Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Shield, "Game Face": The river in Egypt

Spoilers for "The Shield" coming up just as soon as I pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time...

"I'm in this so deep, and I don't know how to get myself out." -Olivia
"You're talking to the right guy." -Vic

There's an awful lot of self-deception going on in "Game Face." Vic has always been a master at lying to himself, but his blinders are particularly strong tonight. He claims that nailing Pezuela "is a down-payment on me being able to live with myself," when even Shane (Shane!) can see that it won't change much of anything, and certainly won't bring Terry Crowley back to life. He refuses to even consider the possibility that Cassidy (who's been in trouble all season) might have played an active role in scoring the drugs for the party until he has the truth shoved in his face. And when Olivia confesses her own predicament, he suggests he's the best man to save her, when in fact he should know by now -- as Ronnie tried to explain to him a few episodes back -- that all he ever accomplishes is falling deeper into the quicksand.

Even the other characters are starting to be plagued with Vic's affliction. Danny actually lets herself believe that Vic might sign himself out of their son's life, Claudette refuses to see how her lupus might be an ongoing liability, and Dutch convinces himself he can outsmart Lloyd, when the closest he tends to come to matching wits with a serial killer is when he picks up a stray cat. (Claudette was the one who got Kleavon to confess, after all.)

But getting back to Vic's own little circle of self-deception, what's really stuck out to me in these last two episodes is how effective Julien has been. While the rest of the Strike Team is running around trying to put out Armenian and Mexican-related brushfires, Julien is doing the actual job, and doing it well. (So well, in fact, that in the previous episode the others had to work around his effectiveness to solve one of their extra-curricular problems.) For all that Vic likes to talk and talk about how all the crimes he commits are in some way in service to the people of Farmington, maybe he should take a step back and pay attention to what a cop can get done when he's not constantly trying to escape the latest hangman's noose.

In some ways, Claudette (and, to a lesser extent, Dutch) served that purpose in earlier seasons. Their cases weren't exactly the same type -- where Julien's doing gang intervention with the rest of the Strike Team, Dutch and Claudette had to contend with rapists and serial killers and the like -- but we still got to contrast Claudette's dogged, by-the-books approach with Vic's reckless, extra-legal tactics. Neither approach has really put a dent into Farmington quality of life, but at least Claudette hasn't left so many other problems in her wake.

I had nearly forgotten about Kleavon. Though his story was featured so heavily in season five, it was overshadowed (as most "Shield" b-stories are) by Vic's stuff (in that year, Vic being hounded by Kavanaugh), and then it didn't come up at all during season six. This was a nice reminder of just what an evil creep he was, as well as bringing home how Claudette's pride may be getting in her way here. Yes, we know that in an ideal world she should still be able to do her job without having her faculties questioned, but "The Shield" takes place in a particularly non-ideal corner of an already flawed world, and this could keep coming up. At least she had the presence of mind to accept Dutch's suggestion from last week to make Danny her administrative aide and emotional backstop.

Kleavon's presence, along with the return of Dutch's profiler friend, also helped kick the Lloyd storyline up a notch. While there's still a part of me that wishes Dutch would be going into fresher territory, the subplot felt much stronger this week than it did last time, in part because of the various expert opinions Dutch was getting, in part because Lloyd was allowed to be more overtly monstrous, and Kyle Gallner (as any "Veronica Mars" fans knows) plays that particular color very well.

Some other thoughts on "Game Face":

• Though the show has been on the air for seven seasons, the events of each season tend to run so closely together that, for the characters, only two or three years are supposed to have passed. Ordinarily, that's fine, but there are occasional bumps like Aceveda's political career. From brand-new police captain to city councilman to mayoral candidate in 2.5 years seems a bit much.

• Speaking of weird timelines, Vic must have a really good body shop, given how quickly he got the Charger back after crashing it into the Army Surplus store in the season premiere.

• This is, I think, the fourth episode Michael Chiklis has directed, and it's a mark of how strong the house style Clark Johnson and Scott Brazil established is that you can never tell when an unusual person is behind the camera. (See also the David Mamet and Frank Darabont episodes, which were terrific but still felt wholly "Shield"-like.) Chiklis (and the rest of the production team) did an especially good job on one of the series' rare car chases. I'm generally not a fan of TV show car chases, as there usually isn't the time or money to do anything interesting with one of the most overused cliches in all of filmed entertainment. But this was very effectively-done, with all the POV shots and use of the revving engines on the soundtrack.

• One particularly clumsy bit: Danny expositing to Vic (and us) about the quit claim paperwork. We would have been better off having it explained in the previouslies so we could get right to the meat of that scene.

What did everybody else think?
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Terminator, "Allison from Palmdale": Who am I?

Quick spoilers for last night's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" coming up just as soon as I stare at a balloon...

Given what an odd character Cameron is (and what a wonderfully odd performance Summer Glau gives as her), it makes some sense that the first real Cameron spotlight episode would be such a strange, off-format hour. No Derek, no real action, even in the flashbacks(*), just Cameron disappearing inside her own head, until we discovered those weren't her memories at all, but those of the titular Allison from Palmdale(**).

(*) Is it a flashback if it takes place in the chronological future, even though, thanks to time-travel, it takes place in a specific character's past?

(**) Have they previously established that SkyNet has the ability to download human memories into Terminator brains? And do you think the episode was in some way a cheat because the flashback POV really wasn't Cameron's?

I want to get back to the issue of the show's timeline that we've been talking about the last few weeks. It's been established at various points in the franchise that when Future John sends Kyle Reese back in time, he knows that he's sending Kyle to father him and then die, and that Future John was so interested in befriending Kyle in the first place because he knew he was his father. But with all the time travel of the later films and now this show, exactly what does Future John know? Does he have memories of what's happening here in 2008 (which would suggest SkyNet is still inevitable) and, if so, did he specifically recruit Allison to join his inner circle because he knew SkyNet would replace her with Cameron, whom he would then reprogram and send back to protect himself as a teenager?

Excuse me while I go take some Advil.

I have to think that either Cameron no longer has the Kill John Connor directive, or that if she's secretly evil, there's some other directive that's even more important, because she's had plenty of opportunities to kill him. On the other hands, the TV version of Terminators seem a lot cagier and more interested in long-term planning, as evidenced by whatever Shirley Manson's doing. (And is the little girl supposed to be the daughter of the real Weaver, whom Manson replaced, or is she a Terminator, too?) So I don't know.

Sorry if my thoughts on this one feel as unfocused as Cameron was throughout it. I promise I don't want to put anybody's head on a pike.

What did everybody else think?
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Sepinwall on TV: 'Friday Night Lights' season three preview

In today's column, I talk about the new season of "Friday Night Lights," primarily repeating material from my post last week explaining why I decided to review the season now rather than waiting for the NBC run. I also talk a bit about some of the storylines in the first episode -- all of which Jason Katims covered at press tour, but which you might want to avoid if you're completely spoiler-phobic. Click here to read the full post

Monday, September 29, 2008

Heroes, "One of Us, One of Them": Shoot the hostage

I was going to write another long rant about how "Heroes" has become incredibly dumb even by its own dopey standards -- especially involving any decision anyone makes about Sylar -- but then I decided I didn't have the energy, or the interest, to say it all again. I'm going to bed. Feel free to complain without me, and maybe I'll jump in on the comments tomorrow. Click here to read the full post

HIMYM, "The Best Burger in New York": Heads, tails or pickles

I probably won't get to "Heroes" until sometime midway through tomorrow at the earliest. (Please hold all comments, even vague ones, until then.) In the meantime, spoilers for a burger-iffic episode of "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I put on some Terence Trent D'Arby...

My dad was a scientist. He worked on the team that developed Valium, and was a leader on the team that developed Versed. He had an inquisitive mind, one that I inherited (though I apply it to a completely different -- and far more frivolous -- field), and he believed in being thorough about data, not just with his work, but with life.

One day when I was 11 or 12, I had a doctor's visit somewhere in lower Manhattan. It was a school/work day, and so Dad took the day off to take me. When we were done, we decided to stay in the city to get something to eat. Dad asked me what I was in the mood for; I said pizza. Now, if you've ever been to Manhattan (or watched Seinfeld, or seen "Homer Simpson vs. The City of New York"), you've probably noticed that half the pizzerias are named Ray's, or Famous Ray's, or Famous Original Ray's, or some combination thereof. The way Dad would explain it to me, there really was an original (lowercase), famous (ditto) Ray's Pizza that was so beloved, and yet so untrademark-able that every other place in town adopted some combination of the name in the hopes of fooling people into going there.

