Monday, November 30, 2009

House, "Wilson": The Zeppo

Just when I thought I was out... Robert Sean Leonard pulls me back in! Some thoughts on the Wilson-errific "House" coming up just as soon as I stop thinking about German porn...
"I can handle it when things go wrong. You can't. And things can go very, very wrong." -House
I doubt "Wilson" is going to get me writing about "House" again full-time, because the things that made it so strong were (like "Broken") not something the show can do every week, or even ever again, period. But for one night, at least, "House" was compelling, and touching, and funny, and not really annoying at all.

"Wilson" was good because it showed us House's world through someone else's eyes - not in a gimmicky, Hey, look at our Very Special Episode! way like the Mos Def episode last year, but in a more thoughtful, organic way. We got to see what the cases we've grown so used to must look like when only seen in Wilson-sized bites (the overweight tennis pro on the popcorn diet, House appearing soaking wet), and we got to see what it's like for the sensitive, empathic to a fault Wilson to try to play House's game.

And, for that matter, we got to see what it's like for House to be the one on the other end of the differentials and the wrong turns and insane treatments.

And we got to see Robert Sean Leonard, who has said he likes the easy workload (and accompanying fat paycheck) of being in a couple of brief scenes a week, rise to the challenge of carrying the show for once, with Hugh Laurie gracefully, beautifully working in support of him.

An ongoing Wilson-centric series obviously wouldn't work. It was the contrast to what we've come to expect from "House" that made this hour so interesting, and, again, you can't go to that well more than once before it starts to feel as formulaic as the regular show.

But after being so frustrated with the last batch of episodes, "Wilson" at least reminded me why I keep watching this damn show even when I'm struggling to remember that I used to love it.

"Chuck" is back in this timeslot in January, and that's going to get my top viewing/blogging priority for the time being. But if this is going to be the last time I write about "House" for a long time, at least we're going out on a much higher note than "Ignorance Is Bliss."

What did everybody else think?
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Can you guess the new blog logo theme?

Okay, you probably can, as I've followed one of the more esoteric logo themes to date with one of the more obvious ones. I'll just be curious to see how quickly someone can correctly identify all four characters depicted.

And, as a reminder, I have links to and explanations for all the previous logos in this post. I'll weigh in on the comments in this one once it's clear people have either figured it out or are somehow completely stumped. Click here to read the full post

Dexter, "Lost Boys": Correcting a mistake?

Spoilers for last night's "Dexter" coming up just as soon as I remind you that "Project Runway" is on...

Okay, here's my issue with "Lost Boys" (which is more of an issue with the series as a whole): in previous years, the show made it clear that Dexter didn't kill bad guys because he was worried about their victims, but because he had a need to kill, and Harry had drilled it into him that these were the only people he could/should kill. That he was saving other people's lives was a byproduct, but one that meant little or nothing to him. This point was made most explicitly in season two's "An Inconvenient Lie," when Dexter didn't really want to alter his killing timetable even if it meant he would stop the evil car salesman from claiming another victim. So seeing him so torn up about saving the little boy didn't ring true to me, even though part of Dexter's inner struggle was the realization that this killing would be his fault for having foiled Arthur's suicide attempt.

"An Inconvenient Lie" was also notable for giving Frank Lundy (RIP) a speech that tore to shreds any attempt by Dexter - or the audience - to justify his murders as some kind of social good, back in a time when the series viewed Dexter with a lot more moral ambiguity than it does now.

These days, the show is mainly interested in pitting Dexter against other killers so despicable that the audience won't have any compunction about seeing our man put them down. Every time the writers introduce the idea of Dexter killing outside The Code of Harry, they quickly dance away from the implications of that and distract Dexter and us with that season's big bad.

On the one hand, I don't want my TV characters to remain stagnant. So the idea of a Dexter who's growing - who's more aware that he has emotions, who can form attachments to people like Rita and her kids, who feels empathy for his target's victims - could, in theory, be really interesting. But in practice, it mainly feels like part of the ongoing attempt to make Dexter into a more palatable serial killer, so Showtime can justify keeping their biggest hit around for many more years to come.

So as good as Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow have been this year, I find it harder and harder to care about what's happening on the show - which is why I wanted to stop reviewing it in the first place.

Talk about it if you want, and maybe next week I'll just do an open discussion thread and save myself the aggravation.

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

Reviewing the revamped 'Scrubs' - Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I look at the new season of "Scrubs":
You can look at the new season of "Scrubs" either as a continuation of the series that aired its alleged finale last spring, or as a spin-off with the same name and many of the same faces.

I prefer the latter view, and not just because creator Bill Lawrence lost a fight with ABC to rename the show "Scrubs Med" to clearly delineate between the two. If we treat the new season - which relocates Sacred Heart Hospital to its nearby medical school campus - as a separate show, then we don't have to take anything away from the resurgent final season, or from the funny and poignant finale. Nor do we have to worry about the new incarnation threatening the legacy of the original show, any more than "AfterM*A*S*H" or "The Golden Palace" sullied the reputations of "M*A*S*H" and "Golden Girls."

Which isn't to say that "Scrubs Med" (whether ABC calls it that or not) is an abomination on the level of either of those shows. It's a solid little comedy, in which "Scrubs" fans can recognize the spirit of the show they loved, even if it's not "Scrubs" at its best.
You can read the full "Scrubs" review here. I'll have a post tomorrow night on the first two episodes. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reader mail: 'Lost' forces ABC mid-season changes, 'The Corner' vs. 'The Wire'

Hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving. Today's column is another reader mailbag, mainly dealing with the fall-out of ABC's plan for the final season of "Lost."

Enjoy your weekend, and try to stay away from the malls. And I say that not just because I once almost lost my spleen driving home from a Black Friday sale. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. The only TV watching I'll be doing today will involve football (and wondering why half my fantasy team is playing this afternoon and evening), but for those of you near your computers and in need of some more Thanksgiving-specific programming, I give you the legendary "WKRP in Cincinnati" Thanksgiving episode over on Hulu. And YouTube has the classic "Cheers" Thanksgiving episode in these three parts. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cougar Town, "Here Comes My Girl": Popping your balloon

Quick spoilers for tonight's "Cougar Town" coming up just as soon as I get the rolling pin...

It's not at the level "Modern Family" is maintaining right now, but "Cougar Town" has found itself a nice little groove, and the show feels particularly strong in episodes like this one that just throw all the characters together into a situation to see how they bounce off of each other.

In particular, this episode was the biggest, and strongest, focus so far on Jules and Travis's usually awkward, occasionally sweet mother/son relationship, and I thought it did a nice job of illustrating how tricky (if not outright stupid) it is to try to be The Cool Mom to a teenage son.

In and around some of the pathos of that, there was some inspired silliness, like Andy's panic at having to keep a secret from his wife, or the guys getting all pumped to beat three neighborhood kids at basketball. (Note that the girl is on crutches the second time we see her.) The show has also become very good at using music (beyond Grayson's guitar songs), from the hilarious use of Kenny Loggins' "Playing With the Boys" (from this infamous "Top Gun" scene) during the basketball sequence, to the more poignant use of Noah and the Whale's "Give a Little Love" to accompany Travis and Jules silently getting dinner ready (and showing the bond they share, even through all the angst).

