Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lost: And we're just the guys to do it.

"Lost" spoilers coming up just as soon as I buy tickets to The New York Philharmonic Presents The Songs of Three Dog Night...

If you can get past the episode's complete lack of resemblance to the promos (which billed it as some kind of edge-of-your-seats thriller), this was the best episode of the season by quite a stretch, featuring many of the things the fans had been clamoring for: more of the cast in general, more Hurley in particular, more humor, absolutely zero mindgames or torture involving The Others, etc.

Back when "Dave" aired last year, Matt Seitz even argued that Jorge Garcia had become the show's "de facto star and its deepest actor (with the possible exception of O'Quinn), and I think the goodness of "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" really speaks to that. The flashbacks retread the same ground as two previous Hurley episodes, but Garcia kept me interested in Hurley's deepening misery in a way that Matthew Fox can't with Jack's narcissism. His "Let's make our own luck" speech to Charlie was almost Belushi-esque (John, not Jim) in its conviction in a completely insane, futile and dangerous gesture.

Hurley is the hero of this show -- my hero, anyway. He's the only one who ever asks relevant questions, the only one who really seems to care about the emotional well-being of his fellow castaways, the only one concerned with improving everyone's quality of life. By the episode's climax, I really cared about whether they could get that damn Microbus to start, even if it would only be useful for going around in circles. (In that way, it's a perfect symbol for what the writers have allowed "Lost" to become.)

I could do without Hurley becoming the latest Lostaway with daddy issues (is there any character -- or, for that matter, TV drama writer -- who doesn't have them?), and without Cheech's distracting toupees, but the present-day stuff was spot-on. In particular, I loved Hurley's reaction to Sawyer's return, a moment where even the self-loathing con man couldn't help but enjoy someone else's affection for him. I hope that Hurley really has broken his bad luck streak thanks to the van and a little "Shambala," but even if he hasn't, this was a welcome oasis from all the bad feeling that's been strangling this season.

On the heavier side of things, we have Kate acting tough and proactive in what feels like the first time since early in season one. It always drives me nuts how the writers spent so much time establishing Kate as a bad-ass and then immediately turned her into the girl who gets tied to the train tracks. I just hope that Kate, Rousseau and company don't go to a lot of trouble invading Alcatraz, only to find it empty. Kate's desire to find The Others' village last week -- after Karl said that his people don't spend much time on Alcatraz -- gives me hope that that's her objective.

Some other thoughts:
  • Did Rousseau tell Kate about her daughter in "Maternity Leave" last season, or is that a piece of information that we're supposed to assume Sayid told Kate about at some point? I'm almost hoping it's the latter, as it would imply that the castaways really do trade information in between scenes.
  • Another great Hurley scene: him updating Libby on recent goings-on. The heartfelt monologue at a loved one's grave is an overused cliche, but two things sold it: Garcia's utter sincerity, and the pullback to reveal that they had built a fence around the cemetary. They've now lost so many people post-crash (Boone, Arzt, Shannon, one of Steve/Scott, Ana-Lucia, Libby, Eko, others I'm blanking on right now) that the cemetary is now the most substantial thing the castaways have built. Damn.
  • Did Karl take the boat, and if not, why on earth wouldn't Sawyer and Kate have held onto the thing? Sawyer's objection last week was to navigating at night, but in the daytime they could have just hugged the coastline, and they'd still have a vehicle that would be much, much more useful than Hurley's new wheels.
  • Getting back to the "are deleted scenes canon?" issue from earlier in the week, didn't I read somewhere that, in a deleted scene from "Live Together, Die Alone," Vincent joined Walt and Michael on their boat trip off the island?
  • Now we know the source of all of Sawyer's '70s TV references: he had mono for two months as a kid.
  • Other moments of fine Sawyer-related comedy: Hurley's failed attempt at a nickname comeback, and Sawyer teaching Jin some valuable marital phrases. That particular ESL joke's an old one, but always a good one.
  • One downside to hanging with the entire beach gang: Nikki and Paulo return.

What did everybody else think?

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American Idol: Top 10 women

Comments on all the performances are over at, and if you want to read me go off at length on Antonella being an idiot, that's at, too. Then come back here to comment. Click here to read the full post

Swag of the day

Someone in the Fox PR department has a kitchen fetish, I think. In the past, I've gotten red Coke glasses (for "American Idol"), an ice cream scooper ("Arrested Development"), a pepper grinder and pot-holder ("Kitchen Confidential"), and today's arrival of the "Wedding Bells" screener came with a brand-new toaster, which I suppose is a standard wedding gift. This naturally brings to mind the following Stanley quote from "Gay Witch Hunt," which isn't quite as good as his Pretzel Day monologue, but is still genius if you can hear Leslie David Baker's voice delivering it:

I got them a toaster. They called off the wedding and gave the toaster back to me. I tried to return the toaster to the store, and they said they no longer sold that kind of toaster. So now my house has got two toasters.

UPDATE: One of the cracker-jack commenters pointed out that you can experience the toaster speech in all its glory over on that there YouTube thing. Click here to read the full post

Promises, promises, promises

Today's column looks at the problems fans had with last week's "Lost" promos -- and the ones I suspect they'll have after they see what little resemblance tonight's show bears to the ads. An excerpt:

Here we have a show that already has major trust issues with its fanbase. Viewers are so frustrated at not getting answers that the promo department actually felt the need to say there would be three answers in the episode -- and then, as far as many fans were concerned, the episode failed to deliver.

"It's a difficult position that we're in," acknowledged Mike Benson, ABC's executive vice president of marketing. "We don't like to go out and sell things that don't actually happen."

From Benson's viewpoint, three questions were answered: 1) The whereabouts of the children who had been abducted by The Others, 2) The whereabouts of the flight attendant who had been abducted by The Others, and 3) The origin of Jack's tattoos.

The problem is, very little was revealed about the first two, save that the kids and the flight attendant were still alive (she described their current situation as "complicated"). And few fans were staying up at night wondering about why Jack got his tattoos -- especially since the real-world answer is "Because Matthew Fox has them, too."

To read the full thing, click here. One thought that got cut for space: I wonder how much of the discontent over the latest batch of "Sopranos" episodes came from HBO selling every episode as a bloodbath, even though they never were. Click here to read the full post

Veronica Mars: Professor Landry in the conservatory with the candlestick?

"Veronica Mars" whodunnit spoilers coming right up...

Hmmm... Not as good as the last couple of episodes, but a solid resolution to the Dean O'Dell mystery. I had Tim pegged as a person of interest ever since he showed up in the season premiere, and that was before I realized he was the same actor who'd played Lucky last year, and I think Rob and company played fairly with the resolution. I even bought into Tim being an ineffectual dweeb while "helping" Veronica clear Landry, though the scene where he offered to make her his new TA tipped the writers' hand. (That and the fact that there was too much time left in the episode, and I knew we weren't going to spend it on more Logan and Parker.)

That said, I think this case, even more than the rape story, serves as an object lesson for why mini-arcs probably aren't the best idea for "Veronica Mars." What was already probably going to feel rushed in seven episodes got squeezed into six (UPDATE: check the comments for Rob's explanation of what got cut from the storyline), which wasn't enough time to establish more than a handful of suspects. I'm glad they didn't go the Roberto Portalegre route from "Murder One" and make the killer somebody who had five seconds of screen time in an early episode, but at the same time, the reveal wasn't going to be mind-blowing no matter if it was Landry, Mindy or Tim. If 22 episodes is too long to drag out all but the first season mysteries, than six episodes is far too short on anything that's supposed to have a play-along factor.

Some other thoughts:
  • So Keith is only acting sheriff, huh? In the (sadly unlikely) event of a fourth season, that's clever. Rob can have some fun pitting Veronica and Keith against each other for a few episodes to see how it works, and if it doesn't and they get renewed, Keith can lose the special election come fall.
  • I'd have to say that Wallace is much closer to Rory than Lorelai. What say you?
  • Question for the female readership about The Code: given that Parker is primarily a friend of a friend to Veronica, is it a foul for her to date Logan? And for Logan to date her? My wife, who watches the show off and on, said she couldn't give a ruling on the former without seeing all the episodes where Veronica and Parker hang out.
  • My DVR was being extremely cranky last night, frequently dropping out the sound as Veronica and Tim discussed the plot. One thing I lost entirely was Tim's explanation of how he knew to look in the "Taps" DVD case for the incriminating disc. Was it just that the rest of Grieco's video collection didn't match that, or something else?

What did everybody else think?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

American Idol: Top 10 guys

A week after the guys were so terrible that even Paula was struggling for compliments, someone backstage obviously reminds Ryan and the judges of the whole mandatory gender-split thing, leading to an entire evening of declaring the men much-improved, whether they are or not.

