Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 14 “Another Ham Sandwich” (B+)

Will’s indictment was something that was a long time coming, and in one sense, it’s over so quickly, and in another, it’s going to have a lasting impact. Wendy is one fierce prosecutor, and it’s clear that Cary has some moral issues with Wendy using the information he told her against Alicia, who is hardly his favorite person in the world. Will did a spectacular job of handling his testimony, and Dana is sure to be furious at Kalinda for a while going forward after she and Will played her. Alicia walking in and daring Wendy to arrest her was rather awesome, and the defense did a superb job of saying Peter’s name enough times to cast suspicion away from Will and onto him. Peter got to vent his share of anger, both at Alicia for sleeping with Will and at Wendy for calling Alicia in to testify. Everything to do with Eli in this hour was absolutely fantastic. Stacie Hall is a terrific nemesis for Eli, and there’s nothing better than adding chemistry and flirtation to a rivalry. It seemed like Eli had the upper hand for a while, thanks to Caitlin’s realization about the GLAC meeting, but Eli’s ex-wife, who I hope we’ll see again, is definitely his Achilles’ heel. Eli’s hatred for David Lee is quite possibly my favorite part of the show, and I’m glad to see that David didn’t take Eli’s abuse of his niece lying down, knocking books off his desk and then threatening to sabotage Peter’s campaign with his knowledge of Alicia’s divorce inclinations.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 2, Episode 4 “A Beautiful Mess” (B+)

How nice it is for every child in the extended Gallagher family to have a friend. With so much stress, it’s no surprise that Debs has developed a rash, and it’s fun to see her try to find appropriate friends to invite over, starting with her chess buddy who clearly likes her, and a promiscuous fifteen-year-old who’s been held back and wants to get with Lip, who fortunately is smart enough to throw her off of him. Carl’s friend Hank seems to be the object of Debs’ affection, and I do hope that we get to see the R-rated movie trip. Even Ethel gets a love interest, as Kevin’s basketball kid Malik also has a child and is up for coming over for a play date. There was some switching of sibling allegiances in this hour, with Lip having sex with Mandy during the party and then sending her to Jody to try to get him to slip and sleep with her. That seems to have been the boiling point for Karen, who reveals that she’s pregnant with Lip’s child, which is certain to make him refuse to give up on her. Frank put so much effort into trying to scare Sheila off the streets, highlighting by his one-armed friend’s visit that scared Jody and his gun training with Mickey. The most unusual guilty party in this episode was Fiona, who was the subject of much screaming and yelling as Craig’s wife came by with her baby to beat her up and then ultimately came back with her husband to resolve the situation. Frank has never been prouder of his eldest daughter.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 11 “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” (C+)

You’d think that Emma would have at least a little tact. Sure, it’s possible to let anger drive your actions, but for someone already in a precarious position that she ascended to quite quickly, she doesn’t seem to be thinking very much in any situation, trusting just about anyone, be it Mr. Gold or Sidney, only bothering to verify the accuracy of their claims once it’s far too late. The story of how the Magic Mirror got to be trapped within it once again underscores the fact that Regina is pure evil, faking affection for the kindly Genie and tricking him into murdering the king for her. I’m pleased to see Richard Schiff back on television, here and in another Sunday night series, Showtime’s “House of Lies.” As tends to be the case on this show, it appears this will be his only appearance, as he’s officially dead and therefore won’t be popping up in Storybrooke anytime soon. Given what we’ve seen of the Magic Mirror in previous episode, it’s clear that he just never learns his lesson, coming later to trust the Queen once again, and Sidney is acting in exactly the same manner, doing anything he can to make Regina happy. That can’t possibly end well, but by the time he realizes that she’s just using him, Emma won’t be able to trust him anymore. Mary Margaret’s secret romance with David is being rather comic, as evidenced by her giggly affirmation of Sidney’s claim that doing the right thing can be validated even if achieved by the wrong means.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What I’m Watching: Chuck (Series Finale)

There are certain things that you can expect from a series finale, especially one that has been given ample time to prepare for such an event. Usually, one hero finds him or herself in a state totally unlike normal, and often a minor villain from the show’s history becomes a major player to defeat in the show’s final hours. That was the case here, with Sarah unable to remember her past and Quinn suddenly identified as the number one threat against humanity. What’s sad in some ways is that Sarah still isn’t herself by two-hour-episode’s end, which is somewhat sweet since Chuck is working so hard to make her remember but also disappointing since their fairy tale home doesn’t happen in the way any expected it would. It was endearing that Chuck put the glasses on one last time so that he could save Beckman, but it really should have been used to restore Sarah's memory. There was also a strange reference to futuristic technology, much like the Intersect itself, actually, with Morgan’s discovery of the invisibility cloak at DARPA, which was fun if not rather unprecedented on this show. Ellie crashing the car with Sarah in it and Casey telling Beckman to shut up because they were saving her were amusing moments that had probably been building for a long time. This finale did exhibit other welcome telltale signs of characters being aware of the end as Ellie and Awesome were wooed by a Chicago hospital, Morgan and Alex moving in together, and Casey heading off to find Gertrude. Jeff and Lester’s fate was particularly fun, as they got to prevent the bomb from going off by making horrible music, resulting in a visit from a VIP that forced them to consider leaving the Buy More. And, though it will be a long time before they’re back to normal, Chuck did get the girl, and a few choice flashbacks to their important moments were sweet. As a finale, this was a fun episode, though maybe not the greatest one the show has ever produced. I’ve enjoyed this show thoroughly throughout its five years, and looking back, I’ve actually reviewed almost every episode (with a few missing) since the pilot, way back on September 24, 2007. A retrospective feature could well be in order for this show that hit its high point in the middle but never slipped back down after that. It’s been a great five years.

Series finale: B+
Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Yvonne Strahovski
Series grade: B+
Series MVP: Adam Baldwin
Best season: Seasons 2 & 3
Best episode: “Chuck Versus the Colonel”

Take Three: The Finder

The Finder: Season 1, Episode 3 “A Cinderella Story” (B+)

This show continues to be a blast, featuring genuinely intriguing and complex cases, with Walter using his token peculiar methodologies to uncover a surprising villain in this shoe-centric serial killing spree. I’m thrilled to report that this show is improving steadily in the ratings, and I do hope that FOX deems it worthy of staying on the air since I’m definitely enjoying it immensely. I was pleased to see Ian Reed Kesler, usually cast as a womanizing slimeball, as numbers geek Ira, and I didn’t even recognize Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, seen in the later seasons of “Prison Break” as bad girl Lisa. This episode was functioning on multiple levels, which made the search for Cinderella hardly the most interesting part of the hour. Leo is a great comic character, especially as played by the deep-voiced Michael Clarke Duncan, evident in the reenactment of what happened on the boat, but I like the fact that he also has some depth to him. His chance encounter with the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter led to some real rage on his part and an elaboration of his relationship with Willa. Her literal “going to bat” for him was endearing in its own violent way, and I like that Walter is fully aware that she’s only sticking around until she figures out how to get into his safe. If I’ve learned anything from this episode, it’s that saying your password out loud while typing it isn’t a terribly good way of preserving security.

What I’m Watching: Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation: Season 4, Episode 13 “Bowling For Votes” (B+)

Only on this show could a focus group come up with comments so ridiculous, and only Leslie Knope could become so obsessed with something insignificant like a person saying that she wouldn’t be great at bowling. The free bowling night was highly amusing for both games that it presented, and I love how Ben and Leslie consistently manage to get themselves into silly situations that become far too public. Ben punching Leslie’s bowling buddy was completely unexpected, and it was great how they spun it, with Leslie jokingly threatening reporters that she would have her boyfriend punch them. Ron and Ann’s horror at Tom’s bowling form was terrific, and Tom’s reaction to Ron crushing his finger was priceless: “Owwww! My fingie!” Jerry running the phone campaign was an odd choice, and it was great to hear how each person managed to mess up their calls. Jerry giving someone his social security number and Andy saying that they couldn’t accept donations over $50 were particularly humorous. April wanting to beat Chris to ruin his happiness was entertaining, and it’s always a treat when April gets serious and actually shows some affection for someone. Giving Chris the three movie tickets and a slight hug was very endearing, and I’m glad that Chris is able to have some happiness after not being able to find a positive spin on his breakup with Millicent, a plotline that was good for a few laughs but didn’t ultimately produce all that much story material in the long term.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Final SAG Winner Predictions

Tonight on TNT and TBS, we have the SAG Awards, which tend to be more exciting for their film picks but also have some value for TV for the ensemble awards they hand out. The two big questions are: which show is going to win Best Ensemble in a Drama Series, and can Steve Carell dethrone five-time reigning champ Alec Baldwin? It’s sure to be a decently enjoyable ceremony, and here are my final predictions. Film picks can be found here.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Jessica Lange (American Horror Story)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Steve Carell (The Office)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
James Woods (Too Big to Fail)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Game of Thrones

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Modern Family

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episodes 3 & 4 “Idiots Are People Three!” & “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” (B)

This double-header was entertaining if a bit wacky in the style that this show often employs. The first episode, following up on last week’s cliffhanger, had some truly funny moments, highlighted by Liz negating all of Criss’ comments, particularly the fact that Yale, not, Wesleyan, is the Harvard of central Connecticut. Learning that she says cholesterol wrong and doesn’t use tab closures on cereal boxes was amusing, and I enjoyed Jack’s invocation of the Titanic as the highest-grossing movie of all time rather than a sinking ship. Devon Banks’ appearances are always fun, and his attempted blackmail and visit to Cathy with Jack were enjoyable. The Kelsey Grammer plotline didn’t do much for me other than a few chuckles at his one-man Abraham Lincoln show. Tracy and Denise writing Liz’s apology proved to be less funny than her actual rant, which berated idiots for being responsible for the Golden Globes and the fact that there will likely be an “Entourage” movie. In episode two, Jenna’s MLK movie trailer was preposterous, and having Liz get splashed by PETA so that she could pose in front of the Outback sign was a little ridiculous too. Liz hanging out with herself was a welcome wake-up call to the fact that she needs vain idiots in her life, and the same was true for Jack’s attempt to replace the program with a computer system completely familiar with failed NBC sitcoms. Tracy’s misinterpreted “Give to charity? Please no! Presents!” was hilarious, and I also smiled at the fourth-wall reference to Maulik Pancholy’s role on “Whitney,” though we haven’t seen him in a while as Jack’s frazzled assistant now that he has so many other parts.

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 3, Episode 12 “Some Pig” (B+)

This episode was all about relationships, with Jill trying her best to move on while being courted by Jack, Hank and Divya being passive-aggressive with each other, and Evan and Paige both freaking out a bit about the impending start of their lives. I’m consistently impressed by Tom Cavanagh’s grace on screen, so comfortable in the energetic roles that he tends to play. His flirtation with Jill was entertaining, and he also does drama well, as he did on “Scrubs” with the death of his father and here with the discovery first of his lupus diagnosis and then that it was much more serious than they had initially thought. For the sake of the show, I’m glad it means that Cavanagh will likely be around for a while, and I hope things don’t end too tragically for him. Jill doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to leaving, though I’d be happy if they brought back Anastasia Griffith’s Dr. Emily Peck to be Hank’s love interest. It made sense for Hank and Divya to be made at each other due to their close relationship, but I’m happy that it lasted just one episode, so that they can get back to working together well and healing sick people. Evan getting hives because he’s nervous was highly amusing, and Paige realizing that she too was nervous because she was getting too into playing house was cute. Those two make a fabulous couple, and I’m eager to see their relationship progress as their wedding looms closer.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pilot Review: Touch

Touch (FOX)
Premiered January 25th at 9pm

Many expected this show to be just like one of two popular series from the past decade: “24” or “Heroes,” one with the same star, the other with the same creator. Somewhat fortunately, it’s neither of those, and instead it’s something completely different, intriguing in its own right but in need of a bit of tweaking before it becomes fully engaging. Having the silent Jake narrate his life and explain that he’s never spoken a word is a strong device, permitting some clarification of aspects that confuse his father and the rest of the world without giving too much away. Despite being unable to resist some fighting in Grand Central, Kiefer Sutherland proved quite quickly that baggage handler Martin Bohm is no Jack Bauer, describing his fear of heights and taking a punch without properly defending himself. Kiefer is great in the role, though I’m less impressed by the part that’s been given to Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was entertaining both in her stint on “Undercovers” and in her supporting turn in the film “Larry Crowne.” This episode was all over the place in many ways, featuring guest stars such as Titus Welliver, also underused as the lottery-winning fireman, and it’s completely unclear just where this show is heading. What I do like is the energy of the show, with Kiefer’s Martin and Gugu’s Clea becoming enthralled by whatever it is that Jake’s doing in bringing people together. I’m not sure what kinds of staying power this show will have, but I’m definitely intrigued to see another installment.

How will it work as a series? There were so many unconnected threads in this episode that only partially came together that I think it’s going to be hard to follow it on a weekly basis, and I’m not sure it’s enticing enough just yet to commit on a long-term basis. It actually seemed like a supernatural type of procedural, and hopefully will have the opportunity to feature an extraordinary guest cast.
How long will it last? The pilot opened strong, and though it won’t be back until March when it assumes the post-“House” slot on Monday nights, I’m sure that FOX will want to invest in another Kiefer hit. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be the most critically-beloved show, I think that FOX will let it see out the rest of the season, and maybe even a second one depending on how it does.

Pilot grade: B

Friday, January 27, 2012

What I’m Watching: White Collar

White Collar: Season 3, Episode 12 “Upper West Side Story” (B+)

The fears that I expressed last week have been fully assuaged by this fantastically fun hour, in which the rapport between Neal and Peter is generally back to normal, with only fleeting and flickering mentions of Keller. To kick off this week’s especially terrific plotline was Graham Phillips, best known as troublesome child Zach Florrick on “The Good Wife,” here considerably more buttoned-up but ready to raise trouble by revealing an illegal side operation within the bursar’s office at his prep school. He also brought with him an Emmy-nominated guest star from that show, Dylan Baker, to play the suspicious party, and it’s always a pleasure to see Baker on screen, albeit this time in a much less vicious role than the one he recently played on season four of “Damages.” Neal’s decision to pose as a substitute teacher was great, and I loved Peter’s layered back-and-forth with him in front of the class. Pulling off a caper – or rather, not quite pulling it off – during the tutoring session with Chloe was a superb use of this cast, and I fully enjoyed every moment of it, especially the incorporation of Evan. With the treasure out of mind, Mozzie was much more fun than he’s been in a while, excitedly running off to get his quill and then refusing to admit that he was in the room when Peter was there. His comments on Evan’s presentation style (positive) and clothing style (negative) were amusing as well. A thoroughly entertaining and worthwhile installment!

What I’m Watching: Justified

Justified: Season 3, Episode 2 “Cut Ties” (B+)

This episode didn’t feature a single appearance by Neal McDonough’s shady character introduced last week, but what a handful of guest stars in his absence! I like how Carla Gugino got to play a character named Karen who is generally assumed to be Karen Sisco, another Elmore Leonard character who had her own short-lived TV show several years back. If Winona weren’t in the picture, Karen would be a perfect romantic fit for Raylan, and I hope she returns for another guest spot. Mykelti Williamson, an alumnus of Graham Yost’s “Boomtown” just like McDonough, is a fantastic follow-up villain for the series after Mags Bennett, so calm about his cruelty that it’s alarming. I look forward to seeing how everything comes together with both villains later this season. Other familiar faces included Frank John Hughes, a “Boomtown” guest star and recurring player on the final season of “24,” as the duplicitous Terry Powe, and FX regular Todd Stashwick as the prison guard who allowed Boyd some face-to-face time with a terrified Dickie. Raylan was smart about getting Boyd released after realizing his plan, though now Boyd has learned enough to be directly involved in the malicious business dealings sure to take place this season. I enjoyed Boyd’s response to Raylan’s sincere request for advice, reminding him that he is sleeping with his dead wife’s mistress and murderess. The most compelling and unexpected component of this episode was Art’s anger over the death of his friend and his methodical intimidation of his captive to discern the truth. Rachel also did a strong job of keeping her charges safe and taking out the bad guys.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The competition: The Big Bang Theory, Glee, Modern Family, The Office, 30 Rock

For your information: “The Big Bang Theory” is the only new nominee, and each of the other four nominees has won before: “Modern Family” last year, “Glee” in 2009, “30 Rock” in 2008, and “The Office” in 2007 and 2006. “Modern Family” has four performers nominated, “30 Rock” has two, and “The Office” has one.

Who should win: “Modern Family”

Who will win: I expect that “Modern Family” will repeat.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

The competition: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife

For your information: “Boardwalk Empire” is the only one of this bunch that has ever won, for its first season last year. “Dexter” is on its fourth nomination, and “The Good Wife” is on its third. “Breaking Bad” is here for the first time for its fourth season, and freshman series “Game of Thrones” is another newbie. Last year, “Boardwalk Empire” joined “The Sopranos” as exceptions to the rule that freshman series don’t win this award.

Who should win: “Breaking Bad,” but they’re all great except for “Dexter”

Who will win: I said “The Good Wife” last year, and it doesn’t seem that it’s going to win this time either, so I’ll go for “Game of Thrones.”

