Saturday, October 31, 2009

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 6 “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” (B)

A show like this really doesn’t need a Halloween episode, especially if it really only functions as an opportunity for Dylan to escape from the hospital and for Mark to embarrass himself again by chasing after people wearing masks. While Aaron’s Obi-Wan Kenobi costume looks normal on him, Mark dressing up just seems unnecessary, especially with the teeth. It’s just too light for the tone of the show, especially the other two major plotlines in this episode. Demetri and Gough’s search feels straight out of an episode of “CSI,” and in this case, it’s a good thing because it amps up the tempo of the show. The addition of Dominic Monaghan to the cast is fantastic because he’s really creepy. Putting a face behind the mystery of the flash forwards is great, and Monaghan brings a quietly threatening demeanor to the character. His end-of-episode meeting with Lloyd is good in that it connects him to the rest of the cast, but having him on his own on the train for most of it is effective at establishing him as a wild card. The most worthwhile moment of this episode is the inevitable meeting of Mark and Lloyd, and the look on Mark’s face when he realizes what’s going on is one of absolute fury. The characters are still allowing their lives to be ruled by what they saw in their flash forwards, but it’s compelling to see how it plays out. Dylan is certainly a bit of an odd kid, but his journey to the Benford household produced a pretty stunning scene.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 6 “Run For Your Wife” (B+)

Despite the fact that the first day of school seems a bit ill-timed since Manny and Luke got into a fight at school just last episode, it’s still a fun theme for the episode which charges two of the main stories of the episode. Jay’s less-than-enthusiastic comments about Manny’s poncho were funny, but were topped by Gloria’s decision to encourage Jay to break his musical instrument so that the ensemble wasn’t too over-the-top. Claire’s need to stay home and take a day to herself just sitting around and reading made for great over-enthusiasm and intrusiveness on the part of Phil, whose categorization by Claire as her “other child” is spot-on. Their race is mildly amusing, and Claire’s decision to let him win because it will mean something to him adds a nice dramatic touch to the episode. The snippets of Haley’s driver’s ed fiascos were pretty hilarious, and while I wouldn’t have minded seeing an entire episode devoted to those mishaps, the moments selected were pretty brilliant. Mitchell and Cameron’s concerned visit to the doctor is a touch over-the-top, but that’s what makes them so entertaining. The funniest part is most definitely Cameron’s eagerness to connect with the Asian doctor and insinuate that she has a connection to Lily, while the doctor continued to insist that she was born in Denver. With Cameron’s quiet racial insinuations and Jay’s terribly unsubtle outright racism, this show knows exactly how much to push the boundaries of acceptability and produce hilarious material.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 2, Episode 8 “Potlatch” (B+)

It’s incredible how volatile this show is to the point that the club getting guns pointed at them or shot at is almost expected. It’s difficult to keep track of all the different groups that have beefs with SAMCRO, and it seems they’ve all come together in one episode to make life impossible for the club. The strain in the relationship between Clay and Jax really is tearing them apart, and their subsequent experiencing of various problems makes for even more drama. The bond that Jax and Opie have defended with the girls at the porn studio seems destined to be ripped to shreds as their acts of intimidation result in a deathly and undeserved retribution. It’s unnerving to see Gemma scared of someone, and it also seems that she’s rubbing off a lot on Tara, who seems unable to contain her temper and refuses to take any of the crap Jax and Gemma continue to dish out to her. Gemma’s potluck is a gathering that seems all too peaceful for this violence-infected community, and the quiet, serious arrival of Hale is a tremendously effective, subtle scene which sets everyone off. It seems like nothing will ever be calm or go well for this crew, but watching them come apart is truly mesmerizing. Mark Boone Junior is doing a particularly impressive job and standing out as the seasoned Bobby, trying hard not to take sides in the war between Clay and Jax while keeping the club as together as possible, under the circumstances.

What I’m Watching: Heroes

Heroes: Season 4, Episode 7 “Strange Attractors” (F)

Trying to integrate college life with a Halloween-themed episode just results in more typical inanity for this show, further reducing the quality and enjoyability of this show. The hazing methods practiced by the sorority girls at Arlington University seem a tad vicious and over-the-top, and Rebecca’s attempts to get rid of Gretchen are becoming a bit obvious. This episode feels too much like a horror movie when this show has never been all that scary, even when Sylar was trolling around looking for some cheerleading scalps to break open. At this point, Rebecca should just try and introduce Claire to Samuel without needing to make her feel separated from humanity. The college stuff is just getting ridiculous. Sylar imprisoning Matt in his own body is a terrible direction in which to head, specifically because it’s almost identical to the abysmal Niki/Jessica plotline from season one. Matt trying to get rid of Sylar by drinking himself silly was obviously a bad idea, and his spiraling downward isn’t going to help anything, unless it somehow (hopefully) gets him killed off the show. His former co-surrogate parent Mohinder isn’t missed, so his absence would be a boon for the show. Hiro and Peter didn’t even appear in this episode, so clearly some characters are dispensable. Noah and Tracy’s failed efforts to save a kid with a lethal power weren’t all that intriguing, but the violent reaction it elicits from Samuel means that there’s clearly a war brewing, and maybe that can make the characters come together and become legitimately interesting again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 3, Episode 5 “Slow Happy Boys” (B+)

Bringing in a main character’s old friend who’s never once been mentioned always seem like a strange thing, and it often either presents the opportunity to showcase a terrific guest performer or detracts from the overall arc of the series. In this case, it does neither, and merely offers a regular but still quite fun excerpt of Hank and company’s lives. Kevin Corrigan (recent guest star on “Mercy” and “Damages”) isn’t exactly a terrific actor, but the role suits him well and he brings out the best in those around him. Clearly he’s a good friend of Hank if the man puts in the effort to send the girl he just spent the night with to lie down with him as if the two of them slept together. Sue really is quite a character, and the revelation that she has a husband, played by the fabulous Stephen Root (recent guest star on “Pushing Daisies” and “True Blood”), is surprising but hardly out of the ordinary for the wild woman. The quite unexpected return of another former partner of Charlie’s, the lovely porn star Daisy, pretty much ruins any chance of normalcy for Charlie and Marcy in their reconciled relationship. Hank’s very conveniently-timed trip to take his bud back to the airport produced the most wonderful of surprises: the return of Karen. Even if it’s not permanent, having her back in Los Angeles is going to make things even juicier, especially considering the fact that Hank already has three women hanging off his arm.

Fabulous News for Chuck!

A quick bit of amazing breaking news: NBC has decided to cancel "Trauma" after it airs its original thirteen episodes and give "Chuck" six more episodes! The 19 upcoming episodes of "Chuck" may start as early as January! This is fantastic news! (Thanks to

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 11 “The Gypsy and the Hobo” (B+)

It’s hard to believe that Don actually responded to Betty’s questioning and came clean with everything. His tearful recounting of his past brings to mind the notion of it being difficult to see a grown man cry. Don is one of the toughest TV characters out there today, and to see him so visibly ripped apart after he moseys into the office day after day and takes out his rage on his co-workers while venting other frustrations with his many mistresses is pretty humbling. Betty obviously isn’t pleased, but she should at least be somewhat satisfied that she got the secretive man to divulge so much to her. Don’s breakup with Miss Farrell is reminiscent of Don’s first attempt to really try and make his marriage with Betty work, though look at how well that turned out. Another couple that’s trying to move on despite some rough patches is Joan and Greg, whose statement that she doesn’t know what it’s like to work so hard for something and lose it all causes her too to really break down and lose it for the first time on this show. Don and Joan really are the staples of togetherness and putting on an act in this series, and to see both of them reduced to so little at the same time is staggering. Roger’s jealousy serves well to remind that he is still an active character on this show capable of oozing more than just laziness and superiority. It’s also a good way of keeping Sterling-Cooper involved in an episode that’s really not office-centric.

What I’m Watching: Bored to Death

Bored to Death: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer” (B+)

Now here’s how a show with very few characters can increase its potential tenfold: put the two supporting characters, who up until this point haven’t shared a scene, together for the entire episode. Predictably, neither of the hapless men get much of anything done, with the exception of getting stoned and then arrested. But it’s immensely therapeutic for both parties, and the participating audience, to spend time together, for each of them to be able to complain about their lives, and more importantly, empathize about their problems. Their inability to get anything done, especially in the face of Jonathan’s entrepreneurship in creating his detective agency and soliciting cases, is quite amusing. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s takedown of the beautiful blackmailer in this episode, triumphantly announcing that he’s not married and therefore the sex tape that’s just been created is of no consequence. His very self-assured, “gotcha” mode of revealing his hand is fun, and the fact that he manipulates facets of his real life by incorporating his ex-girlfriend Suzanne into his deception is entertaining. Jason Schwartzmann has a very distinctive way about him that really works for this show. It might be nice to have some permanent females around to try and straighten the guys out, but for now the three of them are doing just fine by themselves. They’re not getting much done, sure, but they’re providing excellent entertainment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I’m Watching: Dexter

Dexter: Season 4, Episode 5 “Dirty Harry” (B+)

The freedom to live out his private life that Dexter experienced last week was clearly short-lived, as Rita pries deep into his secretive side when she answers his phone call and discovers that he didn’t give up his apartment. Her prying is obnoxious to the point of being detrimental for Dexter’s productivity, as it’s supposed to be to create obstacles for him, and it will be tough and frustrating for him to gain back her trust. The relationship between Dexter and Deb is really fleshed out almost more than ever in this episode, first with his narration that he’d be lost without her and then with their talks throughout the episode. The outright dismissal of Anton is long overdue since he was really just part of a leftover season three plotline, which for me contained the least compelling arc (the Skinner can’t compare to the Bay Harbor Butcher/Doakes or the Ice Truck Killer). It’s a shock that Lundy is gone just like that, but it’s a terrific sendoff for the character to have him essentially giving instructions to Dexter through the voice recordings he made. Dexter actually catching the Trinity Killer in the act of committing murder was quite jarring, and his pursuit of him back to his house was intense. The revelation that comes to Dexter at the end of this episode is absolutely shocking and brilliant, that the Trinity Killer has a wife and kids, just like him. That moment proves that this show hasn’t jumped the shark by incorporating yet another serial killer instead of focusing just on Dexter. The presence of the Trinity Killer is beneficial, if not crucial, to the development of Dexter as a character, and it’s absolutely fascinating.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 5 “Everybody Ought to Have A Maid” (C+)

