Thursday, May 31, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: The end is near

I'm going to be otherwise occupied for most of Friday thourgh Sunday, so I may not get a chance to blog right away on "Studio 60," "Pirate Masters" or anything else. But in the meantime, I figure I'd pass on this bit of sad-and-yet-not news: the next season of "Battlestar Galactica" will be the last.

Quoth Moore and Eick:
"This show was always meant to have a beginning, a middle and, finally, an end," producers said. "Over the course of the last year, the story and the characters have been moving strongly toward that end, and we've decided to listen to those internal voices and conclude the show on our own terms."
I think most of the hardcore fanboys and girls knew this was coming. Moore's been talking about finality a lot lately, and when the fourth season order was originally 13 episodes, there were reports saying that if it expanded to 22 -- which it eventually did -- that would be a sign that the Sci Fi people were giving the production team a chance to wrap things up.

So go create a kick-ass final season, guys. Better to tell the story you wanted, in the way you wanted, and give it a proper ending, then to drag things out forever and ever. Click here to read the full post

Because I would feel totally left out if I didn't...

... may I be the latest (and definitely late in the day) blogger to remind you that "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes is once again blogging about the National Spelling Bee over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago. I find Shonda far more appealing when she's crushing on pre-pubescent spellers than when she's doing the same for her own fictional creations, for some reason. Click here to read the full post

Kidnapped: A look back

One of the requests made during the What Do You Want? thread was a second look at some shows that dropped off my radar as the season went along. I'll try to catch up on some of "Ugly Betty," "Brothers & Sisters" and the like when I can, but thanks to the joy of Netflix, I was able to finish up with "Kidnapped" (which was too much of a pain in the ass to follow on NBC's website), and I really liked what I saw -- while at the same time feeling totally satisfied with the show's cancellation.

Spoiler-y thoughts to follow, though I'll save the really spoiler-y stuff for the very end, so if you haven't watched the remaining episodes but are still thinking about it, I can give you adequate warning before it's too late to turn back.

Of all the complicated serial mystery dramas that tanked this fall, "Kidnapped" was the one I missed the most. ("The Nine" had a better pilot but fell apart almost immediately.) Tremendous cast (especially if you add in recurring players like Doug Hutchison, Anthony Rapp, James Urbaniak and Robert John Burke, or even one-shot guest stars like Tom Noonan), great look and use of New York locations, fairly snappy dialogue (even if, as Fienberg likes to say, Jason Smilovic is, at best, Mamet-Lite), solid action set pieces (including several that had me believing Madchen Amick could be a bad-ass assassin) and, best of all, a format designed to bring closure at the end of a season. Had the show continued, we would've moved on to a new case, with Jeremy Sisto, Delroy Lindo and Carmen Ejogo sticking around and everyone else being replaced. That spared Smilovic and the other writers the hassle of contriving a reason to keep Dana Delany and Timothy Hutton around, and the ability to treat the format as a series of self-contained mysteries instead of one sprawling narrative spared it a lot of the "How do we keep this going?" convolutions that helped sink the likes of "Vanished."

At the same time, I'm glad the show got cut down to only 13 episodes -- or, rather, that NBC didn't order a back nine, while giving Smilovic enough warning that he could write a conclusion -- as I don't think there was 22 episodes worth of story here. There are several episodes in the middle, obviously written before the "wrap it up" marching orders, that are clearly just there as time-fillers, notably an episode where Sisto holds Amick captive while a mystery sniper threatens to kill Lindo's otherwise-inconsequential adult daughter. And you can practically time stamp the moment when Smilovic realized the end was near, as the plot moves into warp speed to get all the players in place for the planned climax in Mexico, followed by a final episode in which the mastermind behind the kidnapping has to give longer-than-usual Fallacy of the Talking Killer speeches to explain exactly how and why all of this happened. Had everyone known from the jump that this would be 13 episodes and out, I imagine the pacing would have been vastly better and we would have been left with a really tight little miniseries thriller.

Still, even with the start-and-stop nature of the storytelling, I was extremely satisfied by how things shook out, which I'll get into in more explicit detail in the next paragraph (so start preparing to bail, unspoiled folk). In a perfect world, "Kidnapped" would have been exhibit A for why American network television could stand to adopt the British model, where a show runs for a limited amount of episodes, finishes its story, then immediately gives way to something else, and only returns if the creators have something more to say. At the very least, it's more evidence that the 13-episode model is a huge part of why your average cable drama is better than your average network drama. When you're only doing 13 instead of 22, especially on a show with serial elements, you're not stuck with that inevitable drag in the middle of the season when nothing interesting can happen because the finale's too far away, and you can spend more time making each episode as good as it can be. With "Kidnapped," nobody showed up for even the first episode; maybe if people had been promised closure in only 13 episodes, that might have been different, or maybe the original "Why should I want to watch them stretch out a story Without a Trace could do in an hour?" complaint would have still applied, I don't know. All I know is that, creatively, a lot of shows would be better at this length.

Some specific spoilers to follow, bullet point-style...
  • By far the highlight of the post-NBC episodes was Mykelti Williamson's work as Virgil the bodyguard. Outside of the thrilling shootout in the pilot, he spent most of the network run either absent or lying in a hospital bed, but once you get to the unaired episodes, he's a violent forcre of nature, giving up all traces of humanity in an attempt to save the life of his abducted charge. It's a rip on the Denzel character from "Man on Fire," but as played by Williamson -- an actor at his best when you strip his amount of dialogue to the bone -- it's a good rip. The moment when Virgil and Leopold finally reunite on that Mexican beach was the series' emotional peak, and because there was no need to keep Virgil around for future stories (even before cancellation), the writers were able to treat his injuries with gravity; he basically holds his body together through sheer willpower until he completes his mission, then lets go and dies.
  • Some nice stuff from Hutton, who made me believe he could be an ex-thug, when he usually comes across as somewhat effete. For that matter, Sisto's another guy who never screamed action hero before but did a convincing Jack Bauer impression here, particularly during the Tom Noonan episode. And speaking of which...
  • The episode where Noonan has Sisto strapped to a chair for some torture and, eventually, execution, was another highlight. When you bring in The Tooth Fairy, you're not messing around. And if I'm not blurring some of the episodes together, this was also the one where we really got into Knapp's backstory as a kid who escaped from the religious cult his mother had joined by climbing barefoot down a rocky mountain. A very creepy, compelling monologue that was.
  • As I alluded to above, the revelation that Lindo's buddy Linus Roache was the bad guy required a lot of finessing at the end, not because it contradicted anything that came before, but just because there had barely been any time to drop any hints.

So, did anybody else stick with it to the end? And would you have wanted to watch a second season with Sisto chasing after Anthony Rapp, or did you feel one season was enough for this character and format?

Click here to read the full post

Letters link

Mailbag column today, focusing on the matter of Jack's father in the "Lost" finale and the "Idol" finale time overrun. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Attack of the Apatow

Between the impending release of "Knocked Up," the fascinating New York Times Magazine profile (registration required), and then this brilliant (but NSFW) fake FunnyOrDie clip of Michael "George Michael Bluth" Cera getting fired from the lead role of "Knocked Up," I've had Judd Apatow on the brain the last few days.

Of course, I've often felt like Judd had me -- or someone just like me -- on the brain, as so much of the humor in "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" felt painfully true to my own life. After the Adam Sandler episode of "Undeclared" -- where Ron's attempts to make Sandler want to be friends with them reminded me of my some of my own inept early celebrity encounters -- I even sent Judd an e-mail complaining that he had built some kind of mind-reading machine and was using it on me. Not surprisingly, a restraining order soon followed, along with him getting a new e-mail address.

