Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I’m Watching: Gravity (Series Finale)

Gravity: Season 1, Episode 10 “Are We All Just Dead?” (B+)

I have to commend this show for not doing something many other series and movies do. When a character is revealed to be something other than what people thought, as Miller was at the end of last week’s episode when he turned out not to be a cop at all, a sharp change in the behavior of the character often ensues. It’s as if the audience’s discovery of his duplicity means that he somehow has become a completely different character, which shouldn’t be the case, especially for someone who was so good at lying in the first place. Miller didn’t suddenly become a homicidal uber-villain or kidnapper, but instead remained the same creepy (and creepily calm) strange person he’s always been. He didn’t follow Lilly upstairs when she left while he was cooking, but only pursued her after she had been gone way too long. And when he busted out his two guns, it was in defense of her, just as frantic and erratic as ever for the non-cop. It’s likely that his breakdown about having cancer was genuine, and he felt some connection to Lilly because of their quasi-family status. The opening of the store was a wonderful way to showcase just a little of each of the characters and their relationships, and I loved how the episode opened with the various couples. Robert telling Carla to tell his wife that he loved her was quite shocking and uncomfortable, and it’s good that Lilly has bigger demons to deal with that dwarf this considerably and make it a whole lot less objectionable. That final scene was impressive because it worked even if it was reminiscent of the second season finale of “Weeds,” or really just any show or movie where a bunch of bad guys have guns pointed at each other with an innocent person helpless to do anything about the situation caught in the middle. What was unique about this one was Robert charging at Diego yelling, “Don’t call me a suicide dummy!” I’m very worried that this is the last we’ll ever see of these quirky characters (keep reading and you'll learn that I was right to be worried). I have yet to find anyone who actually watches this show besides me, and of all the TV blogs I read on a regular basis, not one of them reviews or writes about this show. It’s really a shame, because this is a hidden gem that hasn’t fully matured yet, but is fascinating nonetheless. I’d go so far as to call it the most intriguing new show of the 2009-2010 season. Bloggers have been lamenting the likely demise of “Party Down" for the past week, and the word officially came in a few hours ago that both of these shows have been cancelled. My heart sank a little bit when I read the news. It’s not even eligible for any Emmy nominations, comedy or drama. Look for it to place in a few categories at the upcoming 4th Annual AFT Awards, my own awards, since someone should honor its legacy.

And if for some reason you’re just reading the last line of this review, please watch this show!

Season/series grade: B+
Season/series MVP: Eric Schaeffer as Miller

Emmy Race: Best Directing for a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees:
“Battlestar Galactica” (Daybreak, Part 2)
“Boston Legal” (Made in China)
“Damages” (Trust Me)
“ER” (And in the End…)
“Mad Men” (The Jet Set)

The top contenders:
“Breaking Bad” (Fly)
“Breaking Bad” (One Minute)
“Breaking Bad” (Full Measure)
“Damages” (The Next One’s Gonna Go In Your Throat)
“Dexter” (Hello, Dexter Morgan)
“Dexter” (Hungry Man)
“Flash Forward” (No More Good Days)
“Friday Night Lights” (The Son)
“The Good Wife” (Pilot)
“The Good Wife” (Heart)
“Justified” (Pilot)
“Law & Order” (Rubber Room)
“Lost” (Ab Aeterno)
“Lost” (The End)
“Mad Men” (Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency)
“Mad Men” (The Gypsy and the Hobo)
“Mad Men” (Shut the Door, Have a Seat)
“Parenthood” (Pilot)
“Royal Pains” (Pilot)
“Sons of Anarchy” (Na Triobloidi)
“Treme” (Pilot)
“True Blood” (I Will Rise Up)
“True Blood” (Release Me)
“24” (3:00PM-4:00PM)
“White Collar” (Pilot)

The roundup: After last year marked the first time in six years that a pilot wasn’t nominated in this category, I think this year will feature two freshman series debuts: “The Good Wife” and “Justified.” The former show is likely to do well in other categories, and the latter may become the fourth FX pilot to score a nod in this category. The series finale of “Lost” should definitely be in the running, whereas voters may have forgotten all about “24,” especially since Cherry Jones is out of the race. I feel like there will be a “Breaking Bad” episode here, and I think “One Minute,” which features an intense final scene, will be the one selected, though it could also be the extremely intense season finale. And then there’s “Mad Men,” which has in the past only earned one nod in this category each year. What will it be this time? Maybe the awesome finale, but I think more likely that it will be the installment where a certain visiting employee loses a foot.

Current predictions:
“Breaking Bad” (One Minute)
“The Good Wife” (Pilot)
“Justified” (Pilot)
“Lost” (The End)
“Mad Men” (Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency)

What could win? The series finale of “Lost.”

Next up: Best Writing for a Drama Series

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

Party Down: Season 2, Episode 10 “Constance Carmell Wedding” (B+)

Bringing back departed cast member Jane Lynch is certainly a great thing, but it’s also a reminder of why the character wasn’t quite a perfect fit for the actress. Sue Sylvester is a fantastic vehicle for Lynch’s rude and sarcastic nature, whereas Constance Carmell was never fully developed and more of an oddball, like Lydia. More often than not, though, Constance was funny, and her appearance in the second season finale is definitely enjoyable. I particularly liked her cheering Ron on when he was objecting to another union and her monotone declaration of her husband’s passing only moments after they drove away from the wedding. He did make quite an impression while he was alive, however, most memorably by tricking Ron into thinking he had caused him to have a heart attack. Ron’s confession of his true love to Danielle was absolutely inappropriate and a bit too cringe-worthy to be endearing, especially considering she excused herself to go to the bathroom because her dress was actually on backwards. Ron gleefully telling her that her parents are getting divorced shouldn’t help matters either. Lydia’s excitement about the possibility of getting with Danielle’s father is somewhat fun, although it’s hopelessly awkward. Kyle’s “My Struggle” song and Roman eating lots of pot and thinking he might be dead soon or already soon were amusing subplots. Best of all, of course, is the interaction between Casey and Henry. Him telling her that she can make it elicited a powerful response: “if you’re not crazy enough to believe it for you, you’re not crazy enough to believe it for me.” That final shot of Henry being called for his audition was a great, hopeful way to end the show’s second season. Many are expressing concern that this will be the show’s last-ever installment, and after a speedy ten episodes, I certainly want more. At first it was questionably quirky, but after this season, it seems to have found its footing, and I’ve been thoroughly entertained for the past ten episodes. Here’s hoping for season three!

Update: I'm sad to report that, only hours after posting this, Starz has officially cancelled "Party Down." Very sad.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Lizzy Caplan

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 2, Episode 4 “Medusa” (B+)

I read an interview about this episode where star Mark Feuerstein was defending the field trip in this episode as something that shouldn’t be considered “jumping the shark.” Besides the fact that sites like TVGuide.com use that term far too freely, like in daily polls that ask “Yes” / “No” / “Jump the Shark,” I think that getting out of town every once in a while doesn’t mean a show is out of ideas. In this case, Boris is a man of extraordinary means, and one of the things he chooses to do with his wealth is to spring Hank from the Hamptons for a weekend trip to Cuba. The visit proved to be very entertaining, especially for Evan, whose luck with the ladies turned out to be problematic for him rather than his new friend this time. Evan as the patient is definitely a hoot, and his insatiable desire to buy cigars for the clients was fun. Unfortunately, he’s now in quite a bit of trouble with someone, and hopefully Boris can use his influence to get him freed and back home by the end of the next episode. I had a lot of trouble deducing who played the enticing but flaky Mindy, and while I initially suspected Amanda Loncar (“The Loop”), I came across a forum that said it was Bonnie Somerville of “Kitchen Confidential,” who also played Ross’ girlfriend Mona who loved spending time with him on “Friends.” Back in the Hamptons, watching Hank’s replacement Emily and Divya not go along was enjoyable. I especially liked Divya chewing her out at the end, and the fact that Emily and Hank initially flirted when they first met could make a repeat appearance by her all the more terrific. I think this is a good role for actress Anastasia Griffith, much better than the whiny ones she played on “Damages” and “Trauma.”

Emmy Race: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s eligible nominees:
Christine Baranski (The Big Bang Theory)
Elaine Stritch (30 Rock)

The top contenders:
Kathleen Turner (Californication)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Catherine O’Hara (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Julie Benz (Desperate Housewives)
Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives)

Kristin Chenoweth (Glee)
Idina Menzel (Glee)
Betty White (The Middle)
Bitty Schram (Monk)
Kathy Bates (The Office)
Megan Mullally (Parks and Recreation)
Jane Lynch (Party Down)

Tina Fey (SNL)
Betty White (SNL)
Elizabeth Banks (30 Rock)
Julianne Moore (30 Rock)
Jane Lynch (Two and a Half Men)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Weeds)


This category seems like the easiest of the guest races to predict. SNL hosts Tina Fey and Betty White will definitely be here, and so will last year’s Supporting Actress champ Kristin Chenoweth for her role on “Glee.” Last year’s nominees Christine Baranski and Elaine Stritch will also probably return, making it four in a row for Stritch. Other contenders to watch out for: Julia Louis-Dreyfus as herself and Catherine O’Hara as Funkhouser’s crazy sister on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” two-time winner Kathryn Joosten for “Desperate Housewives,” Betty White for her other role on “The Middle,” Oscar winner Kathy Bates on “The Office,” Megan Mullally for “Parks and Recreation,” and Jane Lynch for either a show everyone’s watching (“Two and a Half Men”) or one that no one is (“Party Down”). Despite the tough competition, I’m sticking with my initial five picks.

