Friday, April 30, 2010

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 20 “Fame” (B+)

I’m so glad that the new LAPD Liaison Officer stuck around for another episode, and while it’s unclear whether he’ll be featured extensively or at all in the future, it’s been great to have him. I remember actor Eric Christian Olsen from his two-season stint of FOX’s short-lived comedy “The Loop,” where he starred as young airline executive Sam Sullivan’s goofy older brother Sully, who always managed to wreak havoc on his brother’s life and career, shaving half of his head or cutting off the sleeves of his work shirt as pranks while Sam was sleeping. Obviously, Deeks is nothing like Sully, but it’s fun to remember all of the shenanigans pulled by his former character and see how easily Deeks riles up all of the NCIS agents. It’s as if the same character has grown up and become a bit more serious, still able to elicit the same fury out of those he irks. His ability to get Hetty to sign off on a somewhat limited limitless credit card was impressive, but not quite as memorable as her threat of hurt if he went over the designated limit. Regarding this week’s case, a romance between an heiress and a random individual isn’t something completely original, but fortunately this worked out well and didn’t seem stale at all. Kensi was doing a great job of maintaining her cover, but having the head of the household come in and juts blow it so spectacularly was a crying shame. At least the heiress herself managed not to take a hint.

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 1, Episode 16 “Home” (B+)

For the most part, I’m on board with the plotlines here, and I think that the one that probably stretches it a bit too much works okay because it’s quite entertaining, as well as somewhat dramatic to boot. To start with the least impressive element, Kurt’s fervor about setting up his dad with Finn’s mom in order to get them to be able to move in together is a bit over-the-top, and also that crush came up a long time ago and hasn’t been addressed since. Kurt does seem very comfortable in his Cheerios track suit, and I think that the jock bonding with his father over sports is something that he probably could have foreseen. Those I was watching with laughed when they saw Kurt watching the two of them together at the end of the episode probably just because it was a bit odd to show him standing so creepily in the shadows, but I also think it’s just a bit of an overdone plotline. Otherwise, everything’s in good shape, and the surprise return of Kristin Chenoweth is a welcome and wonderful one. It’s also a great way of providing closure to her storyline but still banking her for the future in case she ever wants to come back. Sue’s drive to push the cheerleaders to lose weight and stay in unhealthy shape is a bit unsettling, but fortunately, it led to another show of power in terms of belting out a song by Mercedes, and that’s something this show can always use.

What I’m Watching: NCIS

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 20 “Moonlighting” (B+)

It feels like ages since the last episode of this show aired. Apparently, it’s only been three weeks. Still, this season, however continually enjoyable it may be, does feel far more disjointed than past years. In a sense, the relative absence of Director Vance, often doing some moonlighting himself on the Los Angeles-based spin-off of this show, is a good thing since he doesn’t contribute nearly as much as Jenny, and before that the show’s director was only an infrequent guest star. Vance did actually have a bit of his own storyline towards the beginning of the season, but now he’s appearing less and less. I am thrilled that the heavily-bearded Agent Fornell is back, especially because it’s quite rare to have a show go for seven years and continue to feature the same recurring guest star. I love how Gibbs gives Fornell a hard time about his beard and makes jokes, since usually Gibbs is the butt of jokes made by a later regretful Tony. The whole setup of getting Gibbs to take a polygraph in this episode was fun, but of course it is cut short by the tragic recalling of his act of revenge directed against the murderer of his wife and daughter. The polygraph specialist’s appearance was entertaining, partially for the rise she got out of McGee but also for a few one-liners she spouted off herself. Among the best: “I’m not acting – I’m genuinely defensive” and “I was voted least likely to take a hint in high school,” followed by McGee’s dry reply of “really, I can’t imagine.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Round Two: Romantically Challenged

Romantically Challenged: Season 1, Episode 2 “The Charade” (D+)

Okay, consider the first episode of this show a fluke. Less than half an hour into the life of this series, it becomes clear that there is no energy to these characters and they have nothing much to offer. The predominance of the horrifically annoying Shawn, played by Josh Lawson, is mysterious and unbearable. He seems like he’s supposed to be a supporting character, and he certainly should be, but he’s featured in nearly every scene and refuses to let anyone else have an opportunity to steal the scene. Kyle Bornheimer is trying hard to make Perry into a three-dimensional character by giving his performance his all, and while it’s definitely better than his one-note wrong-place-wrong-time turn in “Worst Week,” this guy should be playing a jerk, and there’s little that will convince me otherwise. No matter how much she appears on screen, it remains a mystery as to what Lisa, portrayed by Kelly Stables, thinks and does. She can’t stand a nice guy, and granted, this guy is way too nice, but she doesn’t offer up any additional hints about her character throughout the entire episode. The same is true, more or less, for lead character Rebecca, whose most memorable scenes consist of her pouring coffee for herself and having other people grab it right out of her hands. This show is dull, unnecessary, and less than alive. If it were airing during the summer when nothing else was on, it might be acceptable, but in this current climate, there isn’t much reason for it to be on the air.

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 8, Episode 19 “10:00AM-11:00AM” (F)

Jack Bauer officially has the biggest ego in the entire universe. As usual, he can’t trust anyone, and he’s now the only one in the city who’s thinking clearly, according to him. He’s so smart that he can tell when Chloe is lying, and he knows that Cole will swear allegiance to him and take down someone or another. This version of the United States of America doesn’t need another President ousted from office. Over the course of this show, Keeler has been shot down, Logan has resigned, and former President Palmer was assassinated. President Taylor being impeached wouldn’t help anyone, and certainly wouldn’t do the United States’ standing in the world any favors. Back to our good friend Jack, his leaving CTU in a helicopter just to come back to extract Dana doesn’t seem like a highly expedient plan. Shouldn’t Chloe know just as well as President Taylor what Jack is capable of? She does succumb to pressure within a minute, but then there needs to be a twist: she’s actually trying to bring him in before he does something even stupider. It’s quite a surprise to see Michael Madsen, onetime star of “Reservoir Dogs” and now currently doing a million direct-to-DVD movies (he has a whopping 32 projects in production on IMDB). I’m much more excited about D.B. Sweeney (“Jericho”) as the head of the private security team currently water-boarding Dana, complete with a very villainous mustache. I must remind Jack that this isn’t a horror movie, and sending dead movies creepily on cranes through warehouses is inappropriate here.

On a side note, I never watch previews for the next episode of any shows because they give way too much away. For some reason, I opted to try it this time, and what a mistake. They give so much away – don’t watch if you plan to actually watch the next episode. With this show, I don’t care as much, but it’s still unfortunate to know what’s going to happen.

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 3, Episode 14 “Chuck Versus the Honeymooners” (B+)

It’s so wonderful to see Chuck and Sarah having the time of their lives relaxing in a train car in France without a care in the world. This is an adorable episode which features the first post-Ring villains, popping up by chance when the two spies run into them on the train. I loved all of the conversations between Chuck and Sarah, with new codename Charles Charles and repeated vows of “do you agree to quit the spy life with me” and later “do you agree to not quit the spy life and be with me.” Casey put it best trying to explain their love to Morgan: “he’s going to need a walker when Walker’s through with him.” Sending Casey and Morgan on a trip together to extract the two lovebirds was awesome, and their interactions are terrific. Casey had a great line trying to intimidate Morgan – “it can take up to seven minutes to strangle someone to death; I’ve done it in thirty seconds.” It turns out that Morgan is pretty useful with his vast knowledge of international trivia and spotting spies. It’s fun to see Sarah so relaxed, posing as a dumb Southern girl lost in the wrong room. Beckman’s reaction to the pairing of Chuck and Sarah was nice, starting off with annoyed sarcasm but ending with “off the record, it’s about damn time.” I can’t wait to see them operating as a true spy couple. Back at home in the non-spy world, it was hilarious in a quick scene to see Awesome packing giant weights in his suitcase.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Take Three: Treme

Treme: Season 1, Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” (B+)

The escalation of the police’s contempt for the musicians in this episode is fairly severe, both interesting and at the same time immensely disturbing. In Davis’ case, it’s more humorous, and the stern admonishment he receives from Toni is entertaining, though he’s sure not to pay any attention to it. The brutal beating of Antoine, however, is another matter. The police were practically waiting for him to do something wrong, and it’s clear that tensions are high even among New Oleanders. Antoine has been doing some excessive cheating on his wife, but this is hardly a fitting punishment. Sofia making a YouTube video from boarding school was great, and it serves as a good way of keeping her on the show from afar, and also permits viewers the opportunity to hear John Goodman’s Creighton explain what YouTube is. I love how when Davis shows up to give her a piano lesson, Creighton continues to call Sofia in order to avoid talking to him. After the lesson, however, he does a fine job of giving him a harsh but veiled talking-to. The street musician paying in pennies for his $19.99 bottle of wine was extraordinarily endearing. The most powerful scene, however, was the final one where the furious and fantastic music was interrupted by the arrival of a “Katrina Tour” bus. The driver’s dumbfounded “what’s this about” was speedily responded to by a very angry “what’s this about” by the locals, signifying the great divide between those who come to visit and those actually from the treme who won’t stand for it.