There's a warmth to the show now that I'm not sure I would have expected from that pilot. Simply put, I like these people - in part because they make me laugh, but in part just because I like them. Not every TV show has to work that way, but it's how "Cougar Town" is working.

What did everybody else think?
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Modern Family, "Fizbo": The day the clown cried

Thoughts on tonight's "Modern Family" just as soon as I drive through neighborhoods that have only recently been gentrified...

Thirty seconds into Fizbo, I tweeted an objection to "Modern Family" being the latest show to use the very tired in media res opening device. (See Tuesday's "V" for a recent hackneyed example.) By the time we found out why they were in the hospital, though, my objections had gone away. For once, the non-chronological storytelling served a purpose: adding a nice comic kick to the party as we wondered if the crossbow, the rock wall, the poisonous scorpion, Dylan's mayonnaise allergy or something else would land a character in the hospital.

At this point, in fact, I may just need to start putting some real trust in the "Modern Family" creators. I'm not going to love ever episode (as I didn't the Ed Norton stuff last week), but part of what makes the show so much fun is how it takes things that seem so familiar from other sitcoms - the clueless dad, the party that gets out of control, the bickering siblings, the outrageous uncle - and makes them all feel fresh.

The highlight of "Fizbo" was, of course, Fizbo himself, and how seriously Cam/Eric Stonestreet threw himself into the part. Every time I think that the contrast of Cam's gregarious nature and Mitchell's more introverted, judgmental qualities is going to get old, we get a hysterical talking head like the one where Cameron outlined the four types of clowns, followed by Mitchell creating the marvelous assembly of words that is "weird gay clown uncle."

Rico Rodriguez continues to be wonderful as Manny. The character doesn't know how to tell the Interrupting Cow joke (or its funnier/more aggressive spin-off, Interrupting Starfish), but Rodriguez can even find a way to make Manny's sad bouncing funny. (Gloria being ogled by the dads was more predictable, but when you put Sofia Vergara on a show with a bouncy castle, some things just have to happen the way they're gonna, I suppose.)

We got a more sarcastic side of Phil than usual (I liked him offering to go on a supply run to the 1950s to get Claire some more crafts), which then nicely offset his pathological clown fear.

A very funny, very satisfying episode, and one that'll hold me until the next new one in two weeks.

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, "The Culling": I love it when a plan comes together

Spoilers for tonight's "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I play with the siren...
"I love all of ya." -Clay
The previous two episodes of "Sons of Anarchy," "Balm" and "Service," took the show to a new creative level. Based on those two shows, and the general momentum of a cable drama season - where the dramatic peak is often in the penultimate episode - I had high hopes for "The Culling."

Instead, I found myself oddly disappointed by it.

I wrote last week that part of what made "Service" so powerful was that all these big moments and revelations were coming from the characters. There was a story there, but everything that happened - whether it was Tig confessing to Opie, or Opie confronting Stahl, or Clay letting Chibs and Piney slide on their crimes against the club - clearly started off with a question of, "How would this character, given his personality and recent events, react to this?"

There was a visceral quality to it all that I found lacking in "The Culling," which felt more like a chess game than a street fight. Kurt Sutter and Dave Erickson's script efficiently moved all the pieces into place, then blew up the board a few times with the arrests of Weston, Zobelle and Polly. Some of it was fun, particularly the club getting over on Stahl (and Ally Walker's performance as Stahl epically lost her cool), and perhaps at an earlier stage in the series' lifespan I would have loved watching all the tumblers click into place. But after the richness of the last two episodes, the sheer plot-intensiveness of "The Culling" felt a bit empty. Necessary, given all that had happened this season, but not nearly as deep as what had come immediately before.

I guess I find the internal struggles of the club more compelling than wars with external enemies like the Mayans and LOAN. "Service" focused entirely on the former, then healed the club to the point where SAMCRO as one could deal with the latter in "The Culling."

And for an episode that was so plot-y, I'm still not sure I understand exactly what SAMCRO's plan was. If, as Clay and Jax decided last week, they intended to "kill 'em all," then why bother with the brawl at the timberlands? Is that really what they were going to use their manpower advantage created by their alliance with the Niners and the Triad just to pick a fistfight with Weston and his best goons? A fight that, even with the various levels of badassery at hand in the combined Charming and Tacoma chapters of the club, they weren't guaranteed to win? Why not lure them out there, disarm them and then put a bullet into everyone's shaved head?

Now, some of this can be ascribed to the ongoing tension between Hale and Unser, and Unser's conflict between serving his friends and serving the law. Perhaps the plan involved a righteous beating and then a cold execution, whether SAMCRO won or lost the fight itself, followed by a trip into town to use Polly to lure Zobelle out of hiding. But while the move to screw over Stahl, get the guns and save Chibs from Jimmy O's retribution worked like clockwork, I'm having to contort myself to figure out how the LOAN half of the campaign was supposed to work.

The more interesting - and, at times, unsettling - part of the episode dealt with the role that the club plays in the lives of its members. The opening sequence, with everybody going to the mattresses - and the realization that SAMCRO takes everybody (kids, wives, old ladies, two-fingered friends) to the mattresses with them - and Clay giving a speech to the assembled crowd, showed the power that the club has. We need to see that power, and that sense of community, every now and then so we understand why it is people like Jax and Opie are trying to save the club instead of burning it to the ground.

But if the show usually dances around the question of whether it considers the club a good or a bad thing - or whether it's willing to judge the club at all - the scene with Tara smacking around Margaret felt uncomfortably in favor of Clay and Gemma's vision of SAMCRO. The whole scene, and particularly the "No, this is assault" moment, seemed structured to get the audience pumping their fists - Let's watch Tara show that snooty administrator lady who's boss! - and yet I was mostly horrified by it. For all that "Sopranos" fans wanted Dr. Melfi to sic Tony on her rapist, David Chase was always clear that Melfi was the closest thing the show had to a representative from real society, and in a society of rules, that stuff's just not done.

Now, Tara occupies a different dramatic space on this show than Melfi did on "Sopranos." She grew up around the club, is dating a member, taking care of his baby and befriending the club's matriarch. Perhaps I was meant to be horrified by her actions in that scene, and one of the storylines of season three (if not the finale) will be Tara recognizing that perhaps she's adopted more of the club's morality than she wanted to. But if this is just the next step into her ascension to Gemma's throne, and something meant to be applauded, then I'm going to have a problem with it.

But we'll have a better sense of that - and of how (or if) Jax and Clay can still get their righteous vengeance if all their targets are behind bars - in next week's finale. Even though I didn't love "The Culling," I still have very high hopes for what's to come.