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Comedy Series

The competition: Julie Bowen’s frazzled mother (Modern Family), Edie Falco’s pill-popping nurse (Nurse Jackie), Tina Fey’s nerdy TV writer (30 Rock), Sofia Vergara’s Colombian wife (Modern Family), and Betty White’s wise-cracking scene-stealer (Hot in Cleveland).

For your information: White won this award last year. Fey won three times in a row before that. Falco won three times in the drama category for “The Sopranos” and returns in this category for the third year in a row. Vergara was nominated last year, and she’s joined by costar Bowen, who won the Emmy last year. Supporting actresses do sometimes win in this category, like Christine Baranski, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lisa Kudrow, and Megan Mullally.

Who should win: Bowen or Vergara

Who will win: I’m thinking it will be Bowen.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Comedy Series

The competition: Alec Baldwin’s conservative TV boss (30 Rock), Ty Burrell’s goofy dad (Modern Family), Steve Carell’s wacky manager (The Office), Jon Cryer’s excitable chiropractor (Two and a Half Men), and Eric Stonestreet’s flamboyant stay-at-home dad (Modern Family).

For your information: Alec Baldwin has won this award for the past five years, creating a fearsome precedent. With Carell’s sixth nomination, this is his final chance to win the award. Emmy winner Burrell is back for round two, while both Stonestreet and Cryer receive their first-ever SAG nomination. Both have won Emmys for Best Supporting Actor. This award does sometimes go to supporting actors, as Jason Alexander, David Hyde Pierce, Robert Downey Jr., and Sean Hayes have won in the past.

Who should win: Carell, Burell, or Stonestreet

Who will win: I think Carell may finally be able to dethrone Baldwin.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Female Actor in a Drama Series

The competition: Kathy Bates’ strong-willed lawyer (Harry’s Law), Glenn Close’s vicious lawyer (Damages), Jessica Lange’s creepy neighbor (American Horror Story), Julianna Margulies’ hard-working lawyer and mother (The Good Wife), and Kyra Sedgwick’s deputy police chief (The Closer).

For your information: Margulies has won the past two years, and also won in 1997 and 1998 for “ER.” This is Close’s fourth consecutive nomination, and she won for “The Lion in Winter” in 2004. She is also nominated for her lead performance in the film “Albert Nobbs” this year. Sedgwick has been nominated every year since 2005 but has never won. Bates won in the miniseries or TV movie category in 1996 and won a film SAG award in 1998. She has been nominated once more for both TV and film work. Lange has been nominated twice before, once for film and television. Since its inception in 1994, only two supporting actresses have won this award, and both were from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Who should win: Margulies or Sedgwick

Who will win: Supporting actress Lange, but it could be any of them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Male Actor in a Drama Series

The competition: Patrick J. Adams’ degreeless law genius (Suits), Steve Buscemi’s Atlantic City gangster (Boardwalk Empire), Kyle Chandler’s devoted coach (Friday Night Lights), Bryan Cranston’s meth cooker (Breaking Bad), and Michael C. Hall’s kind-hearted serial killer (Dexter).

For your information: Buscemi won this award last year, and Hall won the year before. This is Cranston’s third nomination, and though he has won three consecutive Emmys, he has yet to win a SAG award. Chandler won the Emmy last year for his performance in the final series of “Friday Night Lights,” and this is the first nomination for freshman series star Adams. Since its inception in 1994, this award has gone to the same performer twice on many occasions - Dennis Franz, Anthony Edwards, James Gandolfini (three times, actually), Martin Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Hugh Laurie, so don’t count a repeat win by Buscemi.

Who should win: Buscemi, Cranston, and Hall are all great choices

Who will win: Given that “Breaking Bad” finally cracked the Best Ensemble category and had arguably its strongest season yet, I think it’s time for Cranston to win.

Round Two: Alcatraz

Alcatraz: Season 1, Episode 3 “Kit Nelson” (B+)

After such an amazing premiere, it stands to reason that the next outing would have to be underwhelming. While this third installment lacks some of the magic and mystery present in the two-hour pilot, it does demonstrate that the format works well, and that this show is committed to showcasing dark villains. Nelson was a different kind of bad guy than the two we’ve previously seen because everyone in Alcatraz hated him due to his particular modus operandi. His father’s visit took him back to the first time he may or may not have killed someone, and I think that it’s good that this show tries to probe deep into what makes its killers tick, making it both a sci-fi show and a crime show. Featuring Nelson also made it possible to see how sadistic and cruel Warden James can be, forcing him to reveal whether or not he killed his brother before leaving him to his fate. In the present, Doc proved his worth by deducing that Nelson was on the loose after hearing about Dylan’s kidnapping on the police scanner, and then continued to excel by going around from diner to diner in search of cherry pie. His run-in with Nelson and Dylan was intense, and he did a good job of trying to be subtle, as did Rebecca when she finally arrived. Emerson is always the one to pull the trigger and to irk Doc and Rebecca by being too callous about the criminals and their victims, and something tells me that the twosome is going do some digging and find out what they can without informing their shadowy boss.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 5, Episode 3 “Boys and Girls” (B+)

It’s intriguing that Hank still thinks that he’s going to be able to leave L.A, but this is definitely the most compelling reason why he’s decided to stay, especially after Becca compared her cheating boyfriend to him. Perhaps more than ever before, Hank has gotten himself in way over his head, both in terms of his relationship with her daughter, who will likely eventually find out about his indirect complicity in the assault on Tyler, and with Kali throwing herself at him while he does his best to hold out. Samurai Apocalypse is already having some fun with Hank and coming at him with a gun, and I’m sure he won’t be pleased once Hank inevitably slips and they get caught. Hank’s also still not against putting the moves on Karen even though she’s in a relationship with someone he doesn’t seem to mind all that much, and she’s not doing as good a job of rejecting his advances as she should be. While he might not be considered the worst of the three parents, Charlie isn’t doing a terrific job of taking care of his young son, and he may just have offended Lizzie enough to cause some problems there. Charlie’s such an entertaining character, and you’d think that it would be hard for such a sex-obsessed, whiny guy to be incredibly likeable. This cast of characters truly is wild, and it’s hard to find such deplorable people whose lives are so fully engaging and enthralling time and time again.

Take Three: House of Lies

House of Lies: Season 1, Episode 3 “Microphallus” (B+)

There’s no arguing that this show has found a good home on Showtime, in the comedy of other series willing to indulge in open conversation about sexual matters and other such scandalous topics like “Californication” and “Weeds.” The return of Greg Norbert from the pilot as the potential new owner of the firm makes things quite interesting, and Marty sure doesn’t back down, purposely antagonizing him after being threatened. The clients of the week were also an intriguing bunch, including Alan Dale in yet another position of great power. The truly fascinating folks, however, were the couple that invited Marty and Jeannie over, where Marty could have some far-out fun with the wife while Jeannie learned surprising things about her toes. I like that this show holds all of its characters equally accountable and open to mockery, with both parties agreeing never to discuss what transpired inside the house. Doug seems like the go-to punching bag, while Clyde, aside from his masterful storytelling last week, is more of a wingman. I’m enjoying the brief moments in which Marty’s son appears, in this installment to explain that he’s attracted to both a boy and a girl, deciding to invite both over rather than choose. The show has a dark side, though, which is equally compelling, as Marty wakes up from a nightmare on the anniversary of his mother’s death and then gets told by Skip that he might in fact be out because he’s not in this business to make friends. That final shot of him maniacally driving the valet car, frightening even Clyde, is haunting, and gives this show an unexpected edge in terms of its dramatic impact.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 8, Episode 12 “What’s the Good of Being Good?” (B)

This episode was actually a decent hour looking at the places where each of the housewives have arrived at this point. The opening montage of Bree’s promiscuousness and her attempts to hide her gentlemen callers from Mrs. McCluskey started out in comic fashion, as she bid her guests goodbye in the middle of the night with a muffin, but it soon turned much more serious. In the past, even if no one else can reach her, Reverend Sykes has been able to get through to Bree, and here his pleas as not only her priest but also her friend fell on deaf ears. Her proud departure from the function demonstrated just how detached she’s become, and defiantly making out with a guy on her front lawn shows just how proud she is of her new lifestyle. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to get her to snap out of it. Lynette’s date went horribly, and hopefully her realization of how she sometimes acts and why she feels the need to do that will help her to find some happiness again, with or without Tom. Ben’s honesty is a real shame, since Renee would have been perfectly happy to marry him, and now she might find herself in harm’s way due to his money problems. After everything, Susan seems to have done something productive, despite a brief hiccup involving posters about her being a slutty neighbor. Gaby telling Claudia the truth resulted in her daughter being courageous enough to speak up, and they should now be able to go back home knowing that they’re safe. All of the women on Wisteria Lane may not enjoy the same sense of relief if anyone saw the wanted posters up.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 2, Episode 3 “I’ll Light a Candle for You Every Day” (B+)