Current predictions:
CHRISTINE BARANSKI, THE BIG BANG THEORY
KRISTIN CHENOWETH, GLEE
TINA FEY, SNL
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM*
ELAINE STRITCH, 30 ROCK
BETTY WHITE, SNL


*Updated to reflect 6 nominees.

Who could win? Betty White.

Next up: Best Directing for a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 4, Episode 4 “Breach of Faith” (B+)

I hadn’t noticed before this that Coby Bell, who plays Jesse, is now an official credited member of the core cast, the only person to be added to the core four since the show started. That fact makes his presence much more meaningful, since it suggests that he could stick around for a while, if not permanently. To this point, I don’t think I had been taking him seriously enough. Having him put on a Jamaican accent is certainly a fun way of welcoming him to the crew, and teaming him up with Fiona is something that I support one hundred percent. Regarding their specific storyline, the notion of having a nosy neighbor who is a stickler for identification was a good start, and the revelation that she is actually one of the bad guys was a nice surprise and pretty damn cool. I’m pleased to see Navi Rawat, fresh off of the cancelled “Numb3rs” and someone I remember from long ago on the first seasons of both “The O.C.” and “24,” in that presumably recurring role. Moving on to the hostage situation, it almost seems like a perfect challenge for Michael to hear the words “that’s only a myth.” Framing a hostage as a hostage taker, while it’s probably been done before, is hardly an easy task, yet Michael gets it done simply within minutes. It’s always nice to see the positive impact that Michael and Sam have had on a client, or in this case the woman who could have implicated him but chose to let him go by supporting their story during her interview with the police.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pilot Review: Rookie Blue

Rookie Blue (ABC)
Premiered June 24 at 9pm

The third of ABC’s new scripted original summer series to premiere is without a doubt the strongest, but that’s not necessarily saying much. The two Sunday night offerings, “Scoundrels” and “The Gates,” were pretty despicable, and the fact that this one stands far above them doesn’t mean it’s good, but at least it’s not as horrendous. There’s a certain possibility for this series to be seen as a guilty pleasure, and comparisons to a cop version of “Grey’s Anatomy” are not inaccurate. What this pilot offers is a whole bunch of cop clich├ęs featuring young, bright-eyed rookies who think that their jobs will be incredibly easy paired with disgruntled, seasoned veterans whose remarks are almost entirely sarcastic and condescending. The immense familiarity of it all isn’t made up for in any way by clever writing, interesting characters, or engaging cases. Missy Peregrym, formerly of “Heroes” and “life as we know it,” is the established lead character here, Andy, who on her first day comes face to face with a loaded gun after she is sent in to search an apartment without any backup. To say that this is Peregrym’s best performance to date is just as much of a non-compliment as categorizing this show as ABC’s best scripted summer show. Andy seems like the soapy version of Ben Sherman, the lead character on “Southland” played by “The O.C.” veteran Benjamin McKenzie. While I didn’t particularly care for that show either, it was incredibly dark and hardly as distractingly comic as this one. With the exception of Andy, no characters were really established in the pilot, and it seems that alcohol and comedy are much more on the minds of the characters and the writers than actual concerns like story and plot. Launching it in the timeslot usually held by “Grey’s Anatomy” isn’t exactly subtle, but it should tell you exactly what kind of prescription you’ve ordered.

How will it work as a series? These cops can be rookies for a real long time, and there are so many things “they don’t teach you in the academy” that could knock them down and encourage them to get back up in every episode. As noted above, none of the characters with the exception of Andy have really been fleshed out, and while she’ll probably occupy the lead slot for the majority of the series, there’s still plenty of time to focus on the private and professional lives of the other new cops.
How long will it last? The numbers for the premiere were strong, and it would be beneficial for ABC to both have a show similar in tone to “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” that could air along with them on Thursday nights (as opposed to “Flash Forward” this past year and an unscripted show slated for the fall) and to have a show to bank for future summer seasons. I just don’t think this is one is that good though, and I don’t imagine it will be renewed after finishing out its debut season.

Pilot grade: C-

Emmy Race: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s eligible nominees:
Jon Hamm (30 Rock)

The top contenders:
Jack Black (Community)
Jason Alexander (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Michael Richards (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Jerry Seinfeld (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Neil Patrick Harris (Glee)

Justin Kirk (Modern Family)
Fred Willard (Modern Family)
Victor Garber (Nurse Jackie)
Will Arnett (Parks and Recreation)
Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation)

Steve Guttenberg (Party Down)
Jon Hamm (SNL)
Matt Damon (30 Rock)
James Franco (30 Rock)
Michael Sheen (30 Rock)

This category has been overstuffed with “30 Rock” men over the past two years, earning four and three nods, respectively. This year, I think it will be cut down to two: Matt Damon for his work in the season finale and Michael Sheen for his recurring role as Liz’s settling soul mate. Last year’s nominee Jon Hamm will likely be back, but for his SNL hosting gig instead. Neil Patrick Harris is a good bet for his guest spot in the Joss Whedon-directed episode of “Glee.” The entire “Seinfeld” cast guest-starred on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” this year, and Jason Alexander, who turns out to be a sort of nemesis for Larry, probably has the best shot.

JASON ALEXANDER, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
MATT DAMON, 30 ROCK
JAMES FRANCO, 30 ROCK*
JON HAMM, SNL
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, GLEE
MICHAEL SHEEN, 30 ROCK


*Updated to reflect 6 nominees in category

Who could win? Battle to the death between two actors who haven’t won Emmys for their regular shows. Hamm probably beats out Alexander.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Round Two: Hot in Cleveland

Hot in Cleveland: Season 1, Episode 2 “Who’s Your Mama?” (C)

I’ll admit, I got quite worried when the chance introduction of one of the main characters’ long-lost children seemed primed to happen in the show’s second-ever episode. I suppose having Joy think that she’s dating her son but not actually encounter him for a while is somewhat like playing a get-out-of-jail-free card, almost exploring some avenue too soon but in reality putting it on the back burner to come back to at a (much?) later point. What’s perhaps more of a concern is the fact that the alleged protagonist of the show doesn’t even have a plotline in this episode. It seems way too early in the show’s run to be sidelining the main character, and that could be very problematic. Still, the show isn’t grating or horrible by any means, and that’s something. Perhaps it’s wise that Melanie is the straight man, since all three of her fellow women are relatively dynamic and extravagant in their own ways. Victoria is shaping up to be quite a one-note character, concerned only with her fame and nothing else. While I’d rather not conform to public opinion, I will say that Betty White continues to perform wondrously, having a legitimate plotline in this episode and a host of funny lines, in addition to continuing her barrage of insults directed at Joy. It probably wouldn’t hurt this show to recruit a male actor full-time to inject some permanent testosterone into these women’s lives, and it shouldn’t be Joy’s son. I’d be happy if they brought back John Schneider from episode one. This show does need to show some significant improvement in the coming installment, otherwise I don’t know how much hope there is for it, quality-wise.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pilot Review: Memphis Beat

Memphis Beat (TNT)
Premiered June 22 at 10pm

After four years on the air as repented criminal Earl Hickey, Jason Lee is back minus his mustache on the other side of the law as a cop in Memphis. Lee’s Dwight Hendricks certainly has his own way of doing things, including his side gig as an Elvis impersonator. Yet what sets Dwight apart from many of the quirky cops on television these days is that he’s not corrupt, just persistent. He throws criminals off not by brutal physical intimidation in interrogation but instead simply by talking at them. The trouble is, his tactics aren’t terribly interesting, and as a result, the show lacks any real edge. The friction between Dwight and his new commander, Lieutenant Tanya Rice, played by Alfre Woodard, is hardly noteworthy. Compared with a show that overdramatizes the lack of cooperation between cops and their bosses like “The Good Guys,” this one is definitely less interesting even if it’s more realistic. The starting case here sure is dramatic, but I doubt that the writers can find a musical icon to take center stage in every episode. Despite the strong dramatic start with the serious reaction to the bruises all over the victim’s back, this episode wasn’t nearly as compelling or memorable as the debut installment of another TNT signature cop series, “The Closer.” Lee is fun but nothing more, and Woodard has played so many better roles previously in her career. DJ Qualls, recognizable as kind-hearted but ill-equipped J.D. pupil Josh from an early episode of “Scrubs,” seems to exist only to serve as a sounding board for Dwight’s often-ridiculous comments. Abraham Benrubi, fresh off a pathetic stint on ABC’s swiftly-cancelled “Happy Town,” has gained a whole lot of hair as a presumably Native American (judging by his look and last name) member of the police force who barely has a line in the pilot. This show isn’t necessarily bad, but there’s nothing terribly original or intriguing about this pilot to suggest that it would be any different from a standard cop procedural, even if this one does go out of its way to celebrate Memphis.

How will it work as a series? The cast isn’t terribly dynamic, and finding a way to connect each case to something specifically Memphis in nature might be tough. It’s difficult to judge the success of a procedural from the pilot because the cases can get better each time, and supporting characters like the Native American sergeant and Dwight’s mother could enhance the show as they are further developed. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
How long will it last? Ratings for the pilot were strong, but more importantly, TNT is looking to cultivate a good lineup of shows that will help them maintain their “we know drama” motto. Based on the swift renewals for recent shows like “Men of a Certain Age,” “Hawthorne,” and “Dark Blue,” I suspect this one will be quickly renewed in order to bank Lee and establish TNT as a solid and successful network. I could see this one running for a while if it develops a niche audience.