"Why don't we," he suggested with a grin, "see if we can find that actual first Ray's?"

I wasn't Robin levels of hungry yet, so I agreed, and we began our search the old-fashioned way: we started driving around in circles, and at every red light, my dad or I would lean out the window and ask pedestrians if they had any idea where the real, famous, original, classic, vintage Ray's was. Even though it was the '80s (the angry, pre-Giuliani New York), and even though we were clearly a pair of suburban dorks in an Oldsmobile station wagon, the natives were surprisingly friendly and helpful -- no doubt because they all wanted to prove that they were smarter and more New York-y than the rest, and did, in fact, know the location of the sacred, holy first Ray's.

The problem, of course, was that they kept giving us different locations; I think we went a half hour at one point without getting the same suggestion twice. But Dad made me dutifully log each one, and even though the locals couldn't agree on the exact spot, a specific neighborhood kept coming up, so we headed there and kept asking. Even there, we didn't get universal agreement, but after we got up to maybe 7 or 8 people mentioning the same place, we decided we were hungry enough to skip past some of the traditional experimental protocols and just eat at that place, dammit.

It was, without a doubt, the best slice of pizza I have ever eaten. After a couple of bites, we looked at each other and Dad said, "I don't know if this is the place all the other ones are named after, but it should be." We wrote down the location on a piece of paper, promised we would come back whenever we were in this part of the city again... and then I lost it. I want to say the place was on 13th and 8th, but I couldn't remember for sure, and the opportunity never presented itself for us to look again.

I tell you that story not because it's so unique, but because it isn't. Everyone I know around here has a story like it -- if not about pizza, then about a sandwich, or homemade ice cream, or french fries, or what have you. Maybe you went to the place once a long time ago, maybe you only hear about it, but you look -- you always look -- and sometimes, if you're lucky, you find it again.

And because of that, "The Best Burger in New York" really resonated with me. It wasn't the funniest "HIMYM" ever -- probably wasn't even as funny as the Barney half of the season premiere -- but there are times when the show really clicks because it feels like it's telling a story out of my life, even though it's the kind of story many people (including, presumably, Bays and Thomas) have lived through on their own.

And there were, in fact, a bunch of funny bits: Robin's ever-increasing despair over not getting to eat ("I will eat your hand!"), the discussion of the Underpants Radius, Neil Patrick Harris getting to ever-so-briefly bust out his Regis impression in front of the real Regis ("I don't know where it is, Regis! I swear!"), the notion that America is obsessed with a game show about coin-flipping (it's no dumber than "Deal or No Deal," which is essentially "guess how many fingers I have behind my back"), and Lily being offended that Marshall could offer such an eloquent defense of the hamburger yet needed to download his wedding vows off the internet.

One minor complaint: all the talk about how gloriously dirty and full of character New York was when Ted and Marshall first moved there is punctured by the fact that New York had already gotten the full Giuliani/Disney/corporate makeover by 2000.

What did everybody else think?
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Life, "Find Your Happy Place": Boxing day

Spoilers for the "Life" season two premiere coming up just as soon as I ship a kumquat...

"Life" is one of those shows that took a while to grow on me last season. I liked Damian Lewis from the beginning, but it felt like creator Rand Ravich was trying too hard to show how Charlie Crews was different from your average cop show hero -- He loves fruit! Modern technology baffles him! He quotes Zen koans! -- to the point where Crews seemed less a character than a collection of tics. But a few weeks in, Ravich started taking a more Zen approach to showcasing Crews' quirks, allowing them to simply be as opposed to being in our face all the time. And once they relaxed on the fruit and the cell phone jokes and Reese rolling her eyes every time Crews opened his mouth, the show was markedly improved. I don't watch a lot of crime procedurals anymore, but "Life" quickly established itself as something I didn't want to miss. The final pre-strike episode, with Crews going rogue to find the man who committed the murders Charlie went to prison for, was one of the best hours of TV I watched last year.

So I was disappointed to see the show take a step backwards with tonight's premiere. Fruit references up the wazoo (oranges, kumquats, and even a request for mango ice cream), Crews (who's now been out of prison for months, if not a year) is still confused by something as prevalent as a motion sensor faucet, and while Reese is now on the same wavelength with her partner, Donal Logue has been brought in as the new boss(*) so the show can still have someone who acts confused by Charlie's MO every week.

(*) I like Logue a lot, by the way -- "Tao of Steve" is one of the most-rewatched DVDs in the Sepinwall household, and Jimmy the cabdriver's discourses on both the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and Alanis' "Ironic" are brilliant -- and don't think Robin Weigert (who'll be around on occasion as a detective) was particularly well-used last year as the boss. So I'm not unhappy to see him here; I just want him to have more to do than asking what the hell Crews is talking about.

Now, I'm sure part of this is the whole re-freshman phenomenon -- "Life" has been off the air for so long, and was so low-rated to begin with, that this is essentially like a second pilot episode. Airing after "Heroes" will likely give it its biggest audience ever, and I can understand the desire to do a "Life 101" kind of episode for the newbies. But earlier this evening, "Chuck" was able to pull off something similar in a way that improved upon what had been happening last season, as opposed to seeming like backsliding.

I've also seen next Monday's episode, which isn't quite as dumbed-down, so I'm not too worried. And there were still some fine moments here, from the usual beautiful/bizarre crime scene tableaus (I especially liked the steamer trunk on the airport runway) to Crews rescuing Rachel by using Kyle Hollis' crazy "ring of fire" talk.

So no panic; just minor disappointment. I'm skeptical of the show's survival chances once it's only on Friday nights, but I'm glad for any extra hours I get to spend watching Lewis do his thing.

What did everybody else think?
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Chuck, "Chuck vs. the First Date": I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around

Spoilers for the "Chuck" season two premiere coming up just as soon as I go on a hunger strike to prepare myself for a trip to Five Guys, then learn a language only cool people know...

I sang the general praises of all things "Chuck" in this morning's column, and I don't need to repeat those points -- that the different parts of Chuck's world are better integrated with each other, that the spy stuff is loads better thanks in part to the guest stars -- at length here. Instead, I want to go into some specifics on "Chuck vs. the First Date," which worked splendidly both as a reintroduction to the show for newbies (or people who forgot what happened almost a year ago) and as a kick-ass episode.

And maybe we should start with the ass-kicking. I complained from time to time about the fight choreography last season. The Emmys disagreed with me, as the show got its sole Emmy for stunt work, but I thought the various action scenes here were significantly improved, particularly the climax with Sarah flying through the air to kick Mr. Colt and Casey once again catching Chuck as he fell. (Which sounds horribly cheesey as I write it.) Someone built like Yvonne Strahovski should have no business staying in a fight with someone built like Michael Clarke Duncan if they both know what they're doing, and in the end Colt did have his way with her (both on the roof and at the dumpling restaurant), but the wire-work made the brief period where Sarah was hanging in look a lot more impressive than almost any of last year's fights.

Beyond that, though, the climax worked because it was one of the few times since the pilot (when the computer porn virus shut down the bomb) where Chuck's geek knowledge wound up saving the day, this time with the payoff of the seemingly random earlier scenes where Morgan discussed his new "Call of Duty" specs. Too often last year, the spy stories fizzled out at the very end, which would make the entire plot feel unsatisfying even if there was good material earlier in the episode. This climax felt well-planned, and it worked.

Beyond that, "Chuck vs. the First Date" was the funniest episode I think the show's ever done. I could do an entire post just listing all the things that made me laugh so long and so loud that I had to rewind the DVD so I could find out what I missed. What the hell, I'm going to list them anyway:

• The brilliant parallel use of Huey Lewis songs to show Chuck at his most ecstatic and then his most depressed.

• The even more brilliant use of Flight of the Conchords' "Foux Du Fafa" for our first glimpse of Sarah at her new place of employment. (More on that at the end of the post.)

• Chuck's horror at seeing what God gave Captain Awesome down there -- and, even worse, seeing his sister nekkid.

• The getting-dressed montage, which was a call back to the pilot but had some added value, including shirtless Chuck for the ladies, plus the comic brilliance of Casey winking at the Ronald Reagan target. (Also, putting Casey in the montage made clear that Casey is just as important to the show as the other two, when he was more of a third wheel in the early going until Adam Baldwin's angry genius asserted itself.)