This episode presents levels of depravity not previously seen from the Gallagher family, specifically from father Frank, who not only tries to marry a dying woman to get her pension but actually refuses a heart for her when the call comes through, pretending that she died. Stealing Jody’s ring and concocting a whole plan to keep her memory alive were typical Frank moves, but it seems that rolling over next to a dead woman might have gotten to him a little bit. Fiona is also towing the ethical line by flirting with a married man while purporting not to be into that kind of thing, and taking a woman’s purse left on the L and then returning it to her without the money inside. One thing is clear, though, and that’s that Fiona does not respond well to being challenged aggressively, and her near-return of the woman’s money did not end well when she was verbally attacked upon her arrival. I love that she called Steve after her disappointing meet-up with Craig, and I do hope that he returns to the show in a greater capacity since he was one of my favorite characters from last season, though he seemed considerably indisposed at the time of her call. Lip’s a dependable brother for working on a project solely to benefit his brother, and I hope that he doesn’t spiral out of control after learning about Karen’s engagement. Debs’ obsession with death is a bit unsettling, but it’s not quite as disturbing as Ethel’s happy-go-lucky attitude about wishing that death would come sooner.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 10 “7:15 A.M.” (C+)

This episode was a departure from the usual format for one major reason: there was a new character in the real world, but no corresponding back story in the fairy tale world. The mysterious stranger, revealed to be a writer, is played by Eion Bailey, who played the similarly shady Ben Mercer on “Covert Affairs,” and has no discernible qualities other than an extreme awareness of his effect on Emma and all the other people in Storybrooke. The fact that he makes Regina nervous is disconcerting, to say the least. The core of this episode refines the story of Snow White and Prince Charming, as the greedy king steps in to ruin their love. The pigeon sent by Charming to Snow somehow managed to get to Storybrooke, mainly as a plot device to get Mary Margaret and David, who had both been frequenting the diner at the same time every morning, alone together to discuss their feelings for each other. A pregnancy scare and some conflicted musings on David’s part were just bumps in the road towards their eventual passionate kiss, but it’s never a good idea to make out in public, especially when the most vengeful resident of the town is watching. It’s relatively easy to piece together what’s going to happen in the fairy tale world, adjusted from the stories we all grew up reading in the style that this show has established, but what lies ahead for Storybrooke is an entirely different question altogether, and part of what makes this show worth watching week to week.

What I’m Watching: Chuck (Penultimate Episode)

Chuck: Season 5, Episode 11 “Chuck Versus the Bullet Train” (B+)

With only the two-hour series finale left this coming Friday, this series shows no signs of letting up, with an action-packed hour that involved pretty much every series regular in a major way. I’m perhaps most impressed by the episode’s incorporation of Jeff and Lester, whose similar dreams permitted them to remember that something was afoot, and whose creepy lurking natures enabled them to be just the assets Casey needed. I loved Casey’s switch to Colonel mode when he charged them with the mission, and nothing was better than Lester’s reaction to hearing his country needed him, “Canada?” Morgan and Awesome really were terrible spies, and I’m glad that everyone is now on the same page, fully aware of what’s going on with no secrets to get in the way of their relationships. That comes with one major caveat, of course, as Sarah, whose memory has deteriorated, has now been tasked with killing Chuck by the man she thinks is her CIA handler. Her dorky bonding with Chuck over how cool the Intersect is was short-lived as she started flashing too much, an interesting reasoning for why the Intersect messed with her mind and with Morgan’s. I’m not sure that the resolution of this series will give Chuck and Sarah exactly the happy ending they’ve always wanted, but I have a feeling that it will be a fun and fulfilling conclusion, so long as neither Jeff nor Lester becomes the Intersect.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Round Two: The Finder

The Finder: Season 1, Episode 2 “Bullets” (B+)

Despite my enthusiasm for last week’s series premiere, I didn’t find myself anticipating this second installment, yet my expectations were once again surpassed with another entertaining hour. With Thursday nights not nearly as crowded as I feel like they used to be, or at least as the earlier half of the week, I might well stick with this show for a while. I recognized John Francis Daley’s Sweets from “Bones,” and I feel like bringing him in this early wasn’t a problem, mainly because Walter’s tricky answers to each and every one of his questions were easily the highlight of the episode. His semi-effective hypnosis was also amusing, and he ultimately got what he came for: an explanation of why Walter feels compelled to find, in all its dramatic glory. Mitch Pileggi’s innocent death row cop provided an excellent impetus for Leo to make a character-defining comment, threatening to bring him back to life and electrocute him again if he was lying. The complicated case led to a superb and surprising revelation that inspired Walter to shoot the internal affairs agent in the rear end to expose the bullet already lodged in there. This show embraces Walter’s motto – that he doesn’t care about murder mysteries, he just likes to find things. In her entirely unrelated subplot, Willa managed to cause plenty of trouble, not making friends on the volleyball court and then framing the jerk that crashed the stolen car she was in to take the fall for the theft and crash. What a cast of personalities this show has.

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 1, Episode 12 “Legacy” (B+)

For a show with only four characters, there’s an awful lot of duplicity at play here. Carter and Fusco are both assisting the dynamic duo without an awareness that the other is doing the same, and now Reese is watching Finch, going so far as to have Fusco tail him to figure out just what secrets he’s keeping buried. The appearance of Nathan’s son permits Finch to reassume a parental role that before now has remained entirely dormant, and it’s nice to see him have what, secrets aside, could be described as a normal relationship. Hopefully Reese won’t be too perturbed by him not letting him on it and take it out on the poor kid who doesn’t know half of what he thinks he does. Reese and Finch’s dialogue during operations continues to be one of the main compelling reasons to watch this show, as both are never at a loss for clever comments mocking the other’s weaknesses. Reese is doing a good job of partnering up with Carter, having her there at just the right moment to step in as an actual legal authority when he’s done his part. Working with this week’s number, the lawyer, Reese took advantage of his perfect opportunity to change the dynamic as it became abundantly clear that his cover had been blown and that he would now need to step into bodyguard duty. A dozen episodes in, it’s clear that the format this show has established works quite well and should easily produce any number of future episodes.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 12 “Pool Party” (B-)

Another week, another excursion. Sometimes it’s better for this show about a workplace to actually remain in its native habitat instead of taking the day – or, in this case, night – off to go somewhere and have a wild experience. Seeing people out of their natural surroundings is a nice treat every once and while, but there’s no reason to have Erin and Dwight hosting chicken fights and flirting for half an hour, since there’s no way that would ever happen within the confines of the office. This whole Andy-Erin romance is being dragged out rather intermittently, referenced only every once in a while to no seeming endpoint, since it would make sense for them to get together, whereas keeping Jessica involved might not be smart since actual partners are less interesting than potential partners (see Angela’s entirely absent state senator husband). Robert’s also a mess, allowing his personal life to spiral into the office in a way far more grievous than Michael’s many boundary crossings. It’s somewhat entertaining and somewhat irritating to see Gabe and Ryan compete for his affection to ridiculous lengths. I prefer Jim’s attitude, though it didn’t pan out too well for him in this episode. Where’s Pam when you need her? She’s missed. I did like seeing the budding romance between Darryl and Val continue, as Darryl’s bodily insecurities almost let Kevin get in the way of what they have going. The courting stage is definitely the best part of any TV relationship, and it’s nice to have another prospective couple on the horizon.