Pilot grade: C+

Emmy Race: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s eligible nominees: None.

The top contenders:
Sissy Spacek (Big Love)
Tyne Daly (Burn Notice)
Dana Delany (Castle)
Mary McDonell (The Closer)
Lily Tomlin (Damages)
Courtney Ford (Dexter)
Martha Plimpton (The Good Wife)
Kathy Baker (Law and Order)

Debra Winger (Law and Order)
Kathy Griffin (Law and Order: SVU)
Christine Lahti (Law and Order: SVU)
Ann-Margret (Law and Order: SVU)
Sharon Stone (Law and Order: SVU)
Allison Janney (Lost)
Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost)

Frances Conroy (Nip/Tuck)
Vanessa Redgrave (Nip/Tuck)
Chandra Wilson (Private Practice)
Maura Tierney (Rescue Me)
Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood)
Joely Richardson (The Tudors)
Diahann Carroll (White Collar)

The most definite nominee here is Lily Tomlin for her recurring performance as the wife of a Bernie Madoff type on “Damages.” Oscar winner Sissy Spacek is also a good bet for “Big Love,” especially considering the little-rewarded show did manage to net Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn a nod two years ago. Past winner Sharon Stone will probably be back, this time for her guest-starring role on “SVU.” I’m very bad at picking the “SVU” actresses who end up getting nominated, so I’ll go with Kathy Griffin as a possibility. And I’m hopeful that Maura Tierney’s spectacular arc on “Rescue Me” from last summer won’t be forgotten.

Current predictions:
KATHY GRIFFIN, LAW AND ORDER: SVU
SISSY SPACEK, BIG LOVE
SHARON STONE, LAW AND ORDER: SVU
MAURA TIERNEY, RESCUE ME
LILY TOMLIN, DAMAGES
DEBRA WINGER, LAW AND ORDER*


*Updated to reflect 6 nominees

Who could win? Maybe Tomlin?

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Pilot Reviews: Scoundrels & The Gates

Scoundrels & The Gates (ABC)
Premiered June 20 at 9pm & 10pm

Six years ago, ABC aired an original series called “The Days” only during the summer, and though I didn’t get a chance to see it, it only lasted six episodes. Last summer, ABC burned off not one but four cancelled series – “Pushing Daisies,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Eli Stone,” and “Samantha Who?” – while airing spillover episodes of a now-cancelled series, “Better Off Ted.” In what seems like a desperate attempt to compete with cable networks like FX, TNT, and USA which air full seasons of their original series during the summer, ABC has decided to launch three shows in the summer this year. “Rookie Blue” will be reviewed early next week, and it’s not quite as relevant here because ABC is pairing it with a reality series, a type of show that has dominated network television summer schedules for years.

The two Sunday night series feel incredibly like summer shows, and not in a good, “Burn Notice” kind of way. Rather, they seem to be created strictly for a dumber audience, as if network representatives expect TV watchers to be prepared to watch any garbage during the summer, with standards considerably lower than during the regular September-May television season. Beyond being ignorant and insulting, it’s disappointing. I’m not convinced that either of these series actually would have had any potential to be good had they been executed differently, but these results certainly don’t impress. Pinpointing exactly what makes each of these shows so awful isn’t the easiest of tasks, but the sum of the parts is majestically lackluster at best. The dialogue in both shows is horrendous, and there’s not one sympathetic or intriguing character to be found on either show.

“Scoundrels” features what have to be the dumbest criminals in the world, where one kid even sews his name into his ski mask. The gimmick of a criminal family didn’t work at all in Showtime’s abysmal one-season drama “Meadowlands,” and it fails here too. Virginia Madsen was so sweet in her Oscar-nominated supporting role in “Sideways,” so her casting as an aggressive, no-nonsense matriarch mastermind doesn’t make much sense. It seems that the family has only one truthfully smart member, and that’s the blond daughter who pretends to be drugged while drugging her assailant’s drink, but even she goes out of her way to appear stupid. Pesky flashbacks and lines like “yes, most definitely way” are even more regrettable than the poorly-constructed characters. The family trying to go straight doesn’t seem like it will work out or be worth watching, and the imprisoned father’s evil laughter at the cell at the end is probably a fitting preview of how preposterous everything to come will be.

And then there’s “The Gates,” the more obviously bad of the two shows. Besides the lack of any need for yet another vampire show, this one is a tragically badly-scripted and poorly-conceived idea. The first question is why a community of vampires and other supernaturally-enhanced misfits would allow a human chief of police to come in to supervise their community. The old chief may be retired in Mexico, as the impossibly annoying Nick continually harps on, but the new chief is going to have his blood drained and end up in a ditch somewhere if he keeps pushing and antagonizing the residents. As it turns out, the old chief beat him to it, but I’m sure he’ll get himself in real mortal trouble soon enough. A high school student building a lie detector is among the most puzzling and ridiculous notions I’ve ever heard, and it only serves to make the chemistry between the two teens all too obvious. To cap it off, Rhona Mitra, formerly of “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” and never a good actress, makes for the worst vampire I’ve ever seen. I can’t decide which is worse: the expressions on her face or the tacky special effects employed on the show. As far as pale “True Blood” imitations go, this one can be considered a poster child. Rivaling its lead-in for bad dialogue, here’s one sample of the Shakespeare from this show: “They can be a real bitch, can’t they?” / “So can you!”

It turns out that sharing a Sunday night showcase and being awful aren’t the only things that links these two shows. Another common thread is the mention of lupus on both series, which is used in a discussion of literature to inspire a romance on “The Gates” and used by the criminal family’s younger daughter as an excuse to skip an entire year of school on “Scoundrels.” It would be too simplistic to say that one of these shows is too original while the other isn’t anywhere near original enough, so I hope that surprising link serves as the only interesting factoid related to these two shows. Judging by these two (I haven’t seen “Rookie Blue” as of this writing), ABC should immediately stop production on any original fare they’re planning to premiere in the summer. These shows are among the most dismal pilots I’ve seen in a long time, and while I imagine that they’ll make it through the entirety of their eight- and thirteen-episode runs, respectively (and then fade into television oblivion), they really don’t deserve it. Bring back “Better Off Ted” and please spare audiences even one more minute of these terrible shows.

Both shows: F

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What I’m Watching: Treme (Season Finale)

Treme: Season 1, Episode 10 “I’ll Fly Away” (A-)

This lengthy two-parter is an appropriate way to close out the short first season of this show, which after only ten episodes feels like it’s still just getting started. Yet there’s a definitive sense of many things being wrapped up here that lend credence to the fact that this was a packed freshman year that explored many different avenues and did in fact bring many of them to closure. Starting this episode off with a shot of Toni talking to the cops led to the devastating revelation that she and Sophia weren’t yet aware that Creighton was already dead in his car. Not seeing but only hearing Sophia react to the news when Toni finally tells her was particularly powerful, in a way that few other moments this entire season have been, and having other characters like Davis, Janette, and Ladonna comment on Creighton’s death made his absence felt even more. Davis had quite an interesting day, providing Janette with a whirlwind of reasons to stay in New Orleans instead of going to New York, and it was a very sentimental farewell, complete with Janette’s comment of “Shame you didn’t reserve a room” followed by Davis dangling a key. Even though he couldn’t get her to stay in the end, he really lucked out by finding Annie, who abandoned Sonny for good after finding another woman in their bed, waiting for him on his doorstep right as he got home. His delivery of “What did I do right?” was fantastic. The attendance of Ladonna and Toni at David’s funeral was a very strong trigger for an immensely moving flashback to before the storm, where everything we know to be true isn’t yet. Sonny and Annie are happily roaming the abandoned streets together, Creighton is alive, and David is being arrested due to the warrant out on him. That ten-minute flashback serves as one of the most memorable scenes of the season, especially in its final moments when the torrential waters truly threaten to cause destruction. The musical tribute to David was a terrific way for the season to sign out, and it was only made it even more meaningful by the dedication to late writer David Mills, who died in New Orleans twelve days before the series premiered. This has been an excellent start to the series, and while season two may not arrive for quite a while, it’s sure to be just as great.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: John Goodman

Emmy Race: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Last year’s eligible nominees:

Ted Danson (Damages)

The top contenders:

Bruce Dern (Big Love)
Beau Bridges (The Closer)
Len Cariou (Damages)
Dominic Chianese (Damages)
Keith Carradine (Dexter)
John Lithgow (Dexter)
James Callis (Flash Forward)
Leonard Nimoy (Fringe)
Dylan Baker (The Good Wife)

Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)
Hector Elizondo (Grey’s Anatomy)
Joel Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)
Andre Braugher (House)
James Earl Jones (House)
David Strathairn (House)
Walton Goggins (Justified)

Henry Ian Cusick (Lost)
Alan Dale (Lost)
Mark Pellegrino (Lost)
Jared Harris (Mad Men)
Robert Morse (Mad Men)
Chelcie Ross (Mad Men)
Robert Wagner (NCIS)
Adam Arkin (Sons of Anarchy)
Gregory Itzin (24)

To begin with, one slot is already locked, and that’s reserved for John Lithgow, who won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his season-long turn as a serial killer on “Dexter.” Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess. Danson is probably a safe bet to pick up his third nod for playing Arthur Frobisher on “Damages,” and Henry Ian Cusick will probably be back for a far more important role as Desmond on “Lost” than he played last time he was nominated for playing the character back in 2006. Just as he wasn’t nominated two years ago for the same part, Keith Carradine probably won’t make it in this time around for playing Special Agent Frank Lundy on “Dexter.” While I’d personally love to see Adam Arkin and Jared Harris, I imagine that Chelcie Ross, who played Conrad Hilton on “Mad Men,” and Alan Cumming, who recurred as Peter’s lawyer Eli Gold on “The Good Wife,” will grab the last two slots. Both are deserving, so I’d be happy with those. The guest categories are always hard to predict, so don’t count on these picks too much.