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Season 3, Episode 6 “Sunset” (A-)

Wow, what a foreboding first scene. The timing of the bite of that apple with the officer being bludgeoned to death was immensely well-coordinated and terrifying. Those twins are scary, and their plan to come and sit in Gus’ fast-food restaurant until he talks to them was intense. Gus giving them Hank in order to save Walt was quite shocking, and that’s going to be bad news for all of the characters. Things really blew up towards the end of the episode, with Walt calling in a favor to have Hank think that his wife is in the hospital. He’s going to be furious about that and take out his anger on Jesse, but it’s possible that the twins will get to him first. Before that, things were fascinating but hardly as deathly severe. Jesse showing maturity while his friends were freaking out about the drugs is a sign of his growth. The way Skyler says, “my unhappiness? My completely out of the clear blue sky unhappiness” is just another indicator that she deserves an Emmy nomination for her work this season. Walt’s delivery of the line “name one thing in this world that is not negotiable” was remarkably impressive as well. I’m thrilled at the addition of David Costabile, alternately known as Doug from “Flight of the Conchords” and Detective Rick Messer from “Damages,” as Walt’s new partner in his lab. I loved all of the exchanges that happened in the lab – “I’m sure you’ll want to know my qualifications” / “This is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted – why the hell are we making meth” / “I can’t imagine we strike each other as criminals” / “Well, there’s crime, and then there’s crime.” Another fantastic guest star was Larry Hankin, who I recognized immediately as the grumpy Mr. Heckles from “Friends,” as the guy who can dispose of the RV, who did a magnificent job of citing legal facts and figures to debate with Hank. Walt and Jesse came closer than ever before to getting caught this time around, and I hardly imagine this is the last time that’s going to happen.

What I’m Watching: The Pacific

The Pacific: Season 1, Episode 7 “Peleliu Hills” (B+)

From the end of last episode when the soldiers needed to take one of their own company out for the good of the group and well established in this episode, the enemy is no longer just the Japanese, but also forces that cause the marines to turn on each other, however accidentally. The shooting of two American marines mistaken for Japanese combatants in the middle of the night is another stark and unfortunate incident in a series of unfortunate and tragic unnecessary deaths in the course of this war. This episode in particular took things to a more personal extent, featuring much more direct hand-to-hand, face-to-face combat than ever before. The wounded Americans calling out the names of their fellow marines while in the midst of combat also makes watching it even more difficult to get through in terms of evoking emotion. The new moral center of the show with Leckie not seen in this episode is just as compelling, calling out “Christ! Put him out of his misery!” as the other marines tortured a wounded Japanese soldier. There is an increasing number of breakdowns as the trauma goes on, and there’s such an incredible difference between how it’s handled in big groups versus the more intimate settings, employing comfort rather than stifling. The post-battle rain scenes were very effective, but what’s even more intense and memorable is all of the dialogue between the marines, like “You can’t dwell on it, you can’t dwell on any of it,” a line which is repeated by a marine after it’s first uttered. Thanks for reading, CG! Any additional thoughts?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 20 “Epiphany” (B+)

This episode was a cut above the recent rest from its very beginning, starting off strong by featuring only strangler elements in the “previously on” introduction. This was a cool background installment, focusing only on character and giving him the full signature treatment by interacting with all of the housewives, including a briefly resurrected do-gooder Mary Alice. It was strange for me to recognize the magnificent Diane Farr ("Rescue Me") as Eddie’s mother. I love her, but this was a strange role for this actress who usually plays funny, snarky, charming women. She did fine in it, it was just a bizarre casting choice. Her utterance of the line “it’s not your fault you ruined my life” was particularly powerful, and Eddie’s new tagline “don’t laugh at me” is sure to stick with viewers of this show for a while. Eddie’s many interactions with the Wisteria lane ladies all worked pretty well and dwelled on how these characters have been best used over the past six years, signifying that there is the possibility for original and positive material on this show. Gaby asking Eddie “what do you do” and getting the response “I’m a kid” was especially funny, and her takedowns of her fellow housewives were hilarious. The episode served as a cool way to speed through the timeline of the show, from a cruel, uncaring Carlos to Susan getting back together with Mike, putting everything that’s happened, like the strangulation at the coffee shop, in context. It all makes sense now, and the newest Scavo home resident is sure to stir up more trouble soon, and I have a feeling that either Lynette or Danny is going to be the one to catch him.

Pilot Review: Gravity

Gravity (Starz)
Premiered April 23 at 10:30pm

The companion show to season two of the quirky “Party Down” definitely seems qualified for that job description, but just like that show, its start is shaky at best and most certainly needs some work. Starting out with a pretty extravagant suicide attempt that results in main character Robert’s crash landing in a cruise ship pool was an intriguing start, and the comical reaction of the partygoers makes it seem like this will be a clear-cut comedy. It’s much more of an ambiguous kind of series, however, and would most properly be described as a black comedy. The characters are dark as can be, eschewing truthful conversation at every turn in favor of sarcasm. The way Lilly spouts her signature line – “I sell makeup at a department store, I change lives” – is extraordinarily indicative of the way she views her life. Robert’s priest is especially interesting, playing cards on his iPhone while going into confession and refusing to accept Robert’s confession because he doesn’t view him as having done anything wrong by having sex with Lilly. The rather rough and spontaneous physical relationship developed between Robert and Lilly seems like a sign of the depths of their characters, though I’m sure there’s much more to be developed as the surfaces of these characters are peeled back. At this point, it’s alternately entertaining and disturbing, and neither is quite strong or effective enough to make it a solid show. Lead actors Ivan Sergei and Krysten Ritter haven’t had much of an opportunity yet to emote and flesh out their characters, but I’ve seen them perform impressively in the past – Sergei on a show I liked but no one else did (“Hawaii”) and Ritter on a show I liked and everyone else did too (“Breaking Bad”). The standout from this pilot is Ving Rhames (“Pulp Fiction,” “Mission Impossible”), who is terrific as the humorous wheelchair-bound head of the therapy group. I’m curious who else will become a major player on this series since the risk of characters killing themselves off is especially high here, but I’m somewhat intrigued, and I’ll probably stick with this show through an otherwise scarcely populated summer.

How will it work as a series? The first episode was all about the suicide attempts and positioning Robert and Lilly as each other’s sponsors or whatever the equivalent in that therapy group is. Presumably, they’ll actually have real conversations and come to be dependent upon each other, forging some kind of relationship in the process. I’m not sure what the format is going to be, and I’m not too confident in its lasting power.
How long will it last? Starz probably wants to stick with its shows for as long as it can, but I’m not so sure about this one. Being paired with the popular “Party Down” probably helps, but the middling reviews don’t. I’d say this one is a toss-up. Cable shows always get at least a full season, but I think a second year is much less likely, though only time will tell.

Pilot grade: C+

What I’m Watching: Party Down (Season Premiere)

Party Down: Season 2, Episode 1 “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party” (B)

I wrote briefly about this show’s pilot last spring, declaring that it “left me disappointed because [it’s] the kind of fare I usually enjoy,” along with the late Patrick Swayze’s one-season drama “The Beast” and the NBC-to-TNT production “Southland.” As the first season of Starz’s caterers comedy went on, it became somewhat more enjoyable but still didn’t quite jump out to me as something I couldn’t miss. Jane Lynch left the show midway through the first year to star in the role of a lifetime which she’s excelled at on “Glee.” Jennifer Coolidge was a fine temporary replacement, and Megan Mullally, better known as Karen from “Will & Grace,” should serve as a proper, perfectly awkward permanent solution. This premiere episode was all about setup without much room for legitimate plot progression, although that’s sort of always the case on this show. Ron’s failure in his soup crackers endeavor was inevitable, and this is hardly the first time he’s shown up drunk and come off as extremely pitiful. Casey was bound to come back and there was absolutely going to be awkward tension between her and Henry because he’s now dating Uda (can’t wait to see Kristen Bell again). What was particularly fun about this episode, as is often the case, was the guest star and party in question. Jimmi Simpso, who has appeared recently on “Psych” and in the incredible TV pilot “Virtuality,” was amazing as Jackal Onassis, and seemed to have a brilliant time switching places with Roman and reveling in people hating him and being rude to him. The off-handed reference to “The Mentalist,” which seems to be a go-to nod for shows these days (see: “Psych”), was hilariously handled when Jackal said he didn’t know what that was but still proceeded to declare that he was going to watch it anyway. I’m also glad to have learned that it’s a really bad idea to give a Satanist a four-sided sandwich.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 18 “Charade” (F)

Bad guys who hold public office and flaunt their disobedience of the law out in the open for everyone to see never really impress me, and certainly not when their first actions upon being released from prison are to commission cold-blooded murder. The villains on this show have always been hopelessly cartoonish, however, so it’s not much of a surprise. Lois also does have the ability to annoy to the extent that having her thrown off a roof probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s certainly much better than a stupid battle over who gets fired from the Daily Planet as a punishment for them dating. Regarding that whole romance, Clark’s continual lying is definitely going to get him into trouble, even if he’s doing it to protect Lois. Why he wouldn’t tell her that she wasn’t actually talking to the Blur when he saved her from being murdered is a mystery since that really seems like the opportune moment. Telling her he’ll never speak to her again and that if anyone does, it’s an impostor, probably works pretty well. I must correct our dear friend the D.A. and note that Jedi mind-control is not the same as extracting memories. Gil Bellows is a great actor who delivered one of his first film performances in “The Shawshank Redemption,” and he’s certainly not turning in a similar caliber of work here. Maxwell Lord isn’t much of a compelling villain, and this Red Queen business just means more of the chess double-speak that has populated this show lately.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 4, Episodes 17 & 18 “Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter” & “Khonani” (B-/C)

After an entire month off the air, it doesn’t quite feel too good to have this show back. This double dose of Liz, Jack, and the cast and crew of TGS provides nothing but inanity, random references, and only occasionally funny plotlines marred by stupidity and preposterousness. The return of Jack’s Boston love Nancy might be good if her accent weren’t so horrific and grating, essentially negating anything that comes out of her mouth. The more amusing parts of the two episodes were the subtler happenings going on in the background, like Jack’s comparison tally of Avery versus Nancy. It would also be a little bit better if either of them had any sort of a clue that there might be another woman in Jack’s life. Nancy may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but Avery seems like a smart cookie who wants to be on top of her man and his affairs. The janitor subplot in the second episode wasn’t anywhere near as interesting or entertaining as it could have been, and relegating it to something that Jack did to take his mind off more important matters made it seem just that: unimportant and only to be considered if nothing else valid or crucial was occurring or available. Tracy’s failure as a husband is too off-the-wall, and Jenna’s insatiable desire to get attention and embarrass herself proves only distracting and not enjoyable at all. This is the feeling I’m getting with this entire season: it’s occasionally funny, even more sparsely hilarious, and altogether just too all over the place and disorganized to be great.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episode 22 “Secretary’s Day” (B+)