Some other thoughts on "The Culling":

• The show has more or less dropped the tension over the club members getting their bail revoked, Oswald losing his land, etc. Even with his recognition that LOAN is worse for the town than SAMCRO, wouldn't Hale at some point in this episode have just thrown Jax, Clay and others back into jail for violating the terms of their release?

• Last season, Jay Karnes did a multiple episode guest stint as Agent Kohn, and we have our second "Shield" regular turning up as an "SoA" guest star, as Kenny Johnson pops up as the Tacoma charter's version of Tig. Predictably, the two hate each other, though I thought it a nice touch that Tig is too messed-up by recent developments to even care about whatever their feud is about.

• As mentioned previously, the explanation for what happened to Chuck and Darby in the Caracara fire had to be cut for time from "Fa Guan." We got half an answer here, sort of, in that Chuck turns up alive and mostly well at the clubhouse, and continues to be a useful friend to the club. But where exactly has Chuck been in between the fire and now? And what happened to Darby? If he died, wouldn't Hale have also charged Weston with murder? If not, where the hell is he?

• I have to commend whoever was responsible for the work on Chuck's mutilated hands. Not sure if that was a prosthetic or something digital, but it worked. I had just assumed they would keep him in the gloves all the time, as that's an easy way to hide the actor's non-amputated fingers and thumbs.

What did everybody else think?
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V, "It's Only the Beginning": In treatment

Spoilers for the fall finale of "V" coming up just as soon as I show you my turbine room...
"The more predictable we are, the more vulnerable we are." -Erica
Well, if you're gonna make it that easy, "V"... As many of you know, Scott Peters was replaced as "V" showrunner shortly before the show premiered, but after the first batch of episodes was produced. His replacement is "The Shield" and "Chuck" alum Scott Rosenbaum, who had some encouraging things to say in this interview, specifically these two portions:
I’m going to probably do the show a little more visceral, it will be a little more fast-paced, it will be learning more of the mythology and the history of the Vs. In my mind, viewers are very advanced at this point, and I want them to come to “V” and see, A, stuff they can’t see anywhere else, and, B, also feel like they’re getting storytelling that doesn’t feel retread or old, that’s, frankly, exciting.
my goal is that in every single episode there will be an “Oh my God, I can’t believe that happened” moment, or a “Wow” moment – at least one – in every single episode. And I think that would not only be a mythology plot reveal, but also a character reveal.
Those two passages underline so much of what's been dull about these first four episodes. "V" thus far has been the exact show - no more, no less - you would have expected it to be as soon as you heard ABC was doing a remake.

Peters was obviously wrestling with how to deal with viewer expectations, leading to some unfortunate pacing issues. Too often, it feels like the show has raced past important plot points, like the off-hand reveal of what the Vs really look like, because Peters and company felt the audience knew they would be coming, and/or that it was something they had to do, rather than a part of the story they were really excited to tell.

And yet on the flip side, sometimes the show tends to drag its feet in a futile attempt to create suspense. I rolled my eyes at the start of this episode as soon as we got the in media res teaser, both because the device is so overdone and because any viewer with half a brain would know that Ryan was shooting past Erica, and not at her. So all the time spent later in the episode suggesting Ryan and Erica didn't trust each other seemed wasted.

So we have plotting that feels rushed and/or obligatory, characterizations that can be charitably referred to as thin, and fairly lame post-pilot production values. Why exactly am I supposed to care? Other than the fact that Morena Baccarin is rocking the pixie cut and occasionally looks like The Joker when she grins?

I'll check back in at some point during the spring run after we're into Rosenbaum-produced episodes, but nothing in "It's Only the Beginning" had me feeling particularly sad that I'd need to wait months to see the next episode.

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

Fox mid-season schedule: get it while it's hot!

Over at, I have the full details on Fox's mid-season schedule, which, as usual, requires a certain knowledge of trigonometry to completely understand. Click here to read the full post

Lie to Me, "Secret Santa": Over there

Spoilers for last night's "Lie to Me" (plus some random thoughts on Jason Gedrick) coming up just as soon as I learn how to pronounce "Baltimore" the way the natives do...

"Lie to Me" initially seemed like it was going to be just another crime procedural in a primetime landscape dotted with them. But Sam Baum argued at the start that the show would be a lot more versatile than that, and Shawn Ryan has helped him back up that statement this year. Because there are questions about truth and lies in every walk of life, because Cal Lightman's services are obviously much in demand, and because the government likes what he does, there is really no professional setting - or, in this case, geographic setting - the show can't plausibly visit. There will always be some kind of mystery at the center of things, but the mystery can range from a murder, to who caused a Black Friday riot, to the location of two captured Marines in Afghanistan.

This story was obviously familiar territory for Ryan and the people he brought over from "The Unit," and I liked that we spent very little time on the Jason Gedrick(*) character distrusting Lightman's methods. It's way too easy to try to set up your guy as a genius by putting him together with strawman characters who loudly question his genius and can therefore be easily proven wrong. Gedrick was right to be at least a little suspicious, and he quickly got on board as much as he could under these harrowing circumstances.

(*) Gedrick takes a lot of heat as one of the pre-eminent showkillers of our age (look at his resume and you'll see why), but I've always had a soft spot for the guy. Not only did he star in one of my favorite Brilliant But Canceled shows ever, "EZ Streets," but I spent way, way too many hours in my youth watching scenes like this one from "Iron Eagle" on HBO. (Look closely and you'll spot a young Melora Hardin - Jan from "The Office" - as Gedrick's worried girlfriend.) One of the best moments of my early career was at a CBS press tour event in 1997. Gedrick was there for "EZ Streets" (which wasn't quite dead yet), and Lou Gossett Jr. was there for some TV-movie. I was talking with Gossett and asked if he realized Gedrick was in the building; Gossett's eyes got really wide with delight and he ordered me to lead him to the "EZ Streets" people, where he gave his old "Iron Eagle" co-star the bear hug to end all bear hugs. Later, Gedrick talked to me for a while about how Gossett more or less taught him how to act, because he was pretty terrible at the time (as you can see in the clip). It made all those hours wasted on the movie feel really, really worth it.

The ticking clock intensity of the assignment brought out the best in Tim Roth. And I love the way the writing staff has managed to take a character who should, because of his talents, be the world's biggest cynic, but instead remains oddly, endearingly hopeful about other people's capacity to be true to both themselves and the world at large. The relationship with his daughter helps, and I was relieved that Emily getting to witness the video feed neither hindered nor helped the case; it was just another complication between father and daughter.

We have one more episode next week, and then there will be four left over from this initial order of 13. Fox didn't order more in the spring because they have a lot of mid-season inventory ("24," "Human Target," "Past Life"); at this point, they might still be able to order more episodes for this season, but the more likely scenarios seem to be either renewing the show for next fall (and dealing with the four leftovers somewhere down the road) or not renewing it at all.

I'll be very disappointed if the latter happens. Not that it was ever a bad show, but "Lie to Me" has been much improved this year, and it deserves a longer chance to stick around.