Current predictions:
ALAN CUMMING, THE GOOD WIFE
HENRY IAN CUSICK, LOST
TED DANSON, DAMAGES
JOHN LITHGOW, DEXTER
ROBERT MORSE, MAD MEN*
CHELCIE ROSS, MAD MEN


*Updated to reflect 6 nominees

Who could win? That would be Lithgow.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 3, Episode 2 “Beautifully Broken” (B+)

On any other show, having werewolves as an integral part of the plot might seem cheesy at best, if not downright awful. But here, it’s fantastic. You have werewolves who work for vampires, swear like they mean it, and once upon a time even donned Nazi uniforms. The flashbacks of Eric and Godric hunting Nazi werewolves were almost too good to be true, and seeing this darker side of Eric being chastised by a reincarnated Godric is a real treat. I loved the music in the opening scene where the King arrived to escort Bill to his home, and Coot looked genuinely terrified when the King yelled at him and then shot his friend in the head. These vampire leadership figures really are intimidating. Bill being served blood gelato was just one of the intensely awkward and darkly funny moments of his stay, which will likely now be cut short by his rather brutal torching of his maker. There were definitely some lighter, entertaining moments in this episode, like Jessica asking Pam how you avoid killing someone when you’re feeding on them. Hoyt not giving up is very sentimental, as is Terry reading off the list of reasons why Arlene should trust him with her kids and not stopping even when she goes to throw up in the bathroom. Kevin Alejandro appearing as Lafayette’s mother’s Mexican caretaker Jesus was very funny as well. A more serious and impressionable new character is the vampire/werewolf played by James Frain, who upon his entrance reveals that Tara not being dead “makes one of us” and that he is no friend of Bill Compton’s. Clearly, he wants to be a friend to Tara though, helping her get her revenge on the people mocking the memory of Eggs. The ending to this episode was great, with Eric suddenly getting serious and demanding that Sookie invite him in. That last shot of Eric and the wolf charging at each other while Sookie fires the shotgun is a perfect cliffhanger to pick up on next week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What I’m Watching: Gravity

Gravity: Season 1, Episode 9 "Calemnity" (B+)

I really do love Jorge. Out of all the characters on this show, he’s actually the most sentimental. The two girls who were so turned off by how painful having sex with him was were entertaining, but the third one, who loved it, intimidated even Jorge. His confession that he’s not just looking for a hookup but instead to fall in love was very sweet, though he’s still able to be appropriately stern, as he is when he repeatedly tells the woman that she cannot do the thing she desperately wants to do since she’s not the woman for him. I was thrilled at the beginning of the episode to see Miller’s story being unfolded, and while we only got a snippet of a flashback, we did get two shocking revelations at the end of the episode, one right after another! The man he is searching for, presumably his father, is none other than Lily’s stepfather. And, he’s not actually a cop! For a guy who emphasizes the fact that you don’t honk expect in cases of emergency, it’s hard to believe that he’s not a cop, but that really puts things in a whole new perspective. This show is much more layered than it could have been, and I think that’s terrific. Also great in this episode was Carla’s birthday speech and Robert getting revenge on Miller by giving him blurry eye drops. As usual, the intimate conversations between Robert and Lilly was spectacular, starting with Lilly’s “robotic” utterance of her “I sell makeup at a department store, I change lives” catchphrase, heightened by her truly opening up to Robert, accompanied by an effective montage. “Robert Collingsworth with an awesome tattoo, I’m so in love with you” was my favorite line of the episode, and the best part was that Robert was crying right after she said that. It’s a shame that this show has only one episode left just as it’s really showing incredible potential, and hopefully they’ll be a second season in store sometime soon.

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be even more competitive in all the major categories than last year when the switch was made from five to six nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.

Last year’s nominees:

KRISTIN CHENOWETH as OLIVE SNOOK, PUSHING DAISIES (2 nominations/1 win)
Sad as it is, “Pushing Daisies” is no longer on the air. Look for Chenoweth in the Guest Actress category this year for “Glee.”

JANE KRAKOWSKI as JENNA MORONEY, 30 ROCK (1 nomination)
After two seasons of unconscionable snubs, Krakowski finally made it in last year. She really is criminally underused on the show, and when she does have something to do these days, it’s not nearly as good as what she used to do in the show’s first two seasons. This is a volatile category that often dismisses nominees year-to-year, but I think that Krakowski will probably stick around due to the popularity of her show and having only just received her first nod last year.

ELIZABETH PERKINS as CELIA HODES, WEEDS (3 nominations)
Perkins returned to the fold last year after missing out two years ago. Celia didn’t really have much to do on this season, but that hasn’t really been a problem before. She did have a few key scenes that would be enough to, based on past history, net her another nomination. It will really depend on how voters are feeling about her show, which I suspect won’t be entirely optimistic.

AMY POEHLER as VARIOUS CHARACTERS, SNL (2 nominations)
Poehler is no longer a cast member on SNL. Look for her (fingers crossed) in the Best Actress category this year for “Parks and Recreation.”

KRISTIN WIIG as VARIOUS CHARACTERS, SNL (1 nomination)
I’m not a regular SNL watcher, so I can’t say whether Wiig has been good or bad this year, but my gut feeling is that her film role in “MacGruber” (even if it wasn’t a hit) as well as movies like “Whip It” and “Extract” in the fall, should cement her popularity and enable her to return here with this bizarre recent rule that mixes variety performers with actors in scripted sitcoms.

VANESSA WILLIAMS as WILHELMINA SLATER, UGLY BETTY (3 nominations)
When star America Ferrera was snubbed last year, Williams still carried on the torch. For the show’s final year, I imagine that the inimitable Wilhelmina will be back again, especially considering she’s never won and really crafted quite a memorable character during her four years on the show. She could just as easily be snubbed to make room for new contenders, but I think she’ll be safe. If Jane Lynch wasn’t in the running, she’d probably even win (and still might).

Past nominees, primed for a comeback?

JENNA FISCHER as PAM BEESLY, THE OFFICE (1 nomination)
Fischer has only been nominated once, for the show’s third season, but it’s more than likely that she’ll be back at least once more before the show’s run is over (not currently in sight). This seems like the year, considering her two terrific hour-long episodes, “Niagara” and “The Delivery.” As past years have shown, it’s not a sure thing, but it is a pretty good bet.

CHERYL HINES as CHERYL DAVID, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2 nominations)
Hines was nominated for the show’s second and fifth seasons, and now she’s back in contention for its seventh, in this category and not submitted as lead as originally reported by Tom O’Neill (he has since posted an update). Hines shared scenes with Jason Alexander this year in addition to reconnecting to Larry, and that certainly can’t hurt, but her chances are really a crapshoot since she was hardly the strongest part of her show, as opposed to some of the other people here.

CONCHETA FERRELL as BERTA and HOLLAND TAYLOR as EVELYN HARPER, TWO AND A HALF MEN (2 & 3 nominations)
These ladies first made a shocking appearance for their recurring roles back in 2005, and have both been back since. The once-good CBS comedy is definitely on its way out, especially in terms of the Emmys, where it was snubbed for Best Comedy Series last year. That hasn’t stopped these two in the past, but I think there’s just too much competition and Emmy voters may have stopped paying attention to this show.

New blood:

JANE LYNCH as SUE SYLVESTER and AMBER RILEY as MERCEDES JONES, GLEE
The biggest lock in this category is Lynch, whose insult-spouting cheerleading coach was hands-down the funniest part of the musical show. She’ll probably win, and there’s nothing more to say about her chances, since they’re excellent. Riley, on the other hand, is much more of a longshot. She’s one of the standouts on the show both musically and dramatically, but she’ll have to be part of an massive sweep that I’m not confident the show will manage.

JULIE BOWEN as CLARIE DUNPHY and SOFIA VERGARA as GLORIA DELGADO-PRITCHETT, MODERN FAMILY
These ladies face much less internal competition than their male costars, and hopefully they’ll both be able to score a nomination. Bowen is the subtler of the two, often playing straight man to her buffoonish husband, whereas Vergara steals most of her scenes as the very Colombian younger wife of the family patriarch. Vergara has the better shot, but I think they’ll both make it.

JANE ADAMS as TANYA SKAGLE, HUNG
While I think she more than deserves a nomination, I wouldn’t have placed Adams here if she hadn’t picked up a somewhat unexpected Golden Globe nod for her performance as Ray’s pimp on HBO’s great summer series. Adams faces the challenge of playing a more dramatic role compared to some of her competition, but I think a bigger hurdle will be the fact that few people have seen her show.

The roundup:
This category could see a massive makeover thanks to the addition of “Modern Family” and “Glee.” Krakowski, Wiig, and Williams should be back, and so should Fischer. Add in both Lynch, Bowen, and Vergara, and you have seven nominees. I don’t think that this category will be expanded, so that means that one person has to go. I’ll make a bold prediction and suggest that Krakowski won’t be back (probably unwisely).

Current predictions:
JULIE BOWEN, MODERN FAMILY
JENNA FISCHER, THE OFFICE
JANE LYNCH, GLEE
SOFIA VERGARA, MODERN FAMILY
KRISTIN WIIG, SNL
VANESSA WILLIAMS, UGLY BETTY


Who could win? Call me crazy, but I think Lynch won’t win this year, and I’d currently bet on Williams, provided she gets nominated.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Party Down

Party Down: Season 2, Episode 9 “Cole Landry’s Draft Day Party” (B+)

The look on Henry’s face when Ron asks him about his situation and porn expertise is simply priceless. Henry is really terrific in the role of pointing out how ridiculous everything is, and there’s so much that Ron does whose ridiculousness bears repeating. Lydia got a chance to shine and let out her inner crazy in this episode by revealing her passion for sports. Her outburst after she discovered that no one followed football included a hilarious question: “are you even American?” I liked all of the awkward conversations between Henry and Casey about her not bringing him to the party. Henry being bothered by the logic of Casey’s animatronic robot routine was very funny. Roman’s discovery that the football player was into hard sci-fi was fantastic, though it wasn’t much of a surprise that Roman couldn’t take it well and ended up trying to antagonize him. The NFL passing on Cole Landry wasn’t a surprise either, but it did provide Lydia with a reason to start yelling at the quarterback, his father, and his agent to get their acts together, which was great. It also gave us another spectacular chance to see Casey putting her skills to work, acting on camera as Cole’s girlfriend. I loved when she looked at the camera after being yelled at by Rihanna and sheepishly said, “you can’t say fuck on TV.” Among the best lines in the episode were Lydia’s snapped quip to Casey – “language, you’re a girl” – and everything that was said during the uncomfortable conversation Henry had with the angry agent, being told to tell thee guy’s wife that if she loved him, she wouldn’t call on this day, and finding out which kid was bitten by a hamster to determine whether he should be brought to the hospital.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 2, Episode 3 “Keeping the Faith” (B+)

Most often on this show, Hank is a known quantity contacted by people who have been referred to him by previous patients. In this case, it’s a nice treat to have the Lawson brothers just stumble upon a medical emergency simply by being in the right place at the right time. The fact that said patient is a B-movie actor famous for playing the Garbage Collector makes it all the more fun. It’s entertaining to see the polarized reactions to the Garbage Collector from the Hank Med team. Evan and Jill being so enamored with the delight of getting to meet the star contrasted so sharply with Hank and Divya not having a clue as to who he was. Clearly this Garbage Collector series is quite fantastic, however, given how the two nonbelievers ultimately became enthralled with the fourth installment, which apparently is much better than the third. Evan’s hesitation in making a move on the Garbage Collector’s sister was amusing, and Hank’s lack of any desire to help him out was fun too. It seemed obvious from the start that there was a problem with the sister’s memory because she was frequently repeating conversations, and it’s a bit hard to believe that Evan can be so ignorant of those signals given the amount of time he spends around Hank. On a more serious note, Hank’s stern talking-to with his father was much more dramatic and effective than I had expected. Commendations are due to Henry Winkler for his fine work as Hank’s surprisingly stern father.

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be even more competitive in all the major categories than last year when the switch was made from five to six nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.

Last year’s nominees:

JON CRYER as ALAN HARPER, TWO AND A HALF MEN (4 nominations/1 win)
Cryer’s win last year came as a real surprise, especially after the show was dropped from the Comedy Series category, but I suppose it was about time that it won some non-technical Emmy, and Cryer was always its best shot. I suspect that Cryer will be one of those people who, now that he’s been rewarded, will be easier to leave off the list this time around. Still, I’m nervous about leaving Cryer out of my predictions because the show continues to be popular in the ratings, and Cryer’s performance hasn’t changed much since he was first nominated.

KEVIN DILLON as JOHNNY DRAMA, ENTOURAGE (3 nominations)
Dillon made it in three years ago for a strong season, and then shocked everyone by repeating not once but twice. Even more surprising was him making it in last year when costar Jeremy Piven got left off allegedly due to his questionable food poisoning. It’s hard to believe that Dillon is now a three-time nominee, and I have a feeling that there won’t be room for him with the influx of “Modern Family” candidates this year. You never know, though.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS as BARNEY STINSON, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (3 nominations)
Many thought that Harris would win last year, especially as he was the ceremony’s host. Now, he’ll definitely be back for a fourth year even if his show doesn’t return to the Comedy Series category because he’s more popular than ever. Being in the running for a guest spot on an episode of “Glee” helmed by his “Dr. Horrible” director Joss Whedon doesn’t hurt either, and if he can defeat the new army of “Modern Family” guys, he may just clinch it this time.

JACK MCBRAYER as KENNETH PARCELL, 30 ROCK (1 nomination)
McBrayer made it in last year as the entire core cast of his show was ushered in as part of growing support for the three-time winner for Best Comedy Series. While he had more to do in the first season than he did in seasons two or three, he also had more to do in season three than in season four. I couldn’t imagine that he’d be back again, but the fact that he was only first nominated last year means he might stick around for a bit. I doubt it.

TRACY MORGAN as TRACY JORDAN, 30 ROCK (1 nomination)
Unlike his costar McBrayer, Morgan is probably going to earn another nomination. He’s always been the zaniest in a cast of zany characters, and this year, he only kept that up. His commitment to being crazy in a manageable way is unmatched, and I’m thinking specifically of a scene like his recounting the horrible things he saw in his childhood in the season’s penultimate episode. Morgan will likely be back.

RAINN WILSON as DWIGHT SCHRUTE, THE OFFICE (3 nominations)
Compared to past years, Dwight really hasn’t had much of a presence on this past season of the workplace comedy, save for his back-and-forth on his contract with Angela. In many ways, Wilson is probably a de facto nominee and will be back no matter what, though I’m sure many people would appreciate the chance to let his never-nominated costar John Krasinski finally earn some recognition.

Past nominees, back again?

JEREMY PIVEN as ARI GOLD, ENTOURAGE (4 nominations/3 wins)
After four consecutive nods and three consecutive wins in this category, Piven was shut out last year, potentially because of his departure from a Broadway show due to questionable claims of food poisoning. Piven was once again the best part of the most recent season of the less and less interesting show, and he also had some fun going to war with former assistant Lloyd. I presume he’ll be back, and that his absence last year was only a suspension, not an expulsion.

Could this be the year?

JOHN KRASINSKI as JIM HALPERT, THE OFFICE
This is now season six and Krasinski has earned not even one nomination. This year, he had great two-part episodes like “Niagara” and “The Delivery,” but it’s not like he hasn’t had stellar episodes to submit in the past either. When there were top tens, he made it in, but somehow he’s never made it far enough. I’m worried about the massive contingent of “Modern Family” men this year shutting him out once again, though he could always join (or take the place of) his costar Rainn Wilson.

ASIZ ANSARI as TOM HAVERFORD and NICK OFFERMAN as RON SWANSON, PARKS AND RECREATION
The word on this show has been much more positive than it was last year (even though I personally loved season one too), and many suspect that star Amy Poehler will break into the Best Actress category. Consider the showy (Ansari) and the subtle (Offerman) supporting stars of the show, who help make it extraordinarily funny each episode. I think Offerman probably has a better shot for his stoic, deadpan nature, but I’m not too confident about either one’s chances given how long it took Emmy voters to recognize the supporting actors of “The Office.”

New contenders:

TY BURRELL as PHIL DUNPHY, JESSE TYLER FERGUSON as MITCHELL PRITCHETT, ED O’NEILL as JAY PRITCHETT, RICO RODRIGUEZ as MANNY DELGADO, and ERIC STONESTREET as CAMERON TUCKER, MODERN FAMILY
The year’s best-reviewed new comedy boasts a whopping five contenders who all have a legitimate shot at an Emmy nomination. The most likely three are probably dumb dad Burrrell, over-the-top boyfriend Stonestreet, and eternally sarcastic patriarch O’Neill, who was never nominated for “Married…with Children,” and voters will likely want to reward him now. “The West Wing” earned four nominations in the drama category back in 2002, so this show could get just as many or even more. Also in the running are less excessive boyfriend Ferguson and extremely mature son Rodriguez.

CHRIS COLFER as KURT HUMMEL and CORY MONTEITH as FINN HUDSON, GLEE
This season’s musical sensation is least likely to have a nominee in this category out of all the categories, but it still has two decent shots. Colfer is a standout as gay student Kurt, who deals with his sexuality both at home and at school, and provides much of the comedy and heart of the show. And then there’s Monteith, who would only be here if “Glee” fever really swept the Emmys for his portrayal of impossibly dumb former jock Finn.

CHEVY CHASE as PIERCE HAWTHORNE and DANNY PUDI as ABED NADIR, COMMUNITY
NBC’s newest addition to its Thursday night comedy lineup boasts two very different contenders. One is Chase, whose elderly community college student earns a lot of laughs from viewers and could result in Chase’s first acting nod since the 70s, when he won for SNL. The other is newcomer Pudi, whose first major television role finds him spouting off pop culture references like it’s his job. I don’t think the show will be embraced by Emmy voters, but it could be.

The roundup:
Here we have an interesting situation: nineteen contenders from only nine shows. It’s hard to pick out which actors from those shows will make the cut and which won’t. Harris is definitely the only safe returning nominee, and in the least creative case, at least two slots have to be opened up for “Modern Family” members, which would probably be Burrell and Stonestreet (if only two). That said, O’Neill will probably join them, and I imagine that Morgan and Wilson will both be back, though this could be the year that John Krasinski finally lands his first nod.

Current predictions:
TY BURRELL, MODERN FAMILY
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
TRACY MORGAN, 30 ROCK
ED O’NEILL, MODERN FAMILY
ERIC STONESTREET, MODERN FAMILY
RAINN WILSON, THE OFFICE


Who could win? NPH or one of the “Modern Family” guys. Currently, I’d bet on Burrell.

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 4, Episode 3 “Made Man” (B+)

It’s really interesting how similar Michael and Jesse actually are. They are both reckless and unwilling to listen to others in the same kind of way, but Michael pulls it off a bit more stoically, which makes it work for him. Jesse boasts this sinful smile that seems to indicate that he knows that he’s going against the wishes of others but doesn’t much mind or care. That arrogance especially makes a do-gooder like Michael detest him, even if he’s doing something just like Michael would do like taking focus off of a larger mission to help one person. I’m still loving Fiona’s response to working with Jesse on a regular basis, and still rooting for something to happen between them, even if he ends up getting killed or something else when he inevitably sets his targets on Michael. In this episode, it was fun to see Nestor Serrano playing the mob boss, since I liked his performance in the fourth season of “24” as terrorist Navi Araz. He was supposed to star in a show the following fall called “Murder Book” but it didn’t get picked up. Obviously this is a far sillier role, but fortunately it’s not nearly as silly or stupid as any one of the villains on “Burn Notice” creator Matt Nix’s new show, “The Good Guys,” which you really shouldn’t watch for any reason. As always on this show, however, the complex relationship between Michael and his mother continues to be fantastic, and having her chastise him for pretending to be Jesse’s friend was an unexpectedly moving scene.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pilot Review: Hot in Cleveland

Hot in Cleveland (TV Land)
Premiered June 16 at 10pm

This was my first experience with TV Land, and it’s not just me. This is the network’s first foray into scripted original series. For a channel that focuses primarily on vintage comedy classics, it’s no surprise that their premiere original comedy has a laugh track. But what’s worth noting about this pilot is that it’s the first time in at least three years of new series debuts that the sound of a laugh track doesn’t seem entirely superficial. The moments that are followed by an outburst of canned laughter are actually occasionally somewhat funny. This feels like a reminder of why the laugh track works, to supplement the humorous moments and make them seem funnier than they may be. It’s easier to laugh if someone’s already laughing, and this show reminds me of that in a way that all of the laugh track-infused sitcoms of the past few years haven’t. While it’s not terribly funny, the leading ladies are all appealing enough in their own ways to carry it. Valerie Bertinelli is needy and neurotic, but not in a grossly obnoxious way like Sophie Winkleman on NBC’s most recent stupid sitcom, “100 Questions.” Jane Leeves is appropriately snippy and self-deprecating, and I like how Betty White’s character has already decided that she doesn’t like her. Wendie Malick, who often carried “Just Shoot Me” all by herself, delivers a surprisingly fresh take on the has-been actress desperate to appear twenty years younger than she actually is. And then there’s Betty White, who is moderately funny as the irritable, pot-smoking caretaker of the new property Bertinelli’s Melanie has purchased. What really makes her appearance worthwhile is how ridiculously excited the audience seems to get every time she pops into the frame. Having the four very different women experience the city of Cleveland should be fun, and medium-profile guest stars like John Schneider demonstrate that this show is smart about its casting. It may not be wildly original, but if it works, what’s the problem?

How will it work as a series? Now that they’re (temporarily) planted in Cleveland, the three leading ladies will experience many things that will influence their sense of the way the world works. It could easily get old extremely quickly, like “Cougar Town” did, but it could also be entertaining if the women are fun enough, which I suspect they will be. I don’t anticipate anything truly terrific out of this show, but it should be good for some mindless fun.
How long will it last? This is exactly the kind of show that TV Land should be producing, and mediocre reviews shouldn’t detract from the fact that this network may have a chance to offer something other than reruns. With no other original programming to compare it to, it seems to be like this show could be around for a good, long time. I think a second season renewal probably isn’t too far off, especially considering the extensive publicity that has been put forth for this show.

Pilot grade: B

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be even more competitive in all the major categories than last year when the switch was made from five to six nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.

Last year’s nominees:
ROSE BYRNE as ELLEN PARSONS, DAMAGES (1 nomination)
After missing out for the show’s first year, Byrne made it in last year in one of the worst cases of category fraud ever. This year, however, Byrne’s role has been diminished, and she can now be reasonably considered a supporting actress. Though I found this season to be the best yet, enthusiasm for the show seems to have declined, and Byrne could fall victim to that just as she finally becomes deserving of some commendation.

HOPE DAVIS as MIA, IN TREATMENT (1 nomination)
The spectacular Ms. Davis wrapped her one-season arc on the show, which did not air this season.

CHERRY JONES as PRESIDENT ALLISON TAYLOR, 24 (1 nomination/1 win)
Last year’s champ has elected not to submit herself this year.

SANDRA OH as CRISTINA YANG, GREY’S ANATOMY (5 nominations)
At this point, Oh has been nominated every year her show has been on the air. I don’t watch the show, so I can’t speak to her performance over the past year. I will note, however, that her show was dismissed from the Best Drama Series lineup two years ago, so it’s definitely on its way out. Whether or not Oh is here to stay will be harder to tell.

DIANNE WIEST as GINA, IN TREATMENT (2 nominations/1 win)
Wiest has wrapped her two-season arc on the show, which did not air this season.

CHANDRA WILSON as MIRANDA BAILEY, GREY’S ANATOMY (4 nominations)
Like Oh, I can’t speak much to Wilson’s chances specific to this season. Her advantage over Oh, however, is that she has yet to win for her very showy role on the show. I doubt this is the year for that, but who knows?

Category switch – another nomination?

ELISABETH MOSS as PEGGY OLSON, MAD MEN (1 nomination)
Recognized for her work as a leading actress last year, Moss has dropped down to the supporting category for her stellar work in the show’s third season. Switching categories isn’t a negative – Allison Janney handled it well for “The West Wing” and Rachel Griffiths made the same downward shift for “Six Feet Under” successfully. Considering the number of spots opening up, I wouldn’t worry about Moss’ chances at all.

Past nominees, back for another round?

RACHEL GRIFFITHS as SARAH WALKER, BROTHERS & SISTERS (2 nominations)
Speaking of Rachel Griffiths, she hasn’t been seen since two years ago when last she placed in this category. Since she’s still on the show, there’s always the possibility she might return to the lineup, but it’s not likely, especially considering a new contender from her show who will be mentioned below.

KATHERINE HEIGL as IZZIE STEVENS, GREY’S ANATOMY (1 nomination/1 win)
Heigl won on her first try back in 2007, beating out returning costars Oh and Wilson. The next year, she infamously didn’t submit herself due to issues with the direction of her character. Now, she is back in the race for a small number of episodes from this season. I can’t imagine she’d get nominated after all that, but it’s always a possibility.

Could this be the year?

CALLISTA FLOCKHART as KITTY MCALLISTER, BROTHERS & SISTERS
Flockhart, who back in the day earned three nominations for her leading comedy work on “Ally McBeal,” had been submitted in the lead category for the past three years, but now she’s moving down to supporting. I’ve heard rumblings of her chances, but I don’t imagine that after four years she’d have a shot since the show isn’t nearly as popular as it used to be.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS as JOAN HOLLOWAY, MAD MEN
The Sterling-Cooper head secretary hasn’t managed to earn a nomination to this point, but it’s about time she does, and I have a feeling that she’ll break through this year. As the show continues to be a critical smash, it’s about time that supporting actors start getting recognized. With Moss down in this category now, perhaps voters will be more inclined to check off Hendricks’ name for her somewhat diminished but still crucial role in this most recent season.

EMILIE DE RAVIN as CLAIRE and YUNJIN KIM as SUN, LOST
As the two resident female “Lost” representatives (don’t count on Zuleikha Robinson as Ilana, and see the guest category for Elizabeth Mitchell), these two have been working hard over the past five to six years, and both played central roles in the final season. I suspect that the supporting actor category is where this show will do very well, but there’s always a chance that nostalgia will work in favor of these two fan favorites.

MARY LYNN RAJSKUB as CHLOE O’BRIAN, 24
If any show has a fan favorite character, it’s this one, and Chloe was front-and-center displaying her “personality disorder” all season long. I think the time for “24” nostalgia has long passed, but perhaps it’s not too late for Rajskub to earn an Emmy nomination before the clock ticks out on her chances forever (though she’ll likely be in the rumored TV movie).

CHLOE SEVIGNY as NICOLETTE GRANT, BIG LOVE
This show came from out of nowhere after earning no major Emmy nods previously to get a Best Drama nod (and not in any other category) last year. Sevigny beat out Jane Lynch for the Golden Globe on her first nomination, but what’s worth noting there is that “Big Love” has been nominated three times for Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes. Still, Sevigny should be seen as a strong contender, so watch out for her.

New blood:

KHANDI ALEXANDER as LADONNA BATISTE-WILLIAMS, TREME
Alexander has been mentioned as a contender by many for her fierce performance of a determined woman searching for her brother, who has been missing since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. As it turned out, Alexander didn’t have quite that much screen time during the HBO drama’s first season, and I’m still not convinced that the show will end up on Emmy voters’ radar.

MORENA BACCARIN as ANNA, V
Sci-fi fans know her as Inara from “Firefly,” but the whole world got to see her as the leader of an invading alien race on ABC’s new drama. I don’t think it will really contend at the Emmys, but Baccarin is probably its strongest asset. Sci-fi is a tricky genre with the Emmys, and Mary McDonnell couldn’t pull off a nomination even in her show’s fourthy and final year, so I doubt that Baccarin will be able to do it for the show’s first.

CHRISTINE BARANKSI as DIANE LOCKHART, THE GOOD WIFE
Veteran actress Baranski has six past Emmy nominations, including a win on her first try for her supporting work on “Cybill.” All of her previous nominations have been for comedy, but this role is fairly light and entertaining. The fact that Holland Taylor was able to get nominated – and win – here for her work on “The Practice” suggests to me that Baranski shouldn’t have any trouble, especially considering how well-received and popular her new show has been.

MICHELLE FORBES as MARYANN, TRUE BLOOD
Forbes is an actress much beloved by sci-fi fans for her work on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Battlestar Galactica,” and HBO’s vampire drama may be just the semi-mainstream crossover she needs to finally earn some Emmy attention. She only appeared in a few episodes last season, so now she’s a full-on contender, and could break into this category if voters are open to recognizing someone who plays a mythical creature. Probably not.

ARCHIE PANJABI as KALINDA, THE GOOD WIFE
One of the best scene-stealers on CBS’ powerful new drama is given a huge boost this year by the relative dearth of competition, and Panjabi may just find herself an Emmy nominee. The show is extremely popular and Kalinda is one of the most entertaining and dynamic characters, especially after her work in the season finale. Consider her a potential upset.

The roundup::
Three of last year’s nominees are out to start, which makes this the category to watch in terms of new nominees. Out of Byrne, Oh, and Wilson, none of them are secure, and Moss is probably much safer. Still, I’d bet that they’re all in, joined by Hendricks and Baranski. I’d love to predict Panjabi, but I’m just not sure about it. Hopefully I’ll work up the courage by the time I post my final predictions.

Current predictions:
CHRISTINE BARANSKI, THE GOOD WIFE
ROSE BYRNE, DAMAGES
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS, MAD MEN
ELISABETH MOSS, MAD MEN
SANDRA OH, GREY’S ANATOMY
CHANDRA WILSON, GREY’S ANATOMY


Who could win? I suspect Moss.

Next up: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Take Three: The Good Guys

The Good Guys: Season 1, Episode 3 “Broken Door Theory” (F)

There’s a limit to how much you can believe about a character. Granted, most everything on this show is played for laughs, be it Dan’s goofy mustache, the cartoonish villains, or anything else. Having every single person besides Jack come down with the flu after spending ten seconds with the very ill Dan is one thing I could let slide. But having Dan grab the guy who beat up the vending machine and give him a big smooch – with Jack’s encouragement – in order to have him get the flu as a punishment is way beyond the line. On many shows, there’s a sense of impossibility to how certain people remain in their jobs, like Michael Scott on “The Office.” This, however, is just plain ridiculous. Also, though I have not gone through the police academy, it would seem to be sensible that, if someone goes flying off a roof, at least one cop would head straight up there in order to catch the perpetrators before they flee the scene. Just a suggestion from a befuddled viewer. One plotline that isn’t as gratingly unbearable to me as the entire show is the continued awkward anti-romance between Jack and Liz. While Dan definitely inserts himself into that relationship way too much, as evidenced by Liz’s demand to never have him come into her office again, it’s fun to see Jack toying rather blatantly with the notion that Liz still likes him and would rather have him off the market so that she doesn’t regret having dumped him. I’m rooting for those two, and if both the show and I are still around when they finally get back together, I’ll be pleased.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pilot Review: Rubicon

Rubicon (AMC)
Premiered June 13 at 11pm

This one-hour installment was officially a preview of the new series, premiering in August, provided by AMC as one of their flagship series, “Breaking Bad,” concluded its season. I think the idea is that the two-hour pilot that will air in August will include this episode as well as the second. Knowing that this is only the first half might generally help to curve the grade, as I’m of the opinion that the second part of a two-hour debut can often be much better. I personally feel that way about “Lost,” even if most don’t agree, having seen the first episode only and not being too interested. Not being interested is certainly not a problem with this show, since if it has anything going for it, it’s that it’s completely enticing. It’s 50% intrigue, 50% suspense, and 0% clarity, which I think is a recipe for success, even if it may not be lasting success. This is the first time in a while that, after watching a pilot, I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on. With “Lost,” I was at least able to piece together who the characters were and what might be happening, but here, I don’t have a clue. Honestly, I think it’s a positive thing since I’m very drawn in and eager to figure out exactly what’s happening, though I don’t mind if I don’t find out for a while. It’s hard to follow exactly who is who as far as the characters are concerned, but Will, played by James Badge Dale, seems like a great lead. Dale first burst onto the TV scene as Jack’s sidekick and Kim’s boyfriend on the third season of “24,” and after a starring role in the HBO miniseries “The Pacific,” Dale is ready to take on the lead part in this series, and it looks like he’s up to the task. Unlike AMC’s other two series, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” this show doesn’t appear to be grounded in reality, which is cool. It’s not necessarily a sci-fi or supernatural series, but there is something about these patterns that lends itself to the mystical. Since AMC has achieved such extraordinary success with its other two original series, which just keep getting better as they get older, the future bodes well for this show. I love the music and I was genuinely thrilled for a good chunk of the episode. Having a know-it-all character at the head of a series works well if he really does know it all, and that’s what it seems like Will is. Final judgment will have to be passed in August when the show really starts up, but at this point, I feel very engaged.

How will it work as a series? Mysteries may be unraveled, and they may not. This pilot felt like a really good episode of “The X-Files” and like a much darker, better version of “Warehouse 13.” Having that every week for thirteen weeks a season sounds like a really great idea. It will definitely be a dynamic show and may also have to feature some standalone installments in addition to its recurring mythology like “The X-Files” frequently did.
How long will it last? AMC renewed its ratings-challenged series thanks to critical praise, so as long as this show earns good reviews, it should be on the air for a while. No end is in sight for either of AMC’s other shows, so it’s hard to place a bet on the length of this show’s life, but I’d imagine it would be on for at least a couple of years. If critics like it, it should be swiftly renewed once it officially premieres.

Pilot grade: B+

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be even more competitive in all the major categories than last year when the switch was made from five to six nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.

Last year’s nominees:
CHRISTIAN CLEMENSON as JERRY ESPENSON, BOSTON LEGAL (1 nomination)
Clemenson is no longer eligible because his show ended last year.

MICHAEL EMERSON as BENJAMIN LINUS, LOST (3 nominations/1 win)
Emerson finally won last year after being nominated every year that he appeared on the show, and something tells me he’s going to keep up that trend and get another nod this year. He hasn’t really had the material, though he did have a good premiere episode and a nice flash-sideways showcase. His main competition: probable returning nominee and past winner Terry O’Quinn, as well as the many other men of “Lost” who have never been nominated, namely Josh Holloway.

WILLIAM HURT as DANIEL PURCELL, DAMAGES (1 nomination)
Hurt did not appear on “Damages” this season.

AARON PAUL as JESSE PINKMAN, BREAKING BAD (1 nomination)
Last year, Paul broke through with a nomination as his show also earned a Best Drama Series mention. This season has been even better, and while Paul hasn’t necessarily had a specific episode quite as strong as last year’s “Peekaboo,” his work throughout the entire season has been consistently terrific. Given the fact that there are three spots opening up in this category, Paul should be safe to repeat.

WILLIAM SHATNER as DENNY CRANE, BOSTON LEGAL (5 nominations/1 win)
After five years of taking a spot from actual dramatic performers, Denny Crane is no longer on the air.

JOHN SLATTERY as ROGER STERLING, MAD MEN (2 nominations)
I’m inclined to think that Slattery will earn another nomination despite the fact that he’s not the most visible supporting actor on his show. Vincent Kartheiser and even Jared Harris have had more to do on screen, though Slattery continues to do well in the few moments in which he does steal the show. It seems clear that he and Jon Hamm are the designated “Mad Men” representatives, and I think he’ll be back again this year, regardless of the material he had, though there may not be room for him.

Past nominees, back for the final round?

TERRY O’QUINN as JOHN LOCKE/THE MAN IN BLACK, LOST (2 nominations/1 win)
O’Quinn was up for this award for the show’s first year, snubbed for the second, won the third, not even in the top ten for the fourth, and not submitted for the fifth. Now, as the central player in season six, O’Quinn will almost certainly be back. The chance to play the mysterious villain as well as a flash-sideways version of John Locke should enable O’Quinn to return to the race and maybe even to win again.

NAVEEN ANDREWS as SAYID JARRAH, LOST (1 nomination)
Last nominated for the debut season of ABC’s recently-wrapped cult series (you may have heard of it), Andrews wasn’t too prominent this season. Still, he had a strong flash-sideways episode and is likely to be remembered positively for the way he went out. If voters decide they love the show and shower it with a “West Wing” in 2001-like sweep, he would definitely be part of that. Apart from that scenario, however, I don’t think he’ll make it.

Is this the year?

JORGE GARCIA as HURLEY, JOSH HOLLOWAY as SAWYER, and NESTOR CARBONELL as RICHARD, LOST
Aside from the three aforementioned “Lost” stars, these are the most likely to break through and earn a nomination for the show’s final year (Henry Ian Cusick, who plays Desmond, is submitted as a guest actor). Garcia is the show’s comedic heart, while Holloway is the vehicle for all its sarcasm. Carbonell, who before this season couldn’t really have been considered a regular, had one episode that people seem to have loved which could earn him an Emmy nod for sentimental reasons. The fact that Holloway didn’t make it in last year diminishes his chances, and I think that Garcia is beloved but not considered Emmy-worthy. Carbonell has the best shot, followed by Holloway, but they’ll likely not make the cut unless voters truly loved the last season of “Lost.”

VINCENT KARTHEISER as PETE CAMPBELL, MAD MEN
After two seasons of being sleazy and smooth-talking prospective clients, Kartheiser was just as terrific in the show’s third season. It’s possible that he’ll earn recognition akin to the supporting thespians of “30 Rock” last year, since “Mad Men” is pretty much locked to clinch its third consecutive trophy for Best Drama Series and is certainly still popular. I just don’t see why this would be the year, and I imagine Kartheiser has another few years of tragic snubbing ahead of him.

New contenders:
ANDRE BRAUGHER as OWEN, MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE
I have a hard time believing that he has a shot, but Braugher has a pretty good track record with the Emmys, earning two nods and one win for “Homicide: Life on the Street” and even managing a nomination for a one-season medical drama, “Gideon’s Crossing.” The TNT drama has been well-received and Braugher has earned the best mentions of any of the stars, but I still think it’s a longshot at best, especially considering the network’s spotty reputation for Emmy nods (pretty much just Kyra Sedgwick).

JOSH CHARLES as WILL GARDNER, THE GOOD WIFE
It’s tough to predict how well a freshman show like this will fare at the Emmys. It earned a SAG nod for Best Ensemble but not a Golden Globe nod for Best Drama Series, and Julianna Marguiles continues to be the only star feted. Many fans of “Sports Night” feel that the actor was unfairly ignored for that show, so that could certainly help him, though he has costar Chris Noth and a whole number of contenders to get through before he ever makes it to the top six, and I don’t think he’ll be able to do that.

JOHN GOODMAN as CREIGHTON BURNETTE, TREME
Goodman earned his tenth Emmy nomination and his first win three years ago for his guest spot on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” His work on “Treme” as an outspoken critic of the government and stern defender of New Orleans is of a much higher quality, so if voters liked that, they’ll love this. He’ll have to overcome the hurdle of people actually having seen his show, but that shouldn’t be too hard. This character is extremely memorable.

ANIL KAPOOR as PRESIDENT OMAR HASSAN, 24
Even though he wasn’t on the show for the last quarter of the season, Kapoor, fresh off the international fame he achieved with “Slumdog Millionaire,” was one of the strongest parts of an otherwise poor final season of the once-beloved real-time drama. With another president out of the way (Cherry Jones is not submitting herself), Kapoor may be the third head of state from the show nominated (after Jones and Gregory Itzin as Charles Logan). It’s not likely he’ll stand out from the rest of the pack, but it could happen, and it would certainly be cool if it did.

CRAIG T. NELSON as ZEEK BRAVERMAN, PARENTHOOD
Almost two decades, Nelson was up for three Emmys and won one for his work on the comedy series “Coach.” Now, he’s switching genres to NBC’s light-hearted drama as the patriarch of a tight-knit but troubled family. If Emmy voters look kindly on the show, Nelson definitely stands out among the supporting cast (Peter Krause and Lauren Graham are leads) and could certainly factor into the Emmy race.

CAMPBELL SCOTT as JOE TOBIN and MARTIN SHORT as LEONARD WINSTONE, DAMAGES
These two new players have contributed enormously to the success of this season, and both deserve commendation. For the first year of the show, two actors earned nods in this category, and last year it dropped to one. Things are looking good for these two with that history. Short is probably the likelier one, especially considering just how much he plays against type, whereas Scott’s subtler performance may go unnoticed.

The roundup::
With nineteen strong contenders, this category is very crowded. Emerson, O’Quinn, and Paul are the frontrunners for a nomination, with Short and Goodman close behind. For the last slot, I’d posit that Scott can make it in over Slattery, but I wouldn’t bet on that. There’s enormous possibility for upsets here, and this lineup could easily look very different than the one I’ve predicted. But, for now, here’s my best guess at what the lineup will be.

Current predictions:
MICHAEL EMERSON, LOST
JOHN GOODMAN, TREME
TERRY O’QUINN, LOST
AARON PAUL, BREAKING BAD
CAMPBELL SCOTT, DAMAGES
MARTIN SHORT, DAMAGES


Who could win? Tough call. I'd love to say Short, but I think it'll more likely be Goodman or O'Quinn (both just as deserving).

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Treme

Treme: Season 1, Episode 9 “Wish Someone Would Care” (B+)

This very important episode felt overcast, with the rain that came down right in the middle of Janette’s big event existing in more than just a literal, physical way. That is most represented in the alarming path of one Creighton Burnette, who went from frustrated, staunch defender of New Orleans to a man too consumed by his inability to do anything about the state of things to go on living. His initial answer to the student who asked about what material was going to be on the test seemed to indicate a sense of humor, but it now seems abundantly clear that he had given up on trying to be sardonic and moved on to no longer caring. His enthusiastic morning sendoff to his wife and daughter did seem overly chipper for the usually grumpy character, and tipping Annie generously and enjoying that last smoke felt especially foreboding. Not seeing him but only hearing that gunshot in his car by the river after his wife and daughter talk about not being able to reach him was a heartbreaking way to send off this show’s best character. John Goodman did a magnificent job portraying him, and while his work in this episode was great, I think he’d be better off to submit his work in the pilot or any of his YouTube video episodes should he earn a deserved Emmy nomination in a few weeks. Not having him on the show will feel very strange, but fortunately, the rest of the show is shaping up quite well. Lieutenant Colson, the cop played by David Morse, had an extremely interesting conversation with Albert about peaceful ways to go about his objectives, and I found that interaction fascinating. Janette defending herself in front of her parents was commendable, and it’s a shame that her impressively put-together gig got rained out. It’s intriguing to see the difference in mindset between Ladonna and Toni, how Ladonna doesn’t want her brother to be part of a larger moral agenda whereas Toni seems to want his death to stand for something. The conversation between Ladonna and Antoine was especially moving, and it’s good for Ladonna to have a (somewhat) kindred soul. Davis canvassing for his party was, as usual, the comic relief of the episode. In such a dramatic hour, however, it is certainly useful to have some light moments.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What I’m Watching: Breaking Bad (Season Finale)

Breaking Bad: Season 3, Episode 13 “Full Measure” (A-)

Opening this finale with a flashback to a very happy Walt and a friendly, chipper Skyler in the empty house that would eventually become their own was highly effective but extremely misleading. For one thing, Skyler and the other family-related supporting characters, like Walter Jr. and Hank, didn’t appear in this episode at all. Additionally, the Walt who is constantly thinking ahead doesn’t quite exist anymore. While he still has a few options in his mind, he has no idea how things are going to turn out and isn’t looking so much at the big picture as he is at surviving until the next day. His giddy proclamation of “Why be cautious? We’ve got nowhere to go but up” is particularly contradictory to his state at the start (and conclusion) of this episode. The opening following the credits was so intensely silent for several minutes as Walt watched the other car across the field until it was interrupted by the cell phone ringing. Mike’s assurance that he could kill Walt from all the way across the field provided a moment of dark humor in a devastatingly bleak episode. It’s hard to decide who’s more fearsome, Mike or Gus, but I’d have to go with Gus because he’s capable of putting on such a friendly face for all those that he meets and then transforming completely into an emotionless drug kingpin. Walt talking to him and laying out the options, stating that he prefers option B where he doesn’t end up dead, was a troubling moment that didn’t become any less disconcerting once it was over. The newly rehired Gale was trying so hard in the lab to make sure that Walt likes him and wants to keep working with him, and his request to “please teach me” was especially moving. I was so scared for Gale when we saw him singing in Italian in his own house because it seemed too peaceful and like it couldn’t possibly last. Fortunately, my fears were allayed for a few minutes as Gus arrived to ask Gale if he would be ready to take over for Walt. At the same time, Walt clearly has the same thought in mind, and he and Jesse suggestion that they get rid of Gale in order to keep themselves alive was completely cold-blooded and unexpected, in my opinion. This is a dark road that Walt has gone down, and it’s only getting darker. Seeing Jesse try desperately to avoid killing Gale made Walt’s suggestion even more cruel, and his response of “I saved your life, Jesse, are you going to save mine?” was brutal. Walt breaking down and begging for his life in front of Mike had me fooled just as much as it had Mike fooled, and his phone call to Jesse telling him to get to Gale before it was too late was, like many of the moments on this season of this show, completely breathless. Gale begging for his life as Jesse fires a shot at him was the most intense way I could possibly think of to close out this season, and I have no idea where things will go from here. This has been an astonishing season for this show, and I’m extraordinarily impressed. Cranston deserves another Emmy, as does Anna Gunn, and if there were an appropriate category, I would love to see Giancarlo Esposito (Gus), Bob Odenkirk (Saul), and Jonathan Banks (Mike) rewarded in some way as well. AMC announced earlier this week that the show will be back for a fourth season, and given how much this year improved upon the previous one, I’ll be holding my breath until then.

Season grade: A
Season MVP: Bryan Cranston.