After an entire month off the air, it feels good to have the crew back for a somewhat even but ultimately fairly funny episode. Anything with Erin as its center is wonderful, and Ellie Kemper does a marvelous job of animating this secretary who actually looks up to her boss and wants to see the good in everyone. Unfortunately, Michael’s seeming inability to talk to anyone who actually respects him results in his revealing that Andy was engaged to Angela (even though that seems like something that might have come up beforehand). It’s a real shame because both of them are now such nice people, especially the lovely and harmless Erin. Pam’s return cements her as a different character rather than the lovable and sweet receptionist, a role which has now been taken over by Erin. Instead, she’s still able to commune with Jim and bring some sanity to the office. Oscar’s Cookie Monster parody was amusing, but what was much more energizing was Gabe’s attempt to exercise some authority. Until now, he was just a quiet, unassuming guy, but here he gets to take on a more obnoxious air like his character from “In the Loop.” While his actions, and his phone conversation with his boss, were like something Dwight would do (and has done), the way he handled it was actually much more like Michael. The descent into doing an impression of Kevin was pretty embarrassing, and Pam having to call Toby for help was a major sign of lost hope. Fortunately, Jim and Pam knew just how to deal with the situation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 16 “The Garden of Forking Paths” (B+)

This episode really had a nice, brisk pace to it accompanied by some terrific music. More importantly, it doesn’t feel like a major letdown or sloppy contrivance that Demetri doesn’t die on March 15th, since he came so close and it’s now been established, thanks in part to the late, not-so-great Dyson Frost, that multiple futures are possible. It seemed for a while like Frost’s own machinations would lead to Demetri’s demise, but as it turns out, it’s likely that he prevented it and ensured his own by coming out into the open and trying so hard to make Demetri a vulnerable target instead of letting fate play its own hand. It might have made more sense for the villains in question to hire someone they didn’t have to spring out of jail to take Frost out, but promises are promises, so therefore it appears it had to be Alda. I like the incorporation of Barry Shabaka Henley, who plays Agent Vreede, into the main arc of the storyline. His decision to have Olivia accompany him on his investigation at first doesn’t track, but at the coffee stand it seems much clearer. I’m most excited about the introduction of the mysterious character who seems able to flash forward played by James Callis, best known as Gaius Baltar on “Battlestar Galactica.” He’s portraying such an extraordinarily different and, dare I say, much more fascinating personality (and that’s saying a lot), and I’m eager to see more of him now that Frost is out of the picture.

What I’m Watching: V

V: Season 1, Episode 8 “We Can’t Win” (B+)

With this episode, we have not only a hint of how the Visitors plan to extend their stay on Earth, but also an idea of what they’re up to, thanks to a previously useless and unhelpful character, Chad Decker. For once, he’s finally asking the right questions and also shrewdly handling himself with Anna in terms of how he phrases them. Anna’s explanation to her right-hand man that they’re giving the humans the blue energy expressly so that they can take it away tells a lot, but Chad’s own conclusion that they’re not just planning on visiting is quite revelatory. The simultaneous introduction of a non-V enemy in the form of a traitorous human devoid of hope ups the ante considerably. Even more exciting than all that is the fact that Lisa failed her emotional response test, and that Joshua dealt with it in a perfect manner. He isn’t sure yet if he can trust her, but to have her in his corner at a time in the future when he’ll needs her most is an invaluable asset. I’m sure that will do more than piss off Anna, but I could definitely see Lisa turning over to the other side, and I’m glad the show is exploring that alley. Ryan definitely wins this episode’s prize for showing up just in the nick of time to rescue Valerie from being sedated by a V doctor. That’s absolutely the worst place in the universe for her to be, and even if she’s going to be angry at Ryan for a while, it’s good to have her back together and safe with him in the Fifth Column camp.

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Collection” (B+)

I love the way the way Raylan reacts to authority. His tone talking to his boss was hilarious, and I love how Art responds to him. All of their bantering back and forth is terrific, and really enhances the show in its less serious moments. I got a kick out of “I think I’d rather stick my dick in a blender” / “that might solve a few problems.” It’s great to see Boyd again, especially because of how he seems to rile Raylan up, regardless of how the marshal remains generally stoic when speaeking to him. The storylines on this show are just genuinely interesting plotlines, with cool, often elaborate crimes being committed and a wealth of excellent subplots, not to mention stellar guest stars. In this case, Robert Picardo (“Star Trek: Voyager”), Brett Cullen (“Lost,” “The West Wing”) and Tony Hale (“Chuck,” “Arrested Development”) were all in top form. The faked suicide was a nice way to kick things off, and the ending was even better with the gallery owner revealing that he bought all of Hitler’s paintings in order to burn them. I was truly impressed by Raylan’s ability to talk down Greg, and even more surprised by the speed with which he flipped and became an informant. The agent played by Rick Gomez ("Cupid") who’s investigating Raylan is definitely interesting also, and I’m curious to see where that goes. By far the best part of the episode, however, was the appearance of Natalie Zea as Winona. Her answering all of his questions quickly and then him asking her to run the order of the responses by him again was fantastic. I really hope she shows up a whole lot more in the near future.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 1, Episode 8 “Rubber Ball” (B+)

This episode was great because it shined a light on several characters that have previously not been given much screen time or plot devotion. I’m mainly referring to grandfather Zeek, played by Craig T. Nelson, who here gets the chance to be threatening to Amber’s boyfriend and come clean to his son about his financial woes. His onscreen wife, Camille, played by Bonnie Bedelia, also helps her daughter cope with the hatred that Amber is expressing towards her mother. It’s fantastic to see Crosby standing up for himself to Jasmine about not having been able to see his kid for five years because she never told him, and it was similarly satisfying to see Jasmine go to bat for him and own up for her own actions to her family at Jabar’s birthday party. Amber breaking off her relationship with her boyfriend because she realizes that he’s not smart enough for her and that maybe her mom was right was a nice plot development. The revelation that Sydney is actually bored in her classes rather than behind is quite interesting, especially for all of the reactions it elicits, particularly in Julia and Kristina. The running themes of the rubber band ball and Zeek telling Adam that he has “acumen” for real estate were entertaining, and serve well to anchor this episode. Having the family come together at least once each episode is also a nice device, and Jabar’s birthday party proves to be the perfect place for that this week.

On Wednesday, “Parenthood” was renewed for a second season! Start getting used to this family, because they’ll be back in the fall!

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 1, Episode 15 “The Power of Madonna” (B+)

While a tribute episode to Madonna doesn’t particularly excite me personally, it does prove that these kids can really sing. Hearing Rachel belt out the opening to “Like a Prayer” is simply magnificent (check out the clip embedded below), and that’s one of the moments I’ll now think of all the time when I think about this show. Giving Sue a chance to shine is also fun, and her performance was quite hilarious. She definitely made more cruel jokes about Will’s hair than ever before, and he even tried to respond with a lame comeback about her hairstyle. What was particularly cool about the storyline of this episode, even if it was hopelessly non-diegetic (I know that’s not what we’re going for here – what happens in the midst of a song isn’t supposed to be interpreted as real; just noting it), were the parallel plotlines with the three couples, each with one member waiting nervously to be deflowered by another party. Even more interesting was the way they all panned out, with Rachel not being ready and later changing her mind, Finn going through with it but saying that he didn’t feel anything because it didn’t mean anything, and Emma not being ready either, but having Will be completely okay with that. The decision of Kurt and Mercedes to join the Cheerios is a bit of an odd though entertaining one, and that can’t last for too long. Giving Arty and Tina some amusing scenes was a nice treat, and the whole theme of men treating women with respect was highly enjoyable.

What I’m Watching: Lost

Lost: Season 6, Episode 13 “The Last Recruit” (B+)

Now this is exactly the kind of episode I really like, though all those who I watched it with couldn’t stand it. It may not be focused on individual characters so much, but the chance to see everyone and have the action proceed forward is too good to pass up on this show. In one episode, we get to see what’s happening to every character, and even the deceased take on a new life in the alternate universe (Ilana). There is still the familiar frustration of things happening for seemingly no reason, like Zoe and Widmore’s crew suddenly deciding it’s a good idea to shoot Sawyer’s bunch instead of help them. And lowering the security system to keep the Smoke Monster out is definitely a really, really bad idea. Jack raises a fascinating point, which is that the Man in Black wants them to leave so badly that maybe he’s afraid of what happens if they stay. Jin and Sun’s reunion was nice, even if many took issue with their use of English rather than Korean. Perhaps it’s supposed to mean that Jin and Sun are meant to speak English, and that’s why the island has united them in that tongue. Locke’s willingness to tell the truth when interrogated by Jack is refreshing, and learning that Christian was a similar reanimation provides an answer to one of the show’s older mysteries. Off of the island in the alternate universe, everyone is coming together and forming relationships akin to those they had on the island, like Sawyer with Kate and Sayid and Jack while operating on Locke. Desmond’s ability to convince Sayid to presumably not shoot him was impressive, and is a sure sign that Desmond’s role in the grand scheme of things is important. Let me emphasize once again that this is the way “Lost” should continue operating: feature all of the characters, move along the plot, and answer a few questions each time. Tragically, there is no new episode this week, but the remaining installments air on May 4th, May 11th, and May 18th, and culminate with the two-hour series finale on Sunday, May 23rd. I can’t wait.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I’m Watching: Damages (Season Finale)

Damages: Season 3, Episode 13 “The Next One’s Gonna Go In Your Throat” (B+)

