Thursday, March 31, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 2, Episode 18 “Killer Song” (B+)

This show seems to do a very good job of alternating less serious civil or criminal cases with those related to intense, violent murders. The traditional incorporation of technology into this series is in full force in this episode, as the villain’s song proves helpful in discovering additional previous crimes thanks to his lyrics. The repeated shots of the iTunes window on the computer were relatively haunting, and it’s always nice to see a seedy bad guy, especially one with a creepy obsession with Alicia, not actually get off scot-free as it appeared he might. Will getting excited about tricking him into confessing to another crime was a great moment, and Cary coming in to arrest him for the other crime once he thought he was free and clear was a smooth move. Kalinda panicking and going to talk to Peter showed us a new, far less composed side of her than we’ve seen even in previous weeks. Cary’s managing to almost get himself into serious trouble by prying into Kalinda’s business at his office, and it turns out that Peter is more than capable of exerting his influence when it’s needed. It’s equally impressive to see both Eli and Diane in action, managing to sway opinions with nothing more than their presence. It was a real treat to see Eli’s daughter twice in the episode, watching TV in his office and talking about how America sucks. Eli asking Diane to have Lockhart-Gardner help Natalie makes for a very intriguing storyline, and I’m glad to see that his timing couldn’t have been any better.

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 15 “Face Off” (F)

I think there was a certain point early on in this show’s run where I stopped believing anything that was happening, which of course leads me to take a rather negative and pessimistic stance on its potential for quality in the future. Yet when this show continues to presuppose stark characterization changes on a nearly episodic basis, it’s hard to argue in favor of this show’s coherence, clarity, and competence. Thomas’ decision to murder a good portion of his people who expressed their loyalty to Sophia was a decently believable twist, but to have both him and Sophia drop everything and forget all of their agreements for the common good of their people is not. The hatchet simply can’t be buried that quickly, and there’s no way that Thomas would have sacrificed his life so that his mother could lead their people. That also means that the anti-Sophia rhetoric expressed by Thomas’ girlfriend was just a red herring, leading to nothing interesting at all considering she’s now dead. Additionally, there was no reason for Sophia to kill innocent people by demolishing the Washington Monument, and even in light of that, Martinez’s command to fire on the buses feels like cold-blooded murder more than anything else. It serves him right to look appalled and confused out of his mind when the final bus started getting pulled into the portal. There were plenty of weird close-ups on Martinez, Blake, and Michael in this episode that just aren’t needed. Cave drawings are never a good avenue to pursue, and must Leila wander around just to cause trouble? All I have to say about Sean’s plotline is that Vicky is not a sympathetic character, and this show needs to stop trying to turn her into one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I’m Watching: Shameless (Season Finale)

Shameless: Season 1, Episode 12 “Father Frank, Full of Grace”

It seems like this season has flown by, and I’m so glad that these fabulous characters will be back for another go next year. This finale did a great job of wrapping up all of its arcs, bringing most of its plotlines to a close and leaving just enough up in the air so that the new season will find our characters in some interesting places. It looked for a while like Eddie was going to murder Frank after he sat down to eat his sandwich and watch the video not knowing what to expect, and instead he commits suicide and that’s something that Frank might have to live with, though it’s likely that he may not even find out or take responsibility for it. That development is a reminder that this is indeed a black comedy and not always as light-hearted as it often can be. Lip peeing on Frank and the not-so-dutiful father stepping forward and accepting his punishment is an example of the lighter side of things, and I’m glad to see that those still living seem to have come to terms with each other. Steve’s departure is sad, and while it was structurally obvious that Fiona couldn’t actually leave, it was important for Fiona to come to terms with that herself. I was plenty confused because Steve distinctly said that they were flying out of O’Hare and then he was shown waiting at Midway, but I guess that’s just a major continuity error that didn’t mean he was taking a separate flight and leaving her behind. Tony proved himself to be a jerk by accepting Steve’s bribe after he had already gotten Lip and Ian off, and we’ll see how that plays out next season. Jasmine is being positioned as a major character as Fiona decides to turn to her upon abandoning her travel plans, so that should be interesting. I’m curious what will become of Sheila, who will presumably never find out about her daughter’s tryst with her boyfriend, and who continues to make progress every day with a few more steps. Other memorable moments from this episode included Ian’s distress about jail time preventing him from enlisting in the Marines, Carl asking I he can steal a car with no consequences, and Frank having the most peculiar father-daughter talk ever with Karen. It’s been a fantastic year, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Season grade: A-
Season MVP: Emmy Rossum as Fiona

What I’m Watching: Mildred Pierce (Miniseries Premiere)

Mildred Pierce: Parts 1 & 2 (B+)

It’s hard to find fault with most of what HBO produces. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that HBO’s latest limited series is nothing short of captivating, and we’re only two fifths of the way through. Inarguably, the most spectacular element of this production is the lead performance by Kate Winslet, who is absolutely incredible as the strong-willed and ahead-of-her-time Mildred Pierce. She’s surrounded by a stunning ensemble, which includes Brian F. O’Byrne (“Brotherhood”) as her wayward husband, Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham as her friends, and Guy Pearce as her potential new beau. It’s wonderful to see the work of Todd Haynes, whose last memorable project traveled back to the 1950s with Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven.” Haynes has a marvelous style that is prominently displayed here, and the colors, visuals, and production quality are all in fine form. The story itself is particularly intriguing, and the first scene with Mildred’s baking and her subsequent argument with her husband do very well establishing the tone of the miniseries. Its melodramatic moments also work to great effect, especially with Mildred’s pretentious awful daughter. The death of her younger daughter at the end of the second installment is particularly powerful, as is her phone call with her husband’s mistress. This show does an impressive job of really transporting its viewers back in time, and everything about the dialogue, performances, scenery, and stories feels authentic. At the forefront of that, of course, is Winslet, so prepare for another Emmy-Golden Globe-SAG sweep coming up for the extremely talented actress.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I’m Watching: Californication (Season Finale)

Californication: Season 4, Episode 12 “…And Justice for All” (B+)

These cable series often seem like they fly by, and the thought of not having Hank Moody and crew around the next nine or so months is a saddening thought. I’m relieved that this season’s trial didn’t result in Hank going to jail, even if this newfound trick editing gave us a brief hallucination of what it might be like for Hank to be sitting in a cell thinking of nothing but Karen and Becca. The final shots of this season were marvelously done, with both Hank and the two women in his life thinking that they saw the other in random passerbys, constantly thinking of each other while they are destined to be apart. Watching Hank and Karen parade their current partners around almost as childishly as Charlie and Marcy is somewhat disturbing but ultimately entertaining, and it’s nice to see Hank and Ben bond after Karen’s new beau saves him from drowning. Abby did a good job of chewing Hank out for trying to take the easy way out of their relationship, and she’s been a good character for him to interact with this season. The dinner table scene wasn’t quite as spectacular as the one hosted by Felicia at this point last season, but it definitely came close. Seeing Marcy spring to Charlie’s defense when his hand got a little bit stabbed was sweet, and Eddie immediately picking up Charlie’s date was hilarious. The future is unclear, both of our characters and their movie, but it’s been a good year, and I can’t wait for the return of this show.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: David Duchovny/Natasha McElhone

What I’m Watching: No Ordinary Family

No Ordinary Family: Season 1, Episode 19 “No Ordinary Future” (D+)

I wasn’t paying close enough attention and almost missed this special Saturday episode altogether. Of course that bit of alliteration is an oxymoron in itself, since Saturday night is never a show you want to host any type of programming, especially the second-to-last installment of a sure-to-be-cancelled show. Both of the stars even have pilots in second position, so I can’t imagine this show living on past its first season finale next week. There are considerable problems with this show that are still extraordinarily evident in this episode, pertaining to nearly all aspects of the plot. Set-up wise, the murder of Cordero isn’t a bad kick-off, but to suddenly position Jim and George as his best friends upon his death is just lazy. Even if Jim didn’t mind him as much once he realized that Jim saved his life, they still didn’t have anything close to a genuine friendship. Casting Raphael Sbarge as his ally on the force is, at least for a TV viewer who pays attention, far too obvious: he always ends up playing a bad guy, no matter what the role. This show is far too caught up with trying to explain everything away with babble-science, and JJ delineating an algorithm on how his mother runs into the future, which conveniently also makes her run into walls and cars, is entirely unnecessary and detracts from this show’s credibility. The return of Victoria is rather uncalled for, especially if she isn’t going to kill the doctor and doesn’t want to kill Katie, going back to the original problem this show has: no stakes. Chris not remembering anything about his relationship with Daphne after she fries his brain is a relief since he’s a worthless character, and she’s better off doing other things. Presumably, the final episode of this show will actually air, though I can’t imagine it’s going to wrap things up in anything close to a satisfying manner.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 5, Episode 18 “Plan B” (B+)

For a show that sometimes abuses or underuses its frequent celebrity guest stars, there are some actors it knows how to incorporate brilliantly. Ken Howard, for instance, is a blast as Hank, and his buoyant delivery of “I hope my tone is conveying how mad I am” was terrific. I also liked how he described his frustration with having bought a ticket for “Black Swan” by harking back to “when a movie was just a guy with a hat being chased by a guy with no hair.” The brief return of Devon Banks was also just the right amount of that character, as he quickly talked himself out of it before Jack revealed that he had set a whole plan in motion to make his life miserable. All of the Plan Bs were entertaining to a degree, some, like the “Mentalist” parody, slightly better than others. This is just the show for Aaron Sorkin to make fun of himself on, and I liked his sharp “Shut up!” to Liz after she pointed out his work on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” which premiered on NBC at the same time “30 Rock” did. Having them walk around in a circle and Sorkin fire off a few of his best skills was great, and I’m impressed with his willingness to play along. Liz’s proclamation of “we can’t give up on the written word!” and her suggestion to keep TGS as a magazine were darkly funny. Kenneth sending sugar cubes that are now white powder to Hank is only the latest in a series of incomprehensible acts on his part, but his unknowing revelation that Tracy isn’t actually in Africa provides just the kick in the pants that TGS desperately needs. Tracy citing “Invictus” as one of his new friends and Kenneth admitting that he probably should have realized that he was in New York sooner was a very fitting way to close out this above par episode.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 3, Episode 8 “Camping” (B+)

