Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 3, Episode 11 “Friendly Fire” (B+)

This episode was particularly fun because it gave one character who rarely sees the limelight the chance to bring in a case of his own. It also gave Sam the opportunity to hit a guy in the face – twice – and express some unseen rage for the usually affable character. An exciting bonus of his friend’s presence was the way it provoked Madeline to try to get to know Sam better through him, and to correct herself after saying that he was her son’s best friend and proclaim him her best friend too. Regarding the case itself, that was one hell of an ugly color combination that Michael was somehow able to pull off. I really enjoyed his signature move of snapping his fingers and then having something off in the distance explode, especially since, by the end of the episode, everyone was begging him not to snap his fingers since they clearly knew what was coming next. Gilroy is somewhat of an interesting character, though he’s really not much different from Carla. Chris Vance shouldn’t be blamed because his character was stupid on “Prison Break,” so he’s probably an able actor, but we’ll have to wait and see. There’s one thing that Gilroy’s presence does make me very happy about, and that’s the renewed relationship between Michael and Fiona. Michael patting the spot on the bed next to him when Fiona asked him where he wanted her was awesome, and her undressing for him very speedily only moments later was even better. Long live this couple.

Round Two: The Deep End

The Deep End: Season 1, Episode 2 “Where There’s Smoke” (B)

To be honest, I’m actually still liking this show. I realize that it’s terribly playful and a bit over-the-top, but the new lawyers are just trying so damn hard that it seems worth it. It’s also quite entertaining and certainly engaging, so that’s definitely a plus. I am finding it impossible to remember any of the characters’ names, but I don’ t think that’s a major issue since I can already identify them by their faces and they’ll probably all end sleeping together anyway. I like how the structure of this firm works, and I think that the characters on all the different levels play very well together, at least for entertainment purposes. I enjoyed Hart and Rowdy bursting into laughter about the deathly serious marijuana situation presented to them moments earlier by Addy and Malcolm (I may just call him Eggs if I can’t remember his character’s name on this show next time). The dynamic between Addy and Malcolm is also fun, with Malcolm’s sarcastic response about her waiting twenty years for them to build a new train and her response to his offer that it was both convenient and nice. Dylan is definitely still getting the hang of things, which is fine, while Beth proved herself quite impressive in the face of intimidation and manipulation by her father. The subplot of Liam unable to match any woman’s kiss to the quality of his first kiss was actually quite fun, and really sunk in dramatically with his pause after Beth came up to him and did her worst. This show is soapy, sure, but I think I’m just going to deal with it and like it. Also, if you're looking for an expert on something scientific, I would definitely trust Dr. Pierre Chang from "Lost."

What I’m Watching: Psych (Winter Premiere)

Psych: Season 4, Episode 10 “You Can’t Handle This Episode” (B+)

It’s always nice to have this show back, and I’m continually impressed with how deftly this show manages to have its onslaught of guest stars and ensure that they play an important role without overshadowing the lead players. In this case, John Cena, who is definitely not an actor by nature, is incorporated perfectly as a super-spy who also happens to Juliet’s brother and who, in a hilarious twist, finds Shawn to be awe-inspiring. He still manages to be incredibly cool as a character, and while we don’t actually see as much of Juliet as an episode of this might provide the opportunity for, their few interactions are amusing. I enjoyed the fact that Juliet had told Ewen so much about Shawn but absolutely nothing about Gus, and that Gus was so continually bothered by that while no one else seemed to give a damn. Ewen’s identification of him by one of Shawn’s preposterous nicknames was especially funny. What should perhaps be more important is not the fact that Juliet didn’t talk about Gus but rather that she talked Shawn up so much. It’s relevant even more prominently now that Abigail is checking out to head to Uganda for six months or maybe longer, leaving Shawn once again a single man. I think Juliet has been scorned a few too many times and she may not be leaving herself open to any more heartbreak, but it certainly would be nice to see the two of them get together. Or just talking really closely, like they did at the close of that one episode.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Take Three: Human Target

Human Target: Season 1, Episode 3 “Embassy Row” (B+)

This show just keeps getting better and better. It did take me up until there were only two minutes left in the hour to figure out who the brother was before it finally clicked and I recognized Sean Maher, better known as Simon Tam from “Firefly.” It’s not as if I wasn’t completely drawn in by the episode’s central plot, but I couldn’t for the life of me identify him, though I was positive I would be hitting myself in the head once I figured out who he was. This is the first episode that deviates from the traditional notion of Chance needing to protect someone and instead uses his personal connections and desire to avenge his friend’s death as the instigating force for his latest mission. It was great to have Emmanuelle Vaugier, in her best role since her “Smallville” days, on board as someone who Chance initially thought was a prostitute but actually turned out to be a pretty awesome FBI agent. The rip-roaring action on this show truly is spectacular, and the most exciting moment was definitely Raven’s entrance into the room when he boasted about what Raven had done before revealing himself to in fact be Raven. The fact that the security guard ultimately took him out was cool too. I love all of Chance’s lines, particularly declining the “invitation” to show his identification and confirming that he hadn’t said his name. The music is truly appropriate and excellent, and I also very much enjoyed the fact that Chance’s cover identity was C.C. Baxter, also known as Jack Lemmon’s classic character in “The Apartment.”

In case you missed this episode, it's available on FOX.com. It aired on Tuesday night at 9pm due to the State of the Union address, and it moves to its regular timeslot of Wednesdays at 8pm this coming week.

What I’m Watching: White Collar

White Collar: Season 1, Episode 9 “Bad Judgment” (B+)

This episode was a lot of fun partially because it didn’t quite fit the normal format and setup for this series. The foreclosed-on family came to the FBI seeking justice, but the incorporation of Fowler bugging Peter’s phones and trying to take him down amped up the excitement considerably. I’m also incredibly impressed with how Mozzie is being continually incorporated into the story, and how what could have been merely a peripheral, barely recurring character has become such an integral part of the plot while still remaining quite mysterious. The now four-way dynamic between Neal, Peter, Elizabeth, and Mozzie is absolutely irresistible and entertaining, given the fact that none of them really trusts each other but they still manage to function and work together. Mozzie’s questions about the silverware and Neal’s subsequent recommendation that perhaps Elizabeth should keep a close eye on him was quite funny. From my extensive TV and movie watching, I’ve learned that it’s definitely a good idea to inform others, especially your superiors, when you’re undertaking a sting operation to ensure that you’re not the one who takes the fall as the supposedly corrupt party. Despite his poor-looking predicament, it’s nice to see that Peter has many friends in the department, including his little-seen superior played by James Rebhorn and most of the staff, all of who seem willing to come in during the middle of the night to help make sure he’s protected. My favorite line of the episode was delivered by Peter to Neal: “Oh, look at that. Telling the truth – did it hurt?”

What I’m Watching: Better Off Ted

Better Off Ted: Season 1, Episode 11 “Mess of a Salesman” (B+)

It was hard for me to imagine an actor who might work as Ted’s brother, but I’m very impressed with the casting choice, Eddie McClintock, star of sci-fi extravaganza “Warehouse 13” and the short-lived comedy series “Crumbs.” He has just the right vibe and immaturity to play Ted’s big bro who is far less accomplished and less serious. The best part about having him around is that he brings out the competitive kid in Ted, and though the actions don’t quite suit Ted, it’s fun to see him try and have such a good time doing it. It’s also refreshing to see that he’s not an abysmal failure and that he’s able to quickly recognize that he’s gone too far with Lem and Phil, whose ill-fated venture into “dealing with it” was quite humorous. It’s a pity that Billy only got the chance to interact with Rose rather than to meet either of the other women in Ted’s life, because that could have been very entertaining. Instead, those two were up to some pretty ridiculous shenanigans intimidating people into giving money to a charity and head-butting the president of the Veridian foundation. Unlike Lucy on this week’s episode of “Scrubs,” Linda is capable of channeling her inner crazy, and it was hilarious to see Veronica cheering her on so excitedly and ferociously. Casting Rick Hoffman of the late “Samantha Who” as the head of the foundation was brilliant, and I hope we see him again. I loved the way that Billy, Lem and Phil saved the day by putting a corpse in the trunk of his car and then documenting him dumping it. It was always as cool as Liz Lemon phoning in a bomb threat to Penn Station to delay someone’s train on “30 Rock” a few weeks ago.