Having a welcome home party for Julie complete with the enthusiasm of the whole neighborhood, all of who should be suspects, and a cake seems like something that only Wisteria Lane would do. It’s that perpetual excuse to gather everyone together that the show keeps trying to find, done multiple times in this episode with Juanita’s birthday party and the neighborhood watch meeting. It’s alright if the characters have individual, interpersonal storylines rather than group meetings that seek to embarrass or weed out one particular person. The second attempt to incorporate Mrs. McCluskey’s senior lover is about as much as a disruptive failure as the first one, and only reinforces once again that Doug Savant is possibly the strongest actor on this show. Gabrielle trying to be a good mother despite never supervising her children closely is played for broad laughs, as her storylines seem t be lately, and the only truly amusing part of it was the calm, defeated reaction of Carlos to her hysteria. Bree’s interaction was a positive use of Aisha Hinds, whose recurring appearances on shows like “The Shield” and “Invasion” never quite gave her the right vehicle, and allowed her to really get to Bree, even though Orson’s relative sanity is sure to be short-lived. Katherine’s craziness continues to fall flat, and any Susan-related stories should really pertain to Julie’s love life rather than her own. The outdoors interaction between the two Bolen men shed some light on their relationship and the fallibility of Angie. The most startling scene was Angie’s decision to encourage Katherine’s fantasy life in order to get that very dangerous bullet out of her shoulder. It’s about time someone besides the audience dug a little deeper into the history of their new neighbors.

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Episode 6 “The Bare Midriff” (B+)

If I had looked up the title of this episode before watching this, I might not have been so shocked by the almost-over-the-line ending shot of Larry hanging on to his secretary’s extra flesh for dear life while about to fall off a roof. This episode really tries to go very far and push the limits as much as possible, and all in all it works, but it’s still significantly tasteless. Larry’s eye-level pee problem resulting in the seeming teardrop falling from Jesus’ eye in the painting was pretty outrageous, and its discovery by the secretary and her daughter was portrayed as an ultra-serious revelation in an obvious mockery of religious zealotry. The rooftop near-suicide was a similarly severe moment clearly meant to be a send-up of considerably more dramatic movies based on fervent religious people. Larry’s presence in flashbacks when the secretary’s mother pegs him as a dead ringer for her dead husband was a bit unnecessary, though it was somewhat helpful in driving home the scene where Richard angrily whips out his present of a bat for Larry after they get into a road-rage-inspired fighting match. Richard Lewis continues to occupy the role of the world’s most unappreciated friend, as Larry refuses to move over to make room for him or call him back after their call gets dropped. The appearance of Jerry Seinfeld was fun, and he’s a perfect companion for Larry who’s able to go back and forth with him and also act as an accomplice in all of his complaining and bad ideas.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pilot Review: White Collar

White Collar (USA)
Premiered October 23 at 10pm

USA has added its latest crazy character to its roster, and the pilot of "White Collar" helps establish Matthew Bomer's Neal Caffrey as a wild personality deserving of such a classification. He's an art thief and con artist capable of escaping from prison simply by walking out the front door in a guard's uniform. The last TV character to pull off such a feat was Michael Scofield ("Prison Break") and he didn't have anywhere near the same level of charisma. In just the opening moments of the first episode, Neal is an entertaining, quirky character whose cockeyed smile simply hypnotizes those around him.

The fact that Neal literally negotiates his own release from prison with a quick tip-off to the man who caught him, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) is pretty darn cool. Their relationship is revealed a never-ending cat-and-mouse chase, where neither regards the other as a villain or true enemy but rather as a friendly nemesis. They don’t interact with each other in a hostile way, joking about how Peter apprehended Neal or how Neal managed to elude him for so long. Peter delights in reminding Neal that he’ll be happy to put him away for life if he even thinks of running, and Neal is happy to pretend that he’s ready to bolt. Their episode-ending search-and-seizure is therefore all the more clever and impressive because they actually make a good team.

This is a fun first episode, but it’s not a clear indicator of what the show will be like. There will likely no longer be a threat of Neal running from this point forward, and Neal and Peter will continue to help each other out in their respective lives while solving major white collar crimes together. The stars are more than competent and their chemistry together is terrific. While Neal’s quick finding of some highly discounted massive real estate is a tad more than reminiscent of what happened with Hank in the series premiere of “Royal Pains,” it’s not detrimental. That show turned out pretty well, and I suspect this one may too.

How will it work as a series? The back-and-forth between the cop and the criminal should prove more than entertaining, and they shouldn’t run out of cases anytime soon. The lingering thread of Neal’s disappeared girlfriend should allow for an occasional distraction from the potential repetitiveness of fraud crimes one after another. I think the superb cast and token USA laidback nature should keep this show fresh for a long time.
How long will it last? USA has had many hits recently, and relatively new offerings “Psych,” “Burn Notice,” “In Plain Sight,” and “Royal Pains” all caught on right away. This show meshes well with its timeslot companion “Monk,” and it’s a perfect fit for USA’s brand. Especially considering the extensive promotional material aired in the past few months, I imagine this show will find success and soon be renewed for a second season.

Pilot grade: B+

What I'm Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 10 "Mr. Monk and Sharona" (B+)

Having Bitty Schram come back to the show is a wonderful tribute to the first few years of this innovative series that hasn't gotten stale after eight years on the air. I can't say that I have a particular preference for either Sharona or Natalie since I didn't watch the show regularly until midway through season five, long after Sharona left the show. Pairing her with Natalie is really fun both in the ways that they get along and that they clash, and as the Captain predicts, it really does tear Monk apart. The funniest scene of the episode was Monk's inane conclusion that, since Sharona and Natalie couldn't agree on what would be best for Monk to do, they should take the elevator up to the 18th floor and walk down 9 floors so that no one would be happy. That's the logic of the obsessive-compulsive Monk, and it's a pretty wacky but entertaining system. Monk's investigation into Sharona's uncle's death was amusing, though it couldn't top Sharona's episode-ending money-making pratfall of her own. The end reveal, however implied it may have been by the elevator scene in the middle of the episode, that Randy was dating Sharona was pretty shocking, though quite terrific at the same time. It's nice to see the characters get excited about reuniting, and to see the usually stoic Stottlemyer get up out of his chair to embrace Sharona and even show off a picture of his fabulous new girlfriend.

What I'm Watching: Dollhouse

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 4 "Belonging" (B-)

This episode provided an interesting glimpse into the life of a fan favorite character, Sierra. The out-of-order way in which her history was unveiled and presented made it a bit confusing, though I suppose the intended effect was to illustrate Topher's connection to her and the fact that Adele was wrong about his lack of morals. It was obvious that Topher wouldn't go through with the intented permanent imprint of Sierra, and the fact that Boyd suspected what he was doing resulted in a fun interaction between the two. With a certain former FBI agent missing in action this episode, Boyd really stepped it up as he kept tabs on Sierra and confronted Echo about her sleeping pod scribblings. Harry Lennix was one of the most talented actors coming in to this show, and he's still impressing now. I'd like to see more interactions between Boyd and Paul since they're both very alike in their no-funny-business attitude supplemented by witty retorts. Sierra's back story isn't quite as exciting or informative as perhaps it could have been, mostly because it didn't shed too much light on her greatest relevance for the future of the Dolhouse. There is something to be said for featuring the supporting cast extensively and delving into what made them the way they are. It's also nice to have an episode that doesn't focus on Echo and her frequent hardwire malfunctions the whole time, and seeing her as a supporting character didn't feel wrong. Wouldn't it be great if the show was reorganized and Echo was second fiddle to the new main character, Whisky? Now that would be a great show. Hopefully this series will see more of the dearly missed Amy Acker since it's really doing horribly in the ratings and may not live past this first half of its second season. The guest stars continue to be top-notch, and Keith Carradine's appearance was terrific, just as brilliantly subdued as his character on "Dexter" but imbued with a considerably edgier attitude which fit him nicely.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episode 3 “Blue on Blue” (B)

This installment is a step in the direction of recovery from a shaky start last week, and a sign that this show can move on from its current plotlines and get off the ground for its fourth year in a positive way. The guest appearance of Adam Ferrera (“Rescue Me”) is welcome, especially for the way his interactions with Hilda and Betty fit in perfectly with the tone of the show. Having Hamish Linklater (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) as the major fashion designer Betty wants to woo for a cover story was a smart choice, and positioning Hilda as a waitress at the restaurant on that night was fun. Marc’s latest evil plan to sabotage Betty seemed at first like the same kind of thing he’s done over and over, but fortunately this time it felt fresh. Matt’s better as a character when he’s not just being mean and actually expressing his conflicted feelings, and giving Amanda a few good scenes is always welcome. Wilhelmina’s meeting with Connor seems almost inconsequential, especially if it’s not referenced again after this, but it’s not too distracting. Daniel’s run in with a wild chick is probably a good thing for his self-esteem and productivity, but it was pretty jarring to see Jamie-Lynn Sigler in that role. Maybe seeing her play herself for a while on “Entourage” made me forget that she was actually an actress who doesn’t just play herself all the time. Her hairstyle may be preposterous, but at least she’s getting the rather unmotivated Daniel off the ground and back in the game.

What I'm Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 5 “Roulette” (C)

This episode, especially at this exact point in the show’s run, isn’t a good idea. This type of story has been explored many times before on this show, with Lionel, Lex, and Oliver at least a few times each. The last time this happened with Oliver was just last week, and it’s way too soon to repeat it. Oliver isn’t a major character, and his plot has little to no relevance for Clark’s development as a hero. I’m happy to have him around because he’s one of the reasons that the show got better after a several-year slump, but it would have been much better if he had picked himself up and gotten it together without the assistance of this arc. The worst part is that Chloe was behind it all, which doesn’t make much sense and hardly seems effective. The fact that she would put Lois in danger, however fake it was, isn’t believable in the slightest. Lois and Clark sitting down to watch a movie with Clark running off to save people while the popcorn was in the microwave is fun, but it doesn’t belong in an episode that’s supposed to be about the relationship between Lois and Oliver. It would be almost as bad Lana coming back again, since Lois and Clark are quite clearly the show’s budding couple now, with Chloe as the third wheel constantly pining for Clark and becoming increasingly jealous of her cousin. What’s going on with those Kryptonians? Chloe seems a bit interested, and it’s probably best if she starts looking into it more closely and actively.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 4, Episode 2 “Into the Crevasse” (B+)

Even though this episode’s threads are all excessively wacky, it’s hard to disregard the very frequent laughs its jokes produce. The reappearance of Will Arnett as Jack’s nemesis Devon Banks is always welcome, and his comment that aired in countless promos for the episode is still the funniest, when he attempts a metaphor highlighting the merits of food that tastes better cold instead of hot. The ability of Arnett and Baldwin to go at it time and time again on screen demonstrates that they’re evenly matched in their fantastic ability to make the most inane of dialogue hilarious. The release of Liz’s book prompts quite a bit of angry reactions, starting with the very amusingly aggressive decapitation of Liz’s cardboard cutout and her attempt to demean him by reminding him that he doesn’t even have a cardboard cutout. The reactions to Liz’s book from Frank proved especially funny, though Pete pushing her and Tracy promptly moving in with her were entertaining as well. The idiotic suggestions from Frank and crew about ways to make a better microwave were foolish but fun. Nothing, however, could top the ridiculousness of Jenna’s movie being shot in a country that only has one minute of night per day, one minute at a time. Jenna’s good at being farmed out for silly side projects, but it’s about time that TGS hires a new cast member and has him or her wreak havoc on the already questionable sanity of both Tracy and Jenna.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episode 7 “The Lover” (B+)

You really have to hand it to this show for making the reveal of Michael’s affair with Pam’s mom come out in both a hilarious and believable way. Michael’s excitement at telling Jim and his subsequent panic was a great way to start out, but nothing was better than Pam’s glee at office gossip and trying to pinpoint just whose mom Michael might be sleeping with, only to discover with a disbelieving horror that it was her own mother. Some of the later scenes with Michael calling Pam’s mom lovey-dovey names and yelling at Pam in front of the whole office bordered on the more uncomfortable moments of the show, but they never went too far, and there was enough that didn’t come to close to crossing a line that was still funny. The deadlocked trash talking between Michael and Pam where they agreed that they’d both be willing to die in the office and Michael’s sympathetic speech about whether it was actually so hard to be happy that he was happy ranked among the best moments. It’s really just nice to give Jenna Fischer so much to do, because as Stanley put it, he’s rarely seen her talk that much. Pam’s confrontation with Erin where she had to check with Michael about whether she could put out Pam’s candy was an intriguing moment, and hopefully will be developed further in the future. Dwight’s plan to sabotage Jim by bugging his office resulted in some brilliant responses from Jim and quite a few hilarious comments from Dwight, and every time Dwight insists that he’s not a crazy person is always fun. Another interesting interaction was that between Michael and Toby, where the boss was finally nice to the HR guy because he thought he could help him with Pam. Even when Toby failed miserably, he wasn’t that cruel to Toby. As Toby himself put it, he always thought that if Michael got to know him, they’d get along. Did that happen and I missed it? I suppose it’s a good thing, and another thing to revisit in future story arcs.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 6 “Kaboom” (B+)

It’s always terrific when the cold open doesn’t actually relate to the plot of the episode but still serves as a hilarious reintroduction to this fabulous series after a weeklong hiatus. The excruciatingly worsening list of embarrassing purchases on Leslie’s credit card just got better as it went along, and Leslie’s ultimate recommendation to cancel the credit card but to not refund any of the purchases was priceless. The Kaboom project was mildly amusing, and it did seem that there was something off with Kenneth’s nemesis Donny the Page from “30 Rock” (Paul Scheer) spearheading the project. His senseless triumphant recounting of his evil deeds on the boat at the end of the episode was pretty preposterous, but wholly in keeping with the tone of this terrific off-kilter show. Leslie and Ann really have developed a fantastic friendship, and their shared delight in talking in code about helping each other out as friends is quite entertaining. Mark’s down-to-business conversation with Leslie about getting the job done elicited her ultra-serious response that she wouldn’t go as far as killing someone, which was great, and also prompted her surprising pit-filling action that put the somehow still present Andy in the hospital. Andy’s continuing presence on this show isn’t a detractor, and it’s working pretty well. Back at the office, Jerry just seems to get blamed for everything, and Leslie’s offhand comment that they should pretend Jerry was never born was shockingly harsh but quickly forgotten. No April in this episode, but Ron really made the most of only one brief scene as he expressed his anger at Leslie and then confessed that he liked saying no to his subordinates. Some staff this parks office has.

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 5 “Give Me Some Truth” (C)

It’s not just the characters’ lives that are being molded and ruled by the flash forwards, it’s also the show itself. Characters are headed in these foreshadowed directions because that’s where they think they have to end up. The obsession with the FBI investigation into the flash forwards is really starting to get in the way of any sort of progress. It’s like in horror movies when some seemingly more knowledgeable authority figure tells the protagonist that there’s nothing to be worried about, and what that means is that they’ll be the first to die, at the moment that they realize their mistake far too late. It’s a waste of such great talent for Glynn Turman (“In Treatment”) to be given a mundane role as a prosecutor without any sort of edge or compelling dialogue. The fact that the prosecutors categorize Mark’s recollection of his flash forward as hazy is wrong since he remembers so much vivid detail of what he saw, and it’s merely a cheap way of prompting Mark to reveal the fact that he was drinking in the future. Stan has just become a far more intriguing character, and the fact that he tried to blackmail the President of the United States, his close friend played by the superb Peter Coyote (“The Inside”), is almost as crazy as the fact that POTUS seems like the one who ordered the whole team to be taken out! The fact that Janis is a lesbian and that Navi Rawat is really creepy is hardly interesting or relevant, and it’s especially clear with her that knowing the future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There can never be any surprises, and even though Janis took a bullet, it’s clear that she’s not dead because she just can’t be.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 5 “Coal Digger” (B+)

The title and sheer premise of this episode are funny enough, and all of the performers just make it so much more worthwhile. The principal’s befuddlement at trying to figure out how Manny and Luke were related was pretty terrific, and just serves to show how tangled up this whole family is. Pitting the comparatively subdued Claire against the very flagrant Gloria is an inspired idea, and their rivalry is truly entertaining. The fact that the always-a-step-behind Phil inserts himself into the middle of the conflict is even better, and his attempts to illicit hugs from both women and in the process serve to anger Claire more than he’s actually helping the situation were highly amusing. Jay really is one gruff guy, as represented by his lack of patience and subsequent silencing of his chatty granddaughter during the game. The fact that the only person he can stand to watch the game with was Cameron was quite a pleasant shock. His description of his past as a football player, supplemented by the deadpan utterance of “Surprise!” was great, as was his additional sarcastic note about Mitchell being a fan of musicals. Jay asking Mitchell and Cameron whether he’s attractive was made even better by Cameron’s pandering, complimentary response. Mitchell’s shared disgust over his father’s topic of conversation with Claire was fun mostly in the way that it served as a reminder that the two are siblings. It offers wonderful potential for the future that this more than healthy-sized family can be mixed and matched in so many sure-to-be-hilarious ways.

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 1, Episode 8 “Mash-Up” (C+)

The show seems to be getting further and further away from its original hook, which was singing incorporated only into rehearsals and performances rather than just à la carte and whenever any character feels the need to burst into heart-wrenching song and dance. There were a few too many instances this episode where it felt extremely forced, and while it gave the lovely Jayma Mays an unexpected chance to sing her heart out, it just didn’t feel right. Trying to give Sue Sylvester too many emotions, having her fall in love and actually turn to Will for dancing lessons, were all similar missteps which just don’t add up. The episode’s main thread featured a character that until this point had only been seen rarely and negatively, as the secret father of Quinn’s baby: Puck. It turns out that Puck is Jewish, and he’s interested in Rachel for that very reason. While the mention of his family’s tradition of watching “Schindler’s List” on Simchas Torah and his Judaism-inspired musical rendition were humorous, the whole plotline just felt a bit odd. The obsession with slushies being thrown in the losers’ faces was pretty overwhelming as well. The fact that they all ended up fearfully and protectively wearing raincoats was pretty funny, as was Kurt taking one for the team. The glee club’s need to shower Will with their slushies at the end was something the episode probably could have done without, because at a certain point it just becomes too much. It worked well enough for a while to have everyone looking afraid as the camera panned down the hallway from the viewpoint of a cup, but then it got tired. And somehow all this slushiness didn’t leave room for any of the fabulous underscore – it’s a real shame.

