Friday, February 29, 2008

In Treatment week five thread

So, remember what I said before I left for vacation about how you all would be caught up with "In Treatment" by the time I got back? Well, guess what show my now-addicted wife insisted we take with us on our trip to watch during the downtime? So I'm now early in week 7 (the last one I got in advance). That said, I think I remember enough of what happened in the previous episodes that I can safely weigh in with some comments without giving away where stories are going.

The one post for all five episodes idea worked fairly well last week -- at this point, I don't know anybody who's still watching the show who isn't watching all five -- so unless there are any convincing counter-arguments I'm going to do that again this time, and just bump up the posts each weeknight. As with last week, I'd ask people to honor the airing schedule, so let's only talk about Laura's session (and the ones before it) until after Alex's is done tomorrow, etc. Click here to read the full post

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Botched Makeover"

And so we come to the end. Spoilers for "Botched Makeover," the final episode of "Cupid," coming up just as soon as I beat up some skel...

"Botched Makeover" was the final episode of "Cupid" to be produced, and as Rob Thomas mentions below, the cast and crew actually found out they'd been canceled while they were still working on it. It never aired on ABC, though it popped up in several foreign markets, which explains its YouTube-ability. (I've also seen a bootleg version of an Israeli telecast, complete with Hebrew subtitles.)

Like I was saying in the review for "The Children's Hour," this clearly wasn't intended as a series finale -- Trevor doesn't even make a match in this one -- but there are certain elements that make it a less-than-painful closing note. Specifically, I like that the final episode climaxes with Trevor and Claire swing-dancing. If, as Claire said many episodes before, she knows Trevor has a libido because she's seen him dance, then this is the closest they would ever come to sex, given the professional (doctors don't date patients) and mythological (sex with a mortal = no more immortality) barriers.

Claire spends a lot of time in this episode talking about the culture reverting to classic romantic standards -- "Dancing cheek to cheek, dressing up," etc. -- and the main plot of the hour is in itself a throwback. It's the famous, "Why, without your glasses, you're beautiful!!!!" story that you'd often see in films from the '30s through the early '60s.

Our not-so-plain Jane is Kristy Holbrook, a mousy writer's assistant on the ever-popular show-within-the-show "Sunset and Vaughn." Kristy's played by Laura Leighton, who was just coming off her stint as slutty Sydney on "Melrose Place." The wardrobe and makeup people did what they could to create Kristy's bag lady look, but it was about as convincing as that episode of "Gilligan's Island" where a homely woman stopped by the island and got a makeover that turned her into the spitting image of Ginger, you know?

That said, there are some interesting things going on in her story. Usually, the show would establish one guy and one girl and create an obstacle that Trevor would have to overcome to get them together. Here, Kristy has a couple of potential suitors: Josh, a junior writer on "Sunset and Vaughn" who encourages Kristy to move up the ladder to actually write for the show, and Tom, a handsome cad whom Claire throws out of the singles group after realizing he's just using it to find desperate women who will sleep with him. (Also, unbeknownst to her, he has a bet with a friend about scoring three girls in three weeks, which feels almost quaint a decade later. I imagine the same script today would have Tom trying to score three in three nights or something.)

So Tom is set up as the bastard that Trevor needs to save Kristy from, and Josh seems like the sweet guy she'll cease to notice once she's made over to resemble Laura Leighton, but this being "Cupid," things are more complicated than that. Tom begins to genuinely like Kristy, and not just because of how she looks (it's the "She's All That" plot, for you young'uns), while Josh tries to take credit for Kristy's script idea as his own. In the end, Kristy rightly kicks both guys to the curb, and even tones down the more boob-tastic aspects of her makeover while finding newfound confidence in both her appearance and ability to write. Trevor doesn't get his match, but he does help her.

While all of that is going on in the anthological half of the episode, Claire and Champ team up to try to take Trevor down a peg in a swing dance competition (yes, I know "Swingers" was two years earlier, but sometimes it takes TV a while to catch up to trends), and Trevor hustles his way into a guest-starring role on the increasingly "NYPD Blue"-esque "Sunset and Vaughn."

I've talked in the past about how Champ was a character the show rarely knew what to do with (he's the first thing I'd want to "improve" with the remake), but he and Claire make a nice combination in their rare bursts of shared screen time. As the two non-insane/godly members of the cast, they both have to suffer the walking disruption that is Trevor, and it's nice to see them bond over it in the end, even though Champ winds up bailing on the contest so the writers can put Piven and Marshall on the dance floor together.

And now it's time for the final installment of Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator Rob Thomas takes a break from rewriting the pilot script for the "Cupid" remake to offer a look behind the scenes at "Botched Makeover":
The Cupid cast learned that we'd been cancelled as they were shooting the big dance scene during "Botched Makeover." We also learned at the time that the episode we were shooting would never be released. To their credit, everyone sucked it up and did quality work, though the set was a pretty miserable place to be in the aftermath.

(The episode did end up airing in several foreign markets, however.)

Perhaps the most common way of becoming a television writer is to first get hired as an assistant on a television show. It's a prime stepping stone. Assistants talk to the agents assistants who will become agents some day. They learn the process from the inside. They can usually convince producers on the show to read their spec scripts. A couple days after ABC announced the Cupid pilot had been ordered, I received a letter through my old Texas address from a woman named Vanessa Taylor who wanted to be my assistant. I'd never had an assistant, and, frankly, didn't even realize I would be afforded one. Nevertheless, I admired the tenacity, and I hired her.

Vanessa co-wrote "Botched Make-over" with me, and she did a fantastic job. So fantastic, that I then hired her on my next project, SNOOPS -- which, perhaps, turned out to be a very mixed blessing. She very quickly climbed the ranks, and eventually co-created the very well-received WB show JACK AND BOBBY.

A sidenote -- the fictional cop show within the show, SUNSET AND VAUGHN, is a show title that I've always been fond of in a "can we think of a campy title to a fictional cop show." It reappeared in an episode of VERONICA MARS when we had a close-up of a Tivo recorded programs screen. Also, in a nod to the original notion that Champ wouldn't accept any roles expressly written for Black actors, his character has the surname "Cohen." That's the very inside joke that I am, perhaps, the only person who finds amusing.
A few other thoughts on "Botched Makeover":

-As the Internet's leading "NYPD Blue" junkie, I was particularly amused to see all the "Blue" touches in "Sunset and Vaughn," whether it was Claire's love of seeing Sunset's naked butt every week or the jittery, hard-boiled interrogation scenes with junkies.

-Love the entire sequence where the post-makeover Kristy enters the singles group, from Claire forcibly hurling Trevor into the next room to Trevor responding to her accusation that he did everything she warned him not to with "Not true. I did not open that Tabasco lubricant."

-One specific change in the remake is that it'll be set in Los Angeles instead of Chicago. While it's a shame to lose the unique architecture and character of the windy city, if there's a Champ character in the new show and he's still an actor, at least we won't have to deal with the contrivance of an LA-set cop show being written and produced out of a Chicago studio.

Up next: b'dee, b'dee, that's all, folks! Back when I started this idea, the plan was to add a second show at some point, most likely "Sports Night," but I wound up having so many other things on my plate even during the strike that there wasn't time for it. Now that the strike's over and primetime TV is only a few weeks away from a return, there's no point in starting up again, so we'll revisit the TV Club idea in the summer. (If you want to see the reviews I did last summer of "Freaks and Geeks," click here.)

What did everybody else think? And, after going through all these episodes with me, do you think the world is ready for a "Cupid" remake? Casting will obviously be crucial (it's hard to think of a better Trevor than Jeremy Piven, or better chemistry than Piven and Paula Marshall had), but what tweaks, if any, would you make to the formula the second time around?
Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lost: The time-traveler's girlfriend

Spoilers for "The Constant," the time-bending latest episode of "Lost," coming up just as soon as I find a big battery and some alligator clips...