• Captain Awesome responding to Ellie's request for more romance with "Tank's empty, babe."

• Chuck finally calling out Casey on the awful action movie kiss-off lines. ("Hey, maybe I'll say this after I crash through the window!")

• The entire job interview montage, from Anna and Jeff both putting their feet in Chuck's pantleg to Lester handing out a copy of his own WikiPedia page to Morgan handling Jeff's disgusting resume with tongs.

• Morgan turning the supply cage into Thunderdome, particularly the candid "One of them will be the assistant manager, and one of them will be Jeff!" introduction.

• The "Cool Hand Luke" homage at the end with Morgan lifting Chuck's spirits with the promise of Jeff eating 90 Twinkies. (Not as funny, but still a wicked pop culture homage: a poisoned Casey crawling through his apartment like Sean Connery after he gets shot in "Untouchables.")

So, so, so much comedy goodness, as well as some decent pathos with Chuck's chance at a normal life (or what he thinks is his chance) slipping through his fingers, and a reasonable explanation for why Chuck is still the Intersect after all this time. And, as I said in the column, I'm glad to see Chuck being less of a spaz both in his relationship with Sarah and in the spy work. Yes, he still gets held out of a window and trips over his own feet, but he figures out a way to save the day and also is reasonably charming before Colt's people interrupt the dumpling date. Chuck needs to grow, even if in small increments, for the show to keep from getting stale, and they've accomplished that.

All in all, a great first effort, and I'm just as pleased with the next two.

A few other random thoughts:

• Schwartz and Fedak originally wanted Chuck Norris to play a big bad guy this year -- in an episode that would, of course, be called "Chuck vs. Chuck" -- but they couldn't land their white whale. Still, when Colt started limbering up to kill Chuck, I couldn't help but think of the best scene of Norris' career, when he and Bruce Lee do some similar stretching before preparing to kill each other in "Return of the Dragon." (If you have the time, I highly endorse following the YouTube link. It is disgusting, it is fascinating, it is, to quote Devin, awesome.)

• The entire supporting cast -- including Big Mike, Captain Awesome, and the rest of the Nerd Herd -- makes their way into a slightly longer version of the still sweet main title sequence.

• Big Mike either found a way to fix his old, duct-taped marlin, or he ordered a new one from eBay.

• I have only one real complaint: like Chuck, I miss the Wienerlicious. Yvonne certainly looks great in the Orange Orange (or, as they call it behind the scenes, the Double-O) uniform, but the brilliance of the Wienerlicious outfit was that it was both hot and ridiculous at the same time. The Double-O uniform is just hot, and while I'd ordinarily never complain about hotness, the added ridiculousness was what made the old costume so memorable.

What did everybody else think?
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Skins, "Effy": Love thy sister

Spoilers for the penultimate episode of "Skins" season one coming up just as soon as I sculpt my food...

One of the things that's really drawn me to "Skins" is its ability to create a mood through its visual style. Not a lot of TV producers have the time (or directorial talent) to do that properly, so they put most of the burden on the dialogue. But "Skins" always has one or two sequences per episode that are striking both for their beauty and for the way they put you completely in a character's head.

Here, it was the two party scenes, first at the warehouse, then at the sports clubs. The warehouse party is like magic -- kids with this huge space all to themselves, zipping around (or, in the case of Effy and her boyfriend, flying around) -- while the sports club rave appears to Tony to be a descent into Hell itself. Really effectively done on both points.

I'm not sure I feel, though, about Josh's revenge and Sid's reconciliation with Tony. Getting back to the question of how enamored the "Skins" writers are with Tony, we have an entire episode where he deservedly suffers for all the crap he's pulled on the people around him, but then Josh takes things so far (hurting Effy in the process) that Tony begins to look sympathetic again. You know, "Sure, Tony's a rascal, but he'd never stoop that low, right?" Sid being nice to Tony at a moment of family crisis speaks well of Sid, but the last 10 minutes or so of the episode felt like the show trying to take Tony off the hook for everything.

And that makes me uncomfortable, no matter how visually impressive the hour was or how good Nicholas Hoult is as Tony.

What did everybody else think?
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Sepinwall on TV: 'Chuck' season two review

In today's column, I am very happy to see new and improved episodes of "Chuck":
What’s the opposite of the sophomore slump? The sophmore surge? Sophomore surprise? Whatever you want to call it, "Chuck" is experiencing it — big-time. An amusing enough diversion during a brief pre-strike run last fall, it’s found a higher gear at the start of season two. All the entertaining pieces that didn’t quite click with one another are now working in harmony, and there may not be a show on television that makes me happier right now.
To read the full thing, click here.

I know that the season premiere has been available for a week on Hulu, but I'm going to ask those of you who have already watched it to refrain from any kind of spoilers in the comments to this post. I'll have a separate episode review set to go at 9 o'clock, and we can talk specifics there. Click here to read the full post

DVR alert: 'Life' comes back tonight

Just a reminder, as I wasn't able to do a separate column on it for today's paper: "Life" begins its second season tonight at 10. For the next two weeks of the season, NBC's going to air two different episodes a week, one after "Heroes," one in the regular Friday at 10 timeslot. After that, "My Own Worst Enemy" gets the post-"Heroes" slot, and "Life" hopefully settles down for a long and fruit-ful (get it? see what I did there? because of the fruit? oh, never mind...) run in the old "Homicide" Friday slot.

As with "Chuck," I know that the premiere has been up on Hulu for a week, but we're going to avoid spoilers until tonight at 11, when I'll have a separate post ready to go. This post is here because I wanted to prevent a lot of frustrated "Oh, man, I forgot it was on tonight!" comments. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mad Men, "Six Month Leave": Be careful what you wish for

Spoilers for "Mad Men" season two, episode nine, coming up just as soon as I give blood...

"She was a movie star who had everything, and everybody, and she threw it away. But, hey, if you want to be sad..." -Roger Sterling

All throughout "Six Month Leave," characters wonder how Marilyn Monroe, the most famous, beautiful, successful, lusted-after woman in America, could have come to such a terrible, early end. As Roger says, she had everything and it still couldn't make her happy. If Marilyn couldn't be happy with everything, what chance do the rest of us poor slobs have?

Of course, with the benefit of history, we know that Marilyn only seemed to have everything, that she was treated badly by men throughout her life, that she was a very damaged creature who was almost certainly going to have a bad end. She got everything she ever wanted, then found out it wasn't nearly as wonderful as she had hoped -- just as so many of the "Mad Men" characters find out here.

Don and Betty have already realized that the marriage they both thought was going to be so perfect has been anything but. Roger, who has been complaining about his marriage forever, finally works up the nerve to leave Mona for the much younger and (to his eye) more interesting Jane, and realizes after the ugly scene in front of Don's office that this won't be the perfect escape he expected. Similarly, Jane gets rich and powerful Roger to leave his wife, then has to be confronted by the reality of that. Peggy gets another promotion, but in a terrible way where she'll never be able to feel entirely good about it.

And, in the episode's biggest tragedy, Freddie Rumsen realizes that Sterling Cooper isn't the alcoholic haven he thought it was, and is cast out into the world without a safety net.

There are a lot of parallels between Freddie's situation and Don and Betty's marriage, and not just because Freddie and Betty both wind up passed out drunk on a couch at roughly the same point in the episode. Everybody at Sterling Cooper knew exactly who and what Freddie was, but they didn't care so long as he could function just enough to do the job. And even when he was on the verge of wetting his pants, soaked in sweat and barely able to stand, you saw that he was still able to deliver the Samsonite pitch perfectly from memory. This is who Freddie is; no one had illusions about it. When Roger calls the pants-wetting incident "conduct unbefitting," Don, in disbelief, asks, "Of Freddie Rumsen?" But that urine-soaked pair of pants was a visual reminder of what everyone at Sterling Cooper tried so hard to ignore, something so obvious that Roger finally felt compelled to act.

In a similar way, Betty has always known, deep down, that Don wasn't faithful to her, but until Jimmy Barrett grabbed her by the arm and forced her to take a long hard look at her husband and his wife next to each other, she could pretend everything was okay. Once she saw Don and Bobbie's connection -- as clear to her as Freddie's pants were to the secretarial pool -- she had to act.