Ryan congratulates Jennifer Hudson on her Oscar and says "It really validates the talent our judges discover." He does not add "and it really validates what a poor judge of talent the audience is. I mean, John Stevens outlasted her. C'mon! John Stevens!"

To read the song-by-song breakdown, go over to, but feel free to comment here. Click here to read the full post

Heroes: Daddy's little indestructible girl

Spoilers for "Heroes" coming up just as soon as I get the name of Christopher Eccleston's wig-maker...

Well that was pretty darned good, wasn't it? An hour that took on the form of a "Lost" episode (single-focus A-story supplemented by the main character's flashback) and made everything "Lost" has done this year seem like the shiny con job that it is.

If there's a character worth spending an entire hour on in this show, it's HRG, both because we know so little about him and because Jack Coleman has done such a superb job playing him. Hard to believe he wasn't even a regular when this all started, that the producers thought there was more potential in Simone and Isaac and D.L. and a bunch of others, and by now he's the show's emotional core. It took me a second to realize what he meant when he told The Haitian to "take everything" that could lead Eric Roberts to Claire, but when it hit me (and Claire)... damn. I don't know what HRG's bosses are really about, but this was the single most heroic thing anyone's done on the show to date -- and, depending on how much Claire-memory got deleted, maybe so heroic that nobody's going to be able to match it for a long, long time. Will he even remember he has a daughter come next week?

Meanwhile, the writers gave us enough information on HRG and what he's doing to play fair with the audience and yet not rob too much of the guy's aura. There's a lot more I want to know, but I don't feel cheated by what they told me so far.

Really, my only complaint of the episode was the climax, which looked cool but by all rights should have ended with HRG, Parkman, Eric Roberts and maybe Claire's mom and brother winding up with a fatal rad dose. They spent far too much time building up the danger of Radioactive Ted if he ever lost control of his powers, and then presumably HRG's fine because he was ducked behind the kitchen island? Looked like there was a whole lotta radioactive nastiness in the house by that point.

A few other thoughts:
  • One thing I want to do is go back and re-watch George Takei's last appearance to see what, if anything, Hiro told his dad about his powers and destiny. If Mr. Sulu knows his boy is one of "them," would he pull an HRG, too, or would he want Hiro taken in for further study?
  • I like the idea of Parkman as HRG's new sidekick, if only because it would make him feel like a part of the show, which was a rarity for the first half of the season.
  • Speaking of going back to earlier episodes to make sure no one's been erasing my memory, wasn't Bluetooth Girl going to go with Matt and Ted for the raid on HRG's house?
  • I don't feel like HRG and Mrs. Bennet would have waited until Claire was 12 to tell her she was adopted, do you? Just seemed like that was the youngest the producers felt they could get away with still using Hayden in the flashback.
What did everybody else think?
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Cut to the chase. Please.

This morning's column: an Oscar-cast post-mortem. If you're looking to discuss "The Black Donnellys," use yesterday's post. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Look for the union label

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I subscribe to Baltar's newsletter...

We're still self-contained with no Cylons in sight, but this was a vast improvement on the last few shows. There were some logic problems, plus things wrapped up a little too neatly by the end (I expected Tyrol to start singing, "Who needs the labor union? I dooooooooooo"), but it actually felt like an episode of "Galactica" instead of a dressed-up "Voyager" script.

But because I'm tired and cranky from the Oscars (about which I'll be complaining at appropriate length in tomorrow's column), I want to dwell not on the good (the moment where Roslin realizes Tyrol has a point, for instance), but on the thing that didn't work, and it was a big'un: Baltar's version of "Mein Kampf" becoming an underground best-seller throughout the fleet.

Look, Baltar makes some good points, and I can see how people living a miserable existence on a labor ship would want to buy into some kind of class warfare proposal, but this is Gaius Baltar here -- the same man who sold out all of humanity to the Cylons on New Caprica, and who was running things "Let them eat cake"-style even before the Cylons turned up. This would be akin to the broken German people falling under the sway of the men who crafted the Treaty of Versailles.

Baltar's a wonderful character and James Callis does great work (loved him slipping back into his natural accent in the scene with Tyrol), but this felt like the writers shoe-horning a pre-existing character into a role that screamed to be brand-new. And I worry that, whenever we get around to the trial, there's going to be some kind of pro-Baltar movement among certain segments of the fleet, and I just don't buy it. I know genocidal tyrants can have their supporters, but genocidal tyrants who sold out their own people to that people's invading sworn enemy? Nuh-uh.

What did everybody else think?
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Brothers without Pants

This morning's column reviews "The Black Donnellys":

Coming into his new NBC drama "The Black Donnellys," Paul Haggis has two Oscars, plenty of clout and James Bond at his side. But he doesn't have Pants, and that's a problem.

"Donnellys," a drama about four Irish-American brothers who get in and out of trouble in an unnamed New York neighborhood, is essentially Haggis' attempt to redo "EZ Streets." A potboiler starring Ken Olin, Jason Gedrick and Hoboken's own Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano, "EZ Streets" aired for a few months on CBS in the '96-'97 season, with its audience composed largely of adoring TV critics.

Haggis didn't have the muscle to keep "EZ Streets" on the air back then, but thanks to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash" and "Casino Royale" and the 12 dozen big-ticket movies he's either writing or script-doctoring at the moment, he was able to try something similar with a younger cast. The shows share a grand visual style, generous use of Celtic music on the soundtrack, and a mix of black comedy and operatic tragedy. Haggis even admitted recently that when he first pitched "Donnellys" to CBS back in '96, Les Moonves grumbled, "Hold on, I just canceled this show."

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

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saved from the cutting room floor

Today's column is the previously-referenced look at deleted scenes and how I feel they're creating alternate universes for some shows:
Where's Andy?

That's the question fans of NBC's "The Office" have been asking ever since the Jan. 18 episode, titled "The Return," when new Dunder-Mifflin Scranton employee Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) punched a hole in a wall in a fit of rage. He excused himself and hasn't appeared since.

Turns out the answer to that mystery lies within "The Return" itself - or, rather, in an extended producer's cut that was made available on NBC's Web site and through Apple's iTunes store. An added scene at the end explained that Andy was ordered to attend anger management classes.

"The Office" has been on the leading edge of a new trend involving TV shows that make deleted scenes immediately available on the Web, and producer Greg Daniels wanted to see what happened if he consigned a notable plot development to the show's on-line incarnation.

"It was the most important piece of information that we ever left out of an episode without fixing it in the next episode, and it was sort of an experiment," he says. "We had the idea that the online fans would somehow transmit the information to the fans who just watched the show, and they didn't."

Andy's stint in anger management was alluded to in Thursday night's episode and will be addressed more explicitly on-air when he returns in early April. But Daniels' failed experiment illustrates the value and risk of TV producers having this shiny new toy to play with.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Friday, February 23, 2007

Grey's Anatomy: A life less ordinary

Grrrr... God or Shonda or somebody doesn't want me to post my thoughts on last night's "Grey's Anatomy." First I accidentally hit the "publish" instead of "save as draft" button as I'm rushing out the door to drive my daughter to pre-school, then I actually write a lengthy post and Blogger eats it. Writing and saving this version off-line. The series of tubes will not beat me, no sir. Spoilers ho...

I want to take the hype factor out of this discussion, even though I was complaining about Shonda's blog last week. Compared to what the ABC promo department pulled with "Lost" the other night, Shonda's discussion of this three-parter was mild, plus it was targeted at a really tiny and obsessed portion of her audience.

As for the episode itself, I think it suffered a lot for the sins of past shows, which have robbed my affection for a lot of these characters. There were a whole bunch of scenes last night, like Cristina extolling the virtues of 99-cent shopping or Denny marveling at McDreamy's mcawesomeness, that made me think, "Gosh, if I still liked Cristina/Derek, I might be moved right about now." At the moment, though, I only like a handful of characters, notably Addison (who's escaping to her own spin-off), Karev and the Chief. Not coincidentally, the only scenes that really worked for me involved either Alex and his John Doe patient or Weber saying goodbye to Ellis. I also have some residual goodwill for Denny, so I was touched by the last scene, even if Izzy has become such a spectacularly loathsome person. When another person mocks you for having loved ones who died and still comes off as the sympathetic figure in an argument, it's time to go.

One area where Shonda fell down, independent of what's happened in the past, was Ellis' goodbye to Meredith in the ghost hospital. A lot of people predicted exactly this scenario last week, but the execution of it was as flat as everything else in this three-parter. I think it would have had far more impact without any set-up at all. No scenes of Ellis coding in the real world, no glimpse of her wandering the ghost halls before her encounter with Meredith; just have Meredith running back to life, having already made her decision on that front, and being stopped for a moment by the sight of her mom walking the other way. They could still have the identical conversation, but the flow would have been better and the stakes higher, even for those of us who suspected it was coming.