Missing: the final two episodes of this show. Hopefully only the final episodes of the season, not the series, but in any case, it’s not clear that they’re ever airing. If anyone has any information on when or where they might be available, please post in the comments.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What I’m Watching: Scrubs

Scrubs: Season 9, Episode 11 “Our Dear Leader” (C)

This just isn’t working. I’m confused about why Drew has to be such a mean jerk to everyone around him and then somehow decides at the end of the day that the people he relentlessly mocks and hates on are actually his friends. While I am a fan of Kerry Bishe and her performance on this show, I do think that her attempts to go ballistic need to be stopped immediately. It just doesn’t fit her character, and she can’t pull it off at all. Drew, on other hand, is good at that kind of thing, but that’s why he’s number one. I know that this show has sort of always been like this, but it’s starting to seem even more childish lately, and that’s not a good thing. The arrival of the perfect new doctor and the jealousy it brings out in Turk doesn’t contribute much to the episode, and Turk’s comment about Dr. Kelso just lurking around waiting to weigh in on conversations drives home the point that his continued presence on the show doesn’t make a bit of sense. It is nice that Dr. Cox has someone who he can toy with and in the process actually teach him about how he’s actually a good human being, and that’s the major positive aspect of this episode. Otherwise, this one bombs, especially when it comes to Denise, whose reoccurring raspy voice brought on by the reminder of her hell week experience and fake sappiness about her proclamation of love to her boyfriend doesn’t do justice to one of the stronger characters left on this show.

Does anyone have information on when the final two episodes of the season will air? ABC said one was going to air this past Wednesday and the other next Wednesday, but listings indicate that's not true.

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 13 “Missing” (B+)

It’s interesting that the first team member to really find their life threatened on this show is the one who’s actually been least in the spotlight. We’ve hardly seen anything of Dominic, especially in comparison to the rest of the characters. It did seem weird that Dominic was missing in action last week when the whole team went out for their outing at a karaoke bar. He also seems the least well-equipped to defend himself in such a life-threatening and dangerous situation, therefore making his predicament all the more serious and not nearly as entertaining as the cases on this show usually are. It’s fascinating to see how his disappearance affects the rest of the team and how they all talk about how they should have trained and mentored Dominic better to prepare him for such a situation. It’s pretty crazy that they didn’t end up finding him, and ending the show on such a desolating note sets the tone as far more somber than it has been in the past. I wonder if they’ll end up finding him, because it’s not as if he’d be terribly missed, but that’s quite a dramatic and depressing plunge for the show to take so early on in its run. In any case, it was no surprise to see guest star Onahoua Rodriguez in a very similar part to her recurring role on “The Shield” as a good-natured girl caught in between some very dangerous people and the law. I also enjoyed Sam counting down the seconds to his diversion. I suppose it makes sense, but it was particularly entertaining.

I forgot to mention last week that “NCIS: Los Angeles” has been renewed for a second season, therefore we’ll have plenty more action-packed hours to look forward to in 2010 and 2011.

What I’m Watching: NCIS

NCIS: Season 7, Episode 13 “Jetlag” (B+)

This episode is particularly fun for a number of reasons. For starters, getting some of the agents out of the office is nice. Teaming Tony and Ziva up together is fantastic, and setting the action aboard a plane automatically amps it up a few notches. It’s also fabulously reminiscent of the first episode of this show, albeit with a smaller plane containing considerably less prestigious passengers. While things weren’t quite as unhinged and awesome as they were last week on “Human Target,” the unfolding of the plot was still great fun. The very diverse charms of Tony and Ziva, as noted by the passenger they were protecting, were perfect in this situation and great complements to each other. Contaminating her pillow with peanuts was quite the clever way to try and off her, and I really do enjoy the commonly-used trope of having two assassins aboard a plane, the first being a large, intimidating male, and the second being an assuming female flight attendant. Alas, it’s still fun every time, especially when Tony and Ziva have to start communicating secretly in their somewhat flirtatious way. It’s been a while since they last went on a mission together and ended up in the same bed, and I really like how they were being grilled about why nothing had ever happened between them. Ending the episode with a shot of Tony’s favorite picture, starring a very beautiful Ziva, was a fantastic way to reiterate that something eventually has to happen between the two of them, but it’s going to remain a tease for now, and that’s fine.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I’m Watching: Damages (Season Premiere)

Damages: Season 3, Episode 1 “Your Secrets Are Safe” (B)

I’ve never been a true fan of this show, but I made sure to watch it since it’s clearly an Emmy magnet and people generally seem to like it. The second season was probably better than the first, though you won’t find any reviews of it on this site since I wasn’t blogging while in Italy during the time that it aired. But I’ll be covering all of season three, and by the looks of it, this is the strongest start yet. While I still feel that the show is hindered rather than helped by its constant need to flash-forward and shock with all of the major future developments, the case and direction of the show seems like it’s in good shape. All of the new characters seem very interesting, and focusing on a Ponzi scheme feels relevant and like it will involve much more legitimate lawyerly work than all of the corruption and murder that occurred last season. The additions to the cast – Len Cariou, Campbell Scott, Lily Tomlin, and Martin Short – are all great, and this may well be the best ensemble the show has had yet. This is also the least annoying that I’ve found Ellen yet, so that’s a positive thing. The D.A.’s office is a good place for her, and her same-level relationship with Patty is nice to see. Ben Shenkman (Burn Notice) also seems like he’ll play an interesting part, working with both Ellen and Patty. The closing juxtaposition of shots is perhaps the most striking and powerful of the whole episode, showing Tom’s dead body six months in the future and then flashing back to him watching as the sign with his name is put up. Tom won’t necessarily be missed, at least not yet, but that’s certainly not an image I’ll soon forget.

What I’m Watching: 24

24: Season 8, Episode 5 “8:00PM-9:00PM” (C)

So much for a semi-strong start last week. Now that things have really gotten going, it’s not looking too good for this once-great show. The main problem is Renee. She was never a terribly well-written character, and Annie Wersching is not a great actress. Putting her front and center in what is pretty much the only major plotline of this episode is not a good idea, and Wersching is not up to the task. She can’t pull off that attitude she’s desperately trying to dish. “24” already pulled the crazy card in a big way twice, with Audrey going nuts and the unstable First Lady stabbing her former husband for what he did to her. Now Renee has gone off the deep end, and while this storyline is considerably more believable and works a lot better than both of those two, it’s still a crutch. Can’t an agent ever just be sub-par and not need to have some major mental problems as a qualification for going undercover? Apparently, serving time in prison and changing your name also means you have a leg up in the application process. The fact that Dana could even have gotten hired is a joke, and her ex-boyfriend’s bad timing in forcing her to steal thousands of dollars from the government is impeccable. As far as subplots go, it’s pretty poor, and completely uninteresting. I’m not sure whether that arc would be better if it went the preposterous route of having her seemingly aimless victimizer be part of the terrorist plot or just kept it as its current lame state. The next subplot isn’t great either, following two brothers with radically different accents as they force a doctor to help keep the sick one alive. Clearly they’re soon going to be apprehended by CTU, and they’re going to have to make a hard choice about whether to betray their family. It can’t really go in any other direction. In terms of casting, it is fun to see both David Anders, best known as Sark from “Alias,” and Callum Keith Rennie (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Californication”) as one of the brothers and the Russian head honcho, respectively. Too bad their roles aren’t that great, and the show isn’t up to using them in a worthwhile way.

What I’m Watching: Heroes

Heroes: Season 4, Episode 17 “The Art of Deception” (F)

This show keeps getting even more senseless as it continues to dwell on the same stupid arcs that are clearly heading nowhere good. This whole carnival plot has been a gamble from the start, and it might be compelling if there was a legitimate confrontation between the heroes and the so-called normals. But in this case, it's all fabricated by Samuel, completely undermining the validity of all his claims. Eli always seems to be lurking around a corner, and Samuel's plan to frame Noah was painfully obvious. I’m confused about why Claire seems to be the only one who knows what to do in an urgent medical situation when she’s surrounded by a large group of self-sufficient people who live in their own community and should be considerably more qualified to take care of themselves. Both Noah and Claire are now prisoners, which is not a good thing, and only now does Lauren think it’s a good idea to call in the cavalry? If Tracy was available the whole time, why didn’t Noah bring her along as backup? Gretchen also raises a good point – how does Claire never go to class and still manage to pass college? It doesn’t make much sense at all. On top of the continually devolving story, the dialogue has become so heinous and cringe-worthy that pretty much any line out of any given character’s mouth is now unbearable. Just to ensure that the show can’t get anywhere, the attempted burial of Sylar is halted by Peter, desperate to willingly get trapped in his head. Matt’s condemnation of Sylar is dumb and completely out of character, and burying him in a wall is a preposterous move. Peter just has the worst timing in the world, and he really needs to stop focusing so much on Sylar and start worrying about a much more pressing problem – Samuel.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 3, Episode 5 “Chuck Versus First Class” (B+)

I’m so glad that I was right about this season after the first three hours felt a bit fluffy. After last week’s Awesome episode, Chuck’s sister and spectacular brother-in-law are nowhere to be found but the hour is still insanely exciting. Chuck’s first solo mission is a great idea, and he performs fantastically. His ability to be both impressive and obnoxious at the same time in the execution of his mission is pretty astonishing, and Zachary Levi plays the part marvelously. It’s a pity he didn’t get a chance to use his nunchucks, but it was very funny to see both of his nemeses knock each other out. It’s fantastic that he turned to Casey in his great time of need when Shaw wouldn’t let Sarah answer his call for help. The bonding between Shaw and Sarah was also nice since it enables Sarah to open up as well as the seemingly strong Shaw to break down. Chuck’s new love interest is a welcome addition to the show, and Kristen Kreuk performs perfectly. It’s essentially the same role she played in the first season of “Smallville,” as Clark’s distant love seen only through the lens of a telescope, and it’s terrific to have her on the show. Hearing her talk about the way Chuck talks about Paris made for a wonderful dramatic moment, and I’m looking forward to more of that. I’m not so sure about her working at the Buy More, but at least she’ll be sticking around for a bit. The Buy More is also capable of delivering decent plotlines, like Morgan turning to Casey for help managing his unruly subordinates. The way Casey’s face lit up when he thought about them as insurgents was great, though it was more than a bit creepy to see him abduct and brainwash Lester. Oh well, it comes with the job, I guess.