What did everybody else think?
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Dexter, "Hungry Man": Turkey for me, and a turkey for you

There's been clamor for a place to keep the "Dexter" discussion going, and I'm not made of stone. So as soon as I'm done watching an episode (as I did with "Hungry Man" a few minutes ago), I'll do a post that at least gives you guys the opportunity to talk about it. All I have to say is that the Lithgow/Hall portions of the episode were very strong this week, but most of the other stuff - particularly the final scene - was as silly and/or boring as usual. (I make an exception for the Masuka scenes, though. Masuka with normal people/children=genius.)

Fire away, guys. Click here to read the full post

How I Met Your Mother, "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap": Slap your hands, everybody, and everybody slap your hands

Spoilers for last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I get crow's feet...

"Slapsgiving 2" was a fun episode, and in some ways a sequel that improved on the original. Where the first "Slapsgiving" had one story that was a lot of fun (Slapsgiving), it also had one that was a big downer (Ted is still angry about the break-up with Robin). "Slapsgiving 2" certainly had its emotional moments with the story about Lily and her dad, but was more successful in draping jokes (the awful board games, Lily's increasingly silly reasons for the You're Dead To Me face) around the pathos.

And watching Barney try to manipulate his way out of being tied to a chair and slapped was a great showcase for Neil Patrick Harris. (As James Poniewozik puts it, it was like watching NPH get to play Ben Linus for an episode.)

Mostly what I want to talk about, though, is the distribution of the four slaps so far, which the show neatly reminded us of in flashback. (Along with reminding us that guys being slapped hard across the face is always funny. Always.) To date, it's broken down like this:

Slap #1: Marshall does it within minutes of Barney foolishly agreeing to the five slaps over all eternity (rather than 10 slaps right now). On the one hand, an episode called "Slap Bet" kind of needs to end with a slap, but given that Marshall had already struck Barney several times in that episode, perhaps he could have saved this one.

Slap #2: Marshall does it to punish Barney for his awful one-man show, which was itself conceived to taunt Marshall's wife. Easily the best, purest use of the slap bet so far, in that it was both unexpected and totally appropriate.

Slap #3: The first Slapsgiving. Making Barney spend several days living in fear of the next slap was a good way to exploit its power, and it did give us The Slapsgiving Song. But before Barney started taunting Marshall at the dinner table, he hadn't done anything particularly slap-worthy in the episode.

Slap #4: As seen last night, a slap that was bequeathed to Robin and Ted, but only because Marshall knew they would pass it back and forth, and then around the table, until the power of the slap brought everyone together. This time, Marshall mainly slapped Barney as a surprise, and not because he had necessarily done anything to merit it.

With only one slap to go - and my hope that the writers save it for a flash-forward to Combover Marshall holding it over Old Man Barney's head until they're in a retirement home together - I do look at that list and wonder if Marshall and/or the writers couldn't have used the slaps more efficiently. I'd have liked to see at least one more slap along the lines of #2, where it was both unexpected and deserved, rather than giving us a second Slapsgiving, even though the episode overall was just fine.

Some other thoughts:

• Yet another "HIMYM as the next Friends" bit: Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica's mom, is here cast as Lily's grandma. But if IMDb ages are accurate (always a questionable assumption), then Pickles (74) is age-appropriate to be the mother of Courteney Cox (45), but much less so to be the grandmother of Alyson Hannigan (35). She could have had at 20, who in turn had Alyson at 20, but... Won't someone please think of the underemployed octogenarian actresses?

• For that matter, Chris Elliott (49) is even iffier as Lily's dad, but I can't object too much when he gets to complete his Guy Living in Parent's Basement trilogy, which began with "Get a Life" and continued through "Everybody Loves Raymond."

• Did Lily ever do the "You sonuvabitch!" thing before last week's episode? I'm assuming it's a random homage to Eli Wallach as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and if so, I'd like to think I'd noticed it had they done it earlier.

• Carter Bays did an interview with Ausiello last week where he said that, yep, they split Barney and Robin up because he and Craig Thomas and the others missed writing about single Barney. Now, it's entirely possible he's dissembling - Craig and Carter have made an art of misleading interviewers about long-term story arcs - and that this is all setting us up for an unexpected, much more awesome Barn-Man & Robin 2.0, but if he's being sincere and doesn't think the idea was a good one, then I'm disappointed.

• Getting back to the subject of Jason Segel songs, if you haven't seen his performance of an original tune at a Swell Season concert, you need to.

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

Big Bang Theory, "The Vengeance Formulation": The Pasadena way

Thoughts on last night's "Big Bang Theory" coming up just as soon as I try to be the 101st caller to my favorite radio station...

The biggest laughs in "The Vengeance Formulation" were contained in the Sheldon vs. Kripke storyline, with the one-two punch of Sheldon way overdoing the prank and the ill-timed, overly-explanatory video that followed it. But I want to mainly talk about Wolowitz.

Howard is by far the most problematic character, the one the show usually seems to be laughing at, rather than with. So I commend any episode which attempts to humanize him - even if part of that humanization involves his masturbatory fantasy of taking a bath with Katee Sackhoff. And I thought this one did a better job than the episode last year where Penny tore into Howard for being an utter loser. There, it felt like the writers were paying lip service to the idea that Howard's not just a clown, but their hearts weren't in it. Here, he made tangible progress with Bernadette(*), and the idea of him having a regular girlfriend has real promise, and at the very least, will take the character out of his rut.

(*) Did they name her Bernadette because they knew at some point Howard was going to do his own mangled version of The Four Tops song?

However, I do wish that they hadn't gone with the obvious, superficial dilemma that Howard feared Bernadette wasn't hot enough, especially since the actress is plenty cute and has just been dowdied up a bit to be a plausible Wolowitz girlfriend. I know that Howard is a relentless horndog with an overdeveloped sense of ego, but I think the more interesting way to go - and a story that they could still very easily do - would have been for Howard to get hung up on the fact that the two of them have nothing in common, other than a shared resentment towards their families. The first Bernadette episode dealt with this, but I think there's plenty of mileage left in the idea that everyone thinks Howard should be so grateful to have a nice, attractive girlfriend and he can't quite appreciate her because she doesn't know or care about robots or "Battlestar Galactica." That seems like a conflict that's richer, one that might give Howard a little more credit as a person, instead of just having fantasy Starbuck tell him he needs to settle for someone less overtly hot.

Of course, going that way would have deprived the show's target audience of a glimpse of Katee Sackhoff in the tub. Can't blame the show for giving its fans what they want, I suppose.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

"I'ma call you back. I snitting next to Borpoh!"

In my haste to get out of the office on Friday, I neglected to link to my column about Oprah Winfrey deciding to end her syndicated talk show.

At this late date, this post is mainly an excuse to quote one of my favorite Liz Lemon lines. Click here to read the full post

What is the new logo?

You may have noticed that the blog logo has changed again. After last week's discussion, I've decided to do a new post each week announcing that a new logo has been posted, and inviting everybody to speculate on what it is. After a few days - or, at least, after enough people have very clearly figured it out - I'll pop in and either confirm or explain what it is.