Freddie's firing led to one of my favorite "Mad Men" scenes of all time, as Don and Roger try to break the news to Freddie as gently -- and drunkenly -- as possible, and Roger offers a counter to every one of Freddie's attempts to save himself. Everyone starts off telling the common, silently acknowledged lie that this will, in fact, be the six month leave of the title, that Freddie will be paid in full for his time away and be given the chance to come back. Freddie, appearing to take this all remarkably well (though we'll find out later how well he isn't taking it), good-naturedly insists he can do better; Roger shuts it down with his brilliant, "There's a line, Freddie -- and you wet it" joke. Freddie tries to change the subject to Roger's father (who founded the firm with Bert Cooper), hoping to play on nostalgia and Roger's awareness of his own father's excessive drinking to keep his job, but Roger just uses that as an excuse to distract Freddie with compliments about his war heroics. And then, when Freddie starts to make peace with the situation, tries to sound optimistic about life on the road by tying it into his childhood as the son of a traveling salesman who moved the family from city to city, Roger doesn't even let him enjoy the moment with his curt, "Meanwhile, here we are: New York." It's just a masterfully-written scene by Matthew Weiner and Andre and Maria Jacquemetton.

And after an interlude at an illegal underground casino where Don gets to take a swing at Jimmy (more on that in a bit), Freddie has to face up to the reality that this is likely the start of a long downward slide for him. He can't stop drinking, doesn't want to stop drinking, and lucked into working for years at a place that enabled him, provided him a safety net and didn't seem to care that he was three sheets to the wind half the time. Freddie's question about who he is if he doesn't go into that office every day could be uttered by anyone who just got fired, but to someone who suspects he's about to be unemployable, it's a much scarier notion. His insistence on telling Don "good-bye" rather than "good night," and the look on his face as he said it, makes it clear just what Freddie thinks of his future.

Don can be a bastard in many ways, but he has this uncanny knack to feel empathy for other people's pain so long as he didn't cause it. He doesn't feel bad for what he's done to Betty, but he does feel for Freddie. He tries to save Freddie's job, and when that fails, he at least chews out the chipmunks for their (accurate) Freddie Rumsen impressions. Again, Don has a loyal streak (see his attempt to save the Mohawk account), but he also despises gossip -- particularly since he knows there are so many things that people could say about him behind his back, if they only knew. Note that the breaking point between him and Bobbie was when she let him know that she and other women swap stories about his cocksmanship; he doesn't want to be talked about, and therefore gets upset when he discovers a man somewhat like him getting the same treatment.

Don also feels, oddly, for Mona -- or, at least, he's too surprised by her appearance, and her accusation that he told Roger to leave her, to go into denial mode the way he always does with Betty. Roger used him, both in getting with Don's secretary and in making Don the excuse for walking out on Mona, and so I imagine Don will continue to be inclined to feel bad for Mona while also feeling furious with Roger. You don't cross Don Draper and come out unscathed. Last time, Don was content just to make Roger puke; what'll he do this time?

There were several sly references in the episode to Rachel Menken -- Jane buys Don the shirts from Menken's, and Don takes the name of Rachel's husband as his pseudonym at the casino -- to remind us how much she's still on Don's mind. In many ways, Rachel (the woman Don truly wants) is to Bobbie (the pale imitation Don settled for) as Joan is to Jane. And I wonder if, for Jane, Don is the one she really wanted. It's clear that she's buying him the shirts as something more than a secretary, and yet the episode's climax also makes it clear that she's been sleeping with Roger for a while (probably going back to when he saved her job). So is she just hedging her bets by cozying up to the married guy who's already separated from his wife, or would she rather have the younger, more virile Don to the guy with two heart attacks on his rap sheet?

While all this drama is going on at Sterling Cooper, Betty's wandering around Casa Draper wearing one of Livia Soprano's old housecoats while she self-medicates with wine. She looks at the kids like they're not even hers, obsesses on the one locked drawer in Don's desk (knowing Don, the only thing in there is money, but nothing to incriminate him in adultery), and is so eager to be rid of riding pal Sarah Beth and her talk of marriage that she maneuvers her into a lunch date with young Arthur Case. As far as Betty's concerned, a Sarah Beth/Arthur affair would be a big win for her: it keeps Sarah Beth from bothering her and it allows Betty (who has contemplated affairs but never goes through with it) to feel moral superiority over both Sarah Beth and Arthur.

Like Don, I'm wondering how long this is going to go on. Not to bring everything back to "The Sopranos," but when Carmela threw Tony out of the house, they stayed split up for about a season before Carmela realized she had no other option but to take the cheating SOB back. But from a storytelling perspective, at least Carmela was firmly integrated into Tony's world in such a way that they could tell stories about her even when she wasn't interacting with Tony himself. Betty is so far off to the side on "Mad Men" (January Jones jokes that she only ever sees the other actors at awards shows and press conferences) that it's hard to see her remaining a vital part of the series if she and Don stay broken up. And yet watching that scene in the foyer, when Betty finally recognizes how easily and how well Don lies -- "Jesus, did you just think that up?" -- makes it hard to imagine her taking him back anytime soon.

Finally on our list of people finding out success isn't all it's cracked up to be, we have Peggy, who has now leapfrogged all the other junior copywriters (it's clear from that final scene with Duck that she now outranks Paul), but in a lousy way. Freddie, as she reminds Pete, is the man who plucked her from secretarial pool obscurity, and now she gets to continue her climb up the ladder at Freddie's expense. Peggy has obviously been paying attention to her lessons from Don -- when Freddie tries to apologize for the pants-wetting incident, she tells him, "It's over. There's no reason to talk about it." -- but she still retains enough humanity to feel guilty about this.

(Not feeling any humanity at all? Pete, who continues to be less a person than an incredible simulation of one. Note that, in the dress rehearsal for the Samsonite meeting, Salvatore asks "Boy or girl?" as a genuine question, but Pete's response -- "That's good!" -- shows that he just views it as a strategically useful bit of small talk. And what is small talk, after all, if not imitation human behavior?)

And now that Peggy has continued her rapid ascent, from Don's secretary to the number two spot in Creative in less than two years, how happy will she be? She had just started to achieve some equilibrium with the boys in recent episodes; are they going to wind up resenting her just as much as the secretaries do?

Some other thoughts on "Six Month Leave":

• You know I've been complaining about the lack of Roger all season, but we got him back in a huge way here, with more Slattery goodness and one-liners -- "Many's the time I dreamed of finding you like this" -- than the rest of the season combined, it seemed.

• I had been assuming for a while now that people around the office, or at least Don, knew that Duck was a recovering alcoholic, based on both his refusal to drink and all the rumors about his career meltdown in London. But, no: they think he's a teetotaler. Interesting, and of course that means Don didn't really appreciate Duck's comment about how covering for Freddie isn't helping Freddie.

• Do you think Weiner had Peggy replacing Freddie planned all along when he introduced Freddie last year and made him the one to recognize Peggy's talent? Seems too perfect to be an accident.

• Could anyone make out the title of the book Betty was reading before she passed out?

• Patrick Fischler hasn't been given a lot of actually funny things to say whenever Jimmy is supposed to be "on," but I did like his attempt to recover his dignity after Don's punch by asking Floyd Patterson how well he took it. (For what it's worth, by the way, Roger was right and Freddie was wrong about Patterson's boxing career; in less than two months after this episode takes place, Sonny Liston would knock Patterson out in the first round to become the new heavyweight champ, before eventually losing the belt himself to some guy by the name of Clay.)

• Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. The movie version of "Gypsy" didn't come out until November of that year, so presumably Sarah Beth's aversion to white gloves comes from having seen the Broadway version, which debuted in 1959.

• A nice touch in an episode with so many Marilyn Monroe references: when Don and Roger are drinking at the bar after their casino escapade -- right before Don, drunk, lets down his guard enough to mention his father's name and to reveal his "move forward" life philosophy to Roger -- the camera lingers for a moment on the JFK bust at the end of the bar.

• Poor Sally and Bobby. Poor, poor Sally and Bobby. That is all I have to say about that.

One potential scheduling note before I turn it over to you smart people: I may be taking a few days off early this coming week, which may in turn throw the rest of my schedule off enough to prevent me from getting next week's review done in as timely a fashion as usual. At worst, hopefully, I'll have it done by sometime on Monday.

What did everybody else think?
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Dexter, "Our Father": Killer cravings

Spoilers for the "Dexter" season three premiere coming up just as soon as I go to the dentist...