Pilot Review: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz)
Premiered January 22 at 10pm

If you haven’t watched this show yet, please don’t. You’ll regret it, I promise. It may well be that season-defining series that stands out as the worst of all the new shows, where it’s impossible to follow along with the characters but you wouldn’t possibly want to because it’s such a despicable show. Imagine a show like “The Sopranos” or “Rome” where minutes feel like hours, but not in a good way. It’s based on the “300” model of historical-epic-to-film translation, discarding backgrounds and sets for extended shots of blood and guts spilling graphically for supposed dramatic effect. In the course of all of this nonstop gratuitous violence, there’s little room for plot, and what thin story remains is unsurprisingly trite and uninteresting. When characters aren’t spouting silly dialogue that’s trying hopelessly to fit in with the times, swearing profusely, or cutting off people’s heads for sport, they’re engaging in extremely graphic sex. The emphasis on bloody violence and overly visual sex makes it clear that this show doesn’t have anything else to offer, and that becomes painfully obvious when, after fifty-five minutes of unbearable gore and intimate relations, nothing has really transpired. Even the presence of spectacular actors John Hannah and Lucy Lawless comes far too late in the episode, when the show is already beyond saving. Unsurprisingly, their parts are not well-written, and their considerable talents can’t do much to make their characters seem like they’re worth watching. If you think this show might appeal to you, ask yourself whether you’d like to sit through half of “300” again. Over and over again. If the answer is yes, try out this show. If not, stay far, far away.

How will it work as a series? I was far too bored to try and keep up with where the story was trying to go to really get into what was going on and take an active interest in it. Dragging out one slave’s story that make for a compelling movie in 1960 into a lengthy series seems tiring and likely unbearable to me, but presumably new characters will be introduced and the show can remain dynamic. I don’t know, however, since I will definitely not be watching.
How long will it last? It appears someone was considerably more impressed than I when they got a peek at this show, and Starz renewed it for a second season before this one even started back in December. That’s a bold move on their part, but Starz hasn’t done much in the way of original programming, so maybe this is what can attract a new audience for them. Still, keep in mind that HBO’s critically-praised “Rome” only lasted two seasons because it was just too expensive to keep producing, and while this one doesn’t bother with lavish sets, I’m sure it’s not cheap. It could be blindly renewed for a third season too, but I doubt it. That’s a long way away, however, so you never know.

Pilot grade: F-

Pilot Review: Caprica

Caprica (Syfy)
Premiered January 22 at 9pm

This prequel to the recently concluded reboot of “Battlestar Galactica” has one thing that’s going to haunt it for the entirety of its existence: its connection to that show. While that’s certainly something that recommends rather than condemns it, what it means is that the newer show will always need to try to achieve the glory and excellence of the older one, and that its story can never go anywhere other than what is written in BSG. It’s not like “Smallville” where Clark Kent and Lex Luthor can be best friends from the first moment they meet and the story can diverge from that of comic book folklore. The future is set in this universe, and while that means the creation and activation of the Cylons is on the horizon, there shan’t likely be many surprises in store. Viewers don’t know the fate of these specific characters, but what’s going to happen to the human race is devastatingly clear and foretold. Additionally, the need for constant references to BSG through visions of far-too-advanced Cylon models and the incorporation of the Adama family into the central storyline seem like a mistake because they will put too much emphasis on reliance on that which we already know (line from the preview for next week: this has happened before and it will happen again. We’ve heard that one before). That said, this show isn’t half bad. It certainly looks great, and the plot seems interesting enough. Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales are good personalities to play off of each other, and their dynamic should be the driving force of this show. Zoe’s virtual world is an intriguing one, though it might have been nice if her father had spent more time in it before jumping the technology right to his already-advanced Cylon prototype. The subway bombing sequence was pretty powerful, and as far as pilots go, this is a fairly decent one. In addition to the fact that this show might be like the “Star Wars” prequels, where technology has to be dumbed down so that it doesn’t seem more sophisticated than that of the known future, this show mainly will rise or fall depending on whether it can emerge from the shadow of the legendary phenomenon that was BSG. So far, not so good on that point.

How will it work as a series? This pilot obviously offers a much clearly launching pad for the show that doesn’t really indicate what’s ahead, but the same was true for the BSG miniseries. Having two different families intricately involved in the show should be a strong factor, and they could very much create a compelling man of science/man of faith structure for the show. The problem remains the idea of the future and the knowledge of what’s coming, and this show may rush things to try and satisfy audience expectations.
How long will it last? No way to tell quite yet, other than to note that BSG lasted four seasons and recently “Sanctuary” has been doing quite well for the network. It’s exactly BSG’s audience that this show is trying to attract, as well as anyone who never got into the show but wants something new to obsess about, and that should work well for the series. I think it will have a season two renewal coming up soon.

Pilot grade: B

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice (Winter Premiere)

Burn Notice: Season 3, Episode 10 “A Dark Road” (B+)

It’s always good to have Michael Westen back, especially when he’s facing an unknown, faceless enemy, and honestly, when is he not? In this case, things are still booting up again, and that’s all good and fine since he always finds something to do to keep him busy. Fortunately, Fiona has friends of her own who she can call clients, and now that she’s permanently stranded in the United States, she’s going to need to cozy up to Michael again so that she doesn’t run out of things to do with herself. The real nice surprise of this episode is that Madeline gets to play a starring role once again. Earlier this season when she interrogated a suspect in her own very individualized way, it was wonderfully entertaining. In this case, it’s perhaps a bit more serious, but it’s just as effective and good. Sharon Gless’ “Cagney and Lacey” costar Tyne Daly comes aboard for an episode as a crucial piece of the case which Sam deems himself unfits for and therefore leads Michael to suggest that Madeline should befriend her and encourage her to spill the beans and show her the files. Michael’s frustration at her inability to put a reasonable distance in between herself and the woman she manipulated was interesting to see, and it was fascinating to hear Madeline and Michael talk about his line of work and how hard he actually finds it to separate himself from what he has to do on a regular basis.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 4, Episode 11 “Winter Madness” (B-)

A trip to Boston is just what the doctor ordered for the cast and crew of TGS? Not so much. The need to get out of New York because of the bad weather feels especially off since I just returned from the Boston area and it’s a whole lot warmer in New York at the moment. All of the accents in Boston are horribly exaggerated and completely irritating, but I guess that’s all part of the joke. Julianne Moore’s rendition of a Bostonian is particularly heinous, which is especially surprising given her incredible British accent in “A Single Man” last year. Seeing the staff of writers and actors in their most depraved states isn’t exactly inspiring, and it’s not terribly funny either. Tracy’s proclivity for getting in trouble is somewhat entertaining, but again, it’s nothing great. Sometimes a field trip just isn’t necessary, and things could work well enough on the home front. I’m not sure why we’re not seeing that much of the robot since he’s a fine addition to the cast who’s capable of being funny without being spectacularly over-the-top. I think Jack just needed to get Nancy out of his system, mostly because I can’t imagine Julianne Moore will be sticking around forever on this show. It might be time to start seeing actual excerpts of TGS again and see what the cast is up to when they’re truly being productive instead of just horsing around on a fabricated trip so that Jack can reunite with his long lost drama love.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 6, Episode 14 “The Banker” (C+)

While this show was on hiatus for the past month, I had the great fortune of finding season five on DVD on sale at Target for a mere $17 and decided that it was worth the purchase. I don’t own season four, so I watched a whole lot of season three and season five episodes during the holidays. I really enjoyed both seasons and seeing the supporting characters get fleshed out. Yet what got me truly excited was the prospect of new episodes. It’s fun to see the same stuff over and over again, but there’s something wonderful about not knowing what’s going to happen next. And then, as the first new episode of the new year, we get a clip show. I will say that clips of “The Office” are still a hell of a lot funnier than most things on TV, but still. This isn’t cool. It was fun to see David Costabile, known alternately as the creepy corrupt cop on “Damages” and Mel’s useless, bullied husband on “Flight of the Conchords,” as the investment banker, but watching Toby’s pained face as he thought long and hard about all of the mishaps that had occurred in the office was nothing special. It’s a hilarious thought to think that Michael is now the highest-ranking manager at Dunder Mifflin, but that also means he can screw things up and there can be consequences for it. All I really want, though, is a new episode of this show with new jokes, and the worst part is that next week is a lame repeat. Two more weeks, ugh.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 14 “Leslie’s House” (B+)

The setup of this episode could have seemed incredibly forced, as the flurry of people arriving at Leslie’s house went from believable albeit a bit over-the-top to all-out ridiculous. Yet what made it work consistently was Leslie’s insistence on topping it with more and more to keep the obviously purely fatigued Justin on his toes and excited about meeting all of Leslie’s interesting friends. Leslie is just a hilarious character, going to the lengths of turning herself in for a disciplinary review and risking the security of her job just to be able to get her boyfriend to admit that their date went well on the record. The joy on her face when she uttered that line was priceless. I’m loving the friendship between Andy and April more and more, and Andy’s presence continues to be an unexpected delight instead of the pestering annoyance it might have been. I also really enjoy Tom’s need to gain Justin’s approval and friendship, and Justin’s inability to be phased by anything or anyone and to remain subdued and modest during his stories is terrific. Marc’s desire to outshine him by telling other people’s stories is great, and his follow-up interview revelation that the guy couldn’t tell stories because his mouth was melted off was a nice capper to his exaggeration. I wonder how long Justin will stick around, because he’s a great addition to the show, and Leslie really is performing at her best with him around, even if it requires a generous $1000 donation out of her own pocket.