You've already started making your opinions known, so keep it coming.
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The Office: That's what she said. Oh, my God.

Spoilers for "The Office" just as soon as I collapse in on myself like a dying star...

Ho'od win: Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams? Last week, Whedon stepped in to helm one of the best episodes of the season. This week, Abrams was behind the camera for one I didn't like that much.

I don't know that I can lay too much of the blame at J.J.'s feet, though, as most of my problems came in the script stage. I realize that tolerance levels for Michael's idiocy is a taste thing, that there are people who loved "Phyllis' Wedding" while I had to watch it from behind my couch, that some found Prison Mike to be hilarious when I cringed, etc. It's rarely a question of Michael being out of character (because I believe he would do all these things), so much as it is my discomfort overwhelming any impulse to laugh.

I love the idea of Jan, going through a self-destructive streak and getting bad advice from her shrink, trying to have a relationship with this oblivious man-child, but outside of her brilliant Talking Head (including the Upside/Downside list and "That's what she said") and the revelation that Dwight was in the backseat for the entire fight (which had me laughing so hard I began to cough), I felt like this one missed the mark. Too much of Michael being an idiot, not enough of Jan trying to use her executive smarts to make him behave.

The staff going out for drinks was better, though how do you spend an entire subplot at a bar without a single Meredith joke? (There better be a good deleted scene.) I enjoyed watching Pam ("Don't call me Pammy") asserting herself as mildly as possible and loved Oscar's reaction to Creed's celebrity among underage drinkers. Roy going berserk about the Jim news could have been uncomfortably dark, but the presence of "Carry On Wayward Son" on the jukebox and Roy's brother getting a little too into trashing the bar made it work as both comedy and tragedy. Roy spends half a season telling us he took Pam for granted and is a changed man, and then the second they're together again, he goes back to treating her like garbage again.

So now Pam is free of Roy, and Jim could not possibly be less into Karen, evidence by his non-reaction to the sort of prank that he would have loved coming from Ms. Beesly. What now?

What did everybody else think?
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Idol: When good things happen to bad singers

A few brief thoughts on the "American Idol" results show (which, God help me, I'm professionally required to watch at least until Antonella and Jared are gone) over at the blog. Since several people have expressed displeasure with how hard it is to register to comment there, you can say what you want about the show here. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The O.C.: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make

Sigh... It's all over. Spoilers for "The O.C." finale coming up...

That was just 60 straight minutes of "awwww," wasn't it? Really lovely, and I don't say that just because Sandy's daughter and mine share a middle name.

Happy endings for everyone! Ryan and Kirsten move back to Berkeley, where of course Sandy becomes the professor that all the kids love. Seth and Summer find a way for her to save the world and yet remain a couple. Julie pulls the Kelly Taylor Memorial "I Choose Me" Maneuver on her wedding day and turns it to her advantage by turning Frank and Gordon into Team Julie. (I can just picture her spending the rest of her life stringing both guys along, acting like she's going to pick just one of them very soon, and both of them recognizing what she's doing and not caring, because she's awesome enough for two men.) Ryan and Taylor stay together (I think), Ryan becomes the guy designing the building instead of the guy working construction, and maybe finds a way to pay forward what Sandy did for him oh so many years ago. Pancakes reproduces! (Loved Summer telling Ryan not to use the cage for cage fights.) And, presumably, the Magical Homos (second cousin to the Magical Negro) got a ton of money for selling a beautiful Bay Area Craftsman house.

I've run out of nice things to say about this season, and Josh and I spent a lot of time already rehashing the past in our interview, so I'll just focus on some smaller details:
  • Does the fact that he named her Sophie mean that The Nana has passed on, or that that's yet another Jewish tradition Sandy doesn't bother with?
  • If there's John from GEORGE and Paul from GEORGE, then where's Ringo? Or, since Josh is a known "Seinfeld" fan, is the whole thing a "The Summer of George" reference?
  • What does Seth do with himself while Summer's off playing eco-heroine? Is he back to making comic books? Did he join the noblest profession of all and become a critic?
  • If "The Valley" got a five-year renewal, I have to assume that it doesn't air opposite "Briefcase or No Briefcase" -- or "Sexy Doctor Drama" or "Police Scientists: Las Vegas." And if real-life Jake broke up with real-life April, does this mean they're destined to get married on the show?
  • Loved the dozen Bullits, all geographically-named. Had he and Julie stayed together, would the poor kid have been named Newport?
  • Is it just me, or does it look like they have Adam Brody playing both the Seth and Ryan parts in his new movie?
  • In an hour filled with awesome, touching moments, my favorite may have been Julie telling Summer that "the world deserves to know you." And while I never liked Marissa, I'm glad she was included in both the present and the flashbacks; wouldn't have been right, otherwise.
  • I thought Ben McKenzie looked way old back in the pilot, but compared to now he was practically a fetus.
  • Ryan in a yarmulke is always genius, and makes me once again lament the decision to skip over showing his bar mitzvah in its entirety.
What did everybody else think?
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Friday Night Lights: Gone in 180 seconds

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" just as soon as move my hunting trophies to another room...

I'm a professional critic and therefore allegedly someone skilled at using words to describe why something was or wasn't good, and I feel like they're failing me in an attempt to capture the pure genius of the scene where Tami has The Talk with Julie. Long before Tami gave Eric her speech about not wanting to lose Julie's trust, you could see her struggling mightily between going all hellfire and brimstone or trying to be the cool mom who's her daughter's best friend, and it was funny and moving and scary and just amazing. Not that I expect this show to get much, if any, love from the Emmys, but that was Edie Falco in the coma episodes brilliant from Connie Britton. Peter Berg did not lie to her when he told her she wouldn't regret doing this role twice.

The entire sex story was masterfully handled from beginning to end. Even though I suspected NBC wasn't going to let a 15-year-old girl be deflowered on an 8 o'clock family drama -- especially since they've already cut the producers slack on letting the slightly older kids drink and have sex -- the scenes always felt honest, whether it was Saracen getting awful advice from Riggins, Smash and the guys (the camera phone thing immediately made me think of poor Antonella Barba, who appears to be Vote For the Worst's new favorite), another hilarious Landry shopping trip, Julie revealing her inner nerd to Tyra, or Saracen's discomfort at losing it in such a terrible environment. And the Coach/Mrs. Coach argument was almost as moving as The Talk. Kyle Chandler has really learned to be economical with his acting; he can make Coach seem on the verge of absolute fury with a slight twist of his mouth, and he had me laughing hysterically as he studied Saracen from the other side of the church service.

Speaking of church, damn! Buddy deserved every second of the public humiliation Tyra's mom gave him, but it was interesting to see Tyra and Lyla share that split-second look of understanding, if not actual sympathy.

There's a deleted scene from the Powderpuff episode that establishes Walt Riggins as having moved back in with Tim and Billy. When I talked to Jason Katims for the story I'm doing on deleted scenes (it's running Sunday), he said he felt okay losing it because they would re-establish the new living situation later. I think it worked fine. We knew Walt came to the playoff game, and there hadn't been anything to suggest he had skipped town yet.

Taylor Kitsch has gotten better as the season's gone along, but he's still better in silence (inviting the beating at the bar) than when he talks (defending his father to Coach). He's a fine tragic character, worse off in many ways than his sometime best buddy Street.

And speaking of which, a few other thoughts:
  • I always like the Street storylines, but he's really disappearing into his own show, aided by the fact that Scott Porter, like Adrianne Palicki, looks five years older than everyone else. So what's his motivation here with Tattoo Girl? Desire to be with someone who's not in any way connected to his former life as The Next Peyton Manning? Belated payback for Lyla screwing Riggins? Either way, this was by far the better drama episode last night to feature a character flirting with a tattoo artist.
  • I just want to say a few words in praise of Brett Cullen as Walt. Here's a guy who started out in soaps with the looks and seeming talent of several hundred other soap actors, someone whose resume is dotted with supporting roles on best-forgotten series like "Orleans" and "Legacy," but who's turned out to be quite the chameleon character actor in middle age. He was Vinick's born-again running mate on "West Wing," the treacherous Goodwin on the Tailies episode of "Lost" (and a crucial part of the best scene Michelle Rodriguez was ever involved in on that show), and he completely disappeared into playing this good-for-nothing golf hustler. Can someone please cast him in a good pilot next year instead of another "Pepper Dennis"? Pretty please?
  • Isaac over at Throwing Things points out that Tyra has gone from glorified extra to someone who's integral to three current storylines: her mom and Buddy, Julie's budding delinquency, and Riggins' battle to avoid becoming his father. When I talked to Katims, I made my pitch for Tyra as strong safety as a means for giving her something to do; he laughed and said that he'd do it so long as I was willing to answer all the complaining phone calls from NBC. At this rate, he may not need to put her in pads.
What did everybody else think?
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Lost: Answer me these questions three

Spoilers for "Lost" coming up just as soon as I figure out why Sawyer became a con man instead of a TV critic...