This post, meanwhile, is being added to the Recommended Reading section of the side rail, so I can use it to keep a running list of all the logos and their explanations, updating it after I've revealed the answer in the weekly post.

We're starting this new process with one of the more esoteric logos I've done. It's one where you will either get it immediately, or else you likely will never get it.

Good luck. UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long at all. Check the comments if you want to know the answer to this one.

After the jump, the tally of previous logos:

The original logo (three summer rewinds, plus Tony) - Dick Winters (Band of Brothers), Ziggy Sobotka (The Wire), Dana Whitaker (Sports Night), Tony Soprano reading The Star-Ledger

Badass men - Al Swearengen (Deadwood), Sayid Jarrah (Lost), Michael Westen (Burn Notice), Omar Little (The Wire)

"Mad Men" - Pete, Betty, Don, Joan

Badass women - Sarah Walker (Chuck), Sydney Bristow (Alias), Emma Peel (The Avengers), Zoe Washburne (Firefly)

Bald cops - Theo Kojak (Kojak), Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue), Frank Pembleton (Homicide), Vic Mackey (The Shield)

Eccentric rich dudes - Jimmy James (NewsRadio), Bruce Wayne (Batman), Charlie Crews (Life), Montgomery Burns (The Simpsons)

NERDS! - Doogie Howser, Sam Weir (Freaks and Geeks), Chloe O'Brian (24), Chuck Bartowski (Chuck)

"EZ Streets" - Jimmy Murtha, Theresa Conners, Cameron Quinn, Danny Rooney

TCA Award winners John Carter (ER), Saul Mother-Frakking Tigh (Battlestar Galactica), Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory), Betty Draper (Mad Men)

"Mad Men," take two - Roger, Peggy, Don, Joan

Classic sitcom straight men (and woman) - Mary Richards (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Michael Bluth (Arrested Development), Alex Rieger (Taxi), Dave Nelson (NewsRadio)

Gender benders Max Q. Klinger (MASH), Jacqueline "Jake" Pratt (Young Americans), Kip "Buffy" Wilson (Bosom Buddies), Tara "Buck" Gregson (United States of Tara)

Four faces of Ted Danson - Cheers, Becker, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Damages

Police those moostashes! - Peter Benton (ER), Norman Buntz (Hill Street Blues), Thomas Magnum (Magnum, PI), Sarah Silverman (2009 Emmys)

Great coaches - Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights), Mickey (Rocky), Herb Brooks (Miracle), Norman Dale (Hoosiers)

Mad scientists - Professor Frink (Simpsons), Walter Bishop (Fringe), Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (The Muppet Show), Walter White (Breaking Bad)

Grown-up girls of "Freaks and Geeks" - Busy Philipps (Cougar Town), Joanna Garcia (Privileged), Lizzy Caplan (Party Down), Linda Cardellini (ER)

Movie-to-TV adaptations that didn't suck - Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple), Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights), Karen Sisco (Karen Sisco)

Canadians - Doug McKenzie (SCTV), young Alanis Morissette (You Can't Do That On Television), Constable Benton Fraser (Due South), Robin Scherbatzky (How I Met Your Mother)

Aliens - Mr. Spock (Star Trek), Mork from Ork (Mork and Mindy), George Francisco (Alien Nation), Anna (V)

Military heroes - Carwood "Lip" Lipton (Band of Brothers), Jonas "Snake Doctor" Blane (The Unit), Brad "Iceman" Colbert (Generation Kill), Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)

Bizarro "Sex and the City" - Sarah Jessica Parker as a nerd (Square Pegs), Kim Cattrall as a Vulcan (Star Trek VI), Cynthia Nixon as Eleanor Roosevelt (Warm Springs), Kristin Davis as Charlotte as a dude (the episode "Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl")

Who are four people who have never been in Cliff Clavin's kitchen? (inspired by this "Cheers" episode) - Archibald Leach (aka Cary Grant), Bernard Schwartz (aka Tony Curtis), Lucille LeSueur (aka Joan Crawford) and George Alexander Trebek (aka Alex Trebek).

Four faces of Phil Hartman - Gene the Anal-Retentive Chef, Frank Sinatra (from "The Sinatra Group"), Keyrock the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, and Troy McClure (starring in the "Planet of the Apes" musical).

The best (and mostly worst) of UPN - "Veronica Mars," "Shasta McNasty," "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" and "Homeboys in Outer Space."

The worst (but mostly best) of the WB - "Gilmore Girls," "Angel," "Felicity" and "Tarzan."

Gambling problems - Barney on "How I Met Your Mother," Marge Simpson, Joe from "Men of a Certain Age," Kevin from "The Office."

Manservants - Mr. Belvedere, Tony Micelli, Benson DuBois, and Jeeves.

"Chuck" - Casey, Chuck, Sarah and Jeffster!

Mullets - Richard Dean Anderson on "MacGyver," Michael Weaver on "The Mullets," George Clooney on "Facts of Life" (or possibly a "Golden Girls" guest spot), and Markie Post (possibly circa "The Fall Guy")

Mayors - Randall Winston (NYC, "Spin City"), E.B. Farnum (Deadwood, "Deadwood"), Richard Wilkins (Sunnydale, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Tommy Carcetti (Baltimore, "The Wire")

Awesome post-season 1 "Lost" characters" - Desmond David Hume, Benjamin Linus, Daniel Faraday, Mr. Eko

Secondary or minor characters who eventually took over their show - Urkel on "Family Matters," Fonzie on "Happy Days," Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties" and JJ on "Good Times."

Shows that handled Unresolved Sexual Tension well - Jim & Pam on "The Office," Lenny & Carl on "The Simpsons," Dave & Lisa on "NewsRadio" and Sam & Diane on "Cheers"

Ocean's Eleven on TV - Elliott Gould in "E/R," Carl Reiner on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," George Clooney on "Facts of Life" (or possibly "Roseanne"; I always lose track of his mullet), and Brad Pitt on "Glory Days"

Hot moms - Nancy Botwin on "Weeds," Elyse Keaton on "Family Ties," Tami Taylor on "Friday Night Lights" and Lorelai Gilmore on "Gilmore Girls"

People you forgot briefly worked at "SNL" - Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Larry David and Sarah Silverman

Kiss me, I'm Irish - Tommy Gavin from "Rescue Me," Father Mulcahy from "M*A*S*H," Fiona Glenanne from "Burn Notice" and Jimmy McNulty from "The Wire"

Mystery writers who really solve mysteries - Jessica Fletcher from "Murder, She Wrote," Jonathan Ames from "Bored to Death," Temperance Brennan from "Bones" and Rick Castle from "Castle"

Shows you may have forgotten were spin-offs - "Happy Days" (from "Love, American Style"), "The Simpsons" (from "The Tracey Ullman Show"), "NCIS" (from "JAG") and "The Andy Griffith Show" (from "The Danny Thomas Show").