Time travel stories often make my head hurt, but either I've read/seen too many of them or Cuse and Lindelof did a masterful job of explaining it all, because I feel confident I picked up pretty much everything "Lost" was throwing down tonight.

Something about the combination of radiation (which Dan was exposed to in Oxford) and/or electro-magnetism (which Desmond was exposed to in the hatch) plus a trip on/off the island along the wrong bearing can trigger these Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time episodes. Remember, shortly before Desmond blew up the hatch and began having his time trips, he tried to escape the island in his sailboat and couldn't do it because he didn't have the right co-ordinates. So now he gets even further off the island, and the thunderhead forces Frank to not follow the exact right path, and so the episodes increase and get even worse: instead of 2004 Desmond's consciousness traveling back and forth through time with at least some sense of what the hell is going on, it's now 1996 Desmond in charge and he hasn't got a bloody clue, brother.

Conveniently, Desmond has sat phone access to a physicist with a specialty in time travel in our twitchy friend Faraday (and outstanding job by Jeremy Davies at playing the slightly saner, far more arrogant Oxford version of Dan). Dan '04 has already completed his time travel experiment and is able to use Desmond to help Dan '96 make it work. No doubt after Desmond left looking for Penny to be his "constant," Dan tried using the machine on himself, which is why he's been having all these memory problems of his own -- problems that should be going away now that he's remembered that, just as Penny is Desmond's constant, Desmond is Dan's own.

(God, I hope I explained that well. It made sense to me when I was watching and then writing. I expect this week's comments section to hit record levels.)

I honestly have no idea how much of this episode plays into the series' bigger picture -- I wonder whether the auction scene with Mr. Widmore buying the journal of The Black Rock's first mate is more important than any of the time travel stuff -- but I don't especially care. Remember my old mantra about wanting either a great story or big answers, but not always needing both at the same time? Even if this was just a narrative dead end to explain Desmond's previous time traveling and to put Dan in the proper frame of mind to do whatever terrible thing he's clearly on the island to do, I'm fine with it, because it was brilliantly executed, as both a brain-twister and as a love story.

You'd have to be made of stone to not feel the slightest bit moved by Desmond ('96 and '04 versions both) and Penny '04 declaring their love for each other over the dying satellite phone, played with hearts on sleeves by Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger. (So what if Penny was practically quoting Daniel Day-Lewis' "No matter what occurs, I will find you!" lines from "The Last of the Mohicans"? If you're gonna steal, steal from the good stuff.)

I need to get to bed but want to open up the discussion ASAP, so some other points:
  • Geez, so Fisher Stevens gets credited in a whole bunch of episodes and when he actually gets to provide more than a voice, he dies at the end of that show? At this rate, I have no idea when we're actually going to see Harold Perrineau again. And is there any way Michael isn't Ben's spy on the boat?
  • While the boat may not be Penny's, I feel pretty confident that it's Mr. Widmore's. He's been looking for the island at least since '96 (the auction), he's the one who gets Desmond to sail on that race, and Minkowski has been ordered not to answer Penny's daily calls.
  • Okay, so The Black Rock goes missing while on a voyage to Siam/Thailand, and somehow the first mate (or, at least, his journal) turns up seven years later in Madagascar? Why am I suddenly seeing visions of Tunisian polar bear skeletons? And how badly do you think Alvar and now Tovard Hanso got teased in elementary school?
  • What does the freighter's calendar being roughly in sync with what the timeline on the island should be tell you about the results of Dan's rocket experiment with the out of sync watches?
What did everybody else think? Genius or gibberish?
Click here to read the full post

Scrubs lives... on ABC?

I guess we can stop worrying about whether Bill Lawrence and company will be able to produce a proper "Scrubs" series finale, because it looks like the show will be around for at least one more season, over on ABC.

This is odd. On the one hand, Bill and Steve McPherson have both been talking for a few years about the possibility of "Scrubs" (which is produced by ABC-affiliated Touchstone) moving to ABC should NBC ever cancel it, but Bill also seemed to have made peace with ending the show when I talked to him at summer press tour. I guess the prospect of not being allowed to make and air the ending he wanted was enough motivation to keep the gang together for one more year.

I wonder, though, whether Zach Braff will be part of the deal, as there were all those rumors about him wanting to segue to movies full-time. Zach and Bill are friends, and Zach's also not dumb/arrogant enough to just abandon the show that made him in its final season. This is pure speculation, not based on having talked to anyone whatsoever about this, but I wonder if we might see some kind of Travolta in the last season of "Welcome Back, Kotter" deal where Zach is around part of the time but not in every episode. The last time the Zach leaving rumors began, people here seemed okay with the idea of a show headlined by Donald Faison -- especially since Turk's been the more well-rounded, funnier character for a couple of seasons now -- so I suppose it could work. Click here to read the full post

That didn't take long: NBC cancels 'Quarterlife'

And so "quarterlife" has officially joined the ranks of TV shows canceled after only a single airing. NBC has already plugged in a "Deal Or No Deal" episode into its planned Sunday timeslot premiere, and Marshall Herskovitz just put out this statement:
“I am happy to say that the reports of quarterlife’s demise are exaggerated. We’re deeply grateful for NBC’s efforts to make quarterlife a success on network television. However, I’ve always had concerns about whether quarterlife was the kind of show that could pull in the big numbers necessary to succeed on a major broadcast network. It is important to remember that quarterlife has already proved itself as a successful online series and social network with millions of enthusiastic fans. We live in a media world today where many shows are considered successful on cable networks with audiences that are a fraction of those on the Big Four. I’m confident that quarterlife will find the right home on television as well.”
Given that Herskovitz and Ed Zwick own the show, I'm sure they'll try to aggressively shop it to cable. If you actually liked "quarterlife" and haven't already seen it on-line, all the episodes are over at the official site. Click here to read the full post

Sepinwall on TV: 'Unhitched,' 'Dirt' reviews

Today's column is a two-fer, with reviews of Fox's "Unhitched" and season two of FX's "Dirt." Of the former, I start off with:
In the opening moments of the new Fox sitcom "Unhitched," a man gets raped by an orangutan.

I bring this up not to get up on some "Won't someone pleeease think of the children?" moral high horse about declining standards of decency on broadcast television. After all, "Unhitched" is airing after "Family Guy," a show which has historically shattered barriers of what's acceptable to say and show on a network.

No, I have no problem with offensive humor. I've always believed that any subject can be made funny given the right approach. (See Jon Stewart's "Gaydolf Titler" joke on Sunday's Oscars, in which he successfully turned a genocidal madman into the center of a very sophomoric, very effective punchline.)