So since I'm no longer allowed within a thousand yards of the man (Judd, you know I love you! Call me!), I have to show my love in other ways, like a quick run through YouTube for some of Apatow's greatest hits. You really oughta start with the Cera thing, which is brilliant whether or not you've seen the infamous David O. Russell/Lily Tomlin "I Heart Huckabee's" screaming match that inspired it. But here are some other fine moments of genius from Apatow and his associates -- or, at least, the best that I could find on the YouTubes:
Enjoy. Click here to read the full post

House: A man stands alone

Spoilers for the "House" third season finale coming up just as soon as I figure out whether I have the power to fire anybody I work with...

From the people who brought you "Tell Cuddy I want Ketamine" comes a different kind of "shocking" cliffhanger: House alone after all his subordinates have either quit or been fired.

Unfortunately, the Ketamine bit -- and the entire season that followed it -- has sapped a lot of the tension from this cliffhanger, because it showed us that the "House" writers aren't interested in actual change, just the illusion of it. House's leg healed for a few episodes, and then he went right back to the same limping pill-popper he was before. Tritter came in and threatened to rip House's world apart, and after a few episodes, all was status quo. Cuddy felt betrayed by how House manipulated her at the end of the Tritter thing, but within a few weeks, their relationship was same as it ever was (same as it ever was). House's sidekicks were all horrified by him faking cancer to get high, and House in turn realized he had hit rock bottom and had to be more human with them, and the following week it was like none of that ever happened.

I really like "House." It's a lot of fun, Hugh Laurie is doing brilliant work every week, the supporting players have adjusted well to his rhythms over the years, and it's one of the few network procedural dramas where the actual cases don't feel like afterthoughts. (Most of the fall procedural pilots I've watched could learn a thing or 20 from this show.) But it's one of the most formulaic Great Dramas on television, present or past, which means there need to be periodic resets to the status quo. There can be changes on the fringes -- Cameron and Chase dating, Cuddy trying to have a baby, Foreman maturing -- but the key elements of House the socially abrasive genius and his fractured relationships with his colleagues have to remain relatively stable.

So you'll forgive me if I don't spend my summer chewing my fingernails over the prospect of Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer leaving the show. I expect we'll come back in the fall with House working solo, or having recruited some new subordinates to bully (maybe he can bring back the trio of chatty med students from "Three Stories"), and over the course of the first half-dozen episodes, Foreman, Chase and Cameron will find themselves drawn back into House's orbit.

Now, I don't know anything about the contract details for Epps, Morrison and Spencer (though actors traditionally sign contracts that run four years or more when they agree to do a series), and for all I know Ausiello or Kristin or somebody will have a story up later today where one of the "House" producers explains that one or all of those actors are leaving. But right now, this one smells to me like another false cliffhanger, a twist to shake things up for a few episodes in the fall before everything goes right back to normal.

Which isn't to say it was a bad episode. Hugh Laurie did a great job depicting House's complete inability to diagnosis a cure for his Foreman problem, Cameron developing real feelings for Chase was sweet (if predictable), and I liked the patient and her husband's handling of House. (Though their grasp of the English language made a quantum leap from the opening scene to the end of the episode.) I'm just feeling blase about the cliffhanger stuff.

What did everybody else think? Does anybody believe the show is done with one or more of those characters?
Click here to read the full post

The Shield: The man with no brain

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I go peek in that window...

So much is going on right now that almost all of it will have to carry over to next season, I expect. But for now, I feel like I have to take note of the following: Shane, you unbelievable idiot! Billings, you magnificent bastard! Cruz, you... wait, who are you again?

On a dumbness scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Corrinne accepting Kavanaugh's stick of gum and 10 being Aceveda staying alone in that house where he got raped, Shane voluntarily giving up the money train robbery to Franka -- even in such a way that allegedly keeps his own name out of it -- is a 97. He's dealt with the Armenians before. How can he not recognize that this knowledge will lead to the deaths of Vic and Ronnie -- and maybe more people? And yet it's the same sort of move that Shane always makes when he's left to operate without Vic. The man constantly overestimates his own cleverness and vastly underestimates just how ruthless his new criminal buddies can be. (See also Antwon.)

Meanwhile, Billings gets his spectacular vengeance on the Dutchman, nudging Tina and Hiatt together and then turning Dutch into a peeping Tom forced to watch them make the beast with two backs. Vicious, hilarious and brilliant. David Marciano has been such a great addition to this show, and while I miss the Dutch/Claudette team, Dutch/Billings has its own pleasures.

Finally, we have Aceveda's buddy (or so Aceveda thinks) Cruz stepping in as Vic's white knight after the comptroller calls Vic's bluff on the blackmail scheme. This guy has been hovering in the background all season, but we knew he was trouble after Aceveda was moronic enough to tell him about Hernan. (Who's up, by the way, for Walton Goggins and Benito Martinez to star, in character, in "Dumb and Dumber 3"? Come on, who's with me?)

So, lot of balls in the air, very few likely to come down next week, but I'm intrigued. What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Reilly out, Silverman in

Today's column looks at the Kevin Reilly-for-Ben Silverman executive shuffle at NBC, which was sad but inevitable. (A lot of us assumed that Reilly would be fired much sooner than this, as a fall guy for Zucker's sins.) There are also some brief thoughts at the end on Lifetime's "Army Wives," which I didn't hate. (Probably wouldn't watch it again voluntarily, though.) Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007: CBS

You should be able to recite my pilot disclaimer in your sleep by now: these are just first impressions, not reviews, because too many things can and will change between now and September.

CBS has five new series, but only sent out full pilots for the three below. The vampire detective show "Moonlight" is being retooled, and they say there was never a full pilot made anyway, and all I have of that and "Kid Nation" is the cut-down from the upfront, which I don't want to watch because the cut-downs inevitably give away stuff that I'd rather find out about in context.

Fienberg beat me to the punch for once on the CBS pilots, and once again our thoughts are going to be eerily similar (he even claims that he made a note of the Gary Cole point I make below, but didn't remember to include it in the final version), once again doing little to disprove the theory that we're the same person.

"The Big Bang Theory"
Who's in it: Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons
What it's about: "Beauty and the Geek: The Sitcom," in which two Cal Tech nerds befriend the blonde hottie who moves in across the hall.
Pluses: The traditional setup-joke paradigm is on its last legs, but co-creator Chuck Lorre (of "Two and a Half Men" and "Dharma & Greg" fame) is one of the few working sitcom writers who can occasionally breathe a little life into it. I laughed a few times, particularly at the odd line readings of Parsons.
Minuses: A major plot point of the pilot: the hot blonde's shower breaks, so she has to shower (and parade around in a towel) in the nerds' apartment. This is an actual plot in a sitcom being made in 2007. In general, the show threatens to make "Two and a Half Men" seem like a model of subtlety.

Who's in it: Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell, Rita Moreno, Polly Walker and more.
What it's about: "Godfather"-style soap about a Cuban-American family trying to protect their sugar and rum empire.
Pluses: Some good performances, especially by Smits and Carbonell, a venue that will give a lot of talented but underemployed Latin-American actors a chance to show their stuff (as regulars or guest stars), and a world that doesn't feel like one I've seen a million times before.
Minuses: The CBS house style gives this a flat, cheap TV look that ruins a lot of attempts to create a "Godfather" vibe (an outdoor party scene that's clearly meant to evoke all those Corleone shindigs seems to have 7 guests). The subplots about the younger generation of the family feel like nothing more than what they are: a futile attempt to get kids to watch an '80s-style CBS soap opera. If this show succeeds, Carbonell may not be able to go back to "Lost," meaning we won't find out whether Richard's immortal or the "Lost" makeup team just had a bad day at the office.

"Viva Laughlin"
Who's in it: Lloyd Owen, Madchen Amick and, in a semi-recurring role, Hugh Jackman
What it's about:
Remake of BBC's "Viva Blackpool" miniseries, a crime/romance/musical hybrid about an aspiring casino owner in a small gambling town.
Pluses: Jackman (who's also a producer) is sensational in his few minutes of screen time, particularly an entrance that has him singing along to "Sympathy for the Devil." (As with the original, the music numbers aren't quite singing and aren't quite lip-synching.)
Minuses: Jackman's future availability is unclear, and the show suffers badly without him. Owen comes across like Gary Cole playing Mike Brady (albeit without the perm, I guess), not nearly charismatic enough to carry such an odd genre mash-up, and Eric Winter seems far too generic to be playing the quirky homicide cop (a role originated by David Tennant). There are only four or five musical numbers in the whole hour. That's probably a fair representation of what production will be able to do on a weekly basis, but the long gaps between songs only serve to remind you that they're by far the most interesting thing about the show.
Click here to read the full post

Bombs and 'Palms'

Been a while since I've had two column links in the same day, especially out-of-season, but today there be two: a review of CBS News' special about the IED that killed four people and nearly killed reporter Kimberly Dozier a year ago today, and a brief review of the CW's long-delayed "Hidden Palms," which CW folk insist is not Summer Burn-Off Theatre. Click here to read the full post

Friday, May 25, 2007

What do you want? (2007)

Summer is an unusual time for this blog. The great majority of shows I track are network sitcoms and dramas, all of which will be gone for the next few months (or in the case of a "Lost," an entire pregnancy). Obviously, there are some new and returning cable shows I'm gonna cover (the first three "Rescue Me"s arrived in the mail today, and I'd like to be more diligent with my "Weeds" and "Big Love" commentary this year than last), but there's going to be a lot of playing by ear.

A year ago at this time, I asked you all what summer shows -- new or returning, scripted or reality -- you'd like to see me write about. In going back over your requests, I see that I didn't take up a single one of them on a regular basis (how's that for customer service?), but I remain open to suggestions. Fire away, and we'll see what happens. Click here to read the full post

Lost & Heroes: The ol' switcheroo

For today's column, I returned one last time to the "Lost" / "Heroes" compare/contrast that I'd been doing frequently this year in print and here on the blog:

On Wednesday at 11 p.m., we came to the end of another network TV season, which means it's time for another one of my season-ending mea culpas:

To the producers of "Lost," I've been too hard on you this year.

To the producers of "Heroes," I may have been far too easy.

That I came to these twin realizations only after watching the shows' respective season finales may seem unfair. After all, you're not supposed to judge a season on a single episode, right? Yet what happened -- or, in some cases, didn't happen -- in each of the finales made me reconsider much of what I've said and written about these shows.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Studio 60: Addition by subtraction

Ahhh, Summer Burn-Off Theatre, the lifeblood of a TV blogger in that otherwise deathly period between the end of the network season and the premieres of all the summer cable shows. "Studio 60" spoilers coming up just as soon as I locate my blood squibs...

I wrestled with whether to write anything about the burn-off run of "Studio 60." I was such an early and fervent basher of the show that it led me to have words with Aaron Sorkin, and the idea of continuing to trash the show after it's already been canceled feels like overkill.

And yet I felt the need to tune in tonight for the same reason I kept watching all fall, well after I had realized how much I disliked the show, when readers of this blog and my column know how quick I am to give up on series that just aren't doing it for me. "Studio 60" was awful, but it was compellingly awful. Maybe, I thought, the final episodes would continue to provide object lessons in how not to do a weekly drama series.

Instead, oddly, the first post-cancellation episode turned out to be kinda decent -- not least because Matt, Danny and Jordan were absent from the entire hour. (At least from final cut, anyway; all four episode-specific photos on NBC's media site feature Whitford and/or Perry, suggesting they were in the episode at an early stage and got cut at the end.) I know I wrote often that Matthew Perry was the best thing about the show (or maybe second best, after Steven Weber), but the Matt character was insufferable most of the time, and the Danny/Jordan relationship was the second-biggest miscalculation of the entire series -- after only Sorkin's belief that anyone would like or be interested in the Matt/Harriet relationship.

So keeping the three alleged stars out of the picture all night allowed the show to breathe instead of drowning in the usual fumbled attempts at romantic comedy involving actors and characters with zero on-screen chemistry. Instead, Sorkin got to focus on something he does well: farce. This was no "Thespis," but it was light, it moved, and it put most of the load on three actors with excellent comedy chops: Tim Busfield, Weber (amusingly drunk for the whole show), and Allison Janney. I suppose it should be confusing that Janney was playing herself as an ex-"West Wing" star and sharing scenes with the actor who had played her love interest on that show but was playing a different character here, but the two played so well off each other -- just as Busfield and Weber did -- that I didn't much care.

The hour still had some of the usual "Studio 60" problems. After being briefly appealing in the early going (especially when she was imitating Janney's spaz-out during the gangster sketch), Harriet went right back to being insufferable and pathetic as she once again let the rest of the world lecture her on what to do with her romantic life. When Dylan said, "I'm not sure why the two of you aren't just together," I wanted to scream, "BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO CHEMISTRY AND ARE EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE TO EACH OTHER AT EVERY TURN!" (I didn't, but only because that would have woken up my daughter, who needs her sleep to beat the flu.) And Simon's two-dates-for-one-trip subplot was, like Jordan and Danny getting locked on the roof, another example of Sorkin ripping off the kind of incredibly low-brow TV he tries to act above. (And with the roof story, at least he had the semi-decency to have Danny complain about what a hackneyed situation it was, where nobody bothered to comment on how Simon had suddenly turned into Jack Tripper or Peter Brady.)

Overall, though, I didn't hate this one. The previews for the next episode prominently feature Perry, Whitford and Peet, so I imagine I'll be writing a screed a week from now. (Assuming, of course, that the ratings aren't so terrible that NBC doesn't just pull the plug on this experiment and go back to "ER" reruns.) But for one night, I'm glad I don't have to kick the sick puppy.

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

Pilot Watch 2007: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Wrapping up my look at the Fox pilots with one of the season's more anticipated shows, albeit one that won't be airing until mid-season.

Repeat after me: This is not a review, just a first impression. I understand that many things can and will change between now and when the show actually airs.

"The Sarah Connor Chronicles"
Who's in it: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau
What it's about: Spin-off of the "Terminator" movies, picking up a few years after "Terminator 2," with Sarah and John Connor on the run, until the arrival of some more machines from the future convinces them to change their plan.
Pluses: Headey's very good, and while she doesn't live up to the intensity (not to mention the biceps) of Linda Hamilton in "T2," the character as written and performed in that movie wouldn't be sustainable for a series. This is a happy medium. "Firefly" fans will be very pleased with Glau's role in the story. Owain Yeoman, of all people (late of "Kitchen Confidential" and the never-seen "Commando Nanny," but also of "The Nine"), makes a more-than-passable old-school Terminator. Several exciting action sequences.
Minuses: Not sold on Dekker as the future messiah, even though the character spends much of the pilot complaining that he doesn't fit the part, either. The action's good but not superlative, and with very rare exceptions (essentially "Alias," "24" and "Lost"), series TV action tends to get worse, not better, as the production grind goes along. Doesn't necessarily feel like a long-term concept. The script relies a lot on people's memory of a 16-year-old movie (there's a lot of Miles Dyson talk), yet it monkeys enough with the continuity of the movies ("T3" essentially can't co-exist with this story) that the hardcore fanboys are going to complain.
Click here to read the full post

Pilot Watch 2007: Fox dramas (mostly)

Okay, so I had intended to watch all four of Fox's drama pilots yesterday, saving the presumed best ("Sarah Connor Chronicles") for last, but other work issues kept getting in the way and I only saw three of them. And since I don't know that I'll have time to watch "Sarah Connor" today, I figured I'd just post what I'd already done.

You should be able to recite the usual disclaimer from memory by now: These aren't reviews, just first impressions of shows that can and/or will make significant changes between now and September.

