels said to me this morning, "They should bring some of the Alias people over to 24 just so they can say, 'Hey, Jack, have you ever thought about using a snake?'")

Goodbye, strange spy show. You were weird, you were unexpected, and you were a lot of fun for a while there, until the point when it became obvious that there was no there there. Sounds kind of like another ABC drama, doesn't it? Click here to read the full post

What do you want?

First things first, the morning link: And Then There Were Two, my preview of the "American Idol" finale. (Not much you haven't seen here, down to the Katharine=Dave Kingman analogy.)

Second thing second: We have only two days left of the broadcast network TV season, which means potential blog fodder is going to be a lot lighter soon. I know a few of the shows I intend to follow this summer (Deadwood, Rescue Me, Rock Star, probably Entourage), but are there any summer shows you're looking forward to that you'd like to see discussed here? The floor is open for suggestions. Click here to read the full post

Monday, May 22, 2006

24: the last two hours

"24" season finale spoilers ahead, but before we get to analyzing the finale, I thought it might be edifying to do a quick run-through of everything that the characters featured in the above photo have been through since Day 5 began. (I will be mentioning things from the finale here, though, so stop now if you haven't seen it yet.) From left to right:
  • Tony Almeida: Watched his wife die in a car-bombing, lapsed into a coma, woke up long enough to attempt to murder his wife's killer, then killed himself after losing his nerve.
  • Edgar Stiles: Again failed to get out of the Friend Zone with Chloe, then died during a nerve gas attack on CTU headquarters.
  • Bill Buchanan: Oversaw effort to arrest Jack Bauer for assassinating David Palmer, then quickly shifted into support of Jack as he foiled an airport hostage crisis, a gas attack on a mall, and at least one other early crisis I'm forgetting about. Relieved of duty at least once (by Karen Hayes), if not twice (by Lynn McGil); it's been a long season, so apologies if I get it wrong. Anyway, definitely sent home by Karen, then brought in for questioning in the pursuit of fugitive Chloe, then returned to defacto charge of CTU, finally asking out Karen.
  • Chloe O'Brien: Woke up after an unfortunate dipping your pen in the company ink moment with a guy who would turn out to be a mole for the president's office, eluded assassination attempt by running through a pedestrian mall, helped Jack foil the airport crisis with the help of the world's most bad-ass PDA, watched Edgar die, helped Jack figure out a way out of the nerve gas crisis, subverted the Homeland Security people until she was placed under arrest, escaped the allegedly high-security CTU headquarters, helped Jack hijack a plane, tasered a drunken asshole in a bar, let Miles destroy the crucial recording, helped Jack retake a hijacked submarine and bring down the President of the United States. Oh, and potentially reunited with her charming British hacker husband.
  • Jack Bauer: Ah, hell with it. Too much to list, but he started the season pretending to be a construction worker named Frank and ended it a prisoner of the Chinese government. Oh, and in between, he took down POTUS.
  • Audrey Raines: Thought Jack was dead, found out he was alive, got pissed that he wasn't dead, fell back in love with him, suffered a potentially fatal stabbing from Christopher Henderson but turned out to be okay, thought her dad was dead, found out he wasn't, thought she and Jack would be together forevuh, found out he was missing. Nothing to see here.
  • Curtis Manning: Deferred to Jack on a whole lot of stuff, and briefly took over CTU when Lynn had his Captain Queeg moment. Miraculously survived being Jack's season-long sidekick.
  • Martha Logan: Was crazy, then she wasn't, then was crazy again, went on and off a lot of pills, flirted a lot with Aaron, seduced her husband to delay him long enough for Jack's plan to go into effect, secured the confession that brought down a presidency.
  • Charles Logan: Was a craven coward, then wasn't, then a traitor, then part of some nebulous, unexplained, illogical conspiracy, got a quickie with his wife, then ran his mouth off and went to jail.
And that's not even mentioning long-departed souls like Lynn, or Kim Bauer and her creepy older boyfriend, or the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't villainy of NotCraig Bierko, and... I'm exhausted just thinking about it all.

Anyway, onto the specifics of the finale. A really strong opening with the retaking of the sub (this show never goes wrong when it does straight action) and Jack executing Henderson, then a lull with occasional highlights (Martha asking not what she can do for her country), then a cool ending with Logan in custody and Jack taking the slow boat to Shanghai. After all this talk about season six taking place in a foreign city, who ever would have thought that that city might be in China, and that Jack might have to work as an agent of a foreign government to get out of what he did at the end of last season?

I look forward to Jack spending 10-15 episodes in the middle of the season flying back to LA so he can get back to hanging with Chloe and friends. Or maybe not. That last scene at CTU sure felt like we were saying goodbye to some of these characters for a while, if not forever. I know with 24, anything can happen because the writers make it up as they go along, but if Jack begins the season in a foreign country, he's going to have to spend most of the day there, away from his entire support staff. Could be cool, could get awkward in a hurry, and I'm sure I'll be there come January to see which.

Now that the season's over and I know the latest cliffhanger won't get resolved for a long time, it's time to re-evaluate Logan's heel turn. Does it make any more sense now than it did when they revealed it? Not really. I was hoping that Logan would suffer the Fallacy of the Talking Killer with either Jack or the First Lady, just long enough to explain why the hell he would do everything he did, who was pulling his strings, how long he'd been in place, etc., etc., etc. Maybe the writers will attempt to revisit this next year, with Paul McCrane (who, sadly, did not get drowned in toxic waste) coming back as the bad guy, but the big twist, while providing lots of story fodder for the second half of the season, was one of the cheaper things this show has done since the cougar.