Pilot Review: The Deep End

The Deep End (ABC)
Premiered January 21 at 8pm

Consider this the most pleasant surprise of the year so far. I had expected to outright dislike this show, which had been advertised as “Grey’s Anatomy” with lawyers instead of doctors. While it does certainly have its share of soapy plotlines, it has a strong cast and most importantly, the potential to improve considerably in the future as the relationship are drawn out and expanded upon in the coming episodes. As the technical lead of what’s really an ensemble show (no surname in the title to identify an actual main protagonist), Matt Long does a terrific job of being both likeable, fresh-faced, and stoically moral in his first few days of being a lawyer. Long was great on The WB’s one-season wonder “Jack & Bobby” five years ago, and it’s no surprise that he’s capable of handling this part. The other truly fantastic performer in this cast is Tina Marjorino, whose standout turns in the otherwise awful films “Waterworld” and “Napoleon Dynamite” indicated that she was bound for greatness. Here she’s found a role that really does suit her, and it will be a delight to see more of her as the show continues. The rest of the young lawyers are better both performance-wise and character-wise than would be expected, and there seems to be quite a bit of hidden depth underneath all of their outwards shallowness. Mehcad Brooks, who has traded eating human hearts on "True Blood" for a law career, only appeared briefly at the end of the episode, but he should provide a good anchoring presence on the show as well. Billy Zane makes what could be a cartoonish villain great by chewing the scenery just the right amount, and he has an awesome nemesis in the form of Clancy Brown, who is intimidating and awe-inspiring with just one demeaning look. None of the cases from this first episode stand out as superb, but I have faith that things will turn around and this show will become more compelling at time goes on. It’s already infinitely better than I ever thought it would be.

How will it work as a series? Law shows rise or fall on an episodic basis depending on what the case of the week is. This show has an exciting added component of being primarily an ensemble show, and therefore many cases should result in at least one or two good ones at a time. This format has worked well for series like “The Practice” and “L.A. Law” in the past. Even if it’s not fresh, there’s still plenty of material to be milked.
How long will it last? It appears that I’m the only one who actually liked this show, and ratings were disappointing in its first airing. I wouldn’t give up on it just yet, though, since I think ABC will probably still keep it around for a while to see how it does. From the looks of things, however, I’m not sure this series will make it past the summer, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if I did, at this point at least.

Pilot grade: B

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episode 12 “Blackout!” (B+)

Usually episodes like this signal a stalling or treading of water for TV shows, but this one actually makes sense and drives the plot forward in a major way. While the initial device of Betty letting strangers into her apartment building and then having them rob her neighbors was a bit annoying only because it once again saddles Betty with the unquestionable fault for something when all she thought she was doing was a good deed, it doesn’t seem all that unrealistic or crazy. Bobby stopping by Ignacio’s house just as he finished watching a scary movie and all the lights went out was great, and Ignacio really gave him quite a beating with that frying pan. It was fun to see them bond, especially as Bobby let loose and Ignacio just listened to it. The most exciting convenient connection that came about as a result of the blackout was Betty’s rhetorical question about Ignacio being with anyone who knew how to pick a lock and the subsequent cut to Bobby explaining to Betty how to get out of the building and making fun of her for being worried about the wires electrocuting her. Another stellar scene was Marc questioning Amanda about where she last left his laptop and her poor attempts to avoid answering his questions by staring blankly right at him. Seeing Marc and Betty team up for the common good of their careers again was nice, and it’s great how things all work out in the end and Wilhelmina promoted Marc even though he didn’t hand in his application just so that she could have him by her side more.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 13 “Fifteen Percent” (B+)

This show seems to be very accurate in tackling the family of today and fulfilling the promise of its title. This week’s central storyline involving Phil and Claire hits the spot in terms of capturing family dynamics where the husband purchases some exciting new electronic item and, for whatever reason, isn’t able to explain how it works or how to operate it to his wife. What’s wonderful about this seemingly simple plot is that this show works in both an entertaining competition involving the parents’ dumbest child and achieves a dramatic conclusion out of the whole thing. That’s extremely impressive, and this also isn’t the only time that happens in this episode. Mitchell’s genuine surprise and happiness after hearing that his father tried to let his potentially gay friend know that it was okay to come out of the closet was nice to see, and was perfectly followed up on by their terribly awkward attempt at a manly hug. Jay hanging out with his buddies on the sidewalk was very reminiscent of “The Sopranos,” and it was just something new since, to this point, Jay didn’t seem to do much with his life or have many friends. Cameron does a wondrous job of making people uncomfortable, and his accidental flirtation at the end of the episode with Manny’s date was a great capper. It was fantastic to see Kristen Schaal in a guest spot on this show, especially since it was recently announced that “Flight of the Conchords” won’t be back for a third season. The way that Gloria and Manny interact both with each other and other people, and the way that they get so excited about everything, is just so hilarious, and it’s great to see them making the lives of others all the more awkward.

Round Two: Human Target

Human Target: Season 1, Episode 2 “Rewind” (B+)

This is a stellar episode that improves upon the already great first installment and proves that this show has what it takes to sustain itself. Part of that, of course, requires a necessary suspension of disbelief, but that’s what makes it so much fun. This show really knows how to use its assets, putting Winston on the plane with Chance and keeping Guerrero hard at work scaring the hell out of people with his equally creepy voice and stare. Chi McBride was always at his best on “Pushing Daisies” when he was on a case, and strapping him in to a flight attendant’s uniform in this episode was magnificent. It didn’t seem like McBride, who never earned any deserved commendation for his most recent part, would ever have as good a role again as he did on ABC’s cancelled fantasy series. Fortunately, this seems like it may just be it, and the show is only two episodes in! On top of that, Jackie Earle Haley must be delighted with his continued comeback after being out of the spotlight for twenty-five years. Both of the supporting stars are great, but the best part of this episode is Chance and the way he works with the flight attendant, played by guest star Courtney Ford, recently seen on “Dexter.” This is just the right role for her, and she plays perfectly off of the eccentric Mark Valley. The device of unfolding the episode out of chronological order actually worked fantastically here, and that’s incredibly impressive. The most awesome part of this whole episode was Chance flipping the plane upside down – that’s just gutsy and mind-boggling, and I loved every minute of it.

SAG Awards Reactions

I really need to stop making actual predictions and just write up a paragraph about each of the races. I managed to get every TV category wrong except for the two ensemble races, which is only slightly better than I did with this past year’s Emmy Awards. Still, I’m unsurprised by any of the victors, and a little bored, to be honest. With the exception of Tina Fey, who beat out Toni Collette, the winners were exactly the same in every single category as last week at the Golden Globes. The speeches were generally pretty humbling though, and it was exciting to see the casts of “Glee” and “Mad Men” up there, with Jane Lynch and Jon Hamm as their spokespeople. Hamm’s crack about all the male members of the cast receiving the memo to grow beards was funny, as was the fact that he waited for the whole cast to slowly come on stage, save for Elisabeth Moss, who was present quickly. Michael C. Hall’s win was great, and it’s nice to see him finally getting recognition for his terrific work on “Dexter.” Alec Baldwin should hardly be surprised that he won his fourth trophy in a row, and that’s where his humility seems overly rehearsed. It’s interesting to note that the two back-to-back Emmy winners in the lead acting drama categories, Bryan Cranston and Glenn Close, have both not won SAG Awards yet for their roles. Also, Drew Barrymore should not be allowed to give acceptance speeches anymore. With that, the official annual midseason TV awards calendar now comes to an end, and it’s a wrap until the summer, when Emmy nominees once again present themselves. Who will win SAG awards next year? The cast of “Boardwalk Empire,” perhaps?