This is going to be a weird review, and possible a weird season of reviews for me with this show. Like I said in my column on Friday, and as I hope I made clear all through season two, this is a show I have loved and passionately championed for two years, and even though there's not one thing I can put my finger on that's wrong with the new season, what I've seen so far has frustrated me. In fact, there were moments in various episodes -- good moments, with Michael C. Hall saying and doing interesting, Dexter-like things -- where I really had to fight the urge to put something else on instead.

Maybe this ennui goes away the deeper into the season I get, maybe not. I wrote a few times last year that "Dexter" feels like a show that should have a very limited shelf life, that the concept and character aren't built to run for season after season. And though there's no shark-jumping or fridge-nuking or Landry-killering to be found in "Our Father" or any of the next few episodes, I can't help thinking that I've seen as much of Dexter Morgan's world as I need to.

If that feeling solidifies as I see more episodes, I may just taper off on these reviews, or simply shift to open thread posts at a certain point in the season. After all, the episodic discussion last year was pretty good with or without me involved, and until or unless I can articulate my unease better, it may be pointless to keep weighing in on every episode. I don't want to be a weekly killjoy if I can't find anything to complain about other than the show's continued existence, you know?

Now, for some specific thoughts on the themes of "Our Father" as opposed to my malaise:

Can Dexter change?

That's the question he asks himself at the end of the episode, and the question Harry asked himself years ago. Harry decided the answer was no, which has led to the Dexter we see before us today. But Harry's long gone, and we've seen that Dexter is capable of doing and being more than either he or Harry ever imagined. His relationship with Rita, started as a cover identity to support his true passion, has become real. He cares for her, cares for her kids, even if he insists to himself (and to us, his unseen confessors) that he's incapable of feeling anything but a need to kill. But so long as things stayed status quo, Dexter was never going to have to challenge Harry's (lack of) belief in him, and his own self-doubt. But with Rita apparently pregnant with Dexter's child, things are going to change, and Dexter's going to have no choice but to change with them. And once he realizes that he can change, what then? What does he become at that point? More normal, or less?

The end of last season had Dexter promising to explore new rituals, new ways of killing, but as we return to his life, he seems to be going about things the same way as always until he accidentally kills Oscar Prado, youngest brother of powerful Miami DA Miguel Prado, played by the mustachioed Jimmy Smits. As Dexter says, he's never killed anyone before that he didn't "vet" according to the Code of Harry. For most of his life, the Code has successfully channeled his psychosis into the most socially constructive path possible, short of incarceration or death. Dexter has convinced himself that he has to kill according to the Code; what happens if he discovers that he's not very troubled by going off-mission? He doesn't join Deb at the bar to toast Harry because he wants to let go of the old man; does that mean letting go of the Code, too? And how many bodies get dropped if that happens?

(I should say, by the way, that I'm not fake-speculating based on what I know is coming in the next few episodes; these are the thoughts I had when I watched "Our Father.")

Again, these are promising directions, and even if I wasn't in the tank for Smits based on "NYPD Blue," I would find him a very good choice to play off of Michael C. Hall this season. But for whatever reason, I'm having a hard time stirring up any emotions about it all -- which feels oddly, disturbingly Dexter-like.

A few other random thoughts:

• With Doakes' unfortunate passing, it makes sense that Angel would wind up as the new sergeant, though all of LaGuerta's talk about the responsibilities of that rank never seemed to apply to how Doakes carried himself. Taking Doakes' place as a body in the squad, meanwhile, is Desmond Harrington as Quinn, the object of Internal Affairs' interest. As always with "Dexter," all the office politics are only necessary in that they prevent the producers from overworking Michael C. Hall, but they always pale in comparison to the main storylines. That said, I did like David Zayas and Jennifer Carpenter's drunken bonding at the bar.

• Not a fan of Deb's much-discussed new haircut. Anyone else?

• I laughed at Masuka asking Dexter, of all people, to proofread his article on the Bay Harbor Butcher. He has no idea how perfect that choice is.

What did everybody else think?
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Almost forgot: My Name Is Earl

In doing yesterday's grab-bag post, I forgot that I had seen both of this season's new episodes of "My Name Is Earl." I forgot in part because I watched them both about a week ago on a review screener, but also because neither was strong enough to stand out in my memory after a day or two. Still, some brief thoughts coming up just as soon as I shove a squid in someone's face...

Greg Garcia has talked about how he wanted to bring the show back to its roots after last year's Prison Earl and Coma Earl experiments. The thing is, while the coma episodes were awful, the earlier prison arc featured some of the sharper outings the show had done in a while. It was a nice combination of the predictable List elements and some format-breaking surprises.

The two episodes opening this season were very much in the vein of the early days of "Earl," but I don't know that this is something to aspire to. Basic stories of "Earl" crossing items off his list have never done a lot for me, in part because they squander Jason Lee's talents by asking him to do nothing but act genial and confused. There are going to be funny moments here and there (in this case, I laughed at Randy's reaction to the prop squid, and at Earl and his dad getting beat up by David Paymer's wife in the stretch pants), but not enough to make it a must-watch, especially now that there isn't a show I care about airing immediately after it. (I haven't watched "Kath & Kim" yet, and could wind up liking it, but the clips and what I've heard from other critics isn't filling me with confidence.)

What did everybody else think? You glad for the back-to-basics approach, or are you as fatigued with "Earl" as I am?
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Patches, billboards and memorials

Time for the first grab-bag post of the season. Quick-hit spoilers for, in order, "ER," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I patch over a rival fantasy football team so I can bolster my running back corps...

Giving up on "ER" as anything but casual viewing has made me far more forgiving of things that would have driven me nuts about it when I actually cared. So they killed off Pratt, and it should be ridiculous and over-the-top given the number of ER personnel they've bumped off in extreme ways (Lucy gets stabbed, Mark Greene takes forever to die of cancer, Rocket Romano somehow angers the helicopter gods twice), but instead of rolling my eyes, I was actually a little moved by it. It helped that they distanced his death from the explosion, that there was a period where he seemed fine and was even giving orders about how he should be treated; it made his death feel less part of a lame, sensationalistic cliffhanger and more of a character piece. Like Lucy mouthing her own diagnosis right before she crashed, Pratt's awareness of just how bad this was made it hit a lot harder than it otherwise might have. And, of course, it helps that Mekhi Phifer is such an expressive actor.

Given that they devoted an entire act of the episode to memorializing him (a treatment not all the dearly departed -- like Rocket -- received), it would have been nice for Abby or one of the old-school nurses to remark on what a massive tool Pratt was when he first arrived at County. Most of the other characters in the run of the show have either started off fully-formed or got written out before they had a chance to evolve; other than Carter, Pratt arguably grew the most of anyone in the entire run of the series, and there's something to be said for that, even at this extremely late date. He annoyed the hell out of me when he was introduced -- as I'm sure he was supposed to -- and now I'm going to miss him for the limited time the show has left.

Not a good double-header for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" this week, I thought. The two season-opening episodes, while typically uneven, at least had some very funny individual moments -- Dee and Charlie trying to reconcile cannibalism with racism, the three guys all trying to seduce the loan officer, any scene featuring the cry of "Wild card!" -- where these two were fairly flat throughout. Other than the return of Green Man, and maybe the scene where Charlie and Dennis thought they were listening to Mac tell The Waitress about some cross-dressing sex fantasy, I doubt I'll even remember what happened a day or two from now.

Finally, "Sons of Anarchy" goes for more of an action episode, with a couple of bike-on-bike chases and the shootout at the Nevada biker bar. I'm slowly warming to the ancillary characters -- Tig's refusal to bond with Juice was a highlight -- but still not feeling Jax, unfortunately.

Also, I'm a little shocked by how different Jay Karnes looks and acts here than he does as Dutch on "The Shield." I know he's an actor, and that some of it's simply the haircut (and letting the gray show through, which is actually an improvement), but I'm so used to him as the dweeby serial killer-phile that it's strange to see him as this more confident ATF guy.

What did everybody else think? Anybody still watching "Sons of Anarchy" at this point? Or "ER," for that matter?
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Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman, one of the last of the old-school movie stars, has died of cancer.

The thing that always interested me about Newman was how he essentially had two careers: everything before "Slap Shot," and everything after. The pre-"Slap Shot" Newman was, for the most part, stoic, cool and (as even Newman would later admit) content to get by on his chiseled features and those legendary baby blues. But by the time he starred in "Slap Shot," a shockingly profane, hilarious comedy about a minor league hockey team that succeeds through goonery, he was already into his 50s. And though he always looked good enough to play 10-15 years younger, he didn't want to coast on his looks anymore. If anything, his career of the last 30 years was built on anti-vanity, allowing Newman to look as bad and crass and un-star-like as possible. This was a much more relaxed Newman, and a much more compelling one.