The issue I have with the rape-by-orangutan scene in "Unhitched" is that it's not funny, nor does it even seem to be trying to be funny. It's lazy comedy, substituting shock value for wit and invention, and it typifies everything that follows on this lame excuse for a sitcom.
To read the full thing (including my continued unhappiness with "Dirt"), click here. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

American Idol: Women's semis, week two

Quick spoilers for tonight's "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I find my cargo shorts...
Again, I'm not going to do song-by-song analysis until at least next week, if not the finals. (If you want thoughts that are, as always, eerily similar to what I would write if I cared enough to do so, go read Fienberg.) A couple of thoughts, though:
  • For a group that's allegedly the most talented in "Idol" history, they sure put together a lousy night. Carly started off with what I thought was a middling Heart cover, and by the end of the evening, she seemed like one of the best. The only performance I felt unreservedly good about was Brooke the nanny's "You're So Vain," and even there I'm second-guessing how much of that was about the vocal and how much is my affection for the song, plus Brooke's infectious personality.
  • I've been a fan of Amanda Overmyer for most of this season. I don't know that she's a great singer, but she has real stage presence (and awesome pants), I love her influences (Janis, Grace Slick), and "Idol" has never had a woman contestant like her before. She's sort of like a female version of Bo (still my fave "Idol" ever), albeit not nearly as gifted vocally -- which could not have been more apparent during her butchering of "Carry On Wayward Son." It sounded like she had a cold or sore throat or something (she was noticeably better during the dress rehearsal footage they showed during the final montage), but even if she were fully healthy, I think that would have been a mess. Given that they put her on the seal with Joanne last week, I'm really worried for her. This competition needs variety -- how boring would it be if all the blonde Carrie clones made the finals? -- and I'm hopeful she'll survive a while still, if only because so many people were so terrible tonight.
  • Speaking of Bo, one of the many reasons I hate this shift to themed semi-finals (complete with what sounds like a very limited list of available songs) is that it makes it harder for the contestants to assert their talent and identity by picking a song they know they can kick ass on and that says "This is me, this is the kind of music I want to do." Think of Bo on "Whipping Post," or Elliott on "Moody's Mood For Love," or George Huff on "Lean On Me," or even Daughtry on "Hemorrhage" (a song that an "Idol" producer would never in a million years have thought to put on an approved song list if Daughtry hadn't done it first). While some of the contestants are getting to do songs they know and love (even if they're not brilliant at it, like Carly on "Crazy On You"), for the most part you can tell they've never heard of these numbers before and are struggling to connect with them. We're already stuck with the stupid themes once the finals start. One of the nicer things about the semis was the unpredictability of what kinds of songs you might hear. Way to ruin a good thing, producers.
What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

All TV: The writers are back. How about the shows?

Today's column is a mailbag dealing with more post-strike "When does my show come back?" questions. Of particular interest to this blog is this part:
"Rescue Me" will be back, but, like "24," not for a long time. FX ordered a 22-episode season (much longer than what the show has produced in the past), and the strike delayed the start of writing, figuring out the logistics, etc. FX says new episodes won't premiere until sometime in 2009.

(As for other FX shows, "Dirt" is back on Sunday; "The Riches" on March 18; "30 Days" sometime this summer; "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" sometime in summer or early fall; "The Shield" sometime after the end of the Summer Olympics or in the fall, and "Damages" in early '09.)
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

American Idol: Men's semis, week two

While the "American Idol" producers accomplished their goal of weeding out the Sanjayas, this year's "best top 24 ever" has so far been mostly competent without being inspiring. That said, there were a few very good performances tonight, notably the precocious David Archuleta on "Imagine" and David Hernandez finding a way to tackle "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" in 90 seconds and not seem like a fool.

While I intend to do singer-by-singer breakdowns once the finals begin, there are too many people at this point I just don't care about to bother -- especially since Fienberg and I are so in sync with our opinions on these guys that I can just send you over to his recap and suggest you attach a "me, too" to most of what he says.

Feel free to comment here if you like. Click here to read the full post

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "The Children's Hour"

One week (and several hours) later than normal, it's time to head into the homestretch of our "Cupid" club, with spoilers for the penultimate episode, "The Children's Hour," coming up just as soon as I put some batteries down my pants...

"The Children's Hour" was the final episode of "Cupid" to air before then-ABC chiefs Jamie Tarses (the inspiration for the Amanda Peet character on "Studio 60") and Stu Bloomberg (the man with the greatest soul patch to ever occupy a network executive suite) pulled the plug. While neither this episode nor the unaired "Botched Makeover" were written as a series finale, there are parts of each that unintentionally work as final notes. No, Trevor never comes close to the 100 couple barrier, nor do we find out whether he's man or god, nor does the show ever get the chance to have Trevor and Claire confront their attraction directly, but in the lemonade from lemons category, "Children's Hour" offers us Trevor's final match and Claire celebrating Cupid's Day, while "Botched Makeover" has... well, why don't we wait until Friday, or else we won't have much to talk about with the final episode.

Just as Halloween is a money in the bank holiday for shows with supernatural or horror themes, Valentine's Day could have been the gift that kept on giving for a hypothetical world where "Cupid" ran for 7 or 8 seasons. We've already seen in previous episodes (notably "Meat Market") that Trevor hates the popular conception of Cupid as the cherubic baby with the bow and arrow, and this episode gives him an opportunity to go full-on Charlie Brown (or, if you prefer, Frank Costanza) with the complaints about the commercialization of "his" holiday.

But Trevor being Trevor, he gets so caught up in the way he thinks things should work that he doesn't pay attention to how they're actually working. He doesn't recognize that the concept of Cupid's Day -- a Festivus-like alterna-holiday for singles to celebrate on Feb. 14 -- would sound really depressing to someone without a partner on that day. (At least if you stay home and eat cookies and watch a stupid movie, it's easier to forget that it's Valentine's Day and you're single than if you attend an event where that's the whole point.)

And when, after a number of fits and starts, he finally gets our Couple of the Week -- feisty single mom Stephanie (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen back before she dropped the Amber) and persistent caregiver Luther (Ben Bode) -- in the back of a limo together and they start bonding over their respective familial responsibilities, Trevor can't see this as a good thing for their relationship and keeps trying to change the subject to fun, sexy time.

Still, in the end, Trevor turns out to not be willfully blind about everything. The Cupid's Day party -- and his idea of using the fantasy sketches Claire had the singles group write -- produces at least one match (maybe not a button-mover, but still), and he has the brainstorm to put Stephanie's kids and Luther's aunt together to look after each other while the grown-ups get to party together.

I like that the meeting between the three dependents doesn't suggest a miracle cure -- the aunt is still a pain in the ass and the kids seem afraid of her, even though she manages to convince the boy to stop carrying around his toy bulldozer -- but rather a starting point for something that could eventually work. While the magic of love moments on "Cupid" (the Trevor side) are fun, I also appreciate that the show was willing to deal with the less glamorous parts of romance and relationships (the Claire side).

It's not the strongest episode of the 15, but I like the Couple, Trevor has lots of funny lines ("The things she does with verbs, practically keeps you awake the entire time") and other bits of business (Claire calling him like a dog and him responding like a monkey), and, of course it deals with our hero's own personal holiday.

And now it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, maybe, future) Rob Thomas offers some behind-the-scenes insight into each episode (or, in this case, an amusing episode-related anecdote):
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend/now-wife and I went to a wedding of a friend's here in Los Angeles. Afterwards, we were waiting for the valet to bring us my car, and I noticed a woman who looked very familiar. I glanced at her a couple of times trying to place her. I finally came to the conclusion that she had played a role in Cupid, but I couldn't remember which role.

The woman in question noticed me, and I could tell she was trying to place me as well. I finally said, "Excuse me, were you in an episode of Cupid?"

She answered that she indeed had been and introduced herself as Tiffany Amber Thiessen. To this day, this is one of my wife's favorite anecdotes. She swears I'm one of the few men in Los Angeles who would've been unable to recognize her. She also believes it was the first time Ms. Thiessen has been asked about her Cupd credit first.