What I’m Watching: White Collar (Winter Premiere)

White Collar: Season 1, Episode 8 “Hard Sell” (B+)

What a fantastic return for this show. I got a little concerned at the end of the winter finale when a secret meeting between Peter and Kate was revealed, and it seemed that Peter may just have been the one to take Kate. This episode resolved all that nicely, and put Peter in the unexpected position of defending Neal and trying to watch his back by telling Kate to stop messing with his head. Seeing Peter and Neal go undercover together and both try to out each other as spies to the enemies was a lot of fun, and Matthew Bomer and Tim DeKay are marvelous at playing off of each other. We did get to see more than just goofing off in this episode, however, especially from Bomer, who displayed some unusual fury directed at Peter when he flipped over the chess board and sent some helpless pieces flying. It’s good that he has Mozzie to confide in, but I also like the fact that he went straight to Elizabeth and told her that he thought Peter was holding Kate hostage. That’s something which gets me every time about this show – how intertwined Peter’s personal and professional lives are that the number one criminal he caught is on a first-name basis with his wife. I’m not sure what role Kate ultimately has to play in the grand scheme of this show, but I’m glad that Peter and Neal are firmly back on the same side, and they can pursue this together.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SAG Winner Predictions

The SAG Awards are tonight, which signifies the last major awards event before the announcement of Oscar nominations next Tuesday, but for the television categories, it’s the last we’ll see awards-wise until the summer when the TV season starts wrapping up. Therefore, some exciting surprises would be nice. Like with the Emmys this past year, it’s easily possible that I could get all of the categories wrong, with people like Kevin Bacon, Drew Barrymore, Bryan Cranston, Julianna Marguiles, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, and “Modern Family” picking up trophies. It should be a fun show in any case. Here are my final predictions:

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries
Kevin Kline (Cyrano de Bergerac)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Television Movie Or Miniseries
Jessica Lange (Grey Gardens)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Drama Series
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Drama Series
Glenn Close (Damages)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Comedy Series
Tony Shalhoub (Monk)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Comedy Series
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)

Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble In A Drama Series
Mad Men

Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble In A Comedy Series
Glee

What I’m Watching: Better Off Ted

Better Off Ted: Season 2, Episode 10 “Lust in Translation” (B+)

This episode is a rare case where I’m actually wholeheartedly into the Ted storyline, and where it’s that storyline that both dominates and carries the episode. I wasn’t so into Linda and Veronica’s bagel-throwing competition only because it didn’t use them that excellently, but it wasn’t bad. What really made the episode for me was the translator device. I thought it was incredibly clever that Phil and Lem decided to use Phil’s voice instead of the fear-inspiring, godlike booming voice they first tried. What made it so amusing was how much it bothered Ted, and how funny all of his German girlfriend’s dialogue was coming out with Phil’s voice. My favorite part of the whole thing was how old-fashioned the translator devices looked, like something out of the 18th century. Ted is really growing on me as a character, and while I’ve said in the past that this show would be better titled something else more related to its ensemble and Veridian Dynamics, I do think that Ted is a great straight man lead, and he’s even capable of being hilarious if the moment calls for it. This was a terrific episode for him, and his bumbling in response to the accidental initial come-ons of his German flame were topped by his subsequent ambition to date her and ensure that it didn’t adversely affect their professional collaboration. Ted really is driven to succeed, but he’s also foolhardy, something which Veronica knows well, and that’s just plain enjoyable. There isn’t much “Better Off Ted” left this season since “Lost” premieres in less than two weeks, and I do hope all these rumors of cancellation aren’t true since I’d love to see this show stick around for a while.

What I’m Watching: Scrubs

Scrubs: Season 9, Episode 10 “Our True Lies” (C)

The central premise of this episode doesn’t make any sense. Gathering together only the core characters as cheating suspects is a somewhat clever device, but once the identity of the culprit was revealed, the legitimacy of this plotline went out the window. Lucy is a star student who can’t keep her mouth shut, so she would first of all never even think of cheating, and more importantly wouldn’t possibly be able to keep the secret in, even if all the people who supposedly don’t like her make a preposterous sacrifice just to give her a second chance. If the show is going to try and introduce J.D. and Elliot-like characteristics for Lucy, most notably the observation of others that she gets a far-off look when she goes into her narration voice, it should stick to the already established personality traits it has created, like Lucy’s honesty and do-gooder attitude. Seeing Cole actually try and take the fall for another human being was a nice touch, but that was the only decent part about the whole scandal. Why isn’t the Australian girl being fleshed out at all? In her first appearance, Dr. Cox was incredibly disturbed by how impossible she was to understand, yet she’s barely spoken a peep since then. Drew’s delivery of his accidental confession annoyed me because all I could hear was that he said “I love ya” instead of “I love you.” I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, but I couldn’t focus on anything else every time I saw him and Denise. There was one fun moment which involved the old guard, and that was Turk’s attempt to recreate something he and J.D. use to do and have Dr. Cox abruptly shut it down by bringing him back to the real world.
What I’m Watching: Scrubs

Scrubs: Season 9, Episode 10 “Our True Lies” (C)

The central premise of this episode doesn’t make any sense. Gathering together only the core characters as cheating suspects is a somewhat clever device, but once the identity of the culprit was revealed, the legitimacy of this plotline went out the window. Lucy is a star student who can’t keep her mouth shut, so she would first of all never even think of cheating, and more importantly wouldn’t possibly be able to keep the secret in, even if all the people who supposedly don’t like her make a preposterous sacrifice just to give her a second chance. If the show is going to try and introduce J.D. and Elliot-like characteristics for Lucy, most notably the observation of others that she gets a far-off look when she goes into her narration voice, it should stick to the already established personality traits it has created, like Lucy’s honesty and do-gooder attitude. Seeing Cole actually try and take the fall for another human being was a nice touch, but that was the only decent part about the whole scandal. Why isn’t the Australian girl being fleshed out at all? In her first appearance, Dr. Cox was incredibly disturbed by how impossible she was to understand, yet she’s barely spoken a peep since then. Drew’s delivery of his accidental confession annoyed me because all I could hear was that he said “I love ya” instead of “I love you.” I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, but I couldn’t focus on anything else every time I saw him and Denise. There was one fun moment which involved the old guard, and that was Turk’s attempt to recreate something he and J.D. use to do and have Dr. Cox abruptly shut it down by bringing him back to the real world.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pilot Review: Life Unexpected

Life Unexpected (CW)
Premiered January 18 at 9pm

This pilot, however unexpected and original it may purport to be, is anything but. Its characters reek of stereotypes and convention, and its story is obvious, predictable, and slow. A spunky teenager, Lux, who knows far more than she should about the way life works seeks to gain independence from the endless cycle of foster care she’s had to endure by hunting down her birth parents to demand their signatures in support of her emancipation. The story goes downhill from there, as Lux’s parents reveal themselves to both be idiots. Her father, Nate “Baze” Bazile, sleeps all day and bartends all night, and his ratio of booze intake to ambition in life is devastating. Her mother, Cate Cassidy, works as a local radio personality who professes her disbelief in true love and all things romantic, though her sparring partner is her real-life boyfriend. Shockingly, the high school prom dates don’t get along. At all. When Lux presents herself, all three lives are torn apart and must inevitably be fused back together with all three of them starting a life as one highly dysfunctional family. All three are equal caricatures of their respective roles, and it’s hard to pick which one of them is more obnoxious. The two actors chosen to play the parents don’t inspire much hope in the show. Kristoffer Polaha, whose laidback nature seems a perfect fit for his ambitionless character, has single-handedly steered two abysmal shows to their speedy demises (“Valentine” and “North Shore”). Shiri Appleby appears not to have grown up at all since starring in “Roswell” a decade ago, and she’s hardly believable as an adult. Lead actress Britt Robertson really only has her limited performance on “Swingtown,” but she’s plenty annoying in just the first hour of this series. The dialogue is this show is laughable, but that’s no surprise. This kind of quality isn’t exactly unexpected from a pilot on the CW, a network which has really ever only had one half-decent-pilot, and that was “Reaper” way back in 2007. Now, this show does fit in perfectly with the current crop of teen dramas of the CW, like “One Tree Hill,” “Gossip Girl,” “90210,” and “Melrose Place,” so it might do fine with its target audience. Looked at as a legitimate show, however, it’s a monumental, miserable embarrassment.

How will it work as a series? This episode is only the setup, so it’s hard to tell what the show will be like after this. It’s likely that they’ll try many ill-fated ways of living together and apart, and lovers will get in the way of this family becoming inevitably happy. Just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean that its familiar formula won’t immediately click with viewers and make this show irresistible to its target demographic.
How long will it last? The CW judges its shows on a much more forgiving basis, and the amount of promotion it threw behind this one spell a bright future for the show. Somewhat decent reviews and generally acceptable ratings should keep this one on the air for the next few months, especially behind “One Tree Hill” and in the usual timeslot of “Gossip Girl,” but I wouldn’t count on a second season just yet.