Well, this season ender gives me confidence that twelve episodes of mysteries and hints can actually result in quite a thrilling and fulfilling finale. Everything gets resolved, including a few things that didn’t actually even need to be resolved, though they’re thrown in for good measure anyway. One example of that is the spontaneous return of Wes and his help in getting Frobisher to turn himself in and go to jail for the murder of David. It’s nice to see such frank, unfiltered honesty from Wes, and it’s nice that FX has its network Timothy Olyphant, now starring on “Justified” on Tuesday nights, so accessible and easy to recall back to drop by for just a moment. If only all characters on shows like “Lost” were willing to relinquish answers like this. I suppose it’s because Frobisher was a central character in season one that some closure needed to be given to his storyline. The major reveal that Patty purposely complicated her pregnancy in order to rid herself of a potentially life-ruining baby, as shown by the constant barrage of flashbacks over and over, is interesting because it shows both that Patty is even more cutthroat than ever thought beforehand, but also that she is continually plagued by what she did to get ahead. Ellen served her purpose in that sense, asking whether all she had done was worth it. Patty certainly doles out harsh punishment, and the imprisonment of Michael’s baby mama (for lack of a more polite term) was quite intense, even for her. The revelation that Michael was the one who hit her car isn’t too crucial of a shock, but the other surprises are. Tom really had a bad last day, stabbed multiple times by Zedeck’s right-hand man and then brutally drowned in a toilet by a vengeful Joe. The fierce scene beforehand between Joe and Marilyn was pretty incredible, and featured spectacular acting from both Lily Tomlin and Campbell Scott. I really hope they both earn Emmy nominations, and the same is true of this season’s best player, Martin Short. He really appears to have come out ahead in all this, orchestrating a side job with his father and getting away clean. At this point, the two main characters are exactly where they were at the end of last season, uncertain of whether they’ll collaborate in the future or if they even want to work together again. It’s a good place to leave off considering a fourth season may not in fact be happening, and this was far and away the best season this show has produced yet, and I can finally get behind it as one of the best dramas currently on the air (maybe not one of the top six, but close).

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Martin Short

Pilot Review: Romantically Challenged

Romantically Challenged (ABC)
Premiered April 19 at 9:30pm

ABC doesn’t typically do well with sitcoms, at least in recent years. This past fall proved to be an exception with three great successes: “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” and “Cougar Town.” But with those three also came one flop, the laugh-track Kelsey Grammer comedy “Hank,” which died after only five episodes. Now, in the slot formerly occupied by “Samantha Who,” a semi-successful, Emmy-winning, non-laugh-track comedy, comes “Romantically Challenged,” the story of at least one person trying to rebound from a serious relationship and finding it difficult to dive back into the dating pool. To its credit, it’s much funnier than it should be. There’s nothing about it or its characters that makes me particularly want to tune back in on Monday nights at 9:30pm (when I could be watching the final episodes of “24”), or at any time for that matter. But still, I found myself chuckling much more than I thought, though I’m not quite sure why. The writing style is similar to that of “Will & Grace,” less abrasive in terms of characters shouting others down but more stinging in terms of what they say to each other. To that extent, it does feel very timed and the characters very stock and stoic. Though it’s not entirely clear now, this follow a “How I Met Your Mother” formula of the main character going on dates with different individuals every single week, maybe even finding a supposed soul mate every half-dozen episodes or so. Alyssa Milano doesn’t possess any especially noteworthy comedic abilities to carry this show, but she is certainly charming. Kyle Bornheimer ("Worst Week") started out in the opening minutes of the show as the loud, obnoxious character he was always meant to play, but then quickly turned into a nervous nebbish who anchored one of the pilot’s funnier plotlines but seemed fairly miscast for that part. There’s nothing much worth mentioning about the rest of the cast, and it’s exactly that lack of being memorable that makes this show disposable and forgettable. I may come back to it next week, but I’m definitely not drawn in.

How will it work as a series? One cool aspect is that it’s not just about Milano’s Rebecca searching for companionship, but also Perry (Bornheimer), and maybe even slacker-writer roommate Shawn. Having multiple characters going out on ill-fated dates each episode could work well, especially if one flops and the other manages to soar. The core cast will have to work on being more memorable, though.
How long will it last? I’m not convinced that anyone is clamoring for another romantic comedy show, and ABC has a successful enough block on Wednesday nights to sustain its schedule going into the next season. This show only has a very short time to prove itself, and while the network may want to put faith in Milano, I can’t imagine that this one will make it to a second season. Ideally “Better Off Ted” would be ahead of this in terms of chances of getting a renewal to join Wednesday night’s comedy back, but I’m sure that’s not true either.

Pilot grade: B-

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 8, Episode 18 “9:00AM-10:00AM” (D-)

The grade for this episode is only slightly elevated from the past few because I’m sure it looked fantastic on paper. The ultimate standoff between the President of the United States and its most vigilant defender could potentially make for some great fodder for drama, but in this case, it hardly plays out well. Jack’s declaration of “I want justice” as followed up by the President coming back at him with “and I want peace” was pretty intense, but that was pretty much the most legitimate part of it. Jack stealing a helicopter is just the latest in a series of highly grandiose and fully unnecessary scenes designed to make him seem like a superhuman protagonist who can get out of any situation and turn it to his advantage, regardless of the strength of his opposition. The whole concept of the entire Russian government being behind the assassination of President Hassan is certainly far-fetched, and makes the story suffer as a result. Logan sure looked excited when he found out about the Russian representative’s decision, and the fact that he knew so much to begin with is just too preposterous. Chloe turning to Cole to make sure that Jack doesn’t go nuts on Dana is just plain stupid. I’m curious why everyone is so shocked about Renee being killed, like Dana and President Taylor. Why they care so much is puzzling, but in any case, doesn’t anyone transmit information anymore? They’re clearly monitoring CTU closely enough to track all of Hastings’ missteps, but not a murder?

Round Two: Treme

Treme: Season 1, Episode 2 “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront” (B+)

The second installment of HBO’s juggernaut, which was renewed for a second seasons only two episodes after it premiered last week, is just as impressive and engaging as the first, even if the ultimate direction it’s headed still isn’t quite so clear. Having the group from Wisconsin touring New Orleans was a great way of anchoring the story. Giving them the chance to talk to a bunch of the main characters was also nice, in part because it emphasizes who will be a major player in the show as well as allowing others the opportunity to share their thoughts. Hearing the locals get upset even when people are complimenting New Orleans is interesting because they’re likely just as often irked at the flood of people coming to the city post-Katrina as satisfied by the attention and their presence. Davis trying to move on from being a DJ and getting fired from his hotel clerk job for sending the Wisconsin people off the beaten path for the real New Orleans experience was very interesting, and makes him intricately valuable as a character. Not all things are quite so tranquil on this show, however, as evidenced by Albert’s deadly fit of rage taken out on a burglar. That proves that this show isn’t all about just music and parades, though those will certainly do too, and this show continues to excel in all of its performance scenes.

On a side note, I had the opportunity to chat with young India Ennenga, who plays John Goodman’s daughter Sofia, at a press roundtable earlier this week for her upcoming film “Multiple Sarcasms,” and she had lovely things to say about her experience working on the show.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Season 3, Episode 5 “Mas” (B+)

Starting this episode with a flashback to Walt with hair back when Jesse and he weren’t on the best of terms was a staggering reminder of just how far these guys have come. The craziest part is that they’re back at each other’s throats now after seemingly coming closer as a result of Walt checking Jesse into rehab at the end of last season. Having Saul be the mediator between these two people bursting and ready to explode makes their discussions all the more volatile and interesting. They really hate each other now, and that’s sure not to turn out well, especially since we’re less than halfway through the season. Everything Skyler does and all she goes through thinking as displayed on her face is fascinating, and hearing her think out loud is just as terrific, especially considering the reactions she gets back. As Walt is getting out of his marriage and back into the cooking business, his former brother-in-law is getting closer than ever before to catching the elusive Heisenberg and making his own loss of a familial connection worthwhile. Ending on that scene in the dead kid’s house obviously had to lead up to Hank finding something of extraordinary value, and seeing a picture of former suspect Jesse Pinkman arm in arm with the deceased is definitely a monumental discovery. It’s unclear where Jesse’s allegiances will lie now, but as Walt has finally gotten his own life back on track, forces out of his control are about to kick up yet another storm.

What I’m Watching: The Pacific

The Pacific: Season 1, Episode 6 “Peleliu Airfield” (A-)

As this miniseries proceeds along, it shows no signs of letting up as its best installment yet brings out and highlights its strongest elements. This episode featured astonishing cinematography, including selected overhead shots and intense dramatizations of the conflict. The scene where one marine passed around his canteen and everyone took a small sip of water was extremely moving, but it was nothing compared to watching thee marines fight their way across to the airfield. It was an extensive sequence that took at least fifteen minutes and didn’t let up at all. While we’ve seen combat already on this show, we haven’t seen this kind of brutal warfare for such a lengthy and unabridged period of time. Keeping track of the characters becomes nearly impossible in that kind of scenario where even the marines can’t distinguish who is who, but focusing on Leckie’s quest to go back made it considerably less difficult and provided an anchor for the scene. His failure to complete his objective, resulting in hospitalization, made it even starker and more effective as a plot point. Seeing Leckie looking completely out of it, wounded and back in a hospital facility yet again, was powerful and intense. Back in the heart of the battle, the commander’s sarcastic woof provided an all-too-brief moment of levity, contrasted by the tragic brutality of the unfortunate death of a marine having a nightmare only moments later. The justification of his death by the marines was another particularly moving scene with showed that, especially in war, nothing is ever quite black and white.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 19 “We All Deserve to Die” (B-)

It’s hard to fully appreciate this show when half of the plotlines are hopelessly headed nowhere, and are essentially variations on the same theme. Fortunately, Irina’s thread is all wrapped up, but it still went on way too long and ended exactly as it could have been predicted to end. In both cases, it’s frustrating to see one person so able to see through someone else’s deception while another is hopelessly blind to their true intentions. It’s finally good to have Orson around now that he and Bree seem peachy so that he can point out to Bree that her son isn’t as clever as she seems to think he is and that perhaps she might try looking more into her other sort-of-spawn, Sam. I’m sure that thread will end the same way, but I suppose Bree has to have someone else antagonizing her other than Orson. Mike refusing to accept Susan’s money leads to an entertaining attempt at subtly giving him money. Him turning to Carlos is a bit of a surprise, but I suppose it makes sense and I really liked how that scene was filmed, not revealing who Carlos was until he was done spinning his tale. Gaby is a bit too oblivious to how things would work out were she to donate her eggs to Lee and Bob, but it’s good to see her get a truly dramatic moment where she can appreciate her family. Patrick Logan talking about how he’s writing a book is quite intriguing, and it would be nice if Danny weren’t quite as gleefully dumb and enthusiastic about his own impending disappearance. The revelation of Scavo Friend #2 as the major killer of the season is a bit random, but it does make for a powerful ending scene with Lynette letting evil into her house. There are only a few episodes left this season, and I’m most excited to see how the two murder-related storylines pan out.