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 2, Episode 7 “Gilead” (B+)

It’s quite jarring having most of a show’s characters in prison. They certainly know don’t act like they’re going to be locked up for long, though this is one volatile show that, in the FX tradition, isn’t afraid to pull out all the stops and really take a wild turn (see “The Shield” for examples of how this works and “Nip/Tuck” for examples of how it really doesn’t). This path for the show is a fascinating one, and it’s especially intriguing to see Opie as the one man on the outside trying desperately to operate the whole club’s business all by himself and spring his fellow members from prison. Gemma does a pretty fine job of taking care of business herself as pushes Elliott to come up with the bail money. The disgusted reaction from both Gemma and Tara at the babysitter Opie sent to take care of his kids was both amusing and terrifying, and the two women really have bonded in their similar journeys as old ladies. Their men finally went at it in one of the fiercest brawls that’s ever occurred on this already quite violent series, and the rage in both men’s eyes was more than palpable. The reappearance of Agent Stahl really put things in perspective for the show, in terms of how Zobelle is seen as such a threat that the stalwart agent would be willing to right all of the club’s wrongs to get a shot at taking him down. Juice’s undercover mission seemed comic until the poor guy got stabbed, and hopefully he’ll come through okay, because the team is really losing steam lately after Chibs’ car explosion and nearly the whole club being in jail.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 5 “Killshot” (B+)

This show really is extremely action-packed, and there are at least a few scenes each episode which really work to get the heart racing and provide some good thrills. It helps that Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J happen to be good at putting on angry, intense faces while brandishing their guns as they burst into a room or chase down a bad guy. This episode is greatly enhanced by the presence of a fierce, compelling villain. She’s able to out-do LL Cool J in terms of angry facial expressions in the midst of her botched attempting sniping sessions. Her presence serves to give Director Vance a legitimate arch-nemesis, and, quite honestly, she is pretty impressive, far more so than Vance at least. Bailing out of her car while she was bleeding like crazy and managing to elude capture was a fairly awesome move, and hopefully she’ll be back soon. In a sense, she’s just as cool as Ari Haswari from the original “NCIS,” and it took the hardheaded Gibbs quite a while to track him down. Another hint of the other show pops up in this episode in the form of Abby, and her guest spot was entertaining. Calling the director Leon seemed a bit out of character for her, but it worked well to make Eric slip up and feel uncomfortable. Despite getting cold feet beforehand, Dominic does a commendable job on his first undercover assignment, and even though he and his contact almost get taken out by a sniper within a minute of his arrival, that part really isn’t his fault.

What I’m Watching: NCIS

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 5 “Code of Conduct” (B+)

Tony is certainly having a ball now that Ziva has restarted from the bottom of the theoretical chain of command as a new NCIS agent who is no longer a Mossad liaison. His overly-expressed amusement at his superior rank over both Ziva and McGee was obviously headed for some kind of retaliation, in the form of blue teeth, it appears. The closing moments of this show are always good like that, equally powerful when it comes to serious, meaningful endings and witty, funny finales. This episode does a good job of incorporating the timely Halloween theme in a perfectly reasonable and logical way without making it seem forced at all. Opening it up with the trick-or-treaters running around wildly and thinking that the marine was “baked out of his mind” provided a good typical transition to the kickoff murder for the episode. The subject of the marine who pulled pranks ceaselessly upon returning from active duty was presented and framed very seriously, though it obviously had its share of funny moments. The line that entertained me most was the distinction between “a bunch of neighbors who made a phone call” and “one neighbor who made a bunch of phone calls.” For some reason, the scientific investigation part of the episode intrigued me more than usual in this episode, and Ducky and Palmer’s conclusion that the marine couldn’t possibly have committed suicide was an intriguing reveal.

What I’m Watching: Heroes

Heroes: Season 4, Episode 6 “Tabula Rasa” (F)

Sylar’s soul-searching has really become taxing. Zachary Quinto is a skilled actor who created a compelling evil character in the first season, and therefore all of the concerned, confused looks that have recently adorned his face don’t do justice to this character that used to exist. The notion that Sylar actually thinks he’s Nathan (and occasionally shape-shifts his face to Nathan’s unknowingly) and that the real Sylar is actually trapped somewhere in Matt Parkman’s head is nauseating. This show may not have had the wrong idea introducing a host of new characters in its second season, and while many attributed the show’s downfall to the poor quality of the new characters, perhaps the real fault is that they were only temporary, and not one of them is still around now. These heroes might be better served cycled in and out like the characters and cast members on “Law & Order.” Hiro is literally just repeating plotlines from past seasons, and, while that means that we’ll get to see more of the lovely Jayma Mays, he should have learned by now that he can’t change something just by going back in time over and over again. I suppose that using his powers to do magic tricks is at least better than him and Ando making faces at a baby all episode. Peter is honestly not the white knight he seems to proclaim himself to be, and there really needs to be a big confrontation with the carnival freaks sometime soon to invigorate this show.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 3, Episode 4 “Zoso” (B+)

It’s incredible how Hank manages to seduce even more women every single episode. His repeated conversations in this episode with both Felicia and Jill where he started with “you’re not preggers, are you?” were pretty hilarious, as were their different responses (“we just kissed” and “I thought you said you got a vasectomy”). Embeth Davidtz and Diane Farr are wonderfully charming actresses who are able to project confidence while still falling for the rather subdued charms of one Hank Moody. Throwing tease Jackie into the mix makes it up for debate which of these three women is actually the most dangerous jailbait. I imagine that once Dean Koons finds out about Felicia’s indiscretion with Hank, he’ll go absolutely insane with rage and take it out on the promiscuous professor. Regardless of what ultimately happens, the final scene of this episode was fantastic: all three women, hardly interested in the subject material, coming in to his classroom with their legs suggestively crossed, and his scribbled expletive response on the whiteboard. It’s so strange, though normative by this point on this show, that the lives of the adults and children are so interchangeably linked that Felicia can come over to take Becca shopping and think about kissing Hank with her daughter (and his) in the next room. Hank’s loving conversations with Karen continue to be wonderful, and hopefully the lovely Natasha McElhone will come visit California one of these days. Charlie and Marcy’s relationship is becoming even more depraved than usual, but at least they’re sleeping together again and hopefully rebuilding that home they just can’t seem to sell.

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 10 “The Color Blue” (B+)

There’s a recurring theme in this episode of thinking about change and the way people have lived their lives, and it’s extraordinarily powerful and equally well-done across the board. Perhaps the most staggering is the realization by Sterling and Cooper that all of the people in the photo with Cooper were dead, and Cooper’s decision not to attend the party said quite a lot. Lane’s discovery that Sterling-Cooper was back on the market and for sale again marked the second time that he has said to really contemplate what he’s been doing for the past year or so. After his transfer to an equally less desirable location that wasn’t London was averted by that bloody office crisis a few weeks back, he now has no idea where he stands. His conversation with his wife while they’re sitting in traffic says quite a lot, and really drives home the fact that the British invasion was an extremely good idea for this series. Betty’s mistaken discovery of Don’s divorce papers was a monumental event, and while it’s likely that she’ll harbor much resentment towards Don for a while, she probably won’t bring it up to him until the season finale, by which point his sleeping around will probably alienate her to a breaking point. Don’s affair with Suzy’s teacher is particularly compelling, and the different ways in which they view their relationship really are irreconcilable and fascinating. Don’s drive to Massachusetts with her brother was mesmerizing, and Don’s conversations with these people who somehow come into his life are always layered with meaning. The most meaningful moment of the episode was its fantastic closing shot, where Don gets up and walks past a clearly furious Betty to accept his award. The look on his face as he begs the audience to sit down and cease their applause says so much, and it’s one of the best closing shots of an episode I’ve seen.

What I’m Watching: Bored to Death

Bored to Death: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Case of the Lonely White Dove” (B+)

This episode is far more case-centric than the past two installments, but it still works just as well. Having Olivia Thirlby back is a wonderful thing, and the fact that Suzanne falls for Jonathan’s good-intentioned charms is pretty terrific. Their double date to Brighton Beach was going well, at least for Jonathan and Suzanne, until his case gets in the way of things. The reaction of the two women to the confession of his detective work isn’t anything to write home about, but it certainly makes for an amusing, entertaining scene. The overarching theme of yearned-for love in this episode is great, especially due to how it doesn’t quite pan out. Jonathan is really going up against people far bigger, stronger, and more powerful than he, and that’s what makes it so much fun. It’s not as if Jonathan’s detective agency is really at risk of failure or bankruptcy, and if his two-for-two perfect case record is disrupted by the Russian not actually getting the girl, it doesn’t really matter. What is important, however, is that his clients are happy, and even if he has an army of angry skateboarders or Russian mobsters chasing after him, he’s still pleasing the people who hired him. George’s dabbling into bisexuality was a pretty wacky subplot, but Ted Danson makes it work, and it was all really worth it due to the identity of the eventual escort he hires: Romany Malco, who played Conrad on “Weeds.” His laidback attitude and willingness to just live freely is fun, and the fact that he ends up just watching a movie with George and Joanthan makes it even more amusing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What I’m Watching: Dexter

Dexter: Season 4, Episode 4 “Dex Takes a Holiday” (B+)

Giving Dexter some space with a necessitated weekend trip for Rita and the kids is a good thing, and he certainly doesn’t meander around during his alone time. Only moments into the episode, he’s already designated his target, a killer who differs from his usual prey in that she’s a woman and she’s a cop. The actress who portrayed Zoey is Christina Cox, who improves considerably on her performance in “Defying Gravity” with an impressive turn here. The most striking scene was when she pulled Dexter over, and even though I knew it was going to be her, he didn’t seem to have any idea. Part of the intense effect of it was how it represented that something menacing that exists about someone suspicious in uniform, sort of like the T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” or Ana-Lucia when she popped up in one of Hurley’s vision on “Lost.” The spectacular swing around of the camera to reveal who the cop is puts a frightening lump in your throat which really makes the scene so much more powerful. Zoey’s threat to shoot Dexter and blame it on his attempt to rape her is both ultra-serious and funny, as Dexter asks her what it is about her and rape, especially since we know that Dexter doesn’t care about sex at all and would never think of anything like that. It doesn’t fit into his code, and it’s his code that leads him to a surprising revelation right before he kills Zoey. His exclamation that he’d rather risk Rita and the kids knowing the truth about him than lose them is a major development for Dexter, and it’s pretty shocking and well done. The Trinity Killer’s reaction to the sight of Lundy was very intriguing, and the way he almost forced Lundy to suspect him was quite interesting. The reunion of Lundy and Deb was expected but short-lived, as it’s likely that one of them won’t survive the shocking shooting which felled both of them. The fact that both LaGuerta and Batista turn to Dexter to talk about their relationship provides some nice comic relief, and it reminded me of when LaGuerta had the hots for Dexter in the first season and constantly tried to flirt with him while hating on Deb. This episode got me thinking a lot of the first few episodes of the show, specifically when Dexter was happy that Rita didn’t want to have sex. Clearly rape would be the last thing on his mind.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 4 “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” (C+)