Pilot grade: F

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The nominees:Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Glee”, “Modern Family,” “The Office”, and “30 Rock
For your information: This is the third consecutive nomination for “30 Rock” and the fourth for “The Office.” “30 Rock” won last year and “The Office” was the reigning champ for two years before that. This is the second nomination for “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” last up in 2005. Both freshman series do not have a cast member nominated.
Who should win:Modern Family
Who will win: Something tells me that the younger cast on Glee will edge out the hilarious ensemble of “Modern Family.”

What I’m Watching: Heroes

Heroes: Season 4, Episode 16 “Pass/Fail” (F)

There is nothing remotely decent about this episode. None of the plotlines have any saving grace at all, and this episode is a total fail. Samuel taking out his anger on the human population by leveling and destroying the land could have been good, but the way that his outburst started at the restaurant killed it all. Hiro’s playful trial with eternally available guest stars David Anders and George Takei scrubbing back in was dumb, and Hiro’s story always being comic and exaggerated whereas the rest of the show is supposed to be more serious just doesn’t work. The umpteenth attempt to make Sylar seem more human before he inevitably reveals himself as more evil than ever before starts off as just stupid and devolves from there. His need to bond with Claire by kissing her makes no sense, and her failure to even try to resist is pitiful. Claire is impossibly stubborn and completely willing to put up a fight at any junction, even able to somehow talk down her bullying puppeteer and save her skin in the slipperiest of situations, yet here she accepts Sylar’s saliva without a hint of protest. The fact that Sylar left Gretchen alive and didn’t even harm her in the slightest way doesn’t quite jive either, and if it’s all to make him out to be a more humane and goodly person, the show should simply erase the past year and a half and rewind to when Sylar was flipping pancakes in the future and Elle was still alive. This episode didn’t have a terribly large breadth in terms of the characters addressed, though it managed to bomb pretty miserably and end in the most despicable way: a reunion between Sylar and Matt, which was so awful the first eighty thousand times when Sylar was in Matt’s head and body. I’m sure it’s going to be infinitely worse when they interact in person.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 3, Episode 4 “Chuck Versus Operation Awesome” (A-)

What a terrific episode. After last week’s decent but less than completely fantastic three-hour opener, this installment solidifies the fact that this is a terrific show worthy of being saved by hundreds of hungry Subway customers. Awesome’s abduction proves to be quite entertaining, in part due to the perfection of the role as written for and played by Angie Harmon. Ryan McPartlin does his share, of course, and his appalled expression makes everything so much funnier, as does his excitement at seeing Chuck in action. There were so many great moments in this episode, including the close-ups on Ellie’s face as she was reacting strongly to Awesome’s story of fending off a bear. The fight club storyline at the Buy More worked alright, and what really made it worthwhile was Big Mike’s talk with Morgan at the beginning and the bearded guy’s show of legendary confidence and authority in temporarily firing Lester. What really made this episode so incredible for me was Brandon Routh. No offense to Awesome, Michael Westen, and any other agents out there, but Routh’s Agent Shaw is the coolest spy I’ve ever seen. Part of that comes from the fact that, only moments after first appearing on screen, he shoots himself and pretends to be dead. His declaration that he doesn’t like guns and his grace under fire are but two of the many qualities that make him incredible. I don’t remember Routh being all that memorable as Clark Kent in “Superman Returns,” but this is a role that fits him like a glove, and I hope he sticks around for a good, long while.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

The nominees:The Closer,” “Dexter,” “The Good Wife,” “Mad Men,” and “True Blood
For your information:Mad Men” was last year’s winner on its second nomination. This is the fourth nomination for “The Closer” and the second for “Dexter.” This is the first mention for freshman series “The Good Wife” as well as for sophomore series “True Blood,” which is the only show without a cast member nominated. Since “The West Wing” and “Six Feet Under” both won two years in a row, the winner has been different each year – “CSI,” “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “The Sopranos.”
Who should win:The Closer” or “Mad Men
Who will win: The trend will probably be broken as Mad Men takes home its second consecutive trophy.

What I’m Watching: 24 (4-Four Season Premiere)

24: Season 8, Episodes 1-4 “4:00PM-5:00PM,” “5:00PM-6:00PM,” “6:00PM-7:00PM” & “7:00PM-8:00PM” (B-)

If nothing else, this four-hour dose of adrenaline is exciting. “24” used to be the best show on TV, at least in its first season, and seasons five, six, and seven were all pretty dismal and reliably awful. Now, the show has a fresh start in a new city and a new cast to go along with it. It’s still a mixed bag though, but there’s something refreshing about a new storyline and the chance for this show to become good again. The show opening with Jack as a grandfather trying to live a calm and peaceful life was a nice indication that Jack was at least able to achieve that for a bit. The fact that it took the entirety of four full episodes to reel him in is a bit outlandish, but the way everyone talks to him about how he can’t just walk away from doing the right thing transforms him into the legend that people on the show seem to think he is. What’s endlessly frustrating and hopelessly repetitive on this show is the inability of anyone except for Jack and Chloe to ever be right and their inane insistence on not listening to anything anyone says. Would it really hurt for CTU to have a director who actually knew how to do his job? That’s one of the reasons I like Cole, who respects Jack immensely and isn’t afraid to go against his orders to make sure he does the right thing. His speedy move to save President Hassan was impressive, and I’m actually very happy with Freddie Prinze Jr., which is probably the most exciting surprise of the four-hour opener. Unfortunately, Katee Sackhoff isn’t as great, but that’s mostly due to the fact that she couldn’t possibly have a role as good as Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica.” Still, she was better in her stint on “Bionic Woman,” and that’s saying something. This part deprives her of the ability to use any of her talents and follows along in the tragic tradition of cable stars coming to network television and losing all of their edge (see Diane Farr and Sarah Shahi for recent examples of this). What makes it worse is that she’s saddled with the non-terrorism stupid plot of the season, which apparently involves a jealous ex hellbent on controlling her by threatening to expose her oh-so-secret past. Doesn’t CTU vet its employees before hiring them? A name change would definitely have come back. That’s another thing that is pretty unbelievable about this show that continues to happen over and over. People in high positions of power and with a direct ear to the president of some nation constantly end up being traitors and the ones behind all the plots. The lengths these people go to in order to frame someone else makes it seem like they wouldn’t possibly have time to commit any of the treason they’re up to anyway. Rob catching Ethan popping a pill is a much better and far more interesting subplot, though hopefully they’ll leave it at that and it will just be one powerful, smartly underplayed moment. President Hassan being a good guy is also a great part of the show, and the fact that he’s so involved in everything is great. His stop at CTU, while nowhere near as powerful, reminded me for a minute of when Senator Palmer stopped by CTU in season one to yell at Jack for trying to kill him. Jack really does have an in with people in high places, and his constant threats to tattletale on everyone are pretty hilarious. At least now he’s back on the case, though Renee really did go from not even being mentioned to going undercover in like half an hour, which felt a bit rushed. Obviously all these things couldn’t really happen in a day, but that was pretty crazy. While it’s akin to Jack chopping off a guy’s head with a hacksaw in the season two opener, Renee cutting off her contact’s hand within two minutes of meeting him seems a bit extreme. Haven’t these guys ever heard of Plan A? This season could be pretty fun, as long as Hassan and Cole stay in focus and Renee’s craziness, Dana’s identity crisis, and the stupidity of all who hold a significant office aren’t emphasized too much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 6, Episode 13 “How About A Friendly Shrink?” (C+)

This episode is half good, half bad, and unfortunately tips in favor of the latter. Things were off to a strong start with Lee and Bob’s dinner party and their not-so-subtle digs at each other related to their therapy. The opening scene was particularly entertaining, and, though it might be a bit rough, therapy is probably a good route for the most serious couple on the show, Tom and Lynette. It will likely brew enormous competition between the spouses and then result in an overly dramatic reconciliation. I had completely forgotten about Katharine, and bringing her back all of a sudden caught me somewhat off guard. It’s good that Susan came to the hospital with the other ladies, and Katharine not being crazy anymore is a welcome change. What does worry me, however, is that her return may be premature, and the show may have done better to not bring her back at all. Everything with Orson is going exactly as expected in a very bad way, and it continues to be a repeat of the way things were with Orson forcing Bree to do things and Bree feeling bad because she’s a good person. Gaby and Susan’s petty fight about the intelligence levels of their children is a bit silly, and the only really worthwhile part of it is Susan and Mike watching as MJ gets his hand stuck in a glass. Angie stressing how she cooked all of her pasta wasn’t terrific, but incorporating Ana into the story is great. Hopefully more about the Bolen family past will be exposed soon, and I’m glad that Ana, a character who didn’t start off well, is going to be such a part of it.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Comedy Series

The nominees: Christina Applegate’s adorable amnesiac on “Samantha Who”, Toni Collette’s multiple-personality mother on “The United States of Tara,” Edie Falco’s dedicated nurse on “Nurse Jackie,” Tina Fey’s harried television writer on “30 Rock,” and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ neurotic mother and ex on “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
For your information: Applegate and Fey both earned their third consecutive nominations. Applegate’s show was cancelled earlier this year, and Fey won on both of her previous tries. This is Collette’s first TV nod, and Louis-Dreyfus returns for the first time since her only nomination in 2006. This is Falco’s first nomination in this category, but she was up seven times and won three times for her dramatic role on “The Sopranos.”
Who should win: Fey
Who will win: Tight race between Collette and Falco – I predict the winner will be Falco.

Pilot Review: Human Target

Human Target (FOX)
Premiered January 17 at 8pm

This new show is the perfect series to launch with “24.” It’s an action thriller that’s hardly as serious or ultimately threatening, and ones that relies entirely on the charisma of its leading star. Mark Valley is exactly the right person for this role, and he really makes the show. His calm under fire and ability to downplay any situation is remarkable, and it’s truly entertaining. The idea of wealthy and important clients each week makes things even more fun because he can use as much extravagance as possible in every case. This first week brings the fantastic Tricia Helfer of “Battlestar Galactica,” whose elegance and confidence was surpassed by the hilarity of her outburst – “You wore a vest? Where’s my vest?” Even better was Chance’s nonchalant response, “I’m your vest.” This show is very similar to “Burn Notice” in a lot of ways, but it’s also its own show. Chance is hardly as serious as Michael Westen, and he obviously has more fun in all of his operations. The supporting cast is strong, even though it’s extraordinarily small. Chi McBride isn’t quite as animated or entertaining as he was on “Pushing Daisies,” but he’s still capable of getting enormously agitated, especially with someone like Chance to piss him off and rile him up. Jackie Earle Haley, continuing the comeback he started with “Little Children” and recently followed up with “Watchmen,” is great as Guerrero, and hopefully he’ll have a much bigger role to play in the future. The high-octane first episode was packed full of action and excitement, and that’s terrific. The end, which fast-forwards to a new case, is very fitting and indicative of what’s to come, with Chance trying something else even more dastardly and dangerous than what he had already done. It reminded me of the ending to the pilot of “The Pretender,” where Jarod revealed that he was the one flying the plane, taking on the guise of the pilot. In this case, it’s indicated that this is hardly the first time Chance has done something so reckless and crazy as taking a swig of his prized alcohol before using it to ignite and explode a car. What a blast.

How will it work as a series? It’s possible that it could rise or fall depending upon how exciting each particular case is week-to-week. From this strong start, however, it seems like this show will be really great, and at the very least fantastically entertaining. It’s likely that both Winston and Guerrero have backstories that should prove interesting at some point, and Chance also probably has a number of skeletons in his closet. The action should be exciting enough.
How long will it last? FOX usually does well with the shows it promotes heavily, and launching this one with “24” was probably the smartest thing the network could have done. Its ratings should be good and it should be renewed for a second season considering the success of shows like “House,” “Bones,” and “Fringe.” FOX doesn’t have much else lined up for this spring, so this show be their number one new show.

Pilot grade: B+

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Penultimate Episode: Dollhouse

Dollhouse: Season 2, Episode 12 “The Hollow Men” (B+)

Last week was the big episode for surprises, but this one’s pretty good too. There is still a very fatalistic sense of things, and an indication, confirmed by the time jump at the end of the episode, that this is the last time we’re going to see normal in this universe. His is our final chance to see Victor as Topher 2.0. This is the last we’ll see of November/Mellie, a character who actually turned out far better than she could have, and ultimately sacrificed herself after Adele’s voice command activated the sleeper agent in her and she had to choose between ending her own life or Paul’s. And, most significantly, this is the last we’ll see of Boyd. Often when loyal characters are revealed as traitors in the eleventh hour, they suddenly lose their carefully-perfected composure and seem incapable of assuming it again. For Boyd, being discovered means he can show an unexpected sense of humor and also describe his affection for his “family,” minus that one relative, Paul. There’s nothing quite as strong in the whole episode, however, as that haunting parting shot of the completely clueless Boyd declaring, like the other actives, that he always tries to be his best, waiting with his finger on the trigger with a bomb strapped to his body. Boyd’s sacrifice is hardly in vain, but it looks like the team was unable to prevent their dreaded vision of the future. While this certainly isn’t good news for, well, this whole world, hopefully it means the return of Felicia Day next week and a series finale worthy of the incredible season one capper, “Epitaph One.”

Note: The series finale will now air Friday, January 29th at 8pm due to FOX' s airing of the "Hope for Haiti" special.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Comedy Series

The nominees: Alec Baldwin’s sarcastic TV executive on “30 Rock,” Steve Carrell’s hapless manager on “The Office,” Larry David’s inconsiderate jerk on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Tony Shalhoub’s obsessive-compulsive detective on “Monk,” and Charlie Sheen’s lazy playboy on “Two and a Half Men.”
For your information: This is Baldwin’s fourth consecutive nomination, and he has won the past three years. Carrell has also been up all three years. This is David’s second nod; he was last up in 2005. All three are also nominated in the Best Ensemble category. This is Shalhoub’s seventh nod, for the final season of his show, and he’s won twice. This is Sheen’s second nod, after a mention in 2004.
Who should win: Carrell or Shalhoub
Who will win: I’m pretty sure that Baldwin’s streak will be interrupted by the last hoorah for the beloved Shalhoub.

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 4, Episodes 9 & 10 “Klaus and Greta” & “Black Light Attack!” (B+)

This a fantastic duo of episodes to segue into the new year. I love how Jack and Liz always acknowledge the timeline and check in with each other about their holidays and time off. Jack’s trip to Waltham was a bit wacky, especially since it’s not acknowledged at all in the second episode, most likely because Julianne Moore doesn’t want to recur on a television show when she could be delivering astounding performances in movies like “A Single Man.” Kenneth’s discovery that her voicemail PIN spelled out Klaus was pretty cool though. Tracy’s joy at the impending birth of his daughter was fun, and the addition of a woman to his entourage was wisely short-lived. Jenna had some nice front-and-center plotlines in both these episodes, first with James Franco and his love for pillows and then trying to cope with the fact that the “Gossip Girl” producers wanted her to audition for the role of the 41-year-old mother rather than the 21-year-old college student. Her death scene, of old age at 41, was a great moment for the actress. Liz had a lot to do in these two episodes, first trying to help her newly out cousin adjust to New York City and then entering into a romance with the robot. Jack’s delight at finding a male friend to actually do masculine things with was great, and it was even more entertaining when he expressed his horror at realizing that the robot’s new flame was none other than Liz. Another funny line from the hour of episodes was Pete’s excitement at the possibility of the show having been cancelled when he saw a smile on Liz’s face.

Monday, January 18, 2010

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Drama Series

The nominees: Patricia Arquette’s clairvoyant mother on “Medium,” Glenn Close’s cutthroat attorney on “Damages,” Mariska Hargitay’s detective on “Law & Order: SVU,” Holly Hunter’s hard-nosed cop on “Saving Grace,” Julianna Marguiles’ disgraced wife and lawyer on “The Good Wife,” and Kyra Sedgwick’s stubborn deputy chief on “The Closer.”
For your information: This is the fifth nomination for both Hargitay and Sedgwick. This is Hunter’s third nomination, and Close was last nominated in 2007 when her show was eligible. This is Arquette’s third nomination, though her most recent nod was in 2006. Marguiles is up for the first time for her new show, but she is a three-time nominee and two-time winner for her work on “ER.” Marguiles and Sedgwick are also nominated in the Best Ensemble category.
Who should win: Sedgwick
Who will win: This will probably go to Close because she didn’t win last time she was nominated (she was up against Edie Falco).

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 13 “The Set Up” (B+)

It’s always fantastic to have an episode advertised for one special element, and then have something else altogether overshadow it in a positive way. The heavily promoted guest spot by Amy Poehler’s real-life husband Will Arnett, who received an Emmy nomination for his appearance on “30 Rock,” does make for a few funny moments, mostly because it’s a rarity to see Leslie as the more normal half in a relationship dynamic. But there’s another unadvertised guest star who’s around to help enhance the show, and the last moments of this episode indicate that perhaps he’ll stick around for a bit. Justin Theroux, who appeared in the fourth season of “Six Feet Under,” is the charming lawyer who Ann was saving as her backup who now may just be the right fit for Leslie. It’s also a delight, as Andy of all people correctly points out, that Ann actually did something wrong for once since it’s usually the rather suave and appropriately apologetic Mark who might mess up. The most fantastic part of this episode is the search for an assistant for Ron. Tom’s interview process is quite ridiculous but very funny, especially because he essentially selects himself as his recommendation to Ron. I’m much happier with Ron’s choice of April. I worried when she talked about finishing her internship that she might be off the show soon, but I’m so glad she’s found a permanent way to stick around. I know she says she’s doing it so that she gets paid, but I do suspect it’s something to do with her friendship with Andy. Either way, it’s going to be a lot of fun, and she’s really the perfect assistant for Ron.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Drama Series

The nominees: Simon Baker’s phony psychic on “The Mentalist,” Bryan Cranston’s crystal meth cook on “Breaking Bad,” Michael C. Hall’s serial killer on “Dexter”, Jon Hamm’s advertising man on “Mad Men,” and Hugh Laurie’s cranky doctor on “House.”
For your information: This is the fifth nod for Laurie, the fourth for Hall, and the third for Hamm. Only Laurie has twice, in 2008 and 2006. Hall and Hall are also nominated in the Best Ensemble Cast category.
Who should win: Hall or Hamm
Who will win: With so many unrewarded actors, it’s hard to pick. I’ll go with Hamm.