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Epiode 17 “Upgrade” (F)

With every episode that this show airs, I just feel like the plot is spiraling out of control and heading nowhere. It’s frustrating and makes it very hard to care about what’s going on in the show’s universe. It doesn’t help that we haven’t seen Metallo in fifteen episodes, and it’s as if he’s just conveniently back now because Brian Austin Green could fit another guest spot into his schedule. That’s why his flirtation with Lois’, and more crucially hers back, didn’t feel quite right since he hasn’t been around for pretty much the whole season. Shirtless sexual tension is hardly necessary. Regarding the other characters, I’m so sick of keeping track of what side people like Tess and Chloe are really on since they’re both highly duplicitous and constantly scheming. Clark giving Chloe attitude would be nice if he were actually releasing some pent-up rage. It’s a pity that this kind of interaction can only ever occur when people are high on red Kryptonite or some similar mind-altering substance. Tom Welling still sucks at playing a bad-ass. No matter what state the characters are in, I’m tired of all the puns and supposedly clever lines on this show. Chloe’s “guess who’s coming to dinner, together, with powers” really closed the coffin for me on that note. I’ve been following this show through for nine seasons, and there were brief glimmers of hope over the past few years, but I’m not so sure about season ten anywhere, and becoming less convinced about its enduring quality each episode.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 15 “Let No Man Put Asunder” (B+)

This episode serves, more than any other before it, to unite all of the assorted, unconnected threads on this show and bring them all together to create some sense of purpose. The Vice-President tasking Gedeck to uncover more about Jericho was intriguing, and having Gedeck send Aaron in to Afghanistan, unbeknownst to even Mark, was cool. After being far away and shrouded in darkness for so long, Dyson Frost, the man formerly known as D. Gibbons, sure is popping up a lot these days. It’s hard to tell what he’s up to, especially because sitting down next to the young child of an FBI agent at an amusement park is quite a leap from abducting an FBI agent, a major crime in itself but hardly as despicable. The notion of the flash forwards as writing the future rather than simply predicting it is back with Olivia and Lloyd getting closer by remembering how they felt about each other in their flash forwards. That was always one of the more interesting parts of this show, far more intriguing, in fact, than the science behind what actually caused the blackout. One big problem I do have with this episode is the lack of any reference to Janis’ duplicity. She’s suddenly back to her normal quiet self, and she doesn’t seem bad at all. More importantly, I don’t understand why she doesn’t just kill Demetri herself since she so easily could have numerous times in this episode. The reveal that she is pregnant is hard to read since it’s likely true since she saw it in her flash forward, but her telling Demetri the truth doesn’t make much sense.

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty (Series Finale)

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episode 20 “Hello Goodbye” (B+)

This is a fitting finale that helps seal up a great series without any truly crazy plot twists or anything like that. It’s fun to see Suzuki St. Pierre covering everything in his very dramatic fashion, since he’s been there since the beginning and he was always such a great peripheral character. Starting with the fake-out funeral was enjoyable, and the bizarre emphasis on Amanda’s dog was a bit strange but didn’t detract at all. Having Amanda find her real father and have an inane discussion with him about the things fathers and daughters are supposed to say to each other was great, and Bryan Batt was a great choice to play her father, who thought that her mother was actually Andy Warhol. Ignacio trying to keep Betty from going to London by cooking her portions of the disgusting-sounding food and researching facts about the city on the Internet was entertaining, and it’s nice that he ultimately accepted the decision of both of his daughters to move on with their lives. I like how the bonds between Marc and Wilhelmina and Betty and Daniel, respectively, were emphasized in this last installment. Seeing Wilhelmina look nervously over to a disappointed Marc when she was about to turn Tyler is was a powerful moment, and Marc’s subsequent smile was equally rewarding. It turns out that selflessness often ends up working out pretty well, as Wilhelmina doesn’t have to fight one bit for her job, and she just gets it handed to her. Daniel’s attempt to go for a dramatic effect by burning Betty’s release letter was a great last stupid act by him: “in my defense, it looked a lot cooler in my head.” Him ultimately following her to London and asking her out on a date is a lot better than a make-out scene would have been, and I’m very pleased with the show’s ending. I especially liked how the “Ugly” disappeared from the show’s title in the last frame. Betty has had quite a journey over the past four years, and this is one show that’s going out on a good note, since it never really reached any low point and has remained solidly good throughout its whole run. Betty and crew, we’ll miss you.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Michael Urie
Best season: Season 1
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Becki Newton & Michael Urie

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 20 “Benched” (B+)

It’s so great to have this family all together. Phil and Jay spar over the different way they do things while Gloria and Claire bond over rejection by their children. Both women also manage to exact sweet revenge, in the form of the cold shoulder given to Manny by Gloria and a far harsher broadcasting of her training bra status to Haley in front of her friends by her vindictive mother. Phil’s sheepishness around the rather intimidating Jay is understandable, and it’s nice to see him stand up for himself in his half-hearted attempt at being haughty. The ending shot of Manny and Jay both sipping from their mugs was entertaining, but their relationship, not to mention little Rico Rodriguez, always is. The contrasting viewpoints espoused by Cameron and Mitchell were fun, and seeing Cameron get intense about something is a hoot every time. He was particularly off in his efforts to function when he met Mitchell’s prospective future employer and introduced him as his partner in business before adding, “I’m kidding, we’re gay!” The guest spot by “Weeds” funnyman Justin Kirk was a great surprise, and now that Mitchell has gone and ruined his car and will be working for him, maybe we’ll see more of him in the future. My two favorite parts of the exchange between the three of them were when Kirk’s character questioned Mitchell about his beard and when he permitted Mitchell to tell him about why he quit figure skating. This show really is quite funny. Did anyone recognize the coach as Eric Lange, a.k.a. Radzinsky from "Lost" season five? He didn't have much to do, but it's still amusing to see familiar faces in different places.

What I’m Watching: Human Target (Season Finale)

Human Target: Season 1, Episode 12 “Christopher Chance” (B+)

The final installment of this show is just like all the rest: awesome, action-packed, and featuring some spectacular guest stars. It just gets better and better, starting with Timothy Omundson (“Psych,” “Jericho”) and Armand Assante as the bad guys. Even more exciting and magnificent was the casting of the enchanting Amy Acker as the previously unseen but much alluded to Katherine Walters. Her time onscreen and on the show was brief, but seeing her for only a few moments was worth it. This was the perfect way to reveal that story while still progressing forward in the present-day story, and it was fun to see both Winston and Guerrero in their younger forms, as well as the opportunity to see Lennie James as Baptiste again. It’s cool to see Guerrero and Chance fight each other, especially since Guerrero hasn’t really done much besides some less-than-active hacking. He had a great quote in this episode, delivered to Chance right before they started brawling: “it’s work – sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not. Stop acting like a baby and get in there.” Katherine was the ideal client, introducing herself to the other Chance: “I’m Catherine Walters. I’m in danger, and I need your help.” The notion of Christopher Chance as a namesake passed down to these chameleon bodyguards is great, and having the Chance we know assume that identity when his predecessor is felled is terrific. His delivery of “My name is Christopher Chance” is spot-on. I really hope that this show gets renewed for a second season, since the first one has been great and I’ve truly enjoyed it. Having Winston’s life in jeopardy as the major cliffhanger means that this show could either segue smoothly into a second season or end just where it is, though I really do hope to see more of it.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Everyone (is that cheating?)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What I’m Watching: V

V: Season 1, Episode 7 “John May” (B+)

I love flashback openings to episodes, and this one is no exception, especially because it provides us with what may well be our last glimpse of John May because it’s now been revealed that he’s actually dead. When I first heard weeks ago that May would be played by Michael Trucco, also known as Anders from “Battlestar Galactica,” I was very excited, and he lived up to it. It was cool to see Ryan as a bad guy, hunting Anders, and then to see him later discussing how May was his inspiration. Having May’s door open and seeing one of the V spies standing right next to his stepson was a great reveal, and this show seems like it excels at those kind of moments. What’s still not superb is the writing or the dialogue, as evidenced by the last scene with Tyler wailing and Erica trying to console him, which wasn’t anywhere near as moving as it should have been. Chad is revealing himself to be even more seedy and obnoxious than previously thought is interesting, and at least he’s somewhat intelligent and knows how to make a good argument. Valerie discovering Ryan’s many passports is definitely a bad thing, especially with that mutant baby inside of her. Watching Anna’s face as she sees John May being discussed on television is frightening, as is the idea of her birthing many evil offspring. The most intense part of this episode was the juxtaposition of Anna narrating her “we are of peace always” mantra with the preparation of torture for Georgie.