"Slap Shot" is an all-timer, and "The Color of Money" got him an overdue Oscar, but for me the peak of this later period was 1994's "Nobody's Fool," with Newman as an aging construction worker named Sully who had spent his entire life running from responsibility, but being too lazy to run very far. It's a small movie (very little happens in it), but a very funny and, at times, moving one. And by then, Newman's talent and charisma were so powerful that he was able to elevate the work of everyone around him. Bruce Willis (who took an uncredited supporting role just to work with the old man) has rarely been better; Melanie Griffith has certainly never been better. (It's a movie that makes you think she could act.)

So whether you grew up with Newman movies or simply know him as the guy with the popcorn and salad dressing business, you will get an awful lot of entertainment out of seeing either of those films -- or "The Verdict," or "Cool Hand Luke," or "The Hustler," or "Twilight," or "Blaze," or... Click here to read the full post

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

With so many shows debuting on Sunday -- including the entire Sunday lineups of ABC, CBS, Fox and Showtime, plus a couple of new HBO comedies -- I took the grab-bag approach to today's column, with quick-hit reviews of "Dexter," "The Simpsons," "Little Britain," "The Life and Times of Tim," "Californication," "The Unit" and "The Amazing Race."

As this is an absurdly busy time for me, the only one of those I'm going to do a separate post on for Sunday night is "Dexter." Feel free to use this post to comment on any or all of the other Sunday product (plus other shows I didn't write up, if you want). Click here to read the full post

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grey's Anatomy, "Dream a Little Dream of Me": Pain don't hurt

Spoilers for the "Grey's Anatomy" season five premiere coming up just as soon as I grab a stapler and a pen...

Shonda Rhimes is a genius. An aggravating genius, but a genius nonetheless. (And, really, what genius comes without some aggravation?)

Shonda's brilliance -- her ability to tell a very familiar story in a slightly new and extremely affecting way -- has kept me watching "Grey's Anatomy" for a very long time, through a lot of episodes and story arcs I absolutely despised. Where I've stuck with other shows in the past that I didn't like simply because the ways in which they were bad fascinated me (say, "Studio 60"), with "Grey's" it was my knowledge that, even though I would have to suffer through a lot of annoying shenanigans to get there, Shonda would occasionally provide a moment so elegant and surprising and moving that I would regret not seeing it.

So, yes, I wanted to throw a brick at the TV when we got the dream sequence fake-out about McDreamy being in a car crash, and again with Rose's pregnancy joke (which led to an ABC promo that Shonda had to publicly disavow). And, yes, Lexie suddenly having an unrequited crush on George in the same way he did on Meredith way back when is a little too cute and self-conscious a role reversal. And, yes, I still think Callie and Dr. Hahn are gay for each other (but not, in an unexpected twist for Hahn, for anyone else, past or present) only because the writers needed to give these two characters something to do.

But every minute of it was worth it for the moment when Izzie (and you know how much I hate Izzie) started counting to 30 after Mariette Hartley woke up from surgery, then realized that this woman would spend the rest of her life having to be told, over and over and over, that her husband was dead. As I said in my column this morning, that's the sort of fate even a fairy tale witch wouldn't be cruel enough to concoct. That Izzie found a way, in the end, to turn Mariette's curse -- a condition that makes Leonard from "Memento" seem like a lucky bastard in comparison -- into a blessing (Mariette will instead be perpetually told that her husband is just around the corner) didn't diminish the awesome horror of that earlier moment. If anything, it elevated all the fairy tale talk, because it showed how every fairy tale is a horror story, and vice versa, depending on the perspective you take on it.

Really, aside from the missteps I mentioned above, I quite liked "Dream a Little Dream." I've made peace with the aspects of the series I know are fundamental to its DNA --- the narration, Meredith's need to obsess about her relationships every minute of every day -- and the running meta-commentary about the drop in the hospital rankings(*) suggests Shonda and company are aware of how they slipped in recent years and are going to make a good-faith effort to get back to doing what they do best.

(*) Or was it a meta-commentary? An ABC publicist says she talked to Shonda and was told it wasn't meant as such, but it's impossible to look at it as anything but, especially since "Grey's" last year went from #2 to #11 by most Nielsen measures. Whatever the authorial intent, I'm choosing to regard it as such until proven otherwise.

Meanwhile, I really liked the addition of Kevin McKidd. Yeah, they laid on the "He's a combat field surgeon who doesn't play by the rules!" thing a little thick -- and, as noted in the column, the surgical staple gag was straight outta "Roadhouse" -- but McKidd brings a distinctly masculine energy that the show has needed for a while. I think the producers hoped that McSteamy would provide that kind of counterpoint to McDreamy and George, but he's instead wound up as comic relief.

I'm not clear on how long McKidd is committed to being here, but I hope it's a while because, much to my pleasant surprise, I suspect I'm going to be here for a while as well.

What did everybody else think?
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The Office, "Weight Loss": Close shaves

Spoilers for "The Office" season five premiere coming up just as soon as I really process 9/11...

Holly beat-boxed! She beat-boxed, people! I don't care if there was nothing else remotely funny about this episode, because I'm a little in love with both "The Office" and Amy Ryan right about now.

Fortunately, there were a lot of funny things going on in "Weight Loss" -- as well as a moment to make every PB&J fan's heart soar -- as "The Office" returned in superb form.

I can't say enough about how perfect an addition Amy Ryan has been as Holly, even if you take out the beatboxing. Michael's attraction to Holly, and Jim's attempt to help Michael actually forge a relationship with her, has forced Michael to curb some of his more extreme behavior. Michael has always worked best when the writers push him back from the cartoon ledge a bit and force him to seem human, if completely inept. So here he was a fool, but a recognizable fool -- growing that heinous goatee, tossing Jim a condom to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, failing to come up with any kind of explanation for his audible groan upon hearing Holly's date went well -- in a way that was still extremely funny. Even the Michael Klump fat suit bit wasn't so outrageous as to make you wonder why no one shut it down, and in the end he actually did some good for Kelly with it.

And then, just as we were all convinced all of Michael's good behavior might lead to him attending the Counting Crows concert with Holly, he had to go and make what he thought was a grand gesture but was in fact a completely self-destructive one by ripping up the tickets! I wanted to smack myself in the head a few times, not because I thought it was a bad moment, but because I feel so much for Michael when the writers rein in his behavior just enough like this. They actually have me rooting for this relationship just as much as people cheered for Jim and Pam to hook up back in the day.

Of course, those two young lovebirds got their moment of pure bliss, which no doubt prevented Michael and Holly from getting theirs. (This is "The Office"; only a few characters are allowed to be non-miserable at a time.) I'll admit it: they had me fooled. I thought for sure that we were heading towards some stupid storyline where Pam "outgrows" Jim while attending the design school (possibly hooking up with the classmate played by Rich Sommer, aka Harry from "Mad Men"), and I was preparing a big screed about how the writers were afraid to have them stay together, even though they proved last year that resolved sexual tension can still be funny. But no -- it was all a set-up for Jim's impromptu proposal in the rain, at a highway service area, a setting that was at once the least romantic and most romantic place he could do it. (That he chose to do it then -- that he needed to do it then -- made it clear to Pam how badly he wants to marry her.) Perfectly written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, played by Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski, and beautifully-shot (from the other side of the highway) by Paul Feig.

I spent a lot of time early last season complaining about the pacing of the hour-long episodes. "Weight Loss" didn't really have any slow spots, because there were stories or running gags for virtually every character (except, as usual, Meredith). Stanley is determined to lose weight on his own to get back to his Black Panther fighting trim, Andy falls in and out of Angela's good graces depending on how much he's willing to bend to her whims, Phyllis blackmails her way into the Party Planning Committee leadership, etc., etc., etc. The writers continued the marvelous joke of Holly believing Kevin to be mentally disabled, but not for so long that we'd get tired of it. (And it's a credit to Amy Ryan that she played Holly's anger at hearing Angela call Kevin stupid so passionately; that only made her mortification at learning the truth even funnier.)

Welcome back, "The Office." You have been badly, badly missed.

Some other thoughts on "Weight Loss":

• Another reason to love Holly; she's read "Lonesome Dove" (one of my five favorite books ever) three times.

• Holly's not the only extremely white Dunder Mifflin female to be trying on a hip-hop persona; check out Pam's amusingly dorky gang signal salute to the 2-1-2.