Golden Globe Reactions In Brief

The excitement of the Golden Globes has now come to an end, and the TV portion was decent but nothing more. I’ve only seen the pilot of “Big Love” so I can’t say whether Chloe Sevigny is actually better than Jane Lynch in “Glee,” but I doubt it. Series wins for “Mad Men” and “Glee” are great, and while I wish Alec Baldwin wouldn’t keep on winning, he’s still good on “30 Rock.” Two big wins for “Dexter” actors Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow were great, and while I would have loved to see “Hung” swoop in from out of nowhere to take home an award or two, that was pretty satisfying in itself. I correctly predicted 7/11 TV categories (15/25 overall), and I really need to see some of those TV movies. The SAG Awards are Saturday night – predictions start tomorrow morning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Final Golden Globe Predictions

The Golden Globe air tonight, and I’m offering my final predictions. This could be an exciting night, though it could also be a straight repeat of last year, like the Emmys this year. The Globes usually like to reward new shows, but last year they disproved that tendency by crowning “Mad Men” and “30 Rock” their top series. The Drama Series race doesn’t offer any new shows, but the Comedy Series one offers two. I’m hopeful that there will be some fun surprises, though generally I’m pretty happy with all of the nominees, as long as William Hurt and Rose Byrne don’t take home trophies. And now, my final predictions for the Golden Globe TV categories. If I had to predict one big shocker (no guts, no glory style), I’d say Jane Adams for Best Supporting Actress. Leave your predictions and reactions in the comments.

Best Television Series - Drama
Mad Men

Best Television Series - Comedy Or Musical
Glee

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
“Grey Gardens”

Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series - Drama
Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series - Drama
Julianna Marguiles (The Good Wife)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical
Matthew Morrison (Glee)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical
Lea Michele (Glee)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Brendan Gleeson (Into the Storm)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In Series (Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
John Lithgow (Dexter)

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Series (Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Jane Lynch (Glee)

What I’m Watching: Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty: Season 4, Episode 11 “Back In Her Place” (B+)

It’s really a pity to see Betty continually thrust into these unfortunate scenarios where she’s only trying to do what’s right and she just gets saddled with the worst possible tasks and luck over and over again. That’s actually probably the main reason I opted to not start watching this show when it first premiered four years ago (and before I realized the excellence of the supporting cast), but things are going better now. Betty has learned how to roll with it and make things work for her, which is great. Amanda’s mistaken attempts to inform Betty three times about moving out of her apartment were pretty funny. Wilhelmina is entertaining while she’s trying desperately to express her emotions in a limited way, but it’s probably best that this Connor plotline is laid to rest. It was much better when he was either working with her or on the run, but having him kempt up isn’t cutting it. Wilhelmina is more fearsome when she’s completely unhinged and evil, as well as when she has Marc at her side. I don’t quite buy Marc messing up Daniel on an hourly basis as him actually help him get more publicity, but as long as Daniel is content, I suppose that’s enough. It’s also nice that Hilda is getting to trust Bobby some more and that he’s taking an active interest in bettering her life. I’m still worried, however, that this is going to be Santos all over again and he’s going to disappear for factors not of his choosing.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 1, Episode 12 “Not In My House” (B+)

This week we have three equally fantastic plotlines, and that’s a great thing. Phil’s concealment of him being the one looking at the topless image was pretty funny, as was Claire’s anger and Luke’s cluelessness. It was great to really see all of the family members and have them yell at each other for all of the annoying things they do. The best part was that the way it was wrapped up, with Claire not actually being mad at Phil but rather concerned about the innocence of her baby Luke. Her description of her children was perfect – Haley as living in her own world, Alex as never having really been a kid, and Luke as the baby she wants to stay young forever. Barkley the Dog was really funny, and seeing Gloria’s hysteria every time she accidentally came across it him was fantastic. For a guy who’s terribly stubborn and feels the need to put the word “gay” in when ever he’s talking to his son about his relationship problems, Jay really is quite a compromiser, ultimately taking the high road at the end of every episode to do what’s best for his family. This show has been excelling recently at blending comedy and drama, and that’s commendable. But of course the most fantastic part of this episode comes from one of its outright comic moments: when Cameron, trying to prove that he knows the gardener personally, makes up a name for him, and the best he can come up with is Caesar Salazar, a slight variation from the more popular Caesar Salad.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What I’m Watching: Better Off Ted

Better Off Ted: Season 2, Episodes 8 & 9 “The Impertenence of Communicationizing” & “The Long and Winding High Road” (B+)

A double dose of this show each week is truly satisfying. Veridian’s typos are always good for some good fun, and this episode was no exception. The best running joke was Casual Frisday, and Veronica’s response to Ted’s unusual outfit designed to make him look laidback, “Casual Frisday isn’t until 2024,” was pretty hilarious. She had a number of other funny quotes in both episodes, including “that’s the fastest I’ve ever lost interest in anything.” Most of her quips are made infinitely funnier by her delivery of them, so they may lose some of their hilarity when rewritten here by me. These two episodes are up to the usual par, but there’s something particularly impressive that both of them do exceptionally well. That’s the incorporation of their guest stars in a way that uses their talents perfectly but doesn’t overshadow or distract from the regular players. In the first episode, Chris Parnell, better known as the hapless Dr. Spaceman on “30 Rock,” was a great sounding board for Veronica to shoot her guilt off of as the Walter Palmer (the P is silent). In the second installment, Kyle Bornheimer, star of the one-season sitcom “Worst Week,” was a fantastic nemesis for do-gooder Ted who was able to bring out the competitive, slightly cutthroat side of our loveable hero. Watching the genius plans orchestrated by Ted, Veronica, and Andrea interact so tragically was a pretty hilarious way to cement Ted’s original inkling that taking the high road usually pays off.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best TV Series – Comedy/Musical

The competition: “Entourage,” “Glee,” “Modern Family,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock
For your information: This is the third nomination for both “The Office” and “30 Rock,” and the sixth consecutive nomination “Entourage.” Only “30 Rock” has ever won, and that was last year. “Glee” and “Modern Family” both started this fall.
Who should win: “Modern Family
Who will win: It will be one of the newcomers. While it could be “Modern Family,” I don’t think anything can stop Glee.

What I’m Watching: Scrubs

Scrubs: Season 9, Episode 9 “Our Stuff Gets Real” (C-)

I thought J.D was gone for good. I guess not. This is hardly the time for J.D. to be planning a babymoon with Elliot, especially not on the recommendation of two of the med students. It’s not worth harping on that any longer, though. Looking ahead to the new cast, things aren’t much brighter than they have been in the past few weeks. Lucy not being able to cut into the corpse of a man who she connected with makes sense, but the device of having him actually talk to her doesn’t really jive. The dynamic between Cole and Drew also isn’t working. Dr. Cox is good at putting people down because he doesn’t really need to try to be mean, but Drew is making an extra effort to be a jerk. Telling Cole that any comments from him will be met responded to with punching is funny, but constantly telling him that no one cares about his life is too much. The study group in last week’s episode was a lot more effective as a way of getting everyone together, and this episode categorically neglects both Denise and the Australian girl, and that’s a real shame. There is one plotline that didn’t completely suck, and that involves the return of Christa Miller as Jordan, on loan from her new starring role on “Cougar Town.” It’s not so much Jordan but rather what she brings out in Dr. Cox, which is a legitimate desire to connect with someone, a feeling terribly uncommon for him. Who knew that such a cantankerous old character could achieve some new depth after nine years?

Friday, January 15, 2010

What I’m Watching: NCIS: Los Angeles

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 1, Episode 12 “Past Lives” (B+)

Having another episode dig deep into Callen's undercover background is great because that's probably the most intriguing aspect of this show. It's also probably the best role that Chris O'Donnell has ever had, and that's now something I think anyone expected. Seeing him slip so easily back into his old cover and deal with a former friend of his, even if he was undercover when they new each other, get shot and killed right in front of him was quite powerful. His surprise at discovering his former girlfriend's child also felt pretty real. Kenneth Johnson, best known as Lem on "The Shield," was a great choice to play her new fiancée with a questionable past but only the noblest and most protective of intentions. The reactions from the rest of the team to Callen's immersion in his undercover work are just as compelling. This episode was particularly exciting because it provided the most comprehensive look at all of the team members. Nate's excitement at trying to put together an outing, coupled with Hetty swooping in to decide that they would be going to a karaoke bar, was very entertaining. This episode also provided a fun look at Kensi and her romantic preferences, even if the man courting her with flowers turned out to be a corrupt JAG lawyer who threatened her life and ended up dead. By far the coolest part of the episode was his final question about Callen and Sam's response that he had never heard of him. Callen's reputation is one thing that should sustain this show for a long time.