Having too many crazy characters in one place is problematic, and the fact that even if someone like Orson doesn’t appear at all in the episode, there will still be a deranged Katherine around is just unfortunate. Katherine telling Bree about how she watched a football game with Mike and how it doesn’t matter that it was through a window and he didn’t know she was there was painful. Simply put, there’s enough drama happening on Wisteria Lane that doesn’t involve people who are legitimately nuts that it just doesn’t seem necessary to spend time with the real crazy ones, and Katherine’s dominance of this episode really drags it down, especially when we don’t even see a glimpse of Mike to react to her hysterics. Gabrielle’s longing for the adventurous days of her affair with John and Ana’s initial distaste for and eventual acceptance of her feelings make for a decent story that’s compelling. Susan’s concern over Julie’s affair with a married man is also a good way of keeping her serious while still giving her some comic material when she refuses to stop pestering Julie with questions the moment she awakens from her coma. Andrew’s brief appearance was fun, and his accidental slips made it clear to anyone who had doubts that Julie was having an affair with the elder Bolen. His appearance with flowers at the tail end of the episode confirms it definitively, and the terrified look on his face when his son tells him he knows everything indicates that there’s a bigger mystery to be unearthed there. Angie’s casual discussion of the explosion that caused her scar leaves much to be desired in terms of revelatory conversations. I’m sure we’ll have to wait until the season finale to learn the whole truth behind that. While Lynette’s considerable enhancements elicit a funny scene with Carlos, she really just needs to stop lying and get it together because it’s clearly not going to work out well. The narration at the beginning of the episode was a bit darker than usual, detailing the friendly mailman who beats his wife and really catching me off guard with the couple that loves their cocaine. I guess things are getting more serious on Wisteria Line, but that threw me for a loop.

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Episode 5 “Denise Handicapped” (B+)

It’s funny how Larry keeps ending up in these situations where he’s dating someone with a quality that’s sort of more than he bargained for, first with Loretta’s cancer and now with not one but two women in wheelchairs, and how surprised all of his friends and acquaintances are shocked by this and keep telling him, “good for you.” Larry’s amazement at the perks that come with being in a wheelchair, though he’s still just as pigheaded and selfish as usual when he wants to eat at a restaurant or complain about his back. His method of storing people’s traits in his phone is something I know I’ve done, but to a much less offensive extent. His embarrassed admission to both women at the end of the end episode where he revealed both of their names was great, especially after he tried to hide Wendy Wheelchair in the closet. Of course, only an idiot would bring another woman to an event because he couldn’t reach the one he was supposed to go with and assume that the first wouldn’t show up too. Susie continues to serve as the vicarious vehicle that exacts revenge on Larry much in the same way the viewers likely want to by throwing his phone in the ocean after Larry delays running in to save Sammy in order to protect the safety of his Blackberry. Larry’s argument with Rosie O’Donnell about who is going to pick up the check was fun, though the best moment of O’Donnell’s guest appearance was when she took over for the two wheelchair-bound women when the cowardly Larry tried to flee up the stairs. Larry still shoots himself in the foot most often when he just can’t leave well enough alone, in this episode refusing to accept the omnipresent Ted Danson’s gift of a slice of apple pie. Their very heated, swearing-filled yelling of conflicting commands to the waiter was particularly entertaining.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I’m Watching: Psych (Mid-Season Finale)

Psych: Season 4, Episode 9 “Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark” (B+)

It seems like the summer season of this show has come to an end very abruptly, and I could watch weeks and weeks more before I got tired of it. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until January before this series returns, but luckily this was an exceptionally fun episode to go out on and will certainly leave me with positive feelings about this show. Out-of-order episodes like this tend to work well, and the recurring theme of Henry teaching Shawn how to escape from a trunk and run while being chased was excellent fun. Giving Henry so much to do in this episode was fantastic, and his interactions with Lassiter was absolutely priceless. Lassiter had the best line of the episode when he yelled out “Spencer!” at the end of the episode and Shawn asked, “which one?” Lassiter’s response of “It doesn’t matter, you’re the same person!” was just terrific. It’s a clever throwback to a classic scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that’s done just as well and ends up being just as funny here. The casting of the two villains in this episode was also spot-on, with two different loose cannons, John Hawkes (“Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “Deadwood”) and Michael Rooker (“Thief,” “Meteor”), making formidably flimsy foes for Shawn and his incredibly ability to talk people’s ears off. The impact of Juliet’s near-proclamation of love for Shawn is lessened considerably by the absence of the woman Shawn was actually confessing his love for, Abigail. It’s about time Shawn and Juliet got together or Abigail got promoted to series regular, though I doubt that Rachel Leigh Cook would sign on for that. This has been a decent season of “Psych,” though, as I said, I’m eager for more.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: James Roday

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 9 “Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk” (B+)

There’s a point where Monk tries to hide and then eventually recounts some tragic experience from his past, and it seems like he’s already covered some similarly traumatizing base in a number of episodes already. Yet the fabulousness of this series is its ability to make it always seem fresh and entertaining, and a big part of that is due to the effective over-dramatization of Monk’s storytelling thanks to the talents of Tony Shalhoub. Natalie’s determination to throw Monk a surprise party and legitimately catch him off-guard was a great thread, and I really enjoyed each of her attempts. The ultimate way she tricked him into attending was spectacular, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting it, though clearly something was up when Natalie boldly announced that she had something to say when the would-be hitmen asked her if she had any last words. The way she uttered her happy birthday wish to Monk was simply stunning delivery by the lovely Traylor Howard. Virginia Madsen was nothing short of wonderful as a woman barely related to the case who quickly won the heart of Captain Stottlemeyer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing much of her, especially because Stottlemeyer seems to step up his game every time he spots a lady he likes. The tie-in of the miracle vacuum to the case was fun, though this is one of those cases where having a well-known actor playing the villain makes his identity obvious from the start. When the no-name janitor and patent lawyer were knocked off at the beginning of the episode, it was clear that the supposed inventor, played by John Carroll Lynch (“The Drew Carey Show”) would ultimately be revealed as the culprit. I love how Monk hardly even has to try to establish that he was the villain, and that his “here’s what happened” speech comes to him while he’s at his own birthday party. Monk really is brilliant and he’s going to be severely missed when this show goes off the air in December. Even Cowboy Hank likes him, and that guy seems pretty cool.

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty (Season Premiere)

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2 “The Butterfly Effect, Parts 1 & 2” (B)

The late premiere of the show I didn’t start watching until no one liked it anymore is a welcome return for the main characters, but it’s just a tad overstuffed with development and material. Airing two episodes at once makes it feel like an entire season has passed in only two hours. Seeing Betty get continually dumped on by every single person around her is nothing new, and it’s good that she still has people in her life, if they’re only people with the last name Meade, who will support her no matter what and give her pep talks and a helping hand when she needs it most. Fortunately, Matt’s turning out to be more mature than he could have been, still torturing Betty but not doing it as childishly as he could. I liked how he was shot just like Daniel usually is when he was first introducing himself to all of his subordinates. Showing the respective first days of Betty and Justin at the same time was clever and well-done, and keeping Justin front-and-center, especially with his relationship with Marc, is nice considering the character, and most of Betty’s family for that matter, could easily have been written out without a second thought now that Betty’s moving up in the business world. Fleeting mentions of Christina are nostalgic and sad, because the actress’ endearing talents are now being completely and totally wasted on CBS’ dumb sitcom “Accidentally on Purpose.” Amanda’s still just as fun and usual, and Wilhelmina’s scheming is only enhanced by the cover-up she’s orchestrating to protect her daughter and keep her out of jail. I think that this two-part episode ultimately provides a good setup for the new season of the show, and that things from here on out should be much more grounded and entertaining.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 4 “Echo” (C+)

The setup for this episode really is sort of dumb, especially when Clark can only hear Lois’ thoughts. He usually has an easy enough time messing up romantically with the intrepid reporter, and he doesn’t need to be able to read her thoughts to know, or at least suspect, what she’s thinking. The categorization of Clark’s ability under the catch-all umbrella of Jor-El’s training is a bit loose, and the fact that it just goes away the moment he’s able to properly put all the pieces together is far too convenient and coincidental. Regarding the toymaker, referencing past threads and characters is fine, but only if they’re legitimately interesting. The toymaker falls under the classification of legitimately insane and almost cartoonish in his methods, and his attempt to embarrass Oliver by making him read the humiliating speech is nothing radical or new for the billionaire playboy. It’s about time Oliver gets his act together and starts donning his Green Arrow costume and working with the Justice League again. Clark’s actions seem somewhat rushed in this episode, particularly his abrupt decision to peel away the toymaker’s face with his fire-eyes to reveal his robotic face. Wouldn’t he first use his x-ray vision to ensure that he wasn’t actually just burning a real person’s face off? Chloe’s jealousy is really being amped up as Lois casually talks about how she thinks she might want to date Clark when her blonde cousin clearly has more than just a simple crush on him. I’m now fully in favor of Clark and Lois, and I hope that their wonderfully layered conversation at the end of the episode about second dates and second chances means they’ll end up together in the near future.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock (Season Premiere)