So the promos promised that three of the show's biggest mysteries would be solved last night. After sitting through the show and rolling it around in my head for a while, I think I've figured out what the silly promo people were talking about:
  1. What's the story behind Jack's tattoos?
  2. What happened to Cindy, the kids and the other abducted Tailies?
  3. What happened to that fancy bungalow colony The Others were living in when Oceanic 815 crashed?
The first of those is technically a mystery, in that the show had never explained it before, but if Carlton Cuse thought the number of viewers who care about Alvar Hanso is small, someone needs to introduce him to the collected three-member Society of "Lost" Tattoo Analysis, pretty much the only people on the planet who wanted or needed this question answered.

The other two are things of actual concern to the viewership at large, I think, but "Stranger in a Strange Land" didn't so much answer them as clarify a few minor details about them. Most of us had assumed that The Others' village was somewhere on Craphole Island proper, because Ethan and Goodwin were able to run to the respective beaches, but at least it was definitively established that the Alcatraz aquarium is only a place they go on occasion to "work," whatever that means. And we at least got a glimpse of Cindy and company, just not enough to establish whether they were prisoners, brainwashed, or what.

Here's the thing: this is a show that already has major trust issues with its audience. People have been screaming that they want answers already -- and it's here that I repeat my mantra that I'm okay with no answers so long as the individual episodes are entertaining, which has rarely been the case of late -- and everyone in production and at ABC knows this. When I saw that promo last week, I thought, "Hey, they finally get it. They're going to give the people what they want." Then I saw the episode and realized that the delusion or willful ignorance remains firmly in place.

I thought this was a bad episode for a number of reasons, most of them having to do with Jack's tendency to be a pig-headed idiot who'd rather yell than actually solve a problem or listen to what people have to say to him. (That's what makes him the ideal leader for the producers' purposes.) That said, you don't promise an audience starved for answers a three-course meal and then serve them these table scraps. Bad, bad, bad move. Without those ads, it's a mediocre Flashjack episode. With them, it's a symbol of every single thing that people have been complaining about this year.

I could spend time wondering how The Others got their boat back from Michael and Walt, or where Diana Scarwid (the episode's only highlight) was keeping herself during the spine surgery drama, but I don't much care right now and would rather move on to write about "Friday Night Lights." So I open it to you. What did everybody else think?
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The O.C.: Josh says goodbye

Today's column is an interview with Josh Schwartz about the end of "The O.C.," the beginning, and lots of things in between:

"The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz was in the middle of a storyline last season involving Johnny, an angst-ridden new character, when he got a note from his bosses at Fox.

"It was fairly indicative of the POV there (at the time): 'This is Fox, not Fox Searchlight,' " he says, referring to the boutique independent film division. "Thus, Johnny was hit by a car."

(Later, Johnny fell off a cliff and died.)

The Johnny memo was just one of many clashes Schwartz had with the network that year. He and the producers had already outlined the season's first six or seven episodes when they got an order to go back to the beginning and insert a femme fatale character, who was played by Jeri Ryan.

"It was tonally wrong, and we probably should have been focused on things like not making the Johnny storyline (stink)," he says.

To read the full column -- including Josh listing his favorite musical moments from the series -- click here. If you have a whole lot of time on your hands, the full transcript (or close to it) follows after the jump.

So, what can you tell me about the finale?

Nothing -- especially since the Fox promos did such a good job of giving almost everything away in the final act. (He sighs.) It definitely brings real closure to the series, it's almost like last week was the finale, and this week was almost a pilot for the future, as long as one's being pretentious

Will "The Valley" be canceled?

You'll have to watch and see, won't you? The fate of "The Valley" will be decided.

Now that you're done, how do you feel about these 16 episodes?

I'm immensely pleased with these 16. We went into this season with a real point of view about the kind of show we wanted to do, and I feel like we did that.

Is there anything you would have done differently if you knew going on that this would definitely be the final season?

What do you mean, "if"?

When we talked before the season, you were at least pretending to be hopeful.

We knew. You always want to have hope. You don't want to go into a season going, "It's over." But I think we knew.

So knowing that, what did you specifically want to accomplish with the last year?

It was really about, I felt at times last year, in the need for trying to deliver ratings, the storylines got a little overcooked, we lost some of the humor and some of the heart of the show, and it was forsaken for the spectacle of a promotable moment. Our show has always had to walk this line between melodrama, an operatic level of melodrama, and also this character-based romantic comedy. You ask a bunch of different people what they watched the show for and who they watch the show for, and you get a bunch of different answers. It was a fine line that the show had to walk, and I think this year, we decided if we were going to fall off the balance beam, we were going to fall more on the romantic comedy side, and that was the decision we made. You weren't having cliffhanger endings every week.

And no one literally fell off a cliff.

In our best episodes, even in this season, we were able to do both, and in every season. Our decision was, well, if we're not going to have the crazy story points, we're going to have to make it really funny.

Getting back to something we talked a little about at the beginning of the season, Taylor's really the only character you added after the beginning who stuck.

Well, there's also Kaitlin.

Technically, she was there at the beginning. You just recast her.


So why did Taylor fit when, say, Alex or Zach or the others didn't?

First and foremost, it's Autumn Reeser. She's just tremendously talented and delightful to work with, and she wanted to be on the show and work really hard, and that came through. But also, when the show started, I'd never really done it before, I'd never watched "90210" or "Dynasty" or "Dallas," so the whole idea of introducing new characters, that was something I had to learn as I went. We never introduced any of those characters in season two with the intention of keeping them around. As much as I loved having Olivia Wilde on the show -- and we were forced to wrap up that storyline quicker than we wanted to because of what was going with the FCC -- even her, we never planned on keeping any of these characters long-term. When we introduced Taylor, we wanted to plant some characters to stick around for more than a season.

So you never planned for Lindsay or anyone else to be around long-term?

We never planned for it that way, and one of the things I've learned over the run of the show is that an expansive ensemble takes some of the weight off your principal characters, an ensemble that feels like it's part of the show. When you don't have your crisis of the week and it's just the relationships that sustains your show, it's good to have a wide gallery of characters and we created some characters that weren't intended for more than we used them.

In retrospect, is there anyone you wish you had kept?

I always loved having Luke on the show, and he may have quickly gone soft. We rehabilitated him very quickly, it wasn't long before he was strumming a guitar being a goofball, though I loved that part of him. I think there was room for him to stick around. Who knows about the great Luke/Anna love story? Now you can only find out about that in fanfics.

Why did Haylie keep vanishing?

Fox kept giving Amanda Righetti series regular jobs, she kept appearing in other Fox shows, and we weren't ready to commit to making her a series regular to keep her to ourselves.

Let's go back to the genesis for a minute. I know you've said that the pitch was "'The Karate Kid' without the karate'...

Or "'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' minus the wacky graffiti," take your pick. The genesis of it was, I had gone in for a general meeting at McG's company when Stephanie Savage was still working for his company, now she's a full-time producer on the show. We started talking and she mentioned Orange County as sort of a world, and she said they were open to any take. One of the suggestions was, "What about extreme sports cops, '21 Jump Street'-style?" I said, "Let me come back to you with characters." I didn't know extreme sports or cops, but I had gone to USC, been around these Newport kids, being a Jewish kid from Rhode Island, and being around all those Orange County kids, I felt extremely Jewish and extremely 5'9" and not buoyant in water. But I also knew it was really a seductive place and would have loved to have dated one of those girls.

I am very much a product of my pop culture influences, and so is Stephanie, so we were going to have one toe in the 80s teen movies of my youth and also a nod to all the "Rebel Without A Cause" and Douglas Sirk '50s melodramas as well. Aside from pop culture references, we wanted it grounded in a real family that was the only normal haven in this world. The wish-fulfillment of the show wasn't being given the keys to the kingdom, but was being adopted by this family that anyone would want to be a part of.

The Seth in the pilot wasn't really recognizable from who he became. How much of that transformation was getting to know Brody? And talk a little about how the show went from Ryan's story to Ryan and Seth's story.