Characters created and/or perfected by David Mills - Rocket Romano from "ER," Miguel Cadena from "Kingpin," Arthur Fancy from "NYPD Blue" and Robert Ellison from the "Bop Gun episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street."

Helloooo, Nurse! - Julia Baker from "Julia," Colleen McMurphy from "China Beach," Carol Hathaway from "ER" and Zoey Barkow from "Nurse Jackie."

Shows that left their original networks - Turk from "Scrubs," Mac from "JAG," CJ from "Baywatch" and Latka from "Taxi"
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Seinfeld": The two Costanzas

A review of the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" finale (and the quasi-"Seinfeld" finale contained within) coming up just as soon as I discriminate amongst wood...
"That ending was so much better than the one that I wrote." -Larry David
In that moment, Larry's talking about the ending to the reunion special, not the "Seinfeld" finale. And he's always been adamant (including in a line in this episode) that he has no regrets about the finale. But whether he'll ever cop to it or not, over the course of this season of "Curb," and particularly over these last two episodes, Larry has given "Seinfeld" fans the ending they deserved but didn't get a decade ago.

Since it's been a while since I've opined on this subject, and since this will likely be the last time I'll have an opportunity to do so, my two cents on the "Seinfeld" finale: It's not that it didn't work because the characters were revealed to be selfish and shallow and awful human beings. We all already knew that they were. That was part of the joke, particularly in the later seasons. It didn't work because Larry clearly worried that his audience hadn't figured this out on their own, and that he needed to tell them, and to judge the characters - and, by proxy, the viewers who liked them - in the finale. And his need to make that point got in the way of the comedy. It wasn't an episode; it was a list of all the bad things Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer had ever done, all with a scolding subtext trying to question why we had found all that stuff funny over the years.

In fairness, placing this "Seinfeld" reunion in the confines of a "Curb" episode makes it easy for it to stand out. It's all the good bits, none of the plot mechanics: just joke, joke, joke, joke, joke. But what we did see of it, here and in "The Table Read," felt much more along the lines of what the finale should have been: just one last collection of stories involving these four socially maladjusted people.

Now, as an episode of "Curb," I'd put this one a little behind "The Table Read," which had the benefit of introducing most the reunion show jokes already - though this episode featured Jerry's wonderful rant about BlackBerry etiquette - and also the presence of Leon, which automatically makes any episode at least 20% funnier. But it still had plenty of inspired moments, whether it was Larry smiling through his pure hatred for Mocha Joe as he filled his tip cup with $20 bills, or the use of "Having said that" as a classic "Seinfeld"-style catchphrase(*)

(*) I don't think I use the phrase that often in my writing, but I do know I'm gonna try to stop it in the future. Having said that, it's really useful.

The highlight, easily, was Larry's brief attempt to play George Costanza, and the bizarre meta moment of Larry David broadly playing the mannerisms of an actor who became famous for playing a shorter, stockier, slightly more lovable version of himself. For all the grief Jerry takes (and the grief he gives himself) about his limitations as an actor, I have to give him major credit for being able to get through at least one take of that scene without cackling hysterically at the spectacle. (The outtakes for that scene are a must for the next "Curb" DVD set.)

In the end, the episode provides the exact kind of happy endings that "Seinfeld" itself eschewed: the reunion comes together and is terrific, and Larry and Cheryl get back together, albeit with Cheryl getting an instant reminder of why she left the guy in the first place.

So with "Seinfeld" having gotten proper closure, has Larry also put a bow on "Curb"? The last few seasons have all ended on notes that could very easily be the end of the series: Larry dies (briefly). Larry finds happiness as a member of the Black family. Larry makes a successful "Seinfeld" reunion and gets his wife back. What's left to do?

The previous two times, Larry came up with an idea (the divorce, then the "Seinfeld" stuff) that made him want to come back. And it's entirely possible he'll find that kind of inspiration again. As always, HBO's going to give Larry all the time in the world to decide. Either the show will come back one day, or it won't.

And if it comes back, I really hope Larry can talk Jerry into joining the ranks of recurring players on the show. Jerry certainly doesn't need the money, but his real-life relationship with Larry made him into one of TV Larry's best foils to date. It's just sheer pleasure to watch Jerry goad Larry into doing things he doesn't want to do himself, or to take someone else's side in an argument because he knows it'll push Larry's buttons.

As a "Seinfeld" fan, I feel like I finally got all I needed to see of Jerry and friends. As a "Curb" fan, I'm still hungry for a lot more of Jerry with Larry, if that's what either of these men want to do with their lives.

What did everybody else think?
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting caught up

Yesterday from around 4:30 on was a particularly busy time on the blog. Not only did I have all four NBC comedies to watch and review, plus a "Fringe" I'd seen in advance, but ABC and NBC announced the respective premiere dates and timeslots for "Lost" and "Chuck" right as I was getting ready to leave the office.

In case you missed any or all of what went down, here's a quick list of all the recent posts:

"Lost" gets a premiere date (and a new timeslot)

"Chuck" gets a premiere date, and Chris Fedak explains (sort of) how they'll incorporate the extra six episodes into the 13 they already wrote. (Also, I neglected in either post to link to this video that's both a teaser trailer for the new season and a message to the audience from Zachary Levi.)

• Reviewing "Fringe"

• Reviewing "Community"

• Reviewing "Parks & Recreation" (plus, Amy Poehler's favorite moments so far, from earlier in the day)

• Reviewing "The Office"

• Reviewing "30 Rock" Click here to read the full post

30 Rock, "Sun Tea": That's a Cosby sweater!!!!

Quick thoughts on last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I take a low-volume shower with Ed Begley Jr...

This was the strongest overall Thursday this season for NBC's comedies, and "Sun Tea" brought the evening to a fine close. Not all of it worked, but enough of it did (in that usual "30 Rock" power hitter way) that I was left happy.

Hell, if the episode had been 21 minutes of dead air and just the 10 seconds of Kathy Geiss using Teddy Ruxpin in a suit as her lawyer, I would have given "Sun Tea" my stamp of approval. (I'm easy that way. And note that a more casually-dressed Ruxpin was also in the photo of the Geiss family in happier times.)

But Liz's apartment story felt like a throwback to the sort of thing the show might have done a couple of years ago when the scale was slightly smaller, and it was a nice showcase for Dotcom's alleged improv skills. (I particularly liked, in his list of stereotypical Angry Black Man threats, that he was going to "take things out of context" all the time.) The environment story tied in nicely with both Frank's disgusting jars and the apartment plot, and if the show recycled Al Gore's whale joke from "Greenzo" (while acknowledging they were doing it), it also came up with a funny new joke about the pointlessness of the whole Green Week stunt, with Kenneth nervously eyeing the all-green peacock logo to his right.

Dr. Spaceman's first appearance of the season (if you don't count his cigarette diet book being shelved near "Dealbreakers") wasn't as deranged and brilliant as some past Chris Parnell guest spots, and I'm wondering if Tracy and Jack's desire for children will last any longer than Liz's baby needs did. But Tracy Jr. was on fire, as usual, and they told us just enough of the Charles Barkley/strip club story to make me, like Frank, really want to know the whole thing. And the increasingly strained nature of the tabloid headlines about the Geiss case was a nice background running gag, until finally the last one had to be explained in print ("a pun on disgrace").