A sidenote about the episode. I loved how great the snow in Chicago looked on film. It made our show unique. Working outside in it was difficult, but when we shot outside in a Chicago winter, you knew we weren't an L.A. show faking it.
Some other thoughts on "The Children's Hour":
  • Remember how Rob admitted several episodes back that he wrote the "Trevor and Claire mock 'Dawson's Creek'" scene as petty and juvenile revenge for leaving that show on bad terms? Well, he gets in another dig here with the condescending store clerk that Stephanie tells off in front of a smitten Luther. The clerk's name? James Van Der Brook, which is a hop and a skip but not even a jump away from James Van Der Beek.
  • A few episodes back, I asked how the potential remake would deal with gay couples and whether Trevor would get "credit" for same-sex matches. As we learn here from his conversation with Jaclyn -- in which she congratulates him on fixing up two men that no one else knew were gay -- at least Trevor believes that Jupiter and company have no problems with guy love between two guys. (As Trevor notes later, "By Jove, I think she's got it! I know Jove personally, and he is bi.")
  • It's always a tough line to walk with cute kid characters, but I think the writing of Mac and Maggie manages to fall on the funny side rather than the annoying one. In particular, I like the kid who plays Mac's delivery of the line about the early developed kid in phys ed who offered 10 bucks for the picture of his mom.
  • Maybe the funniest, and most completely random, bit of Trevor business in the episode is his explanation for why Luther should lick his teeth before seeing Stephanie. Comes from nowhere, goes on forever, and impossible to properly describe if you haven't seen it, but damned amusing.
  • Champ is once again largely appearing in his own show, but at least this one is both brief and thematically tied to the main story, as Trevor talks him into reconciling with the teenaged son of an ex-girlfriend.
Coming up on Friday: the end, with the unaired but easily YouTube-able "Botched Makeover," in which Laura Leighton tries to play frumpy, Trevor and Claire make a wager, and Rob gets to make fun of "NYPD Blue" for a while. You can see it here, here, here, here and here.

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

Mad Men redux: Jews cruise

(Note: Because AMC is rerunning the first season of "Mad Men" every Sunday at midnight, and because a lot of people missed the show the first time around, I'm reposting my blog reviews for each episode the morning after. These are written as they were back in the summer/early fall; if I feel differently about anything in retrospect, I'll mention it in the comments. Also, while comments from both newbies and people who watched the first time are welcome, if you've seen these episodes before, please be vague about events in later episodes so as not to spoil things for the newcomers.)

Spoilers for the sixth episode of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I watch a dog play the piano...

After the last few episodes focused on Don and Pete, episode six is another look at the women of "Mad Men": the compromises made, the four very narrow and yet very different routes that Joan, Peggy, Rachel and Midge have chosen to navigate this world they never made.

Joan had been our mystery woman until now, the queen bee vamp who buzzed around the typing pool, handing out advice on matters both personal and professional without revealing anything about herself -- like, for instance, why a woman of her relatively advanced age (Christina Hendricks is 29, which would have made her an old maid in an office like that) still hasn't landed her own husband and got a house up in Westchester. Now we know the answer: Joan doesn't have the house because she doesn't want it. Like Midge, she enjoys being an independent woman, having her pick of multiple men -- notably Sterling/Cooper co-founder Roger Sterling, who, like Don, is both turned on troubled by his mistress's free spirit -- and not being tied down to any one of them. (She can brazenly wiggle her fanny in front of the two-way mirror because any or all of the men on the other side could be hers if she wanted them.) She has her roommate Carol, she has adventures and she doesn't want to be kept in a gilded cage like that stupid canary Roger buys her at episode's end. And yet where Midge lives her entire life outside the system, by day Joan is a keeper of that system, herding the secretaries around like cattle and trying to jump in between Peggy and Fred (the "creative" guy played by Joel Murray) as if she were a Secret Service agent trying to take a bullet for the president. As liberated as Joan is in some areas, she can't wrap her head around the notion of a fellow secretary having something useful to offer the ad guys; I'm sure she had the same dog/piano reaction that Fred had.

And speaking of Peggy, this is an interesting, if not totally unexpected route they're taking the character. The second episode, where Paul gave her a tour of the offices, established that female copywriters do exist, in very small numbers and only for accounts related to lady products, but this has some real potential. (If nothing else, I look forward to the first time she has to work for Don in this capacity instead of as his gal Friday.) And unlike David Duchovny's stupid, cliche-riddled blogging on "Californication," the phrases Peggy came up with ("basket of kisses," "I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box") actually sounded good. If I was an ad guy in 1960 and I heard someone use those in casual conversation, I'd be intrigued, too.

Rachel Menken comes back into the picture as Don's token Jewish acquaintance, called in to help Don understand how to market a line of cruise ships bound for Israel. And after dismissing him out of hand in episode three because she had no interest in being someone's mistress, it now seems not a horrible idea to her. Being a female chief executive has to be rough on the love life today; in 1960, I imagine what suitors Rachel actually had tended to be guys after her money. The phone call with her sister suggests she's not the first member of her family on a path to old maidhood, and that has to be a scary proposition. The question is, is she prepared to compromise her values in the hopes that Don will leave his wife and marry her, or is she just that starved for companionship that she'll be The Other Woman? And how mad is she going to get when she realizes that she would, in fact, be The Other Other Woman?

Finally, Don visits Midge and gets another reminder of how poorly he fits into her world. Taking him to that coffee house might as well have been a trip to Mars for poor, conservative Don, and try as he did to mock Midge's other "friend" Roy, he's never going to be comfortable in bohemia. So will he attempt to swap Rachel in for Midge, or will he try to have all three women? And how will Midge respond to either scenario?

A few other thoughts:
  • Any scene where John Hamm's hair isn't drowning in pomade is a bad idea. The opening scene where his hair was flopping around made him look far too much a modern man.
  • Anyone care to analyze Don's dream of Adam's birth for clues about Dick Whitman's deep, dark secret?
  • Anvil time: "Some men like eyebrows, and all men like Joan Crawford. Salvatore couldn't stop talking about her." Also, Salvatore's bitchy put-downs of the women on the other side of the mirror. I just can't believe nobody doesn't get it. The prime of Paul Lynde's career wasn't that far away, was it?
  • Could have been anvillicious but wasn't: Rachel offering the alternative definition of "Utopia" as "the place that cannot be." Sounds not unlike the romantic space she wishes she could occupy with Don.
What did everybody else think?
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Okay, now this is getting out of hand

Okay, so first Sarah Silverman announced that she was knowing Matt Damon the same way Lot knew his wife, and it was funny. A retort by Jimmy Kimmel was inevitable, and on Sunday night's post-Oscar show, Kimmel enlisted Damon's BFF Ben Affleck to return the serve.

The Kimmel video is much bigger on star power (Harrison Ford's cameo is the first time I've liked him since the last Indiana Jones movie) but not nearly as funny. Silverman's video had novelty, plus better musicianship (Silverman's an old hand at song parodies and has a passable voice), plus the presence of Damon, who you wouldn't expect to be in that situation. Affleck has spent half of his career parodying the other half, and while I appreciate that he's always a sport (and usually very funny on "SNL"), I feel like he's done this exact sketch already a few dozen times.

And now other celebs totally unconnected to Kimmel and Silverman are trying to get in on the action. Kevin Smith, Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen did their own version as a viral plug for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." (Warning: unlike the Silverman and Kimmel ones, nothing's bleeped here.)

Enough. I love viral music videos as much as the next "Dick in a Box" fan, but it's time to move on to a new premise. Click here to read the full post

All TV: 'quarterlife' review

Today's column revisits "quarterlife" (which you may remember I wrote about back in November) now that the latest HerskoZwick drama is moving from the Web to NBC. Back in November, I was lukewarm-to-negative on it. Now I'm just negative. The column also has some info on the lowest-rated Oscar-cast ever. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar post-mortem

Some quick thoughts on last night's Oscar-cast (focusing more on the show than the winners and losers) coming up just as soon as I learn how to pronounce "cinematography"...