It's Ryan's story again in the finale. Even if it didn't always seem that way, Ryan's story was the framework for the show. But one of the pleasures of working in a television show is getting to know your actors. Seth was always going to be a prominent part of the show, but there was a lot of fear in the beginning about having too comic a character in that role. We kept hearing from the network after we cast Ben, "Now that you've got Luke Perry, who's your Jason Priestley?" And we kept going, "That's not the model!" When Brody walked in the room to audition, he was also good-looking enough that people felt comfortable he could be a leading man, but if you go back and look at all the launch posters, he wasn't on them. They put Luke on instead of him.

I thought Seth's line last week about how turning their story into a body-switching comedy might get another couple of years out of it was the most self-aware line he's ever had.

He's got a couple more coming up…

Was there a struggle early on with you and the network over how funny the show should be?

Initially, it was okay. There were a few times -- the episode where we went to LA and followed Grady Bridges around, we had some rants taken out, and probably rightfully so. It was a balancing act, and I think maybe last year we went away from it. I think in time, the Gail Berman regime came to embrace the comdic elements of the show, but it certainly wasn't what anyone focused on initially. At the end of the day, we had to serve the melodrama part.

So it was Peter Liguori who was pushing you away from the comedy last year?

I'm not going to say anything bad about the guy.

Hey, you're off the air in a few days. What's he going to do?

Yeah, what's he going to do? Put us in a terrible timeslot and not promote us? No, seriously, he's a good guy, and he let us do the season this year that we really wanted to do, and do all 16 episodes, so I appreciated that a lot.

You know the Jeri Ryan story, right?

I've heard bits and pieces second-hand, but what's your version?

The third season got off to a weird and wacky start. After we'd already broken the first six or seven episodes -- which I'm not saying, by any means, were genius -- we were told we had to go bck and insert a new femme fatale in the show, from the first episode, and that the model was, if she was available, Nicolette Sheridan. And it was like, "Oh boy, where do we go from here?" Third seasons are tricky and I think maybe it became a little bit trickier, and we got a little bit thrown off balance.

It didn't seem like the kind of story you guys did.

It was tonally wrong, and we probably should have been focused on things like not making the Johnny storyline suck. All of a sudden you're scrambling, and I was not as focused as I probably should have been.

How could you have made the Johnny storyline not suck?

What it was intended to do initially was one thing, I don't remember anymore, but I've learned that if you're in a storyline that's not going well, end it fast.

(Later, Schwartz e-mails me to add, A note we got last year which was fairly indicative of the POV there was: "This is FOX, not FOX Searchlight." Thus, Johnny was hit by a car.)

I was surprised that, after you finally rid yourself of Johnny, you kept Volchok around, even into this season.

The show always needed the sort of harder-edged storytelling spine to it, that was a little more laced with melodrama, you need antagonistic energy. I think it worked the most successfully with Trey, and Volchok brought a little bit of that dangerous bad boy energy into the show. Ryan needs somebody to punch.

In season two, you had Sandy and Kirsten flirting with Kim Delaney and Billy Campbell, in season three there was Jeri Ryan and the hospital storyline; how hard was it to write interesting material for what's supposed to be an extremely happy, functional married couple?

It was a challenge. We were really lucky that we had great actors with great chemistry. The initial impulse was, let's keep them happy, but happy people in a happy marriage is a tricky thing to write in a nighttime serialized drama for Fox, so you start trying to trouble the marriage in ways that hopefully makes it stronger in the end. This season they've been strengthened and really fun and those perfect parents again. You want to service the actors in storylines, but the principal audience was a young adult audience, and I don't know how much they cared about the state of their marriage.

Well, getting back to what you said before about different parts of the audience watching for different reasons, what sense do you have of the effect Marissa's death had on that young adult audience?

It's so hard to tell. Quite honestly, the show was struggling last year in the ratings. I've been very upfront about the fact that I wasn't as focused on the show as I was in the past or the fickleness of the teenage audience. But I feel like any story that gets written about the show, it gets frustrating. You can't write it without talking about the scheduling. At its height, without the benefit of "Idol," had 7 and a half to 8 milion viewers -- even only 10 million with "Idol." It was never this huge across the board smash hit, and with every timeslot move, we lost 20 percent of our audience. There are big shows that start with 20 million viewers and get moved and lose 20 percent of their audience, and they can afford that. When you start with 7 and a half million viewers and you move, you're in trouble.

It's impossible to extrapolate what creatively cost us with viewers. Outside of the scheduling, it's so hard. I'm sure some people stopped watching because (Marissa) wasn't on the show. It was a risk of us making a move like that in an attempt to reinvigorate the show, but you can't say that that's the whole enchilada.

To rehash, your reasons for killing Marissa?

It felt like you can get locked into a little bit of a formula, dynamics that start to get predictable. To a lot of the audience, the Ryan and Marissa romance felt like it had played itself out, short of a happy ending, and that we had done everything with Marissa that was conceivable, including redemption, which is where she was at the end. She never struck me as the sort of character who would sail happily into the sunset, going back to her first appearance passed out drunk at the door to her house. It felt like the most fitting end for her.

If you had to pick an episode to show someone what "The O.C." is about, what would it be? "The Escape"?

That's a perfect example, because it did all the things that the show did, when it was firing on all cylinders. It was fun, it was dramatic, also real at times, sometimes silly. I also look at other episodes: the Valentine's Day episode from season one, the season one finale, "The Rainy Day Women."

Getting back to some other absent faces, did Tate Donovan want to leave, or did you run out of things to do with Jimmy?

Again, we're trying to tell enough kid stories and make sure we service Sandy and Kirsten, and at a certain point, something's gotta give. We felt like we couldn't service Jimmy.

And Caleb's death?

Similar type of thing. This was a character who we didn't think would be a part of the show and he became a major part of the show for two seasons. We felt his death would have major repercussions. It sent Kirsten into decline, made Julie single and poor.

Whatever happened to the Kaitlin spin-off where she was in boarding school?

I was about 17 episodes into the first season, and I was asked to go up into Rupert Murdoch's boardroom. Rupert wasn't there but all the head honchos at Fox were there, and I was asked, with a fair amount of pressure, to do another show. I was shown a schedule where, if I did this, "The O.C." would remain on Wednesdays at 9 and the new show would be on Tuesdays at 9 after "Idol." Who wouldn't want to do that? It wasn't wise of me to do that, I had plenty to learn about the TV business, but I said, "Okay, I don't want it to be a spin-off." I was worried about cannibalizing the show too soon, and spin-offs usually fail. Everyone signed off on that fact, I went off and worked on a pilot called "Athens." It was a big honor, it was going to keep "The O.C" behind "American Idol." Then I turned in the script and everyone said, "So how do we turn it into a spin-off?" It became a protracted battle not to make it a spin-off. Then I arrived at the upfronts to announce the new show and they said "The O.C." was moving to Thursdays, that was a perfect storm of its own. When it felt that was the only version of the pilot that was going to move forward was one I didn't believe in, I said, maybe as a compromise, we'd have discussions about a Kaitlin boarding school drama, and then Gail Berman went to Paramount, and those discussions ended.

After the show became so successful breaking bands, you introduced the Bait Shop in season two, and then it went away. What happened?

We used it for two years. I don't know, at the end of the day, if it was as interesting to the people at home to watch bands play as it was for me, but it was a good destination, and we got a lot of mileage out of it. I'm sort of restless, we do a storyline and I'm, "Okay, let's move on." That wasn't the only thing we dropped after a while.

Well, my thesis on the show -- and feel free to shoot holes in it -- has always been that your restlessness was what made the first season so great, and what made you struggle later on. You did the Seth/Anna/Summer triangle in, like, three episodes, where another show would have dragged it out for a year and a half, and that was great, but it meant that you had used a whole lot of material by the time season two began.

All the things that made the show a blast also meant that it was going to burn really really bright and really really fast. That's appropriate. I think four years for a young adult drama is a good amount of time. I don't believe shows should run forever and ever and ever. I have two pilots now, and if we're talking in four years, I'll be a very happy man.

The rate of speed of pop culture today makes it so it's not a necessity for shows to run forever. Some of my favorite shows about young people -- "My So-Called Life," "Freaks and Geeks," "Undeclared" -- didn't even run for a full season.

So we burned through a lot of stories, that was a lot of fun, but going into the second season, our attitude was, six episodes into the first season, we already had a drinking game, the rules of the show had been codified. And I thought, "Let's go into season two and change it up, let's not have Ryan hit anybody, split up our couples and surprise people by moving the show in a new direction." We tried so many new things at once, and we may have overthought it. I'm proud of that choice, but it was a lesson to be learned in that crash course in television.

Do you feel like you've learned enough that you'll be in better shape if either or both of your pilots go?