What I’m Watching: Parks & Recreation

Parks & Recreation: Season 4, Episode 12 “Campaign Ad” (B+)

This show likes to keep it in the extended family with its network of guest actors, and who better than Paul Rudd, who has costarred in both “I Love You, Man” and “Our Idiot Brother” with Rashida Jones, to play Bobby Newport, Leslie’s number one opponent for city council? Like many of the guest characters on this show, he didn’t show much in the way of brainpower, but like his family name, everyone seemed to love him in spite of it. Ben’s desire to do an attack ad was countered wonderfully by Leslie’s ill-fated attempt to run a positive ad, and I like their compromise, which involved a ten-year-old Leslie explaining why she wanted to run in extremely similar terms to those used by Bobby currently. Bobby’s whiny request for Leslie to drop out so that he could win was pathetic, and she’s now going to have a good time taking him down. Chris trying to befriend Ron was delightful and hilarious, particularly when Ron said no to a lunch invitation and then ended up at lunch with him after Chris laughed. His notion that Chris wanted a new friend inspired the amusing suggestion of Kyle, the guy even Jerry doesn’t like, and got Chris to reveal that he’s looking for Ben’s professional replacement. Andy and April’s discovery of medical insurance was even better than their first encounters with Bed Bath and Beyond and adult education, highlighted by Andy sneezing and smacking his head against the wall and then running into an ambulance while trying to flee April’s dental bill. Going to see 100 doctors to avoid appointments for the next ten years was also a brilliantly poor idea.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What I’m Watching: 30 Rock

30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 2 “Idiots Are People Two!” (C+)

After a strong premiere last week, this second installment returns to the same kind of untethered wackiness we’ve seen over the course of the past few seasons, making for a wild and generally uneven half hour. Starting with a moment that required an extensive flashback is an overused device, and it didn’t prove terribly interesting here, especially since the show ended on a “To Be Continued” screen, which is an unnecessary move for a sitcom like this. James Marsden’s appearance as Criss, Liz’s new boyfriend, wasn’t very engaging, and I really wasn’t a fan of the imaginary Jack taking out his wallet and mocking him in Liz’s head. The one element of that storyline that I did enjoy was Jack asking Liz to be friends with benefits and deducing that the only reason she would say no is that she was in a relationship. Tracy’s antics were nothing new, and protesting with all of the other idiots was just the kind of over-the-top nonsense that this show has come to know all too well. Involving Brooke Shields as a closet idiot may have elicited laughs from some, but it didn’t do much for me. Now that the world hasn’t come to an end, Kenneth is back to his old ways, being manipulated by anyone with a desire to achieve something with a patsy along for the ride. Something as simple as changing a light bulb couldn’t have gone more wrong, and I did laugh at Kenneth’s reaction to people and their proximity to the mercury.

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains (Winter Premiere)

Royal Pains: Season 3, Episode 11 “A Farewell to Barnes” (B+)

This show picked up exactly where it left off, finding Wilmer Valderrama’s diabetic Eric Kabasian collapsed from the incorrect medication prescribed by Divya, with plenty of secrets not yet revealed to various parties, including the fact that Eric was a HankMed patient and that Divya, Hamptons Heritage employee, prescribed the medication to him. The episode ended on an uncertain note, with Divya revealing her complicity to Hank, and I suspect that it’s going to be harder for her to get over than it will be for him, but it’s sure to cause some friction for a while, especially considering how Hank feels about Dr. Van Dyke. Jill’s impending departure may just be happening, as she takes the step to break up with Hank at the divorce party, something that could only happen in the Hamptons. Evan getting the General’s permission to marry Paige was a major thing, even though it slipped out of his fingers almost immediately. I think what the General respects more than anything is Evan actually speaking his mind, though its content usually irritates and infuriates him. I was thrilled to see Tom Cavanagh’s pro golfer return, and based on Hank’s findings, it looks like he might be sticking around for a while, which is great. I was even more excited when I finally recognized Kathleen Rose Perkins, who is my favorite part of Showtime’s “Episodes,” as the frenzied caterer who turned out to have celiac disease. This show occasionally does an excellent job of spotlighting guest performers, and this episode was a strong one for that.

What I’m Watching: Modern Family

Modern Family: Season 3, Episode 13 “Little Bo Bleep” (B+)

It’s been a while since this show has focused on Claire’s campaign for local office, having forgotten about it in favor of standalone storylines, but it’s nice to have it back front and center since it’s seriously hilarious. The Dunphy family sitting around and honking while watching Claire to tell her what she does wrong with her physical and verbal presentation made for a terrific scene, and that was hardly the best of it. Claire was actually doing pretty well in the debate against dog suicide believer Duane Bailey, but his mention of Phil’s arrest for a mistaken Clive Bixby incident soured the whole event. Phil getting up to defend himself was fantastic, and so was Claire’s horrific fidgeting that ensued in her response. The best part, however, was the immediately-presented autotuned version in which Phil and Claire were shamed to an impossible degree. Lily’s sporadic cursing and Mitchell’s reaction to it were quite funny, and I enjoyed how the entire Pritchett extended family started cracking up in the middle of the ceremony, angering the bride and groom quite a bit. The subplot with Stella the suicidal dog was a bit drawn out, but this show can’t always perform excellently on all levels, so having a storyline that’s not too interesting is certainly forgivable in an episode like this, where the other characters really get a chance to be themselves and show the world the unfortunate tics they possess. This could be a great Emmy episode for recent Emmy winners Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell.

What I’m Watching: Suburgatory

Suburgatory: Season 1, Episode 12 “The Casino Trip” (B+)

Field trips can sometimes be unadvisable, but like last week’s installment, this show handles what could otherwise be seen as a stunt episode quite well. A trip to Atlantic City with the five most mismatched men was a recipe for hilarity, and it’s interesting to see the two obviously gay men being featured so prominently following Mr. Wolf’s coming out and subsequent trouble dealing with the fact that others aren’t so supportive of his being out in public. The revelation of Fred’s gambling problem proved odd and entertaining, as Sheila could sense everything that happened and he managed to spin it all in a very favorable way despite a failed suicide attempt in Atlantic City. Steven’s presence and his layered conversations with George added a new dimension to the complicated romance brewing between George and Dallas, now that George has seen exactly how he treats her and learned that he isn’t planning on sticking around for the coming year. He did do an impressive job of talking Fred down, however, so I guess he’s good for something. I loved Dallas’ immediate reaction to George telling her Tessa might be having a party, asking if she’d be invited, and I think that the relationship she has with Tessa is superb. Tessa’s romance with Scott isn’t going well, not because he’s a jerk but because he is too disturbed by seeing a vaginal birth in Africa to get physical. Dalia’s insistence on the correctness of “threeteen” was amusing, making the most of her brief appearance in this episode.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

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

White Collar: Season 3, Episode 11 “Checkmate” (C+)

I’m not sure what it was about the return of this series that didn’t do it for me. In its absence, what I came to expect from USA was mainly action and danger, in the form of “Burn Notice” and “Covert Affairs,” and perhaps that’s why this premiere was disappointing. USA had this whole “Where is Elizabeth Burke” campaign, and to see her sitting comfortably with Keller solved what could have been a compelling, enduring mystery in less than five minutes. And she also managed to pull off the most effortless escape ever, tricking her captor into going to the drugstore – where he used a credit card! – and then actually putting in some work to break the glass with a chair and escape. The themes in this episode didn’t mix, as Elizabeth was never really in harm’s way but Neal had to work extra hard to ensure that Keller wouldn’t kill anyone. It looked like Neal might be in trouble as soon as Elizabeth was free, but, despite an aggressive move with a Raphael painting, Peter came to Neal’s aid so that Neal could then shoot Keller in the leg, again preventing anything severe from actually happening. Fortunately, Keller’s confession was good for everyone, and now Neal might be free of his anklet, which could change the show in interesting ways. After this lackluster premiere, I’m not sure I want to stick around given how unexciting this show is in comparison to the other Tuesday night fare on TV, but it may just have been that the Keller storyline dragged on way too long, so I’ll give it another week.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What I’m Watching: Justified (Season Premiere)

Justified: Season 3, Episode 1 “The Gunfighter” (A-)

This show can do no wrong. Coming off of a fantastic second season, this premiere segues from the violent events of the finale into a monumental opener that lays out the framework for this season and manages to incorporate a whole lot of shooting for just the first episode of a thirteen-episode order. This show is interesting because it lays out exactly who the villains are and shows you how bad they can be, leaving it up to Raylan to prove just what they’ve done and find a creative way to stop them. Boyd demanding an apology from Raylan for not handing over Dickie since he shot Ava and then physically attacking him when he refused was an intense opening, and the revelation that Boyd got himself put in the same prison as Dickie drove home Boyd’s vengeful spirit even more. Ava is doing a bang-up job of keeping things running with Boyd in jail, smacking Devil in the face when he talks back to her. I’m absolutely thrilled about the new characters that have been added, starting with Neal McDonough’s Robert Quarles. McDonough was so good on “Boomtown” and hasn’t had a great role since then, so what better than another series from Graham Yost, who also created that show. The body count in this premiere is astonishing, with only one other person left standing, and that’s Jere Burns’ Wynn Duffy, in a considerably less powerful position than the one he currently holds on “Burn Notice.” The actor that really surprised me in this hour was Desmond Harrington, who has played one of the less compelling characters on “Dexter” for the past few seasons, Joey Quinn, with a dark, terrifying, and extremely effective turn as Fletcher, nicknamed Ice Pick. His visit to Raylan’s motel room, and the ensuing action, made up the best part of the episode. This show is awesome.