What did everybody else think?
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The Office, "Shareholders Meeting": Now we're up in the big leagues

Spoilers for last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I feel lachrymose...

Michael Scott believes he is a performer at heart, and "Shareholders Meeting" put him - and the show - on the biggest stage to date. It's one thing for Michael to make a fool of himself in front of the branch staff, or even at a company picnic, but the scale of the shareholders meeting was much larger, both in terms of the number of people present and the potential impact of Michael's blunder.

So while I cringed as he kept talking and talking and talking about all the money the company had spent on him that day, I got an enormous kick out of seeing Michael turn the crowd in his favor by throwing out the kind of meaningless promises and gestures that he assumes you're supposed to use on a crowd this size(*). The DM Scranton people all told him not to do the twirl, but those people in the ballroom ate up that damn twirl.

(*) Michael's performance on stage reminded me very much of David Brent's turn as a motivational speaker on the British show. In both cases, we have men who understand human interaction largely through their consumption of pop culture, and who assume that if they just do it like they've seen in the movies, their audience will love them. The outcomes are different, as befits the two series' worldviews - the bleak British show has David perform to stony silence, while Michael is cheered - but neither gives their crowd anything of value.

Michael's speech also typified his blind faith in Dunder Mifflin - the only real family he has - in that he assumed these people had to either have a plan or have the ability to come up with a plan once they were sufficiently inspired by him. But they had nothing, and for a brief moment it looked like Oscar was really going to help save the day. But it felt funnier, and truer to life, that Oscar would be terrified of offending the corporate elite, leaving Michael there to face angry comments from the top brass(**). And then all that's left for Michael to salvage the day is to get back to the limo before anyone can cancel it on him.

(**) Once again, I blame David Wallace, who is clearly not remotely as smart as he and the other characters want to think he is. Not only has he (as chief financial officer) allowed the company to get into this mess, but time and again, the man places Michael Scott in situations where Michael Scott simply does not belong, and he should know better by now. Michael has a very valuable skill set, but it's a limited one, and every time David tries to stretch Michael beyond it, he gets burned.

With Michael, Andy, Dwight and Oscar dealing with the angry horde in New York, Jim got placed into a more Scranton-sized subplot, as Ryan's d-baggery finally came to a head and required dealing with. Interesting that Jim's solution to the problem - move him to an undesirable new location in the building - was similar to what Michael did to Ryan at the end of "Business School," but even rougher, because Ryan had clearly grown to enjoy and take advantage of being Kelly's cubicle-mate. Ryan's continued employment at the branch - assuming the company stays in business - should be a good source of tension between Michael (who has an unrelenting crush on him) and Jim (who hasn't liked the guy since Ryan's corporate wunderkind phase).

The one part of it that felt odd was Pam suggesting that Jim's incapable of yelling. We saw him yell at Michael in "The Lover," and I have to assume if he can lose his temper there, he's done it at some point in Pam's presence in all the years they've known each other. Jim's laid-back, but he's not that laid-back.

Still, a very strong episode, and I'm curious to see how the company - and/or the show - gets out of this mess.

Some other thoughts:

• Because the show so often does teasers that have nothing to do with the main story, Recyclops was a painless and funny way for the writers to meet the demands of NBC's Green Week stunt.

• Is it me, or was Andy's fake PA announcer voice supposed to be Ed Helms doing an impression of Ray Clay, the guy who introduced the Michael Jordan championship Bulls teams?

• Loved Erin's line about the limo: "It's like what high school kids take to prom on TV shows."

• Of course Dwight has a shirt guy in the Garment District. Of course he does.

What did everybody else think?
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Parks and Recreation, "Hunting Trip": The good wound

Spoilers for "Parks and Recreation" - and if you missed it earlier, go check out Amy Poehler's favorite moments so far (complete with clips) - coming up just as soon as I peg you as a user of mouth tobacco...
"Guys love it when you can show them you're better than they are at something they love." -Leslie
In this very good LA Times story, Mike Schur and Greg Daniels talk at length about the series' growing pains, and the ways in which they feel "Parks and Rec" is different from "The Office." Watching the very entertaining "Hunting Trip," another difference came to mind:

Leslie is very good at what she does.

Now, obviously, Michael Scott is a brilliant salesman, and can occasionally back his way into some clever managerial strategy, but for the most part, he's all hat and no cattle. He talks about being great at things that he's absolutely awful at (comedy, most notably), and the difference between his perceptions and the reality of the situation drives a lot of that show's humor.

Leslie has her own moments of self-deception (the quote above, to name one), but at the same time, she doesn't mess around. She says she's a good hunter, and she is. She can out-shoot, out-drink and out-anecdote any man on that trip - so much so that it starts to become annoying to Ron. And when Tom the unlicensed hunter turns out to be the one who shot Ron, Leslie immediately knows she has to take all the blame, and manages to play into the park ranger's sexism (in one of the better Let's Watch Amy Improvise For Multiple Takes sequences they've done) until the guy buys her story and goes away. And in doing so, she again wins Ron Effing Swanson's respect.

That's another key "Office"/"P&R" split. Ron could very easily be the Dwight stand-in, as they share a knack for saying insane things with conviction, but he's also sensible, and popular, and a good judge of character. He's his own man, incredibly funny at times - as we see when Ron is loopy on a scotch/painkiller combo and refusing to let Leslie and Ann make him puke - but also very likable.

Ron's hallucinatory freak-out was one of several bits of great physical comedy in "Hunting Trip," an episode that also saw Donna tackling Leslie for allegedly wounding her beloved Mercedes, Andy giving piggyback rides around City Hall, and Andy stumbling around the office while playing Marco Polo with April. (And kudos to whoever came up with the inspired idea of making April interested in Andy.)

There was nothing this week quite as hiccup-inducing as Ron's shoeshine or Ron talking of his love of pretty dark-haired women with breakfast food, but overall "Hunting Trip" was another strong entry in this great second season of "Parks and Rec."

What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community, "Environmental Science": Tigre, tigre, burning bright

Spoilers for "Community" coming up just as soon as I rest gently on your pecs...

This was a really strong night for all four of NBC's comedies, and this week I think "Community" was my favorite of the bunch. I'm always more kindly disposed to comedies with multiple storylines if they find a way to tie them all together (see the best episodes of both "Seinfeld" and "30 Rock"), and the climactic sequence here - with Abed and Troy's duet of "Somewhere Out There"(*) accompanying both Shirley's presentation and the Senor/Senora Chang dance reunion - was both hilarious and oddly touching.

(*) In case you didn't get the reference, or why Abed called his rat "Fyvel," go watch the original performance from "An American Tail."