It's the morning after, so let's take this painless, bullet point-style:
  • The first time he hosted, I thought Jon Stewart was terrible for the first hour or so, and that once he realized he had bombed -- and that, therefore, the likelihood of a return invite was slim -- he relaxed and turned back into Jon Stewart. This time, I thought he was himself, and pretty funny, from the start. You could tell which lines were by Stewart and his people (the slam on "Norbit," for instance) and which came from the usual Oscar joke-writers (the awful Harrison Ford intro, which Stewart looked miserable delivering), but he was confident and enough of the jokes landed that I wouldn't mind him coming back in a year when there was more prep time and a chance to do the now obligatory phony clip montage. Ellen DeGeneres was a disappointment in her stint, Chris Rock and Letterman aren't ever going to be asked back, Billy Crystal was coasting the last time he did it, and Steve Martin apparently doesn't want to ruin the perfection of his time on the stage by doing it again, so I think Stewart deserves another shot.
  • Admittedly, the only award where I had a real rooting interest was for Best Original Song, where I loved "Falling Slowly" from "Once," but for me the highlight of the night wasn't just Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning, but Stewart (or someone in the control room) deciding after the commercial break that Marketa should get to come back and give the speech that the orchestra wouldn't let her give in the first place. Admittedly, lots of people get played off by the band and don't get a second chance like this, but it was such a lovely speech -- "Fair play to those who dare to dream" -- and the crowd in the theater was clearly so gung-ho for "Falling Slowly" and its singer-songwriters, that it created the kind of moment that used to be more routine at the Oscars before the endless march of preliminary awards shows (many of them canceled or toned down this year) sucked the life out of the main event.
  • There were a number of other great speeches: Javier Bardem talking to his mom in Spanish, Tilda Swinton (clearly not expecting to win and winging it) rambling on about George Clooney's batsuit with nipples, Ethan Coen being mercifully brief twice, among others. I was watching the show on a DVR delay and fast-forwarded through the speeches in the more obscure categories, so for all I know most of the audience had to suffer through the usual deadly laundry lists of thank yous, but what I saw, I liked.
  • I know I should have hated the Jonah Hill/Seth Rogen bit about who got to be Halle Berry -- it went on forever and had nothing resembling a punchline -- but for whatever reason, it made me laugh. I can't explain it.
  • I haven't yet seen "Enchanted," and while Amy Adams did a nice job with her song, I feel like that performance needed the kind of context that the other two "Enchanted" numbers got, rather than just letting Jim Halpert's ex-girlfriend sing alone on-stage.
  • Does anyone know for sure whether you have to be an Academy member to be included in the In Memoriam montage? That would be the easiest way to explain the absence of Brad Renfro. (Roy Scheider died after the cut-off, and will no doubt get big applause next year.)
  • The juxtaposition of grumpy old man Harrison Ford giving an award to tattooed uber-hipster Diablo Cody amused me, though nerves seemed to overtake Cody during her speech.
  • As Josh Brolin started apologizing to Jack Nicholson for his awful Jack impression (the latest in a series I like to call "Josh Brolin Is At An Awards Show And Is Going To Say Whatever The Hell He Wants, Dammit"), my wife pointed out that seated right behind Jack was Diane Lane, Brolin's wife, and I'll be damned if I can figure out whether that frozen smile on her face meant she was amused or appalled by what Brolin was doing.
What did everybody else think?
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The Wire week 9 thread for the On Demand'ers

Final verse, same as the first eight: talk about "Late Editions," the penultimate episode of "The Wire" (and the last one to be shown early On Demand) here. Do not talk about this episode in last night's review thread, and do not talk about the series finale if you happen to know anything about it. All spoilers will be deleted. And since I've seen the finale, I'll know if someone's trying to be clever with a "guess" about something that actually happens.

Also, as I mentioned in the episode 8 review thread, I'll be talking to David Simon sometime before the finale for a retrospective interview, and I'm open to outside questions -- whether about this season, seasons past or the series as a whole. Obviously, some will be answered with the finale, but fire away in the comments for this post. (I'm asking here so that the On Demand viewers aren't asking questions in the regular review post that give away stuff from this episode.) Click here to read the full post

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Breaking Bad episode 5 open thread

I had some requests for a filler post about the fifth episode of "Breaking Bad," so you can talk about it even though I don't have time for a full review. I've seen it, so I may pop into the comments tomorrow morning to offer up some thoughts. Click here to read the full post

The Wire, "Clarifications": A kid's game

Spoilers for "Clarifications," the 8th episode of "The Wire" season five, coming up just as soon as I drink some chocolate milk...

"You start to tell the story, you think you're the hero, and then when you get done talking..."

I know this quote is by, and about, McNulty, but it applies just as well to the character involved in the episode's most shocking scene. Rest in peace, Omar Little. You deserved better -- which is the point of your death scene.

If "The Wire" has ever had a hero -- someone who fits the mold of more conventional good vs. evil narratives -- it's been Omar. He gets the best lines, the most colorful moments, the action movie shoot-outs, etc. At the end of season one, when almost everyone is worse off than before McNulty stirred things up, our final scene is of Omar triumphant again, laughing as he pulls off another stick-up. A rogue this charming, this bad-ass, this larger than life -- he couldn't possibly die, could he?

Of course he could. Remember, this is David Simon's Baltimore -- and, as Carcetti pointed out early in the season, in Baltimore, nobody lives forever.

Omar goes around, thinking of himself as the hero of his story -- just as Jimmy does, just as Carcetti does, just as I'm sure Templeton does -- but despite his legend of invincibility, he's just another player in The Game. Eventually, everyone gets got, and rarely in a dignified manner. By the time of Omar's death, he's a broken man, literally on his last legs, shuffling back and forth across Baltimore in a quest for revenge against Marlo -- which we learn is completely futile, since Chris and Snoop are going out of their way to prevent Marlo from hearing about Omar's taunts. When he stands on that corner yelling about how Marlo isn't good for Baltimore, he doesn't seem like a legend anymore; he just seems sad and tired, as over the edge in his way as McNulty.

And yet, in a way, the manner of Omar's death fits his legend. Omar has always been something of a figure out of a Western -- think in particular of his alley showdown with Brother Mouzone in season three. While the cliche of the Western is for the fastest gun to only fall at the hands of someone just as good, some of the best Westerns -- whether fact-based, like Jesse James and Billy the Kid biopics, or fictional, like "The Gunfighter" and "The Wild Bunch" -- climax with the protagonist being killed by a complete nobody. "The Wild Bunch" is a particularly apt parallel here, as the movie opens with shots of children torturing animals (as Kenard is trying to do with the cat) and ends with another kid shooting one of the leads.

Would it have been more satisfying for Omar to be killed by an equivalent bad-ass like Chris or Snoop or Mouzone? Maybe on some level, but it also would have felt phony. Part of the reason the show has been able to get away with letting Omar operate by a different set of rules than any other character is because an end like this was coming sooner or later. Simon liked to say that Omar was the one individual on the show not beholden to an institution (even Bubbs was beholden to his addiction), and we all know what happens on this show to individuals when they try to go up against institutions, even ones they don't belong to. In the end, Omar's not a hero. He's just another casualty of the drug trade, another body in the morgue (and one who almost winds up with the wrong body tag, because that's how little everyone in this city knows or cares about him).

Now, as to Kenard as the killer, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Remember when Bunk visits the scene of the stash house shoot-out and is disgusted to see a bunch of little kids acting it out and arguing over who gets to play Omar? Well, one of those kids -- the one who specifically declares that it's his turn to be Omar -- was Kenard, in his very first appearance on the show. I've had this confirmed by David Simon, and you can look at this series of screen captures if you like. When Bunk chews out Omar later in that season, one of the points he makes is how Omar -- for all his talk of a code and playing outside of The Game -- is just another violent figure encouraging the next generation to aspire to become hoppers, slingers and even killers:
"Out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar. Calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick motherfucker how far we done fell."
Kenard wanted to play Omar -- despite never having seen him until last week -- and then got to kill him. Simon likes to talk about "The Wire" as a Greek tragedy, where everyone's tragic fate is pre-ordained -- Omar got his happy ending but still couldn't resist being drawn back into the world that killed him -- and this certainly qualifies.