What I’m Watching: Parenthood

Parenthood: Season 3, Episode 14 “It Is What It Is” (B+)

This episode featured an unusually small number of romances, but the two that were featured were fairly monumental. Jasmine walking in on Crosby and Lily kissing kicked in her jealousy in a major way, and I’m glad that he decided to take the high road and let her come to the concert with Dr. Joe in tow. It’s good to see that he’s getting more mature, and I do hope that his romance with Lily works out, at least for a while. Courtney Ford really is superb on this show, and I love having her around. Jonathan Tucker’s also pretty great, but I’m quite worried about the fact that his character seems to be coming awfully closer to a relationship with Amber, which would not be good for either party. Haddie’s admittance to Cornell prompted a return to the age-old problem of her family favoring Max, and it was heartbreaking to see Adam and Kristina discuss how they couldn’t possibly pay for it and then heartwarming to see him decide that they were going to do whatever it takes to make it happen for her. Zeek’s news about his health is sending him headfirst into a midlife crisis, and Sarah’s meddling in Drew’s life with Amy is probably going to cause him to resent her. As her due date approaches and Zoe realizes the reality of what’s going on with her pregnancy, she seems to be getting increasingly nervous, and I do hope that she doesn’t get cold feet and break Julia’s heart.

What I’m Watching: New Girl

New Girl: Season 1, Episode 10 “The Story of the 50” (B+)

This episode was actually quite hilarious, despite the fact that this show could do better than the flashback device to reveal its storylines. Schmidt’s cancellation of his birthday party was a great catalyst for a wacky half-hour that showed some fantastic enthusiasm from Jess. I was extremely excited by the two female guest stars that appeared in this episode, and I do hope that they recur in the future. Rachael Harris was downright nuts as Jess’ boss Tanya, and I was so thrilled to see Lizzy Caplan, famous for “Mean Girls” and among the best parts of the first season of “True Blood” and the short-lived “Party Down,” as Nick’s new girlfriend Julia. This is a superb role for her, and I love how she interacts with Nick. Benjamin proved to be a humongous jerk, and Julia decking him in the face after he said the party bus sucked was probably the episode’s most shocking and fabulous moment. Jess hiring a male stripper by accident wasn’t much of a surprise, though it did make Schmidt a bit quieter and less self-assured than usual. I guessed midway through that Schmidt’s atonement-requiring crime would be trying to kiss Jess, and I will admit that it was a bit more grievous than his previous crimes, which proved to be terrific fodder for not one but two montages featuring him saying some of the most ridiculous and douchebag-identifying things ever heard on television. What a great character he is, and this show’s not bad either.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What I’m Watching: Glee

Glee: Season 3, Episode 10 “Yes/No” (B-)

I feel like this show is constantly at war with itself, unsure of whether it wants to tell compelling stories or to be a rocking musical. This episode was above average in some ways in that it spun some intriguing tales, yet I’m not sure overall that it was terribly uneven, throwing in some unexpected and unsupportable twists to create intriguing drama. Coach Bieste eloping puts a pin in that particular plotline without really showing us the run-up to it, and serves only as a way to introduce the idea of marriage to Emma, who did a marvelous job with her marriage number. It’s not often enough that we get to see and hear her sing. Will’s decision to propose was nice, and I’m glad that he ultimately went through it with a romantic and choreographed performance, since it seemed for a bit like his resolve was going to be damaged by her obnoxious parents. Love was in the air for everyone, starting with Mercedes and Sam, who performed a fun update of “Summer Lovin’” from “Grease.” That’s another thing we never really got to see, with Sam and Mercedes suddenly dating before he suddenly left and then her new relationship started without any background either. Becky, whose life is apparently narrated by Helen Mirren, took center stage in a way that she never has before as she went for Artie, and it’s nice to see that Sue is capable of being kind when the occasion calls for it, as opposed to when she was hurling insults at Artie. Finn’s interest in the Army and subsequent proposal to Rachel felt awfully rushed and from out of nowhere, though I made the mistake of visiting TVGuide.com this morning and the proposal had been spoiled on their home page. I think that Will needs to stop asking students to be his best man and these kids need to remember that they’re still in high school.

Pilot Review: Alcatraz

Alcatraz (FOX)
Premiered January 16 at 8pm

I can’t say that I was expecting much from this show, but I was absolutely floored by it. I should have realized that J.J. Abrams usually only puts his name on strong projects, as one of the few fans of the short-lived “Undercovers,” and I actually have only objection, which is the same one that led me to abandon watching “Fringe” after just a few episodes. I’m not a big fan of Sarah Jones, who plays the lead role of Detective Rebecca Madsen, and who I’ve seen before in season two of “Sons of Anarchy” as bad girl Polly Zobelle. I’m not sure that can diminish my enjoyment of the show, however, and I think she’ll grow on me. I am absolutely thrilled about Jorge Garcia being on this show, playing a part perfect for him, as comic book writer and Alcatraz expert Diego “Doc” Soto. It’s a great follow-up for “Lost,” once again allowing him to be believable in a semi-comic role on a serious show. The two of them get such wonderful excitement from subverting Emerson, and it’s a joy to watch. Sam Neill is a superb inclusion in his high-powered, mysterious role, and I’ve so far been quite impressed with the casting for the Alcatraz inmates. This show’s format is very intriguing, and the cinematography is great. The music, by Michael Giacchino of course, is totally spectacular, and one of the main reasons that I loved this pilot. The show delivered on so many levels, constantly featuring excellent twists, including the fact that Emerson was the young officer on the day that everyone disappeared, that Rebecca’s grandfather was actually an inmate, not a guard, and that he’s the one who got her partner killed, and that Lucy was a doctor back in the 1960s. The show is brave to shoot one of its main characters in just the second episode, and its storylines, and guest characters, are quite dark, which makes this show even more interesting. The existence of the new, electronic Alcatraz that houses the newly recaptured prisoners is definitely enticing, and I like how this show doesn’t really address its supernatural components. It’s possible that this show could decline down the road, but I am fully hooked and enthralled at this point. This was one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a long time.

How will it work as a series? Airing a generally standalone second episode immediately after the pilot answers this question, clarifying that this show knows what it’s doing and how to keep reeling in its audience. It’s unclear whether the captured inmates, aside from Jack, will recur, but if each new prisoner is as intriguing as the ones we’ve seen so far, this show is going to rock. The narration said there were 302 men, so that’s a whole lot of episodes in the can.
How long will it last? The show had a strong debut, and presuming that it’s not too expensive, it could last a good long time, especially considering FOX’s enthusiasm for “Fringe,” which is already in its fifth season. FOX could use a fresh hit, and I think this may just be it (“Touch” could also be a contender). A second season renewal could well come soon.

Pilot grade: A

What I’m Watching: 2 Broke Girls

2 Broke Girls: Season 1, Episode 14 “And the Upstairs Neighbor” (B-)

This episode was admittedly a little silly, focusing more on the ridiculous elements of the show rather than the better serious parts. I do think that Jennifer Coolidge is very capable of being funny, most memorably for me in “Legally Blonde,” but slapping an accent onto her and an over-the-top plotline was a bit of the shame. It was obvious from the start that she wasn’t a prostitute, and for Max and Caroline to become so obsessed with that idea made the episode as a whole drag. I did enjoy Max’s threats to her new neighbor, and it’s fun to see her get taken down a beg by those unafraid of yelling at her. I’m sure those fans of the show that aren’t fans of Han and Oleg were happy to see another supporting character take the spotlight, but taking them out of the diner almost completely wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as past episodes have been. Max and Caroline’s efforts to throw back sexual harassment at Oleg were a bit short-lived, and I think featuring more of that kind of humor, designed to turn the show’s established tropes on their heads, would be nice. This show does have an awfully small cast, and maybe adding a few other recurring personalities besides Earl would do the show some good. The television universe inhabited by Max and Caroline could use a bit more consistency and turn this into a fully staffed and stocked comedy with a rich, entertaining, hilarious, and diverse ensemble.