This show truly does a magnificent job of incorporating its dramatic content and themes into hilarious episodic setups. Leslie being so worried about turning out to be nothing more than a one-idea wonder led to a highly amusing camping trip full of entertaining developments and especially enjoyable rooming assignments in the cat-infested motel. Everyone being frustrated about being forced to go through the motions of sharing their ideas only to go with Leslie’s in the end provided a nice segue to her panicked state when she realized she just hadn’t come up with her next big idea yet. Ron forcing her to rest and stop working for once was great, and her non-stop presentation that had Chris smiling uncontrollably the next morning was terrific. I enjoyed seeing April so devastated about having to go camping (“camping sucks, stars are creepy, the air is too fresh, there’s a brook that won’t stop bubbling”), and Andy’s thorny path to get to her complete with the drinking of most of the champagne to survive was fantastic. Ben’s plan to sleep on the “floor” contrasted with Tom’s Skymall-sponsored tent was brilliant, and the fact that all the power he was running to the tent caused the van to be dead was great. Seeing Ann and Chris interact again with terrible puns (“I salsa your face”) was fun, although it’s clear that Ann really can’t take a hint and might now have to relocate outside the country. Of course, the best-delivered line of the episode indisputably comes from Ron: “What the @%&! is a German muffin?”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 7, Episode 19 “Garage Sale” (A-)

This episode was a whole lot of fun, and a reassuring sign that maybe the best this show has to offer isn’t entirely behind us. The lead-up to Michael’s proposal was very funny, and I like how Pam, Jim, Oscar, and Ryan were the people selected for Michael’s advisory committee. Oscar’s advice of “If you’re in costume, you’ve done something wrong” was particularly priceless. Reliving the Jim-Pam proposal was amusing, especially when Michael mocked Jim for its apparent stupidity and Pam found it very sweet that Jim was scared. This episode’s proposal actually had me smiling uncontrollably, starting with everyone holding a candle and asking Holly to marry them (with colorful commentary from Michael about each proposer) and Holly unable to close her mouth because she’s so awed. Michael’s delivery of “this is where I fell in love with you, and this is where I ask you to marry me” was perfect, as was the timing of the sprinklers and her answering in Yoda voice. The way Michael broke the news about the fact that he’s going to move to Colorado with Holly was also exceptionally well-done, catching everyone – including Jim – off-guard and setting up the highly publicized events of the next few episodes. The garage sale had its memorable moments as well, such as Kevin’s long con involving getting very upset about Darryl and Andy not adhering to the rules, only to reveal that he was actually the one who took the money. Jim tricking Dwight into thinking that he had magical legumes just to take his telescope was inspired, but the real winner is Ryan, who made pesto and salsa with Phyllis and Oscar’s faces on them and advertised that they were Kosher, as in, “yeah, it’s cool, it’s Kosher.”

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 7 “Save My Love” (B+)

This episode was rather unique in that it put Raylan in an interesting, unprecedented situation and also continually set its protagonists back each and every time they thought they had caught a break. While Stephen Root’s over-the-top judge seemed a bit (in)conveniently insistent, the episode pulled through by offering an intriguing twist in the bomb threat. Raylan’s ability to switch gears instantly and focus on something completely different never fails to amaze me, and seeing him keep his cool while Winona freaked out about her gym bag a bit too obviously made this episode all the more believable and effective. Art’s witty commentary and way of replying sarcastically to all of Raylan’s questions and statements is always hilarious, and I also enjoyed the way Raylan said “the man belonging to that rifle.” The family members saying they didn’t make any bomb threat before even being told about the bomb threat was quite entertaining in its stupidity. I’m thrilled at the new way in which Boyd is involved in all of this. I am beyond ecstatic to see Rebecca Creskoff from HBO’s “Hung” with a role tailored to perfection for her as Boyd’s new employer. The sight of a stiff Boyd in a suit giving Raylan a blank stare while he checks the room for explosive devices was great, and Boyd offering to show Raylan where he would hide explosives was priceless. The end revelation that Boyd’s new assignment is to take care of the Bennett family is awesome because it connects pretty much everything that’s been going on this season so far in the most exciting and intense of ways.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 2, Episode 18 “Boys’ Night” (B+)

In the tight-knit world of this extended family, it’s often easy to forget that there are in fact other people that exist. In this episode, we got a glimpse at the grumpiest Dunphy neighborhood resident since “Slow Down Your Neighbors.” Philip Baker Hall, who has done a great job playing lonely old men in “Magnolia” and the small independent film “Duck,” was a fun choice to play Walt, and I, like many others whose reviews I’ve glanced at, enjoyed the spotlight on Luke and his hilarious dialogue. It makes sense that the often awkward Phil and Claire wouldn’t be keen on talking to their frightening neighbor, and it was a blast to see them try and fail so miserably by walking into his house uninvited and then thinking that he was dead. Seeing Haley try so desperately to squirm out of her grounded state was amusing, and it’s no surprise both that she had Dylan come over and that he would manage to get them caught by doing something as idiotic as leaving without his shoes. The final exchange between Cameron and Haley was predictable but well-executed. Jay’s desire not to try new things is nothing surprising, and Gloria’s revenge was perfect. It’s a nice thing that Nathan Lane is able to stop by so frequently to play Pepper, and the show has done a good job thus far of not overstating his presence and letting him dominate the episodes entirely. This episode’s dramatic current definitely came from Mitchell’s joy at being able to bond with his dad in a way he never had before.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What I’m Watching: Lights Out

Lights Out: Season 1, Episode 11 “Rainmaker” (B+)

Lights just can’t catch a break. Every episode of this show seems to contain at least two intense, decently shocking moments that really resound and stick with you. The first in this installment is the surprise visit by the disgraced councilman to the Leary home, where a truly smart Lights decides to rip open his shirt and nearly choke him out rather than accidentally confess on tape to illegal activity. Lights getting led out of the gym in handcuffs being read his rights is an unfortunate sight, and he’s really making an effort to be on good behavior these days. Being honest with Theresa is definitely a big step, and talking openly about his condition with a concerned Margaret is another major development. David Morse gave a powerful performance as the memory-challenged champ, and that final scene with him just popping the piece of paper into his mouth and eating it was a fitting coda for this episode. The look on the FBI agent’s face when the councilman essentially retracted his testimony was rather priceless, though in a more dramatic than comedic way. I had originally written: We’re only two episodes away from the end of the season, and though FX tends to bring most of its programming back at least for a sophomore year, there are no guarantees here, especially considering the fate of the highly-acclaimed “Terriers” last year. I’m not sure how long this story arc can go on, but I think these are interesting characters worth revisiting, and I’d be eager to see them back for another round, pun intended. Unfortunately, FX beat me to the punch (another pun intended) and cancelled the show on Thursday. This is really too bad, and now we'll just have to look forward to the next and final two episodes even more.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 2, Episode 17 “Ham Sandwich” (B+)

Before I got the chance to watch this episode, I happened upon something online that referenced a huge twist at the end, and I hoped against hope that I wouldn’t get the surprise ruined for me. I knew of course that it meant that there had to be something big coming up in the last few moments, and I have to say that I couldn’t have predicted it. It’s intriguing to see Alicia realize that the investigation really isn’t about Kalinda but rather about the firm, and then it all gets turned on its head when Blake returns to bring it all back to her and drop the ultimate bombshell: she slept with Peter. That’s one thing that her good friend Alicia isn’t going to be able to forgive, and it’s quite an exit for Blake, who has been nothing but trouble for Kalinda since he got started. The divorce proceedings, complete with entertaining mediation by guest star Bill Irwin, were enjoyable and the sudden shift to deadly serious as the wife ends up dead was quite a shock. I’m pleased to see that David Lee is being more prominently featured since his presence in courtroom definitely adds value and amusement, especially thanks to the clever editing of the meditation in this episode. Eli’s attempted manipulation of both Alicia and Grace doesn’t pay off nearly as well as it should, but it’s so fun to see him scramble. With only half a dozen episodes to go, this election is going to have to happen soon, and I’m sure it’s going to be plenty interesting.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I’m Watching: No Ordinary Family

No Ordinary Family: Season 1, Episode 18 “No Ordinary Animal” (F)

I want to be into this show, especially with fun ideas like Katie having powers and Jim and Stephanie being efficient at crime scenes together. Unfortunately, the plot and especially the heinous dialogue are particularly unbearable. Mrs. X’s use of the term “non-idiot” was what really set me off, and then every single thing that Eric Balfour uttered made me mad. Balfour is not a good actor, that’s something most people can agree on, and having him play a wolfman was not a smart idea (was Benicio unavailable?). His disappearing accent wasn’t even the worst of it. His attempts at mimicking David Caruso’s “CSI: Miami” style of speaking failed miserably. The creepy tracking shots as Balfour’s Lucas stalks someone were strange and didn’t jive with the rest of the show. When Balfour gets to hog most of the episode, why does Roberto Picardo, the onetime Emergency Medical Hologram from “Star Trek: Voyager,” get relegated to a one-scene part? Chris’ blatant desire to abuse Daphne’s powers is a shame since the character had been built to be somewhat three-dimensional, and even if he’s just a teenager, Daphne should realize that she doesn’t need to be manipulated by him. Stephanie’s survival was way too easily explained: “I’m fine, my metabolism, I’m a fast healer, I think I stained the floor.” I’m curious whether Jim’s game-changing decision to bring her to Dr. King will have repercussions, besides her apparent disappearance at the end of the episode. Katie being pregnant is an interesting development, if not unsurprising, but I can’t imagine that’s going to go anywhere productive or good.

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 7 “Black Hand and the Shotgun Man” (B)

This episode isn’t bad; it’s just not one of the show’s strongest installments to date. Things are spelled out a bit too explicitly, with Liam becoming Gibbons’ right-hand man and Wysocki being forced to explain his relationship with his ex-wife to their surprisingly old son (I guess I just hadn’t been paying attention if they said it earlier, but I expected him to be younger). It’s entertaining to me to see guest star Jose Zuniga, as this episode’s villain slash kidnappee father, in his usual typecast role that he’s played before in stuff like the fifth ever episode of “Dexter,” especially after seeing him in this very same hour on “The Event.” On the subject of casting, since I hadn’t noticed or mentioned it before, I’d like to point out that Amy Price-Francis is once again playing a long-suffering wife lending a great deal of support and forgiveness to her beau after starring in A & E’s two-season drama “The Cleaner” a few years ago. I like how much fun Caleb is having with the fact that he knows about Wysocki’s affair with his ex-wife. It’s interesting to see such a intense focus on Liam after he’s been relegated to subplots and committing arson, and to have him thrown so fully into the fire as Gibbons parades him around town provides an in-depth character study. I did like the last scene, where Liam swore to Theresa that he’s determined to bring Gibbons down, and I’m hopeful that means things are going to pick up in the next six episodes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 14 “A Message Back” (F)

What trash! This show, which didn’t have all that much promise save one exciting big “event” in its pilot, has completely lost sight of any rationality, believability, or coherence, even more so than last week! First of all, I have to express my extreme displeasure at the purposeful delay of gratification in terms of revealing what the message back from the home world said. There are ways to build up anticipation for some big surprise, but putting it off several times like this was just lazy. It seems appalling to me that Sophia could just up and forgive Thomas and ally herself unquestionably with him after he murdered all of those who proclaimed allegiance to her mother. I’m especially unimpressed with Scott Patterson’s flat line readings, and as someone who has never made it through a full episode of “Gilmore Girls,” I can’t speak to whether or not this is what he’s usually like. President Martinez continues to act like an idiot, and I find it hard to believe that his advisors were so easily able to locate Sophia when the text messages Thomas sends are somehow so encrypted that they’re impossible to decipher. The return of Vicky is not something I’m excited about, and her cocky admission of her made-up sob story is annoying at best. Vicky and Sean make probably the worst team ever, and it’s a miracle that they haven’t already been apprehended due to the sheer stupidity of their actions and their apparent desperate need to nearly get caught.

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 4, Episode 19 “Chuck Versus the Muuurder” (B-)

This wasn’t my favorite episode. I like this show when it’s simple and normal, and having a slew of guest stars like this just wasn’t necessary. Generally speaking, however, it was harmless, though of course it contained the severest body count I’ve witnessed in a long time. This feels much more like an extra special episode of “Psych” (for the record, not as good as a regular episode) than an installment of this show. Additionally, I think part of the problem was that none of the featured guest characters were all that interesting, and I’d like to have things back to the way they used to be when it was just our team. I did like how Director Bentley and Chuck seemed to bond in the final moments before her ultimate sacrifice, and she’s a character who became much less annoying and far more useful just as she made her exit from the show. The Kevin Bacon Largemart plotline was okay, and I enjoyed recognizing David H. Lawrence XVII, also known as Doyle the puppet master from “Heroes,” as Marvin, in a role that really suited him. Having Ellie work on the computer and seem so into it and tuned out from the rest of the world, as I said before, is a good use of her, and I’m hopeful that the latest turn of events, following Awesome and Chuck’s unsuccessful attempts to halt her research, will bring her into the main plot in a way that gets her involved and doesn’t put her directly into the crosshairs of one Vivian Volkoff.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 1, Episode 11 “Daddy’s Girl” (B+)

It’s a rare episode where the most outrageous plotline doesn’t directly involve a Gallagher, at least not until the very end. Karen is definitely on a major downward spiral, and it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. That chain nose ring was more than a bit frightening, and it’s a shame that Lip’s well-intended comment didn’t go over well at all since she could really use a friend at this point. I guess she really just doesn’t like being called a whore. What’s especially unfortunate is that her rather violent romp with Frank is going to hurt her mother so much more than it’s going to hurt her father. It’s also definitely not going to go over well with Lip, so watch out for some rather nasty interactions when the show wraps its first season this Sunday. It’s so interesting to see the relationship between Lip and Ian play out as they search for Ian’s dad, and it was quite jarring to see Frank’s spitting image behind a full beard in his twin brother. I’m so thrilled to see Amy Smart in a guest-starring role as Fiona’s new friend, and though Fiona doesn’t seem to be sold on their friendship, it’s certainly an interesting thing considering she doesn’t have too many pals besides Veronica and Steve. Tony’s latest actions involving Steve are definitely going to backfire with Fiona, and you have to appreciate Steve’s brilliance in coordinating the whole situation. The scenes with Steve and Tony were definitely a whole lot of fun, occasionally bordering on serious good drama too.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 4, Episode 11 “The Last Supper” (B+)

Complete with gloomy title, this episode epitomizes the ultimate contradiction of calm before and after the storm, as Hank’s verdict has already come down and he still awaits his sentencing. This episode was very much in the moment, relegated mostly to our core five characters, leaving Abby to occupy only a scene or two. Though it’s a risky device, I like how we skipped over the pronouncement of the verdict completely since it’s a much better to see a doe-eyed Karen discover it online only to be questioned moments later by her daughter. Charlie in particular seemed to be the most devastated after hearing Hank’s fate, though that could have had something to do with the way in which the news was delivered to him. Becca did a superb job summing up the state of things, and this was a wonderful throwback to a time of bliss that even we haven’t seen, where Hank, Karen, Charlie, Marcy, and Becca are all just one happy family. Marcy discussing Charlie’s crude sexual habits in front of Becca was fairly jarring, as was Marcy turning the conversation back on the illicit actions of Karen, prompting cursing from the usually polite and relatively proper Karen. That final scene was extraordinarily well-done and perfectly fitting as a coda for the complicated relationship between Hank and Karen. I’ve rarely been as impressed with the acting of both David Duchovny and Natasha McElhone (and I mean that as a sincere compliment to their especially convincing work in this episode). Next week marks the season finale – what will become of Hank?

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Drew's Watching: Bones

Bones: Season 6, Episode 16 "The Blackout in the Blizzard"

We're starting off with red meat today, but fortunately Bones and Booth can't get too deep into the global warming discussion before they're interrupted by Veteran Stadium seats. (I've heard my father sing that Eagles fight song so many times that Booth's rendition made me blink.) They did an episode ages ago where the team got quarantined in the lab, and that was great, so I have high hopes for this blackout scenario. I do love being utterly unsophisticated scientifically, so I don't have to be suspicious when they do cool "science" things like take x-rays without electricity and power a cell phone with a room full of potatoes. I'm going to throw out a content warning here, because Booth and Bones talking about sex is excruciating. The conclusion to this one is pretty thrown together; they spent too much time on the process for anything else. (Also, the lack of suspects makes this the least "mysterious" mystery I've seen to date.) The "serious" conversations are not as well-written as they could be, but I think we've all had at least one life experience sufficient to allow either the Bones/Booth or the Angela/Hodgins situation to resonate with us. So this episode is another one of those idle delights -- not brilliant by any means, but certainly worth enjoying on a rainy day.

Plot: 6/10
Action: 8/10
Characters: 6/10
Comedy: 3/10
Bones's Makeup: 6/10

Overall Grade: B

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 5, Episode 17 “Queen of Jordan” (D)

Is there such a thing as being too self-aware? I would argue yes, and cite this episode of this show in particular as evidence of that. As someone who doesn’t watch reality TV, I can still appreciate the ridiculousness of the premises, scripts, and characters on shows like the ones mocked in this episode. But to have them so excessively parodied, and to waste an entire episode of this show doing it, is a true shame. It’s like when “Scrubs” brought in Clay Aiken for a laugh-track-assisted installment and it fell flat, only worse. This time, they went all out and even tried to magically tie it into the plot! All of Jenna’s plotlines these days are so repetitive and almost as desperate as the character herself is supposed to be. I don’t think I laughed once at any of Angie’s material (save her saying “ham”), and self-deprecating Liz is hardly my favorite person. I will commend Alec Baldwin on his hilarious pronunciation of “D’Fwan,” but I thought both his gay plotline and his tripping plotline were stupid. Susan Sarandon’s guest spot was a waste, and only mildly funny. In a completely unsurprising move, this show just got picked up for a sixth season along with NBC’s other popular comedy series. I can only hope that next season will contain more episodes like “Double-Edged Sword” than this installment and “Live Show.” As usual, of course, I think I’m probably in the minority on that, and viewers might prefer this type of episode. Any reader thoughts?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation: Season 3, Episode 7 “Harvest Festival” (B+)

The big day is here, and it’s just as exciting for us viewers as it is for the people of Pawnee since we’ve been without this terrific show for a whole three weeks! I for one am thrilled to have it back, and I think this is a shining example of how awesome this show can be without even really trying that hard. The Harvest Festival did go off pretty well, and even the problems, semi-ridiculous as they were, ended up being well-handled and generally tempered enough so as not to seem ridiculous and gimmicky. Part of the fun comes from Joan Callamezzo’s outrageous attempts to try to find something wrong with the festival and the media reaction to the notion of this curse, rather than the actual response of the characters. It was hilarious to see Ben’s incomprehension of the big deal surrounding L’il Sebastian, and Ron’s description of his ability to solve the maze in fifteen minutes rather than four hours (or, in Jerry’s case, not at all) was great. April telling Andy she loved him and him responding with “Awesomesauce” was simply superb, and Ron did a stellar job of yelling at everyone on the Ferris wheel and pointing out their individual faults. That final shot of Leslie getting lost in the crowd was magnificent, and a hint that this show has much more to offer than most would assume. That’s a good thing, since this show just got renewed for a fourth season! We’re still less than halfway through this season, so what could be better than a season and a half (at least) of this show to look forward to?