Glad to see Jack's plan didn't really hinge on his ability to get a confession out of the Prez, because while he may be the greatest killing machine in TV history, dude cannot interrogate at all. Once he yells a few times, all he has left is a willingness to maim, which wasn't going to work here. If this were "Homicide," Jack wouldn't even be allowed in The Box. Even Sipowicz had more moves beyond slapping and threatening.

And if the Logan twist was completely illogical, it at least featured two great scenery-chewing performances by Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart. The look on Smart's face as Martha prepared to have sex with the most villainous man in the Western Hemisphere is the stuff supporting actress awards are made of.

What did everybody else think? Where do you think Day 5 stacks up in the show's run? (I watched only parts of 3 & 4, so I can't make a vote on this one.) Which bit of forgotten business from early in the season were you most annoyed they never got back to? Did you buy President Evil? Whose death saddened you most? Whose made you cheer the loudest? Fire away.
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Batts all, folks!

"The Sopranos," episode 11. From today's review:

Hey, it could have been worse. Fat Dom could have told Carlo to go home and get his shine box.

"The Sopranos" cast has so many "Goodfellas" alums that the writers can't help but pay occasional homage. In season one, it was Christopher shooting that baker in the toe, and last night it was Carlo and Sil's virtual re-creation of the taunting-inspired murder of Billy Batts -- played by smilin' Frank Vincent, the man at the center of this new mess.

This is very, very bad what these two did. Phil can get away with killing one of Tony's captains because Vito was marked for death anyway and because, hey, he's the boss of New York. Even if Tony wanted to go to the mattresses, he doesn't have the manpower to do it. But if/when Phil -- who's wanted Jersey blood since the Tony B. thing -- figures out what happened, he can rain five boroughs worth of fury down on Tony and what the late Carmine called "a glorified crew."

As Tony drove away from Satriale's, you could see him figuring out exactly how much trouble he's in. And after he finished that mental calculus, what's the first thing he did? He called his construction buddy to get AJ a job, because he knows he may not have much time left to straighten the kid out. (The shakycam scene in the garage, where Tony's desire to help AJ battled mightily against his impulse to smash his face through that windshield, was one of James Gandolfini's finest moments.)

And while Tony was realizing how small and vulnerable he is compared to New York, half a world away, Carmela was having her own sense of self smashed to bits. In Caldwell, she may be hot stuff, but when she sees France with all its treasures and history, she realizes she's just another insignificant speck, and that "it all gets washed away."

To read the rest, click here. Then come back to comment. Click here to read the full post