30 Rock: Season 4, Episode 1 “Season 4” (B+)

It’s great to have this screwball comedy back on the air. The season opener occasionally tries to be too clever for its own good, but it doesn’t overdo it and a result the show’s return is a very welcome one and the premiere works well. Having Jack decide to take his bonus after getting rid of page overtime is a fantastic way of incorporating the flagging economy, and Kenneth’s insurgency is so magnificently in character. His accidental receipt of Jack’s paycheck was perfectly exaggerated for big laughs with the extra numbers which folded out on an attached slip of paper. The reappearance of Steve Buscemi as private investigator Lenny Wosniak is fun, and it’s really nice to know that the character actor is so easily and accessibly on call to come back and guest on this series. His rather unimpressive cover identity was a hoot, and his interactions with Kenneth were pretty priceless. Liz and Pete’s ill-fated cover-up of their search for a new series star was funny, and the inconveniently-timed drop-by of Pete’s wife was great. Josh’s presence at the meeting where Liz says they can’t tell any of the actors about the call for a new hire was terrific, and I hope that the actor isn’t off the show for good. Tracy and Jenna continue to be a bit over-the-top, but their incorporation into this episode is both effective and funny.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episode 6 “Mafia” (B+)

The main storyline in this episode is a little funny, tough it’s not overwhelmingly clever. Michael is always intimidated by people who seem like exert some sort of power over him, and Mike has the perfect build and demeanor to play the suspected Mafioso. His presence at the restaurant and his ability to talk Michael into getting in over his head were both very funny. Michael enlisting Dwight and Andy as his witless advisors was much more prominently terrific than the Mafioso and his attempted sale, and the excuse for Andy to end up dressed in a mechanic’s uniform was wonderfully far-fetched and fantastic. Oscar’s frustration at being the only reasonable person in the office since he believed Toby had checked out was great, and his desperation and need to call Jim and Pam to try and restore order was so unexpected and spectacular (especially remembering Jim not taking the Finer Things Club seriously way back when). The fact that so many people called Jim and Pam was a nice way to keep them incorporated and to really demonstrate how hard it is for the couple to get away from their jobs. Kevin shacking up in Jim’s office was a fun subplot, and his doomed accidental cancelling of Jim’s credit card was quite funny, but outdone by his subsequent international call to Jim where he chickened out and told Pam to let Jim know he said hi. Kevin is quite a character, and it’s so excellent that this show decided to emphasize and draw out all of its minor background players. Erin, to her credit, plays the secretary role pretty much as well as Pam.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 5 “Sister City” (B+)

The concept of Pawnee having a sister city in Venezuela is pretty funny, and while the actual execution is a bit preposterous, it ultimately works. The guest appearance by Fred Armisen is perhaps the strongest part of the episode, and the extraordinarily comfortable way he interacts with former “Saturday Night Live” costar Amy Poehler makes for a hilariously bristling rivalry. The running thread of praising Hugo Chavez is terrific, and Leslie’s refusal to pledge her allegiance to him was a fine show of defiance for the usually less-than-confident public servant. Leslie’s narration about feeling at first like Hillary Clinton then like Bill when she had to apologize for something was great, and Leslie’s eternal obsession with the prominent female politician is one of this show’s best assets. Raul’s admission of his mission’s pledge to humiliate and embarrass America was a somewhat predictable but nonetheless stellar twist that just underlines this show’s love of the absurd. Tom’s willingness to act like a servant so that he could receive general tips from the Venezuelans was very much in character and funny while it lasted. April was fantastically present in this episode, and her rather subdued courtship of her Venezuelan contemporary was superbly entertaining. Her eventual trip to his small-by-comparison mansion was a fun coda, enhanced by the presence of Donna. The way she basked in all of the crude compliments presented by the Venezuelans was an excellent contrast to the very off-put reactions to similar advances by if-only-they-were-misunderstood foreigners in “Borat.”

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 4 “Black Swan” (B)

Fortunately there’s no mention of any kind of religious phenomena as the reasoning behind any of the science fiction elements here, but there’s also not much progress made. The opening sequence was well done, and I think that showing different people’s experiences before and after the flash forwards is just as intriguing as the flash forwards themselves, and certainly much more fascinating than the events that transpire well after the flash forwards occurred (see “The Nine” for why focusing primarily on the after-aftermath doesn’t work well). Olivia’s determination not to let her life be ruled by what everyone saw in their flash forwards is interesting in the way it clashes with everyone else’s ceaseless obsession with what the predetermined future holds for them. The central patient’s logic that he knew he had no reason to be scared because he was alive in his flash forward was cool, and I think it’s that kind of thinking that will enhance the show and keep it going strong rather than all of the characters’ likely futile efforts to prevent the inevitable future from coming to be. Babysitter Nicole has been made intriguing as a character as a result of the rather violent and seemingly meaningful flash forward she had, and it’s great that such a minor character is being given such a tremendous showcase. It’s a bit of a disappointment that future Olivia-lover Lloyd didn’t see her in his flash forward, but he’s now so central to the plot as his phone conversation with one Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) reveals that he was part of the group that made the world black out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. That’s a big surprise, and it’s great to have Monaghan ("Lost") on board, especially as a seeming super-villain.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Incident” (B+)

After mixing and matching members of the three family units last week, they’re brought together almost instantly by the surprise appearance of Dede, the mother of Claire and Mitchell. It’s interesting to see the two starkly different siblings interact, especially because Mitchell is so much more animated and tense than Claire. Hearing Cameron discuss his relationship with Dede was one of the highlights of the episode, while Dede’s outburst at Jay and Gloria’s wedding wasn’t quite as hilarious as it was made out to be, though it was still entertaining. Seeing Gloria become outraged when she saw Dede in the house was great, but not as terrific as Dede’s subsequent non-acceptance of Gloria’s forgiveness. Haley’s boyfriend was a fun plot point whose attempt to diagnose the situation proved surprisingly accurate and not embarrassing. His quite awkward song was well worth it for the end credits sequence of all of the cast members singing a line from his overenthusiastic profession of love for the extremely young Haley. Week-to-week, this show is proving to be reliably funny, and though the past three episodes haven’t matched the absolutely knee-slapping hilariousness of the first episode, it’s remaining steadily solid and immensely watchable. Ed O’Neill had a particularly strong episode where he got to make faces and sardonic comments during his direct-address-to-the-camera sessions, and Sofia Vergara really rocked her scenes in what’s definitely her best role yet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 1, Episode 7 “Throwdown” (B)

I happen to think that the exaggerated slow-motion screaming matches often used in movies and TV, and present in this episode’s opening scene, are a little much and aren’t nearly as effective as just hearing them narrate via voiceover. Some pieces of the squabble between Will and Sue are more entertaining, like Sue’s comments about not trusting men with curly hair and her telling him that she was about to vomit down his back. Her plan to divide the club by singling out minorities and turning them against each other and Will was amusing though ultimately a bit over-the-top. Her stepping down was a nice moment though it seemed a tad out of character, along with her genuinely hurt semi-scolding of Quinn after she found out she was pregnant. I suppose everyone has a soft side, and Sue let hers out for a second, probably more than she’ll ever do it again in the future. Will’s findings that most of the cheerleaders don’t know a thing and usually fail Spanish was fun, and it was refreshing to see him finally take action and fail the students as a way of getting Sue to back down. It seems that Quinn, naïve as she might seem, isn’t quite as dumb, as one of her fellow cheerleader friends professes not to know anything on a Spanish quiz and tries to cheat off Quinn, and the most idiotic baby name (Drizzle?!) is presented to her by a character we already knew wasn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the box. Terri proves herself to be completely crazy as she and her off-the-walls sister blackmail Dr. Woo and continue the charade for Will, further upping his hopes as he’s told he’s having a girl instead of a boy. Rachel trying to keep Quinn’s pregnancy suppressed was entertaining, and a great chance for her to interact with someone to whom she can actually talk down. Two of the musical sequences in this episode made it all worth it, and those were the free-spirited rendition of “Ride with Me” and the emotional ending number, “Keep Holding On.”

What I’m Watching: Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Season 2, Episode 6 “Falx Cerebri” (B+)

“If we do this, we all go to jail.” Jax’s words seemed like his typical advice to keep a low profile and try to stay straight that the Sons of Anarchy wouldn’t need to heed but could instead get around by using their considerable connections with the law. But the almost immediate aftermath of their siege was unforeseeable. Zobelle was more than ready for SAMCRO, and his quick coordinated nod to Weston to start the shooting was a really bad sign. There’s no way that Jax, Clay, and the crew were walking away from that one. Their arrest is very startling and troubling, especially since they’ve cleverly managed to evade capture time and time again, and few of the members have actually been to jail during the show’s run (pretty much just Opie and Bobby). Now, their freedom is up for grabs, and a vigilant Hale or pee-spilling Uncer won’t be able to help them where they don’t have authority. Gemma continues to be the glue that holds every episode together even as she’s at greater risk of falling apart. Her carefree, stress-releasing shootout session with Tara was a sneak peek into her lighter side, while her threat to tear out both Hale and Uncer’s “soft hearts” was terrifyingly dramatic. Now that most of SAMCRO, except Opie of course, is in police custody, I suspect that Gemma will be paying a visit to the person who’s in Hale’s custody, and it won’t be pretty. This episode did leave me on the edge of my seat as the Sons of Anarchy were arrested, and I’m pumped and nervously excited for next week.