• Pam gets an iChat talking head! Brilliant!

• We finally have the much-discussed question of Michael Scott's virginity solved once and for all. And now I kinda wish I hadn't discussed it so much.

• Lots of great Dwight/Jim throwaway bits, but my favorite was Jim trying to explain to Dwight that people don't die in shotgun weddings.

• Was there a continuity error with Michael being clean-shaven in the lunch room scene with Holly and Jim, or were we supposed to assume that he shaved the goatee and then re-grew it?

• I loved the stupid nicknames for all the members of Andy's old band (Broccoli Rob!), and that one of his father's old Cornell classmates is now a groundskeeper at The Breakers. Between that guy and Andy, a Cornell degree may not be all it's cracked up to be, no?

• Poor, poor, poor, pathetic Toby. The perfect darkly hilarious kicker to the episode.

What did everybody else think?
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'Do Not Disturb' -- ever again?

Due to time and space issues, this has been the first TV season where I haven't reviewed every new show as it's debuted. I didn't write about CBS' "Gary Unmarried" the other night, and I didn't write about Fox's "Do Not Disturb" when it debuted a couple of weeks ago. In one case, it looks like I may not get a chance : Michael Ausiello is reporting that Fox has canceled "Do Not Disturb," effective immediately.

A Fox spokesman insisted that the show had not been canceled, and all that's been decided so far is that it's not on the schedule next week, so you may not be able to collect if you had the Jerry O'Connell sitcom in your TV season dead pool. But generally, getting yanked this early means you're done. Click here to read the full post

"Somebody's putting something in his Metamucil": Dave vs. McCain, the transcript

Since some people can't access the YouTube clip at work, I got, courtesy of CBS, a partial transcript of last night's "Late Show with David Letterman" -- including the monologue, his comments after sitting down at the desk, the Top 10 list, and Dave's interview with fill-in guest Keith Olbermann -- coming up after the jump.

Maybe you’ve heard the big news. John McCain, Senator John McCain, Republican candidate for President, was supposed to be on the program tonight. Were you aware of that? But he had to cancel the show because he’s suspending his campaign because the economy is exploding. You know who John McCain is... he’s the running mate of Sarah Palin.

So John McCain calls up and says I’m not going to be there kids, because everything is going to hell. But the funny thing is that no one told his vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, and honest to God, right now she’s still circling the theater in a white minivan. She’s gonna pick him up later...

And then after McCain canceled being on the show, he rushed right back to Washington to deal with the economic crisis and I thought, well, he sure nipped that in the bud, didn’t he? And I was thinking about this, well maybe if he hadn’t taken two years off to run for President, he wouldn’t have to rush back to Washington now to deal with the crisis.

A lot of you folks are saying that the big tragedy is that he won’t be here tonight. But he’s also canceling the debate on Friday. He will not be participating. So that means Barack Obama will have to debate Regis. What are you going to do?

John McCain said to me the economy is about to crater. To crater. You folks worried about the economy? Not me. I’ve got all my money in second-hand FEMA trailers. I’m not worried about the economy, I’ve got all my money in an alpaca ranch. I’ve got all my money in Rosie O’Donnell aftershave.

But Sarah Palin was at the U.N. yesterday. A big hit. She’s over there meeting all the world leaders. And she’s still learning who all the world leaders are. She thinks that Warren Buffet is the head of Margaritaville. And why wouldn’t he be? She was at the General Assembly and someone said to her, “Oh, look over there. That’s the President of Georgia.” And she said, “Wow, Jimmy Carter.” And then she said, “Boy, I hope I get to meet Queen Latifah.”


We’re all running around here a little ragged at the last minute because Republican presidential campaign nominee John McCain was going to be our guest. We always like having the Senator on the program. Here’s a guy, by the way – I have nothing but the highest regard for this man. He’s a true American hero, and as Bill Clinton said the other night, gave everything but his life for America during the Vietnam War. And we’re in sorry need and short supply of actual heroes like John McCain.

I love and respect and admire the man for that. Who among us doesn’t wish he had that kind of steel, that kind of commitment. In a North Vietnamese prison camp for four years, and the North Vietnamese come to him and say, “Guess what? Your time’s up.” And he said, “Well, does everyone get to go home? And they, “No.” And he said, “Well, I’m not going home until everyone gets to go home.” Who can do that? This is why we love that man.

But when you call up, and you call up at the last minute and you cancel the show, Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s starting to smell. This is not the John McCain I know, by God. It makes me believe that something is going haywire with the campaign. I don’t know. Somebody’s gotten to him and somebody said, “You know what, blow Letterman off. He’s a lightweight.”

But here’s what you do. Sure there’s an economic crisis, and here’s what you do if you’re running for campaign in the middle of an economic crisis and it’s about to crater. That’s a quote from him. I love that expression. The economy is about to crater. Well, I’d like to see that! Here’s what happens, the economy is about to crater. You’re a senator. You’re a fourth-term senator from Arizona. You go back to Washington. You handle what you need to handle. Don’t suspend your campaign. You let your campaign go on, shouldered by your vice presidential nominee, that’s what you do. You don’t quit...or is that really a good thing to do?

This guy doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him. So all of a sudden, we’re suspending the campaign? Look, if I drop dead right now, my hand to God, Paul’s taking over the show. You say, “I’ve got to get back to Washington to save this country.” Good for you. “And while I’m gone, campaigning in my stead will be my great running mate from the state of Alaska, Sarah Palin.” And she comes out and campaigns. What happened there? What’s the problem? Where is she? Why isn’t she doing that?

So I don’t know. But you heard it here first. This doesn’t smell right. This just doesn’t smell right. This is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody’s putting something in his Metamucil.

And let’s say there’s a time of crisis... and the poor guy, because he’s a little older – he’s about my age and Sarah Palin takes over as president... She ought to be ready because she’s handled crises like these in the past. Oh, wait a minute, she really hasn’t handled a crisis like this in the past.

Let me just go through this one more time to make my point absolutely clear: He can’t run the campaign because the economy is about to crater. Fine. You put in your second string quarterback. Well, where is his second string quarterback?

The republican presidential campaign candidate is suspending his campaign. Suspending his campaign! You don’t suspend your campaign. Do you suspend your campaign? Because that makes me think that well, you know, maybe there’ll be other things down the road if he’s in the White House, he might just suspend being President. I mean, we got a guy like that now!

You don’t suspend your campaign. If you believe in your vice presidential candidate, you say, “Sarah, I have to go back to Washington to save the economy. You take over.” And she says, “Gotcha!”

So now I wonder if he’ll ever come back. Do you think he’ll come back? A hero. An honest-to-God hero. An American hero. Maybe the only actual hero I know. I’ve met the man. I know the guy. So I’m more than a little disappointed by this behavior. “We’re suspending the campaign.” Are we suspending it because there’s an economic crisis or because the poll numbers are sliding?

I mean there’s really no need to suspend anything. You could say, come and do the show and go to the debates and then spend more time at your desk in the Senate. And then let your vice presidential candidate carry on the campaign. Carry on the campaign! She could be on this show talking about how you field clean a moose. Talking about how you smoke enough salmon for the winter...

The Top Ten Questions People are Asking The John McCain Campaign

#10 “I just contributed to your campaign – how do I get a refund?

#9 “It’s Sarah Palin – does this mean I’m pars’dent?”

#8 “Can’t you solve this by selling some of your houses?”

#7 “This is Clay Aiken. Is McCain single?”

#6 “Do you still think the fundamentals of our economy are strong, Genius?”

#5 “Are you doing all of this just to get out of going on Letterman?”

#4 “What would Matlock do?”

#3 “Hillary here – my schedule is free Friday night.”

It’ll be interesting here to see if Barack Obama feels the need to suspend his campaign to go down there and work on the economy. He’s also a senator. And his running mate, Joe Biden, he’s also a senator. So there, those two guys have to get back to work. So of course, they’ll suspend their campaign. Don’t you think?

The Democrats are now at a real disadvantage because Barack Obama has got to race back and fix the economy. So does Joe Biden. He has to race back and fix the economy. But the republicans have Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. The Alaska economy is fine. It don’t need fixing. It’s fine. So she’ll continue the campaign. So the democrats are really in a hole now.

#2 “Is this just an excuse to catch up on napping?”

#1 “This is President Bush – what’s all this trouble with the economy?”


DAVID LETTERMAN: Well, first of all...