Famous last words, right? I'm sure there are new mistakes for me to make that I have even yet to know exist. It's been an amazing sort of on the job training, and to be able to do that while working on a show that was able to have the impact it had on the audience while it was on was amazing. We were shooting the finale, in Pasadena, on location, and there were all these kids gathered at the bottom of the street, crying, begging the cast for pictures, and I thought, how remarkable that there's still this passionate audience on the next to last day of filming.

What are you going to be doing on Thursday night?

Watching the show. It'll be a last celebration, I'm really proud of the episode. It'll be really satisfying. When it goes off the air, I'll make myself not read about the show anymore, and look back on it for the amazing experience that it was.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

American Idol: A little brass, a lotta pockets

From the brand-spanking new Idol blog at
Well, it's only night two of the interactive portion of Idol, and we already have two very stark dividing lines. The women as a whole are vastly better than the guys, and three of the women are vastly better than all the other women. If season three's theme was The R&B Divas Vs. The Pop Princesses, this might just turn out to be The Divas Vs. The Divas.

And Jersey girl Antonella Barba's day didn't end any better than it started.
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Quest for beta-testers

In a series of office negotiations too convoluted to go into here, I volunteered to do "Idol" recaps for's new-and-improved blog interface, beginning tonight.

The new set-up looks a hell of a lot better than the old one, and even allows comments, but I'm still working the bugs out, so anyone with a few minutes of free time who wants to pay it a visit and offer an opinion on how it looks, works and how easy it is to comment, would be much appreciated. I posted a modified version of my top 12 guys review there as a placeholder. The direct link is here, while the main page for the blog will be here. Comment here or there on ease of use (or lack thereof).

Depending on how people take to the new location, I may duplicate my "Idol" reviews here for the time being, and even if I don't, I'll definitely put a direct link to each entry here so people can comment wherever they want. Also, this will remain the home of all the other reviews. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Veronica Mars: The stench of bread

"Veronica Mars" spoilers coming up just as soon as I check the resolution on my camera-phone...

Wow. For the most part, I've been perfectly happy with seasons two and three, but it's episodes like these last two that remind me of what this show looks like when it's really cooking. We got comedy, we got tragedy, we got a pair of mysteries that are actually interesting as both puzzles and as drama. We got it all.

Rest in peace, Don Lamb. I'll miss you for all the goodness that you brought to this show: as an irritant, as a plot device, as comic relief, as a classic noir character, and as one of the most likable jerks in primetime. Trying to find out whether this was entirely plot-related as an excuse to put Keith back in office, or whether Michael Muhney wanted to do a pilot or something else, but the guy gave his all in every limited appearance.

I love that the show didn't try to humanize Lamb in his final appearance. He went down as just as big an ass as the day we met him -- including an appropriate call-back to his "Go see the Wizard" moment with Wallace way back in the pilot. At first, I thought the reddish liquid oozing from underneath him was paint, and that this was going to be a fakeout like Desmond at the start of his flashback on "Lost" last week, but as soon as he said that he smelled bread, Marian (who's worked in lots of hospitals) said, "Oh, he's going to die." Damn.

Keith as sheriff has obvious implications for the conclusion of the O'Dell arc, but I'm curious to see how this will affect the show long-term -- assuming there is a long term. It's one thing for him to skirt the rules and help Veronica do the same when he's a disreputable PI, but now? Veronica just gave him material evidence on a murder case about 30 seconds before he was offered the job; does he sit on that? Can it be a noir world if the heroine's virtuous father is the head cop? Will Veronica and Keith find themselves on opposite sides more often now?

On the O'Dell case, I have to put my money on Tim the TA. He's obviously the one who put the bug in Landry's phone, and the odds of Landry the criminology genius killing a man while wearing a monogrammed shirt -- or, if he did so, not disposing of said evidence in a foolproof manner -- are slim. Tim also graded Veronica's perfect murder paper that was used as the premise for Cyrus' murder, though of course it was also posted on-line. At this point, I feel like it's down to him or Mel Stoltz, who keeps being treated like an ominous figure even though he never does or says anything. But I could be wrong; I was convinced Guttenberg did it last year because I felt like Rob was trying too hard to make us forget he existed.

Other things to love:
  • Mac finally gets some sexual satisfaction after the bad hand the writers have dealt her in the past;
  • The gang goes on an all-night scavenger hunt that actually feels like fun college hijinks;
  • Logan can immediately recognize that they're doing the wrong Kama Sutra pose;
  • Veronica goes even butchier than usual while locked up in stir, countered by her incredibly girlish, hilarious, "I do! I do!" at the prospect of release;
  • Cliff F'in McCormack getting one killer line after another, from the "Caged Heat" joke to his repeat encounter with Richard Grieco (the second "Don't I know you?" moment of the hour);
  • The lighting and photography of the furnace scene with Weevil, which was very noir;
  • Keith's takedown of Mrs. Coach;
One thing I'm ambivalent about:
  • Parker and Logan's now inevitable hook-up. I suppose it's preferable to Veronica and Piz, and it's good to see Logan just enjoying himself instead of his recent emo spiral, but it feels like a TV contrivance to delay the inevitable reunion.
Still, so, so, so pleased by the last couple. What did everybody else think?
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American Idol: Sweethearts dance

Now I remember why I didn't recap the "American Idol" semi-finals last year. Way too much chaff, not enough wheat. But since I sat through the whole damn thing and took notes, might as well go forward. Don't know if I'll have the same stamina tomorrow night. Song-by-song reviews after the jump...

Rudy Cardenas, "Free Ride": I like this song. It's one of my favorite tunes in "Dazed and Confused," it had a regular place in my workout mix back when I was still working out, and it has absolutely no business being performed on this show. It's not a singer's song at all, and Rudy tries desperately to dress it up as one with trills and "WOO!"s and bad dancing, and I'm not having it. Plus, he completely biffed the timing on the last line. Simon makes the first of what will be a running complaint about the dated nature of the songs, and he may want to have a chat with Nigel and Ken about that before '50s Week, you know?

Brandon Rogers, "Rock With You": Is it wrong that, 10 seconds into this song, I started conjuring memories of the "Hey Love Soul Classics" commercial in my head? (And if you're too young to appreciate the meaning of "No, my brother! You've got to get your own!," I pity you just a little, so go here, and thank Matt Hunter for finding the link.) I like the tone of Brandon's voice, but I actually felt this was too understated and safe even with the runs that Randy and Paula were complaining about.

Sundance Head, "Nights in White Satin": I was really impressed when I heard the song title, not so much with the performance of it. Fine technical singing, I suppose, but completely lifeless. Hey, at least he wasn't shouting.

Paul Kim, "Careless Whisper": You know the director was yelling at his cameramen to make sure one of them was trained on the stage floor for the "guilty feet ain't got no rhythm" line. Much like Ron Burgundy drinking milk in August, the falsetto was a bad choice. The fourth forgettable and/or bad performance in a row. They can't send everybody home, can they?

Chris Richardson, "I Don't Want to Be": I always love when Randy -- whose only alleged value as a judge is his knowledge of the music industry -- completely gets a fact wrong like thinking this was Edwin McCain. Very boy band and an average vocal, but at least he's the first guy of the night who knows how to work the stage, and he's the first to hold my interest. He'll be around a little while, I think.

Nick Pedro, "Now and Forever": You know why Simon was so much kinder to this one than Randy and Paula? Because one of the bands that's recorded this song is Westlife, one of Simon's earliest creations. Very pitchy, very boring. Next.

Blake Lewis, "Somewhere Only We Know": Because Randy has a pathological need for contestants to stay in their box -- or, in this case, in their beatbox -- he's already whining that Blake didn't do his very special thing here. Shut up, Randy. You're more useless than Paula. I'm not a big Keane fan, but like Simon I'm in favor of any picking a song that belongs in this century, and outside of some problems transitioning into and out of the falsetto, quite nice. I like Blake's personality, and he can sing as well as do his gimmick. Go him.

Sanjaya Malakar, "Knocks Me Off My Feet": You're really tempting fate giving Simon the kind of easy insult when you choose a song with "I don't want to bore you" in the chorus, and like everyone else, I was struggling to stay awake. Sweet kid, good tone to his voice, but I feel like I've seen him give this exact same performance 80,000 times already, and it's only week one of the semis.

Chris Sligh, "Typical": Going to the Mute Math well, eh? Well-played, sir. It plays to the fans who know you're a Christian rocker, and it plays to the people who like to be told who you are through on the nose lyrics (see Bo's version of "I Don't Want to Be" in season four), and, like Blake, it sounds like something you could actually hear on the radio right now. I don't know how much range Chris has, but if nothing else he works within his limitations like a more self-aware version of Taylor Hicks.