Friday, May 19, 2006

Odds and sods

The Cone of Silence is lifted, baby! In this entry, in order, the "Grey's Anatomy" finale, "Lost," the latest "American Idol" boot, the CW schedule and "The O.C." finale. (Since it's freshest, it's way at the bottom, so you have plenty of time to slam on the brakes if you haven't seen it.) "Grey's Anatomy": This three-hour finale illustrated everything I love about this show and everything about it that drives me absolutely freaking nuts. On the one hand, you have scenes like Cristina choking on her big moment during Burke's surgery, or the "Breakfast Club"-inspired series of This Is Who I Am monologues during the inquisition, or Alex finally displaying some humanity after Denny dies. On the other, you have Katherine Heigl being asked to cry -- twice -- and Callie being transformed from a cool, tough woman into quivering mess, and Meredith and McDreamy doing a note-for-note recreation of that painful "Sex and the City" arc where Carrie was cheating on Aidan with Big, and Shonda going so far in trying to exorcise her high school demons (as she admits on her blog) that she has all the characters go to prom, and... Why must you be so good some of the time, "Grey's Anatomy," and so cringe-inducing the rest? Here's the thing: Shonda's repeated defense of Meredith is that she wanted to be able to write female characters who are deeply flawed, who are allowed to do the same awful things that male drama characters like Doug Ross or Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey get away with all the time without outraged cries from the audience. And while I do think there's a certain double standard about what people will accept from a woman versus a man, those guys I mentioned are interesting and charismatic and likable enough when they're not breaking hearts and decapitating corpses and killing cops that you're willing to follow them week after week even when they're doing the bad stuff. On those occasions when Meredith's not involved in a plot about her love life (either dealing with her mom or helping out one of the other interns), I do kind of like her, but those moments are so infrequent compared to her constant angsting over McDreamy -- not to mention all those seemingly unrelated storylines that always turn into a metaphor for that relationship -- that I really, really can't stand her. Or him, for that matter. Either be with your wife or don't, dude. Waffling and sneaking off for a quickie with your ex while you're out on a date with the missus is not cool on pretty much any level. And Meredith wins the "You stay classy, San Diego" award for doing the same with McDreamy about 30 seconds after her boyfriend professed that he had finally gotten over the death of his wife thanks to her. And the notion that Izzie might have gotten off thanks to the interns' "I am Spartacus" tactics just makes my blood boil. If you're going to have one of your characters do something as insane and dangerous as that, you have to have the show treat it as something that insane and dangerous -- you have to be willing to go all the way and either destroy her career or take down all her accomplices in the process. Instead, Webber let himself be bamboozled, and then Izzie took everyone off the hook with her confession. Again, Shonda has that David E. Kelley thing where the good moments are just so damn good that I'm willing to suffer through the bad ones for a while, but my patience for Kelley usually gets tried by season three. As I said the last time, I get that Shonda is head over heels in love with all her characters and that that devotion no doubt is responsible for how popular the show is right now. But in the long haul, a creator needs some kind of emotional distance from the people they write about, or else things will go sour and self-indulgent in a hurry. "Lost": Hey, look, another clip show! Oh, wait, it's not a clip show but an incredible simulation! All right! Way to kill time, guys! Like "Grey's," "Lost" is a show that does certain things so well that I put up with a lot of the junk that comes with it, but unless the finale lays a lot of cards on the table -- and I'm talking enough cards for the Brady kids to have a house-building contest -- I may be out. I appreciated some of the added glimpses of The Others, but aside from Miss Clue, did we learn anything significant that we didn't already know? Michael was captured by The Others and blackmailed into freeing Henry? Already figured that out. The Others aren't who they pretend to be? You showed us the fake beards months ago, fellas. Michael really loves his boy but doesn't know much about him? Shock. Shock. There were some nice moments here and there -- Eko suddenly becoming the button's biggest acolyte, while Locke goes back to being the knife-wielding man of action he was early in season one -- but fool me once (the season one finale), shame on you; fool me twice (an equally vague season two finale), and I'm watching Tina Fey's show. "American Idol": Elliott's a nice guy, and he was Marian's favorite, and it's a shame he won't at least get the runner-up treatment, since I doubt he'll have the post-show opportunities that Chris and Paris will get. But he only occasionally made me do more than shrug and say, "That was nice." And with him gone, we have the unofficial Dave Kingman Memorial "American Idol" Finals, with two singers who swing and miss a lot but occasionally knock one into the vacant lot across the street. Unless there's a phone capacity issue the way there was in season two, I think Taylor wins in a walk, but it's a moot point; given Taylor's rabid cult audience and the producer's high image of Kat, I think we're in for another Ruben/Clay co-winners situation. My big fear is that they'll follow last year's format, where each finalist has to perform The Single (and I cannot wait to hear Taylor attempt to tackle the latest ode to the Diane Warren catalogue), then another crap-ass original song, and then a reprise of something they did earlier in the season. I know The Single is obligatory, and the encore is nice, I'd like to see at least one fresh, potentially Moment-worthy performance of Taylor and Kat's choosing on Tuesday instead of further proof that the "Idol" songwriting team should be working at Guantanamo Bay and not the Kodak Theater. After I got back from the CW upfront, I thought about blogging it right away and decided I would rather clean out the TiVo so I could do a bigger post like this. Not much that hasn't already been analyzed to death all over the place, but a couple of observations:
  • When Alexis Bledel and Kristen Bell did their scripted online patter about the similarities between Rory and Veronica, it was another stark reminder that Alexis is not a good comedienne at all. If "Veronica Mars" doesn't succeed in its new home, any chance Rory can get into one of those "Dynasty"-style car accidents where she emerges from plastic surgery played by a new, blonder actress?
  • It was funny to compare the crowd reaction to the return of "Veronica" and the return of "One Tree Hill." The former was greeted with wild applause; the latter was more like the sound of one hand clapping. If they weren't going to bring back "Everwood," they might as well have sent "One Tree Hill" to oblivion while they're at it. It's one thing to have a schedule dominated by returning shows and another to have one of those returning shows be something only enjoyed by 12-year-old girls hoping to become the third Mrs. Chad Michael Murray. You send a bad message that way, both to the audience and to potential show creators.
  • Fienberg (who has a very good "O.C." finale breakdown, in case you don't find mine satisfying enough) has started a plan to have the Kevin Williamson midseason soap "Hidden Palms" nicknamed "Hairy Palms" by everyone he can find. I am wholly on board with this plan; spread the word.

And now, we're coming to "The O.C.," so stop reading if you don't want to know who died. Seriously, just stop. Oh, what the hell, you all know, right?

Look, I wanted Marissa dead as much as the next fan. I've wanted her dead pretty much since Oliver showed up in season one, if not before.

But I don't like the way it played out, at all. Ryan has always been and will always be an angsty character. It's his reason for being on this show. But there's a difference between the "Sorry, nice rich Jewish man, for accidentally burning down your father-in-law's model home and getting into fights at every cotillion" kind of angst and the "My explosive temper triggered a series of events that led to the tragic death of the only girl I've ever loved" angst, and I don't see how either Ryan or the show pulls out of this. Julie can still be funny and bitchy after her wrinkly sugar daddy husband dies, but her daughter? Does Summer get over her best friend dying anytime soon? Is Taylor quite as amusing taking Marissa's place in the inner circle? Bah. No good can come from this.

Aside from finally recognizing what a horrible mistake the last two years' worth of Sandy at work stories were and sending him back to the public defenders office, I'm not sure I like any of where next season is heading. If NBC doesn't blink and leaves "Studio 60" in the timeslot, it and "Grey's" are definitely going to get higher priority from me.

Anyway, I think that's quite enough from me, so let's open it up for the comments. And, of course, I'm finally getting back on schedule just as most of the shows I follow have finished their season. Get ready for a whole lotta cable dramas and open question threads in the coming months.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

'Loop' with Liguori

"The Loop" is back! "The Loop" is back! More filthy humor! More made-up curse words! More dogs placed in harmful situations! Woo-hoo!

Oh, I'm sorry; are there other elements to the Fox schedule? It's just so rare to see a show I like this much with ratings that bad (the result of a lousy timeslot) not only get renewed, but get placed into an awesome timeslot (after the "Idol" results show). Of course, that didn't exactly save "Arrested Development," but I'll take however much extra "Loop" I can get.

More on the rest of the schedule after the jump, and I should say that the Cone of Silence has been lifted from the first half of the "Grey's" finale (Monday 9-10), last night's "Lost" has taken its place. What can I say? It's been a bizarre week. At least I know who got voted off of "Idol," which I'll get to in a bit. Anyway, onto the sked:

As usual, Fox is going with a two-pronged schedule, without and then with "Idol." And, as usual, I don't expect all of these shows to stay in these timeslots -- or, in some cases, even to air -- but this is allegedly what they plan to do:
9:00-10:00 PM VANISHED

8:00-9:00 PM STANDOFF
9:00-10:00 PM HOUSE

8:00-9:00 PM BONES
9:00-10:00 PM JUSTICE

8:00-8:30 PM ‘TIL DEATH
8:30-9:00 PM HAPPY HOUR
9:00-10:00 PM THE O.C.

8:00-9:00 PM NANNY 911

8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS

9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM THE WAR AT HOME

8:00-9:00 PM STANDOFF
9:00-10:00 PM 24

8:00-9:00 PM AMERICAN IDOL Performance Show
9:00-10:00 PM HOUSE

8:00-9:00 PM JUSTICE
9:00-9:30 PM AMERICAN IDOL Results Show
9:30-10:00 PM THE LOOP

8:00-8:30 PM ‘TIL DEATH
8:30-9:00 PM HAPPY HOUR
9:00-10:00 PM THE O.C.

8:00-9:00 PM BONES

8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS

9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM THE WAR AT HOME
Overall, a more stable schedule than Fox usually tries out. I think they've finally realized that they just have to hold tight through all their usual fall problems (baseball pre-empting half the schedule) and wait for "Idol" and "24" to come in and save the day. Some specific thoughts:
  • "American Dad" after "The Simpsons"? Really? Is that the absolute best they can do? I understand that cartoons always play much better in that timeslot than live-action (the cartoonish "Malcolm" excepted), but "American Dad"? Can't they just leave it behind "Family Guy" so I don't have to pay any attention to it? ("Family Guy" has its moments, but "Dad" is all of Seth's worst tics without the good ones.)
  • Not exactly a shock, but "The O.C." returns. And without a significant cast member. The geniuses at "Access Hollywood" sent out a press release yesterday revealing that person's identity right in the subject line. I won't be as inconsiderate, but if you want to know, click here. I also like how Josh has completely backtracked on the "Muppet Babies" quote he gave me and Fienberg back in January.
  • Like ABC, Fox is being dumb enough to schedule back-to-back new comedies on Thursday at 8. As much as I worry about how "The Office" might get dinged by "Survivor," I think it and "Earl" are going to wipe the floor with the newcomers, good or not.
  • So not only is "Vanished" another season-long kidnapping serial (ala NBC's "Kidnapped"), but it comes fresh with its own stultifying conspiracy story (ala "Prison Break"). If I take the No-Doz now, will it still keep me awake by the time I have to watch the pilot?
  • "Standoff" has a bunch of actors I like (Ron Livingston, Gina Torres) and a premise that's going to need perfect execution (hostage negotiation partners are secretly, then overtly, dating).
  • Eva Pigford, working actress: the former "Top Model" winner has a small supporting role on "The Wedding Album."

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lox with Les

The CBS schedule isn't especially glamorous, but the announcement is always the highlight of the week, thanks to the annual command performance given by Les Moonves. (After doing his best to play nice and not take his usual dozen potshots at Jeff Zucker, Les couldn't help himself when a reporter mentioned Zucker's speech at NBC's upfront about digital content, which according to those who witnessed it was long and painful. "I hard he talked about it for a while," Les cracked, and when people started laughing, he said, "That's a statement, a factual statement.")

More on the lineup after the jump:
The line-up, night by night:

8:30-9:00 PM THE CLASS (N)
10:00-11:00 PM CSI: MIAMI

8:00-9:00 PM NCIS
9:00-10:00 PM THE UNIT
10:00-11:00 PM SMITH (N)

8:00-9:00 PM JERICHO (N)
10:00-11:00 PM CSI: NY

8:00-9:00 PM SURVIVOR
10:00-11:00 PM SHARK (N)