"Canterbury's Law"
Who's in it: Julianna Margulies, Linus Roache, Ben Shenkman, Jocko Sims and Trieste Dunn
What it's about: A defense lawyer still trying to reassemble her personal life after a tragedy gets a reputation for taking on unpopular cases, like a mentally ill man accused of killing a little boy.
Pluses: Denis Leary and company have managed to create a show with a female heroine that isn't dripping with the misogyny that too often infects "Rescue Me." Margulies character is deeply-flawed, but in a sympathetic way, and well-played by her. Nice to see Shenkman (from "Angels in America") in a semi-weasely role as an ex-DA who now works for Margulies but still behaves like a prosecutor.
Minuses: I feel like I've seen all of this before on old episodes of "The Practice," though Margulies is a vastly better actor than Dylan McDermott.

Who's in it: Anthony Anderson, Cole Hauser, John Carroll Lynch, Tawny Cypress
What it's about: A New Orleans cop (Anderson) whose partner deserted him during the Katrina flooding has to break in a new partner (Hauser) while patrolling the devastated streets of the city.
Pluses: As anyone who watches "The Shield" knows, Anderson is a fine dramatic actor with great presence, and he's given the kind of complicated, verge of a nervous breakdown type character that usually goes to middle-aged white guys like Dennis Franz and Denis Leary. Hauser's a solid strong-but-silent type. The setting and location filming are tremendous; I got choked up just watching some of the B-roll footage of devastated houses scrawled with anti-government graffiti ("Fix Everything My Ass" being a highlight).
Minuses: The setting threatens to overwhelm the fairly stock mystery plot at the center of the pilot. A twist involving Hauser's backstory has the potential to be very dumb if not handled correctly down the line.

"New Amsterdam"
Who's in it: Nicolaj Coster Waldau, Alexie Gilmore, Stephen Henderson and Zuleikha Robinson
What it's about: After saving the life of a Native American woman, a Dutch colonial soldier is made immortal -- at least until he meets his one true love, at which point he's supposed to turn back into one of us -- and in the present day works as a homicide detective in the NYPD.
Pluses: Novel twist on a lot of old cop show tropes -- our hero is in AA, where he boasts of having something like 16,000 days sober -- and Waldau's an interesting leading man. I want to give this one a long look just to see what he does next.
Minuses: Waldau's American accent is far more inconsistent than, say, Damian Lewis on "Life," and while there's a built-in excuse for it (is 400 years enough time to shake off all those glottal stops?), nobody ever mentions it, not even the new partner who's suspicious about everything else he says and does. The one true love aspect feels like something that would lend itself far better to a movie than an ongoing series, especially since we're allegedly introduced to her in the pilot. (Maybe they could subtitle this "Have you met Nicolaj Coster Waldau?") As with "K-Ville" and "Life," the actual murder mystery stories are going to need punching up.
Click here to read the full post

Lost: Beware of the beard

Wow. After Monday night and this, I really feel like I'm going to have to take back a lot of those "'Lost' could learn a lesson or two from 'Heroes'" columns, you know. Season finale spoilers coming up just as soon as I pick up some good vibrations... Oh, and if you're visiting this blog via an RSS or XML reader (which doesn't have spoiler-protection, since I publish entries in their entirety), I'm warning you right now that I'm getting into some hardcore wackiness right from the jump.

Obvious first question: when did you figure out that the flashback was not, in fact, a flashback, and why? The beard alone had me raising an eyebrow, and once Jack's ex-wife turned up alive and well, my wheels started spinning about whose death in the newspaper story could have Jack this upset (we know how Jack found out about Christian's death, and his mom was still alive when he went to Sydney, and I don't think Bai Ling was a candidate), but the tipping point was the cell phone, which looked far too sleek for Jack to be using pre-2003. By the time the car pulled up at the airport, I knew it would be Kate.

Which isn't to say I was unsatisfied with that portion of the episode, or the episode as a whole, which was packed with the kind of bing-bang-boom payoffs to elements from earlier in the season that the "Heroes" finale was sorely lacking. (And I'm going to stop making the comparisons right now. Or not. I'm writing as I go, a little too keyed-up for bed just yet.)

Hurley's magic bus turned out to be there for more than comic relief and a piece of Ben's biography. Charlie sacrificed himself as Desmond predicted. (And how frikking scary was it to see Bakunin smiling in the porthole as he pulled the grenade pin? Was he blowing himself up because Desmond's spear shot had already killed him, or will he return next season to continue his role as the island's Rasputin?) Alex found out that Rousseau was her mother -- from Ben, of all people, who occasionally does the decent thing, even if it's for a manipulative reason -- and Sawyer finally got his revenge for Walt's abduction on his watch.

(Speaking of which, Malcolm David Kelley's appearance was a good reminder of why Cuselof had to get him the hell off the island. What was he, eight feet tall? On the downside, boo to ABC or Cuselof or whoever for putting his name, and Sonya Walger's, in the guest credits, the same way that the big surprise of the "Veronica Mars" finale got spoiled by that. As "Battlestar Galactica" proved this season, you can shock people a hell of a lot more if you save a name or two to run after the episode's over, contractual obligations be damned.)

But while it's fun to dwell on all the big action beats of the finale (also including a trussed-up Sayid letting his feet do the talking to that dude's neck), what we obviously have to spend the next eight months analyzing is where the hell the show goes next season. Does the flashforward come true -- and, if so, does rescue happen immediately, or is there somehow a way to stall it? Or is this something like the "Five Years Gone" scenario from "Heroes" (there I go with the comparisons again), where someone with time-altering powers (oh, I dunno, Desmond?) prevents it from happening? Or, to get back to "Galactica," is this a legitimate time-jump, one that will eventually have Bearded Jack gathering all the survivors together to return to the island and some kind of premise reboot?

In the here and now, is Ben right about Naomi's people, or is this just more of his paranoid ravings designed to keep anyone from leaving the island? (Naomi did, after all, know who Desmond was, and who Penny was; Penny's "I'm not on a boat" confusion doesn't automatically mean Naomi's people aren't working for her; it could just be that she thought it would be adequately conveyed to Desmond that she wasn't there.) Who's the person in the coffin? Is the "he" waiting for Kate at home Sawyer, or was he the one in the box?

I have pissed and moaned about this show an awful lot this season, and I still feel like a lot of the complaints were justified -- especially about the six fall episodes, and Jack's idiotic behavior throughout -- but I have to give Damon and Carlton credit for pulling things together in the home stretch. They gave us an original castmember flashback episode that didn't feel redundant ("D.O.C."); a great showdown between the two Sawyers'; Locke returning to crazy, when-in-doubt-blow-stuff-up form; some superb action and confrontations throughout the finale, and the massive mind(bleep) of Bearded Jack back on the mainland.

Back at the start of the season, before I had gotten burned out on The Others' torture and manipulations, I said I didn't honestly care if I ever got real answers to the show's mysteries, so long as the series kept me entertained on an episode-by-episode, or even moment-by-moment, basis, and this last batch of shows has sure done that. I refuse to waver from my "they're making it up as they go along" theory until proven otherwise, but at the moment, I don't much care. That was a lot of fun, and this hiatus is going to feel awfully long.

What did everybody else think? I'm sure everybody has their theories and analysis, so fire away.
Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The talk about the American Idol winner thread

I was asked not to write a liveblog style story on the finale this year and instead do a straight news story on who won, but feel free to comment on the unsurprising result or anything else that happened on the finale -- like the way the show threw Antonella and, to a lesser extent, Sanjaya under the bus by giving them the freakshow treatment. Click here to read the full post

The spoiler policy. Again.

The number of comments I'm being forced to delete because they contain future spoilers has reached a point where I feel like I'm going to have to repost the following every single day until it stops. So here goes:

This site is a spoiler-free zone. Obviously, there are spoilers about things that have already aired -- and warnings to protect people who watch TV on their own schedule in these days, but my posts and the comments that follow are not meant to spoil anything that hasn't aired yet.

I don't care what kind of juicy rumor you heard on the radio, or read on another site, or heard from you best friend's cousin who works for craft services at Silvercup Studios or whatever. DO NOT POST ANY KIND OF SPOILER, OR EVEN RUMOR ABOUT A SPOILER, HERE. I'm just going to delete it as soon as I see it, so there won't be any discussion of what you wrote, and you'll just be annoying me, your normally friendly host.