Also, Kenard, like Marlo, represents a kind of pure incarnation of The Game. Here's a boy who's barely 4 feet tall, not even close to puberty, and he's always carried himself like he's the hardest, baddest man on the corner. Obviously, much of this is a defense mechanism, the only way someone Kenard's age and size could survive on the corner. The look of terror on his face after Omar dies is the little boy coming to grips with what his playacting persona has just done. Kenard may have just killed the baddest man in Baltimore, but he's still just a kid, and now he's passed the point of no return. In that moment, I felt very sorry for Kenard, even though he's been mean to Dukie and even though he just killed one of my favorite characters on the show. What kind of a world makes a kid that age want to torture cats and kill people for the sake of rep, you know?

(I want to add, by the way, that when I wrote last week's review, which speculated that Omar might fall at the hands of someone like Kenard I hadn't yet seen the episode, or even the clip of that scene that some tool leaked to YouTube. It was just an educated guess based on how this show works, how Omar is modeled after Western anti-heroes, Kenard's "gimpy" line -- nothing on this show is accidental -- etc. That said, I've now seen the rest of the season, and so will step very lightly about speculation and/or questions about the future. Also, anytime I express an opinion about where a story seems to be going, it will be my initial reaction when watching the episode and not something colored by what's to come.)

God, so much to talk about in this episode -- easily the best of the season to date, and one of the best ever -- and I've just devoted nearly a thousand words to that one subplot. This could take a while.

McNulty, as that unfinished line to Beadie suggests, also thinks (or thought) of himself as the hero of his story, but in this episode he starts to realize that maybe he's just another bad guy. Barlow blackmails him into using the serial killer budget money to finance a weekend getaway to Hilton Head, and Jimmy has no choice but to do it. He tells Kima -- his protege for much of the series -- about the scam to spare her from doing too much work on the non-existent killer, and, like Bunk, she's completely appalled by the plan, whether it gets Marlo or not. (Her reaction isn't dissimilar to many of the fans who have hated the serial killer story from the jump, feeling it's beneath Jimmy and Lester to be a part of it.) Beadie finally leaves him, albeit only for a few days, and when he spills the beans to her about what he's doing, she calls him out for potentially ruining her life along with his own.

And, obviously, Jimmy hits rock bottom during that visit to Quantico, when the FBI profilers he was so dismissive of earlier come up with a profile of the "killer" that fits McNulty to a T. The push-in on Dominic West as he realizes this was one of the funniest moments of this very funny season, but it was also sad. Jimmy's spent most of his career bending the rules and convincing himself it was for the greater good, even though it was (as he admitted after Kima was shot) really for the greater glorification of Jimmy McNulty. To have his personality described in such unflattering but accurate terms had to hurt. A little self-knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. Jimmy's plan may be working -- Sydnor and Lester are very close to getting Marlo (more on that in a moment), and Det. Christensen manages to catch his perp thanks to Jimmy's generous funding -- but he's finally starting to see that the ends don't really justify the means.

I thought it was a nice touch, by the way, that Sydnor manages to crack the clock code because he's the only member of the surveillance detail driving a department car. Where Dozerman is loving the GPS in his rental, Sydnor has to make do with an old-fashioned map, which is how he figures out what the numbers mean. (The code seems slightly more complicated than the one the Barksdale crew was using in season one, but not so much that I don't buy Chris or Monk being able to follow it.) Again, sometimes you actually can do more with less.

But as clever as Lester and Sydnor may be, I like that Bunk manages to get a murder charge on Chris first, through basic, honest policework. Yes, he has to cheat at the very end by getting Jimmy to sign off on the lab request, but he only has to do that because Jimmy's own cheating has clogged the front of the queue. (If it wasn't for the serial killer case, Bunk would have been able to guilt Lowenthal into doing the trace work several episodes ago.) The moment when Lowenthal recites Chris' name made me pump my fist, and was a nice bit of triumph in an episode where so many bad things happen.

Among those bad things: Dukie's going to be an Araber? Really? That's the best he can do? Man, is that sad. We saw throughout season four how smart Dukie was -- much too smart to be a 15-year-old drop-out doing menial labor for a guy with a horse-drawn cart. But he did drop out, and so far the adults he's gone to for advice this year -- first Cutty and now, of all people, Poot -- haven't known him well enough to tell him his best bet is to get his ass back into school, yesterday. (Even though he'd wind up a victim of social promotion, Dukie's smart enough to catch up, as opposed to Sherrod.) Instead, Cutty offers him only "hope and wishes," while Poot (admittedly not the smartest nor most compassionate character in the show's history) suggests Dukie go back to the corners until he's old enough for a job at some off-brand sneaker store. And the worst part is, Dukie seems happy about his new potential career.

More bad things: Clay Davis is back in the inner circle, and just in time for Tommy to give away more of the store in his increasingly destructive bid for governor. Since the day Tommy met with the DNC about the governorship, he's been sacrificing more and more of Baltimore's present for the sake of some hypothetical future where he can be more helpful, and now, thanks to the PG County "insurrection," he's prepared to sell off the future, too. We see at the rally that Tommy's still a great public speaker, but the man is repulsive. Note how he's more interested in seeing how he looked on TV than in talking to his wife about all the horse-trading he's doing -- shades of the adultery scene in season three where he spends the entire time staring at his reflection in the mirror. Gah.

Still, even though the grudge-holding U.S. Attorney has no interest in using the Head Shot to clean up Bond's mess, Clay doesn't know that, which means Lester can blackmail him into answering questions -- remember, Lester all along has wanted to flip Clay for targets further along the money trail. When I said above that Omar was only one of my favorite characters, it's because my favorite was, is and will likely always be Cool Lester Smooth. I'm always drawn to characters who are smart and good at what they do (other "Wire" favorites would include Bunny, Norman, Stringer and Prop Joe), and I love the flair for the dramatic that the writers and Clarke Peters have given Lester over the years. That's some James Bond stuff he's doing there, finding a way to ambush the Senator in the middle of a date (and in such a way that the date doesn't seem to mind walking away for the suave Lester).

Speaking of people who are smart and good at what they do, Gus' suspicions about Scott get more confirmation from Terry the homeless ex-Marine. In a way, it's disappointing that even the one instance of real reporting we saw Scott do turns out to have been "improved" along the way, but it fits with his pathology. Clearly, Scott can't help himself, whether he's inventing things from scratch or simply polishing up something he actually reported. We see yet another example of it when he claims that he and Terry had coffee together -- coffee no doubt seeming more colorful and dramatic than chocolate milk -- and you can see that it's this detail that convinces Gus once and for all that his guy is cooking it. If a guy would go so far as to lie about milk vs. coffee, how can you trust anything that comes out of his mouth (or keyboard)?

Yet as wonderful as it was to see Gus take such a firm stand against Scott's embellishments, my reaction as soon as he embarrassed Klebanow like that (and this was, again, my initial reaction, having nothing to do with what does or doesn't happen in the next two episodes) was "Oh, he's gonna pay for that." Nobody on "The Wire" ever goes unpunished for defying the bosses -- see Lester in the pawn shop unit, Jimmy on the boat, Bunny's pension, etc., etc., etc. -- and this was one of the most public examples of that.

In the Sun story, Gus really is the hero, but this is a show where the heroes either get punished or proven to be anything but.

Some other thoughts on "Clarifications":

-At the start of this season, I said that Michael had taken Bodie's place as our corner POV character, but in this episode -- and really, for much of the season -- he's been acting more like Bodie's mentor, D'Angelo, someone who's committed murder but still possesses some kind of moral compass. The scene with him, Chris and Snoop was largely about establishing why Marlo hadn't responded to Omar's PR campaign, but it also reminded us that Michael is smarter and more independent than your average soldier. He sees the hypocrisy in attacking Junebug and his whole family (an easy target) for a relatively minor insult while avoiding Omar (a far more dangerous individual) for more overtly impugning Marlo's rep, but Snoop and Chris -- both annoyed and afraid that they haven't caught Omar yet -- don't want to hear it.