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 1, Episode 5 “The Lord of War and Thunder” (B+)

It’s pretty wild to see where Raylan comes from, and just how memorable his father is. Raymond J. Barry, an actor who played influential senators on both “Alias” and “The X-Files,” is quite a tour de force as the most vicious senior citizen since Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.” The exchanges between Raylan, Arlo, and Helen are so coarse and interesting. The conversation between Raylan and his father about the fact that, in all the years that he has been pulling jobs and committing crimes, he never shot anyone. This show does a great job of taking innocent, nebbishy actors and turning them into seedy bad guys, starting with David Eigenberg two weeks ago and now with Eddie Jemison, of “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Hung” fame. Raylan was especially impressive in this episode, pulling double duty taking care of his family stuff and posing as a gardener to catch another criminal at the same time. The ex-wife pointing a shotgun at Raylan while he had him handcuffed on the floor was an extremely tense scene, and I’m always particularly blown away by the way that he reacts so perfectly and nonchalantly to the tension. Raylan’s willingness to literally “play ball” in order to get the answers he needed was fun, and it’s nice how this show continually evokes the Old West and unconventional, less than modern ways of executing the law. I was so excited at the opportunity to see Ava and Winona in the same room, and I loved how both of them reacted, with Ava smiling and Winona embarrassedly asking to be quietly excused from the case. I hope to see them have contact more in the future, because that would be fantastic.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 1, Episode 7 “What’s Goin’ On Down There?” (B+)

After a few initial episodes of development, it feels like things are finally really getting rolling and situations are starting to get more serious. Sarah and Amber both getting closer with the same guy was as unfortunate turn of events because both people end up getting hurt and neither one of them ends up happy. Mark really did try to save the relationship there with his fervent response to Sarah breaking up with him, but sometimes things just have to happen, and Sarah’s doing a good thing for her daughter, even though the damage has already been done. Haddie shadowing Julia is an interesting move because it allows Julia to really contemplate what she’s doing with her life while encouraging Adam to demonstrate to his daughter the good work her mother used to do. Adam is doing a marvelous job of trying to hold his family together, and this really is a great role for actor Peter Krause. When he started yelling towards the end of the episode and then dove into the water, I had some seriously good “Six Feet Under” flashbacks. Having Adam talk to Sarah was fun, and I enjoyed her gleefully ordering a chocolate milkshake. I’m glad to see Crosby growing as a person, even if, like in Sarah’s scenario, the damage is already done by the time he makes the right choice. This is one entertaining and dynamic family unit, and seeing their trials and tribulations continues to be a positive, engaging, and fulfilling experience.

What I’m Watching: Glee (Spring Premiere)

Glee: Season 1, Episode 14 “Hell-O” (B/B+)

This episode is certainly very enjoyable and it’s great to have the show back, even if some of the stunt casting serves as a bit too much of a tangential distraction. It’s fun to see Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff show off their musical talents, but it would be nice to keep things back at home without going through the competition trying different ways to steal their routines. Within minutes of the show’s opening, it’s clear that things are more than entertaining enough on the home front. Sue is absolutely fantastic, and she her sleazy return to her job obtained by drugging Principal Figgins and threatening to show his wife photos of them in bed together is priceless. Sue easily had ten or twenty terrific quotes in this episode alone, including her bemoaning the disgraceful state of the cheerleading team, referencing how it was only a step above the time she taught cheerleading to a young Sarah Palin. I love the dynamic between Will and Emma, with him accepting all of her tics and not kissing her after they have a moment because she hasn’t had a chance to brush her teeth immediately beforehand. It’s sad that it won’t work out, especially since Emma is still clearly head-over-heels in love with Will. I imagine most fans are upset about Terri showing up at the house and putting a serious dent in their budding romance. The not-quite relationship between Finn and Rachel is quite entertaining, as are the joint efforts of the air-headed duo in trying to seduce Finn and turn him against Rachel and the glee club. It’s certainly fun to have this show back. What did you think of the spring premiere?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What I’m Watching: Lost

Lost: Season 6, Episode 12 “Everybody Loves Hugo” (B+)

Firstly, I’d like to say that it’s incredibly refreshing to find an episode that features pretty much all of the show’s characters and addresses the many threads currently being explored on the show. It’s also quite interesting to see the dynamic opposition to the history we know about the castaways before they were on the island in the flash-sideways universe, which it appears is now intricately connected to the main storyline through not just Desmond. The episode’s introduction, with Pierre Chang narrating the slideshow praising the affluent chicken-loving philanthropist, was truly wonderful. The title is a direct contradiction of the fourth episode of the second season, “Everybody Hates Hugo,” and it’s nice to see the guy doing so well. Bringing back Michael and Libby in different forms was interesting, and having Desmond watching over everyone like Jacob was pretty great too. Desmond’s nonchalance on the island contrasted with his absolute cool over, accompanied by sunglasses, on the mainland in the flash-sideways universe was intriguing. Obviously Locke was going to push him into the well, which he seemed woefully unprepared for, but far more shocking was Desmond running Locke over with his car. It’s not clear how things are working yet, but if Desmond is in fact able to coexist in both worlds and retaliate against the reanimated Locke in the other universe by running the still living version over, that would be insanely cool. I’m not sure how much sense that makes though, but we’ll have to see. The craziest part of the episode was when Ilana just blew up! Sure, it happened to Arzt, but Ilana was actually a full-fledged character leading everyone else towards a greater goal. Ben’s comment about how the island just disposed of her as soon as she served her purpose was eerie, and perhaps quite accurate. What a show!

What I’m Watching: Damages

Damages: Season 3, Episode 12 “You Were His Little Monkey” (B)

Everything was really building to quite a head for the whole of this episode, and I was drawn it until the last few seconds of the show featured some excessively brief and violent flashes of what’s to come next week in the show’s season finale. That’s the typical crutch that this show has relied on to sustain itself as a drama over the course of its first two years, and this season has strayed from that several times now. It’s a shame that it reverts back to old habits just when it was finally getting over them. It’s also strange that old elements are coming back into, like David and Wes, since there hasn’t been any mention of them, or Wes at least, since the beginning of the season. It feels at best like a distraction now, and it doesn’t seem like enough of a thread to set up for season four since it can likely be resolved more quickly. The way Patty handled Terry when he came to ask her about whether Frobisher was capable of murder was fascinating, laughing casually with him and telling him that it was impossible before looking into the possibility seriously. Patty’s horse dreams with Julian in them are getting weirder to be sure, especially since they’re now happening outdoors during the day. Joe really has become much more of a villain than it initially seemed, whereas Leonard is being made to seem far more innocent than he had previously appeared. The actions of Leonard’s father, however, indicate that perhaps he isn’t guilt-free. It actually seemed like things were looking up for Tom for a few minutes there at the end of the episode, but that’s clearly not the case. We’ll have to wait to see what happens until next week, and everything is sure to be crazy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 8, Episode 17 “8:00AM-9:00AM” (F)

Forget about the fact that the director of CTU is relieved and replaced by the lowest-ranking, proven subordinate employee with absolutely no management or leadership experience at all (I suppose it’s only a little bit better than promoting the field agent whose wife has just been revealed to be a traitorous spy). Forget about the fact that the first thing that Jack does after failing to save the life of the leader of a country is go home and cool off after vowing never to give up on his commitment to the President and to his country. What I find most unbelievable about this episode is that, after not eating or drinking a thing for seven seasons, Jack is felled by thirst. He finally relaxes and makes a move on Renee, only to have her taken out by a gunshot less than a minute after he gets up to bring her a glass of water. This guy has the worst luck. He already walked in on a dead body thirty minutes earlier, and now he has to see the woman he cares about killed while he’s by the sink? That feels like overkill, even for this show. The return of Gregory Itzin as former President Charles Logan came out of nowhere, and is likely more borne out a desire to satisfy loyal viewers of the show with a fan favorite than any actual relevance he might have to the overarching plot. Appointing Hassan’s wife in his stead is a good idea, but I don’t see that playing out well at all.

Pilot Review: Treme

Treme (HBO)
Premiered April 11 at 10pm

The newest entry in an impressive oeuvre of shows produced by the Home Box Office network certainly fits in with its predecessors, even if it may need more time to prove itself as a sustainable concept over more than just a short period. The 90-minute premiere feels like a lifelong movie, fully reaching into the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina and exploring the lives of those who refuse to leave their homeland. It isn’t quite as clear which characters will become important and which will be quickly done away with, but for the most part, the storylines are all very interesting. Among the most intriguing are Kim Dickens’ restaurant-sustaining waitress, Clarke Peters’ stubborn patriarch, and Wendell Pierce’s charismatic musician. Melissa Leo makes for a terrific lawyer-turned-investigative-reporter, and John Goodman is a force to be reckoned with as her extremely political husband (there’s a reason why this guy is considered to be a good actor, and this just adds to that argument). Steve Zahn’s DJ is a bit of a different story, and even though his storyline isn’t necessarily terrific, it still helps to contribute to the mood and sensibility that seems to be generally shared by the residents of New Orleans. The musical parades through the street are particularly powerful, meaningful, and well-shot, though I do wonder how often they’ll be incorporated into the episodes. Most reviews of this show have been comparing it to “The Wire” because the two shows share the same creators and some of the actors (Peters and Pierce). I still have yet to see “The Wire” since I didn’t have HBO when it first started airing and I’m saving it for some time from now when I’m really itching to catch up on what I’ve heard is a great show. Since I can’t compare the two, I’ll say that this series certainly has potential, but it may have some problems trying to develop while staying confined to one recent, historical time period. “Mad Men” has succeeded in doing that well, however, so perhaps this show is just as well off in that sense. I’m certainly interested in following the lives of these characters, though it may take me another episode or two to really iron out who’s who and what exactly everyone was doing before Katrina and what they’re doing now.