We all clear on this? Click here to read the full post

Pilot Watch 2007: Fox comedies

Because Fox has so many new shows, I'm splitting them up into gendre. The three sitcoms right now, the dramas to follow at some point.

Usual disclaimer applies: these are not reviews, just initial impressions. Too many things can and will change between now and September to make any kind of final judgments on any of these shows at this early stage.

"Back to You"
Who's in it: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard and that one guy from "Out of Practice" who wasn't a showkiller
What it's about: A successful anchorman loses his job for an on-air flub and has to return to his old gig in Pittsburgh, where the female partner he left behind a decade earlier resents his return.
Pluses: Grammer, Heaton and Willard (as a sexist sportscaster) are all comedy veterans who know their way around a punchline.
Minuses: The punchlines aren't very good. I wrote about "'Til Death" last year that Brad Garrett was able to sell some lousy jokes, and either he's a better salesman than Frasier and his ex-sister-in-law, or the jokes are even lousier here. I laughed a handful of times, but I cringed far more often.

"The Return of Jezebel James"
Who's in it: Parker Posey, Lauren Ambrose and Scott Cohen
What it's about: Long-estranged sisters -- one a Type-A book editor unable to conceive, the other a slovenly 20something -- reunite when the older one asks the younger one to carry her baby.
Pluses: Posey and Ambrose have great chemistry, and the pilot picks up significantly when the two of them get to work together.
Minuses: Amy Sherman-Palladino's writing does not work with a laugh track, which makes jokes I might have otherwise smiled or even laughed at feel like hackery.

"The Rules for Starting Over"
Who's in it: Craig Bierko, Rashida Jones, Shaun Majumder and Johnny Sneed
What it's about: Four friends in their 30s struggle to re-enter the dating world at the end of long relationships.
Pluses: Umm... it's nice to know Rashida Jones will have another job lined up once "The Office" sends Karen on her way.
Minuses: This is produced by the Farrelly brothers, but it feels like bad imitation Farrelly, with token gags about a human being sexually assaulted by an animal, a disabled character who tells jokes about his condition but won't tolerate them from others, etc. Bierko can be interesting when he gets to play manic (see his ADD musician on "Sex and the City," or him on "Boston Legal" this year), but he makes a poor straight man.
Click here to read the full post

The Shield: Franka goes to Farmington

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I sign some autographs...

I'm going to be brief, because this is yet another episode about moving the pieces forward. In a way, it feels like this season and the Lem/Guardo storyline ended with episode six, and what we're in now is a prologue for the final season, especially Shane's involvement with the Armenians.

And that group is now represented by the awesome Franka Potente, of "Run Lola Run" and the first two Jason Bourne movies. This is a very different character for her, quieter and more calculating. When I first heard about the casting, I tried to talk Shawn Ryan into having her say "Scheisse" at some point, but I don't know that it would feel right coming out of her mouth. Still, Shane is in way over his head (as usual) dealing with this young woman, who seems so sweet and in need of protection, yet can casually order the castration of men who have crossed her.

The highlight of the episode for me, though, were the scenes with Ronnie and Shane, and Ronnie and Vic. Last year, one of the commenters suggested that David Rees Snell never got much to do because he wasn't a good actor. I think this season has shown that it was just a lack of opportunity, not talent. Ronnie's made a very interesting number two for Vic, smarter and cooler-headed than Shane -- and, as we discovered last night, maybe even more ruthless. Either he figured out the Terry thing a long time ago and made his peace with it, or he was able to make a quick moral calculation, but I got chills when he told Vic that he could have helped him cover it up better than Shane.

The counterfeit purse subplot was a decent throw-away, there mostly to show some thawing between Dani and Corrinne and between Dani and Tina, and I liked Hiatt winning brownie points with Vic at the same time he's losing them with Claudette.

As I've been saying for the last few weeks, this is NOT the place to discuss, even obliquely, the final two episodes, which have been available online since they aired in France. No hinting, no questions, no responding to other people's questions with "You'll see in episode 9." Got it?

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

Veronica Mars: Rob Thomas is a whore

Hey, Piz said it, not me. Far as I'm concerned, Rob Thomas is a good guy.

Spoilers for the "Veronica Mars" series finale -- and thank you very much, CW promo guys, for that taunting "season finale" ad right before it started, as if there's any value in pretending it's not dead -- coming up just as soon as I seal up our doggie door...

Sigh... Rob said he was very happy with how they ended the season, and he was right. These two episodes were easily the highlight of this self-contained bloc, and the finale was by far the best episode of the season -- probably up in my top 5 "Veronica" episodes ever. I still can't blame Dawn Ostroff and Moonves for pulling the plug -- the audience had very clearly rejected this show -- but I feel a lot sadder about it now than I would have if we had ended after, say, the Uganda episode, or even the Paul Rudd episode.

Or maybe I'm just feeling sad because of what Veronica did to Keith. My wife felt that was a lousy ending for the show, but it felt right to me. This began as a noir show, and while those influences waned in the later seasons (especially after Lamb died and Keith became sheriff), I was glad to have it back for the finale. Veronica's always had this bull in a china shop approach, and she's gotten away with it with few repercussions for herself or the people she cared about. Not this time. Great work by Enrico Colantoni as Keith began realizing he was investigating his daughter, and equally great work by Kristen when she finally came home after Jake Kane told her there was no fixing this for Keith. Veronica casting a futile vote for Keith and walking off into the rain is a bleak ending, but strangely appropriate. We're left dangling a bit on what will happen to Keith -- He'll almost certainly lose the election, but will he do jail time? Lose his PI license, too? -- but as series-ending danglers go, I've seen far, far worse ("Now And Again" being the one that messed with me the most).

And it also felt appropriate to return, at the end, to the show's other core elements: Veronica taking on the rich and powerful (both the fraud ring and, especially, The Castle), Veronica as a school outcast (and having an undeserved reputation as a whore), Veronica squaring off with Jake Kane and Clarence Wiedman, Veronica being at odds with law-enforcement, etc.

It was great -- and, since I either didn't notice his name in the guest credits or they kept it until the end, surprising -- to have Kyle Secor back. His delivery of "Veronica Mars? VERONICA MARS?!?!?!" was a thing of beauty, and the huge portraits of Duncan and Lilly in the mansion were both a callback to the show's origins and a reminder of how much Jake has lost. His daughter's dead. His son is going to be a fugitive for the rest of his life. His wife seems gone. Now he's just a cranky rich man with only his stupid secret society to take care of. I'd feel a little sorry for him if he wasn't, you know, such a bastard.

Along the way, we had characters who had either been too absent or too uninteresting returning to prominence and form: Weevil is planting a foot (probably on the injured leg) back on the wrong side of the criminal line, Wallace is flying model planes and making sacrifices for Veronica, Logan has violence issues, and Mac is using her mad computer skills to help Veronica (I can't remember the last time she did this on a case). After a season in which the supporting cast felt adrift and too often absent, it was nice to have them all back and all acting like I remembered them, and none of it felt like a reset button was being hit.

Some briefer, more specific thoughts on the episodes to follow:
  • I didn't see the point of the answering machine payoff in the first episode. If Veronica had the whole thing recorded on her Sidekick, what does it matter if the machine at the office did or didn't get it? (Also, one of my few nitpicks of the episodes: How do these techno-savvy fraudsters not recognize that Veronica could be screwing them one of 17 different ways with that Sidekick?)
  • Wallace wearing the electro-shock collar was massively creepy -- and made me even more invested in Veronica taking them down -- only to be surpassed in the creepy factor by Gory's confession about his dad and uncle and the woodshop.
  • And speaking of Gory, I suppose Logan's fate is also something of a dangler, but he's always had a death wish, so it fit.
  • One other complaint: Dick wallowing in guilt over how he treated Cassidy didn't really work (the character's been too shallow for far too long to make me care about his feelings now) and was abruptly dropped as soon as he found the Veronica/Piz sex video.
  • The sound on my DVR dropped out for almost the entire scene in the first hour where Wallace was told about The Castle. Was anything useful said? And did anyone not assume that the sex tape came from a Castle camera planted to keep an eye on Wallace?
  • Kristen sings one last time! Too bad it wasn't something more interesting than "Bad Day," even if that was appropriate (and funny) for the situation.
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

American Idol: Top 2

My thoughts on the Jordin rout are already up at, but you can talk about the show here. Click here to read the full post

Pilot Watch 2007: CW

Sonuva... for the second time in a row, Blogger published my Pilot Watch post early -- this time before I had written anything but a subject line. Apologies to any RSS readers who are confused. Maybe this is a sign I shouldn't be doing these things. Nahh...