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 4 “Search and Destroy” (B+)

The heavy incorporation of Facebook into television episodes always seems strange to me because it makes me aware of just how widespread Facebook has become, and though I’m a user, the thought of people like Director Vance sitting around friending people just seems peculiar. The way that some individuals use it as a mad dash to see who can come up with the most Facebook friends also demonstrates the misunderstanding many adults who didn’t start using Facebook until after college have of what the site, in my opinion, should be. In any case, it’s used pretty well here, giving Kensi an opening to approach someone out of the blue and ask her about a request she might have received on Facebook. It also led to a pretty hilarious exchange with Sam where he revealed that the only social network he was on, in an undercover capacity, was Friendster, after which he asked Dominic if he knew what it was like to be slapped with a sandal (or something to that effect). The subtle back-and-forth between Hetty and G having to do with the exchange of soiled clothing was very amusing and also emphasizes a deeper bond between the two characters. Kensi’s rather violent response to seeing the security company tailing their suspects was pretty unexpected with her forcible inflation of their vehicle’s airbags and subsequent sarcastic offer to call for help. It’s all in the service of demonstrating that she’s a spunky character not to be messed with, though she has her moments too, like sauntering into the office in an outfit really not appropriate for work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What I’m Watching: NCIS

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 4 “Good Cop, Bad Cop” (B)

Probing into Ziva’s recent past is certainly an interesting route to go down, though I’m not sure how I feel about the continual painting of Mossad and Israel as being above all incorrigibly corrupt. The tale Ziva spins about her time on the freighter is an intriguing one, and if there’s something this show does extremely well, especially recently, it’s flashing back to past events and playing them out while someone brackets the scene with narration. Tony did it extensively in the first episode of this season, and now Ziva and then Mossad Officer Ben-Gidon do it well as they’re telling Gibbs what occurred on the freighter. While doubting Israel’s ethics is a questionably advisable move, trying to really drive home the notion of nationality, duty, and allegiance adds a powerful, moving dimension to this show. The usually less-than-impressive Director Vance gets a chance to be part of such a scene where he stresses the fact that Ziva’s Israeli nationality will always be a problem if her first allegiance is supposed to be to the United States. This kind of show usually isn’t so layered, and the continuous questions and themes this show explores sets it apart from the pack. That and, of course, the fact that the cast is terrific. Tony’s rather seedy attempt to get McGee to do his busy work by installing a virus on his computer was hilarious, and the dynamic between Ziva, Tony, and McGee is just as sharp and amazing as ever.

What I’m Watching: Heroes

Heroes: Season 4, Episode 5 “Hysterical Blindness” (F)

The much-hyped inevitable episode where Claire officially experiments with lesbianism as her roommate starts crushing on her finally arrives, and it’s just as stupid and uninteresting as expected. Claire attending all of the sorority pledging events is a waste of precious screen time for this series, and it continues to have not one thing to do with what this show is supposed to be all about: super powers. It turns out that someone with ties to the sorority does have powers, and that would be Rebecca, played by Tessa Thompson, who I knew I recognized from somewhere but couldn’t quite place. It turns out she’s an alumnus of the fantastically classic “Hidden Palms” which aired on the CW two years ago. She doesn’t bring much to this show, but her being in league with Samuel, connecting this plot to the rest of the show. Flashing back with the idiotic repeats of previously-seen scenes to demonstrate how Rebecca was present in all of these seemingly unimportant moments which pointed to Gretchen as a creepster was pretty unnecessary, and feels too much like dumbing everything down for the audience (not that the audience should be expecting much now). At least things make a bit more sense now, but Claire still shouldn’t be taking up a quarter of each episode just hanging out at college. Nobody cares. Bringing Sylar into the fold of Samuel’s clan makes him relevant again, which is good, and hopefully he’ll soon regain his memories and start exerting his evilness on purpose instead of inadvertently in jail or accidentally as Nathan. The actual living Petrelli brother is the focus of this episode’s only scene stupider than Claire’s girl-on-girl kiss: his three-times-in-a-row musically-scored stop-and-go attempts to run at super speed only to find that he now has Emma’s bizarre sound-as-color power. These heroes used to be sort of cool, but not anymore. Not by a long shot.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 3, Episode 3 “Verities & Balderdash” (B+)

Hank Moody is apparently just irresistible. He’s able to attract and juggle the affections of three considerably different women (of different age groups, no less) at one party and leave with all three of them still flirting like crazy with him. The most shocking of the three is Embeth Davidtz’s Felicia, who succumbs to her attraction for the wild Hank, something which would be sure to push her already on-edge when it comes to Hank husband, Dean Koons, fantastically portrayed by the irritably-eyebrowed Peter Gallagher. Hank’s interaction with Jackie is very suggestive and highly risky in terms of Hank slipping, but he’s doing a good job of keeping it all theoretical and away from something which would hammer a considerable nail in Hank’s teaching career. Diane Farr should be really happy with herself, having found a terrific new cable role after exiting “Rescue Me” so early in its run to star on CBS’ “Numb3rs.” Her destitution and comforting by Hank was riveting to watch in this episode, and her way of speaking and inflecting her dialogue is simply amazing. On Charlie’s end, his client-convincing skills aren’t nearly as mesmerizing as those of, say, Don Draper or Michael Scott at Chili’s, but it’s still a good thing for the perpetually luckless agent. His latest misstep with Marcie isn’t pretty, and though it’s obvious that Charlie is behind Sue while she’s talking to Marcie, it’s still disheartening to see him pop out like a jack-in-the-box from behind her. It looks like Becca’s mushroom-taking won’t get her caught by Hank but rather help ease tension in their relationship, though I’m sure he’ll find out eventually and he will not be pleased, though, of course, he’s done worse.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 9 “Wee Small Hours” (B+)

Don’s drives really are mesmerizing, and his encounter with the teacher just out for a late-night jog is as stark and powerful as ever. It’s clearly some needed relief for the very stressed-out ad man, who seems on edge at just about every moment and like he doesn’t have a shred of patience for anyone who wants a moment of his time at the office. Sal really can’t catch a break, trying to stay in the closet at work but losing his job due to his refusal to engage in potential career-breaking activities. His dismissal is quite shocking, and Harry’s lack of action is predictably unintelligent and unhelpful. There was a terrific scene for Roger in this episode (at the expense of all the other characters, of course) where he very abruptly and shrewdly chewed out the dismayed Sal, dumbstruck Harry, and unsuspecting Pete in one fell sweep. It’s a return to authority for the rather recently diminutive Roger, and a reminder that Sterling was always the hardworking, client-side face in the Sterling-Cooper partnership. The visit to Betty’s home by her extramarital gentleman caller was a pretty surprising occurrence, though his failure to show up at the fundraiser he rather spontaneously proposed at the Draper residence was even more unexpected. Betty’s stop at his office was another great showcase of the talents of January Jones, who continues to deliver a knockout performance. Jon Hamm is also doing a spectacular job – it’s not so easy to seem on edge constantly without becoming terribly unlikable. His rejected pitch to Connie with the universal word “Hilton” was pretty impressive, and even though he wasn’t in a great mood, he still delivers a stunning presentation.

What I’m Watching: Bored to Death

Bored to Death: Season 1, Episode 4 “The Case of the Stolen Skateboard” (B+)

It’s two in a row for this show as its quality continues to improve. It’s interesting how similar this show is to by HBO’s other freshman comedy from earlier in the season, “Hung,” is terms of development – I wasn’t impressed with the first two episodes and then from that point on I really liked it. Jonathan’s latest case and his rather inept solution to steal the skateboard right out of some thug’s hands leads to devastating career consequences for him, and I think they were played out perfectly in this episode. Their smashing in of the window took a wonderfully long time, and it seemed for a while like they wouldn’t actually go through with it and Jonathan might be safe from his troubles inside the confines of the restaurant, which were ultimately shattered by his pursuers. The ending shot with them catching up to him (remarkably similar to the closing scene of this week’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as it happens) was fantastically done, and it’s better suspecting that Jonathan is being beaten up off screen rather than actually seeing it happen. The opening scene with Ray in the bathroom and his wife freaking out while his lesbian friends discuss their plans for his sperm was entertaining, and Jonathan was a great stand-in for the audience point of view, realizing the awkwardness of the situation but unable to escape it. Just like last episode, Jonathan’s investigation and the case aren’t front-and-center; he just grabs the skateboard and goes rather than hanging out at hotels or stalking his ex-girlfriend all episode. Much better.

In other news, "Bored to Death" has been renewed for a second season, which will begin production in 2010.

What I’m Watching: Dexter

Dexter: Season 4, Episode 3 “Blinded By The Light” (B+)

Dexter needs a serious lesson in social skills. He’s not really aware of how to function in social situations, like when he pushes Astor into the pool after seeing another father do the same to his son, and dealing with a neighborhood burglar. Donning a ski mask to give a perpetrator a good scare is far more effective with truly threatening serial killers than a mere local troublemaker. The parallels between the methods the Trinity Killer uses to force his victim to commit suicide and the threats Dexter makes up when he’s talking to the cat burglar are striking, and I think that’s a stunning facet of this particular episode which really shows Dexter’s true colors and demonstrates how his code and killing urges really dictate the way he runs his life. A more personable aspect of Dexter’s personality is also present in this episode – his dry sarcasm. The crutch of Dexter needing to be driven around, by Rita and in the cramped backseat of Quinn’s fancy car, proved to be quite entertaining. His selfless gifting of Quinn’s bribery tickets to Masuka really did backfire as the still seedy Masuka attempted to sell them to the highest bidder (which, of course, happened to be Quinn himself). The intense shootout involving Angel and Laguerta should lead to a very interesting place for their relationship, as they’re brought closer together by the need to lie about their whereabouts. Angel’s quick thinking to explain away the discrepancy was quite impressive. It’s no surprise that Deb is redeveloping a connection with Lundy, though I’d say it’s certainly a step up from the less-than-engaging Anton. Ordering takeout or profiling serial killers? I’d go with the latter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 3 “Never Judge A Lady By Her Lover” (B-)

This episode is a notch better than the ones that precede it because it does decent justice to more than one of the plotlines, and that’s well above average for this show at this point. By far the most entertaining is the continuing affair of Bree and Karl, and their run-in at a function with their respective significant others was fun, particularly because it enhanced one character’s storyline which has been less than positive recently: Orson. His misreading of the situation and incorrect conclusion that Bree still has feelings for him due to her jealousy may be more of the same old flatlining plotline, but it’s still a refreshing may of bringing a defunct character back into the fold. Another housewife’s initial actions may be a bit over-the-top at the start, but the ultimate conclusion she comes to is a nice dramatic, moving one. Susan lets go of her inhibitions when she tries to wear down Julie’s suspected attacker, and it’s only when she realizes that she’s better off being nice to the new Scarlet-Lettered family on the block that the episode reaches a dramatic high point. Lynette’s pregnancy and her children’s general unsupportive nature is nothing new, and this isn’t the first time she’s lied about something related to a promotion or her job. After all that she’s been through with Tom quitting his job and crazy bosses, wouldn’t she tell her good friend Carlos the truth instead of constructing some elaborate lie that will eventually blow up in her face. Gabi’s chance meeting with John was amusing, as was Carlos’ reaction to the whole thing. It’s really interesting to see how the characters have changed since the first season, while in so many ways they really haven’t.