What I’m Watching: Californication

Californication: Season 5, Episode 2 “The Way of the Fist” (B+)

Perhaps there was too much going on in the season premiere for me to properly take stock of the fact that Hank has once again put himself in a position where he’s slept with someone (or at least made out with) he wasn’t supposed to, and if he’s ever found out, things are good to get very bad, especially if he keeps holding her hand in public. Peter Berg already decked him in the face, and Samurai Apocalypse could do much more damage. Now, however, Hank has made an even bigger mistake, telling Samurai Apocalypse about his daughter’s philandering boyfriend and getting him beat up in the process, which is only going to push her closer to him. I like that Richard sides with Hank in terms of his feelings toward Tyler, and hopefully he’ll stick with him in the near future after finding out what happened to him. Charlie has some weird luck with the ladies, and his encounter with Alison was quite possibly his most bizarre interaction yet. It’s rare that Charlie is less disturbed than his female companion, though apparently it’s not so unusual for Alison to behave in the way that she did (it’s also no surprise that Charlie’s three-year-old son is inheriting some of his more despicable tendencies). Hiring Lizzie as the new nanny for his son doesn’t seem entirely wise, though I suppose that Charlie’s behavior around his son can’t be any worse than the very graphic and unfiltered manner in which Marcy and Stu conduct themselves around him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Round Two: House of Lies

House of Lies: Season 1, Episode 2 “Amsterdam” (B+)

I’m thrilled to report that the second installment of this show is just as good as the first, and I can tell that this is going to be another hit for Showtime. What was especially satisfying about this installment was that Marty wasn’t featured as prominently, giving the supporting characters a chance to shine, but Don Cheadle still owned all of the scenes in which Marty was the focus. His reaction to his son wearing objectionable clothing in class was particularly memorable, as was his rather vicious encounter with Monica in which they both ultimately screamed their safe word, which provides the title of this episode, after some disturbing and cruel behavior. I was very excited to see Richard Schiff in what looks to be a superb role as Skip, as well as Griffin Dunne as the Rainmaker. It’s good to see the people pulling the strings, and to see that they’re just as eccentric as their employees. Jeannie got very embarrassed after realizing that was she thought was a date was actually a headhunting meeting, and I like that she managed to walk it off, and that she almost took the job, which was cut off by Marty because he didn’t want to lose her. Doug did an amazing job of humiliating himself when Cat Deeley sat next to him and complimented his vanilla, and his team did a marvelous job of mocking him. Ben Schwartz had his chance to shine in his spectacularly-spun story of seduction, which managed to entrance both me and his team.

What I’m Watching: Hell on Wheels (Season Finale)

Hell on Wheels: Season 1, Episode 10 “God of Chaos” (B+)

It’s sad to see this show depart from the air after just ten episodes, but its strong performance has assured that it will return for a second season sometime next year. It’s always a great idea to start a season finale with a flashback to a central event that’s been frequently discussed but never shown, and seeing the disturbing image of Cullen’s dead wife started off a very serious episode, which featured Cullen committing his most gruesome murder yet. Killing the wrong man is likely going to have grave repercussions for Cullen, whose wanted poster adorns one of the episode’s closing moments, as he has failed to achieve closure and killed an innocent man. The tide has turned in Hell on Wheels, as Durant’s efforts to manipulate the Swede and Cullen against each other resulted in the Swede being tarred and feathered by the whole town, sure to affect his status in the ensuing season. Elam isn’t making any friends either now that Psalms is unimpressed by his haughty attitude, and Eva doesn’t want to be with Elam if he doesn’t plan to marry her and wants to leave Hell on Wheels. Lily agreeing to be the face of the railroad is a smart idea for all involved, and it’s good that she’s determined to be a part of the process if she’s going to be the one representing it. After an uncertain pilot, this show got good real fast, and I look forward to seeing this show when it returns for a new arc.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Christopher Heyerdahl as the Swede

What I’m Watching: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives: Season 8, Episode 11 “Who Can Say What’s True?” (C+)

After a decently strong return last week, Chuck’s demise has been almost entirely forgotten as only Susan seems to be thinking about the specifics of what he knew anymore. Her visit to Alejandro’s home wasn’t nearly as painfully awkward and ill-advised as I might have expected to be, disregarding the whole Lego-purchasing incident. Justina Machado of “Six Feet Under” fame was a good choice to play his wife, though Susan got more out of her visit from her daughter, who was relieved to know that Alejandro wouldn’t be coming back but chose to share that information with her mother, which is sure to create a slew of problems. Gaby’s efforts to talk to Carlos’ client to seal the ninety-million-dollar deal by prodding Lynette and then using a menu to conceal her cheat sheet were laughable, and I’m not sure why such things need to be featured. Lynette tearing apart the house because she wants to be self-sufficient without Tom was perhaps a bit too obvious, but it’s clear that she’s having trouble being on her own, especially when her kids don’t give her the benefit of the doubt. Renee dragging Bree to a bar elicited an unexpected dark side from the redhead after a wild night, underscoring the fact that Bree is becoming a much darker and more serious character. Ben’s money problems are troubling, and it’s even more worrisome that Mike has now stepped in to defend him, putting him just as much in harm’s way as the Australian.

What I’m Watching: Shameless

Shameless: Season 2, Episode 2 “Summer Loving” (B+)

This season is arguably getting even crazier than the last, and it’s just as entertaining as ever. Sheila is making great strides with her steps, but of course that worries Frank, who doesn’t want her to become fully functional again so that she can meddle in his life. Having Frank deliver meals on wheels and try to sleep with Dottie elicited a strong and decently dramatic performance from Molly Price of “Third Watch” fame, and had a surprisingly serious and rather melancholy ending. With Debs growing up, the rooming arrangements at the Gallagher household got complicated, with Carl getting more of a showcase than usual, reading Fiona’s explicit diary to the day care kids and then getting an unconventional and somewhat horrifying talk from his father. Mickey getting out of prison definitely changes the focus of much of the show, but his presence adds a lot, as he attempts to devalue Ian’s drive to go into the army and study and serves as a superb security guard, even forcing Frank to pay for something. Lip is definitely getting obsessed with Karen, and Kevin’s advice about how she must feel about Jody didn’t help much. Veronica’s spontaneity on the excursion was an unconventional but endearing subplot that added some more drama to the show. After Steve, Fiona is having a lot of trouble moving on, but you have to give her credit for refusing to settle, giving Jasmine’s suggestion of a guy an intense piece of her mind and not backing down.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What I’m Watching: The Good Wife

The Good Wife: Season 3, Episode 13 “Bitcoin For Dummies” (B+)

What a fun and complex episode this was, weaving a multi-pronged mystery with Kalinda at its heart and embellishing the case against Will, which took a major negative turn in this hour. Having Bob Balaban back as humorless treasury agent Gordon Higgs was a great start, and the superb casting didn’t stop there, with Jason Biggs as Mr. Bitcoin’s lawyer and Jennifer Ferrin from “The Cape” as Elaine Middleton, one of Kalinda’s prime suspects to be Mr. Bitcoin. I enjoyed her investigation into his identity, concluding different things at various points throughout the episode and then ultimately reaching the conclusion that it was all three of them. Wendy tasking Dana with cultivating her asset is troubling, especially since what Dana initially presents Kalinda with scares her enough to give over the potentially damaging information on Will to spare Alicia. Will does seem to be getting quite nervous about his fate, and Elsbeth’s wacky ways won’t be able to hold off Kalinda, Cary, and Dana for long. The subplot involving Nisa had some unexpected and unusual depth, as both Alicia and Jackie delivered nearly the exact same speech to Zach about his relationship, with one crucial difference. Finding out that Jackie told Zach to cut ties with Nisa because she went to public school and he went to private school was enough to inspire Alicia to change her mind, because there’s nothing quite like pissing off Jackie that makes her happy. This has to be the first truly positive use of Zach since Glen Childs was still in the race.

What I’m Watching: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time: Season 1, Episode 9 “True North” (C+)

There’s a certain point in each episode where it becomes abundantly clear just which famous fairy tale is being retold, and that does allow for a certain amount of satisfaction on the part of the viewer in terms of being able to put the pieces together. What’s often equally puzzling is why this fantasy series is the new destination for old sci-fi actors like Nicholas Lea, best known as Alex Krycek from “The X-Files” and recently seen on “V.” Perhaps it’s just my frustration with the fact that this show, while continually intriguing, never quite delivers on the level that I would hope it might. Figuring out that the Evil Queen was trying to get the apple that would later tie into Charming and Snow White was a strong moment, but sometimes the path there just doesn’t cut it. Having Hansel and Gretel’s father be a mechanic was awfully convenient, and that’s where this show sometimes blurs the line between coincidental and corny. Emma so casually offering up the fact that Henry thinks that Snow White is her mother is definitely going to get Mary Margaret thinking, setting her right back into the mind frame that maybe Henry isn’t so far off in his theories. Mr. Gold’s manipulation of Emma seems to be put on hold for the moment as he does her a favor without asking anything in return, but this show does have a tendency to forget about some of its subplots, only to randomly revisit them later.

What I’m Watching: Nikita

Nikita: Season 2, Episode 12 “Sanctuary” (B+)

This isn’t a perfect episode, but it’s definitely the most multi-functional and twist-filled installment that we’ve seen in a while. The “previously on” segment dealt exclusively with Sean having planted the tracker on Alex, and the episode opened with Oversight meeting, refocusing the show in a major way after Alex’s lengthy obsession with going back to Russia. Sean managed to track Alex to Nikita’s rather easily, but a well-timed walk resulted in her taking him out and then Nikita thinking that it would be wise to try to turn Sean rather than just shooting him. Getting him to tell his mother that they had a black box that they would use if they executed Operation Clean Sweep was a big win, but it seems that Percy had even more secure plans, sending the Guardians to take out Oversight and threaten Amanda with Operation Clean Sweep, taking down two enemies in one and leaving Nikita and company pretty much powerless to do anything. Percy has sure rebounded from almost being placed into a medically-induced coma within seconds, ready to be back on top as Amanda seems unlikely to sacrifice the lives of everyone in Division for her own. We’re only halfway through the season at this point, so I imagine there’s going to be a major shift of power in the near future, and the ever-growing team that includes Nikita, Alex, Birkhoff, Michael, Owen, and Sean are going to have to face off against Percy once again with no friends on the inside.

What I’m Watching: Chuck

Chuck: Season 5, Episode 10 “Chuck Versus Bo” (B+)

With just three more installments left after this, it’s about time that someone besides Chuck got serious about getting out of the spy business. Exits are never easy, and preparing officially for “one last mission” is never as simple as it seems. Offering Casey Ronald Reagan’s office space is a smart way to convince him, but what really needs to be resolved is this seemingly endless supply of Intersect glasses lying around. I guess that Morgan and Alex needed one more clarification that they really do love each other, with minor hiccups presented by Dale, Bo Derek, and talk of rainbows. It’s fun to have a guest like Derek, particularly for the mockery it inspired from Sarah after hearing about his poster. Morgan heading to the Buy More in Colorado was entertaining, which of course made Casey’s efforts to get rid of the creepy cousin in the family all the more difficult. The subplot of Jeff and Lester tailing them was amusing, and I’m glad it ended simply and smoothly with Casey and Morgan finally figuring out how to steer them wrong after two failed attempts. Letting the bad guy get away, however, didn’t do them many favors, as Chuck has now been captured, prompting Sarah and Casey to go in guns blazing after him. Sarah’s decision to put on the Intersect glasses was almost unavoidable, and, while it seems that everyone has been turning into the Intersect lately, Sarah is much better-equipped than anyone else to have it, with a perfect blend of serious spy skill and heart.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pilot Review: The Finder

The Finder (FOX)
Premiered January 12 at 9pm

I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from this show at all, having given up quickly on “Bones” after finding it decent enough but hardly worth watching on a regular basis. While I’m not sure that I’d be ready to commit to this series every week, I did thoroughly enjoy the pilot. This was my first introduction to these characters since I didn’t view the “Bones” episode that introduced them, and they’re one entertaining bunch. Geoff Stults, fortunately, is infinitely better than he was on ABC’s awful “Happy Town,” and he reminds me somewhat of Mark Valley, who before “Human Target” never impressed me and then delivered exactly in the right way when called upon for a role like this. Lying down in the middle of the road and spreading his arms to deduce clues was a standout moment that indicated that he is not your normal investigator. This is a superb role for Michael Clarke Duncan, hilarious as his brawny sidekick Leo, and I also love both of the women featured in the main cast: Mercedes Masohn as U.S. Marshal Isabel, and Maddie Hasson as the feisty Willa. At first, it seemed to be that Cooper could well be a regular character as well, but I think he’s gone after this first installment. This show definitely has its own tone, separate from “Bones” and altogether weirder and more relaxed, if the penciled names in the opening credits are any indication. This is just the kind of show that FOX should be producing, funny and enthralling, with a bit of crime and crime-solving mixed in. It definitely surprised me in a good way.

How will it work as a series? Each week, Walter is going to have someone new to find, and that would make this your average procedural with a wacky protagonist. Yet Willa’s gypsy ties and the complex relationship among the other three main characters might make this one stand out and necessitate watching each and every week.
How long will it last? Unfortunately, this premiere was not a hit in any way, shape, or form for FOX, which leads me to believe that the network won’t want to keep it around for long. Thursdays at 9pm has always been one of the most competitive time slots, and perhaps this would have been better off elsewhere. I wouldn’t give up hope just yet, but it’s not looking good right now.

Pilot grade: B+

What I’m Watching: Person of Interest

Person of Interest: Season 1, Episode 11 “Super” (B+)

I’m excited that Carter looking into Finch’s background means that we get some flashbacks to his time spent with Brett Cullen’s Ingram when the machine was just beginning to be built and Finch was starting to realize its capabilities and why it couldn’t ever fall into the wrong hands. I do love when characters are brutally honest after plenty of lying, and while Finch didn’t exactly spell everything out for Carter, the fact that he sat down with her and gave her a clue about someone that had a number was a positive step in their relationship. Tasking Fusco with planting Reese’s prints to throw Snow off of his trail was also smart, and it leaves them free to pursue the case of the week. It was a lot of fun to see the roles reversed and have each person train the other about what his job should be, highlighted by Reese’s suggestion, implemented in the field later by Finch, that he poke his target in the eye. Reese getting stir crazy was expected, and I do have to say that I never knew crutches could be used so well in combat, both to start fires and to fight assailants. It’s always good to see a friendly face, and that’s one reason I knew that David Zayas, seen regularly as Angel Batista on “Dexter,” couldn’t be a bad guy. This show does do a good job of being ambiguous with more than few legitimate suspects so that it’s difficult to figure out just who the bad guy is.

What I’m Watching: The Office

The Office: Season 8, Episode 11 “Trivia” (B+)

Not much work seems to be getting done at the office these days, as every single person leaves work halfway through the day to drive to Philadelphia, exempting Dwight, who took the entire day off to fly to Florida for a face-to-face meeting with Robert. The quiet contest at the beginning of the episode was most amusing for the reasons that both Andy and Kevin deemed necessary to come close to breaking or break their silence: the sight of a raccoon eating a hamburger and the first (and second) bite of a candy bar. Andy’s efforts to sell paper to staff so that they can make quota were a bit over-the-top, but I wouldn’t expect any less from the manager who’s in a bit over his head. I loved the fact that it Oscar’s trivia contest was at a gay bar, and liked even more that it barely played into the content of the episode. I enjoyed the breakup of the teams, with the ‘A’ team, the backup team, and the “just have fun” team. Kelly’s surprising skill was great, as was Ryan disqualifying himself because he couldn’t live without his phone. The Einstein team did do a superb job, and it was funny that the question they got wrong was to identify none other than Albert Einstein himself. Gabe’s definition of himself as the corporate toilet was interesting, and it seems that another effort by Robert to distract someone from the truth failed as Dwight forced Gabe to bring him to Robert’s house. Robert did make a good point when he said that Dwight’s ambition would be wasted on a manager’s job, giving him his father’s medal instead and explaining to him that alligators are dinosaurs, prompting only minor disagreement from the truly bizarre Dwight.

Pilot Review: Rob

Rob (CBS)
Premiered January 12 at 8:30pm

It’s usually better to have an actual concept in mind rather than just a star looking for a good vehicle to use his comedic talents. That’s not always true, however, especially in this case, where Rob Schneider, used best in cameo roles in Adam Sandler films, is cast as Rob, a man who has just gotten married, unaware that his wife comes with a large Mexican-American family. The premise is trite and has been done to death, and, interestingly, the show actually sidelines its protagonist, not allowing him to be terribly funny and letting supporting players like Cheech Marin, who does deliver a few decent jokes, and Lupe Ontiveros, take the brunt of the comic spotlight. The show’s efforts to reverse stereotypes, done by having Rob’s mother-in-law devalue his landscape architecture business to gardening and having his father-in-law come out severely against illegal immigration, are ineffective and highly irritating. Additionally, this show goes to absurd lengths to showcase its title character having pratfalls and mishaps that ultimately get him into trouble, and it’s almost more worthwhile to watch to judge how preposterous and over-the-top it will be rather than to actually follow the paper-thin plot. Lines like “Don’t tell them your height” elicit a bit of a chuckle, but if that’s the best this show can do, then I’m seriously worried. Rob Schneider was not born to be a great TV star, and more than a few things indicate to me this isn’t going to be the show that changes that.

How will it work as a series? I’m shocked that someone conceived of this as a weekly series since it seems to me that all the jokes have already been made. Now that Rob is married, he’s permanently tied to this family, and it’s going to your conventional multigenerational family sitcom with a sour and almost altogether unfunny twist.
How long will it last? I can’t imagine long, especially given that it’s on Thursday nights, where the much funnier “How To Be a Gentleman” died a quick death, rather than Monday nights, where random shows live for years. The pilot performed well, but I'd expect a steep decline, and I don't think this show will make it past February.

Pilot grade: F