9:00-10:00 PM CLOSE TO HOME
10:00-11:00 PM NUMB3RS

10:00-11:00 PM 48 HOURS: MYSTERY

7:00-8:00 PM 60 MINUTES
9:00-10:00 PM COLD CASE
10:00-11:00 PM WITHOUT A TRACE

Some thoughts:
  • "HIMYM" would be safer after "Two and a Half Men," but the combination of it and "The Class" (written by "Friends" co-creator David Crane) could be very cool, and in general there's less I want to watch Monday at 8 than there is at 9.
  • "Race" is at 8 p.m. permanently, a good move for such a family-friendly show but maybe not such a great night, since ABC has "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" there.
  • "Smith" stars Ray Liotta as a master thief planning one last job, and Virginia Madsen is his wife. So much for "Sideways" leading to a revival of her movie career.
  • My favorite James Woods movie is "True Believer," so even though he's playing a different kind of defense lawyer in "Shark," I'm there unless the "Six Degrees" pilot just knocks my socks off.
  • "Jericho" has an interesting concept (small Midwestern town survives a nuclear detonation but is cut off from the rest of the world), but Skeet Ulrich as your lead? Really? Really?
  • "King of Queens" is coming back at midseason for 13 final episodes, but anything else from this year you don't see on the schedule is dead.
Not much else to say, but feel free to fire any questions about it.
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The girl who wasn't there

Cone of Silence is still in place on "Grey's," and I'm two weeks behind on "House," but at least I got to watch the "Scrubs" finale in real time.

Bill Lawrence's publicist randomly e-mailed me yesterday to ask if I wanted to talk to Bill about the renewal. So we got to chatting, and, realizing that whatever I wrote would wind up running after the finale had aired (there'll be a short item at the tail end of tomorrow's column), I asked him if there were any big surprises. So he told me about Jordan being pregnant, and about J.D. knocking up Elizabeth Banks on their second date. The rationale:
"Comedies usually build around some sappy pregnancy thing, and we just hope to have something fucked up and chaotic. It's just another sign of how pathetic J.D.'s luck is; how many guys get a beautiful girl pregnant after they've gone out twice?"
I don't know how well this'll work in the fall, but I'm hopeful Banks will be around for a while. She fit in just as perfectly as the show kept insisting she did (loved the x-ray gag at the end of the credits), and these were the two strongest conescutive episodes since early in the season. Loved Turk and J.D. trading places in the Dr. Acula clip, loved Turk inheriting Cox's pants, loved Cox's speech to Jack about toilet-training, loved Sarah Lancaster's cameo as gift shop girl (though she looked a little too orange), loved Cox and Jordan using Ted's band to torture the guy who botched the vasectomy... loved it all, really. Mid-season's too long to wait for it to come back (according to Lawrence, if NBC had cancelled them, ABC would have picked them up but been forced to hold them for mid-season due to some transfer of ownership issues), but better late than never.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Thrice as hard

It's schizoid final three night on "American Idol," when it's hard to figure out who's most determined to sabotage the finalists: Clive Davis, the judges or themselves. Two sensational performances in the middle surrounded by a lot of very iffy material. In order...

Elliott Yamin, "Open Arms": First of all, Clive, "Open Arms" is "a rock song" the same way "Man I Feel Like a Woman" is a country song. The choice does Elliott no favors, not just because Clay sang it back in the day, but because the verses invoke the worst aspects of his vibratto, and because he winds up shouting through the entire chorus. The person who goes first in this round has gone home every single year (you can look it up), and Elliott really needed to kick ass on at least two, if not all three numbers to overcome that curse, the Soul Patrol and the producers' obvious affection for Kat. Not a good start, and things didn't get much better for the guy.

Katharine McPhee, "I Believe I Can Fly": When I first heard the rumor that Clive picked this, I thought, "Why, Clive, why would you do this to Katharine and to me?" I thought for sure it was going to indulge all of Kat's worst instincts about belting her way into a range she can't handle, but for most of the song, she was on top of the music. I was pleasantly surprised. Then came that bizarre arrangement of the chorus, which was sung almost entirely by the backup singers (probably because Kat couldn't go that high), and then she started to get sharp on the big notes at the end. Still, she made passable lemonade out of a big honking lemon.

Taylor Hicks, "Dancing in the Dark": All of the "conversations" between Clive and the contestants felt fake, but this was the only one where you could practically spot the cue cards on the edge of the frame. I'm biased because of my love of Bruuuuuuuuce, but I could not get into this at all. Taylor has always had problems understanding the lyrics of songs (he thought "Levon" was about "family values"), and he was way too peppy for a song about a lonely guy in a dead-end life who just wants to go out and get laid. Plus, doing the finger holster gesture on the "this gun's for hire" line was unforgivable. Not a bad choice of Paula as the Courteney Cox stand-in, but one great big pile of meh overall.

Elliott Yamin, "What You Won't Do For Love": After Simon telling him to show more confidence after the first song, Elliott overdoes it, to the point where he needs a neon sign behind him reading, "Hey! See how comfortable I am! See! Can you look? You're not looking!" This song should be in his wheelhouse, but he gets drowned out by the band, and his voice loses the soulful tone it usually has on this kind of material. (It was back for the next song.) Strike two.

Katharine McPhee, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": Now that, ladies and germs, was a Moment. Simple, intimate, emotional, no unnecessary embellishments, the a cappella opening... perfect in just about every way. So brilliant that it oughta catapult Kat into next week, despite iffy performances at the start and finish of the show. And if she does make it to the finals, her creepy stage mom needs to strap Kat into a chair, clip her eyelids open "Clockwork Orange"-style and force her to watch this performance over and over and over until she gets it into her thick, perfectly coiffed skull that this is the style that works for her, not all the runs and glory-noting.