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 6 “Blaze of Glory” (B+)

It’s hard to decide which is better: this episode or its title. Not one mention of the Bennett family leads to an equally quality-filled and fantastic episode, the beginning of which focuses on the aftermath of Boyd’s big blowout and the meat of which tackles the hunt for some very old and very dumb (mutually exclusively, of course) bank robbers. I love the way that both Boyd and Ava respond to their inquisitors, and I hope that the show doesn’t abandon that plotline (I’m sure it won’t) since it’s so damn interesting. Putting Winona right in harm’s way is certainly a valid course of action in terms of plot here, and she definitely doesn’t react that same way that Ava does. There was visible trembling and fear in her body and face when the robbery went down, and this episode was a terrific showcase of Natalie Zea’s acting. Raylan also managed to come through and ensure that her stolen hundred-dollar bill didn’t get her in trouble and do a handy job of showing the would-be bomber just how dumb he really was. I loved the way Raylan responded to the question, “Do you think I’m an asshole,” and it was a whole lot of fun to see Art pursuing a suspect whom he had been chasing extensively many years earlier. That final scene near the plane when they both started to run was rather funny, and this show, as always, does a stellar job of balancing its dramatic storylines with its comedic touch.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I’m Watching: Lights Out

Lights Out: Season 1, Episode 10 “Cut Men” (B+)

Those itching for a fight definitely got something out of this episode, as Lights and Death Row actually come to blows, surprisingly enough as a result of Lights provoking his opponent. It’s so fascinating to see behind the curtain and understand how these boxers think, and this episode-long back and forth involving Barry and the rescheduling of the fight was so intriguing. There’s nothing more powerful than that shot near the end of the episode where Theresa is called up and she looks around only to see Johnny whispering in Lights’ ear, proving to her that he just isn’t able to put anything before his fighting. I was caught very off-guard, as Lights and Johnny were, by the fact that Hal is now dating Margaret. Even more shocking than that is the revelation that Hal told her just what Lights did for him in the pilot episode. There really doesn’t appear to be honor among thieves, since being honest with one person means betraying another’s confidence. Hal’s excitement at being able to front Lights and support him in the fight conveys that he’s seeking to have far too much influence in his life. Margaret yelling at Lights to stay the hell away from her diner was intense, and Lights didn’t help the situation by reminding her just who it was who paid for that diner. While he’s sometimes irritating, having Mike Fumosa around to frame all the events in terms of breaking news adds a truly interesting dimension to all of this.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What I’m Watching: V (Season Finale)

V: Season 2, Episode 10 “Mother’s Day” (B)

If nothing else, this is certainly a finale if I’ve ever seen one. After steadily building over the last few episodes, this installment contains a whole lot of action and even a few major deaths! I had read speculation that these pre-advertised big deaths would be red shirts, and while Diana wasn’t exactly central to the plot, both Ryan and Tyler once were. I’m a bit afraid, as are the folks over at the TV Addict, that the latter character may actually somehow return in the future, and I do hope that’s not the case. Ryan being gone makes sense because he hasn’t had anything to do besides moan about his daughter in a while. The best line of the episode, hands-down, comes from Anna, who, after spearing Diana in front of her entire people, sends the show to commercial break by telling Lisa “now that’s how you kill your mother!” Bizarro Lisa has quite the appetite, and I’m not sure which Anna spawn is scarier, her or Ryan’s daughter (who I keep wanting to call Hera). Chad getting pinpointed by Anna as one of Lisa’s kidnappers is definitely a bad thing, but I’m not quite clear on why she couldn’t identify the other kidnapper, unless it was just because he didn’t speak. Erica’s discovery of the awesome underground anti-V project, complete with a star of the original show and our good buddy Chris (more importantly, actor Jay Karnes), is quite intriguing, but I’m not sure it’s going to matter now that Ryan’s daughter up and offered to relieve Anna and managed to bliss all the above-ground humans without so much as breaking a sweat. This is quite a way to go out, and a fitting uneven end to a season that has been all over the place. I’d be interested in where season three might be going, but I feel like it might be hard to pick up the pieces even if this show does miraculously get renewed.

Season grade: B-
Season MVP: Christopher Shyer as Marcus

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 2, Episode 16 “Original Song” (C+)

Are we at Regionals already? It definitely seems like things are moving forward at a starkly different pace this season, with milestones like this victory hardly seeming to matter in the grand scheme of things since there’s so much else going on, and they’ve already had their chance to show up and show off their best at these competitions. The announcement of their win and advancement to Nationals is almost inconsequential, and it’s evident in the way that the show barely showcases it as a major moment. What’s far more important, and groundbreaking for this episode, is the fact that Blaine finally steps up to the plate and reveals his feelings for Kurt. I’m impressed that the kiss between them wasn’t censored or toned down in the slightest sense, and it’s braver than what most things I’ve seen done on network television anytime recently. What’s not quite as believable, however, is the fact that no other Warbler would be remotely interested in dueting with Blaine, and that they bought Kurt’s faux-shock at being selected as his accompanist. The gimmick of having the glee club members pen their own songs only works so well because half of them either fall flat or feel like rehashes of past performances. Sue bullying the students is both inconsistent and unnecessary, and her character can and should be used in far better ways. I did like Quinn’s entertaining, rather self-centered narration, and I think that’s a device that could be used more often to greater effect.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 6 “The Gold Coin Kid” (B+)

There’s nothing like teamwork, especially when both members of the team are very likely to be the most determined people on the face of the planet. It’s impressive to watch Teresa and Wysocki work, especially through the eyes of the younger and far more na├»ve Caleb. Something as simple as dead radio batteries wouldn’t seem like the kind of thing that would stir up so much trouble, and I like how Teresa reacted quite calmly to Wysocki’s overreaction only to pull the same stunt herself. I always welcome the chance to see Steven Culp in any kind of role, and after his terrific role on season one of “Desperate Housewives,” having him play a lawyer in guest spots seems to be proving to be a good fit. I read in Alan Sepinwall’s review that this episode appears to have been aired out of order, rewinding a bit to have Wysocki and Caleb get to know each other and explain the presence of both Vanda and Isaac. I didn’t notice it during this episode, but upon further consideration, this observation makes sense. I didn’t find it problematic, however, since it’s useful and healthy for the show to not have Teresa and Wysocki going after Gibbons every episode, and to have him barely referenced. It’s a good feeling that the show has other fish to fry, something that a series like “The Cape” would be well-served to know and something that, barring a premature cancellation as a result of ratings, could help keep this show on the air for a while.

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episode 13 “Turnabout” (F)

This show has reached such a full point of incoherence that it’s hard to decipher where we currently are and how we got here. It’s also hard to pick the show’s most boneheaded character, but I’d wager that, aside from Sean, it has to be President Martinez. Maybe it’s too little, too late, but Sophia is risking her security and livelihood to keep him informed every step of the way, treating him as nothing other than an ally. Yet he insists on not trusting her, deciding that now is the perfect time to step up to the plate and approve deadly violence, if for no other reason than to complicate the plot. Maybe it was that episode-opening dream which featured some fairly ridiculous hallucinations on Martinez’s part. The casting of Roger Bart as one of the President’s advisors feels especially strange since he seems to be delivering some of his dialogue in a comic manner now, as one would expect from him, which makes his initial casting all the more suspect. No one on this show has any notion of discretion or secrecy, hence the stupidity of Leila happening to overhear clandestine conversation. Vicky’s increasing paranoia isn’t unwise, but why would she go shopping for baby supplies in public at her local supermarket if she thought her life might be at risk? Hopefully Sean’s latest quest for the truth will be more fruitful and less annoying than his last one, and not having Leila to drag him down should help him to actually accomplish something for once.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 4, Episode 18 “Chuck Versus the A-Team” (B+)

I remember that there was an “Alias” episode back in 2006 with a brilliant title: “There’s Only One Sydney Bristow.” The reason I think of that is because this episode demonstrates that, above all else, there’s only one Chuck Bartowski. He definitely earns points for the most creative and life-saving use of a juice box since the pilot of “Jericho,” but it’s more than that. Seeing the two Gretas flash was a far less satisfying experience than seeing Chuck flash, and that’s not just because the bursts may have been more exaggerated and made to feel sharper than those Chuck has. Chuck calculates and digests information in a different way, one that prompts him to think about using salt water – via sodium in apple juice – to diffuse a bomb and not simply shoot someone because you have a clear shot. It’s no surprise that General Beckman and Casey came to the realization that Chuck is not replaceable, and it’s a good thing it didn’t take long. I would have loved to see Summer Glau return as one of the Gretas in this episode, and maybe she can join up full-time now that NBC sister series “The Cape” is pretty much dead. It’s interesting to see the Ellie computer plotline brought back somewhat out of the blue, especially as Director Bentley is the one who gave her back the computer. I think this is a fantastic way to get an underused character involved in more of the plot and, hopefully, the action, and a good direction for the show to go as it approaches its final episodes of the season.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 1, Episode 10 “Nana Gallagher Had An Affair” (B+)

Monica is the kind of character who bursts onto the scene of a show after a long absence – and in this case considerably little discussion of her existence prior to her appearance – and can’t possibly stick around forever. I’d like to commend this show for handling her two-episode presence quite well, upping the pedigree of the performances of those playing her children and turning a humorous, ridiculous situation into smart, affecting dramatic material. It’s interesting to see which of the kids take on the most active role in ensuring that Monica’s return in short-lived, from Fiona’s remote baby monitor for Deb and Carl to Lip and Ian tailing Monica and Roberta and then getting all of the kids’ DNA tested. I’m also rather impressed with how Ian’s genealogy if handled, explaining that he isn’t Frank’s son, but that he’s actually his nephew and therefore just as much a part of the family as the rest of them. Even if Liam doesn’t speak or contribute much, it’s still good to have him around as the sort of face of the future for the elder Gallaghers to ensure survives. Ian’s visit to go see Mickey was quite entertaining, especially when it came to Mickey’s reactions to him saying “I miss you” and putting his hand on the glass. The episode’s best serious moment was Sheila chasing Eddie out of the house after learning that he called Karen a whore. She got so caught up in her anger that she didn’t realize she was outside the house, and her waving to the passing subway car was a great, very memorable moment.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 4, Episode 10 “The Trial” (B+)

It’s always a bit weird to have flashbacks on a show that doesn’t usually incorporate them, especially a comedy such as this. Fortunately, the device works decently well as it brings us back to a time when Hank had to fight hard for his family before he managed to screw things up even more. There’s a certain degree of nostalgia in the air as well, and it’s fun to see more of Hank’s shenanigans, such as his rather crude and rude defecation on Bill’s car. Seeing Bill was quite a surprise since I had all but forgotten that character, and I didn’t even think about the fact that he was Mia’s father and we hadn’t yet seen his reaction to the revelation that Hank slept with her. His speech to Hank, coupled with our hero’s sincere apology, was rather intense, and I’m not so sure that Hank’s going to get off clean this time. What’s so intriguing about this process is that Mia is still the same old troublemaking teen with absolutely no regard for the consequences of her actions, and therefore she is unconcerned with legalities and harbors no resentment towards Hank for his unlawful act. By contrast, it’s Karen who Hank most risks losing, and the latest revelation that he may have been introduced to Mia before he slept with her is definitely a major black mark against him. His episode-ending cab ride is uncharacteristically melancholy, and I do hope that, legal verdicts aside, Hank can earn back the trust and respect of the woman he loves most.

What Drew's Watching: Bones (Quadruple Review)

With my sincerest apologies to Drew, I present to you his four most recent reviews which, for whatever reason, I neglected to post upon initial receipt of them. Please enjoy a quadruple dose of Drew’s dramatic writing now.

Season 6, Episode 12 “The Sin in the Sisterhood”

NOTE: From this episode on, I will be reversing the polarity of the "Bones's Makeup" category to make it consistent with the others.

Remember back in the day when I expressed unparalleled joy over guidos? Well, now I'm expressing equal but opposite dismay at the groupe du jour. Granted, they handle the whole polygamist thing pretty well; everyone's at least marginally grossed out by it (with the sole exception, of course, of Bones). This episode is disproportionately about Cam, whom I find pretty boring overall in anything above small doses. I will admit, however, that Cam's gynecologist boyfriend gets this episode's favorite line: "I told this woman to stay off the trampoline!" Bones speaking loudly with the earplugs is stupid -- she should know better. It also seems odd to me that Booth would need Cam to tell him that one of the wives might have killed the husband. (Aside: the first wife kind of resembles Nancy Pelosi. Makes her look pretty suspicious!) Hodgins and Angela are super-nauseating in this one, to the point where the formatting is necessary. Bottom line: this episode's pretty lackluster -- not horrible, but if you find yourself closing the window or turning the TV off halfway through, I can't say I'll blame you.

Plot: 4/10
Action: 1/10
Characters: 3/10
Comedy: 4/10
Bones's Makeup: 8/10

Overall Grade: D+

Season 6, Episode 13 “The Daredevil in the Mold”

This episode's off to a stupid start. And the tagline -- "Booth and Sweets take steps to advance each of their relationships" -- has me pulling faces. For what gender was this show designed again? Oh, whoa! Ooh. Bones's good makeup streak is officially over. Blech. Hodgins' and Cam's conversation over snacktime had me cracking up. The idea of performing a postmortem on a bicycle is cute, but the application is rather lame. The scene in the jewelry store is offensive, but I'll spare you the gender-studies rant; all I'll say is that I'm surprised they didn't make the obvious "jeweler thinks Booth and Sweets are gay together" joke. The mystery's pretty predictable in this one; I admit that I got it on my second guess, but I'm not very astute. More cerebral viewers will have no problem. The breakup scene could have been heartrending, but they botched the hell out of it. Too bad. The following no-kidding scene is marginally better, but again, it leaves something to be desired. All told, though, I'm pretty happy with this one, considering the banality of its predecessor.

Plot: 5/10
Action: 7/10
Characters: 8/10
Comedy: 7/10
Bones's Makeup: 3/10

Overall Grade: B

Season 6, Episode 14 “The Bikini in the Soup”

This corpse is so disgusting that I can hardly look at it. As damning as that sounds, it's actually a good thing, and here I am wondering how to account for it in the final score. Maybe action? Watching all the women be catty and weird to each other is a fun side-effect of Valentine's Day, although I'm not sure I'm ready to get back into "OMG Booth and Bones should totally b--"...well, you know. Again, it seems stupid that Booth wouldn't know about the first husband. I guess we can chalk it up to post-girlfriend stress syndrome. Favorite line comes from Hodgins this time around: "Speaking clock doesn't help." I hate to admit this, but new Clark is starting to grow on me. That Cam said "fungis" has me making faces of annoyance. I couldn't help smiling at the revelation about the wedding planner's assistant three-quarters of the way through the show. The climactic scene is so stupid that I have a hard time watching it, but I will give the writers credit for referencing Wuthering Heights, which is one of my favorites. And then it's a bunch of stomach-turning Valentine's Day sequences, so men will have no problem tuning out before the coda. (Aren't you glad you have me to bear these burdens for you?) In conclusion, this episode is really, really stupid -- but so is Valentine's Day, so I'd say it's 325% appropriate.

Plot: 7/10
Action: 5/10 (+2 for the disgusting corpse)
Characters: 8/10
Comedy: 6/10
Bones's Makeup: 7/10

Overall Grade: B+

Season 6, Episode 15 “The Killer in the Crosshairs”

Well, it's high time we saw Mr. Sniper again. I thought this plotline (and character) was kind of stupid the first time around, but our new chronic bad guy is off to a good start in the intro to this episode. And it's a lot of fun to see Booth interrupt Bones's prognosticating by looking authoritative himself for once. Hodgins insisting on finishing his counterfeiting spiel cracked me up, but I'm leery of bad guys counterfeiting money as badly as these ones apparently did. The whole Booth-sniper angle is extremely heavy-handed, but I'm enjoying it because it's been too long since the show has explored this element even close to sufficiently. Favorite quote from Caroline today: "Man sneaks into your house? Threatens you with a gun? That's unforgivable. He should get lethally injected just for that." Watching Hodgins stand up to Mr. Angela is a thrill -- for the first time in quite a while, Hodgins is not nauseating me. The wind-up for this episode is that there are too many logical eyebrow-raisers for me to mention here, but the show has enough tense and action-y scenes to (almost) make up for it. So I'm satisfied.

Plot: 5/10
Action: 10/10
Characters: 7/10
Comedy: 6/10
Bones's Makeup: 8/10

Overall Grade: A-

Monday, March 14, 2011

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 5 “Cottonmouth” (B+)

After letting other episodic villains distract him, Raylan is finally getting to the matter of investigating the deadly Bennett family. It’s so interesting to see just how close Raylan gets to illegality without doing anything about it and without having his affiliation with the law strike fear in the hearts of those he nearly apprehends, like with Coover’s marijuana, Loretta’s marijuana, Dickie and Coover’s cashing of the checks, and the older brother’s untrustworthiness as a man of the law. Seeing Loretta becoming more and more incorporated into the Bennetts’ affairs without having any idea of the precarious situation she’s in is both intriguing and disconcerting, aided by Coover’s angry taking of several items from the store and Raylan’s extension of the hand of friendship at the end of the episode to ensure her safety. It’s fascinating to see the road that Boyd is going down, perfectly willing to shoot a criminal in the head but not ready to accept the death of an innocent man. Giving the money to Ava to help her work towards keeping her house is a rather selfless act, and it’s very hard to figure out just what is going through Boyd’s head sometimes. Blowing up the mine would have been a serious, attention-grabbing event, but the way he executed it, with the guys blowing themselves up while they were trying to kill him, was actually rather smart. Where anyone is headed next is a mystery, but there’s certainly going to be trouble afoot in Harlan coming from someone with the last name Bennett, Crowder, or Givens.

What I’m Watching: Lights Out

Lights Out: Season 1, Episode 9 “Infight” (B+)

This show just feels different with Ed around, as if it too has been influenced by his presence and insistence on hard work, making all of its scenes feel considerably more intense and meaningful. It’s easy to see just how much Ed’s desire to have Lights cut himself off from the rest of the world to train becomes problematic, and that happens long before Ed nearly jokes Johnny out at the very end of the episode. Ed’s reaction to Lights not showing up for his contracted access special – take the money out of his cut – demonstrates his disregard for anything other than Lights getting his head back in the game. His immense dislike for Johnny does of course become problematic, and seeing him leave the Leary household was tough. Ed coming to blows with Johnny is hardly a surprise, but Johnny should know that it’s never a good idea to fight a boxer or his trainer. Lights getting stabbed is definitely going to pose a problem for his impending fight, and it was very powerful to see Ed calm down immediately and rush to Lights’ defense as Johnny went into shock and froze. Among the episode’s best moments were Lights’ conversation with the priest and Ed encouraging Katherine to put her hand on the glass when the shark swam by. On a lighter note, Reynolds deciding to skip out on one of the TV sessions because Lights had missed the previous one was rather entertaining, and it was fun to see Reiko Aylesworth from “24” as his wife.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What I’m Watching: White Collar (Season Finale)

White Collar: Season 2, Episode 16 “Under the Radar” (B+)

We’ve only had seven episodes of this series since it returned in January, and already its over. What that means, of course, is that we had a nice little arc involving mega-villain Vincent Adler that started only a few weeks ago and wrapped itself up already. Andrew McCarthy got to chew plenty of scenery in this installment, and now we have an even bigger mystery and someone pulling the strings that may or may not actually be a bad guy. Neal’s reaction to that final scene indicates that he hasn’t necessarily given up his old ways, and there’s still something about the thrill of theft that is still appealing to him. That’s a matter for next season, of course, and it’s worthwhile to appreciate this episode for its success as a finale as well as its tying up of all of the threads of this season. It was great to see both Sara and Alex again, and interesting to see how Neal feels about both of them and asks on his impulses in the heat of the moment. Both Neal and Peter have been ending up in some serious dangerous situations lately, and it’s a good thing they didn’t get drowned or buried this episode so that they can live on to bust another con and give each other a hard time in the future. The great thing about a short second half of a season means that the next one can’t be far off, and this show should be back again for another go in just a few months in June.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Willie Garson as Mozzie

What I’m Watching: V

V: Season 2, Episode 9 “Devil in a Blue Dress” (B+)

Somehow, I neglected to realize that this is the show’s penultimate episode. Sure, there could be a third season, but no one’s really banking on that at this point. I love what that hurtling towards the end does to a show, bringing together former enemies, even though they weren’t ever really enemies, such as Ryan and Lisa, to join with the Fifth Column to conspire with Diana to take down Anna once and for all. I doubt their plan would be successful, because it’s hard to imagine where the show would go without Anna at the helm, but that’s the beauty of not knowing if you’re going to get renewed – you can do crazy things. I’m so glad that Joshua, who honestly is one of the show’s most interesting characters, regained his memory of his Fifth Column association and immediately came to Lisa’s aid and covered her tracks. Chad seems to be returning to his roots as an egotistical jerk in his efforts to save the life of his fellow reporter, and it’s a good thing that he now has friends in his co-conspirators against the Vs since he manages to be truly unlikeable without even really trying too hard. Anna being able to bliss humans is definitely a bad thing, and I couldn’t quite understand whether it was working on Tyler or not because Logan Huffman’s acting has never much impressed me. That said, Tyler is unlikely to be a big part of the big finale, and so I’m entirely psyched for what’s sure to be an action-packed, cliffhanger-heavy episode.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 2, Episode 15 “Sexy” (C)

This show certainly isn’t shy about having big name guest stars pop up to help drive viewership, and this marks the third time that a big name has returned for a second and not necessarily clamored-for episode (I’m counting Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel – you might count others, and if so, please say so in the comments). I was very pleasantly surprised the first time around by Gwyneth Paltrow’s guest spot, and while it’s certainly not a bad thing to see her back on the show, less than three months seems like an awfully short window for the show to go back to using her. It wouldn’t be a problem if she could be seamlessly incorporated into the story as a regular cast member, but whenever she’s around, it’s as if all aspects of the show’s attention are immediately diverted until further notice, and there’s just no reason for that. And while I would never discourage the return of Emma, or even John Stamos’ Carl, I do think that it becomes problematic when the sex life of one of the faculty is put pretty much on even ground with that of the students. The fluctuating members of the celibacy club also turn that into simply a punchline. Santana’s confession of love to Brittany strikes me as something that will be disregarded and forgotten in future weeks, and I’m much more intrigued by Quinn’s sneaky duplicity, and hopefully she’s not just leading Finn on once again since it seems as if he’s really fallen back in love with her.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 5 “O’Leary’s Cow” (B+)

Ironically enough, I watched this episode while aboard the 7 train from Manhattan to Flushing, and finished it just as I stepped off the train and into Chinatown. Fortunately, my visit to Chinatown didn’t prove deadly and I still have all my limbs intact. I’m glad that Wysocki’s trip to Chinatown gave Francois Chau his second TV guest spot in just over a week as the mayor of Chinatown, who seemed all diplomatic and non-threatening, only to reveal his cards just as he got arrested and faced a harsh sentence. Seeing Wysocki in action and doing his best to hold true to his promise to a grieving husband and father helped to add some three-dimensionality to our temper-prone protagonist, and I enjoyed seeing Caleb struggle to process his rejection by the nurse he met in the emergency room. There were certainly no holds barred when it came to Theresa’s storyline, as a potentially obnoxious request from her brother-in-law leads to an intensely illegal bribery attempt and her own decision to turn him into the FBI to face prosecution for his actions. Most shockingly, her sister was completely against her and on her husband’s side, failing to recognize the illegality of his acts and simply sticking by her family. Theresa also did a commendable job of reaching out to the alderman and having him use his influence over the mayor to expedite their search. The use of the desk-bound officer was also clever on Wysocki’s part, and I’m very nervous about the effects Liam’s latest actions will have on his livelihood.

What I’m Watching: The Event

The Event: Season 1, Episodes 11 & 12 “And Then There Were More” & “Inostranka” (F/D-)

Trading in one terrible NBC supernatural show for another means that we’re done with “The Cape” and back to this jumbled show about some aliens trying to take over that aren’t known as Visitors. I’ve never found this show to be another remotely resembling good, save for that awesome moment in the pilot when the plane disappeared. One strong scene in twelve episodes does not a great show make. I will concede that the second of these two episodes was a notch more enjoyable than the first, if only because it was somewhat action-packed and featured some serious subordination from Sterling. Many have compared this show and its trajectory to “Flash Forward,” but besides the fact that that show was always superior, its two-hour spring premiere was far more invigorating and indicative of quality not seen for the pilot. This two-hour mess isn’t. Sean’s logic that the van they were tailing must be the one because it’s the right color is an instance of the stupid writing – how about the fact that it’s a van driving in the middle of nowhere? That’s probably enough to create suspicion. Sean’s newly-imposed exile just leaves him free to stir up senseless trouble for no reason, and the fact that Hal Holbrook has a “Heroes” physical visual timeline only spells boredom and stupidity coming soon. This Alaskan senator came from out of nowhere, and that whole plotline isn’t anywhere near as enthralling as it should be. The ratings for this return were horrendous, and here’s hoping we never have to get “Chuck” preempted again for this nonsense.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pilot Review: Breakout Kings

Breakout Kings (A&E)
Premiered March 6 at 10pm

I read something about this show before I got the chance to see it, and I do always try to avoid that because it tends to sway my viewpoint at least slightly. I read that this is exactly the show you’d expect from the creators of “Prison Break,” and so I went in looking forward to a highly complex, more than occasionally senseless, action series that would leave me holding my breath and scratching my head with fairly equal frequency. Instead I found a relatively dull, uninvolving series about a few personality-free cons that get a chance to help out the feds in finding and re-incarcerating an escaped killer. I would have loved to see “Prison Break” get all rebooted with different characters (or even the same ones) trying to find a way out of their first prisons. I’m talking about pretending seasons two, three, and four never happened, and even going back to the beginning of season one and modifying the circumstances to create a new show. Here we have an insanely simple breakout story that happens within seconds of the show’s start, and the cons themselves are just let out by elective hand raising and actually offered the chance to work off their sentences one month at a time. The end revelation that Ray is actually an ex-co also is a surprise, but all it means is that we have a whole bunch of loose cannons that aren’t nearly as bad-ass as they like to think they are. Domenick Lombardozzi plays the same character in everything, and here he’s just a version of Vince's troublesome buddy Dom from “Entourage” with a badge. Serinda Swan’s biggest role to date was as Zatanna on “Smallville,” one of my most-hated characters on that show, and she isn’t any more convincing in this part. Brooke Nevin, who plays the sheepish non-con, is actually the same actress who played Rachel in the short-lived live action version of “Animorphs” way back in 1998. She’s grown up, but her character isn’t any more compelling. I’m especially disappointed in Jimmi Simpson, who, in addition to his recurring role as Mary on “Psych,” was absolutely haunting and terrific in the pilot for one of TV’s great unproduced series, “Virtuality.” Simpson here is regulated to obnoxious probability speeches and phone conversations with his mom. I don’t see where this show is going, and I don’t care to find out because all the characters are one-note and uninteresting.

How will it work as a series? They were only after one villain in the pilot, and I imagine that, with the bar set pretty high, ensuing criminals won’t be nearly as vile. The line “we’re not cops” can only be used so many times, and I find it hard to believe that they’ll literally be cycling in and out of prison every other weekend to work with the cops. That doesn’t seem like a sustainable premise to me, but then again, “Prison Break” dragged on for four seasons.
How long will it last? A while. The numbers for the pilot were higher than those for “The Glades,” which was a hit, and so this show will definitely play out for the rest of the season. I’ll guess that it will be renewed and will just have to sustain an audience, but if the pilot did it for people, the rest of the show should keep them just as hooked for an endless amount of time.

Pilot grade: D-

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 1, Episode 9 “But At Last Came a Knock” (B+)

Lip’s breakdown of the situation to Ian serves as a perfect summary of this episode and its impact: it turns out Frank is the good one. Being clued in to the current state of Monica and hearing her express her rather faulty story for abandoning her family almost makes Frank look like a saint. While we know he’s not, and he hasn’t even been present recently after essentially leaving his family to be with Sheila, he still has some relationship with his children, even if it’s not a directly positive one. Either way, this is one complex family dynamic, and this episode was extremely interesting. Monica having left the family and claiming to have had faith in Fiona to be able to raise the kids all by herself informs the worldview under which the Gallagher children operate. Fiona’s championing of her siblings’ accomplishments, modified for more positive dramatic effect, was quite entertaining and impressive. As far as other developments go, Cash catching Ian with Mickey was one thing, but the most dramatic and stirring moment of the episode was Deb’s visit to Steve’s house. Seeing her face when she saw Steve was only matched by his face when he realized that she had busted him. I find it absolutely fascinating to see their relationship play out, and young Emma Kenney and Justin Chatwin both knock their scenes out of the park. The new house Steve has bought Fiona could dramatically change things, but I suspect that, for one reason or another, that won’t last, and I hope it doesn’t go away along with Steve, since losing him would be a real shame.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 4, Episode 9 “Another Perfect Day” (B+)

Hello, perfect title! It never gets old seeing Hank experience the bliss of being back in the lives of the two women he most cares about, and it’s absolutely intoxicating as always. It's tragic, of course, because we know that it can never quite last, yet it's still wonderful to see it happen, and especially to see Karen look worried about what's going to happen to Hank. Becca's car crash provides us a good opportunity to see Ben lose his cool and Karen snap to the defense of her daughter and - to some extent – Hank. I’m eager to say Hank’s trial go down and return to some of his past actions and, more importantly, sentiments on the parts of the people who care about him. The situation with our buddy Charlie continues to get crazier in bed, but that’s no surprise. What’s a bit more unexpected is her reaction when she finds out that Marcy is pregnant and sees the look on Charlie’s face. Those two have always been an unwieldy couple with an uncertain future, and I’m hopeful that, by the time we’ve reached the season finale in a mere three weeks, they’ll have decided to get back together and give parenthood a shot. Fortunately, this show was renewed for a fifth season back in January, so we can look forward to more of favorite characters minus some of this season’s more memorable guest stars, like Sasha, Stu, and Abby. Ben’s another story, and we’ll have to see if he makes the cut.

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 7, Episode 16 “Searching” (C+)

Sometimes this show feels horribly uneven because you have a part of the plot that’s charging along so dramatically (and often, quite subtly and surprisingly), while some of the other storylines are just meandering along unseriously at a devastatingly slow, pointless, and repetitive pace. To start with the bad, we have another case of Gaby demonstrating her extraordinary, and possibly unparalleled, selfishness, only to suddenly and rather startlingly realize that she’s not the only person in the world. More so than any other housewife, with the possible exception of Lynette, it seems like it always has to be about petty competition with Gaby, which just gets to be annoying. Besides the humorous image of Renee bringing a baby to her date and pawning her off on the waitress, the whole Renee-hates-babies plot was a waste of time, and yet another indicator that Vanessa Williams is not being used properly here. On to the good, it was amusing to see Mike call a Civil War re-enactor a douche, and it was nice to see Mike and Susan having a heartfelt, serious conversation about what’s going on with her. Beth and Bree’s conversation was very moving, and I’ll cite that final scene in the hospital as an instance of the main reason I still watch this show. Beth stressing that this is the most important thing she’s ever done, followed by exasperated acceptance on the part of the nurse and her shocking suicide, was a very powerful arc to a character who was always fascinating and never quite got the time of day she deserved from anyone. The scene earlier in the episode with Paul readily admitting that he killed Martha was also strong, and while it’s possible that Beth may yet live on, I think this would be a fitting goodbye to this season’s hands-down best character.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What I’m Watching: Smallville

Smallville: Season 10, Episode 16 “Scion” (C)

At least this episode, compared to the ones that have led up to it, has a purpose. This bizarre Lex-clone, who apparently has some of Clark’s DNA, has somehow transformed himself from one of this season’s villains to one of its heroes, just as susceptible as Clark to the influences of Red Kryptonite. I’m still fuzzy on how exactly this all came to be, especially considering how far away the show had gotten itself from the Luthor family, but this episode was a sign that things are headed in the right direction. John Glover was the one of the strongest actors ever to grace this show with his presence, and having him back again to chew scenery like he means it is always a treat. I will stay argue that, for some reason, this show has some of the more horrendous and unbearable dialogue, and it came out in this episode more than it has in a few weeks (maybe that’s because the storyline wasn’t quite as stupid this time around). The need to have every line be filled with sarcasm, self-reference, or cleverness is nauseating, and Lionel is saddled with almost as many of those terrible one-liners as Chloe and Lois combined. What is good, however, is that the show is returning to this notion of what it means to be a hero. At this point, we’re taking a five-week break and then the show returns for its final five episodes (I think I’m actually excited!) on April 15th. Let’s hope that the time off makes way for some truly exceptional, or at the very least enthralling, television worthy of the Man of Steel.

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 2, Episode 4 “For Blood or Money” (B+)

Seriously, how good is this show? I’m so glad that we’re only four episodes in because I really want to experience more of this show since it’s so entirely terrific. What’s especially great, and unique, about this episode is the incorporation of a character that to this point hasn’t had all that much to do. After a brief comment about feeling uncomfortable about the color of her skin around a certain crowd a few episodes back, Rachel gets to step into the limelight as her brother-in-law manages to beat up and tie up just about every friend he ever had on the way to trying to see his son and give him a birthday present. Playing Clinton we have an actor on loan from another FX show, Larenz Tate of “Rescue Me,” trading in his humorous niceties for a very violent man trying to do the right thing and just not going about it the right way. I love how the law works in a small and contained place like this, where Rachel and Raylan can just decide that Clinton is allowed to see his son before getting carted off to jail. All of the supporting plotlines, such as the deadly Bennett family and the Winona’s seeming susceptibility to the charms of Gary, are just waiting to explode, and it’s definitely a good thing that there’s so much ready to bubble to the surface while we have specific episodic cases to entertain and enthrall us in the meantime each week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 2, Episode 17 “Two Monkeys and a Panda” (B+)

In this week’s installment, we have three distinctly separate storylines that aren’t all at interconnected, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less effective. The most outwardly entertaining, as tends to be the case, is also the loudest, and that’s the drama between Cameron and Mitchell. This is yet another shining example of this show proving extraordinarily relevant to its audience. As a hyphenate myself, coming from a family where both my parents combined and hyphenated their last names, which is rather atypical, I didn’t have to face this issue. Yet it’s fun to see Cameron get so flabbergasted, and rightfully so! As we learn with Jay and Gloria, sometimes planning too far ahead can be disconcerting. This show always manages to have surprisingly serious and affecting moments involving Jay when he realizes just how mismatched he seems with Gloria, and this episode was no exception. Phil’s trip to the spa is very much in character, and it’s amusing to see him get advice from all of the women there that definitely doesn’t quite line up with his take on the situation. It’s rare to find a character quite as gleefully unaware of his behavior, and, more importantly, capable of actually rising above that to say the right thing and roll with the punches as he should, as he does with Claire when she needs his support most. Haley definitely had the best line in this episode, in reference to the guy from "Back to the Future" on Alex's shirt, better known as Albert Einstein.

What I’m Watching: Better With You

Better With You: Season 1, Episode 16 “Better Without a Couch” (B+)

The first departure from the official “better with” standard episodic title format is a roaring success, and it’s a breath of fresh air after three weeks of iffy episodes that have just led up to this. I applaud this show for following through with its would-be idle threats by having Mia calmly take Casey’s phone and insert it into the microwave as soon as she learned that his ex-girlfriend had called him earlier that day. This episode seemed far more focused on plot rather than convention, setting up one standalone instance as a frame of reference for funny flashbacks and future standoffs involving the extremely jealousy-prone Putney sisters and their hapless male companions. I enjoyed the fact that the ex-girlfriend’s name was Jessica made things considerably worse, and Mia played perfectly on that when she discovered it. It was fun to see Samaire Armstrong, of “The O.C.,” “Entourage,” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” pop up as the abovementioned Jessica, even if she didn’t have much to do other than horrify Casey and rile up Mia. Among my favorite moments in the episode were the poor attempt to get the girls locked out on the balcony that resulted in them immediately keying back into the apartment and Casey telling Mia that he didn’t actually date Jessica, only to reveal to her that he only said it to make her feel better. It’s almost more fun to see these guys screw up than it is to see them get things right, because experiencing them atoning for and coming back from their shortcomings is what makes this show enjoyable.

What I’m Watching: Lights Out

Lights Out: Season 1, Episode 8 “Head Games” (B+)

If ever there was a guest star who could dominate an entire episode with his presence, it’s Eamonn Walker, who was recently seen as a standout supporting player in “The Company Men” and can trace his episode-stealing roots back to HBO’s violent prison drama “Oz.” His appearance as famed trainer Ed Romeo here manages to shape the tone for this episode, providing an outsider’s perspective on the situation in which Lights currently finds himself. It’s almost as stark to see Ed come onto the scene as it is to see Robert step down from his post and confess that he can’t stand to see his son get hurt anymore. Ed still gets the prize for the best-delivered lines, with the standouts being “Everybody smile like you’re happy” and “Everyone say cheeseburger and fries.” I loved how he answered the door for Brent from Brunswick and served as the terrifying introduction for Lights. Ava’s near-attack of Ed was also rather funny, and it’s good that this episode is able to have light moments amidst all of the seriousness. Ed instructing Lights and Theresa to have sex was another one of those such scenes. I was very surprised to see Reynolds at the door at the end of the episode, come to warn Lights about Ed. It’s interesting to see just how small this world of fighting is, and extraordinarily enlightening and intriguing to see into the psyches of such hard-working, stressed individuals as the fighters and their trainers. I’m certainly glad I stuck with this show.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 2, Episode 18 “Qualities and Difficulties” (B+)

This episode got off to a powerful start with a direct continuation from last week with Adam and Kristina explaining to Max what Asperger’s is and Kristina breaking down while he reacts nonchalantly to the news. Their subsequent meeting with Dr. Pelickan also proved affecting, as the two parents didn’t want to be told to give the token script to tell their child about his condition. Adam taking Max to a roller park instead of school felt like a moment right out of “Six Feet Under,” with a usually by-the-books character deciding to live for the moment, and sadly it did all come crashing down when Max freaked out on the ride when it didn’t start going as it was supposed to do. When it comes to sticky situations, there is no one better than Jasmine to look truly furious and intimidate the hell out of Crosby, though it’s good that he isn’t backing down and continues to try to win her back. The sweetest and most unexpected moment of the episode comes from Joel, who is prompted by Crosby’s infidelity to assure Julia that he’ll never cheat on her. Seeing Jason Ritter’s Mark again was a nice treat, and him scaring Sarah and making her scream proved entertaining. In the category of random guest stars, we have Jim O’Heir, best known as the hapless and much-maligned Jerry on “Parks and Recreation,” as the man interviewing Sarah for the manager position that it definitely would not make any financial sense for her to occupy.