But then, then, then... we enter the gayest moment in the history of "American Idol," one so awkward and fraught with innuendo that I kept expecting Seacrest to pull a George Costanza, turn to Chris and say, "Do you hear the way he talks to me?" The bitchiness was so overwhelming that I'm not sure anyone even noticed Chris mildly talking back to Simon. To quote Simon, "You've made this very uncomfortable, Ryan." And so did you, Simon.

Jared Cotter, "Back to One": Helpful advice for all the future "Idol" contestants reading this blog (and I know there are oh so many of you): if you made it to the semi-finals with zero screentime, you can't afford to play it safe, especially not in the first week. The best part of this was the falsetto, but he didn't get to it until the very end of the 90-second arrangement, and the rest was utterly forgettable. Even though other people were quite a bit worse, I think he's going home, because people had no reason to vote for him before and he gave them no reason here.

A.J. Tabaldo, "All My Love": What does it say about the performance that, an hour later, the only thing I remember about it is the reaction shot of Paula dancing enthusiastically while Simon and Randy share the same appalled expression?

Phil Stacey, "I Could Not Ask For More": Struggles with the lower register at the start of the song, but he has good presence even while standing still and opens up nicely at the chorus. Best of the night, but that's damning with the faintest of praise.

Based on tonight, Phil, Blake and the two Chrises are the only ones I ever care about seeing again, and none of them screams winner to me. So, um, go women?

What did everybody else think?
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Heroes: The Scott Scanlon Memorial Hour

"Heroes" spoilers coming up just as soon as I explain to my daughter that you don't have to cry over spilled milk...

Okay, so let's go through the checklist:
  • Someone will fly. Abso-damn-lutely. Peter's escape from HRG and the Haitian was by far the coolest moment of the episode, if not the coolest thing on the show since Nathan went super-sonic over the Vegas skies. Wasn't even so much about the FX as the stakes and the realization that Peter has pulled an Obi-Wan and become more powerful than we could possibly imagine.
  • Someone will die. Sure, though Simone only barely qualifies as a "someone" on this show. In that way, it reminded me of the season two "90210" episode where Scott Scanlon -- a character who was technically part of the first season cast but quickly phased out -- accidentally shot himself, which was preceded by ads boasting, "Tonight, they lose one of their own!" I've been ready for Simone to be gone for a long time now, so in that respect I'd much rather lose her than, say, Nathan, but Simone's been a non-entity for so long that her death would have been better left unhyped.

Peter growing into his abilities was the episode's highlight, but I also enjoyed Claire confronting her dad. Question: I know she's afraid of being seen as a freak, but given her desire to protect her mom, couldn't she have showed the doctor evidence of her healing powers to lend credence to the mind-wiping story? Also, nice timing to have Claire openly defying HRG just as three armed -- albeit well-intentioned -- gunmen break into their home and take them hostage.

Speaking of which, while Parkman remains useless on his own or with his wife, I liked him teaming up with Radioactive Man and our new arrival, Bluetooth Girl (feel free to invent your own wi-fi nickname). If we're still positing "Heroes" as the un-"Lost," here's a case where characters are actually getting together to pool information and actively seek answers, and bravo to that.

Boo, on the other hand, to Mohinder being a colossal imbecile. Even if he's somehow too dense to put two and two together with his travelling companion's brand-new migraines and the Sylar-induced death of a woman who was constantly getting migraines, he has to realize that Sylar is following him in some way. I don't know how many potential heroes are on The List, but the odds have to be microscopic on Mohinder and Sylar arriving at the exact same time in Bozeman, Montana to meet one of them. Nobody else has The List, as far as he knows, so he's just leading Sylar to these poor people. If I'm Mohinder, I go home and build myself a safe room and leave everyone else alone, you know?

Glad to see that Hiro's powers are still somewhat intact, though the trick with the bullet seemed more telekinesis than time-bending, and I'll miss Ando's presence as his sidekick. Those two had good chemistry, and I hope they didn't send him away just as an excuse to ditch the subtitles.

What did everybody else think?

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Studio 60: Apparently, that's all there is

"Studio 60" spoilers coming right up...

So was that the last we'll see of this show on NBC's airwaves? There are still six episodes either in the can or in the process of being made, and a lot of time left in the TV season for some other NBC show to fail and create a hole in the schedule. Hell, "Black Donnellys" could wind up doing an even worse number next week and we'll see "Studio 60" back on Mondays in a month. TV is a wacky, wacky business, though the wackiness Sorkin has generally tried to depict is more of the headless baby doll variety than the capriciousness of both the public and network executives.

The nice people at Throwing Things are doing a post-mortem on where Sorkin went wrong in general, but I feel like I've done that 15 or 16 times already, so I'll just stick to this episode.

Start with Matt's bad crack in the schoolyard hallucinations, which last week were considered a major M. Night Shyamalan-level crisis, and here were quickly turned into a joke about Matt's ultimate sexual fantasy appearing in front of him right before the opening titles began. And, frankly, I think the lawyer (from Sam Seaborn's old firm of Gage Whitney) would have worked better as a figment, because her omniscience about all things Matt got old in a big damn hurry.

Then there was the suggestion that Harriet Hayes -- the beautiful, allegedly talented, allegedly beloved star of a broadcast TV network's flagship series -- can boil her romantic choices in life down to two men: the immature bullying ass, or the immature bullying ass. If I was Harriet, I'd be playing that Anita Pallenberg scene for real. If the kiss at the end was supposed to seem like Harriet following Danny's suggestion and humoring Matt, it worked; if it was supposed to convey any kind of real feeling between the two of them, not so much.

And, of course, the notion that the writers' room thrives on Samuel Taylor Coleridge trivia contests, or that Matt's only problem with a sketch about the Freemasons would be their inability to do research on it. I'm sure the folks in Bristol had some fun pointing out the inaccuracies and dramatic license in "Sports Night," but "Studio 60" must be one non-stop drinking game for the people who work at 30 Rock (either the address or the show).

Finally, there's Jordan buying a robot baby and not even acknowledging the fact that, with her schedule and income, a nanny's going to be doing the bulk of the child-rearing. The bit where Danny left the room and Tom immediately started holding the doll upside down by the ankle was funny, though, as were the eyes bugging out and scaring the bejeesus out of Jordan.

The sexual harassment story, inspired no doubt by a lawsuit from a woman who worked on Matthew Perry's last TV series, at least felt like something relevant to what this show is kinda sorta supposed to be about, as well as something that might turn into an interesting two or three-episode runner if NBC sees fit to bring it back. In particular, I liked Matt's acknowledgment that, while he wouldn't allow that kind of talk in his writers' room, other perfectly funny shows would. If nothing else, maybe Evan Handler and Carlos Jacott will pop up on the inevitable DVD.

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, February 19, 2007

HIMYM: I hope you're all happy now

"How I Met Your Mother" spoilers coming up just as soon as I moisteurize...

See? Thomas and Bays care about you people. They care about the "Slap Bet" fans worldwide. They gave you a payoff within seven episodes, and in a completely surprising and yet totally appropriate setting. So here's the deal: I don't want to see another slap for at least a season, if not until the series finale -- which will hopefully be many, many years from now. I like the idea that Barney is deep into middle age -- if not moving down to Del Boca Vista -- and he still has at least a slap or two hanging over his head.

A very strange, very funny, very "HIMYM"-y episode. Another random fear (Lily's hatred of "moist"), more legalese (the friends making rulings for each other, with Marshall's pants the highlight), Canadian mockery (though does that chain really exist?), twentysomething etiquette (Barney's explanation of favors that should no longer be asked at their age), Marshall's unrelenting enthusiasm (in this case for audience participation), and a novel comic device (the dogs-as-exes). Maybe a little too much Ted and Robin for my tastes, but splendid overall.

And, again, did you see the slap? Awesome. Unbridled awesomeness.
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Pathetic little fat men

Spoilers for "Extras" and "The Amazing Race" coming right up...

And so "Extras" comes to an end, but not before we had to witness Darren Lamb and Barry off "Eastenders" each making friends with himself -- plus the implication that Robert DeNiro would be doing the same thing shortly. To quote Rainier Wolfcastle, my eyes! The goggles do nothing!

I liked that the finale had the same quasi-hopeful tone of "The Office" Christmas special. Andy's going to meet Robert DeNiro, but you don't know if any work will come of it. Andy has recognized how badly he was treating Maggie, and they're maybe flirting a little, but chances of a relationship blossoming are probably slim. Darren manages to wrangle the DeNiro meeting, but he's still an imbecile. And, of course, the final bit about the nurse preferring edgy BBC2 comedies, followed by Robert Lindsay's, "What are you, a critic?," was a nice kiss-off.