Taylor Hicks, "You Are So Beautiful": Nearly as good at Katharine, except for that awful "woooooo!" bridge in the middle that completely broke the mood Taylor had created up until then. (And you'll note how abruptly he was able to shift gears back into Sad Taylor.) Where he struggled to connect with the Springsteen song, Taylor completely nailed the emotions of this one (aside, again, from the "wooooo!"). I loved how parts of it were almost whispered, and this is the first time he's managed to be interesting while standing still at the mic. More stuff like this and "Something" and less of the pointless dancing, please.

Elliott Yamin, "I Believe to My Soul": And now the tone of Elliott's voice is back, but I don't know that the song (or, at least, the arrangement) was interesting enough to allow him to show off the way he needed to. On the other hand, Simon's sincere goodbye to him may fire up the Yaminions (or whatever they're calling themselves) enough to push him past Kat. After Chris went home, I think I've given up on predictions.

Katharine McPhee, "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues": I liked the idea of this (upbeat and brassy after two ballads) and the beginning was quite good (other than too much smiling), but somewhere in the middle it turned into a complete mess: too many runs and that pain-inducing falsetto.

Taylor Hicks, "Try a Little Tenderness": Now, this should have been a home run for him, and it wasn't. There may never be a more perfect song for Taylor than this, with the quiet, emotional beginning and the completely manic ending. He got the first part right, but like Kat, went off the rails about halfway through (during that bizarre '70s guitar portion). I don't know if he was off the beat or just trying for some kind of weird syncopation, but he completely lost the flow of the song and the interplay with the horns, and it wound up not manic or passionate enough at the end. Really, it just made me want to pop in my "Committments" soundtrack to listen to Andrew Strong do it.

Should go home: Elliott. Nobody had a perfect night, but Katharine and Taylor were amazing on at least one song, and he never got above average on any of them.

Will go home: Again, I have no idea. I think the fervor of the Soul Patrol and the greatness of that middle song will carry Taylor through, but it's a toss-up between the other two. Are the Yaminions stirred to action by Simon's comment? Is Katharine so hated for not going home last week that she goes home when she doesn't deserve to? Does the song order hurt her?

Really, I don't know, but at this point, what I want is a Kat/Taylor final, because as they've shown in the past ("Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Something") and as they showed tonight, they're capable of greatness. And Elliott hasn't really been great since "Moody's Mood for Love" in the semis. Click here to read the full post


According to Rob Thomas (by way of Ausiello), "Veronica Mars" is definitely going to be on The CW's schedule. I had figured it would be (Dawn loves it too much), but it's nice to have any doubt erased. Click here to read the full post

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle

Upfront Week, day two! Can you feel the excitement? No? Well, what about the confusion? Yeah, me too.

There's some TV conventional wisdom that a successful network doesn't make many changes to its schedule, season-to-season. So how do you explain ABC, at or near the top in most attractive demographic categories, unveiling a schedule with nine new fall shows and four veteran series -- including the network's most popular property -- changing nights? I'll give it a shot after the jump, starting with a run-down of the schedule (the press release on Futon Critic has descriptions of all the new shows):

8:00 p.m. "Wife Swap"
9:00 p.m. "The Bachelor"/"Supernanny"
10:00 p.m. "What About Brian"

8:00 p.m. "Dancing with the Stars" (new night)/"Set for the Rest of Your Life" (new alternative series)
9:00 p.m. "Let's Rob..." (new comedy series)
9:30 p.m. "Help Me Help You" (new comedy series)
10:00 p.m. "Boston Legal"

WEDNESDAY: 8:00 p.m.
"Dancing with the Stars" (new night)/"George Lopez"/"According to Jim" (new night)
9:00 p.m. "Lost"
10:00 p.m. "The Nine" (new drama series)

8:00 p.m. "Big Day" (new comedy series)
8:30 p.m. "Notes from the Underbelly" (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. "Grey's Anatomy" (new night and time)
10:00 p.m. "Six Degrees" (new drama series)

8:00 p.m. "Betty the Ugly" (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. "Men in Trees" (new drama series)
10:00 p.m. "20/20"

8:00 p.m. "ABC Saturday Night College Football"

7:00 p.m. "America's Funniest Home Videos"
8:00 p.m. "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"
9:00 p.m. "Desperate Housewives"
10:00 p.m. "Brothers & Sisters" (new drama series)

What we've got here is an illustration of exactly how fragile ABC's success the last two years has been. Basically, the network was carried to the top entirely on the backs of four shows: "Grey's," "Housewives," "Lost" and "Home Edition." Everything else is a total crapshoot. "Dancing" has a big audience but skews really old, and the network can't air it twice a season like CBS can with "Survivor." There are a few singles hitters ("Boston Legal," "20/20," the Monday reality shows), but to stick with the baseball metaphor, the rest of the lineup for the last few years hasn't even been at replacement level.

There's room for a lot of growth here, but there's no realistic way a network -- even one with the great promotional platforms of the Big Four -- can launch this many new shows or let people know about this many scheduling moves. Better to keep suffering with the likes of "Hope & Faith" and "Invasion" for at least a few months into the fall, then do staggered launches of most of the new stuff.

I do like the "Grey's" move. Whatever creative issues I may have had with the latter third of this season (and, again, Cone of Silence on the finale until I see it), it's the strongest thing ABC has, and it's the thematic opposite of "CSI" in virtually every way: young, female, soapy, focused on relationships over procedure, etc., etc. Two shows can co-exist in that timeslot. "CSI" and "The Apprentice" both did great back when "The Apprentice" was still good (i.e., the first season), as did "CSI" and "Will & Grace" back in the day. If both shows have audiences and are different enough stylistically, the "if you build it, they will come" theory works. (Though ABC sure could have helped matters by giving "Grey's" an actual lead-in, like maybe moving the "Dancing" results show to Thursday.)

I also like that McPherson is smart enough to get rid of the "Lost" rerun problem. (Seven originals will air in the fall, followed by Taye Diggs in "Day Break" for the rest of '06, followed by "Lost" originals straight through the rest of the season.) The "24" solution of just delaying the season until January so you can go straight through without a break is probably better, but I also think fans would scream bloody murder if they had to wait that long to resolve whatever the latest cliffhanger will be.

Until I watch the new shows, I don't want to comment too much, but I like the idea and creative pedigree of "Let's Rob Mick Jagger," or whatever they wind up calling it. On the other hand, was anybody screaming for the return of Calista Flockhart to the public eye?

One of the more curious moves is the return of "What About Brian." I have the last three episodes sitting on my TiVo and had been preparing to delete them, since I don't really have the time to keep up with a doomed relationship show. But I like it enough that I'll find the time to watch those three at some point soon. One of my friends who's the head of scheduling at another network has this theory that a show with a small audience can grow, but that once you start to lose a sizable part of your audience, they're never coming back. Something like "In Justice" opened well, then went off the table. "Brian" never really opened, not even with the Sunday preview, so there's still room for growth. (On the other hand, if you're being cynical, this is just a Suck Up to J.J. move.)

In general, I wouldn't get too attached to most of these new shows. "Brian" and "Dancing" are the only new shows ABC introduced this season that survived ("Commander in Chief" may get a two-hour wrap-up movie), and that was a more stable schedule than this one.
Click here to read the full post

How they ended their seasons

Well, I still haven't gotten to "Grey's" (please continue to maintain the Cone of Silence until instructed otherwise), but a middle of the night bout of insomnia gave me the chance to watch the Fox dramas, and I had already seen "HIMYM," so I'll hit those shows, then comment on the ABC schedule when I have a chance in a little while. More after the jump.

Now how's that for a role reversal from "How I Met Your Mother"? Ted and Robin are together, even though we know they're destined to split up, while Marshall and Lily are on the outs, even though it's been implied that they're a couple in the future.

And you know what? I'm cool with it. The creators have already said the focus next year won't be so much on Ted 'n Robin, and I think the two are interesting enough as a couple that the show can probably go a season or more with them together but without their relationship taking over everything ala Ross 'n Rachel. And while the Lily/Marshall break-up was sad, I'm in favor anything that gives Alyson and Jason more to do. Plus, Craig and Carter showed that they could work laughs into the heavier stuff with that brilliant "On Pause" idea -- something Marian and I are planning to steal in the unlikely event that we ever argue about anything.

I don't think this was nearly in the class of "The Office" finale, but on its own goofier, more sitcommy terms, Ted's summoning of the rain storm was a really nice moment, and I loved the music throughout. And I greatly prefer Amy Acker when she's snogging Barney than when she's pretending to be an ass-kicker on "Alias."

On to Fox, it's been nice knowing you, "Prison Break." I'd been saying throughout the year that I doubted I'd care enough to stick around once the guys got out of jail, and the finale put me firmly in the Life's Too Short column. It's not a bad show, just uninspired, and shock moments like Abruzzi chopping off T-Bag's hand aren't frequent or exciting enough to make me suffer through the rest. As the man with the plan, Michael was a cool character, but I haven't really liked him since the show came back from hiatus. And even if the "24" season ends with Logan dead or in jail, does Fox really need two evil presidents in one season? Really? Unless the show is in a timeslot with absolutely no conflicts for me next year, I'm done, and I think I'm okay with that.

And speaking of "24," last night made me wish they hadn't kept Peter Weller on the sidelines for so much of this season. Having Jack go up against his opposite number, someone every bit the bad-ass as him, only smarter and subtler (I honestly couldn't tell which side he was lying to in the hacker sting operation), is about the only new idea the show has had this year. I'm hoping he survives and is a key player next year. Pretty decent episode overall, with Bierko randomly stealing a submarine (why not?) and Aaron returning to once again establish himself as the series' third most essential character (after Jack and Chloe). Will no one in Hollywood listen to my pleas for an Aaron/Ron Butterfield buddy show?

As I said above, I'll get to the ABC schedule in a little while (the big news: "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursdays at 9), but in the meantime, here's my column from today about the NBC schedule, mostly making fun of having the "SNL" clones on back to back nights (because, as Fienberg pointed out to me, it worked so well last year with "Apprentice"s on the same back-to-back nights last fall).
Click here to read the full post

The Cone of Silence

And now, a note from your friendly neighborhood blogger: I have yet to see the two-hour "Grey's Anatomy" finale, the penultimate "24" or the "Prison Break" finale, and due to my schedule this week, I may not get to "Grey's" or "24" for several days. So, please, no comments about what happened until I do specific posts about each. (I initially was spoiled on the "Survivor" results by a comment made here in an older thread.) If you want to discuss any of them ASAP, I'd suggest hopping over to A List of Things Thrown 5 Minutes Ago, where I'm guessing there are or will soon be individual threads about each. (I'm afraid to even look to be sure, frankly.) Click here to read the full post

Monday, May 15, 2006

Live, from New York, it's... live from New York?

Well, the NBC schedule is out, and you can read the full release, including descriptions of all the new shows, here. The fall schedule looks something like this (new shows in all-caps):

8-9 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
9-10 p.m. "HEROES"
10-11 p.m. "Medium"
9-10 p.m. "KIDNAPPED"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
8-9 p.m. "The Biggest Loser"
9-9:30 p.m. "20 GOOD YEARS"
9:30-10 p.m. "30 ROCK"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order"
8-8:30 p.m. "My Name Is Earl" (new time)
8:30-9 p.m. "The Office" (new time)
10-11 p.m. "ER"/("THE BLACK DONNELLYS" in January 2007)
8-9 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
9-10 p.m. "Las Vegas"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (new day and time)
8-9 p.m. "Dateline Saturday"
9-11 p.m. Drama Series Encores

"Scrubs," "The Apprentice" and "Crossing Jordan" will be back at midseason (Kevin Reilly said he'd like to do the "Scrubs" double-runs again, and that the show started to lose steam after they stopped doing that), and new midseason shows include a Conan O'Brien-produced private eye sitcom starring Andy Richter, and a sitcom called "The Singles Table" about people who meet at a wedding, with John Cho.

Some quick thoughts before I get to writing the full column, which I'll link to tomorrow:
  • They went and they did it: they put both the Tina Fey "SNL" show and the Aaron Sorkin "SNL" show on the fall schedule. I'm guessing they know at least one of them won't work, and if one premiered first and flopped, it would pretty much doom the other.
  • Good move not putting "Friday Night Lights" on Monday or Friday, when football fans will be busy watching actual football. (In the early '90s, NBC had a high school football show called "Against the Grain" with a young Ben Affleck, and they killed it with a Friday at 8 timeslot.)
  • "The Office" will be hurt by going against the second half of "Survivor," which is always the higher-rated half-hour.
  • The idea behind "Heroes" appeals deeply to the comic book geek in me, but the creator is Tim Kring from "Crossing Jordan," who usually underwhelms me.
  • Bummed that I'll have to wait until January for "Black Donnellys," which looks like Haggis and Moresco's attempt to redo "EZ Streets" with a more supportive network, but you can't ask for a better timeslot on NBC.
More if I think of it. Click here to read the full post

Weekend odds and ends

It's Upfront Week, when the broadcast networks announce their fall schedules, which means I'll be busier than usual. But I hope to have time each day to comment at least briefly on each new schedule (and, if not, I'll provide links the following morning to my longer columns about them). Keep in mind that I will only be going to one or two of the upfronts in person, since they're long and boring and designed entirely to cater to advertisers, and since watching the five-minute cut-downs of each new show always ruins the experience of seeing the new pilots. (Those should start trickling in early next week.) So except for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," which I read the pilot script of months ago, any comments about new shows will be based entirely on the premise and the talent involved.

For once, I actually watched "Grey's Anatomy" on a Sunday night, but I'll still be watching it on a Monday thanks to this bizarre two-night, three-hour "finale" plan. But depending on how things go tonight (not to mention where ABC moves it when they announce their schedule tomorrow), I'm not sure I'll be back in the fall.

I'm not sure I have ever laughed at hard as an intentionally dramatic moment on a TV show as I did during Izzie's crying jag to convince Denny to let her mess up his heart. That entire subplot underlined everything I've grown to hate about this show and most of its characters. It's annoying enough when, say, Meredith and Cristina are gossiping about their boyfriends in the middle of a bomb scare, but for Izzy to risk two lives (Denny's and the legitimate recipient) because she's getting frustrated at how long it's taking for Denny to get a heart? George should have brained her with a bedpan as soon as he realized what she was up to. Add to that George scolding Callie for daring to speak the truth to poor, fragile Meredith, plus the shooting of Burke, one of the few characters I still like unreservedly, and my patience is really being tried here.

I was still firmly in the show's corner as recently as the Super Bowl episodes, and Shonda has the talent to pull out of this tailspin, but first she needs to take a step back and stop looking at all her stories and characters with unwavering devotion.

Meanwhile, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus "Saturday Night Live" was probably the best episode since the Jack Black show that introduced "Lazy Sunday" and "Christmastime for the Jews." The Al Gore-as-president sketch was the first good political sketch the show's done in years. (You can watch it here until NBC's lawyers get their usual cease-and-desist letter over to YouTube.) The monologue/film clip about "The 'Seinfeld' Curse" was also good, though Julia spoiled a lot of it in promotional appearances a day or two before. (By the way, the "Curse" is one of the dumbest media creations of all time; it's not like Jerry and company sold Babe Ruth for cash or turned away a man and his goat.) And the MySpace sketch (in which the mother of a teenager and a group of pedophiles all take lessons on how to set up a MySpace account) was a rare example of a sketch without an obvious current events or celebrity hook, that had one basic joke but many funny variations within that, and that was just well thought-out from start to finish.

NBC call is in an hour. Back later. Click here to read the full post