Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Phenomenon

Phenomenon
NBC, Wednesday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: It’s the search for the next great mentalist. Quick, name the last great mentalist!

THE PERSONNEL: The judges are famed spoon bender Uri Geller, who hasn’t aged since the 70’s, and Criss Angel, better known as the “Douchebag”. I mean “Mindfreak”.

THE REVIEW: I have a friend who used to be a professional paranormal investigator, so I was going to have him co-write this review. (It’s like I’m friends with Peter Venkman.) I’m more Dr. 13 than Fox Mulder, so I’m clearly not the target audience. Unfortunately, he forgot to watch the show. That leaves me.

Now, the ads made it look like we were going to see incredible feats of pure magic, but it was much more lame than that. Apparently there are 10 contestants, though only four appeared on this episode. They do their tricks, and then Uri and Douchey weigh in. It’s sort of weird to have people judging psychic powers. It’s like they’re trying out for the X-Men. Uri is the Paula judge. It’s all rainbows and puppies and everybody just overwhelms him. Criss is more of a, well, imagine if Simon Cowell weren’t clever and spent his critiques telling people how much better his singing voice is. And the host is some self-important prat who tries to lend suspense to the proceedings with poorly-written introductions. “A potentially deadly game of Russian Roulette”? Isn’t Russian Roulette potentially deadly by its very nature? Is he distinguishing it from potentially hilarious games of Russian Roulette?

There’s not really a lot of pretense of genuine magic. (Or “genuine” “magic”, if you prefer.) And really, most of these tricks involve simply being incredibly observant. It’s actually more amazing to me that somebody can pick up on subtle verbal cues to determine which nail gun is loaded, than the possibility that he’s using psychic powers. And Criss does his best to remind us that it’s all trickery, because he’s an asshole. It’s ‘magic’ when he does it, when somebody else does it, he’s seen it before and knows the guy who invented the trick.

In fact, some of it was incredibly lame: The guy who demonstrates that a fox trap he’s using in his trick is real, and then replaces it with a different trap. “See, this trap is real, and very powerful. Now I’m going to use this other trap for the rest of the trick.” Or the guy who used, as evidence of his psychic powers, the fact that once he dreamed about his brother dying, and then ten years later, it happened. You know, if you ever dream about somebody dying, it’ll come true sooner or later. When I was a kid and Reagan got shot, I dreamed that he died. Twenty-two years later, it came true! And then there was the saddest trick I’ve ever seen. Uri Geller involved the folks at home with this one. He showed five symbols, and thought about one of them. He thought it at us. And then he put the symbol in a sealed envelope, and you could text your guess as to which symbol he thought about. (For a small fee.) At the end of the show, they revealed the answer. Putting aside the fact that there were no checks and balances (we took their word for the voting results and that the box wasn’t tampered with and that it only contained one symbol in the first place), 28% of votes were correct. I’m not sure it proves anything when the correct symbol wins by 1%, and is only slightly more than one standard deviation from the arithmetic mean. Color me impressed.

Celebrity guests include Rachel Hunter, who couldn’t look more angry about being there, Carmen Electra, who didn’t really look like Carmen Electra, and Ross Matthew. Now, I’m not familiar with Ross Matthew. They claimed he was from the Tonight Show, which only reminded me of why I don’t watch the Tonight Show. He’s a throwback to the days of shrill but non-threatening gay comedians. He could be a panelist on The Match Game, and I don’t mean that in a good way. What a fantastically irritating individual. It must be sad for him to spend his life embodying a depressing stereotype from three decades ago.

THE VERDICT: I’m a skeptic, but I enjoy a good magic show. This is not a good magic show. It’s lame and self-important, which is a bad combination. Plus, you know, Criss Angel.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dancing with the Stars -- Week the Sixth

Group dance night! It’s the best night of the season! I love group dance night! Everybody has so much fun, there’s all sorts of cool moves and lifts and jumps, and best of all, the rehearsal footage! It always seems like the contestants are enjoying each other, and this year, there are no pills in the group. Nobody liked Stacy Kiebler, you know? I love the rehearsal footage. I mean, I don’t want anybody to get hurt, but all those flailing limbs in a small space are great comedy. Edyta accidentally head-butting Cameron? That’s funny stuff! It was a really fun routine this year, too.

Let’s head straight for the contestants

SABRINA BRYAN – (9-8-8) This was her weakest dance yet. I’ve been saying that when she ended up with a straight ballroom dance, she’d lose the top spot. She’s a talented enough dancer to cover it up, but this foxtrot was really weird and aggressive. For the first time with her, it really felt like Mark was doing all the work. It even seemed to me like he had to straighten her out a couple of times. And again, she’s good enough that she can cover up pretty well, but this wasn’t up to her standards. It’s not like it was a disaster, or even bad. Still, this is the first chink in her invincible Cheetah armor.

JENNIE GARTH – (9-9-9) She really is getting better every week. The mambo has sort of a dark history on this show, with some incredibly hammy performances. (I wish I could remember who it was that actually performed to “Mambo No. 5”.) And even though this particular dance included an instance of the always loathsome “Pretend the woman’s ass is a bongo” step, it was mercifully brief. They did some very cool stuff with their arms, too. That’s sort of unusual for her. Jennie Garth is bringing it!

JANE SEYMOUR – (8-7-7) So much to say here. First off, word has it that Tony and Carrie-Ann are seriously feuding. Tony’s a little bit of a hothead, and Carrie-Ann’s had a stick up her butt lately, so it’s hard to pick a side. (How’d you like the way she slammed Tony in her critique? “I feel like Jane was better than the dance.”) As for the dance, well, I’m mentioned how I feel about the jive. There’s no such thing as a good jive. That said, this was kind of messy, mostly for the reason the judges mentioned. Jane don’t jive, turkey. (And yes, that was a Black Lightning reference, for no other reason than to amuse my brother and sister.) I hope this isn’t it for her. Just in case, I’m really going to have to put this out there: Does Jane Seymour have breast implants? That’s not something I think about often, but they’ve been on display the last couple of weeks, and I’m halfway convinced. Unless that’s well-known and I just look like an idiot. Oh, also, I heartily approve of the music selection. Anytime you bust out some David Bowie, I’m happy.

CAMERON MATHISON – (9-8-8) I can’t get over how nimble this guy is. He’s doing gymnastic moves out there on the floor. He really does well with balancing the fireworks (jumping, somersaults, sliding into third) with dancing fundamentals. I have a hard time putting my finger on what makes a samba a samba, but I thought this was really good, and fun to watch as ever. My favorite part of Dancing with the Stars every season is when I really find myself liking somebody I couldn’t have cared less about before the show. I had never heard the name ‘Cameron Mathison’ before, and now I’m really rooting for the guy. I’m not sure why Edyta was wearing Cher’s costume from “Half-Breed” though.

MEL B. – (10-10-10) As I may have mentioned every week, she’s not exactly my favorite. Still, this was really damn good. It actually looked like a rumba demonstration – you could learn how to do a rumba from watching this performance. I couldn’t, but anybody who’s reasonably coordinated could. I don’t really have much to say when somebody does a nice job without throwing any crazy-ass moves in there.

MARIE OSMOND – (8-8-7) I have to assume she’s tired of seeing that fainting footage by now. I liked this dance better than the judges did, but I really like the paso doble. If I could learn one dance, that would be the one. I thought the choreography was clever, the way she hit the floor about halfway through. You know, just enough that everybody started to worry about her again. I don’t know – I liked it way more than the judges. I think if she had been earlier in the show, her scores would have been higher. It’s hard to follow a 30.

HELIO CASTRONEVES – (9-10-9) This is the first time I really feel like Helio lived up to his hype. I really do think he’s a swell guy, but I think he gets by on personality and flashy jumps rather than solid dancing. Last week he didn't have his tricks, and he choked. This week, he nailed it. Very few tricks, just straightforward footwork. I feel like he's a contender now rather than just the "Isn't he fun to watch?" guy. And man, seeing him in the group dance, this dude is really going to bring it when they're allowed to do lifts.

Everybody who's left could realistically win, and I like most of them. It's hard to say who's going home this week. It seems like there's a lot of overlap in the fan bases, and I think people are shifting their votes to whoever gets the lowest score. That's the only way I can account for Mel and Jane ending up in the Bottom Two the last couple of weeks when they finished near the top in judge's scores. There are people I don't like as much as others, but there's nobody I'm really desperate to see get off my TV.

Heroes 2-6 - "The Line"

“I thought you were a drunk.”
“Turns out I’m a hero.”

This episode made Swear Jar Buddy Kelli angry, largely because she hates Peter. Sure, I’m still mad at him for breaking up Rory and Dean, but I’ve moved on. Seriously, she’s hated Peter since Episode One. She also made the point that we’re headed towards another ‘Destruction of New York’ scenario, introduced in an episode where the possibility of the Hero virus spreading among the general population is discussed. I’m giving them a little more slack, partly because of the ‘93% of the population is dead’ tag at the end, and partly because last year they faked us out with the exploding man. Besides the virus, we’ve got the genetic bomb that is Maya walking around. Personally, I think it’s a good move to give them a definite crisis to prevent, but it does have a bit of déjà vu about it. I trust you guys – don’t let me down!

So now we’ve got ‘Adam Monroe’ headed our way. Peter knows him, Bob’s reading up on him. He’ll be showing up soon, no doubt. (And if this were Lost, I’d have to figure out the anagram or the pertinence of the theories that the mathematician he’s named after espoused. Sometimes a name is just a name.) By the way, it looked to me like the grandfather clock in Montreal had no hands. If that’s true, that’s the second broken timepiece we’ve seen in the last couple of episodes. (Sylar’s watch is shattered.) Did Hiro actually break time?

Hey, we saw the paintings! I’m sure they’ll be screengrabs that we can obsess over later, but here’s what I saw:
#2 – Nothing much. At an angle and dark.
#3 – Somebody’s holding a vial.
#4 – Blonde woman (Niki?) freaking out.
#5 – Just a quick shot, but it seemed to be a haunted looking Peter and other people behind bars.
#6 – Hiro vs. Kensei!
#7 – Dark-haired man shooting a gun.
#8 – Dead Bennett while Claire makes out.

I’m convinced now that West is up to no good. Remember how he caught Claire a couple weeks back, because even though she’d heal, he couldn’t bear to see her hurt? Seems he’s pretty comfortable with letting her drop for a prank these days. Basically, everything he’s talked Claire into has been stupid, dangerous, or mean. Stupid West.

You know, I don’t trust Bob one bit. Way too nice to Monica at the end there. I feel like that iPod he gave her is laced with smallpox or something. I was glad to see that Mohinder wasn’t willing to inject Monica, even if it means he’s got the crazy lady keeping an eye on him. That could be good – Niki’s storylines are either awesome or boring, with very little in between. Can we agree that bringing Molly to the Company was one of the stupidest decisions ever made by a biped, though? Mohinder totally wants to be Bennett. Sure, I’ll back myself into a corner and put my loved ones at risk, but it’ll work out because I’ve got a plan. Only Mohinder has no plan. We all want to be more like Bennett, man. We just don’t get killed doing it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sylar is creepy! I liked his creepy little speech to Alejandro, and that he’s slowly turning Maya to the dark side. So without his powers he’s managed to kill two people and convinced Maya to wipe out another six. That Sylar, he’s got advanced degrees in Murderology and Murderonomy. By the way, referring to the Minute Men at the border as ‘Fake policemen’ cracked me up.

I’m very worried about Hiro. I sort of assumed that Kensei was going to go bad again, because he’s Sark and has no choice, but I was actually surprised at how it came about. Now, the fact that Hiro mentions damaging the space/time continuum is worrisome, as we’ve seen that time in the Heroes universe actually can be altered. Even more worrisome is the fact that he says the kiss “changed me forever”. That sounds like somebody who’s writing about a long-ago event, and I don’t want Hiro to stay in the past for long enough to have to reminisce. Of course, Hiro tends to be overly dramatic, so it wouldn’t be out of character for him to write that thirty seconds after the fact. Either way, it does seem like he’s mucked up time. (Hey, wouldn’t it be great if the swordfight in painting #6 actually takes place in the present? I’m sticking with my belief that Kensei’s still alive.)

And then we have Bennett, in full badass mode. Using the Haitian’s powers of forgettiness as an instrument of torture was genius. And everything else, man, that guy is cold. I don’t actually have much to say, but I really liked all his scenes. And Ivan had that great throwaway reference to ‘the warehouse where we tagged the liquid man’. You know these guys are jaded when a liquid person doesn’t really throw them off anymore.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Never Follow a Hippie to a Second Location!

So, I'm waiting on my review of Phenomenon, because I'm anticipating some thoughts from a special guest reviewer. Believe it or not, I have a friend who used to be listed in the Yellow Pages as a paranormal investigator! I'd be a fool not to take advantage of that!

Work's kind of a bear today, so I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that last night's NBC lineup was pretty much the greatest thing ever. The "Who Caresies?", Joy vs. Catalina, Andy's attempts at remembering the commercial (My favorite: 'Poison Gas'), and every single second of 30 Rock. The consensus in my viewing group was that it was the best 30 Rock ever, and also one of the best things ever. Better than shoes and carbonation by a long shot. And the single greatest sequence in the whole show was Tracy's therapy session, with Jack playing all the roles. If you think you've ever seen anything funnier than this scene, you are lying.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: The Next Great American Band

The Next Great American Band
Fox, Fridays, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: You know that show, American Idol? Picture it with instruments and off-brand knockoffs for the host and judges.

THE PERSONNEL: It’s the producers of American Idol. The host is a young man who introduced himself as “The New Zealand Ryan Seacrest”, which is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. (And yes, the very mention of New Zealand made me spend two hours hoping for a Flight of the Conchords reference. You know, you choose some backward little country that nobody knows anything about…) The judges are Ian Dickson, the Simon Cowell of Australian Idol, drummer Sheila E., and the Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik, who seems to have an extra ‘z’ in his name.

THE REVIEW: Full disclosure: I don’t like American Idol. This isn’t a value judgment or anything, because I’m here reviewing Dancing with the Stars every week. I just don’t enjoy Idol, so I don’t watch it. I’ve got friends who love it, so it’s not like I think the people who watch it are wrong. Mysterious Don blogs it into submission every week (And went to see the live tour! I almost made fun of him, only I’ve seen Dancing with the Stars on tour. Twice. That’s a fight neither of us can win.), and Swear Jar Buddy Lana loves her some Idol. This is all by way of saying that this is really not my kind of show.

Plus, my musical tastes run more to singer-songwriters than bands. That’s not a hard and fast rule, just an observation. So there go my biases, and the show still kind of sucks. As we’ve come to expect from Idol, the auditions feature a lot of comedy at the expense of the delusional and/or mentally impaired. Unlike Idol, they don’t have any funny judges. Ian Dickson tries hard, and I give him credit for telling one singer in the World Idol competition a few years back that he looked more like Middle-Earth Idol, but it just seems like jokes that your friend’s dad would tell.

And there’s the standard ploys to get you emotionally invested, even though they really seemed to focus on the people who didn’t make it. I didn’t really get a payoff for any kind of feel-good story, so now the 12 bands who made it are largely strangers. (In fact, some of them never appeared onscreen until the recap of the bands who made it.)

Now, they claim that the competition is open to all genres, and based on who they approved, ‘all genres’ runs the gamut from pop to pop/rock to rock. Sure, there’s an obligatory country band and a big band, but that’s about it for variation. In fact, it seemed like many bands were rejected because of genre. The polka band, for example. Say what you will about polka, but it’s disingenuous at best to claim that the competition is open to all genres, and then reject a band because of their genre.

The other thing, and I feel I should preface this with a Seinfeldian “Should we even be talking about this?”, is that the whole thing is pretty, well, white. Of the 12 finalists, 11 are all-white. In fact, it was 80 minutes into the two-hour show before they even got around to showing a Black person. That’s kind of weird and skeevy. And there was no (that we saw) representation for hip-hop. Granted, in the hip-hop community, the phrase “From the producers of American Idol” is not exactly a draw. Still, it’s weird, and creates a highly inaccurate picture of the current music scene.

I would like to mention one band that didn’t make it, sort of a rockabilly combo with an armless bass player. That’s right, he plays with his feet. And because I am a bad person, I laughed my ass off. Not because having no arms is funny, but because it made me think of “Indomitable Spirit” from Mr. Show – the band made up of people who had to overcome obstacles. I think they actually had an armless bass player, and also somebody who was just a head on a pillow. (And of course, they all sing a verse about their disabilities, including “My name’s Fran / and I’m a woman.”)

Since I’m never watching the show again, I won’t be bothered by these people any more, but let me just say that pop band “Dot Dot Dot” filled me with near-murderous rage every time they appeared on screen.

THE VERDICT: Oh, I’m never watching this again. I honestly can’t tell whether people will like it, but this particular person does not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Viva Laughlin

Viva Laughlin
CBS, Half-Past Never

THE PREMISE: Well, it got cancelled before I could finish the review. It’s a drama about a casino owner facing a murder rap. I feel like there’s something I forgot… Oh yeah, it’s a freaking musical! And not just a regular musical – the characters sing along with the pop songs on the soundtrack in choreographed numbers. Hugh Jackman is singing “Sympathy for the Devil” while dancing on a blackjack table, but it’s the album version, so he’s drowned out by Mick Jagger. Like I say, cancelled.

THE PERSONNEL: It’s a remake of a British series, which was probably far less stupid. Hugh Jackman produces and appears in the pilot, which, you know, is one half of the episodes. DB Woodside from 24 shows up, as does Melanie Griffith, who brings her usual histrionics and poor diction to the role. And Lost’s Creepy Ethan, William Mapother, appears in the second episode. And sings.

THE REVIEW: Technically, because of weather issues and preemptions, I watched the last half of the first episode and the first three-quarters of the second. Not that it matters, though. Because, you know, cancelled.

There’s not a lot of point in reviewing something that’s already cancelled, really. Let’s just say that even without the weird-ass musical performances, it still wasn’t good. The score in almost every scene was intrusive and grating, especially in the lighthearted family scenes. The music just kept reminding us that we were seeing something hilarious, which was helpful, because the on-screen action provided little clue.

The acting was a little broad all around. Hugh Jackman was a lot of fun, William Mapother did his best, and DB Woodside, usually good on 24, pretty much phoned it in. Not his fault, really – they didn’t give him much to do. Melanie Griffith is generally sort of awful. Lloyd own, the lead character, had an uphill battle but I’d like to see him in something else. Anything else.

I can’t really think of a case where musicals have worked on television. (Excepting the town of Springfield’s propensity to burst into song.) A musical requires a certain suspension of disbelief. You have to buy into the idea that people are suddenly bursting into song in place of conversation, and passerby know all the lyrics and complicated dance steps. In a play or a movie, it’s a self-contained organism, and it’s relatively easy to buy into it for the duration. For TV to work, you need to accept the reality they’re presenting on a regular basis. That suspension of disbelief is harder when you have to commit to it every week.

And, of course, this was the strangest damn way of handling musical sequences that I’ve ever seen. They’re singing along with the soundtrack? What the hell? That’s just crazy.

Still, I have to call it a noble failure. They tried to do something new, and there is sort of a lunatic passion behind it. It’s not bad in the way that Cavemen is bad, where nobody gives a crap. No, this is gloriously bad. Somebody labored over this. Somebody, at some point, loved this idea. That’s the kind of failure I can respect at least.

Here it is, the first scripted cancellation of the season. Viva Laughlin got as many episodes as Nashville, two less than Online Nation. But unlike those two, at least somebody tried. The results were not good, but you’ve got to applaud the effort.

And hey, this just means Amazing Race is coming back that much sooner! I think we’re all excited about that.

THE VERDICT: Well, that’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? Still, it’s about ten times better than The Big Bang Theory.

Dancing with the Stars -- Week the Fifth

So, in case you missed if, Marie Osmond passed out on live television. And this was not a swoon. This was a ‘going down like a ton of bricks’ kind of pass out. Now, if it had been Mark Cuban or Mel B., I would make fun of them. But I like Marie, so I’m glad she’s OK. Still, you have to admit, that was sort of riveting. That’s sort of a worst-case scenario for live TV. Tom Bergeron was pretty seriously freaked out there.

There were a couple of weird technical glitches, too. All in all, it was a very strange night. Compounding that was the ongoing saga of Samantha Harris and her giant maternity breasts. She is a strange lady, you know? She always brings some insane questions or weird verbal fumbles, but now she’s started this habit of beginning or ending her interviews with seeming randomly chosen, out-of-context words. “Dental problems” was the one that stood out for me. Her head’s a crazy place to be.

And as we get farther into the season, we’ve got more and more celebrity guests in the audience. Florence Henderson, Tori Spelling, Alfonso Ribeiro (who’s ALWAYS in the audience. Dude really wants to be invited to participate…), and the supporting cast of Samantha Who? And speaking of the supporting cast, could Jennifer Esposito have looked any more desperate to leave? Personally, I’m hoping the cross-promotion continues and they get some Lost cast members over there. You know Locke would love it.

And here’s a look at the dancers on this, the first Floyd Mayweather-free week. I’m going to list their scores from now on, just to give some context.

MARIE OSMOND: (7-7-7) Beyond the fainting, I feel like this was a better dance than her scores reflected. Of course, the judges didn’t actually get to comment, so I’m not sure what their justification was. And it’s always kind of hard to tell what I’m even supposed to be looking for on the first dance. I thought her Samba was nice, maybe a little low-energy, but it looked smooth and generally pleasing. I really hope she doesn’t get eliminated – I’m enjoying her on the show, and how do you not vote for somebody who passed out? It’d be a shame if that’s how she went out.

JANE SEYMOUR: (8-9-9) Here’s my piercing comments on this dance, per my handy notebook: “Really Nice.” Yeah, hard to believe I haven’t gone pro. But really, this was just lovely. There’s really nothing you can pick on about her performances. They don’t really have the individualized flair that some of the other stars are putting out, but she comes out and does the dances the way they’re supposed to be done, and she nails it. It’s so hard to believe that she’s only been at this for a couple of months.

MARK CUBAN: (7-7-7) First off, who in the world is voting for this guy every week? I don’t get that. Second, this dance was a thematic mess. So, they’ve got the I Dream of Jeannie theme, and Kym’s wearing the costume (and tens of thousands of teenage boys hit puberty at a running start during this performance), but Mark is dressed like a nerd? I don’t get it. Is he supposed to be Major Nelson? Because Major Nelson was no nerd. I’m not sure what the idea was there. (I should not be puzzled by the costuming. It reminds me of this local ad for a Haunted House, only the commercial is full of references to 24. What the hell kind of Haunted House is that?) Beyond that, it was his usual approach with minimal movement. I’m even sort of bored with being bored with him now.

SABRINA BRYAN: (9-9-10) As with every week, she did a really good job, and I remember almost none of it. I’m not sure if all that pre-dance talk of desire and embarrassment was meant to start a rumor that she and Mark are the new hot couple or not. Seems like this is the first season when there wasn’t at least a rumor of partner hook-ups. It didn’t convince anybody, because both of them are about as sexual as puppies. They’d totally just sniff each other and then fight over a sock.

JENNIE GARTH: (8-9-8) You know, it’s nice that Jennie Garth is on this show every week, because it’s a nice reminder that there are people whiter than me. This woman is desperately unhip, but it’s really quite endearing. Listening to her talk about making her dance sexy and shaking her booty, man, nobody has ever sounded less convincing. I still like her, and this was another nice job on her part. She’s putting herself out there more every week, which is fun to see. I feel like she’s just on the edge of making that stride that’s going to get her to the top. (And yes, it’s a strong field when a 25 in the fifth week doesn’t get you to the top.)

HELIO CASTRONEVES: (8-7-8) This was probably his weakest performance. Some people just are not meant to rumba. The main problem seemed to be his loss of exuberance. He was so focused on being intense that he completely lost what makes him fun to watch. I think he’s not really that precise of a dancer, but when he goes balls-out and jumps and runs and does crazy twirls, it’s harder to notice. This really brought out his shortcomings, and you could really see that Julianne had to get him back on track a couple of times. I like him, so I hope this isn’t the dance that gets him kicked out.

MEL B.: (10-9-10) See, to me this didn’t really look like a samba. With the others, I can identify what dance they’re performing, even if I can’t articulate what makes it a rumba or a cha-cha. There was no way I would have gotten ‘samba’ out of this. I mean, it was complicated, and she really is talented, but I sort of feel like she’s doing her own thing. I was not as impressed as the judges, and that may just be because she irritates me. Still, it seemed like there was more running than dancing. I sort of think the judges overscored her in an attempt to make up for her Bottom Two finish last week. Not that I think it’s fixed, but when one of the top dancers ends up in the Bottom Two, as a judge I think there’s going to be a tendency to over-praise and hope that you can convince the home voters that they’re just not getting it.

CAMERON MATHISON: (8-9-9) Man, this guy totally won me over. Even without Superman allusions, I ended up liking his dance a lot. He’s reached the level where the judges give him constructive criticism, and ordinarily they don’t bother with that unless somebody’s a serious contender. Actually, this is the first time I’ve seen them criticize one of the pros – poor Edyta. That was really strange to see. This was much more traditional than his last few dances, and that’s probably a good move. The judges like a mix of classic moves and unique interpretations. It’s almost like he has a strategy.

At this point, it’s going to be a shame for anybody but Mark to go. I’m not in love with all of them, but the difference in talent between Mark Cuban and the rest of the field is undeniable. Plus, he’s kind of gross. But you already know that.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Heroes 2-5 "Fight or Flight"

First off, a moment of silence for Rob, since neither of his Heroes girlfriends showed up in this episode. However, since this episode introduced Kristen Bell to the cast, I am happy at least. And since Rob has things in his life other than Heroes, it’s probably more important that they try and make me happy.

Two things I should have pointed out last week, especially since neither character appeared this time around: Monica’s boss at the fast food place is Big Mike from Chuck. And Parkman’s partner is named ‘Bryan Fuller’. The real Bryan Fuller was a producer/writer on the first season of Heroes, and he left this season to create Pushing Daisies. (Come on, who wants a crossover?)

Not much Hiro this time around. I thought it was really funny that he called one of Takezo Kensei’s unseen missions ‘The Single Crimson Peony’. Yeah, probably that one wasn’t crying out for screen time. Is it just me, or is Kensei actually turning into a decent guy? He seems less and less of a dirtbag every time we see him.

You know, last week people were complaining that Monica had the same power as Peter, but hopefully this week clears that up. She can mimic anything she sees people do (I’m assuming that’s within the limits of ordinary human ability. She didn’t seem to copy Micah’s power after witnessing it.), whereas Peter copies people’s powers. You can see why I’d like Monica, given that she can pretty much become the epitome of human perfection by watching TV. If I had her power, I’d probably watch nothing but Japanese game shows and The Pick-Up Artist. Note that she approaches her powers from a religious angle, viewing them as a mysterious heavenly gift. Maya sees her powers as a punishment from God. There wasn’t really any talk of religion last season, so it’s interesting that now two characters are looking for spiritual explanations. And where exactly did Micah’s copy of “Ninth Wonders” come from? Was that the issue that Isaac sent to the printer before he died? Or perhaps it was an earlier issue. (Anybody want to take a wager that I’ll be pulling out the DVD’s to check out the issue number on the cover of Hiro’s issue from last season? Too easy. Who wants to bet that I won’t be able to get to sleep until I do so?)

So, Parkman’s dad really is the boogeyman. I think I’ll just call him ‘Bad Dad’ from here on out, especially since I didn’t catch his actual name. Do you think Parkman has that same power, where he traps people in their nightmares? I’m not sure – I don’t necessarily buy that Bad Dad actually reads minds. That was just him trying to forge a father-son bond there. Now, clearly Bad Dad wasn’t the one who physically attacked Hiro’s father. That hooded attacker was much less potato-shaped. It could be a manifestation of his powers, or else he’s just one layer of the onion.

Hey, Parkman’s nightmare backed up what I said last week – that totally is his kid! Victory Lap! Now, in Nathan’s nightmare, he battled a hideously burned version of himself, but the hideously burned reflection we saw in previous episodes was Peter’s face. There’s some weird stuff going on in that dude’s psyche. And that was a nicely done scene, with the fight scenes gradually morphing into one another. Good job, fight choreographer!

Now, I assumed that when Niki referred to being sick, she was referring to the Hero virus. It looks more like she meant her mental problems, which are apparently back in full swing. Jessica’s not happy! Of course, Jessica shows much better judgment than Niki, except for the tearing people limb from limb stuff. If Jessica thinks Bob deserves a beatdown, he probably deserves a beatdown.

And speaking of Bob, somebody needs to slap Mohinder upside the head. Delivering Molly to the Company like that… I mean, it’s consistent with his character that he’d make a short-sighted decision like that if it meant saving Molly, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a good smack.

Clearly Peter spent some time with Veronica Mars during the missing four months – that’s where he got his new lightning powers from! (Ended a sentence with a preposition there. I’m sorry.) We know that Veronica Mars (she didn’t get a name this week, so she remains Veronica Mars) works for the Company, and I’m pretty sure that Bob is her dad. I mean there’s not a family resemblance or anything, but it’s got to be him. I am pleased that her character is awesome, even though she’s evil. (You want to talk evil? Remember how she broke poor Joanie Stubbs’ heart on Deadwood? That was evil!)

Now we know that Peter’s amnesia doesn’t stem from, you know, exploding. Clearly, at some point during the missing four months, he was in enough possession of his full faculties to get a passport and buy plane tickets. Strangely, Nathan doesn’t seem to know that Peter is alive. Or maybe he does and he’s trying to keep it a secret. There I go assuming that only the seeming death of one’s brother would be enough to turn somebody into a drunk with a crazy guy beard. (In my case, it only takes a week off from work.) Interesting. I can’t wait until they fill in those missing months.

Next week, looks like Sylar’s planning more murders, and Bennett’s putting a bullet in somebody. Either they actually deserve it, or they looked at him funny. You never know what’s going to set that guy off.

Pluggin' an Album

Sam, my friend and comedy partner, is releasing an album. This is his first solo album, and it's really good. It's hard for me to describe because I don't really have the right vocabulary to talk intelligently about music -- I can only group it into "Things I Like" and "Things I Don't Like". Sam's music falls neatly into "Things I Like". If you like things that are good, you should check it out. His album's not available for sale just yet, but you can listen to some songs on his MySpace page. My favorite is "Winter Nuclear", personally.

And I'm not just plugging his album because Sam's a swell guy in real life. He doesn't even read my blog, so I could totally lie and just tell him that I did it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post-Mortem: Mad Men Season One

How good was Season One of AMC’s Mad Men? So good that Mysterious Don actually learned the names of some of the characters! Of course, one of those characters is a guy named Don, but still, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

I, like many viewers, was expecting the finale to focus on the battle between Don Draper and Pete Campbell. I thought that shotgun was going to go off, or somebody would fall out of a window, opening credits-style. Those things didn’t happen. Creator Matthew Weiner learned from his old boss over at The Sopranos, and followed Stan Lee’s oft-stated dictum, “Never give the audience what they think they want”. Instead, it was an hour of emotional devastation and actual surprises.

Ayn Rand was evoked yet again on the finale. Putting aside any discussion of Objectivism, Atlas Shrugged opens with the question, repeated throughout the book, “Who is John Galt?” That’s really the central question of Mad Men. Who is Don Draper? As we learned, Don Draper was not actually Don Draper. But every character is hiding something. It may not be a change of identity like Don, but for each of them, their own secret is just as devastating. Salvatore is homosexual. Harry is living in his office after a falling out with his wife. (And was this a result of his election night hook-up with Hilda, or a pre-existing condition? We don’t know. Who is Harry?) Joan is secretly having an affair with Roger and unable to emotionally connect to other human beings. Who is Peggy Olsen? Well, she’s a woman so out of touch with herself that she doesn’t even realize that she’s pregnant until she starts having contractions.

(Sidebar One: Without spending too much time on Randian philosophy, one of its major flaws is that everybody is the John Galt of their own story. Rand’s standards for measuring the intrinsic value of any human being can not actually be applied in any real world situation. And in Mad Men, every single character views the season as being their own story. Nobody cares as much about Don’s secrets as they do about keeping their own.)

(Sidebar Two: Nine months have passed since the beginning of the season, as evidenced by the long shot of the ‘February’ calendar page in the premiere. So, you know, the season’s been just long enough to make a baby. I’ve mentioned Chekhov’s Pistol before, the rule that if a gun is shown in Act One, it must be fired in Act Three. Pete’s shotgun wasn’t the pistol in question, after all. Time itself was the pistol. The calendar was introduced in Act One, and was fired in Act Three.)

As much as I want to see Pete get what’s coming to him, I can’t deny that his entire life is structured to do just that. Every single thing in Pete’s life contributes to his ongoing misery. And yet, the audience feels no sympathy toward him. He’s miserable and he deserves it. His relationship with Don is one of the most interesting on television. Pete is desperate for Don’s approval, at the same time he seeks to destroy him. I can’t tell which he’d prefer, and I’m not sure that Pete does either. On the other hand, Pete spent most of the season beneath Don’s notice. Don felt, at most, mild contempt for Pete. Once Pete uncovered Don’s secrets, Don had to take notice. And yet, it didn’t really change their interaction. Don treats him the same way, but now takes pleasure in his misery.

And who could have predicted that the season would end with Don alone? More importantly, who would have thought that it would bother him? Don spent most of the season with people surrounding him to exactly the extent that he allowed it. Everybody always wanted a little more of Don, and he could pick and choose from among them. And in the end, none of it mattered. His desperate need to make a connection pushed away Rachel. His confusing a financial transaction for emotion led pulled him away from his mistress. Adam killed himself after losing his brother for a second time. And as for his wife, oh, poor Betty. So focused on really knowing her husband, even though everything she learned created a greater wedge. Clearly, Betty has emotional problems, but I can’t help but feel like Don created them. For that matter, I’d really like to see some flashbacks dealing with their courtship. What attracted them to one another? Did Betty fall in love with Don in spite of his cold distance, or because of it? But in the end, when Don realized the one thing he didn’t want was to be alone, that’s all he had left.

They left us with a lot to think about. And personally, I think Don’s presentation to the Kodak executives in the finale was the most beautiful, emotionally affecting scene that I’ve watched all year.

If you haven’t watched Mad Men this season, you owe it to yourself to track down the reruns, or check out the inevitable DVD’s.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Something Actually Serious

You know I don't pass petitions along, unless they involve the possibility of uncancelling John from Cincinnati. However, I got this from the YWCA today, and I wanted to share it.

"The CW network has announced that Kevin Federline is going to guest star in a few episodes as a front man of a band called "No Means Yes" on the show One Tree Hill. YW's, who are the largest provider of services for sexual assault victims, have asked the CW repeatedly to change the band's name. To date, no response has been received.

It would be easy for me to make snide jokes about my dismay that Kevin Federline is being paid to represent an artistic genre, but the fact is that I am completely disgusted at the CW's slap in the face to sexual assault victims.

You know I don't send out on-line petitions often, but I can't not do so this time. PLEASE take a second to voice your opinion to the CW. One Tree Hill Petition"

Yeah, that's not good. I'm usually the last guy to complain -- just yesterday I was defending the blackface episode of The Sarah Silverman Program. But there's a big difference between making adults uncomfortable about race and making light of sexual assault.

And just because nobody has watched One Tree Hill since 2004, that doesn't make it any less offensive. Take a minute and sign it.

No Blogging Today

The local news kept interrupting my shows last night to remind the viewing audience that it was raining, and also there was a tornado warning in a neighboring state.

I’m sick as a dog.

I fell asleep before I could watch Mad Men or Viva Laughlin. (You know Mad Men is going to be awesome, and Viva Laughlin is a musical drama set in a casino. I’m thinking there’s a disaster in the making.)

I’ve got nothing to say today, except anger at the local weatherman, who couldn’t restrain his weather boner, and continued to interrupt a fine evening of entertainment.

In the meantime, check the archives instead. Look back at the days when I made the occasional stab at writing about something besides TV. What was I thinking?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts About Things I Watched Last Night

Quick thoughts on stuff I watched last night. Well, most of what I watched last night. There was a lot. (I give it a year before I’m actually a shut-in.)

--Stephen Colbert is running for President! Well, he’s going to be on the primary ballot in his home state of South Carolina. Man, Colbert is good with the publicity, isn’t he? In fact, the way he alluded to it on all the talk shows when he did his book tour mirrored the way an actual candidate would handle the announcement. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the ‘fake presidential campaign’ in general, since it’s been done all over the place. But Stephen’s actually going to be on the ballot! And it’s only in a single primary, so it’s not like he’s going to throw the campaign into disarray, perhaps leading to a “Man of the Year”-type thing where he’s actually elected President. Except that “Man of the Year” wasn’t funny. I actually think he will receive a greater percentage of the vote than several of the legitimate candidates, especially if it’s true that he’s running as both a Republican and a Democrat. What better way to vote ‘none of the above’ than voting for Stephen Colbert? If he were on the ticket in Michigan, I’d vote for him! If the Michigan Primary counted, which it doesn’t. (Most of the frontrunners are sitting out our Primary, since we ignored election laws and moved it way early. I think it was actually moved up to 2005, so that only time-traveling candidates can take part. (Mike Huckabee, I’m looking at you.)

I know some people are upset about the impact this could have on the actual campaigns, but it’s one primary. I’m willing to bet that every state primary has at least one kook with no actual chance of winning. And it’s not like anybody’s actually going to change their vote because of his participation – if anything, it’ll be the people who don’t vote, or the people who aren’t enthused about any of the candidates. People who are legitimately excited about Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton aren’t going to cast a vote for Colbert. (Not that I can imagine a world where anybody actually is legitimately excited about Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton. Those hypothetical people make me sad.)

It’ll be interesting to see what happens, and more importantly, it should provide months of comedy fodder for the Report.

--Always good to see a two-part South Park! Or maybe three, since the episode itself called it a trilogy. The ads indicated next week would be the conclusion, but that doesn’t really mean anything. A lot of pausing during this episode while I tried to identify everybody in Imaginationland. I’m sure somebody’s got a complete guide somewhere, but I was happy to see some of my favorites like the Flash, Charlie Brown, and the Brown Hornet (from Fat Albert). And I have at least one friend who was way excited about Snarf. I’m trying to think of what’s on the dark side of the imagination wall – The Disney and Looney Toons characters were conspicuous by their absence, but that’s just me spitballing. It’ll probably be something really upsetting.

--Speaking of upsetting, that blackface episode of The Sarah Silverman Program? Yeah. I mean, I get where they were going, and I did laugh, albeit in that uncomfortable way where I sort of want to die. It’s just…that’s a hard thing to see, you know? And I’m not sure if the aim was to start a dialogue about race, or to satirize people who think that it’s all right to go to any lengths to start that dialogue. Either way, I applaud the attempt, but damn, that was uncomfortable. After that, The Office is going to be a day at the beach!

--OK, after a couple weeks of waffling, I think Pushing Daisies is really coming together. As you recall, I liked the first episode, but the whimsy was a little too much. This week, I feel like the characters have started to transcend the premise, to the extent that I’m much less bothered by some of the logical leaps. I think they’ve found the right tone, and the narration has lightened up considerably. If there were some way to ensure that the narrator would never again tell us how somebody is feeling when we can clearly see how they feel, I’d be a happy viewer.

Regardless, I’m much more comfortable with the tone than I was at the beginning. I’m glad they finally dealt with Chuck learning about the downside of Ned’s power, because I didn’t want them to dance around that all season. Good job, guys. I’m a happy enough viewer that you get your own tag now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Samantha Who?

Samantha Who?
ABC, Monday, 9:30

THE PREMISE: A young woman awakens from a coma with amnesia. She can’t remember her old life, but she’s pretty sure she didn’t like it.

THE PERSONNEL: Christina Applegate stars! Also in the cast are Jean Smart, Jennifer Esposito, and Sookie from Gilmore Girls. Yay, Sookie!

THE REVIEW: I feel like this based on a special I saw last year about a guy who lost his memory, and realized that the guy he used to be was an asshole. You have to admit, that’s a pretty decent premise.

We only see a short scene of Samantha’s pre-accident life, and she doesn’t really seem bad. More like sitcom-sassy. But we also find out that she’s a recovering alcoholic, long estranged from her parents, and cheating on her boyfriend. Also, people seem to hate her.

This show has a fantastic cast, first off. Christina Applegate is always funnier than her material. Jennifer Esposito, Kevin Dunn, and Melissa McCarthy are all veterans who consistently deliver. Probably best of all is Jean Smart as Samantha’s mom, trying to exploit her daughter’s coma to get an Extreme Home Makeover. (And then when Sam wakes up, Mom grabs a video camera to record her own reaction.)

The jokes are pretty solid, and there are a couple of standout scenes. As bored as I am with “woman gradually has a breakdown in front of a crowd” sequences, Sam’s AA freak-out was funny. Not everything lands, but the lamest joke in the show was funnier than anything on The Big Bang Theory.

For me, the problem is that the premise is pretty limiting. Not a lot of amnesia jokes out there, you know? Sooner or later, she’s going to have to establish her new personality enough that every episode doesn’t hinge on not remembering things. The writers could really learn from My Name is Earl here, where his list is still the premise of the show, but they’ve expanded out from that. Simply using his list as a framework, they can do flashback stories to back when Earl was a criminal, or a multiple POV story, or an episode of COPS. Really, he hasn’t even mentioned his list in two out of three episodes this season. It’s a seemingly limited premise that has turned out to be incredibly rich.

I’m not sure what happened there. This suddenly became a review of My Name is Earl, and I didn’t mean for that to happen. Good show, though. My point is, if Samantha Who? can stretch the way Earl did, this could really be something good.

Also, I’m biased because the first episode namechecks Elvis Costello AND Tom Waits. We know that Sam loves Elvis, and her doorman actually quoted Tom Waits, with proper credit. (“If you go far enough away / You’ll be on your way back home” from “Blind Love”, off of the Rain Dogs album. Which you should buy. And then you should buy Mule Variations, which will immediately make you realize that all those years you lived without Mule Variations were, for want of a better word, wasted.)

And now this has turned into a Tom Waits review. I swear, I’m not doing some hacky bit where I keep forgetting what I’m writing about when I’m reviewing the show about amnesia. I’m just all over the place today.

THE VERDICT: I liked it. I’ll give it a couple more episodes to see if they have more than one plot, or if it’s going to be nothing but amnesia jokes. Of course, if there’s another Tom Waits reference, it’s going straight to ‘Record All’. That’s my pledge to you. Ball’s in your court, Samantha Who?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dancing with the Stars -- Week the Fourth

It feels weird not to have Cheryl on the show. There have only been two Cheryl-free episodes since the beginning of Season Two, and now I’m all thrown off.

OK, so Samantha Harris is back. Of course I’m excited because she flubs her lines and manages to phrase questions so that the softest of softballs is unexpectedly hostile and combative. But let's address the real issue. Samantha just had a baby. And, well, you know. There's no way to say this that's not going to make me look bad, so instead I'm going to quote Swear Jar Buddy Lana (an actual woman): "I just woke up from a nap to see Samantha Harris' GIANT BREASTS. I'm disturbed." Yeah, it was something. It's like they were physically IN my living room. I don't even know what to say. Just be aware of the situation.

MARK CUBAN – First off, I will say that he’s gotten out of the ‘hilariously awkward’ level he’d been dancing at. And that’s going to hurt him, because the trainwrecks can always count on sympathy votes. (How long was Master P on the show?) Now, I didn’t like his dance nearly as much as the judges, although Len doesn’t typically deduct points for douchery. Some of his footwork was pretty good, except when he was actually leading Kym, and then it was really messy. He wasn’t keeping anything close to a beat, and it looked really weird. It was nice to see that Samantha Harris really is back, when she referred to his dance as ‘the best dance of the night’, before anybody else had actually danced. He and Floyd strike me as the only two who don’t have a prayer of winning.

SABRINA BRYAN – For somebody who makes almost no impression on me, she’s really doing an excellent job. To me, it looked like the choreography didn’t match the music at all, but that happens when you paso doble to “You Spin Me Right ‘Round”. (Still not as insane as Lisa Rinna waltzing to “Final Countdown”, of course.) It was a good dance, and actually probably deserving of 10's. I just can't build up any interest in her. I'm trying, honest I am.

JANE SEYMOUR – A Viennese Waltz to “Piano Man”? OK, that’s pretty weird. I really like her dances – they’re very elegant, and she manages to work a lot of showy stuff without looking like she’s pandering for votes. Nice job as ever. And I Zaprudered the footage, and I’m pretty much convinced that she had both feet off the ground for just one beat, which they told us is acceptable. I mean, there were a lot of people who were borderline on lifts last night, and I have a feeling there was some serious scolding after the show ended. Still, I don’t think there was a violation here. (Carrie Ann disagrees, but she was kind of foul last night.) Tony’s got sort of a history of sassing the judges, if I remember correctly, but I think he was right this time.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER – Wow. This guy is just an absolute turd-cutter. That tantrum at the beginning, “My scores had better improve next week!” – wow. You know what would be a good way to make sure your scores improve? Dance better. Dude talks a lot of trash for a lousy dancer… Actually, he had some nice moves this time, but they weren’t really part of the dance. Yeah, it’s cool to jump really high, but if that’s all you’re bringing to the dance, you’ve got trouble. Also, he had the worst cape work I’ve ever seen – that was just spastic and sloppy. And when you consider that luminaries like George Hamilton and Jerry Springer have gone to cape work, that’s got to tell you something.

MEL B. – Have I mentioned how much I hate that Spice Girls act? It’s not even the music, there’s just this unappealing brattiness that I can’t stand. And when that’s masquerading as feminine empowerment, it’s insulting to us all. So yeah, Scary Spice seriously bugs me. I’m still not as wowed by her dancing as the judges are, but the things they praise (her posture, her ‘lines’) are not things that I really have the ability to notice. I can sort of tell when they’re askew, but I would never be able to pick them out as a high point. I had the same reaction I do every week, which is to say “Oh, that was nice,” and then completely forget about it the moment she opened her mouth to say something ‘hilarious’.

CAMERON MATHISON – Last week I gave him credit for the Superman references. This week, it was an entire Superman-themed paso doble to a modified version of John Williams’ theme from the movie. Awesome. I am going to take the logical step of assuming that Cameron Mathison is a Swear Jar reader. Or else his partner Edyta is. Either way, I’ll ask that you accept my delusions at face value. Obviously, I’m going to be biased here, but I thought this was really cool. Interesting choreography, some flashy moves, it was a lot of fun. I have to say, to me it looked like their arms were really awkward when they came in and out of their holds, but the judges didn’t mention it. That might actually be some tricky move that just looked weird to me. It’s not like I know stuff.

MARIE OSMOND – Let me tell you something. Her song this week, “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”, is one of my very favorite songs. And that’s entirely because of the movie “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (which you should totally see). In fact, I prefer the off-key “Asian Elvis” version from the soundtrack to any other take on it. Still, I love that song. And this was a very nice dance – it’s hard to write about Marie and Jane, because they both do really well, week after week. There’s not a lot of flash, but it’s solid and technically precise. To say something halfway intelligent about their performances would take more expertise than I possess. So, let’s just say that I liked her waltz a lot, and I still enjoy her weird sense of humor.

JENNIE GARTH – Finally, it looks like she’s having fun! She’s done well up to this point, but she’s put so much emphasis on proving herself. And this week, she let go a little, and managed to pull a 10. There’s a lesson in there. This was the flashiest of her dances, with some nice moves and a couple of rather surprising twirls and runs. (I’m guessing at dance terminology.) And hey, that’s former 90210 co-star and Season Four favorite Ian Ziering in the audience!

HELIO CASTRONEVES – My sister made a strong argument for the possibility that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Jean Girard from “Talladega Nights” was at least partially based on Helio. I tend to believe her. Sure, Helio’s not evil, but you can see the seed. I feel better that somebody agrees with me, and I will try to cut down on my Borat references. Unless Cohen actually shows up in the audience, then all bets are off. He’s always fun to watch. He doesn’t necessarily make me ‘happy to be alive’, but Carrie Ann was kind of insane last night. It would have been fun to see him do the paso doble, since Helio’s got all that crazy energy, but this was still a good, solid waltz. And he’s so darn happy to be there. I like him.

It’s got to be Floyd and Mark in the bottom two this week, and I won’t mind seeing either of them go.

Heroes 2-4 "The Kindness of Strangers"

Wait a minute, no Hiro? I call shenanigans!

I’m not sure anybody picked Matt’s dad as being the Boogeyman. That was legitimately surprising, but I don’t think that’s the whole story yet. (I’m clinging to my Takezo Kensei theory!) I liked the detail that Bad Dad left little Matt with $120. That’s weirdly specific. Also, Matt said in this episode that his wife cheated on him and got pregnant with the other guy’s baby. I think our buddy is jumping to conclusions, as the “Five Years Later” episode last season implied that Matt’s kid had powers. And let’s face it, Matt’s not going to make another baby anytime soon – he spent way too much time with Radioactive Ted for that to be a possibility.

You know what’s worse than talking about sex with your parents? Talking about sex with your parents when your dad is Noah freakin’ Bennett. Just giving you that intense look the whole time… I hold to my beliefs that something’s wrong with that West kid. When Claire was trying to dump him early in the episode, he seemed a little unhinged. Plus, I kind of want to smack him. (By the way, dating a guy with the same superpower as your biological father? Matt’s not the only one with daddy issues…) I liked how Claire didn’t want to regenerate in front of her boyfriend because it looked gross. It’s kind of sweet the way she’s finding normality in all the craziness. But I’m still not cool with the possibility of Bennett getting whacked. You don’t whack Bennett. Bennett whacks you.

I’m really interested to see what exactly happened to Nathan in the four missing months. As of the finale, he’d just won the race for Senate, now his wife took the kids and he’s not allowed anywhere near them. I can see his personal life falling apart, but his public persona really took some kind of hit in those four months. It might just have been the beard. He looks like a crazy dude with that beard. (It doesn’t begin to approach the ultimate crazy-guy TV beard – Jack Bristow in Season Three of Alias. That, my friends, is a mentally-ill beard.) And that mirror scene? Oh, I believe I was right. Some part of Peter has taken up residence inside Nathan’s bearded brain. (And that was all we got of Peter this week, too. I hope he and Hiro enjoyed their week off. Maybe they hung out together. In my mind, that’s what happened.) For just a second, I thought Nathan was going to turn out to be Peter, when they showed the bloody knuckle shot. I was just waiting for those knuckles to magically heal.

Stephen Tobolowsky is one of the 12! And he finally has a name – Bob. That doesn’t mean that I won’t keep calling him ‘Ned Ryerson’ or ‘Werner Brandes’, but at least now I have the option.

So Sylar was in Mexico, eh? Good to see him keeping up his murder pace. (And I’m willing to bet that stupid doomed Derek was probably the character with the shortest lifespan who’s ever been identified onscreen. You know when the scene opens and it tells you who you’re looking at and where they are? Derek got included this week. And then died.) Big ol’ cockroach on Sylar’s death brick, too. We saw them when he was locked up by Noah, at the end of the season finale when he was pulled to safety, and now when he’s beating a car thief to death. None of his powers (that we’ve seen) have had anything to do with insects, so I’m still not sure what to make of all that. Does it mean his powers are coming back, or are the roaches from some other source? Either way, it’s gross. Like he needs to be creepier, you know? Nice touch with Sylar’s broken watch, too. Remember, before he embarked on his murder career, he used his power to fix watches.

This was also the first time we saw Maya use her Death Eyes while she was in proximity to Alejandro. Is it more of an emotional thing than a distance thing? Make of that what you will.

And we’ve got a new Hero, Monica Dawson. She copies things she sees on TV. (Maybe in real life, too. We haven’t seen anything to indicate that either way.) You have to admit, that’s a cool power. Her brother, Damon, is a serious pain. I’ve got no use for that mouthy little kid. Poor Micah. Also, I don’t think Granny Dawson (AKA Uhura) was in Nathan’s picture of the Twelve. There were a couple of unidentified women, one of whom could have been Black, but to me it didn’t look like her. I’ll be Zaprudering the footage tomorrow, just to see if I can confirm either way.

So we’ve got Matt headed to Philadelphia and Noah and the Haitian off to the Ukraine. Man, they love their road trips on this show. (Nice touch, the way Odessa, Texas figured into Season One, and now it’s the other Odessa.) Hopefully there’s more Hiro, but either way, Veronica Mars is joining the cast! Kristen Bell makes everything at least 15% better, so you know it should be awesome.

The All-Pilot Project: Women's Murder Club

Women’s Murder Club
ABC, Friday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: Four women pool their talents to solve murders. Of course, three of the four work directly or indirectly in law enforcement, so it’s not like the police have totally ceded the work of homicide investigation to the private sector.

THE PERSONNEL: Starring Angie Harmon, based on a series of books by James Patterson, produced by Brett Ratner, and developed for television by occasional writing team on The Shield, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. (They were also story editors and writers on Angel, but I only watched the Ben Edlund-scripted episodes.) Also, Homicide vet Kyle Secor has a supporting role as a sleazy public defender. You know how happy I get when my Homicide buddies get a series.

THE REVIEW: I love a good cop show. I’m really picky when it comes to them, but shows like Homicide, The Shield, and The Wire are hard-coded into my DNA. The problem is most cop shows don’t live up to that standard. Most shows fall short, whether it’s in the character work or the procedural portrayal. I’ve had to gradually accept that it’s possible for me to sort of like a cop show. For a long time, I was either building a shrine or openly derisive. That said, Women’s Murder Club falls squarely into the camp of “Hey, that was pretty darn good”.

It’s not revolutionary, but it’s entertaining. And unlike Life, for example, the mystery was pretty clever, with a resolution that was logical, but still sort of surprising. Even better, the characters are interesting, and the dialogue is fairly witty. (Referring to a stalker as a “creepy, lurking husband” made me laugh.)

I was under the impression this would be more of an ensemble, but the story is very much driven by Angie Harmon’s homicide detective, Lindsay Boxer. She’s obsessed with her work to the detriment of her social life, which is not exactly a novel way to handle a career women on television. Still, she’s likeable and not nearly as two-dimensional as I made her sound. Her ex-husband has just been promoted to lieutenant, and announced his engagement, neither of which sit well with her.

Then you have Claire, the forensic pathologist. She didn’t have much to do this week, but she was funny. That’s all I ask. Jill, the assistant DA, had slightly more to do, what with her relationship with Kyle Secor’s character. She and Angie Harmon really sell their friendship, which is always nice to see on TV. The number of believable female friendships is remarkably small. And then there’s Cindy, the newcomer. She’s a metro reporter who sort of involves herself with the case. She’s a nice counterpoint to Lindsay, being sort of bubbly and goofy, but crazy smart. The other women aren’t quite sold on her, which makes for a nice dynamic.

They take some shortcuts with the investigation, but it’s certainly within the realm of acceptability for network television. All in all, I liked it quite a bit. And this was another non-funny review. Remember back when I was funny? You should go back and read my review of CW Now. That one was funny. (Even funnier? The fact that that sad little show has fewer than a million viewers, and when you factor in the time-shifted DVR viewers, they don’t pick up a single set of eyes. That’s awesome!)

THE VERDICT: Hey, that was pretty good! It’s not going to ‘Record All’ or anything, but it’s something I’d certainly watch if I were home on Friday night. And sadly, I’m always home on Friday night. Sigh.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Live is Wild

Life is Wild
CW, Sunday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: A blended family decides to protect their kids from the world by moving to Africa. Keep in mind, that was their Plan A.

THE PERSONNEL: Other than Rutger Hauer, who plays a small role as the grandfather who runs a decrepit lodge, nobody I’m familiar with. I’m told it’s based on a British drama, and I have no real reason to dispute that claim.

THE REVIEW: This one’s actually really hard for me. I can usually sense whether something is good or not, even if it’s not to my tastes. A well-intentioned family drama, however, I just can’t make heads or tails of. It’s like jazz or musical theater for me; I can’t really make sense of the things I’m seeing or hearing, and I have no way to judge the quality.

That said, this is definitely a WB show. The WB and UPN were often lumped together, even before they actually, you know, got lumped together; they were very different beasts, however. The WB, despite all its shows about good-looking high school students and their throbbing biological urges, was really quite wholesome. I mean, remember how Jess was the ‘bad kid’ in town on Gilmore Girls, and the worst things he ever really did were destroy a snowman and get in a car accident? UPN, on the other hand, was pretty sleazy. The ‘bad kid’ on Veronica Mars was a rapist and multiple-murdered. Jess wouldn’t have made ten seconds in Neptune. And Life is Wild? Definitely a WB show.

I had an inordinate amount of trouble getting the characters straight on this show. Four kids, two each from either parent. And then they go and move in with their grandfather, who’s actually the father of Danny’s late wife. I had a bugger of a time keeping that straight. For some reason, I can follow all fifty regular characters on The Wire, but I have no idea who Jesse’s biological parent is.

Anyway, Danny’s a vet, so he’s putting his skills to work at a wildlife preserve. (I think? Isn’t Africa sort of a giant wildlife preserve?) Late in the episode we find out that the real reason Danny and Jo moved their brood was to protect Jo’s son Jesse, who had fallen in with the wrong crowd. In true WB fashion, they say “He wanted to get his lip pierced! And who knows what else?” I’m not sure that I condone uprooting all four of your children just to make sure that one of them doesn’t go through a rebellious phase.

Still, I’m totally not the audience here. I suspect this is something parents and children watch together and then talk about. If that’s the case, I have to applaud that. There aren’t many real ‘family’ programs in primetime anymore. Of course, if I had a family, I’d probably be watching The Sarah Silverman Program with them, so I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I will say that I’m a total sucker for watching animals do things, and Life is Wild obliges on that score. An elephant! Lions! I think I saw a wildebeest! There was an adorable lion cub who I spent most of the hour just wanting to hug. And it’s better than a nature documentary, because there’s no Food Chain on this show, so nobody has to get hurt or eaten!

THE VERDICT: Honestly, I can’t tell. I’m not going to be watching it, but I’m so tone-deaf with this kind of think that I don’t know if it’s good or not. If you liked it, then I give you my blessing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

DVD Releases EJ Wants Right Now!

I know, I’ve got a pilot I still haven’t reviewed yet. This week’s been kind of busy, and I’m behind on my viewing.

It seems hard to believe, but there are still shows that haven’t been released on DVD yet. More to the point, there are shows I would buy that haven’t been released on DVD yet. I’m sure there are dozens of delightful unreleased sitcoms about men who are successful and well-respected at work, only to be hilariously incompetent in domestic situations, but I don’t care. I present a list of DVD Releases EJ Wants Right Now…

1. Big Apple – The short-lived cop show, written by David Milch and starring Ed O’Neil. I don’t even know if enough episodes were completed to wrap up the story arc about strip clubs and the Russian Mafia, but the episodes that aired were absolutely fascinating. Too seedy and dense for its time, it’s still worth watching. Besides, it’s the first team-up of Milch and O’Neil – pure magic!

2. Dog Bites Man – This Comedy Central gem starred a number of improv actors masquerading as a local news team. They’d conduct their interviews and shoot remotes Ali G-style, with unaware and uncomfortable civilians adding to the fun. A masterpiece of awkward entertainment.

3. The Jury / The Beat – I don’t mention it enough, but Tom Fontana is awesome. I mean, he brought us Homicide and Oz. What more do you want from a man? The Jury was his experimental series focusing on a different jury (duh) deliberating on a case each week. It wasn’t his best work, but it was interesting, and the prison riot episode where the cast was made up of former Oz actors was fantastic. The Beat goes back to the early days of UPN, and it’s unjustly forgotten. Not only was it a well-written show about uniformed officers in New York, but there was a very cool technique where their on the job lives were shot on film and their personal lives on video.

4. Sports Night – I know what you’re thinking. “Sports Night is already out on DVD, you moron! How did you get to be so stupid?” True, it’s on DVD, but it’s on crappy DVD’s. No extras, no remastering, syndication cuts of the episode, and they didn’t even removed the much-despised laugh track. The gang deserves better than a bare bones release! (Now that Studio 60 is an increasingly distant memory, I will soon be able to watch Sports Night again without getting angry at Sorkin. Except the last episode. Sorkin’s overweening arrogance has cast some of the dialogue there in a bad light.)

5. King of the Hill, Seasons 7 and up – Yeah, FOX has no plans to release further seasons of King on DVD. Obviously, I object. It’s just crazy to not keep a revenue stream like that going on a series that’s still in production. Stupid FOX.

6. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show / The Larry Sanders Show – Sure, Sanders has a first season set (long out of print) and a swell best-of set, but there’s no reason not to have the full run of both series available. (I mean, other than the legal battles that I don’t really understand.) Garry Shandling’s Show might not have aged well, but it would be nice to find out. That show was young EJ’s introduction to surrealism on TV, and I feel like I owe them. Sanders was one of the best show business satires ever, and it’s a crying shame that it’s not collected.

7. Amazing Race, early seasons – They released Season One, and then they started releasing the most recent seasons right before a new one started. That’s all well and good, but that means we’re missing seasons 2-6. I don’t think you guys can understand how badly I want Season Five. That was Colin’s season! Remember, back when they had contestants who were hypercompetitive tools but didn’t make you fear for the safety of their girlfriend / life partner. Remember how Colin actually got arrested for yelling at a police officer? And the famous “My ox is broken” episode? I could watch that a thousand times.

8. Andy Richter Controls the Universe / Andy Barker P.I. – God bless those Andy Richter sitcoms. If these actually existed on DVD, everybody I know would be getting them for Christmas.

Some of these are long shots, but this is a world where I now have Brisco County, Jr., Action, and Lone Gunmen (including the World Trade Center episode) on DVD. Anything’s possible, if you can imagine it! (Cue colorful unicorn who lets me ride on his back, over the rainbow, to a magical land where Arrested Development is in its 5th season.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Open Letter to Bill Lawrence, Creator of Scrubs

Dear Bill,

You don’t know me, and there’s virtually no chance you will ever read this. However, I’m so pleased with my idea that I have to express it in a public forum. See, I love Scrubs. I’ve been with you since the beginning, and even though I’m sad to see the final season, it has been seven years. That’s a respectable run, man. But I'd really like to contribute something to the series, and I have a good idea.

Anyway, I read that you plan to give Janitor a real name before the end. Bold move, considering how people pissed and moaned about ‘Cosmo Kramer’ and ‘Jeff Albertson’. If you’re going ahead with this, I have two suggestions. Ready? Janitor’s name is either ‘John Dorian’ or ‘Bob Kelso’. If the former, you have the real origin of his hatred for J.D. - Kid came in with his name – he knew from Day One he’d be Janitor from then on. Alternatively, if he’s Bob Kelso, well, you can see why the other Bob Kelso wouldn’t take to that. Given Kelso’s obsession with his own name, he wouldn’t allow another Bob Kelso at the hospital.

‘Neil Flynn’ would also be an acceptable name, so you’d end up with a ‘Creed Bratton’-style thing. Like maybe he’s just an actor playing a janitor at the hospital. Still, I think Dorian or Kelso would be gold.

Feel free to use my idea, free of charge. I mean, if you want to work with me on a new sitcom project, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. I’ve got a bunch of scripts for The 616 ready to go! And I’m working on an idea for a surrealist sitcom about competitive eaters. I’m just saying.

Your friend,
EJ

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dancing with the Stars -- Week the Third

I’m still mad at you for voting off Albert Reed and my crazy lady TV girlfriend. What’s the matter with you people?

I’ve never seen this happen before, but the lowest scoring woman was still two points ahead of the highest scoring male. My sister and I have been discussing the fact that America refuses to vote for the women, and I have some theories. I’ll get into those in another post, but I’m thinking all of the women are safe this week. Also, I have to admit a bias here. Beyond my love of this show, I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t actually know anything about dancing. I can tell good from bad, but that’s about it. That said, I have never seen a jive that wasn’t, from my perspective, absolutely hilarious. I don’t think it’s possible to do a jive that doesn’t invoke “Newsies”. They talk a lot about the ‘character of the dance’. To me, the ