Friday, September 29, 2006

He's a very neat monster

Two columns this morning, one of which hasn't been posted yet. The one that has is a review of "Dexter," which will go into the blog rotation this weekend. (The other column is on "Doctor Who," which I also intend to start reviewing her after catching up on the first season over the past few weeks). Anyway, "Dexter":

Dexter Morgan is a serial killer, but it's okay, because he's the good kind.

Dexter doesn't kill just anyone, you see. He only kills other serial killers. Real scum of the earth types -- rapists and pedophiles, to boot -- we're all better off without.

Moral relativism doesn't usually have a place on network TV, but it's worked well for cable outfits like HBO and FX. They've made money hand over fist by getting viewers to identify with mob bosses, dirty cops and their ilk by placing them in worlds where, no matter how bad their behavior is, someone else's is worse.

Showtime dipped a toe in these murky waters with "Weeds," but a suburban mom who deals pot to pay the bills barely even seems like an outlaw figure anymore. An ongoing drama with a serial killer for a hero, on the other hand... that's going to get noticed. And it should. Sick, twisted and darkly funny, "Dexter" is easily the best drama in Showtime history, and maybe the series that finally puts the 30-year-old channel on the map.

To read the rest, click here.

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Survivor: Racial harmony

"Survivor" spoilers just as soon as I gather up the nearby members of my race to form an alliance...

Well, it was nice to see that the racial segregation twist lasted a whole two episodes -- or, if you prefer, one episode longer than last spring's gender/age splits -- but I think if Burnett, Probst, Shelly and company were looking to see whether people would align by ethnicity or what was strategically wise, they messed up by doing things in this order. Players' default loyalties are always to their original tribemates, and what we saw with the new Aitu was the white people and the Asian people sticking together, then teaming up to get rid of the others as needed. That's not anything to do with race; it's that these people knew each other much better than they knew anybody from the black or Latino teams. In this area, I think the show would have been much more interesting if they'd started with integrated tribes, then quickly merged or shuffled to see which was stronger: the bond of the first eight or nine days, or a shared cultural background.

(What was semi-interesting was that Ozzy put together an alliance of people from all four teams, which Jonathan and Yul quickly ripped apart by stealing their respective racial/tribal mates.)

It's annoying that most of the likable people (with the exception of Nate and Cristina) wound up on the losing team, while most of the hateable people (with the exception of Ozzy) wound up on the winning side. I think Jonathan could have chosen a bit more wisely; since he couldn't choose Adam quickly and Brad couldn't choose Yul quickly, he should have grabbed Nate or J.P. for a little more team brawn. As it was, they were badly outmuscled in what was one of my favorite challenges of all time when they did it in Palau. (This was the contest that firmly established the awesomeness of Tom and Ian, and it's pretty much what Stephenie's legend was built on.) Here, it went by very quickly and exactly as you would have expected from looking at the respective line-ups.

With only one challenge, and a brief one at that, plus no need to show Candice looking for an idol that wasn't there, we got more characterization and strategery than usual, which I liked, even when I didn't like the people. Parvati in particular is pathetic; I hate the flirt your way to the top strategy no matter who does it, but a girl as relatively pretty as she is shouldn't look so incredibly desperate when she's hitting on guys the way she was with octopus-catcher Nate.

What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Grey's Anatomy: You're kidding, right?

"Grey's Anatomy" spoilers comin' right up...

What is it with dramas this week where the last five minutes has to totally go and ruin an episode I was otherwise enjoying? After last week's disjointed, over-expository episode, this felt more like "Grey's" proper: sexy, silly, a little bit poignant and not too heavy-handed. Then came the last coupla scenes and I was back to looking for bricks to throw at the set. (Maybe I'm just looking for an excuse where we're forced to go out and buy a plasma...)

I knew that Shonda was going to contrive to bring Izzy back into the program at some point, but I didn't think it would be this soon or this easy. First, no bleeping way Bailey deserves any blame for what happened. Her whole bit about going soft after having a kid sounded like something written by Archie Bunker or Louie DePalma. "Oh, you can't trust the broads who work for you after they get knocked up! So don't let 'em!" Second, no bleeping way is Izzy allowed back in any kind of medical program, unless it's one where she's a guinea pig for an anti-psychotics drug trial. Blech.

Almost as bad was the show attempting to give the moral high ground back to McDreamy. Dude, whatever happened in New York ceased to count in any kind of grievance tally once you agreed to take Addison back and give things another guy. You're the dick who cheated on her, you're the one who knew that she found the panties, and still you act like her getting back together with Mark justifies what you did? Wow. I didn't think it was possible for me to dislike anyone on this show more than Meredith, but congratulations, big guy.

There was so much good stuff up until then -- Callie getting off on George's jealousy, Alex hooking up with the cancer patient, Cristina battling with Burke's parents (Julia and Shaft, respectively; maybe Burke's mom was the one who wrote Bailey's speech?), Addison getting drunk, the pathologically truthful neuro patient, Callie dancing in her skivvies (and Meredith's description of her to George), etc. -- but that last act really left a bad taste in my mouth.

What did everybody else think?
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The Office: Stop. Hammermill time!

Spoiler thoughts on "The Office" just as soon as I unbutton my top button...

"The Convention" wasn't nearly as funny as "Gay Witch Hunt," but it served several important story purposes: 1)It advanced the Jim and Pam story (and am I the only one who wonders whether Pam was hoping Michael would mention her date to Jim?); 2)It provided the foundation for why Jan will choose to have Scranton absorb Stamford instead of the other way around (again, assuming they follow the path of the British show); 3)Like the Tim Meadows and Valentine's Day episodes last year, it provided a rationale for Michael's continued employment in spite of all the awful stuff he pulls like the gay witch hunt. The British show could get away with David Brent being an unproductive boss as well as a complete ass because there were only a dozen or so episodes. This show should hit at least 100 episodes.

Which isn't to say that the episode was lacking in funny bits. In particular, the Pam's date subplot gave Jenna Fischer plenty of great reaction opportunities. I've been in social groupings where an attractive member of the group suddenly became single and all the men tripped over each other in a pathetic attempt to move in while they could. (Kevin: "If I weren't engaged, I would so hit that!")

To name just a few other good bits:
  • The entire break room scene with Creed, Meredith and "Andrea." (Did you catch that Creed just started eating Angela's food?)
  • Phyllis and Stanley giving Pam advice on the implications of ordering
  • Kelly shoving fries in Ryan's mouth (also Ryan's reaction to Michael's "fun jeans")
  • Jim walking in on Angela in Dwight's room
  • Michael and Dwight beat-boxing
What did everybody else think?
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Beautiful Betty

In this morning's column, I review "Ugly Betty," one of my two or three favorite new shows of the season:

Some TV shows need months, even years, to find their voice.

"Ugly Betty" needs five seconds.

The opening shot of this enormously appealing new series is a tight close-up of star America Ferrera, her hair badly styled, her eyes framed by thick red glasses, a hint of a tacky plaid suit jacket. Her lip quivers nervously, and we cut to the words "UGLY BETTY" in big, Day-Glo block letters, then back to Betty as she smiles broadly and we see that some malicious orthodontist has welded the grillwork of an Escalade to her teeth.

In that quick juxtaposition of how awful Betty looks and how happy she feels, the show establishes both its key theme of substance over style and its arch, self-aware sense of humor. "Ugly Betty" may have some Important Stuff to say about the emptiness of beauty, but not at the expense of a good laugh.

To read the rest, click here.

UPDATE: So, what say the rest of ya's?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Biker boy

Today is my first non-review column in a while, as I look at some notable ratings performances from premiere week (plus Monday night, where "Heroes" opened big, "Studio 60" continued to do meh and "Runaway" ceased to exist).

Since there's already a thread for "Gilmore Girls," and since "House" is quickly becoming a show whose goodness is consistently specific, I don't have much to say about it, save that House was funnier than usual (especially answering Cutty's phone, quoting "Casablanca" to an oblivious Thong Girl, and in the "You can't stop our love!" bit from the previews).

So that leaves "Smith," which I'll discuss in more detail just as soon as I finish calling all of my spouse's known associates...

The good:
  • Virginia Madsen got more of the focus, even if her story was inherently repetitive.
  • More Shohreh Aghdashloo, too.
  • The show is following up on Annie's screw-up with the tasered woman (there were better ways to brush her off in the first place, and once put in that position in the alley, she probably shouldn't have let her live).
  • The placeholder robbery story involved the three most interesting members of the crew.
The bad:
  • The motorcycle chase was beyond cheesey, and it kept gooooooooing. I'm not inherently opposed to chase scenes, but they either need to be shot with a hell of a lot more flair than we got here, or the emotional stakes need to be a lot higher. This was just a bad time-filler.
  • There was a witness to Jeff killing the bad surfer dudes? Huh? Wha? The whole point of the way that sequence was shot was how beautiful and isolated the spot was; if there was anyone within a distance to actually witness the killing, they wouldn't have gotten a good enough look for a police sketch. (And what homicide cop lets a drug dealer keep the sketch of a murder suspect he has the motive and the means to track down and kill on his own?)
  • The use of the temple from "The Usual Suspects" as the meeting place. I get that it's a beautiful location, but one of the best, most famous crime movies of the past decade used it prominently in almost exactly the same circumstance. Not as lame as that time Wells tried to steal The Board from David Simon's "Homicide" book for an early '90s cop show he was doing, but still something that invites unflattering comparisons.
The meh:
  • I don't mind seeing an occasional smaller robbery in between the crew's bigger scores, but even that's not going to be realistic every week. I wonder what an episode without any kind of heist will look like.
The ugly:
  • Ray Liotta's face scares me. It just does.
What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gilmore Girls: Not quite right

This morning's review of the "Gilmore Girls" season premiere:

"I woke up one morning and looked around the room. Something wasn't right. I realized that someone had broken in the night before and replaced everything in my apartment with an exact replica! I couldn't believe it. I got my roommate and showed him. I said, 'Look at this -- everything's been replaced with an exact replica!' He said, 'Do I know you?'" -- Steven Wright

Watching the season premiere of "Gilmore Girls," I couldn't stop thinking of that bit of vintage Wright. The show looks the same, the actors are the same, they're behaving in a consistent fashion, and yet... exact replicas.

To read the full column, click here. And if that's not enough reviewin' for one morning, my column on Ted Danson's "Help Me Help You" is here.

UPDATE: Now that "Gilmore" has aired, what sayeth the rest of you?
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Monday, September 25, 2006

Studio 60: Is that all there is?

"Studio 60" episode two spoilers, just as soon as I figure out what "intellectual reach-around" means...

Oh, Sorkin, you keep getting me and you keep losing me.

You had me when Amanda Peet stopped trying to act with her smile alone and made me actually believe that Jordan could exist ("Clear it" was a nice line); then you lost me in her meeting about the network affiliates, where she got about 17 different things wrong about the TV business. (Notably the idea that she's bullet-proof on Friday nights because the movie studios need to advertise their product. Hey, Jordan; by 11:30 on a Friday night, the battle for who's going to win that weekend's box office is all but over, which is why Thursdays in primetime is when the heavy movie ad dollars are spent.)

You had me when you gave Matthew Perry more to do and he proved up to the challenge. Could he be any more of a leading man? (Sorry. Must... resist... Chandler!) He could do goofy (his belief in the doomsday clock's sentience), hostile (dressing down the badly-dressed writing staff, threatening to bench Harriet), inspired (dreaming up the cold open), etc. He's really showing all the colors. Then you lost me by making Harriet so shrill and annoying. Hey, I get that you're trying to have the last word in that particular relationship, but let it go already.

Speaking of not letting things go, you lost me when you had to dredge up your Television Without Pity fiasco again, after already looking so lame on the subject in "The U.S. Poet Laureate." I'll have you know that I'm not writing this in my pajamas -- though my t-shirt does have a hole in the armpit. So there.

You also lost me with the prayer circle. WTF? IM,WTFF? I totally believe this is something Harriet would want to do, and maybe one or two other people in the cast, but everyone? The way it was presented, this is A)a long-standing tradition, and B)something where the lead prayer job gets rotated. Just not buying it, not even as something the others do to appease Harriet, since she hasn't been written so far as someone who forces her faith on others. The first episode established that she was "the religious one," and showbiz in general tends to be one of the most agnostic professions I know of. The whole scene felt like a very forced attempt by Sorkin to show that, in spite of all the anti-Christian jabs of the last two hours, he doesn't hate all Christians. Don't you see? They prayed together! Did you see that? Are you looking?

But the big You Lost Me moment comes right at the end, when Matt's big sketch, the idea he's been fretting about for the whole episode, the one that's supposed to signal the beginning of a creative renaissance at "Studio 60," the one that the whole Eureka! scene with the tight close-ups and soaring music wanted us to believe is just brilliant... well, it sucked.

Okay, maybe it didn't suck. It was kind of clever, in a college drama revue night sort of way. But as the saving grace of a big-budget, allegedly cutting-edge sketch comedy TV show? No. Not at all. Not even when they dress it up with the orchestra and the opera singers. It's not something I would be stunned to see on the real "SNL," but that's the whole point; if the real "SNL" did it, I would shrug and wonder when they were going to get to the new Digital Short.

(And speaking of the real "SNL," I understand Aaron not wanting to offend the people there too much, hence the acknowledgment that that show co-exists with "Studio 60" in this universe, but all that does is make "Studio 60" seem like a pale imitation. That whole bit where Matt and Danny rattle off Wes' credentials and suggest they'd rather be sitting in Lorne Michaels' chair? Huh? Wha? Wes isn't some visionary; he's the guy who ripped of "SNL" and called it "Fridays," only it's still on the air 20 years later.)

On top of everything else, after making such a big deal about how Matt and Harriet's relationship fell apart while she was promoting her record, we actually hear her sing and she's not very good. I mean, Sarah Paulson's voice is better than mine, but would need a whole lotta Studio Magic to sound good on a CD. And given how much the show tries to sell us on the characters' creative integrity, I don't believe she's the sort of person who would enter a branch of the entertainment industry for which she wasn't qualified.

Because this show is about the creative process -- much moreso than "Sports Night," or "The West Wing" (where we only ever heard snippets of the speeches Sam and Toby wrote) -- we have to on some level believe in the characters' talent, believe that Matt and Danny are making the show better, and if this is the best Aaron (not a trained sketch comedy writer) can do, that's going to be an uphill fight. (Wisely, he declined to show us any of "Crazy Christians," which couldn't remotely live up to the hype it got in the pilot. So much for all of Jordan's talk about how they should open the show with it.) He keeps telling us one thing is going on when we can clearly see it's something else, and unless he can import people capable of writing a great sketch (or, in the case of Mark McKinney, who's on the writing staff but treated like a researcher, let them write for him), I don't see this big fat problem going away.

And then, just as I was ready to write the show off altogether, we get that shot of Matt realizing that the doomsday clock has started again, and he had me again -- at least for another week. But my faith in the power of Sorkin is really being tried here.

What did everybody else think? And was I the only one weirded out by a Lou Grant reference one week after Ed Asner played the head of NBS' parent company?
Click here to read the full post

Thoughts on Heroes?

I showed you mine; now you show me yours. (Or something less unfortunately euphemistic than that.) Click here to read the full post

HIMYM & The Class: Apartments and houses

Skipped over "Prison Break" so I could toggle between the CBS comedies and the first game at the Superdome in 21 months. Feel free to spoil me; while I like it, it's become skippable to me.

Spoilers for "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Class" just as soon as I put up some drywall...

Interesting parallel theme here, as each show's best line revolved around real estate: Lily's "The apartment is a metaphor for Marshall!" and Duncan's "This place is not well-built!" And the latter is really to Jon Bernthal's credit. Lily's line is funny in and of itself, though Alyson Hannigan's delivery was perfect, but "This place is not well built!" is funny entirely because of the goofy pride Bernthal invests in it.

That line, and Duncan demonstrating all the things wrong with the house, were easily the highlight of the second "Class." The scenes with Holly and the three gay men were a complete waste; not only is Holly's husband a cheap gay joke, but they used him to make cheap accent jokes. (And Kyle's partner's accent isn't even that thick.) The scenes with the other quartet were up and down, though I liked Richie's look of resignation after realizing his bad timing with the pills.

Still, the fact that I laughed out loud three or four times marked this as a significant improvement over the pilot for me. But as I've said, others have told me I'm out of my gourd on this one. What say you?

Meanwhile, "HIMYM" continues to fire on all cylinders: Barney's magic, the fast-forwarded conversation about "candy," Ted mocking Robin's Canadian heritage, the real version of Lily's summer in "SF" (including the exact same dialogue, just with different emphasis), and, of course, Marshall's revenge on Barney. I like that they're willing to allow Barney to be a total sleaze; I was afraid that he had some kind of noble motive for swiping Marshall's women, but thankfully, he's just an ass.

I suppose it would be too easy for Marshall to just take Lily back, plus it would create two happy couples plus Barney, but I prefer the show with the soap quotient as low as possible.
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David Fisher goes Hannibal Lecter

Reason #357 why I'm happy I got to watch the entire season of "The Wire" already: Because this Sunday night at 10, Showtime is premiering "Dexter," in which Michael C. Hall from "Six Feet Under" plays a medical examiner by day, serial killer by night. The catch is, as created by Jeff Lindsay in "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," Dexter only kills other serial killers. Based on the three episodes I watched today, this one's going to be at or near my Must-Watch list for a while. Very sick, and very cool. Full review to follow on Friday. Just wanted to put it out there for those of you who subscribe to Showtime. Click here to read the full post

Everyday people? Not anymore.

Two columns today. The first is in praise of "Heroes":

Personal philosophy time: You have just realized you possess the amazing ability to bend space and time to your will. Do you use it to:
A) Travel cheaply to faraway places?
B) Fiddle with the clocks at your dead-end job?
C) Get into the opposite-sex bathroom without being stopped at the door?
D) Save the world?
For Hiro Nakamura, the aptly named breakout character of NBC's wild new drama "Heroes," the answer is more E) All of the above.
Played by Masi Oka, Hiro is a Tokyo-based cubicle drone and unabashed geek, the kind of guy who quotes X-Men comics and "Star Trek" episodes to explain how his powers work.
"Every hero must learn his purpose," Hiro tells a disbelieving co-worker. "Then he'll be tested and called to greatness."
"I think I need a stiff drink," the friend replies. "Beam us up, Scotty."
Like so many other new shows this season, "Heroes" is about total strangers -- a college professor in India, a west Texas cheerleader, an LA cop, a Vegas stripper and a New York politician, among others -- who are brought together under unusual circumstances. The circumstances just happen to involve flight, teleportation and telepathy.
"Heroes" has the kind of ambitious narrative and visual style you wouldn't expect from producer Tim Kring, the man who brought the world "Teen Wolf II" and "Crossing Jordan." But as if possessed by a super power of his own, Kring has created a big, colorful, messy, involving, funny explosion of a show. If it's not the best new series of the season, it's definitely the most memorable.

To read the rest, click here. In the second review, I dismiss "Runaway" in short order.
For a brand-new network, there's not much new to see on the CW. A mash-up of the best bits of the WB and UPN, the awkwardly titled network begins its first season of existence with only two shows that weren't on the air last spring. One, "The Game," is a spin-off of UPN's "Girlfriends." The other, "Runaway" (tonight at 9 on Ch. 11) is like a Frankenstein's monster stitched together from pieces of dead shows from both networks. And like the big guy with the bolts in his neck, all the parts looked better on their original bodies.
To read the rest, click here. Click here to read the full post

Sunday night miscellany

Better-than-recent "Simpsons" (particularly the mall scenes), and I've realized that "Family Guy" is always funnier to me if I'm tired, drunk or on painkillers. (No fair telling which one I was last night.) I weighed in on "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters" earlier in the week, but am curious for any reactions, especially since those are two shows I probably won't be sticking with for very long.

Also, a spoiler for the "Brotherhood" finale after the jump...

As with "The Wire," I got to see the entire season of this show at once. Unlike "The Wire," I didn't feel compelled enough to go back and rewatch each episode for real-time reviews. Overall, it was a decent start, but the pacing got very sluggish very fast, and it felt like the last few episodes (from the highway suicide on) had to cram in way too much to make up for the lack of forward momentum in the rest of the season.

But here's my question: the last development with Declan and Mike looked pretty irreversible to me, but Showtime went and renewed the show. Does the title change? Do we get a supernatural element? Or was the beating not nearly as bad as we were led to believe?
Click here to read the full post

Wire week 4 talk for the On Demand'ers

Here's where you can talk about "The Wire" episode 4, "Refugees," until the review thread opens on Sunday night. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Wire, "Home Rooms": Omar back!

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode three, "Home Rooms," coming just as soon as I can find a box of Honey Nut Cheerios...

The bookends of this episode show you the breadth of this show's tones. In the opening, we see folk hero stick-up artist Omar go down to the corner store, wearing his satin jammies and no gun, and the locals are so frightened of his legend that they throw him a bag of drugs to avoid even the possibility of trouble. In the close, one of the girls in Prez's class slashes another girl across the face as revenge for emotional bullying, then sits silently on the floor as Dukie -- who can sympathize with feeling so beat down by the world that you want to cut someone -- trying to comfort her with the portable fan he spent the whole hour repairing.

Those are the two emotional extremes of "The Wire," and the show wouldn't work without them both. Without Omar's larger-than-life antics, the slashing would be unbearable. Without the grim reality of the school scenes, Omar would border on an action movie cartoon. Admittedly, I would pay full-price to see an action movie about a gay Baltimore stick-up artist, but you know what I mean: Omar is beloved because he's such a stark, optimistic counterpart to the rest of this show.

Continuing the trend of last year, Richard Price gets to reintroduce our shotgun-toting favorite, and he does it in style. And style is what Omar is all about. When I interviewed Simon and Burns back in July, they talked about how Omar scenes are inherently theatrical because Omar cares more about the theater than the cash. Sure, it's nice to take off Old-Face Andre's re-up, but he's in it for that moment when he buys the cigarettes and demands his change. To quote the man himself, "That's the reason why we get up in the morning."

So while Omar's out there, enjoying life as the only character on the show not beholden to an institution (as Simon puts it, even Bubbs is beholden to his addiction), we get an in-depth look at our newest institution, Tilghman Middle School. Those scenes were painful to watch the first time, both for Prez making all those rookie mistakes (the "But you can call me Mr. Prezbylewski" joke just died), and for the slashing, and it was even moreso the second time because I knew everything was coming and was powerless to stop it. I couldn't even enjoy the moment where Prez finds the completed math problem because I knew the "FUCK PREZBO" desk carving was coming up in a second. It's a sign of how great this show is that I want to subject myself to this stuff over and over and over again.

In addition to Prez's freshman struggles, we learned more about the boys' personalities: It becomes more obvious with each week that Namond is trying to force himself into the role his parents expect of him, even though he doesn't really know or even care about the trappings of the gangster lifestyle. (Randy and Michael recognize that, judging by how often they bust his balls about silly things like Namond wanting to get his own face tattooed on his arm.) We get Randy in full entrepreneur mode, making use of Prez's inattentiveness and his own small stature and leftover sixth and seventh grade shirts to move candy in bulk to all three grades. Michael again inspires someone to offer to mentor him with the way he handled the greedy dope fiends, but Marlo looks like he wants to bigfoot over Bodie in that area as well as taking over his corner. (This was also, I believe, our first look at Bug, Michael's little brother.) And Dukie, the butt of so many cruel jokes, so stinky that Namond's mom won't even let him in her house (you'll also note that he had to sit alone in the cafeteria, despite his friendship with the other three boys), demonstrates both his brains and his heart with his repair and use of that fan. (At first I wasn't sure what he had picked up off the street and assumed that it was a half-eaten candy bar or something.)

A few miles and several light years away from Tilghman Middle, Carcetti does his best to exploit his post-debate bump. While Royce is busy pulling lame, petty political BS like threatening to freeze out contributors to both sides and having DPW workers waste their day pulling up Carcetti campaign signs, Tommy's pulling in the donations and finding a way to score a few points from the funeral without looking (or feeling) like a total shitheel. The thing about Carcetti is that, even with his ambition and arrogance and adultery, the guy does mean well, and you could see the self-loathing when the mother interrupted his spiel about her son being killed for turning witness. That woman didn't care why her son was dead, just that he was. If the roles had been reversed, you know Royce would have been grand-standing for all the TV cameras afterwards.

And speaking of petty, enter Lt. Marimow, who destroys the MCU in, like, an afternoon. Marimow is named after an editor Simon had at the Baltimore Sun, but Simon denies there's any connection beyond the name, which, if true, would make this the most negative Tucker-ization of all time. I loved the look of pure glee Rawls had on his face as he dismissed the don't ask, don't tell lieutenant (particularly his "Greaaaaat! That's just great!" interruption of the beach house story), and that scene with Lester was easily the most human Rawls has seemed since the pep talk he gave McNulty after Kima was shot in season one. Why does Lester get a golden ticket back to Homicide while McNulty got banished to the boat for pulling similar shenanigans? Because Rawls, vindictive though he may be, also recognizes that Lester is a great investigator and not nearly as big a pain in the ass when he's working within the more rigid structure of Homicide proper. And Lester back in that unit will no doubt lead to a better clearance rate.

Almost as exciting as the return of Omar, for me, was the return of Bunny Colvin. Robert Wisdom was so damn good last season, and if it's a contrivance to put him in the same school as Prez, it's a minor one, worth making to bring this guy back into the fold. The hotel scene with the hooker and the abusive john reminded Bunny that he has no place in the private sector, and the 18-year-old Carver brought into interrogation for him could smell the police on him immediately. Nice touch with Carver still calling him "Boss."

Some other random thoughts:
  • So who here buys into the new and improved McNulty, and who's with Bunk thinking he's just another lake trout? I'll stay mum on this one, but I'm curious for other reactions.
  • Did you catch Renaldo reading "Drama City," by "Wire" writer George Pelecanos? A nice in-joke, though couldn't someone have gotten an advance copy of George's new "The Night Gardener" for better product placement?
  • Because this is a writer-driven show, I don't talk about the visuals as much, but the directors and cinematographers have really stepped up their game this year. Last week we had that wonderful sequence of Herc walking past the portraits of all the former mayors, wondering if perhaps they're smiling because they just got the Royce treatment. Tonight's visual highlight was all the silent view of Tilghman Middle in the moments before the opening bell, particularly a terrified Prez standing motionless at the head of his classroom. Calm before the storm.
  • When Old-Faced Andre asked if Kima was biracial, it was the first time it ever occurred to me -- and now it's one of those things I can't not see. Sort of like that guy on "American Idol" with the tracheotomy scar; I never noticed it until a friend mentioned it, and then I couldn't look away from the damn thing.
  • Nice scene with Royce and Herc, particularly the double-meaning of Royce's "Don't mention it" at the end.
  • Yet another returnee: Deacon Melvin, played by the guy who was the real-life inspiration for Avon Barksdale. Melvin, Omar and Slim Charles are rare characters on this show in that they know exactly who they are and don't try to be anything more or less.
  • I suppose Prop Joe qualifies in that category, too, which helps explain why he's still on top of the game at such an advanced age. Come to think of it, most of the guys in the co-op meeting looked significantly older than Avon, Stringer or Marlo. Maybe the west side is just young man's turf?
Lines of the week:
  • Royce on Carcetti: "He wants to go big dick with me, I'll show him one he can't handle."
  • Michael to the advancing dope fiends: "You need to rethink what putting your hand on me's gonna get you."
  • The entire exchange between Bunk and Beadie's kids about what to call McNulty ("Pops?" "No." "Dad?" "McNulty.")
  • Bodie to Slim Charles: "I'm standing here like an asshole holding my Charles Dickens."
  • Slim to Bodie: "See, the thing about the old days -- they the old days."
  • Deacon Melvin on Bunny's salary and perk demands: "I'd be amazed if they gave you 30, an HMO, and a bus pass."
  • Rawls telling Daniels he'll find Kima a Homicide spot: "For you, Major, let me see who I don't love no more."
  • Bunny to the angry 18-year-old: "Son, thanks for being you."
What did everybody else think?
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Grey's Anatomy: Shiva call

If I've been stalling all day on posting my "Grey's Anatomy" review, it's partly because I have two columns to write for Monday's paper, but mostly because I didn't have much of a reaction to it. The storytelling felt a little frayed, even aside from the flashbacks, and if I had any kind of emotional stake in Meredith/Finny/McDreamy, it must have vanished over the summer. Lots of potentially huge moments -- George and McDreamy quarantined by The Plague, Weber's marriage in trouble, Alex rushing that baby out of the ER -- that all fell flat, maybe because they were all crammed into the same hour. Really, other than Addison's scenes, plus Callie expounding Shonda Rhimes' life philosophy to Finn, I was completely unmoved. I felt more worked up by the final shot of "The Office" than I did by this whole hour.

Just me? The audience was huge, edging "CSI" by a few million viewers and whalloping it in the young adult demos. People were so excited to have "Grey's" back that the clip show finished ahead of "Earl" and "The Office" in the Nielsens. I just wonder if they felt as excited by the time 10 o'clock rolled around.

Definitely not excited? ABC execs responsible for "Six Degrees," which shed about 10 million viewers from the end of "Grey's," and another four million at the halfway point, which makes the "Studio 60" half-hour fall-off look respectable in comparison. Click here to read the full post


Today's column, on those kooky "Desperate Housewives":

There's a tendency in the criticism business towards extreme opinions. A new show is either a potential masterpiece or a steaming pile of something. A show that critics were falling over each other to praise in year one is routinely trashed in year three. Howie Mandel is history's worst monster. That sort of thing.

"Desperate Housewives" lived and died with that hyperbole in its first two seasons. Season one: It's new! It's different! It's funny! It's mysterious! We love you, Marc Cherry! Season two: Who are these new neighbors, the Applewhites, and why should we care? Why don't we ever see the four women together? I'm bored! Damn you, Marc Cherry!

The truth, as it usually is in these situations, lies somewhere in the middle. "Housewives" was neither as brilliant as everyone insisted in year one, nor as horrid as everyone claimed in year two. Season two did have certain obvious flaws (again, the Applewhites and the lack of scenes featuring all four leads), but its biggest problem is what it didn't -- what it couldn't -- have:


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My Name Is Earl: The Joy of kidnapping

"My Name Is Earl" premiere spoilers coming up just as soon as someone gives me my damn $3,000 back...

There are weeks when I feel like I should be copying and pasting reviews of previous episodes -- or, at the very least, like I need to write a macro for my feelings about how Good Earl needs to have at least a passing resemblance to Bad Earl. But the premiere was a lot of fun -- largely because it turned Joy into the main character.

Jaime Pressly and the writers have embraced Joy's glorious trashiness from the start, but this felt like they found an extra gear. Of course she loves Britney and K-Fed ("I swear, those two are like American royalty"). Of course her birthday party has a pinata full of cigarettes. Of course she would buy a TV cabinet too damn big to fit into her trailer. Of course she would describe Earl's do-gooding as "all that Robin Hood/Batman/Jesus stuff."

Other highlights: Randy eating chips with his feet, Randy's Lollipop Guild impression (sans helium), and Earl's froggy fake English accent.

Not a bad start at all, and Joy's arrest is going to add a small serialized element to the show for a while. Next week: Earl meets The Bandit himself (sorta).

What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Survivor: Love at first sight?

"Survivor" episode two spoilers, right after I throw a contest...

Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy. For a guy who seemed so impressive in episode one, he made two classic "Survivor" blunders in a single episode. One, every team that has ever thrown a challenge to get rid of perceived deadweight has almost immediately gone into a tailspin. Two, he and his tribemates picked the strongest (and, from what little we've seen, smartest) guy on any team to go to Exile Island, where he quickly found the hidden idol. Did you people learn nothing from Terry the Challenge Machine? I mean, nothing? At all?

Decent second episode, though once again there are way too many people and there were too many awkwardly on the nose moments, like J.P. declaring that Latinos are good workers.

I really, really, really hope that Billy's love connection talk was just an attempt to be goofy and stir things up before his inevitable exit, because I went back and watched that exchange again, and all I could think of was Brian "Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!" Krakow on "My So-Called Life." De. Loozh. Uh. Nuhl.

Again, too damn many contestants. It's too many at 16, way too many at 18 and just absurd when they start with 20. I've seen the first two "Ugly Betty"s, so this season has until the end of episode four before I have to decide which makes the downstairs DVR cut and which gets bumped upstairs to the TiVo to be watched at an undetermined later date. ("The Office" already has first position, with "Earl" tagging along for the fun of it.)

What did everybody else think?
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Six Degrees thoughts?

My favorite part of the pilot was the use of U2's "Walk On" over that closing scene in the subway -- so, of course, it didn't clear and they had to commission Jakob Dylan to write a song that didn't work remotely as well.

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

The Office: Go the gay way

Some quick "The Office" thoughts while I let the DVR cool down before "Grey's Anatomy"...

To quote a wise man in blue and black tights, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! That. Was. Hysterical. After ending last season on an incredibly dramatic, romantic kiss, we end the third season premiere with the most cringe-inducing, horrifying, uncomfortable, genius kiss of all time, made even funnier by Pam and Ryan's reactions to it. (Kelly's excitement was also pretty great.)

For all the talk about What's Going to Happen With Jim and Pam?, the show has always been about so much more than that, and I'm glad Greg Daniels reminded everybody of that. He dealt with the fallout from The Kiss quickly, then got back to the business of Michael Scott making a complete ass of himself -- over and over and over again.

I liked Jim's visit to Bizarro Dunder-Mifflin, with the boss obviously inspired by the British version's Neil Godwin -- the handsome, charming, funny guy who was everything David Brent wished he was -- and with Rashida Jones and Ed Helms as slightly tweaked versions of Angela and Dwight. (Or is Rashida being set up as Bizarro Pam? She certainly seemed to have a stick up her ass here, but she usually plays The Babe, so... hmm...) And if the Stamford boss is supposed to be Neil, does that mean the two branches will be consolidated soon to bring Jim back to Scranton?

And yet in the middle of all the wackiness, of Dwight looking at gay porn because "Michael said it was okay," of Kevin getting the giggles just thinking about Oscar being gay, of Michael's inability to stop bringing up his one-night stand with Jan, of Pam trying unsuccessfully to turn Ryan into her new Jim, Greg managed to keep the heart in there. The scene with Roy talking about how he wants to win Pam back made me feel just a little sorry for the big jerkwad, and I sighed when Jim looked to the empty chair next to him during the HERO portion of Diversity Day, or when Pam smiled in recognition of Jim's gaydar joke in the tag. (And, after watching all the amazing deleted scenes on the season two DVD, I sure hope we get a tag like that every week.)

In the words of yet another "Daily Show" alum, great comedy or greatest comedy?
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Triple feature

Another day of two columns dealing with three shows. First, a combined review of "Six Degrees" (which isn't nearly as good as you would think, given the talent involved) and "Brothers & Sisters" (which isn't nearly as bad as you would think, given all the backstage turmoil), but neither of which is even interesting trainwreck TV:
Every TV season brings with it at least one show that looks like it can't miss on paper, then turns into a problem in reality. This year, there are two Show In Trouble candidates, both of them on ABC: "Six Degrees" and "Brothers & Sisters." They have two of the most pedigreed casts of any new shows, respected producers, and premises that promise something different and exciting. And I would be stunned if either, let alone both, survives to the end of this season.
To read the rest, click here. Then "Shark" gets to lead off the All TV column:
And this year's Truth in Titling award goes to CBS for "Shark," a legal drama in which James Woods is invited to chew up the scenery for an hour each week. The only more accurate title might be "Wood Chipper," and that would create some confusion about his name, so "Shark" it is.

Fortunately, Woods is one of our great diorama devourers, so the fact that there isn't much to "Shark" beyond that is just fine -- for now.
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See, my name is spelled K-N-A-P-P, and I specialize in K-I-D-N-A-P-P-I-N-G...

So, I gave my thoughts on "Kidnapped" this morning. What are yours? Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

That's great, it starts with an earth -- er, nuclear bomb

Not much to add to my initial "Jericho" review, so what did everybody else think? Click here to read the full post

The morning before the day after

Good "House" last night, though I had a couple of problems. One is specific to me, but I've never been able to look at Joel Grey as a normal human being ever since he played Chun in "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins," one of the quintessential "on HBO every other day" bad movies of the '80s. The other is that I don't feel like Cameron really did make her own decision, but rather made the decision House maneuvered her into. Best part of the hour may have been the preview for next week, with House protesting to the medical board about Thong Girl.

Two columns this morning. A review of "Jericho" is the first:

If the microscope jockeys of CBS' three dozen Jerry Bruckheimer police procedurals have taught us anything, it's that no matter how thoroughly you try to clean up a crime scene, you always leave trace evidence behind. And if we didn't understand that already, we'd know it after watching "Jericho," a new drama that CBS execs clearly lifted from Fox or ABC without completely wiping their own fingerprints off of it.

From the use of music by The Killers and Snow Patrol on the soundtrack to the serialized format, most of "Jericho" doesn't feel like anything CBS has aired since... um... ever. But every now and then, there's a moment to reassure you that, yes, you are watching the birthplace of "Simon & Simon" and "Nash Bridges."

To read the rest, click here.

The second starts off with my review of "Kidnapped":

The legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard used to say the best way to criticize a movie was to make another movie. The same theory applies to TV as well, and we have "Kidnapped" (10 p.m., Ch. 4) as a fine example.

Premiering a month after Fox's "Vanished" -- like "Kidnapped," a drama that will try to stretch one abduction story over the course of a season -- "Kidnapped" plays out like a point-by-point criticism of everything "Vanished" gets wrong.

After some more "Kidnapped" commentary, I write about the "My Name Is Earl" season premiere and how a special feature on the season one DVD set just reminded me how much I wish they would let Earl be less nice. To read the whole magillah, click here.

Lots more column writing to do today, so use this post as a catch-all section for comments on any non-"Smith" bit of primetime last night. Out of curiosity, does anybody here other than me watch "NCIS" or "The Unit"? Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Smith: What's in a name?

I said plenty about "Smith" in my review this morning, but some spoiler-y commentary coming up faster than Amy Smart can steal your identity...

They left the surfing murders in. And the cat kicking. I'm so pleased. It's rare that you see a protagonist on a network drama who's a pure sociopath the way Simon Baker's character is, and when he shot those surfers for kicking him off their beach and daring to touch his board, my eyebrows raised up and I said, "Well, there's something you don't usually see on CBS." (And, in case you were wondering, that wasn't any kind of pre-arranged hit; per Baker, John Wells, Virginia Madsen and everybody else involved in the show, Jeff did it because they touched his board. On the other hand, when I asked Wells and Christopher Chulack what Jeff was doing with a sniper rifle in his truck on a surfing vacation, they didn't have an answer for that.)

The stuff with Baker, and with Amy Smart and the cocktail waitress, and Jonny Lee Miller's interactions with both of them were all badly needed, because, at least in the pilot, Ray Liotta was a real drag on the action. Aside from the scene where he's playing the piano and Virginia Madsen comes in, I couldn't read him and didn't really care.

As I said in the review, there's no good reason this thing had to run 55 minutes or so without commercials, especially given how much of the robbery got replayed twice. (The only part that merited it was Smart just brutally tasering her old classmate before crying rape; Franky G may have the muscles, but she is by far the scariest member of this crew.) Wells and Chulack love the whole in media res teaser device almost as much as they love filming in Hawaii, but they admitted they did it here because they needed some action at the front. Either way, it was more sluggishly-paced than I wanted, and without any real stylistic flair to compensate, especially during the heist itself.

I'm intrigued by the revelation that Madsen is an ex-con herself. Was she part of Ray's crew who got caught? Since it's pretty clear she knows he's still thieving, how many episodes will it take before she joins the team?

I'm in for a while, based on lack of timeslot competition and a great cast. But they need to figure out what to do with Liotta in a hurry, and they need to decide whether they're doing "Ocean's 11" or "Heat." As a wise man once said, walk left side road, fine. Walk right side road, fine. Walk down middle -- SPLAT! -- crushed like grape!

What did everybody else think?
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Everybody's a critic

Derrick and Will, the two main characters from "Nobody's Watching," sit through the pilot of "'Til Death." (If you don't have 30 minutes to spare, there's also an abridged version.) Click here to read the full post

Rather than give you my "Prison Break" thoughts...

... might I point your way towards Ed Bark (aka Uncle Barky, the recently-departed TV critic for the Dallas Morning News and one of the best writers -- and nicest guys -- in the business) and his new blog, Above the Fold? Click here to read the full post

So this thief walks into a bar...

Only one column today, previewing "Smith," which actually grew on me on second viewing, but still not enough to give an unequivocal thumb up:

Bobby Stevens is ready to get out of the crime business. So he puts together an all-star team of thieves -- a brilliant marksman, a mistress of disguise and false documents, an electronics wizard, etc. -- to pull off the proverbial final big jobs before he can retire and live a respectable life with wife Hope and their kids. Bobby and his team have talent, they have inside information and they have a great plan -- and, of course, very little goes according to that plan.

"Smith" producer John Wells isn't looking to get out of the TV business anytime soon, but he's assembled an all-star team of his own, with Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker and Amy Smart heading arguably the most impressive new ensemble in a season full of them.

But, like his new anti-hero, Wells hits several bumps along the way.

There are traditionally two ways you can go with the heist genre, exemplified by last spring's generically titled and short-lived "Heist" on NBC and "Thief" on FX. "Thief" went the lightweight "Ocean's 11" route and tried to have fun with the mechanics of the heist, the quirks of the criminals, and so on. "Thief" went all Michael Mann on us: brooding, visually stylish, and focused more on the crooks' psyches than the science of how to crack a safe.

"Smith" struggles to work both sides of that street, resulting in a schizophrenic pilot that's more interesting in parts than as a whole.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Studio 60: Crusty but benign

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to be able to take it much more before giving you "Studio 60" spoilers...

"Studio 60" may have had the least secretive pilot of all time. The original script (including the wisely-deleted Maureen Dowd character) was being passed around Hollywood and on the Internet for months, and the final version has been available on Netflix since August. I said a whole lot about the pilot (and a bit about the second episode) in this morning's review column, so I'll just hit a few specific likes and dislikes and then open the floor. We can get into more detailed analysis next week.

The good:
  • Wes' Howard Beale moment, though I can't decide how I feel about the newscasters' uninamously making the reference: is it the obvious, hack-y thing they all would do, or a chance for Aaron to show off the homage to a 30-year-old movie, even though the youth-obsessed business Wes was just trashing might not want to go that old and obscure?
  • Matthew Perry, who's good this week and even better next week. Interesting choice keeping the main characters off screen for half the pilot, but Perry and Whitford play off each other very well.
  • Steven Weber, totally believable as an arrogant prick of a network executive.
  • Tim Busfield, who will also be directing the show in real life on occasion.
  • Tommy Schlamme, who will be directing a lot and is just a master at this point. (Though would it kill the guy to screw in a few more lightbulbs?)
The bad:
  • Amanda Peet, unbelievable and more than a little creepy floating around in that gown and smiling constantly. She's much better next week, but it's not a good start, and the pilot hangs on her a lot more than it does Perry and Whitford.
  • I don't like the Sarah Paulson character at all. She seems to be there for two reasons, neither of them dramatically interesting: to allow Sorkin to work out his break-up issues with Kristin Chenoweth, and to get in his usual shots at the religious right while saying, "See? See? I'm not saying all Christians are horrible, just some of them!" Whatever the reason, she comes off as kinda shrill (even moreso next week) and sort of the "Studio 60" equivalent of Arnie Vinick: a non-Christian's fantasy of what the ideal Christian might be. Difference was, Alan Alda made me believe the fantasy; Paulson doesn't, not yet.
  • The Mary Sue-ishness, though I feel I've beaten that dead horse enough for now.
  • A general sense of smugness, of "We're really too good for television, but we'll do our best to elevate your silly medium."
But that's just me. I love Sorkin and Schlamme's work so much of the time -- and am going to give this show a loooooooong leash because of it -- but this felt more like something from one of their last couple of "West Wing" seasons instead of the first two. What did everybody else think?
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HIMYM & The Class: In need of a switcheroo

Thoughts on the return of "How I Met Your Mother" and the debut of "The Class" comin' right up...

I am very, very pleased with the "HIMYM" writers right now. Ted and Robin are now an item, which takes advantage of Radnor and Smulders' chemistry, but they haven't taken over the show, ala Ross 'n Rachel. Loved Barney's despair at all their displays of schmoopiness, with seppuku being the best of his various suicide mimes. (Barney's pimped-out version of the Tom Joad "I'll be there" speech was another highlight.)

Meanwhile, Marshall takes over the soap opera quotient and manages to make it a whole lot funnier than Ted and Robin's UST ever was, particularly him pelting the happy couple at Yankees Stadium. I also liked the scene at the gun range; any effort to make Robin more than the hot girl is a wise move. And my buddy Joe Adalian gets Tucker-ized as the identity thief. Lucky bastige. I was told years ago that because there are so few Sepinwalls in the world (a little over a dozen total), it won't clear legally, so I can never receive such an honor. Sigh...

As I've mentioned in my various pilot review posts, "The Class" does not get off to a strong start. The good: I like Jason Ritter, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Heather Goldenhersh (and, for the record, she talks that way in real life, too) and Jon Bernthal. The bad: I hate every scene with the blonde anchorwoman and her flaming husband (not only did Crane tread similar ground with Ross' lesbian wife, but it makes one of the show's main characters into a bigger idiot than Joey Tribiani), and there are so many characters that the jokes wind up being really broad, obvious and not that funny.

I liked the next couple of episodes better, though some other critics I spoke to think the improvement is all in my head. We'll see. Either way, I'm baffled that CBS is making this the lead-off hitter instead of "HIMYM."

What did everybody else think about either show?
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Wire week 3 talk for the On Demand'ers

Comment away on episode 3, "Home Room." Click here to read the full post

Aaron Stu? Kristin Sue? Mary Sue Tarses?

From this morning's column about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip":

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the new NBC drama set behind the scenes at a sketch comedy show that bears a more than passing resemblance to "Saturday Night Live," is this season's most-hyped new series. It is the show whose script has been floating around the Internet for months, the show that NBC ripped up its schedule to protect.

It's also Aaron Sorkin's Mary Sue story.

Mary Sue, a term coined in the '70s by "Star Trek" fan Paula Smith, applies to any fan-fiction character who is a blatant attempt by the author to insert her- or himself into the world of their favorite show, and usually in a way that has all the other characters going on about how wonderful she or he is. Your quintessential Mary Sue would save the Enterprise from sure destruction, then seduce Kirk and/or Spock.

Now, because Sorkin -- the creator of "The West Wing" and "Sports Night" -- is one of the half-dozen or so writers working in television who could be called a genius without hyperbole, it's a good Mary Sue story. But there's no getting around the fact that "Studio 60" is, essentially, Sorkin imagining what it would be like if he and directing partner Thomas Schlamme were brought in to rescue "Saturday Night Live," with several of their friends, former colleagues and ex-girlfriends brought along for the ride.

The average viewer may not know or care that Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are playing mix-and-match versions of Sorkin and Schlamme, that Amanda Peet's network executive is modeled on former ABC president Jamie Tarses, or that Sarah Paulson's character is really Sorkin's ex, Kristin Chenoweth.

But Sorkin's unusually close relationship to the material is problematic whether you subscribe to Daily Variety or the Daily Worker. There's plenty of perfectly solid fan-fiction out there, as well as intensely personal mainstream drama, but the thing that's supposed to elevate mainstream fiction from the fan kind is a certain level of objectivity on the author's part, the ability to separate what works for the story from what they wish works for the story. Too often in "Studio 60," Sorkin chooses the latter.

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

Add it up

From this morning's column about "The Class":
Comedy Math time, boys and girls. If the cast of "Friends" divided by 6 equals "Joey," what do you get when you take a third of the original "Friends" creative team, half of John Ritter's DNA, a quarter of the original "Joey" cast and a ninth of Broadway's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" cast?

Pens and pencils down, everybody. The correct answer: "The Class" (8 p.m., Ch. 2), a sometimes-promising, sometimes-frustrating, always-overpopulated new sitcom that kicks off this season's odd new trend of shows about relative strangers who become best pals in a hurry.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Wire, "Soft Eyes": Parallel lines

Spoilers for episode two of "The Wire" immediately following (UPDATE: I fixed the bad HTML coding I used on Sunday night, so the post should all be readable now)...

David Simon is fond of parallels on this show, whether it's Bunny Colvin and Stringer Bell reciting the same last words at their respective firing/execution or the sequence last week where the cops and teachers both had to suffer through completely pointless motivational speeches. But I've rarely seen an episode (written by David Mills and directed by Christine Moore) where so many incidents echoed each other, including:
  • Herc and Carcetti both catch Royce with his pants down (Herc both figuratively and, unfortunately for us at home, literally), and get some guidance from the ol' Prince of Darkness himself, Stan Valchek, on how best to exploit this;
  • Cutty's landscaping boss and Bubbles both express a desire to branch out and cover more territory, if only their respective associates were willing (in Cutty's case) or able (in Sherrod's case);
  • Marlo and Cutty both take an interest in Michael after seeing something unexpected in him (for Marlo, the fearless stare; for Cutty, the fast hands); and, my favorite
  • Namond and Clay Davis express the exact same opinion about taking anybody's money if they're giving it away.

It's not just a cute storytelling device, but a means of illustrating how everyone in this city is connected. No matter what their socio-political status -- a blue-collar worker or a dope fiend, a state senator or a corner kid -- everyone is dealing with the same problems and concerns, just on different scales, and actions taken on all levels have a way of reaching out and affecting all other levels. Over the course of this season, decisions will be made in City Hall and police headquarters that will trickle all the way down to people like Bubbs or Namond, while random street events in turn alter the fate of the entire city.

What interests me most is something that the episode purposely glosses over. As Carcetti is making mincemeat of Royce in the debate, poor Tony Gray is off to the side, not even a factor anymore. In the final scene, Namond flips on the debate just long enough to hear Tony talk about how Carcetti's anti-crime approach is nice, but if they don't do something about the schools and keeping kids off corners, that won't matter. Namond, of course, quickly switches this off to play a first-person shooter game that feeds into the same glorification of violence that he gets from his father and the entire corner culture. The sad thing is that -- at least in the show's worldview, which we'll get more of once the school year starts in episode three -- Tony Gray is 100% right. The best, maybe only way to turn the tide on the inner-city drug problem is to keep future generations from getting involved with it at all and wait for the Marlos and Prop Joes to die off.

But that's not happening. Instead, you have Marlo taking a triumphant circuit through his kingdom, handing out cash to all the young'uns, which makes him a more popular figure with them than the cops and furthers the legend he cares so much about creating. As one of his sidekicks says, "Your name gonna ring out, man."

We learned more about the kids this week, especially Namond, Michael and Dukie. (And that's the correct spelling of Dukie, per HBO; I had assumed it was Dookie because kids made fun of the way he smelled.) Namond may have Wee-Bey's genes but not an ounce of his toughness or drive, judging by how happily he turned his corner job over to Michael and how his role at Cutty's gym is simply to spot Michael on the bag. But with a mom and dad both pushing him into the family business, what's a young'un to do? Michael, meanwhile, impresses Marlo and Cutty. There's a lot he's holding in, a glimpse of which you get when he stares down Marlo. And while Dukie's junkie family was mentioned last week, it's one thing to hear about his living situation and another altogether to see it, even one awful glimpse; that scene where Crystal dropped off the clothes from school was a heart-breaker.

In addition to Wee-Bey, episode two brought back several other notable supporting characters. Clay Davis is once again stretching out "Sheeeeit" with style; he's one of the most despicable figures this show has ever featured, and yet the way Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays him makes me glad to see the corrupt bastard again. Cutty's still running his gym (complete with benefactor Avon's Gold Gloves photo on the wall) and discovering that he can get more out of it than the warm fuzzies of helping kids. As a strapping, law-abiding adult male in this neighborhood, is it any wonder all the single moms are lining up to seduce him with their bodies and their cooking (not necessarily in that order)?

And it did my heart good to see Bubbs again, serving, like Prez and Cutty and Marlo and even Lester, as a youth mentor. Andre Royo just fills Bubbs with so much enthusiasm and good cheer, then slays you with the way he plays the getting high scene in Bubbs' ratty little squat-hole. And the looks Bubbs and Prez trade at the middle school office were priceless.

We also got expanded looks at two other notable new characters: Donut, the junior car thief who's sort of like the fifth Beatle to Randy, Michael, Namond and Dukie's fabulous foursome; and Officer Walker, the nasty uniform cop who lifts Randy's $200.

In my magnum opus about the genius of the show from August, I referred to Lester as the only character in the show's history who remains completely pure. Having rewatched his scene with Rhonda Pearlman, I may have to reassess. Lester can couch what he's doing all he likes in his "I'm just a po-lice" line, but he's absolutely pulling a McNulty here, fucking with people as much because he knows he can get away with it as because he thinks it needs to be done. And he's potentially setting up Ronnie to be sent to the State Attorney's office equivalent of the pawn shop detail. Definitely not the nicest thing he's ever done, even if it was right to do it.

(And in describing Lester that way in the column, I feel I may have short-changed Sydnor. I can't remember him ever doing anything especially shady or even self-interested. Then again, that could just be because he generally gets the least screen time of the MCU members, save coupon-clipping Caroline. Still, I liked his willingness to deliver the subpoenas with Lester and Kima, and the bit about the Sphinx Club in Clay Davis' office.)

Other random thoughts:

  • Nice bit in the debate prep where Tommy, having just blown off Norman and Theresa to take a call from his wife, gets off the phone and recites every detail of their debate strategy. If race weren't a factor, Tommy would be wiping the floor with Royce.
  • Prez's Johnny Cash collection gets another workout. In season two, we got a montage of the MCU advancing the port case as Prez listened to "Walk the Line," while he cleans gums off the desks here to "Ring of Fire." That sequence also reminded me of the bits from early in seasons one and two where Daniels, Prez and the rest had to turn the MCU's makeshift lodgings into useful workspaces.
  • Is that bedroom scene with Rhonda the most light-hearted we've ever seen Daniels? He tells jokes, he does impressions, he laughs, pillow-fights, etc. Amazing. I barely knew Lance Reddick had teeth before this.
  • Speaking of people enjoying themselves, I have to wonder how much of Carver's reaction to Herc's story was scripted and directed that way and how much was Seth Gilliam's inability to keep a straight face. Either way, it worked; I know that I wouldn't have been able to avoid a massive cackling fit at hearing the story, especially after Herc's suggestion of what he should have said. Just a hilarious scene all around.
  • Also another strong episode for establishing the grown-up Carver, who's about to recreate that awful "Shaft" chase scene from the season three premiere until he remembers that he knows all the kids.
  • Of course Snoop owns a Tony Montana t-shirt. Of course she does. For those of you who know anything about pistol marksmanship, whose form impressed you the most: Snoop, Chris or Marlo himself?
  • The scene with Detectives Norris and Holley arguing over who should answer the phone was, if not word-for-word from the first Beau Felton/Kay Howard scene in the "Homicide" pilot, then a damn close approximation, and I'm pretty sure the uniform cop's crime scene retort -- "Yeah, I asked who shot him. He said it was the guy with the gun." -- also appeared in some form on that show. The guy who wrote the "Homicide" book oughta sue... Oh, wait...
  • Have we ever not seen Landsman reading a skin mag when he's in his office? And if the fictional Landsman (the chubby Homicide sergeant) ever met the real Landsman (the skinny guy with the mustache who's the Western's second-in-command, as well as the inspiration for John Munch), would the space-time continuum fold in on itself?
  • Did you catch that one of Prez's new colleagues is Cutty's girlfriend from his pre-prison days? I guess she decided the suburbs weren't enough of a challenge for her.
  • In the interests of full disclosure, this episode was written by David Mills, who's been a friend of mine going back to his days on "NYPD Blue," not to mention Simon's partner on their first "Homicide" script (the great "Bop Gun") and in writing and producing the HBO version of "The Corner." Doesn't make the script any less great.
Lines of the week:
  • Herc to Carver: "I said, 'Mr. Mayor, that's a good strong dick you got there, and I see you know how to use it!'"
  • Bubbs apologizing to a customer for Sherrod's math skills: "Thank you very much. Intern, I'm workin' with him."
  • Clay Davis, multiple times: "Sheeeeit!"
  • Clay Davis: "I take any motherfucker's money if he giving it away!"

As of now, I think I'm going to stick with the current publishing schedule: full reviews posted immediately after the episode airs on HBO, followed by an open thread for comments on the On Demand episode the next day for the folks who can't wait to talk. But I don't want that to turn these longer posts into a ghost town, comments-wise. Keep the chatter coming; much like the return of Bubbs, seeing so much enthusiastic discussion of the show does my heart good.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

If you are a fan of "The Office"... NOT, under any circumstances, read the article in this Sunday's New York Times about one of the show's producers, Ben Silverman, titled "The Whole World Is Watching, and Ben Silverman Is Watching Back." Midway through the story, Bill Carter just casually spoils where the Jim and Pam story is going, all to illustrate a point about how brilliant Ben Silverman is at getting product placement deals. To quote Adam Bonin:
We have waited and wondered since May 11, 2006 when "Casino Night" first aired, and with just five days to go, boom!, they ruin the suspense. Ruin it. Do not read this article. I cannot stress this enough. I am livid.
Un. Freaking. Believable. And I don't think Bill even realizes what he did, or else he would have made a much bigger deal of that knowledge. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Survivor: Race Wars, initial impressions

I'll do more detailed "Survivor" analysis with spoilers in the morning, but so far we're off to a banner start. What have we learned already? Let's seee.
  • Asians are good at puzzles
  • Black people struggle in the water
  • White people steal things that rightfully belong to minorities (or, if you prefer, Jews steal other people's resources)
  • A gay man would rather have a headache than a facial blemish
Good stuff. Very, very good stuff. And that's not even accounting for all the self-stereotyping jokes everyone was making in the first 20 minutes, which must have been Burnett's wet dream. I've cautiously defended the concept until now, but this was not an especially strong start. Click here to read the full post

Corner boys, UFO Boy, fly boys, Emo Boy and Anne Heche

The start of the TV season is a double-edged sword for this blog: I'll have much more to write about and much less time to do it in. Already I feel like I'm running behind, thanks to all the pilot and season premiere screeners coming in. Since this blog wasn't around for premiere week last year (it debuted in early October '05), I'm still feeling my way on how to handle the overload of stuff to see and write about. So apologies in advance if some of the commentary is a day or so late. If I know I'm clearly not going to get to something the day after it airs, I'll try to start a comments thread for it, then bump it back up top when I have time to write the review.

But I'm already running behind, so quick hits this morning:

  • That was one of the creepiest, most effective "House" teasers of all time, and a pretty good episode over all. My big problem lies with Cuddy and Wilson's attempt to House-break the good doctor. After two years of seeing him successfully use his patients as guinea pigs for wild, unsubstantiated theories, now they've decided he needs to stop relying on hunches?
  • Slightly improved episode of "Standoff," in that there was more relationship material, Gina Torres got more to do and the hostage crisis was more dramatic. On the other hand, my willing suspension of disbelief meter had to go off the charts to accept the fact that, 15 years after "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" -- not to mention five years after 9/11 -- there wouldn't be a plan in place to warn and divert all planes in the event of a takeover of air traffic control. Thanks to the dual tuner DVR, the show gets at least one more week, but once I'm in the thick of the new season, I'm going to have a hard time wanting to stick with it.
  • And so, on "Rock Star," Tommy Lee's man-love won out over the question of who could best sing his soon-to-be renamed band (the other Supernova won their court case yesterday, though Adam at ALOTTFMA can explain the legal ramifications much better than I can), and Lukas gets the gig in a very anti-climactic finale. I'm not saying that I wanted Toby to win, or that I even care who gets the privilege of fronting this lame-o band. But by having the final two be Lukas and Dilana, who everybody and their mother could have predicted as the final two from the very first episode -- even though Toby had so clearly passed Dilana both in performance quality and roit-ness for the band over the last month -- made the whole season feel like a pointless exercise, where the band came up with the boot order on the first night, then tried to concoct excuses to follow it, whether the person deserved to go or not. ("Magni, even though we don't want our lead singer to overshadow us, we feel like you fit in too well with a band, so...") In a way, it felt like that first season of "The Apprentice," where if you just studied everyone's resume, you could have picked Bill and Kwame as the final two. On the plus side, I would much rather spend three months listening to kick-ass rock music that has no competitive point than watch people sell art or drive pedi-cabs. All I know is that if I snag tickets to the show at Radio City, I'm going to be very psyched to see The House Band play with Magni, Toby, Dilana, Storm and whoever comes along, will hopefully enjoy Panic Channel, and then will beat a hasty retreat when Your Band Name Here comes on stage.
  • Though I reported on the news about "The Wire" a couple of nights ago, I strongly recommend reading today's column about it, if for no other reason than that the last four paragraphs were written by David Simon. And no matter how good I may feel about myself and my talents, I ain't in that guy's league. And if you go to the second page, you can read me pointing out the under-reported controversy about "Survivor: Cook Islands": the fact that there are, like, a dozen contestants with stronger than usual showbiz ties.
  • Forgot to ask: did anybody watch the "Men in Trees" premiere on Tuesday, and, if so, what'd you think? If someone other than Anne Heche were playing the lead, I might find it more tolerable. (On the other hand, wouldn't it have been awesome stunt-casting if the "House" people had her play UFO Boy's mom? Or even UFO Boy himself?)

Off to wrestle with my "Studio 60" review...

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rock Star: All over but the squealing

Final "Rock Star" performance show evaluation post-haste...

I get that the producers and the record people want the originals to be drilled into people's heads, since one of them will most likely be an early Supernova single, and I know they did it this way last year, but did we really have to get the same four originals two weeks in a row? I dig "Throw It Away" and I'm already close to sick of it.

More interesting to me was how much interaction there was between the contestants tonight. At this point, I think everybody knows that Supernova has made up its mind (whether it's Lukas or Toby), so there's no competitive disadvantage to sharing the spotlight with one of your friends (or providing support to one of them), and after all the Dilana drama (much of it no doubt crafted by the editors), it was nice to see some sportsmanship on a Burnett competition show. In order...

Toby, "Karma Police" & "Throw It Away": My Radiohead knowledge pretty much begins and ends with "Creep" (feel free to mock me in the comments if you must), so I have no idea how well Toby sang "Karma Police," whether he rearranged it at all, etc. But I liked that he showed a different, dare I say Lukas-esque side of himself with a much more introspective number. And while the vocals on "Throw It Away" were a bit lazier than they had been the first two times, the interaction with Magni was awesome, especially Magni threatening to hit him with the guitar and then Magni kneeling before Toby and letting him play a few chords.

Side question: Paula Abdul is in the audience?

Lukas, "Fix You" & "Headspin": The House Band really did the heavy lifting on the Coldplay song. Lukas' falsetto was really shaky, but when they kicked in after the first verse, both with the instruments and the harmonizing, the whole thing took a quantum leap. I don't exactly love "Headspin," but I think I prefer the acoustic version to last week's.

Dilana, "Roxanne" & "Supersoul": Hey, Chris from episode one: this is how you try to tweak The Police. Dilana's a crap songwriter and sometimes doesn't even understand the lyrics of songs she's performing, but when she's on, vocally she's my favorite performer this season. (And, yes, that includes Storm.) By the way, what's the FCC fine for a diminutive South African headcase with Medusa hair and multiple piercings showing the world her vagina on multiple occasions during one set?

Second side note: The judges have been inconsistent in their critiques all season, and now we have Navarro -- who, two weeks ago trashed Storm for putting Toby on stage with her -- raving about Dilana's ability to get the guys to sing back-up. Huh? Wha?

Magni, "Hush" & "When the Time Comes": See? When Magni plays guitar, he seems like somebody Supernova could actually use. (If nothing else, he'd allow Gilby to go back to what he's actually qualified for, which is rhythm guitar.) When he puts it down, not that memorable. But he and Rafael played off each other beautifully.

I'm waffling back and forth between Toby and Lukas for the win. At the moment I'm leaning towards the Glam Hobbit. Toby's a better match for the band, but Tommy's man-love for Lukas just seems way too strong.

What does everybody else think?
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The Wire: Mission ACCOMPLISHED

Just got word that HBO is going to announce a renewal for a fifth season of "The Wire" tomorrow morning. I'm both thrilled and stunned; this show has so thoroughly conditioned me to expect the worst in everything that I refused to believe HBO would pick it up, even after me and every other critic in the country spent the last several weeks beating the drums about how this is the Best. Show. Ever.

Can I get a few "Hell yeah!"s? Click here to read the full post

Late morning links

Posting schedule may be erratic for a while, as I cram for the start of the fall season with more revised pilots and second episodes. ("Studio 60" would-be fans might want to check my comments in the Best of the Best post for a brief thought or two on the second episode.)

I wasn't particularly fond of "Men in Trees" (and I refuse to write the title in all-caps like ABC is insisting on) and got to work a few of my "Rock Star" musings from here into the All TV column.

"Prison Break" spoilers comin' right up...

R.I.P., John Abruzzi. I had already made peace with your death after T-Bag slit your throat, but I'll miss your wacky intensity and the potential for future unintentional "Big Lebowski" homages. (If Abruzzi had ever threatened someone with a marmot, or if he had pretended to fix somebody's cable, I would have automatically granted the series Watch Until Canceled status, dammit.)

I'm getting pretty tired of the constant head-fakes: the feds going to the wrong location in the premiere, the "who's dead" mystery last week, the misdirection about Mahone going for Tweener when he was really on Abruzzi's trail, etc. It's a good device to use occasionally, but it gets old fast when you trot it out in every. single. episode. I could have also done without the cheesey '70s-style car chase between Bellick and Linc, a reminder of what TV action used to look like pre-"24" and "Alias." On the plus side, Dell got perhaps the greatest product placement of all time with the suggestion that Michael's hard drive would be recoverable after sitting at the bottom of a river for more than a month. My three nightmarish years with a Dell machine led me to believe that they would fry if you sneezed anywhere near it.

Also, I had the same reaction to T-Bag's scenes with the gullible dad and daughter that I did to his dispatching of the veteranarian: I totally believe that this is how T-Bag would behave and appreciate that the writers aren't trying to soften him up, but at the same time I feel like the show is enjoying him killing innocent civilians way too much, y'know?

What did everybody else think?
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Wire talk for the On-Demand'ers

Still working on the episode two review and probably won't post it until the weekend (these things take time to do right, and I started with a schedule to publish on Sunday nights), but for the benefit of the folks who've already seen episode two via On Demand and want to gab about it, post your comments here. People waiting for the HBO premiere had best stay out of the comments section. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Wire, "Boys of Summer": Nailed shut

Spoilers for "The Wire" fourth season premiere immediately following this...

That nail gun. That goddamn nail gun.

I'm placed in an unusual situation in doing these recaps, since I've seen the entire season in its entirety. On the one hand, that means I can point out things people may not have realized they should be paying attention to, or help differentiate all the new characters during those first three or four weeks it usually takes to learn everybody's name. But it also means that I have to be very careful to not let my knowledge of what's to come -- for the Major Crimes Unit, for the election, for the middle school kids, Bubbs, Omar, etc. -- turn my analysis into unconscious spoilers. I'm going to try my damndest, but if at any point in this 13-week journey you think I'm talking about things that haven't happened yet, let me know and I'll do what I can to get that under control.

In particular, it's hard for me to delicately convey the horrors that will be perpetrated all because that helpful Hardware Barn employee pointed Snoop towards that nail gun, but I'll try. You already get a sense of it in the scene where Chris and Snoop, with absolute calm and care, kill that guy in the vacants, cover their tracks and board him up in one of Baltimore's hundreds (or is it thousands?) of vacant, condemned row houses. When Bunk, Lester and Norris are wondering why they haven't seen any bodies from Marlo's takeover of the west side, this is why. Chris and Snoop are putting the bodies in places no one would ever think to look, so rotten that the smell of decomposition will mingle in with several dozen other unpleasant odors -- and if, on the offchance, some citizen or junkie is looking for a place to squat, they won't be able to easily get into those particular houses because the boards are nailed tight.

The opening scene of each season has presented that year's key themes. In year two, for instance, we open with McNulty on harbor patrol, eyeing the decayed factories along the harbor (signposts of the death of blue-collar America that we'll see played out with the Sobotkas) before he and his partner have to give a tow to a party boat full of rich assholes (dilettantes turning what was once a thriving site of commerce into yet another place for them to party and enjoy their wealth). By putting that scene on Felicia Pearson, an untrained performer whose speech is hard to understand on a good day, David Simon's taking a chance on his message not getting across. But I've watched that sequence a half-dozen times and thought about it a lot as I watched the other 12 episodes, and I have several theories, any and all of which could be right or wrong:
  • Worlds passing in the night: There are two Baltimores (two Americas, if you want to get really poetic): the one the Hardware Barn salesman lives in, and the one Snoop lives in. Snoop may have been briefly raised in the salesman's world and the salesman may have heard of Snoop's on the news, but they have no common frame of reference beyond that. The salesman looks at the nail gun as a tool for building something; Snoop looks at it as a tool for destroying something (or, at least, covering up evidence of that destruction). A lot of this season's political storylines will deal with Carcetti and Royce and Tony Gray trying to raise up Snoop's Baltimore without ruining the salesman's in the process.
  • Teaching one thing, learning another: Education is the dominant theme this year. Whether it's Prez at the middle school, Cutty at his gym or Marlo on the street, you're going to see a lot of attempts at educating kids, but what they take out of those lessons isn't always what's intended. Again, the salesman is trying to teach Snoop how to use the nail gun for one thing, and she's going to use it for something else entirely. And when she comes out to show her new prize to Chris, she tells him, "I'm in school, dawg" (or, possibly, "I been schooled, dawg" -- like I said, with Felicia Pearson, it's hard to say).
  • The right tool for the job: We all know David Simon's theories about flawed institutions, and how The System is now too large, old and unswerving to fix all the problems it's supposed to. Time after time, we've seen and will continue to see cops and politicans and other well-meaning types try to do good and fail because of a bureaucratic snafu or some other chink in The System. But with our expanded look at Marlo's operation, we're seeing a perfect opposite to The System. Marlo is focused on one thing and one thing only: staying the strongest, baddest slinger on the West side. And he will do whatever it takes to hold onto that, in the most cold-hearted, efficient way possible. In that way, he's even better than Avon and Stringer, because Avon's pride and Stringer's desire for upward mobility created chinks in their armor. Marlo, with the help of Snoop and Chris and that nail gun, doesn't appear to have any weak spots. You're going to see a lot of people get boarded up into vacants for sins a lot smaller than Lex killing Fruit, but in Marlo's eyes, those people are potential problems, and this is the simplest way to be rid of them. No fuss, no agonizing, nothing: just kill 'em and nail 'em up in a place nobody's ever likely to look.
Those are just a few ideas. Now, howzabout the other 55 minutes of the premiere? Obviously, the most important element is the introduction of the four kids who are going to be our new main characters (and it's to Simon and company's credit that they're able to keep almost everyone else in play while shifting the dominant POV so significantly). For the benefit of those having trouble keeping track of who's who at this early stage:

  • Namond: He's the one with the ponytail who works (if you can call it that) for Bodie. His father is someone you'll be familiar with when you meet him. He's all talk and no action; when he picks the fight with Dookie about the pigeons, you can tell he's hoping someone will break it up, and when he spots Michael in trouble with the Terrace kids, he cuts and runs.
  • Randy: He's the kid with the cornrows and the huge smile, and the one who gets tricked into sending Lex to his death. He's the hustler and idea man of the group, as evidenced by his scheme with the urine-filled balloons and the glimpse we get of his candy-selling business. Has the healthiest home life of the four, thanks to a foster mother with a firm but caring hand.
  • Michael: The leader and the muscle; he's the one who baits the Terrace boys and (proudly) takes the biggest beating. He has enough sway over the others that he can shame Namond into buying Dookie an ice cream.
  • Dookie: Real name Duquan, he lives with a family of junkies, which is why he always smells bad and is made fun of by the other kids. Too smart to be stuck in such an awful existence.
At this stage, my favorite was Randy, probably just for that smile of his. Maestro Harrell has been performing professionally since he was six or seven years old (his first credit on IMDb is an episode of "Meego"), but he doesn't have that annoying narcissistic quality that plagues a lot of child actors; he's going to play a lot of happy and a lot of sad scenes over the next dozen weeks, and, as you already saw with him in the water balloon scene (happy) and then the bit where Little Kevin explains Lex's death to him (sad), he shoulders it all brilliantly.

You'll learn a whole lot more about all four of the boys as the weeks go along, a lot of it in their interaction with Prez, whose entrance actually made me yell out, "PREZ!" Now we know why Simon spent so much time late last season on the end of Prez's police career, at a time when it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the stories: he was laying the groundwork for Lester's protege, the code-breaking savant who knows all the words to "Brown Sugar," to move into a new career as one of the key figures of season four. Jim True-Frost is up to the added workload, and he has a really nice scene here in the premiere where the Vice-Principal (love her accent) shows him his classroom. ("So, this is me?" "This is you.") As we're seeing already, in that great cross-cut sequence where both the teachers and the Western cops have to listen to pointless speeches that have no practical application to their work, the two groups have more in common than being underpaid civil servants.

And speaking of the cops, get used to this amount of McNulty per episode, if not less. Dominic West was feeling burnt-out on the role, and even Simon felt the show would get stale if McNulty was the central character every year, so he's only in about half the episodes, usually as briefly as this. But there's a point to this new, well-adjusted Jimmy, and if HBO actually orders the fifth season, it will all pay off nicely next year.

Lester, of course, is up to his old tricks, finally issuing those subpoenas for the Barksdale property, taking advantage of his oblivious new boss to stir up trouble. What interested me more was our glimpse of a Carver who seems to have actually learned a thing or twelve from Bunny Colvin last year. He knows the names, job descriptions and personal foibles of Bodie's entire crew, and he understands that knocking heads isn't always, or even usually, the solution to anything. While characters like Lester and The Bunk and Omar (whom you'll see again in a few weeks) remain gloriously the same, I also appreciate that the show has charted the growth of people like Prez and Carver and even McNulty.

The election storyline is just warming up, but I love the sequence of Carcetti killing time instead of soliciting donations. Hard to have to spend that much time and energy on what obviously looks like a lost cause.

Since a lot of this is setting up things I'm hesitant to discuss yet, let's move on to some other random thoughts:
  • Last year, the popular brand of dope was WMD, which matched the Iraq war parallels of the Avon/Marlo war. This year, Bodie's people are pushing Pandemic. Not sure which name is more accurate in describing the effect dope has on these neighborhoods.
  • Did you catch Herc getting uptight when his new partner suggests a willingness to sleep with a man in order to have sex with the city council president? Methinks someone's still smarting from the Gus Triandos fiasco from last year. (Remember, Carver baited him into picking a man he would sleep with to gain the right to nail the Olsen twins, and he picked ol' Gus.) Chauffering Royce seems about the right level of responsibility for Herc, doesn't it?
  • RIP, Fruit. Since Cutty will be more of a factor this year, I was expecting to see another confrontation between them, what with Fruit having ripped off Cutty and then Cutty sparing Fruit's life. C'est la vie; you don't always get closure on this show.
  • Three of the four season premieres have now closed with discovery of a murder: D'Angelo finding out that Avon had the witness against him killed in season one, Bea Russell finding the Russian girls in the can in season two, and now Randy finding out about Lex.
  • Am I remembering right that the official name for the low-rises where D'Angelo, Bodie, Poot and Wallace slung was the Terrace? If so, that's where the kids who beat up Dookie came from.
  • Nice to see another face from "The Corner" turn up, with Reg E. Cathey joining the cast as Carcetti's #2 aide, Norman, who last voted for a white guy when Bobby Kennedy was alive. Or maybe not -- Cathey was 10 at the time of the RFK assassination, and he doesn't appear to be playing older. Side note: both Cathey and Larry Cedar, who plays Leon on "Deadwood," first came to my attention as castmembers on PBS' "Square One." Is Beverly Leech (aka Kate Monday) going to pop up on "John from Cincinatti" or the final "Sopranos" season or something?
  • This season's version of "Way Down in the Hole" is sung, I believe, by a bunch of Baltimore schoolkids, which fits the education theme. As always, the editing on the main titles is awesome, and I love the kaleidoscope of circular images at the end (the convenience store lazy susan, the spare tire, the kid playing with the tire, etc.).
Lines of the week:
  • School receptionist re: Prez's full name: "You say it, 'cause I ain't even gonna try it."
  • Carver to Bodie: "Where's the love, Bodie? Where is the motherfuckin' love?"
  • The Bunk, re: his true relationship with Lester: "To hell with Norris, Lester. You my real partner. My life partner." & "Look at that bow-legged motherfucker. I made him walk like that."

So, for those of you who made it to the end of this, what did you think? And, to repeat a question from earlier in the week, how many of you watched it for the first time tonight, and how many had already watched it with On Demand? As of now, my plan is to post these reviews on Sunday nights after the HBO premiere, but if I get a sense that the majority of you are seeing the shows earlier -- and if I can swing it -- I might move up the schedule.

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