What I’m Watching: White Collar

White Collar: Season 2, Episode 15 “Power Play” (B+)

This show continues to find new ways of putting its main characters into hilarious situations that work just as well dramatically as they do comically. Having Neal decide to improvise and pretend to be Peter in order to calm a prospective witness is a brilliant move, and I loved seeing how both men tried to pose as each other for maximum humorous effectiveness. Neal calling in the unnecessary agent and Peter talking about how he caught Neal twice were among the most entertaining moments, and the reactions from Diana and Jones were particularly amusing. I enjoyed seeing Mozzie train Peter in the arts of thievery and subtlety, and June coming in to help train him in the arts of planting and pickpocketing was a very nice treat. I liked seeing Mozzie and Sara work together, sarcastically describing their dynamic as “Tracy-Hepburn.” Neal and Sara walking in the same direction at the beginning of the episode after trying to part ways was funny, and I really like the way the two of them interact. They make a good team, and their on-and-off romance, seen rather graphically by Mozzie at the end of the episode, seems to help rather than hurt them. I was glad to see Richard Schiff, onetime Emmy winner for “The West Wing,” follow up on his best-in-show role on NBC’s horrendous “The Cape” with a decently meaty villainous role here. With only one episode left to go this season, I’m looking forward to seeing this storyline wrapped up and excited to see where the show goes next.

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 2, Episode 16 “Great Firewall” (B+)

We’ve finally made it to the big vote, but before we get to that, let’s recognize not one but four superb guest stars who helped to make this episode great. Ken Leung, recognizable to most as Miles from “Lost,” was this week’s token defendant, with the fantastic Rita Wilson as her lawyer. John Benjamin Hickey, who is great as Sean on “The Big C,” was a terrific choice to play the CEO of the social networking site, and while he was hardly homeless here, he was just as bitingly sarcastic. And it was a pleasure to see Jerry Adler from “The Sopranos” and “Rescue Me” as the last of the surviving elderly partners. I enjoyed Will’s bickering in the middle of his deposition, and on a more serious note, his line “who do you know who’s doing something for the right treason?” was particularly affecting. Peter going to gloat over Childs when he informed him that he was no longer in the race was a strong moment, and Peter’s hugging of Zack and thanking him for his help, coupled with that last haunting shot of the laptop, served as a very powerful ending to the episode. This partner vote was so long-anticipated that it could have resulted in a big nothing, but seeing Bond look so dejected as Julius revealed his treachery and both Lee and the alteh kaker had great reactions to his ousting proved to be a more than fitting victory for the rightful partners and a hopeful return to normalcy for the lawyers on this show.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What I’m Watching: V

V: Season 2, Episode 8 “Uneasy Lies the Head” (B+)

For a show that doesn’t have a problem showing some rather disturbing visual content, there’s nothing quite like a person just up and spontaneously bleeding to death to top nearly everything that came before it. It’s extremely intriguing to see the new way that this Fifth Column fight is being framed, especially as seen through the eyes of Erica and Jack. With only two episodes left in this season and the future beyond that uncertain, it makes a lot of sense that the action on this show would be getting more intense at this point, and this show could certainly go out with a bang either way, if it gets cancelled or receives a third season renewal. The moment that most excited me was when Diana asked Lisa to go tell someone on the ship that she was still alive and, as I predicted, it was Marcus. He’s easily one of my favorite characters on the show, and having not seen him for a few weeks makes his return all the more fantastic. I wasn’t sure about Ryan’s continued relevance, but the notion of having a major alliance with a whole bunch of Fifth Column-loyal players – Diana, Marcus, Lisa, Joshua, Ryan, and the actual members of the Fifth Column – makes the possibilities for the next two episodes truly intriguing. Having folks like Jack back on the home front questioning the ethical nature of their actions just makes everything considerably more layered, complicated, and truly compelling, transforming this often-fledgling show into awesome television.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What I’m Watching: No Ordinary Family

No Ordinary Family: Season 1, Episode 17 “No Ordinary Love” (C-)

I wrote about this earlier this week when reviewing the most recent episode of “Smallville” – having an episode centered on magic is never a recipe for success. I am absolutely thrilled about the idea of not one but two “Battlestar Galactica” alumnae in one episode, and I just wish they had been given better roles. Tricia Helfer is the perfect person to play a seductress, and it’s a shame that her part had to be so one-note. Lucy Lawless as a recurring high-up villain is appealing, but Dr. King hasn’t lived up to anywhere near his potential yet. With continuous memory loss present in this episode, there isn’t much moving forward of the plot, save for the further confounding of the villainy hierarchy. The fact that Stephanie is able to break the love spell put on Jim by asserting her own love for him is sentimental enough, yet this show doesn’t have quite the heart it thinks it does. I feel the same way about Daphne’s continued erasure of Chris’ memory and then her acceptance of his thankful reaction to her trusting him with the truth about her family. This show has always struggled with overcoming awkwardness when it comes to negotiating the drama and the comedy, and this episode epitomizes its problems in that arena. Stephanie’s immediate dismissal of Jim after he announces he’s leaving her for his new love doesn’t track. These not-so-ordinary people need to start realizing that they live in a world filled with superpowers and potentially suspicious scenarios, and they need to start questioning things.

What I’m Watching: The Chicago Code

The Chicago Code: Season 1, Episode 4 “Cabrini Green” (B+)

I hadn’t really noticed this too much before, but I’m very impressed by the effectiveness of the narration that starts at the beginning of each episode and provides a spotlight on the history and background of one of the characters. Perhaps what makes it so compelling in this episode is that we get to hear from one of the characters who is a supposed villain and have him tell his own story from his viewpoint. This episode felt very much like a ticking time bomb due to the incorporation of the radical groups planting bombs in busy locations, and the editing was very sharp. Wysocki in particular is at his best when he’s fighting the clock, and I enjoyed seeing Teresa help him out when he went in for the interrogation, like they used to do back when they were partners. Those two have an extraordinarily strong and fascinating relationship, and seeing it play out, especially as they work to take down Alderman Gibbons, makes for absolutely terrific television. Watching Gibbons shoot his would-be assassin while in the middle of a haircut was one thing, and then seeing him essentially reward the kid for trying to kill him and have the man who charged him with the act made for one intense profile. Having both the attempted assassination and the bombs in one episode might feel overstuffed, but this show has done a spectacular job, coupled with the ending of the first episode, of establishing a dark, workable tone for itself.

What I’m Watching: The Cape (Last Episode?)

The Cape: Season 1, Episode 9 “Razer” (F)

If this show had impressed me considerably more than it has, like another NBC series unceremoniously ousted from the airwaves this past fall, I might be more upset about its impending demise and the fact that its story arcs wouldn’t come even close to being completed. I don’t feel that way, however, because this show has repeatedly failed to live up to its potential, succeeding in only one area: the incorporation of its main title theme music into the scene that leads into it. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with the show’s creative quality. There is little I hate more than when a show conveniently makes it so that its lead character can speak in the native accent of the actor portraying him for no real reason at all. Another NBC show that met a speedy demise did this a few years ago, and it bothered me just as much this time. David Lyons isn’t terribly capable of playing a badass either, and that doesn’t help matters at all. On top of that, the entire plotline is completely incoherent, and there are way too many confused and divided loyalties with Ark, the Carnival of Crime, Scales, Orwell, and the Cape. Max Malini’s version of “Don’t you tell me what I can’t do” is nowhere near as affecting or powerful as John Locke’s from “Lost,” and the similarity just underlines how poor this show is. It’s making way next week for the return of the equally quality-deprived “The Event,” and only one episode in addition to this has been filmed, so this may well be the last we ever see of this show. The doctor’s efforts to get Chess to keep a secret from Peter are intriguing, though I wouldn’t be terribly upset if we never find out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 4, Episode 17 “Chuck Versus the First Bank of Evil” (B+)

There’s nothing like a great guest star to help a show bounce back from a bit of a slump. Having two in one episode also helps, and therefore it’s a thrill to see Ray Wise and Francois Chau joining the cast. I immediately recognized Wise’s voice before I saw his face, and it’s great to have him back in a role almost as meaty as the one he had on “Reaper,” pulling the strings of his selected puppet like it’s his business. Chau will be familiar to any “Lost” fans as Dr. Pierre Chang, also known as Dr. Marvin Candle, and it’s fun to have him simply for the use of his voice as the bank manager. One moment of this episode I didn’t quite buy was his falsely dramatic “you have….passed our test!” Fortunately, everything else worked well. Having Ellie help Sarah start to get excited for her wedding was a nice way of reincorporating the new mom back into the storyline, and I loved how Sarah turned into a monster bride-to-be. Morgan’s search for a new roommate was predictably wrought with difficulties mostly perpetrated by Jeff and Lester, and I enjoyed how a nervous Morgan managed to blackmail Casey into letting him stay with him. On a larger scale, it seems that we’re getting back to an overarching multi-episode thread just episodes after the takedown of Volkoff with his daughter, and I think it’s quite fascinating. Positioning Chuck as an agent required to lie to his asset helps to give this show an appropriate and compelling dramatic backbone.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 1, Episode 8 “It’s Time to Kill the Turtle” (A-)

There hasn’t yet been a bad episode of this show, or even a mediocre one, yet, and somehow this installment seems like the most astounding and impressive one to date. Perhaps it’s the brilliant combination of stark drama and lighter comedy, as well as the range of focal points that extend to all of the Gallagher children and their singular patriarch. This episode boasts spectacular performances from the likes of Emmy Rossum as Fiona, Jeremy Allen White as Lip, Cameron Monaghan as Ian, Joan Cusack as Sheila, and William H. Macy as Frank, as well as solid work from the rest of the cast. It’s so interesting to see how each of the children perceive their father’s newfound temporary sobriety, with Lip’s pessimistic attitude being the most intriguing. His turtle metaphor was rather moving, and I liked how Debs told him that they had to kill the turtle and he revealed that she and Carl were supposed to be the turtle in the story. I wasn’t sure how Frank was going to fail, and having his family force alcohol on him to return him to normal was a fitting way to send him back off the deep end. It’s good that Ian is developing a connection with Mickey, though I presume that both Cash and Mandy are going to be rather upset once they find out about it. Kev did a great job of trying to be a father to his very peculiar new adopted daughter, and it’s just a shame that Veronica doesn’t seem nearly as into the notion of parenting. Steve’s good guy, but whatever he’s up to is going to get him into serious trouble with Fiona, unless Debs confronts him before going to her.

By the way, this show has been renewed for a second season, along with "Episodes." Fantastic news!