-I'm of two minds about Poot at the sneaker store. On the one hand, it was funny and sort of apropos that he would wind up at a place like that after leaving the corners (no doubt encouraged by the death of Bodie, in addition to the reason he gave Dukie), as he's a drop-out with a criminal record. On the other, I still hold a grudge about the death of Wallace, even though I grew to like Bodie by the end. (In fairness, Bodie got more screen time and was written with more sympathy over the years.) If he's out of the drug world forever, his future's still not incredibly bright, but it's still much better than he deserves, you know?

-Finally saw "Gone, Baby, Gone" this week, and Amy Ryan (who very well may have won an Oscar by the time I post this) deserves every bit of acclaim she's received for it. It seemed right that her big moment of the season came in the episode scripted by Dennis Lehane ("Gone, Baby, Gone" author), and she did a great job with that monologue. That said, it didn't all ring true. In particular, we know from seasons past that a Baltimore cop's wake will be among the most well-attended social functions he'll ever be associated with. (Though, in fairness, the two wakes we've seen were for cops who died while still on active duty. I have no idea how many people would show up for the wake of a retired cop who died in his 70s.)

-As with Prop Joe's murder, we see with Gus and Alma's conversation about Omar's murder that what's really important on the streets doesn't always find its way into the newspaper, and that Gus isn't omniscient. Now, do you suppose this was another "If Twigg was still here, none of this would have happened" moment, or a more fundamental comment about the inherent limits of what a newspaper can and should cover?

-Lester seems convinced that Omar had some kind of informant within Marlo's organization, but we also know from last season that Omar can be one hell of an investigator when he's of a mind to. Do you think he gathered all that intel on his own (bum leg or no), or was he getting help from someone? If so, who?

-While most seasons have spanned fairly long periods of time (season four covered an entire school semester, give or take), this abbreviated season also seems to be moving quicker than real time. When McNulty lets Carver in on part of the scam, Carver notes that he gave Marlo's phone number to Lester "not two weeks ago," even though it happened three episodes back.

-Loved the FBI profile of McNulty, but the earlier part of that scene involving the self-promoting deputy director felt clumsy and cheap. I'm sure there are plenty of guys in law enforcement who are all about getting their faces on TV, writing books, consulting for "CSI," etc. -- in that way, the deputy director isn't dissimilar from Templeton -- but I find it hard to believe that a guy slick enough to get on all those shows, etc., would be so socially tin-eared that he'd keep trying to brag about his resume to two cops who clearly couldn't give a crap. It reminded me of "NYPD Blue" at its clumsiest, where any FBI agent or cop from another precinct was always a self-promoting moron in bad need of schooling from Sipowicz.

-Did you catch in one of the trace lab scenes that Bunk's ringtone is Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"? "Sopranos" always did more with ringtone humor than "The Wire," but that was a nice touch.

Lines of the week:
"I'm all for a little kinky shit now and then, but chewing on a homeless fellow?" -Rawls

"I guess you need to bang a while longer, then come back, see if we got something." -Poot

"Weird shit, I gotta say. Taking to a psychopath like that." -Zorzi
"I interviewed Dick Cheney once." -Price

"And we didn't have coffee. We had chocolate milk." -Terry

"They're in the ballpark." -McNulty

"Clay, it scares me to think of the damage you can do with two votes on the liquor board." -Carcetti
Finally, two housekeeping issues. First, I'm going to be talking with David Simon sometime before the finale for a retrospective interview, and I'm open to outside questions -- whether about this season, seasons past or the series as a whole. Obviously, some will be answered with the final two episodes, but fire away in the comments for this post. Please note: If you're watching the show with the On Demand schedule, please post your questions in that thread when it goes up. That way, we keep the regular schedule viewers from glimpsing any spoilers for episode nine.

And speaking of which, I want to make some things very clear: I don't want any talk of what's in the previews for the next episode -- much less anything that's actually in the next episode -- and I don't want smartasses coming in and making "guesses" about things they know from having seen the On Demand episode, or a Torrent, or anything else. Again, I've seen the final episodes, so I'm going to know if anyone's trying to be clever with their spoilers. I don't want to have to go to comment moderation, which dramatically slows down the pace of the discussion, but if I have to, I will.

What did everybody else think?
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Academy Awards open thread

There's a part of me that's tempted to blow off tonight's Oscars, since the only thing I really want to see is Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova perform the amazing "Falling Slowly" from "Once." (Watch the version from the movie here.) Plus, I may still be on the road when Jon Stewart starts his monologue. But for those who want to get worked up about red carpet fashion, the drinking of milkshakes, cattle stunners, etc., feel free to talk about all things Oscar here.

One request: for the benefit of people (like me) who haven't seen all the nominees, please refrain from going too much into detail (or spoiler territory) about the movies themselves. i.e., saying "The dialogue in 'Juno' annoyed me" is okay, but talking about the ending of "No Country For Old Men" is not.

Play nice, and if I get home in time and can force myself to care, I'll weigh in in the comments. Click here to read the full post

Sepinwall on TV: 'A Raisin in the Sun' review

The other column I wrote before I went on vacation: a review of ABC's "A Raisin in the Sun" remake, headlined by Diddy, but highlighted by Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lost: Gone baby gone

Spoilers for "Eggtown," the latest episode of "Lost," coming up just as soon as I reorganize my Olivia Newton-John VHS collection...

Behold: the power of the cliffhanger.

Until its closing moments -- its closing seconds, really -- "Eggtown" was the closest thing we've had to a dud so far this season. Sure, certain details got revealed -- the broad outlines of the Oceanic Six lie, the matter of Kate's pregnancy (presumably, she's had her period since the polar bear cage), the wonkiness of the chopper flight out, some more clues that Faraday may not be all there mentally -- but not as many as in the previous episodes. And Kate, whether solo or as part of the love triangle, isn't nearly as compelling a central character as Sayid or Hurley (or some of the freighter people, for that matter). I would have been okay with a Kate spotlight that offered plenty of forward momentum/explanations, or with a spotlight on a richer character in which not a lot happened, but this episode offered neither.

But dammit... "Hi, Aaron." They've got me in their clutches, those manipulative bastards Lindelof and Cuse.

So let's think about this for a minute. If we assume all of Desmond's visions come true -- not a safe assumption, since he thought Naomi was Penny -- then we know Claire and Aaron will get on the helicopter at some point. Presumably, this means Claire dies, and part of the deal regarding the Oceanic Six and their cover story is that Kate got to take Aaron off the island and pretend he was her baby. And, presumably, the six of them (does Aaron count as one of the Six, or are they really the Oceanic Seven?) came up with a lie that made Kate into the hero of their survival to help her with whatever legal issues arose when they got back to the mainland. But I still have no idea how this particular collection of people -- including one who went with Locke (Hurley), the leader of the other side (Jack), the first person to go to the freighter (Sayid) and someone who kept bouncing between the two camps (Kate) -- wound up being the ones to go home, the motives for the lie, etc.

That's a lot to digest in just two words, and enough to make me forgive what had been a relatively dull episode until then.

As I'm off this week -- and as I wasn't that inspired by "Eggtown" -- I'm going to move straight to the bullet points and then open up the discussion to you all:
  • "You just totally Scooby-Doo'ed me, didn't you?" Between that line, the clumsy wink and the "Xanadu" viewing, Hurley was a bundle of fun in this one.
  • I was worrying that Kate would go to all that trouble and then Miles would admit that he had no idea who she was.
  • While Ben continues to have Locke's number every minute of every day, I loved seeing Locke get over on somebody else with the hand grenade pacifier he gave Miles. I'm assuming it's a dud -- John couldn't risk blowing up a valuable asset -- but it was still damn funny. Also, did you catch that Locke says he's "responsible for the well-being of this island." Not "responsible for these people." "Responsible for the well-being of the island." Not that I trust the freighter people in the least, but Hurley, Sawyer, Claire and all the redshirts would be wise to run far away from the eggman.
  • On the other hand, why is Locke sleeping in Ben's bed, cooking in his kitchen, etc? I thought he considered all that stuff "cheating." Couldn't he at least camp out in the backyard or something?
  • Nice to see a return of the backgammon set, which we haven't really seen since early in season one.
  • I'm told the pop-up video version of the season premiere referred to the woman in Faraday's flashback as his "caretaker," and the three-card monte scene with Charlotte implies he has some memory problems, if not more serious brain injury. If nothing else, it's a good explanation for Jeremy Davies' usual twitchiness.
  • Who was that Korean couple studying a map on the beach? I feel like I should know them from somewhere, but where? Any ideas?
What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: 'American Idol' semi-finals preview

Today's column is a slightly expanded look at "American Idol" and the whole "pros from Dover" issue I talked about last week. Click here to read the full post

Monday, February 18, 2008

In Treatment, week four open thread

You're almost caught up to where I am with "In Treatment" -- I watched two or three of this week's episodes a while back -- so by the time I get done with my vacation, you may actually be ahead of me.

Only one post this week for all five episodes. I would ask that you respect the broadcast schedule, no matter how you're seeing the episodes -- i.e., don't talk about Alex until Tuesday night after 10, no talking about Sophie till Wednesday, etc. Please play nice with one another, okay? Click here to read the full post

Mad Men redux: I don't want to be a Dick

(Note: Because AMC is rerunning the first season of "Mad Men" every Sunday at midnight, and because a lot of people missed the show the first time around, I'm reposting my blog reviews for each episode the morning after. These are written as they were back in the summer/early fall; if I feel differently about anything in retrospect, I'll mention it in the comments. Also, while comments from both newbies and people who watched the first time are welcome, if you've seen these episodes before, please be vague about events in later episodes so as not to spoil things for the newcomers.)

Spoilers for episode five of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I hit the newsstand...

"Who is Donald Draper?"

That is indeed the question, young Adam Whitman, and will no doubt continue to be the central narrative pillar of "Mad Men." The show's not much on plot, but the mystery of Don's true identity -- not just his birth name, which we now know, but how and why he is who he is -- is a lot more interesting than any procedural cop story I watched in all the fall pilots.

In an episode where Jon Hamm has a lot of great moments, I think my favorite may be right at the end. Don's returned from paying off his brother to go away forever and is completely out of sorts. Betty tells him, "I want to talk to you about something, and I don't want you to get upset," and the look on his face is priceless, because there's such a long list of potential secrets Betty could have uncovered: the Dick Whitman thing, Midge, Rachel Menken, etc. No wonder Don's big brainstorm for their banking client was the secretive "Executive Account" -- if ever a man needed such a thing, it's Don, who has so much going on behind the scenes that his secretary assumes she's covering for one scandal (Midge) when it's something else entirely (Adam).

Though we now know for sure that the Dick Whitman incident on the train in episode three wasn't a case of mistaken identity, there's still a lot here that remains unclear. Did Dick/Don fake his death, or did Adam and the family just assume he was dead when he didn't come home after Korea? Is there identity theft going on, or just Don escaping the shame of his family, whatever that is? How long ago did he leave? Adam makes reference to seeing Dick/Don in his uniform, after his "death," when Adam was only 8. We know Don's service was in Korea (I have that straight from the creator's mouth, and there's a more explicit reference to it in an upcoming episode), which would put it less than a decade in the past, but Adam's clearly not a teenager. So either I misheard, the line was a continuity error, the producers mistakenly believed Jay Paulson could pass for 18, or something more complicated is going on.

Regardless, Adam is quite a bit younger than Don. He almost certainly can't have been involved in whatever horrible thing "mom" and "Uncle Mac" did to Don, is in fact so young that he doesn't seem to comprehend that something awful happened. So unless Don is keeping his old identity a secret for reasons beyond shame, his unsolicited payoff seems especially cruel. Maybe necessary, but cruel.

Meanwhile, I was inordinately delighted by the subplot about Kenny (who?) (exactly!) getting a short story published in The Atlantic Monthly, which promptly causes all the other young guys in the office to react like the high school prom queen realizing on her first in college that she's no longer the hottest girl around. Pete -- who just last week felt emasculated by the wealth and influence that comes with his family -- mocks Kenny as a nobody with a salesman for a father. Paul, pretentious, Orson Welles-impersonating Paul, can't believe an account rep (not a man from "creative") could accomplish such a thing, is taken aback that the premises for Kenny's two novels don't sound awful, then goes on a rant about all the brilliant ideas he has locked away in his oversized melon, like the one about "this crazy night I ended up in Jersey City with all these negroes and we all got along. Can you imagine how good that story is?" (Based on that logline, Paul? Probably not. Could be the premise for a Chris Tucker movie, for all I know.)

After going to great lengths last week to make Pete a sympathetic figure (as I said, to explain, if not apologize for him), the writers are back to using him as the selfish, tunnel-visioned little rat he was early on. Sending your wife back to see the ex-fiance who still holds a torch for her -- and guilting her into it by claiming it would "help make up for" her losing her virginity to that guy instead of Pete -- all to keep up with the Kennys of the world? Wow.

Last week, commenter Anthony Foglia asserted that the episode was the best so far: "One major benefit was that, unlike all the other episodes, it wasn't a particularly dated story. The time merely enhanced the drama, as opposed to being the root cause of it." That description applies to this subplot, and to much of the episode. The petty professional jealousy story translates easily to today -- though the achievement in question no doubt would have involved getting a short film into Sundance, or getting a million hits on the YouTubes or something you young people do. (Get off my lawn! Rarrr!) I can't speak to the Don stuff too much, simply because we don't know all the details of how and why he stopped being Dick Whitman, but there wasn't a lot of Frankeinstein-esque "Sixties baaaad!!!! Bread gooooood!!!" going on.

What did everybody else think?
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The Wire week 8 thread for the On Demand'ers

Talk about "Clarifications," the 8th episode of "The Wire," here. Do not talk about this episode in last night's review thread and do not discuss anything you might know about the season's final two episodes. If you can't play nice -- and feel free to e-mail me at asepinwall(at) if you're seeing problems -- I'll turn off comments and you all can wait until Sunday night to discuss the episode with everybody else. Click here to read the full post

Alan Sepinwall's week off

Happy President's Day, everybody! To celebrate our nation's leaders (and other things), I'm taking this week off from column writing and blogging -- mostly. Here's what you'll see on the blog over the next seven days:
  • A post for the On Demand viewers of "The Wire" to discuss the 8th episode (to go up shortly);
  • A link to tomorrow's column (which I wrote late last week) previewing the "American Idol" semi-finals and going a little more in-depth on the whole ringer issue;
  • A single "In Treatment" post (going up tonight), where you can discuss all five of this week's episodes (and I'll ask that people try to play nice and only discuss each episode after it's aired);
  • A "Lost" post at some point, though it may be short and/or I may just give up and put up an open thread, depending on how much TV/computer access I have;
  • A review Sunday night of the 8th episode of "The Wire."
That's it. No "Idol," no "Survivor," no "Terminator," no "Cupid" (I'll deal with the final two episodes of that next week), "Breaking Bad" or anything else. I'm not going to have much, if any, time to moderate the comments, so if I sense things are getting out of hand with spoilers or anything else (and feel free to e-mail me, asepinwall(at), if you think there's a problem), I may just shut down all comments until I'm back on the clock. So, please, play nicely with one another. Click here to read the full post