How will it work as a series? HBO series never have much problem presenting in-depth voyages each week, and I think this show should be no different. As stated above, the problem of where the show goes from here is a notable one. FOX’s New Orleans-set “K-Ville” didn’t last more than ten episodes, but this show seems to have a broader scope and a well thought-out premise, and therefore it will likely do very well for itself.
How long will it last? It’s been a long time since HBO hasn’t renewed any of its shows for a second season. Both reviews and ratings were extremely positive, and I can’t imagine that HBO won’t want to continue this series. It’s possible that this may be a one-season show, but that decision would much more likely come from a creative standpoint rather than a popularity-related one. When I first wrote this review yesterday, I said that I’d expect a second season renewal announcement from HBO shortly. It turns out that I didn't even have a chance to post this before the show got renewed. That was fast.

Pilot grade: B+

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: Season 3, Episode 4 “Green Light” (B+)

This show needs to win some kind of award for its pre-titles openings week-to-week. This installment’s introduction was incredible, with Jesse trying to unload some of his product on a gas station attendant. The fact that neither of them flinched when the cop came in and the drugs were in plain view was astonishing. It was great that Mike got a whole bunch of lines this episode after pretty much strutting around silently up until now, and hearing him talk was terrific. I especially liked the way he reacted to Walt’s insistence that he get all of the bugs out: “A: these things cost hundreds of dollars a piece, and B: you’re not that interesting, so yes, Walt, I’ll get them all.” Walt is really spiraling out of control, making scenes in public, unable to teach his class, and even trying to make a move on the other teacher or administrator who was trying to help him out. Hank is going down the exact same road as Walt, and it’s going to be incredible when he realizes who he’s chasing. I’m not sure if things can get any crazier for those two men until they’re ready to rip each other to pieces. Skyler’s reaction to Ted asking what Walt did wrong to make sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake was priceless, and I’m continually impressed by Anna Gunn’s performance here. The incorporation of Jesse back into the central plotline is intriguing, and it’s very interesting that they’re still cutting Walt in even though he doesn’t want it and Jesse is the one cooking.

What I’m Watching: The Pacific

The Pacific: Season 1, Episode 5 “Peleliu Landing” (B+)

This miniseries is doing a good job of keeping its focus on the conflict abroad while checking in appropriately with its characters that are stateside. As his female friend suggests, Basilone seems to be coping well with his newfound fame and the need to be at home selling war bonds while the war is still raging overseas. In that same light, it’s interesting to see newly enlisted young men shipping out because the conflict is already underway, and it’s important to remember that people are coming in and out constantly, perhaps unaware of the extent to which things are happening on these islands. The slow, generally peaceful first half of this episode was just preparation for a deep dive in the second half. That shot of the doors opening and the marines preparing to head out onto the beach was incredible. This kind of scene has been filmed many times before, most notably in “Saving Private Ryan,” and it’s impressive that it’s still able to be fresh and compelling, and that’s an enormous credit to this show. The same painful, ringing silence experienced by Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller in “Saving Private Ryan” is present here, and it’s just as powerful. This extended battle scene, like the ones that came in the installments before it, sucks you in and doesn’t allow you to leave for the whole of its fifteen-plus minutes. It’s impossible to escape from these horrors of war, and this miniseries continues to do an excellent job driving that point home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 9, Episode 16 “Checkmate” (F)

This is a direct continuation of an episode that aired all the way back in February, and even with the aid of the extensive “previously on” sequence to introduce the show, it’s still hard to recall exactly what’s going on here. It’s also as if last week’s episode didn’t even happen, and I have a sneaking suspicion that these episodes are being aired out of order. It may be a good thing that there isn’t any more ridiculous coupling happening on this show, but it’s still annoying not to have any continuity. I’m not sure why there is so much slow motion featured in this episode, since it really doesn’t enhance the action in any way and seems much more like it’s compensating for the lack of coherent storytelling. This episode was drowning in chess metaphors in the way that this show so often features horrendously obnoxious dialogue, usually from just Chloe, but from all the characters this time. I rolled my eyes and laughed when Clark spouted, “kidnapping is illegal, even for the government,” and most of the lines weren’t much better than that. Tess and Oliver discovering the secret identities of the other was cool for a second, but then the obnoxious awkward romance music had to kick in and ruin the moment. Oliver’s badass stance towards Tess at the end was interesting, but he definitely won’t be able to keep that up for a while. Hey, what are those Kandorians up to? Agent Waller is preparing for an invasion, but shouldn’t some time be devoted to the supposed invaders?

What I’m Watching: Flash Forward

Flash Forward: Season 1, Episode 14 “Queen Sacrifice” (C-)

At first I was irritated with the fact that this show appeared to have employed the unfair trick of having a previously unseen character be the mole since it’s really cheating. I would have much preferred that to the second reveal that came afterward. Making sweet, harmless Janis a traitor doesn’t make any sense, and of course she changes completely the moment that Simon discovers her identity, as if she’s been hiding another personality all along. This constant need to have moles, not to mention multiple moles, is something that I think has been popularized by “24” and really detracts from the validity and believability of the drama. Sometimes there can just be bad guys and the good guys don’t need to be bad too. It’s a storytelling crutch that is extremely annoying, and it doesn’t really have much of a place on this show. That was quite a crash dive the motorcycle took into the water, though. That was pretty much the highlight of the episode, by far. Bringing Keiko back into the storyline is hardly necessary, especially since she hasn’t appeared for five episodes and could easily have been swept under the rug and dismissed from the show’s memory. Bryce is too busy trying to make out with Nicole, another unconnected and uninteresting character the show seems intent on spotlighting for no apparent reason. What happened to Aaron? The newly renamed Dyson Frost calling Mark is a sign that maybe there is something positive ahead, but it certainly took him long enough.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty (The Penultimate Episode)

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episode 19 “The Past Presents the Future” (B+)

It’s hard to believe that next week marks the final installment ever of this show. But this episode certainly helps, as it gives a few characters some wonderful closure and sets others up for great things. Daniel realizing that Betty means a lot to him without the two of them necessarily making out is a good way to underline the fact that their relationship has meant something, and it’s good to see Daniel realizing that his girlfriend makes him dumber since he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the box to begin with. Justin asking Austin to dance in front of everyone was a wonderful way of having Justin effectively come out to his family (even though they knew already), and it’s great to see him happy. Betty being sought out for a job that she would love to do is fantastic, and it’s a relief that she has decided to take it and that she’s going to do something excellent with her life. Since the show is definitely ending next week, sending her off to London is fine since that’s as good a resting place for her as any. It was nice to see Lauren Velez as Ignacio’s Elena again, even if for just a moment. Bryan Batt (Sal from "Mad Men") on this show is perfect, especially in his scenes with Amanda. I don’t know about him being her father, but that could be fine too, especially since Marc is the only one who has put it together. It seemed obvious that Tyler’s downward spiral would result in someone getting hurt, but I never expected it to be Wilhelmina. I’m not sure if that’s needed, but it will likely be important to how everything works out. I’m looking forward in a bittersweet way to next week’s final episode, since this show has really always been great and it’s departing the airwaves after only a few seasons. I know it’s more than many get, but I’m definitely not Betty-d out.

What I’m Watching: Human Target

Human Target: Season 1, Episode 11 “Victoria” (B)

This has to be the most far-fetched installment of this show yet, but it still manages to be excessively entertaining in a way that makes up for the ridiculousness of its shenanigans. What makes perhaps the least sense of everything is Victoria’s attraction to Tony, and how she could go from being so sheltered all her life to suddenly willing to give everything up for a guy who wanted to take some of her blood. But that’s the nature of this show, to make its guest characters as wild and interesting as possible, and it does make the episode enjoyable. Chance’s report with the princess also helps in that area, and the sense that they’re really having fun together while on the run makes it even more enticing. I wasn’t terribly wowed by the extreme resourcefulness of the paparazzi or convinced by the attitude of the royal guard, but someone who did make a great impression, in only a few great scenes, was Erick Avari as Gerard. Avari is a quintessential “hey, it’s that guy” actor, and though I’ve definitely seen him many times before, the only role I can specifically remember is that of the elder Dr. Suresh in selected episodes of “Heroes.” He does a terrific job here, and exemplifies dedication and honor before taking a bullet for the woman he has given his life to protect. Next week is the show’s season finale, and I really hope that it comes back for a second season. I’m extremely excited due to its title: “Christopher Chance.” Maybe we’ll finally learn some more about the mystery man himself.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What I’m Watching: V

V: Season 1, Episode 6 “Pound of Flesh” (B+)

While I still don’t love Elizabeth Mitchell on this show, which is a shame because she was so great as Juliet on “Lost,” I’m really liking how this show is revving up and getting the action started without wasting any more time. Going up onto the ship was a fantastic idea, and it helps kick the show into high gear. The revelation that Samuel was a member of the Fifth Column was an excellent surprise, and it’s cool to know that the people administering the tests for displaying emotion are actually recruiting the people who fail and helping to protect them as fellow members of the Fifth Column. Anna’s way of dealing with the suspected traitors is a harsh one, and it’s becoming clearer that, despite her smile, she is one evil bitch. I like the casting of Nicholas Lea as Erica’s ex-husband, though I’m not exactly clear on what his purpose on the show is, especially if Lisa was able to locate him so quickly. As a huge fan of “The X-Files,” I was more than amused at seeing the onetime triple agent Alex Krycek talk about how alien ships in the sky are so amazing (I wonder if the Vs are familiar with the black oil?). In terms of satisfaction on this show, it was extraordinarily gratifying to see the message of the revolution, “John May Lives,” pop up momentarily in the middle of Anna’s transmission. While Anna may think she can exterminate them once they come out of hiding, I don’t think she’s preparing herself enough for the sure-to-be-awesome fight that’s coming.