I've never been an "Amazing Race" die-hard for a lot of reasons -- scheduling, the fact that it makes me feel overcaffeinated and gives me flashbacks to all my worst travel experiences -- but I've watched it off and on over the years and am going to give the All-Star season a try. Despite Phil's hyperbole, it doesn't seem like these are, in fact, the best 11 teams ever. (Certainly, if I was only going to include one set of winners, it wouldn't have been Uchenna and Joyce.) I remain both amused by everyone's hatred of Rob and Ambuh and impressed by his skills. If you're going to make "reality game show contestant" your career, you better be good at it, and Boston Rob is. But my opinion about them is the same as it was in season seven: I want them to stick around a really long time for entertainment value, but not win.

The team I was rooting for going into last night were Kevin and Drew, and not just because Kevin's a Jersey guy. They're funny, they're good guys, and, in the first go around, they were really good racers. This time, I just feel sorry for them. Drew obviously has some pre-existing injury stuff going on, and the two of them both seem like they don't want to be there. Unless someone hits Drew with the purple healing ray in a jiffy, I can see them maybe outlasting the cannon fodder like David and Mary (who suddenly decided to lie at the most useless, backfire-ensured possible time), but not much past that. Sigh...

This didn't seem like that exciting a leg, though squeezing 11 teams into a one-hour premiere didn't help. The Detour choice was too easy once you realized the cowboys were going to do all the hard work, so outside of getting to the Miami airport early and not getting lost in Ecuador, there wasn't a lot people could do to change their fates.

What did everybody else think?
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Battlestar Galactica: Loose seal! Look out for loose seal!

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica" just as soon as I take my anti-hallucinatory meds...

So Baltar has a HeadSix, Caprica Six has a HeadBaltar, and now Adama has a HeadEx? Is this going to turn into some kind of commentary on the perils of too much time on-line, where , by the end of season four, every character is too busy chatting with their own imaginary to interact with the flesh-and-blood people around them?

The Adama story was a strange one, and already the second this season (after "Hero") to dwell on things that happened to Bill pre-genocide. I don't feel like the big story arcs have to advance every week, and I appreciate giving the characters some depth, but I don't want the standalone episodes to turn into "Lost," you know? The details of Adama's marriage to Lee's mom just doesn't interest me, no matter how much they tried to dress it up with fancy editing. Even the stuff about his relationship with Lee felt a little besides the point, as they've for the most part made their peace with each other. On the plus side, I won't ever complain about a chance to see Olmos and McDonnell enjoying each other's company in general, and Mary laughing in particular.

In the downstairs portion of our upstairs, downstairs format, I thought the Chief/Cally stuff worked fine as a disposable thriller (particularly the FX team's work on the explosive decompression rescue). The personal side, however, felt lacking.

Tyrol doesn't love Cally, has never loved her, seemingly married her out of guilt for beating her up and because with the settlement, it seemed the thing to do. Obviously, he's not happy tending to a crying infant right now, but it feels like the episode came up to the edge of the two of them acknowledging the fundamental truth of their marriage and then backed off. Maybe the writers felt they already had hit their Doomed Marriages quota for the season with the quadrangle, I don't know. Tyrol's speech at the end could have played as a man recognizing that he's stuck in a bad situation and trying to make the best of it, but instead it read as him getting a healthy dose of perspective and realizing how much he loves Cally, and I don't buy that. The actors have little chemistry; Tyrol and Seelix have more spark, and I forget who Seelix is whenever someone's not referring to her by name.

Also, what was that silly contrivance about the deck crew being so shorthanded? Wasn't a big deal made about how Galactica's been overstaffed ever since the Pegasus blew up? We've seen scenes of bunk overcrowding, of pilots trying to beg their way into the flight rotation, and yet somehow there aren't enough deckhands? The show established a long time ago that Cally was only using the military for the Caprican equivalent of the GI Bill, and would have mustered out a long time ago if not for the genocide. Even with Adama's recent hard-assedness, surely he could find enough compassion to let a new mom who doesn't want to be there get a discharge -- or, at least, an extended maternity leave -- since there's such a huge surplus of military personnel relative to the amount of available jobs.

If that was just a contrivance to put Chief and Cally in danger on the job together, it'd be one thing, but it feels symptomatic of a larger problem this season. One of the things I love about this show is how much it cares about its own internal logic and the consequences of what's happened earlier, and lately it feels like things happen not because that's how they should work in this world, but because it seemed like a cool idea in the writer's room. One week, Helo's mayor of the refugee village, the next he's back in the flight rotation making fun of Hotdog's veneral disease. One week, there are too many crewmembers and not enough space or work; a few weeks later, Chief and Cally are overworked. All the real booze has long since been used up and replaced with the Chief's still-brewed concoction, but Adama somehow has a bottle of the good stuff to toast his dead ex-wife each year. Tigh's sowing dissent and in an alcoholic death spiral, and then he's absolutely fine and reduced to minimal screen time.

Maybe my problem with the standalones of late is that in previous years, even if those self-contained hours weren't superb, I never felt like the show was losing its sense of direction, and right now I'm a little worried.

What did everybody else think?
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American Idol: The great unknowns?

This morning's column previews the "American Idol" semi-finals:
Okay, freak show's over. Time to get onto the actual competition portion of "American Idol." But before we do, I have an important question to ask:

Who are these people?

What a strange and very anonymous group these 24 semifinalists make. A half dozen or so never even appeared on camera before last Wednesday's episode, and I feel like I only have a handle on either the personalities or talents of another half dozen.

To read the rest, click here. (NOTE: Continuing my recent shamefully error-prone ways, the story refers to the semis beginning tonight, when of course they don't begin until tomorrow.) I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to do performer-by-performer reviews of the semis or wait until the finals the way I did last season. Depends on how inspired I am by all these randoms, I suppose. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The one word you still can't say on television

Brief, belated spoilers for, in order, "30 Rock," "Knights of Propserity," "My Name Is Earl," "Scrubs" and "Survivor" coming right up...

A very strong "30 Rock" this week, particularly the montage of Liz the runt-y boss and Pete hitting her up for cash for the strip club. This was also one of the few times I liked a subplot where Tracy was relatively sane, and not just because they brought in Rip Torn as some kind of GE/NBC/Universal/KMart bigwig. Liz being a rare female boss in an agressively male profession and Tracy being a has-been who's oblivious to being a has-been are both good comedy fodder, and they haven't exhausted either one yet.

The "Knights of Prosperity" guys appear to have written a series finale without even realizing it. In case you didn't see the episode, the guys saved Esperanza from her evil Colombian drug lord ex-boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale, and is he too young and/or well-known to qualify for Hey It's That Guy! status?) by trading him all of their intel and resources on Mick Jagger's apartment in exchange for her freedom. On paper, it allows them to work around Mick's lack of interest in coming back, but I also think it gives ABC an excuse to pull the plug, immediately, because the ratings have been awful, losing huge chunks of the lead-in from "George Lopez" -- "George Lopez" -- every week. Considering the struggles of "In Case of Emergency" and ABC's belief that the best lead-in for "Lost" is "Lost," I wouldn't be stunned to see "Lopez" and "According to Jim" airing from 8 to 9 as soon as this week.

After a few back-to-formula episodes, "My Name Is Earl" presents another treat for Bad Earl fans like me, with an entire episode of Bad Earl's greatest hits. My favorite: the montage of Earl making fat jokes about pregnant Joy, as there was a level of glee to Jason Lee's delivery that reminded me of Banky and/or Brodie.

I'm really not feeling "Scrubs" at the moment, unfortunately. This episode didn't have any jarringly bad decisions like Kim faking a miscarriage, but it just feels like the writers are forcing the wackiness. And at the same time, the show's been so hardcore wacky for a while that the emotional moments don't work. J.D.'s realization that he needs to grow up and stop leaning on his friends to solve every problem should have been an important milestone for the character, but he's become such a cartoon in the last year and a half that I don't expect the development to stick. For most of last season, the more ridiculous tone was fine because the show was so funny; lately, I'm not laughing very much, and that hurts everything.

Also not feeling "Survivor" yet. Still too many contestants, and they're no longer even trying to be subtle about who's going to Tribal Council, as it felt like we spent about 30 seconds at the fancy camp. I think my problem with the feast-or-famine twist is that it hasn't been earned. In "Pearl Islands," Sandra's team had such a kick-ass camp because she did an amazing job of bartering in town, while the opponents ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, foreshadowing how badly they would do in most challenges. In "Palau," Tom's team won an amazing camp little by little through pure challenge dominance. Here, one team won a relatively tight Immunity Challenge, and now they get to live high on the hog at least until the next twist? Meh. Aside from Earl and the snakes coming to an understanding, the entire hour was flat.

What did everybody else think?
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