Anyway, the CW was the next network to send out their wares. (Fox arrived late today, but they have 29 new shows or something, so it may be a few days before I get to them all. Maybe I'll split it up like last year.) Usual disclaimer applies: these are not reviews, just initial impressions. Too many things can and will change between now and September to make any kind of final judgments on any of these shows at this early stage.

"Aliens in America"
Who's in it: Dan Byrd, Amy Pietz, Patrick Breen, and Adhir Kalyan
What it's about: A high school loser's parents try to give him an instant friend by opening their home to an exchange student, only to be horrified when the boy turns out to be a Pakistani Muslim.
Pluses: No laugh track, as it's shot in the same low-key, one-camera style as "Everybody Hates Chris." Some potential for social satire with the school's tone-deaf reaction to the exchange student. Pietz doesn't in any way invoke memories of "Caroline in the City," to the point where I was surprised it was her when I checked the credits.
Minuses: Not funny, though I acknowledge I'm a couple of decades past the target demo.

"Gossip Girl"
Who's in it: Kristen Bell's voice, a bunch of parental types played by Kelly Rutherford, Sam Robards and Matthew Settle (awesome as Capt. Speirs in "Band of Brothers"), Penn Badgley (late of 12 failed WB series) and a bunch of relatively unknown kids.
What it's about: Josh Schwartz adapts Cecily Von Ziegesar's series of young adult novels about the drama at a fancy Manhattan prep school.
Pluses: I don't know anything about the books, but Schwartz has either found the hidden "O.C." analogues in them or imported them on his own, because there's an outcast guy with a crush on a popular girl, a fistfight at a black-tie party and one-liners aplenty. Badgley (the best thing about the otherwise forgettable "Bedford Diaries") is very appealing as the not-quite-Seth Cohen, and Settle has some nice moments as his washed-up rocker dad. Good soundtrack and a clever use of text-messaging as the 21st century grapevine. (When a scandal happens at a party, everyone's noses are glued to their Sidekicks instead of the traditional "watermelon, canteloupe" crowd murmur noise.)
Minuses: It feels like Schwartz split himself into two this year, with "Chuck" incorporating most of the adult-appeal qualities from "The O.C." (especially the humor), while "Gossip Girl" more directly embraces the teen angst stuff. Doesn't make it a bad show -- it's already light-years better than "One Tree Hill" -- but I'm gonna need some persuading to believe it's something I would watch long-term.

"Life Is Wild"
Who's in it: Brett Cullen and a bunch of unknowns.
What it's about: A New York City teenage girl is horrified when her veterinarian father man moves their entire blended family to a South African game preserve.
Pluses: Like "Lost," shoots in an exotic location that adds a whole lot to the presentation. Even when I wasn't that interested in the family angst, my attention was kept by the scenery and the wildlife. (Though it's hard to beat something like "Planet Earth" for that.)
Minuses: I'm thinking my "inessential to my life" description of the "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off may be a go-to phrase for me in this pilot season. I'm not the target demo, and unlike some other CW/WB/Fox shows about teens that held my interest, this one feels far more narrow in its appeal, like a show for The N. I don't object to its existence, but I can't imagine watching episode 2.

Who's in it: Brett Harrison, Tyler Labine, Nikki Reed and Ray Wise
What it's about: Slacker who works for a big box hardware store discovers that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was born, and now he has to work as a bounty hunter recovering souls who have escaped from Hell.
Pluses: Harrison is just as much fun here as an underachiver as he was as an overachiever on "The Loop." Wise is having himself a ball as Ole Scratch and Tyler Labine makes a fine sidekick. The tone is just on the right side of tongue-in-cheek, with gags like Satan giving Harrison a souped-up Dirt Devil to nab the old souls, yet there are moments that feel genuinely scary and even, on occasion, touching. (Suffice it to say, the parents feel awful about what they did.) A worthy successor to the WB/CW's tradition of wisecracking supernatural action shows. So far, this and "Chuck" have been my two favorite pilots. And speaking of which...
Minuses: As Fienberg (who's working his way through the pilots himself over at Check the Fien Print) warned me, this show is almost identical to "Chuck," save that the hero is recruited by Satan instead of the U.S. government. (Hair-splitting for some, I know.) The tones are the same, both guys have day jobs at big box stores, dorky sidekicks, disapproving siblings, etc., etc. So, naturally, both have been placed in the same timeslot, which is no good for anyone.
Click here to read the full post

American Idol: Who are these people

Today's column previews tonight's not-so-epic showdown between Blake and Jordin by talking about how the contestants have become surprisingly marginalized on the show. (As the great Lisa De Moraes points out again today, there was one results show where the contestants got less than five minutes or airtime.) Of course, this has been one of the more underwhelming talent pools to date (especially among the guys), but even though I've liked different things that Blake and Jordin have done this year, I'm not at all invested in who wins. Click here to read the full post

Heroes: Fly me to the boom

Spoilers for the "Heroes" season finale coming right up...

Well that was very good in spots, underwhelming in others.

Among the items on the Very Good side of the ledger:
  • Pretty much every scene between Claire and HRG/Noah (the name suits him, I suppose, but I really want to keep calling HRG), even when they're talking on the phone. Coleman and Panettiere have developed some great chemistry over the past season in a way you don't often see with a father-daughter combo.
  • The moment where Simone's dad says, "I know you're there, Peter."
  • Hiro saving Ando from Sylar and their farewell back at their old cubicles -- particularly Ando telling Hiro he looks bad-ass and Hiro immediately reverting back into geek mode to say, "Really?"
  • Claire jumps out a skyscraper window to get away from Nathan and Ma Petrelli, both a callback to her fall from the pilot and a great example of how to do a showy demonstration of someone's powers with minimal effects.
  • Immediately following that, the Popeye-esque "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more" look on Nathan's face, signaling his switch back to the good side.
  • Nikki finally figuring out that she's super-strong even without Jessica in charge.
  • Hiro's resigned "Yatta" after taking out Sylar, a deed he had to do even though it brought him no pleasure.
  • Nathan flying in and out to save the day.
  • Hiro in feudal freakin' Japan, caught in the middle of a fight between Kensei (who may or may not be played by George Takei, and I leave it to someone else to make and analyze the screen captures)
  • The chapter title cards, which have looked great all season but which seemed especially gorgeous last night, from the one on Isaac's old palette to the manhole cover to the grass in Hiro's landing spot.
And now the not so good:
  • The final showdown with Sylar did not live up to the hype at all, I'm afraid. After all the build-up, all the talk of how only Peter could stand up to him, all the time establishing the number of powers each man had to offer, we get a sequence where Sylar only uses his telekinesis (and stealing moves from Darth Vader and Neo), while Peter largely relies on the super-strength he picked up five seconds earlier from Nikki. I was cool with the battle in Mohinder's apartment ending quickly, and the fight in the future taking place off-camera, because I was expecting the final battle to really pull out the stops, with multiple displays of power on power, and it... didn't.
  • Similarly, after spending so much time establishing Sylar's mastery of his powers in general and his superhuman reflexes in particular, Hiro just 'ports in, sprints over and runs him through? Basically, this finale felt like the first time where the writers realized how difficult it is to write action sequences when so many powers are involved, and they wimped out and hoped people wouldn't notice. (See also D.L.'s non-answer when Nikki asked him why he didn't just phase through the bullet, since he couldn't say "Because then it would have been much less dramatic when I squeezed Linderman's brain.") I even wondered after: why didn't Peter just fly away on his own? He's been able to fly for most of the season, and the show has never established anything about using multiple powers at once.
  • I actually had to put my DVR on pause and get an angioplasty in the middle of the episode, because Richard Roundtree's "your heart has the power to love unconditionally" was one of the cheesiest things I've ever heard -- and it didn't even really have a bearing on the climax, as it was Nathan's heart that saved the day.
  • After all of last week's hints that Candice's brunette hottie look is just as much of an illusion as anything else she does, Nikki knocks her out and she reverts back to looking like Missy Peregrym. I hope that wasn't just because they were afraid people wouldn't get that "Jessica" was Candice, since I assumed that from the very start of that sequence. (After all, who else would be guarding Micah, and we've seen Candice become Nikki/Jessica before.)
I'm not sure there was any way the finale was going to be wholly satisfying. Between Isaac's paintings, Linderman and Ma Petrelli's speeches and Hiro and Ando's trip to the future, we knew too much about what was supposed to be happening, so even the foiling of said events couldn't be that mind-blowing. "Heroes" has never been an especially deep show, and where it works best is in the jaw-dropping surprise factor: Nathan's the one who can fly, Claire on an autopsy table, President Nathan is really Sylar, etc. I appreciate that they told a complete story in a single season (albeit with some danglers like the fates of Peter, Nathan, Parkman, D.L. and even Sylar, who may or may not have morphed into that cockroach). I just feel a little let-down by the climax -- not nearly enough to stop watching, but enough to make me re-calibrate my expectations for this time next season.

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

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pilot Watch 2007: NBC

Stupid razzafrazza Blogger. I hit the Publish button a few hours ago when I only meant to save a draft of this post. So apologies for any confusion engendered by the incomplete version that briefly got out there.

Anyway, I'm going to continue the tradition started last spring, wherein I share my first impressions on the network pilots as I get a chance to watch them. The same caveat as always applies: these are not reviews, because too much can and will change between now and when these things air. (For instance, the version of "30 Rock" I wrote about at this time last year still had Rachel Dratch in the Jenna role.) I've seen bad pilots make significant improvements over the summer -- and, of course, I've seen shows with great pilots fall apart as early as week two. (See "The Nine.") This is just something to get the conversation started.

NBC actually overnighted their pilots to critics for arrival the morning after their upfront, so they're obviously first in the queue. No idea when the next batch will arrive, or which network it'll be from. Thoughts on all four NBC shows after the jump...

"Bionic Woman"
Who's in it: Michelle Ryan, Ann from "Arrested Development" (aka Mae Whitman), Miguel Ferrer, Molly Price and, in a recurring role, Katee Sackhoff
What it's about: Smarter, more serious remake of the '70s campfest, this time about a San Francisco bartender badly injured in a car crash and made better, stronger and faster by her supergenius boyfriend and the team of military scientists he works with.
Pluses: Looks good, moves well, feels credible in the same way the new "Battlestar Galactica" (which shares exec. producer David Eick) found the gravitas of another cheesey '70s show. Ryan and Whitman have nice chemistry as the bionic woman and her rebellious, hearing-impaired sister (and casting a non-deaf actress in the part suggests to me that big sis won't always have a family monopoly on bionic ears). As a previous bionic woman gone bad, Sackhoff is so much fun that they quickly expanded her role to something semi-ongoing.
Minuses: Sackhoff pretty thoroughly upstages Ryan, though of course the badass villain role is easier to make a quick impression with. Special-effects don't look too special yet, though that's something I'm sure will be improved between now and fall.

Who's in it: Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strzechowski, Sarah Lancaster and more. More importantly, Josh Schwartz is the creator.
What it's about: Underachieving nerd who works at a big box electronics store unwittingly turns his brain into a supercomputer when his college roommate-turned-spy e-mails him a database packed with government secrets.
Pluses: Schwartz's sense of humor applies well to a James Bond/"Alias"/"Greatest American Hero"-type world. Some tongue in cheek action and some serious stuff (including a clever use of parking barriers). All three leads are well-cast, and it's especially amusing to notice the uncanny resemblances between Levi and Adam Brody and between Strzechowski and Olivia Wilde; it's like "The O.C." season two, but with guns and explosions!
Minuses: Can Schwartz maintain this tone long-term? There's more precedence for this kind of series than there was for a self-aware soap opera, but how long does Chuck's knowledge prove useful? Doesn't the database get outdated after a season or two?

Who's in it: Kevin McKidd, Reed Diamond, Moon Bloodgood and Gretchen Egolf
What it's about:
A San Francisco newspaper reporter begins traveling back in time for reasons unknown to help improve the lives of strangers. In the present, his wife and brother think he's crazy or on drugs; in the past, he keeps bumping into his long-missing ex-fiancee.
Pluses: McKidd's a strong leading man (albeit not nearly as insane as he was on "Rome"). Nice use of San Francisco landmarks to help create McKidd's feeling of dislocation each time he finds himself in the past. Diamond is so well-cast as McKidd's brother that you have to wonder if there's a biological connection in the real world we don't know about. There's an especially lovely moment at the end where McKidd figures out a way to convince his wife that he's not losing his mind.
Minuses: McKidd's first "mission" in the past, or whatever it is, isn't that interesting. I'll forgive that in a pilot where establishing the characters and the premise is more important, but not long-term, especially not if Dean Stockwell isn't going to be popping up to crack one-liners and walk through walls. Overall, the show seems a less-compatible fit with "Heroes" than either of "Chuck" or, especially, "Bionic Woman."

Who's in it: HBO and Showtime's finest: Damian Lewis from "Band of Brothers," Sarah Shahi from "The L Word" (and Tony Soprano's peyote trip), Robin "Calamity Jane" Weigert, Melissa Sagemiller from "Sleeper Cell" and Adam Arkin from, um, "Chicago Hope."
What it's about: After spending 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, a cop is exonerated and reinstated to the LAPD (along with a multi-million dollar settlement), where he applies the lessons of Zen he learned in the can.
Pluses: Lewis' American accent is at least as good as fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, and he makes a better "House, P.D." than whatserface on "Bones." Some nice interplay 'twixt Lewis and Arkin, playing his former cellie and current financial advisor. Always nice to see Robin Weigert cleaned up.
Minuses: Lewis' punchlines aren't as funny as Laurie's, and the pilot mystery isn't that involving. I'm not sold on Shahi as a tough cop. The writers need to find a more interesting way to illustrate their hero's newfound nature than his love of fruit. There's a massive conspiracy thread behind his incarceration, and I've been burned out on TV drama conspiracy theories for at least two years now.
Click here to read the full post

Sopranos Rewind: The Second Coming

Once again, deadline issues mean that Sopranos Rewind is going to be online-only on Monday, which means I can link to the column right away.
Sometimes, it's not the fire that burns you. It's the juices.

Two episodes ago, in "Walk Like a Man," Tony suggested that Chris pull a steak off the barbecue because it would continue to cook in its own juices, even away from the flame. At the time, it was an apt metaphor for the growing resentment Chris and Tony were feeling for each other in the aftermath of Adriana's death. But it applies even more to last night's "The Second Coming," where nearly every character is stewing in the juices of some very old beef.
You can read the full column at, but feel free to comment here. Click here to read the full post

Friday, May 18, 2007

Scrubs: Will they or won't they stop with the will-they-or-won't-they?

Haven't seen "Grey's" yet, and may not get around to it until Sunday or later (given what little I've heard, I'm not that motivated), but spoilers for the "Scrubs" season finale coming up just as soon as I slip Dr. Cox a DVD of the "Viva Laughlin" pilot...