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 1, Episode 4 “Long in the Tooth” (B+)

For a show about one lawman in particular, this series certainly excels at getting into the minds of the criminal-of-the-week and doing a magnificent job of making them seem all-important despite the fact that they’re only sticking around for one episode. Alan Ruck of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Speed” fame was a fun choice to play Roland Pike, the former mob-accountant-turned-dentist-in-hiding. Him going ballistic in the first scene and pulling out the complainer’s teeth without anesthesia was a definitive deep dive into his psyche, but the episode helped to make it more intriguingly complex as it progressed. His panicking about his girlfriend not being safe when with him because of the vengeful tooth extraction and his subsequent murder of the coyote was extremely interesting. And it’s not only about the guest characters, but the series regulars as well. That was most evident at the tail end of the episode when Rachel tried on Raylan’s cowboy hat while she was driving him home. The conversation between Raylan, Roland, and his girl in the middle of the desert was very entertaining and full of great lines. After someone started shooting at Roland, his guess of “is that your guys?” was humorously answered by Raylan: “no, it’s the bad guys.” Roland’s unwillingness to disclose his reason for becoming a dentist because Raylan might laugh was funny, and Raylan had a terrific response: “Really? That’s your biggest concern right now?” Extracting light-hearted jokes out of the most seemingly serious and dangerous moments is one of the things that makes this show awesome.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Big O” (B+)

At first, I questioned the explicitness of the conversation Kristina was having with the new helper they found to work with Max, but as the episode progressed, it proved to be more than worth it. As has been true with the past few episodes, the interactions between the children of the middle generation continue to be fantastic. Sarah turning to Crosby for advice on whether to go for it with Amber’s teacher was hilarious, as was Adam’s awkward interrogation of Sarah about faking orgasms. I hope that come time for the Emmy Award nominations to be announced this summer, Peter Krause and Lauren Graham have enough buzz to give them hope of garnering deserved recognition. It’s more likely that veteran patriarch Craig T. Nelson, a previous Emmy winner in 1992 for his lead role on “Coach,” will be in line for a nomination because of voters’ familiarity with him, and while his part is entertaining, it’s not nearly as terrific as those of his children. Crosby’s introduction of his son to his parents went over surprisingly well, and it was really nice to see the positive family dynamic at play. Amber is sure to flip out when she finds out that her mom is going for her teacher, but that may be a good time down the road. It would be good to give Julia something else to obsess over besides the other mother flirting with her husband, but for the moment, it’s helping to show how mature she’s able to be when it’s most necessary.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 1, Episode 18 “Doubt” (B+)

This was a nice fresh angle for the show, starting out in the jury room with all of the jurors discussing the merits of the case before the evidence was presented onscreen. It provides hope that this show can remain vibrant and original as it progresses, keeping the lawyer drama alive with new takes on potentially familiar case prototypes. The case presented here was cool also since it hinged on Kalinda’s investigative reporting and the minor details of a photograph that turned out to have been taking by a video camera. David Paymer’s recurring role as Judge Cuesta was extremely entertaining in this episode and resulted in me cracking a few smiles. The events in the jury room were far more dramatic and thought-provoking, which makes for a nice balance of tones on this show. Kalinda and Diane picking up on the sexual tension between Alicia and Will is a good thing since their romance has to come out sooner or later. A different romance seems to have become public first, however, and that would be the extraordinarily peculiar and amusing connection between Diane and Gary Cole’s innocence-only ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh. Their conversations about their opposing views on Democrats and Republicans were quite fun, and while its public revelation has probably stuck a pin in their relationship, it would be nice to see it play out some more. I have a feeling that it’s all about Alicia and Will from here, especially since Peter’s case takes a backseat for thee first time in a while as neither he nor his legal both don’t appear at all in the episode.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What I’m Watching: Lost

Lost: Season 6, Episode 11 “Happily Ever After” (B)

I’m not entirely thrilled about episodes spending the entire time either in the past or in the newly created universe. What’s always been most compelling about this show is what’s happening on the island and the fun reveals that occur in either the past, the future, or the sideways universe. Two weeks ago the whole of the episode was devoted to Richard’s back story in the 1800s, and while it does shed some light on his character, it’s frustrating not to have much actually happen in terms of story progression. What does make it worthwhile, however, is the now firmly established sense that this alternate universe is connected to the world we’ve known all along, and the time-defying constant Desmond is the key to uniting everything. I’m not sure what exactly he’s planning to tell the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, but I’m excited. It was cool to see him glimpse flashes of Charlie with “not Penny’s boat” written on his hand, and good to see him being proactive about it. The flash-sideways versions of Eloise and Daniel were also quite interesting. Desmond seems to have fallen into some sort of daze back on the island, and now he’s running around the jungle with the most questionably stable castaway of all, Sayid. It is telling that Sayid let Zoe live, and a hopeful sign that maybe he’s not all evil. This is all good and interesting, but let’s get back to everyone, shall we? Locke didn’t even appear once in this episode.

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 19 “Hand-to-Hand” (B+)

This episode was a whole lot of fun because it was the first time that L.A. NCIS unit has come across murky jurisdiction waters where they find someone else undercover in the midst of their operation. It was particularly enjoyable because that part was played by Eric Christian Olsen, who usually portrays more comic characters, like on FOX’s short-lived sitcom “The Loop.” His role here was entertaining because it worked well before he was revealed to be a police officer and continued to work when his true identity came out when he was bailed out of jail. Sam going undercover is just as great as Callen going undercover, and it’s especially exciting when he is forced to display his athletic and martial arts-related abilities. That skill comes in quite handy when defending against an angry platoon of trained and dangerous marines. The subtle moments when the team is in the middle of a briefing and one of them lets out some surprising fact about their personal life are what make this show individualized and worthwhile. Kensi’s muttered remark about the DJ at the club being awesome and a girl “needing to get her freak on” was that kind of moment in this episode, never referred to again but well worth it when it happened. The coolest part of this episode was the opening sequence. It’s hard to find an original way of a body being discovered with hundreds and hundreds of “CSI” and “Law & Order” episodes having done it in the past, but catching a glimpse of a bloody person in the back of a paparazzo’s photo felt fresh.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What I'm Watching: NCIS

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 19 "Guilty Pleasure" (B+)

You know it's going to be an entertaining episode when the last thing that happens before the opening credits roll is a woman shows up to her house announcing that her dead husband was spending time with a prostitute right before his death. The return of Dina Meyer as Holly Snow gives Gibbs yet another woman to share an interesting bond with and connect with in his own way. The same oddball camaraderie existed, however briefly, between Tony and Detective McCadden. Their friendship based mostly on frequently invoking movie references and picking each other's brains for movie trivia knowledge was entertaining, especially in how it ended with Tony getting sick of him. McGee's jealously was also fun, and Abby asking Gibbs to give McGee her hug today because he really needs it was a terrific scene. Both men of course looked quite relieved that it wasn't going to happen, and it was very funny. Abby's rationale that she wouldn't be able to be an escort despite being really friendly and really liking men was hilarious, and just as awkward as her interaction with the famed Ms. Snow. Tony's performance while undercover was silly at best, and his comment about "daddy going to make wee wee" was especially cringe-worthy. That wasn't the best line of course, and that distinguished honor goes to "it was probably a male...or Ziva" when speculating on the identity of the killer. Tony giving McGee a hard time about his sipping habits is just one of the many things that makes this show so much fun to watch.

What I’m Watching: Damages

Damages: Season 3, Episode 11 “All That Crap About Your Family” (B)

I have some trouble believing the dynamic between Ellen and Patty sometimes, especially in the way that it affects Patty’s work decisions. It’s hard to tell if Patty actually does have it backwards or whether Ellen really was trying to embarrass her the whole time. Patty’s firing of Alex, however, seems like an unwise decision done merely to spite Ellen even though she won’t care the least bit. Ellen’s journey to find her former babysitter yielded some surprising results, but it’s unclear how it’s relevant to everything else. Ellen did manage to hold her own when she was being chewed out by Gates, and that coupled with Patty’s bitter reaction to Tom’s deception explains how Ellen and Tom end up deciding to start their own law firm. Given the timetable of the season and its impending end in only two episodes, they’re going to have to get started on that soon. Frobisher’s spiral downward to enable his portrayer to get inside his psyche is interesting, but it’s also not too germane to the events of this season. Leonard’s face says so much when Joe is talking about how Tessa isn’t family, and the reveal that Marilyn is only concerned with protecting her family, even disobeying Leonard’s reactions, was pretty shocking. Even more surprising was the fact that Tessa wasn’t actually Louis’ son but Joe’s. That final execution was powerful and indicative of just how serious things are getting, as the Tobins are willing to commit murder to protect the secret of their hidden family fortune.

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 8, Episodes 15 & 16 “6:00AM-7:00AM” & “7:00AM-8:00AM” (F)

I find it extremely hard to write about what’s currently happening on this show when I don’t buy the twist that came two episodes ago and has led to what’s happening now. Dana has completely changed as a character, and her decision to start strangling people and shooting security guards while she’s been dawdling and caving to the demands of a small-time convict for hours of this day doesn’t make any sense. Why she’ll only speak to Jack Bauer is also a mystery since she’s put up with the idiocy of everyone else at CTU for the rest of the day while trying to maintain her cover. If only this wasn’t the first time that a CTU employee pulled the love of his life from a car while holding a gun to her head, and you’d think that they would have learned right now not to reinstate those guys immediately. Both Hastings and Jack telling Cole to get over it and go back to work is a bad idea waiting to explode and get worse. Another nitpick I have with the events of these two episodes is the recording of President Hassan’s execution. While the sight of him dead and Jack arriving too late is the only semi-powerful moment of the whole two hours, there’s no way that Samir would have had time to kill him and record it, and more importantly, no reason that he would rush through killing him instead of trying to get him to confess to his crimes first. The death of President Hassan marks the departure of the unquestionably strongest character on this show in a long time. It’s fitting therefore that he gets the signature tribute from this show of the clock ticking out silently at the end. Anil Kapoor delivered a great performance, and it’s unlikely at this point that his successor, whoever that may be, will be anywhere near as impressive as him. There are eight more episodes in this season – what is there possibly left to do?

In important show news, it was announced last week that this will be the final season of “24.” It’s about time. As soon as it’s over, I’m going to go back and watch the first season to remind myself that this show did in fact once used to be good.