Beyond that, "Environmental Science" was just a nice showcase for virtually everyone in the cast, including Ken Jeong. Jeong was added after the pilot (no doubt due to his performance in "The Hangover"), and there have been times where he's either felt shoehorned into episodes, or else working in a style that's just a little too broad for the room. But he melded very well with Joel McHale, and the opening classroom scene - from pulling Annie, desk and all, out into the hall to lengthening the paper in response to Britta's ass-kissing - was the best of those since Chang's debut scene in episode two.

Pierce got to be right several times (and briefly usurp Jeff's role in the group), Shirley got to give everyone a sandwich, Abed got to question other people's level of reality, and Troy got to squeal like a little girl - a lot.

Strong, funny, very satisfying episode.

What did everybody else think?
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Fringe, "August": I drink your cough syrup milkshake

Spoilers for tonight's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I add "messy" to the APB...

I've been waiting half the day to write this review, frequently procrastinating on other projects (like the return of "Lost"), even though I watched a screener of "August" yesterday and could have banged it out right away.

Usually, when I struggle with writer's block on a column or blog post, it's because I don't feel passionately one way or the other about something - where I'm writing something because I feel like I should, and not because I really care. (This week's Heather Locklear column was another one that took forever to finish.) And unfortunately, I think that's where I stand on "Fringe."

I want to like "Fringe" more than I do. John Noble is wonderful, Joshua Jackson plays off him well, and the mix of obsolete technology and 21st century filmmaking techniques has led to a lot of memorably creepy images. But I never quite feel as attached to the show as I want to. When the standalone episodes air, I think, "that was okay, but let's get back to the mythology." Yet when the mythology episodes air, I'm still sometimes underwhelmed.

An entire episode about The Observers should have been a lot of fun. And certainly, parts of it were, like the opening sequence with August catching bullets and shooting a raygun, or Olivia and Peter getting a quick-and-dirty lesson about Observer history from the guy at Massive Dynamic.

And there were also some fine emotional moments, both between August and the kidnapped girl he had come to love, and as Walter thought back to how he came into custody of the Peter of Earth-WTC, and as he feared that The Observers intended to take this Peter away from him.

But something still feels oddly lacking from the show, beyond my ongoing issues with Anna Torv's intermittent charisma. "August" told us quite a bit about The Observers, and again hinted at the looming inter-dimensional apocalypse. But at this stage of the series, with an episode like this, I expected to be blown away by this one and it was... okay. Entertaining enough in spots, but still not a sign that the show is taking The Leap anytime soon.

Also, for a race of superhuman time-travelers, The Observers have very poor taste in henchmen. Donald the assassin was meant to be some terrifying killing machine, I think, and yet he lets Peter Bishop get away from him despite having a gun to his head. I know Peter's not exactly a wimp and has an odd skill set, but still.

What did everybody else think?
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Chuck returns Jan. 10, take two: Chris Fedak speaks

Just got off the phone with "Chuck" co-creator Chris Fedak, who was very pumped about the early premiere date, and the fact that they'll get to produce six additional episodes, bringing season 3's total up to 19.

If you've read any of my previous conversations with Chris, you'll also know that the man is incredibly, intentionally vague about anything that's upcoming on the series - at one point in the conversation, I think he started pulling the Chevy Chase microphone trick from "Spies Like Us" - so the following transcript will only be somewhat illuminating about how Fedak, Josh Schwartz and company will be using these six extra episodes on top of the 13-episode story they had already planned, but here we go...

How do you feel?

I'm fantastic. I'm so excited.

Happy to be back in the same timeslot?

It feels like Monday nights at 8 o'clock is the "Chuck" hour. We know that real estate.

And I'm assuming you're pleased to be coming back sooner than originally planned, right?

I am glad to be coming back sooner than March. It's kind of strange to be making a television show and not having anybody watching it. We're doing lots of crazy stuff.

So how are you going to work these extra six episodes into the season? Will you be inserting them into the middle of the 13 you had already planned, tacking them onto the end, telling a whole new story or what?

Right now, we're going to stick with the 13 that we had planned. When we got the order for six more episodes, we restructured the story somewhat, but we're still operating along the lines that the six additional episodes will be "Chuck" season 3.2. We're not going to pad the original story out. We're going to tell more story.

So will episode 13 still end more or less where it was going to when it was going to be the season finale?

Mostly, yes. When you watch 13, you'll get a feel for the big, epic things we're doing. We're telling a lot of story this season. It's all going to be one season. Essentially, it's our ability to tell more story. But it'll still feel like one season. It won't feel like we're going into another season of the show. It's one consistent thing.

How far along in the process are you? Were you ready for this possibility?

Right now, we're in the process of working on the additional six episodes. The good thing is we started (production) early. We're currently shooting episode 11. So we had to be ahead of the curve in the story-breaking process. When we got word, we still had enough time to do what we do at the beginning of the season, which was to ask, "What story do we want to tell?"

And the way you planned 13 to end wasn't going to put you in a place where it would have been hard to tell more stories immediately afterwards, correct?

It was a super-exciting episode, but it's not as if we have to reinvent the show.

I imagine that if NBC had somehow tacked an extra six episodes onto season two at a late hour, it would have been tough to suddenly do extra episodes where Chuck knows kung fu.

That would have been very difficult to do.

So you hadn't planned to do something that extreme at the end of 13?

Hmm... That's a good question. Hmm... I don't agree with the presupposition of the question. So I can't answer that question. But you can quote me saying I can't answer. Hmm...

I think I've already forgotten what my presupposition was.

Your presupposition that 13 could not have been that cataclysmic because we don't have to reinvent the show.

Oh, right.

It's so tightly wound, there's a lot of epic things that happen throughout the season. The six episodes after 13 are very much a continuation, building upon the stories that we're telling.

Now, I haven't done the math yet, but you should have aired around eight episodes before the Winter Olympics begin and take you off the air for a few weeks.

Seven episodes, I believe.

So how do you think episode seven works as the last one people will be seeing until the Olympics are over?

Episode seven is kind of a good stopping point. It's a good place to break for the mid-point of the season. It's kind of cool, I think.

Well, congratulations on coming back early, and the extra episodes. I'm pumped.

We're stoked as well. It's great to be coming back, it's great to be coming back early.

And hopefully there won't be any Obama primetime press conferences on Monday this time around.

Hopefully, not, but you know, we do understand that the President needs to talk to the country from time to time. So does Chuck, though.
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Put that video game away! Chuck is coming back in January!

Still more awesome premiere date news: "Chuck" will be coming back ahead of schedule, debuting with back to back episodes on Sunday, January 10 from 9-11, then airing a third episode in its new/old regular timeslot, Mondays at 8, on Jan. 11.

Still no word on whether there will be additional episodes beyond the 13 ordered, as has been rumored (rumors are floating that NBC may be ordering additional eps of "Trauma," which may complicate things), and obviously the season will be disrupted by the Winter Olympics. But Operation Bartowski is about to resume. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Was just told by NBC that they did, in fact, order six episodes past the initial 13. So we'll get 19 episodes total. Nice! Click here to read the full post