Sigh... They're really going back there, aren't they? As I wrote last week, J.D. got over Elliott years ago, and even if the writers are trying to use this as an excuse for each of them to re-examine their feelings for their significant others, it feels like a mistake -- or like there aren't any other ideas left, so why not revisit this doomed coupling one more time?

Part of the problem also lies in the fact that, while Elliott and Turk and all the other regular characters (save Kelso and maybe The Janitor, and even he's gone from a psycho loner to the leader of The Brain Trust) have grown and changed over the years, while J.D. has, if anything, devolved as the writers have accentuated his wacky, immature, effeminate qualities to the point where he barely resembles a human being. That's fine if they just want to do wackier storylines, but when the show has to shift gears and build a story around J.D.'s emotional life, it doesn't work anymore.

("Cheers" was guilty of this too in its later seasons, as Sam got dumber and dumber because it made for easier punchlines, but when the writers decided to throw some slightly dramatic material into the final season, they remembered how to write him as the old Sam again, and it worked.)

There was some funny material on the margins: Ted's brilliant Elliott impression; Doug's frustration at being replaced by Lloyd; J.D. and Turk acting like a married couple, and Turk helping negotiate a better deal between J.D. and Dr. Cox (which J.D. was a fool to turn down); Cox's latest rant involving Hugh Jackman (two words that John C. McGinley says almost as brilliantly as Rainn Wilson says "Schrute-Bucks") and Kelso interrupting said rant with, "Funny long list, we get it. You need a new thing, big guy." Plus, they used Dudemeister's last name for the first time in a long time.

Like a lot of other bubble show producers (see the people behind "Jericho" and "Crossing Jordan"), Bill Lawrence clearly wasn't interested in providing closure -- though, of course, he knew ABC would probably give him a pick-up if NBC pulled the plug. But this was easily the weakest "Scrubs" season to date. I hope they can re-find their mojo during the hiatus, perhaps inspired by being back on the fall schedule for the first time in a few years.

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

The Office: Girls' day out (aka Paint it black)

Spoilers for "The Office" finale coming up just as soon as I get squatter's rights to

How amazing is Jenna Fischer? I'm serious. How amazing is she? That final talking head -- my favorite form of talking head, one where actual office action interrupts the interview -- was a little acting clinic, with Pam genuinely convincing herself it was okay that she and Jim had missed their window, only to be overwhelmed by Jim's entrance and the realization that he was holding the window open for her. Just a beautiful moment, and one the entire season had been building towards.

The Pam/Jim/Karen triangle reminds me in a lot of ways of the Luke/Lorelai/Christopher situation this last year on "Gilmore Girls." You have the couple who the audience is rooting for, kept apart by wishy-washy behavior on someone's part (Luke there, Pam here), then the rejected person (Lorelai/Jim) spends the better part of the season involved with someone who's a good match on paper (Chris has more history with Lorelai and the same sense of humor, Karen is willing to put herself out there for Jim in a way Pam wasn't), only to realize towards the end that love doesn't happen on paper, and in the finale we finally get the pairing we want. The difference is, "Gilmore Girls" ended just as Luke and Lorelai got back together, while "The Office" has a lot of time to explore what life will be like when Jim and Pam actually try dating.

And I think we needed this year of having them mostly apart, even if at times the fun was as lacking for us as it was for Pam. Pam needed a season to find, as both Michael and Oscar's roommate realized she needed, some courage. Early in the year, she was still casting about for a new accomplice (an audition Ryan failed, largely because he didn't know it was happening), but by the finale she had become strong enough to do the coal-walk, declare her feelings to Jim in front of everyone, and have herself a whole lot of fun with Dwight as boss. She couldn't have shouted down the conference room a year ago, and she would have felt the fun was empty without Jim or someone else to share it with, where now she seemed okay just sharing with her pal the camera guy.

Jim, meanwhile, needed some time to heal from Pam's rejection, and by keeping distant from both her and his old office-wide hijinks (the betting episode aside), it made the moment where he found Pam's note and the old yogurt lid (a callback to the medals from "Office Olympics," possibly their finest moment of office cruise-directoring) that much sweeter. Jim had spent the last year focused on his career, but when he saw the note and yogurt lid and David asked him what he liked most about Scranton, the only thing he could think to say was, "the friendships." Another lovely little moment, and well-played by Krasinski. (We didn't see the entire interview, but I have to assume he answered David's long-haul question by admitting he wasn't ready to leave Scranton yet.)

I don't think the end of Unresolved Sexual Tension is the kiss of death for a show -- especially not a show where the UST isn't even the main story element. If anything, I think too many shows have died trying to postpone the inevitable for too long ("Moonlighting," "Ed"), while the king of the genre ("Cheers") put its couple together quickly, then spent the next four years exploring different break-ups and reconciliations. I'm not saying "The Office" should go that route -- Jim and Pam are far more compatible than Sam and Diane, where the comedy came from how wrong for each other they were -- but at the very least it could be like "NewsRadio," which put Dave and Lisa together in episode 2, had fun with their relationship at times and treated it as a simple fact of life at others. Certainly, Michael, Kelly, Dwight and Kevin all have ways of making an office romance uncomfortable (and funny) for Jim and Pam, so even if their own relationship is smooth, there will still be some laughs and tension to be wrung from how other people now treat them.

While Jim and Pam were making up the emotional core of the episode, Michael, Jan and Jan's new girls were bringing the funny. My reaction to Michael's reaction to the bigger girls was the opposite of emotionally magnificent. It was completely shallow, and I don't care, because I laughed so damn much through the entire sequence where Jan was in the office, and again when Jan had her meltdown at corporate and again when they were in the car together and she was talking about wearing stretch pants and waiting at the door for Michael to come home. Melora Hardin and the writers have done wonders with a role that was fairly limited at first as the disapproving straight woman to Michael, and I hope we don't lose Jan next year. (Roy, on the other hand, seems gone, and with Rashida Jones doing that Farrelly Bros. sitcom for Fox, I imagine she's out, too, even though she didn't get the corporate job as predicted. More on that down below.)

Dwight's one-day reign of terror was also marvelously silly, particularly the Scrute-Bucks vs. Stanley-Nickels confrontation. I just love the way Rainn Wilson says "Schrute," making an odd name sound completely ridiculous; adding "bucks" to the end of it, repeatedly, was practically Dada. I've been saying "Schrute-Bucks" all day, and will likely continue until I beat it into the ground just like "I'm gonna chase that feeling," "Is that something you might be interested in?" and all my other borrowed catchphrases.

I'm sure you all will have lots to talk about this episode and this season, so I'll move on to the bullet points:
  • Ryan getting the corporate job was a weird surprise, and it did lead to his perfectly cold dumping of Kelly, but it doesn't make sense even within a universe in which Michael Scott would be considered for said job. Ryan's been a full-time employee for less than a year, still doesn't have a sale, and if he managed to complete his MBA, it was only in the last few months since Michael lectured at his school, and from a non-prestigious local school, at that. I just can't see a guy with that resume getting Jan's old job.
  • Jim picking apart Dwight's Motel Hell fantasy was brilliant. $84,000, eh? What do you suppose Dwight makes now?
  • "Goodbye, Kelly Kapoor." Maybe Angela and Ryan should be dating.
  • I feel like I know far too much about Meredith and Creed's respective love lives now. (But I can't complain too much about an episode with so many Meredith moments after my season-long quest to get her more material.)
  • Funnier Pam talking head: the cliche one where she became Popeye, or the one where she became concerned the documentary people would think she was gay?
  • Was I the only one who felt the Jim and Karen in New York footage felt off? It's not like the documentary crew hasn't followed people to other cities (they did some New York stuff with Michael in "Valentine's Day"), or showed people in their personal lives (Jim's party, Pam's art show), but this just didn't feel right. Maybe this time Greg Daniels wound up hiring a local film crew who didn't nail the house visual style, I don't know.
So what did everyody else think? You happy with how it turned out in the end?
Click here to read the full post