What I’m Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7, Episode 4 “The Hot Towel” (B+)

The episode immediately following the beginning of the Seinfeld reunion possesses no traces of any Seinfeld characters, but it’s a fantastic episode nonetheless. As usual, Larry pushes the boundaries of social conventions, this time by asking a doctor for his home number so that he could feel more secure. The preposterous chain of events that spirals out of that miniscule insistence on the part of Larry is pretty, pretty funny, and Philip Baker Hall plays a great irritated straight man as doctor to Larry’s rude, worrisome, invasive patient. Larry’s run-in with Christian Slater at Ted and Mary’s anniversary party is also a highlight. It’s refreshing to see Slater play himself, a far snarkier, livelier characterization than his recent performances on “The Forgotten” and “My Own Worst Enemy.” His taking of far more than the individual allotment at the snack table was great, especially in the way that it fed right into Larry being accused by Mary of just that feat. Larry’s run-in with an ex-girlfriend and her failure to mention her involvement with a rather aggresion-prone, strong-looking male made for a spectacular run-in at Mateo’s where a vengeful Slater had the chance to point him right in Larry’s direction. Some of Larry’s interactions are less funny and more simply uncomfortable and awkward, and Larry breaking out in interruptory applause right in the middle of Jeff and Susie’s daughter’s song performance falls into that category, though it’s not cringeworthy enough to make it unbearable. Overall, Larry deserves what he gets, and there’s a satisfaction to seeing the man who makes everyone else uncomfortable knocked off his rather shaky high horse.

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 4, Episode 8 “Let’s Get Hairy” (B-)

This is one episode that misses the mark for me because it lost me plot-wise early on and didn’t have enough truly funny lines to make up for it. The spookier storylines, though occasionally appropriate and entertaining on this show, are never quite as good as the straight murder ones, and in this case, the not-quite-werewolf just doesn’t cut it. Buried under the furry plotline is a wasted Joshua Malina whose training at the Aaron Sorkin School of Speaking Speedily is put to no use at all here. Instead, he’s saddled with explaining the episode’s more outrageous plot, which really isn’t all that great. Malina’s description of Lassiter and Shawn and Gus’ subsequent comments, on the other hand, were really fun, and Shawn’s note to Lassiter that he had been wearing the same shirt two days in a row was funny. Juliet’s also getting spunkier and more adept at dismissing Shawn quickly whenever he and Gus come over and try to distract her from her work with the presentation of an absurd-sounding case. Henry also has something to do this episode in a nice showcase, and his test of endurance and patience by holding onto a car was hilarious. He had a great nemesis in Thomas F. Wilson, famous for his portrayal of Biff in the “Back to the Future” trilogy in the 1980s. The ultimate revelation that Wilson was trying to win the truck for charitable donation reasons was a terrific twist, and Henry’s surrender of the prize to Wilson and the children is a fitting response for his character which shows how he possesses something his son certainly does not: maturity. In other news, has anyone seen the Chief lately?

Monday, October 12, 2009

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 8 “Mr. Monk Goes to Group Therapy” (B+)

Monk’s discovery that he’s nearly out of therapy sessions makes for a great necessary chain of events, and Monk’s venture into group therapy is a particularly hilarious one. The reappearance of Harold Krenshaw is always welcome, and I’ve very pleasantly surprised with the way that the two of them finally actually become friends as they bond while overcoming their biggest phobias while locked in a trunk. It might seem a smidge suspicious that this is now at least the second time that Monk’s fellow therapy patients were involved in a major multiple murder case (it happened once with Dr. Kroeger) and that Harold has been directly involved as a potential suspect, but on this show, it all works. Hector Elizondo is a truly terrific actor who’s able to respond (and often not respond) with such subdued nonchalance to everything that all of his wacky, phobic patients throw out. The most entertaining part of the episode was the very unusual “here’s what happened” from someone other than Monk. Harold’s extremely excitedly-recounted version of events made surprising sense in terms of Monk’s potential motivations for offing his fellow patients, and the sheer brilliance of having Harold try to one-up Monk in what Monk actually does was great. Recurring characters on a show like this shouldn’t be so well-developed and fantastic, but somehow Dr. Bell and Harold are terrific, and their frequent reappearances really enhance the show.

What I’m Watching: Dollhouse

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 3 “Belle Chose” (B-)

How many times is Echo going to malfunction? I realize that the show is now focused almost exclusively on Topher trying too many technological enhancements (in this case, the very risky remote wipe), but it would be nice if Echo could actually complete one of her assignments successfully. Before realizing that Echo and Victor’s imprints had been swapped, I was furious to see Echo stab the professor instead of sleeping with him as she was supposed to do. The Dollhouse must be earning a terrible reputation, and Echo, were she not the star of the series, would certainly have been taken off active duty, and at the very least kept far away from the more dangerous missions. But the show could really be much more lively, exciting, and most importantly, fulfilling, if Echo was actually getting something accomplished on her assignments, rather than just shopping for clothes and (not) sleeping with men. The casting of a grizzled Matt Winston as the fashion guy is an inspired choice, and he provides some nice comic relief to go with Paul’s distaste for waiting around while Echo creates a new wardrobe. Victor’s dancing isn’t anything great, and he’s a very skilled dramatic actor who should be used more for situations like the ones in the first season, like the escape from the Dollhouse and the release of the laughing toxin. The most regrettable misstep in this episode is the misuse of Michael Hogan (“Battlestar Galactica” and recently seen on “Warehouse 13”). He doesn’t even have a good line, let alone a good scene. Why bother to cast such an iconic sci-fi actor if he’s not even going to get to do anything?

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 3 “Rabid” (C-)

A weekend guest of mine saw me watching this episode and asked the obvious question, “Why is she fighting zombies? Isn’t this show about Superman?” It’s a sensible thing to ask, and there’s no good answer. The rationale behind the virus that created the zombies is explained in one line at the end of the episode by Zod and his now-deceased henchman, but there’s still no reason zombies should be on this series. It was executed fairly well, however, for what it was, and Clark’s new superhero identity is really enhancing the show. Still, there’s not much that can really make a random zombie episode good, especially when it involves a bizarre cure in the form of Clark’s blood and a whole lot of jibber-jabber from Chloe and Emil. Clark using his powers to fight zombies isn’t exactly the best use of his particular extraterrestrial talents, but it’s still sort of cool. The best thematic element of this series is the developing relationship between Clark and Lois. The way Lois talks about her rapport with the Blur is fantastic, especially in its layered meaning and the way Clark so slyly reacts to everything she says with such surprise. At first it seemed like their love would never come to be, but it’s clear now that they’re destined to be together and it will happen. The presence of Zod and his hunt for the similarly stranded-on-Earth Jor-El has yet to really come to fruition, though I like the fact that Zod thinks that Clark is actually Jor-El, and I look forward to their inevitable eventual meeting. Zod has quite an anger problem, and I’m eager to see how such a super-villain who hasn’t been driven so completely insane by power will interact with the far more mild-mannered Clark. It’s about time the time-warped, stranded Kryptonians cross paths with the Kryptonian who’s been on Earth for quite some time now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episodes 4 & 5 “Niagara, Parts 1 & 2” (A-)

This one-hour wedding extravaganza is one of the funniest “Office” installments in quite a while. Bringing everyone to Niagara Falls instantly reminded me of the classic short-lived series “Wonderfalls,” but this proved to be far wackier and even more entertaining. The arrival at the hotel was just the start of all the fun, and the setup for so many priceless moments. Dwight actually following through and demonstrating that, if their positions were reversed, Michael really wouldn’t do the same for him, was amazing. Michael asking everyone if he could stay in their room and their very different reactions were extremely entertaining. It’s always funny to see how Michael makes the best of absurd situations, and it never gets old or ceases to be surprising when Dwight actually hooks up with a girl. Oscar’s flabbergasted, horrified reaction to the fact that someone thought he was dating Kevin was very funny. The most unexpected surprise was who accidentally let it slip that Pam was pregnant: Jim and not Michael. Michael’s attempt to salvage the situation was typically awkward but really funny. Andy’s one of the most entertaining characters here, and his chauffeur service, frequent crying, party-throwing, and scrotum-splitting were all terrific moments. While I hadn’t seen the famous YouTube video which inspired the wedding party interruption, I loved every moment of it and actually thought, after watching the video after seeing the episode, that the Niagara version was better, mostly because the familiar characters are incorporated. My favorite moment, which had me cracking up for a while, was Jim cutting his tie in half in order to make Pam feel better about her veil being torn. Their very romantic Plan C boat wedding was a great idea, and it makes the fact that their wedding was a bit preposterous just funny and not at all lamentable. I wonder if Michael hooking up with Pam’s mom is going to get to Pam. I’d love to see how that plays out. This was a terrific episode with so many more great moments – what were your favorites?