KEITH OLBERMANN: I can’t stay, I’m sorry... (laughter) Are you saying I wasn’t originally scheduled to be here?

DL: No. This man, on many occasions, has done us the favor of coming in when we’ve had trouble. And no greater and more short-notice trouble than tonight. So once again, thanks again for running in here. I certainly appreciate that.

KO: I was... the right place, right time thing applies. I was around the corner.

DL: Thank you. And what do you think of all this – the racing back, suspending the campaign...

KO: I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think he’s afraid to stand up to you. He can’t take you on.

DL: He wouldn’t be the first man.

KO: No. I thought twice about coming over here. And having seen so much of the show so far...I’m thinking Dave’s on fire tonight...

DL: But what does it mean? We know what it means now but what does it do to the campaign generally?

KO: It does throw it into a bit of havoc – particularly with the debates. Because you’ve got all four debates – the three presidentials and the vice presidential debate – were supposed in the span of 19 days. So that’s only 15 days that don’t have a debate in there. And you’ve got to reschedule a lot of things and of course you have religious holidays, football games, everything else. We may see one of the debates canceled, not postponed. Now if there were to be a debate canceled, what do you think would be to the McCain campaign’s advantage?

DL: Probably canceling the vice presidential debate.

KO: See? This is what I was thinking.

DL: But they’re talking about canceling Friday night presidential debate.

KO: Well, yeah, but then you’re saying there will only be two presidential debates. How can we do that? It could be a tie. Someone has to win two out of three...and then they advance to play the Montreal Canadiennes in the semi-finals...

DL: The Canadiennes are involved? Boy, I just don’t know anything about the Constitution.

KO: Or Senator Clinton, as you pointed out. It might be that. I’m not...it does throw it into a bit of havoc. That’s the idea.

DL: I just have to say this...and it’s hard to say because you have to regard him more highly anybody you know. But this just stinks. I mean, I’m not wrong about that, am I?

KO: No. I was sitting in the back listening to the whole show so far and going, “I don’t think that I should tell Dave this other part that he doesn’t know about.”

DL: Tell me. Tell me.

KO: (to Paul Schaeffer) You’re prepared to take over when he runs off screaming about this? (to Dave) Apparently this morning, the Obama campaign called the McCain campaign and said, Look, with this bill not passed, this bailout – an interesting term by the way considering his not being here and the debate – with this bailout not having passed, we’ve gotta ...let’s make some show of solidarity. Let’s make some sort of joint statement on behalf of both the campaigns. The next thing you know, the statement comes out of the McCain campaign saying: We’re shutting down and we don’t want to be at the debate Friday night...It sounds like an episode of the West Wing. It’s an Obama idea that the McCains then ran against Obama to some degree.

DL: I just wonder because the idea of a bipartisan agreement here, a show of support, that’s all they’re ever talking about to get things through Congress. So to be part of that now seems like it would have been a pretty good idea. That’s a win-win for everyone.

KO: Also, the other part of this that is a little strange is that Senator McCain was claiming, I think it was two days ago, that all the economic problems were Senator Obama’s fault – which just seems a little strange to say that now is a time for non-partisanship – now that I got my shot in.

DL: They also said about a week ago that the fundamentals of the economy were in place and sound, essentially.

KO: Well they were, a week ago. Time moves, as you know.

DL: Giving Senator McCain the benefit of the doubt, maybe – and certainly, I’d be the last to know – maybe we’re in greater trouble than we thought we were earlier this morning.

KO: How long do you think he was going to be in the building here today...seven hours or something?

DL: I don’t know.

KO: A briefing and then a sit-down with you and then a lunch and then a nap and then the show? Look, if the economy could not wait – if the vote of this could not wait the length of the appearance here on the program...eat your money right now. What’s the point? We’re that far gone? And the debate...Now watch, someone’s going to eat their money...

DL: I would hate to be the reason there were breadlines in this country.

KO: A great point about the debate Friday and canceling it – what they should have said was – alright it was supposed to be about international politics and international affairs. Make the debate Friday about the economy. Let’s hear what your two plans are. Suddenly everybody turns into an economic policy wonk...

DL: You’re absolutely right about that.

(Commercial break)

DL: I don’t mean to cut into your time during your generous visit, but when John McCain – and he was nice enough to call me on the phone and said that he was racing back to Washington – our people here were told, so serious, he’s getting on a plane immediately and racing back to Washington. And now we’ve just been told...here, take a look -- do we have it on the thing? This is going live...there he is right there. (monitor shows live feed of McCain having makeup touches for a CBS News interview with Katie Couric) Doesn’t seem to be racing to the airport, does he? This just gets uglier and uglier. I’m feeling bad for the man to have participated in this...First of all, the road to the White House runs right through me. Well, let’s just punch up Katie Couric’s interview and Keith, you can go back to wherever you came from...Let’s just see what he has to say here. This will be interesting....let’s see if he’ll mention me. Hey, John, I got a question – do you need a ride to the airport? Now, this stinks. You tell me. You know how things work. Is it his fault? Or is it something that CBS News got a hold of him and said, “You gotta come in here and do that.”

KO: Oh boy, how much trouble can I get into and how fast? I would be speculating. There’s very little done in that campaign without his knowledge. I think he dissed you.

DL: Yeah, absolutely.

KO: Unless, her first question is, “Now, Senator, why did you cancel on Dave?” Or the other possibility is that she has all the money that’s required to fix the economy.

DL: She’s bailing him out.

KO: If that’s it, I’m voting for her. So there you go.

DL: I don’t want to keep beating this thing but it really is starting to smell now because he says to me on the phone...I took a phone call from him – a lot of senators don’t call me. And so I felt like, Ok, as part of the national good, I understand and I said good luck. Thank you for being attentive to the cause...and he said maybe next time I’ll come in, I’ll bring Sarah Palin. I said, fine, whatever you need to do that’s just fine. And he said yeah, we’re going to go save the country. And then it’s like we caught him getting a manicure or something.

Now listen, I read a thing in the paper where after some election coverage – oh, convention coverage – they said that you and your buddy Chris Matthews over there at MSNBC were being yanked off the debate coverage. Did that happen?

KO: Well, we got a call from John McCain that he wouldn’t show up if we were going to be there. No, I’m kidding. We’re not the anchors anymore. We’re just going to be commentators.

DL: Are you alright with that?

KO: I’m actually going to be on more than I was previously and can actually say what I think rather than going, “Now here’s more from such and such over there... You?” You know that stuff. So I don’t have to do... basically, I can just sit there and eat -- between appearances – eat ice cream for 20 minutes at a time and then come back and go “That’s the crappiest answer I’ve ever heard in a debate.” It makes no difference.

DL: So things are better this way.

KO: Yeah. They actually are. They’re certainly easier. And I can enjoy election night.

DL: OK. I’m going to ask you this one more time. What will this do to the Republican campaign. Honestly? If I were a huge Republican campaign donor, I’d say, “What do you mean you’re suspending the campaign?”

KO: It’ll quiet it down for a little while. There won’t be that much coverage of it – which is a probably a good thing, given the coverage there’s been recently. And I think the poll numbers...you know, if your campaign puts your candidate out there...if John McCain goes on Meet the Press, Face the Nation or whatever, for 45 minutes and says nothing but the host just throws eggs at him for 45 minutes...that’s worth half to one electoral college vote. Just the exposure. Just your puss on TV for 45 minutes. So if you just disappear for a couple of days so that it seems like you look presidential....first off, if the other guy has to too, it doesn’t matter. It’s your fault because you went out with it first without negotiating. I don’t think it really works out too well. Plus, as I think you pointed out once or twice – where is the vice presidential candidate in this? She couldn’t come out here and do the interview with you?

DL: But if I were Barack Obama and Joe Biden...remember when you were a kid, and you found out there was so much snow you weren’t going to school? That’s how I’d be feeling now. “Hey, did you hear the good news? They’ve suspended their campaign!”

KO: Friday night’s debate...the debate Friday night could be Obama vs. Biden. Look... “Senator, what do you think?” “I think Senator Obama is 100% correct.” “Senator Obama?” “I like Senator Biden’s answer on this.” Hour and a half for free on television...

DL: Thank you for dropping in again. Always a pleasure. You’re a true gentleman and we appreciate your attention.


Prior to announcing the next guest, actress Chandra Wilson:

DL: We’re told now that the Senator has concluded his interview with Katie Couric and he’s now on the Rachael Ray Show making veal piccata.
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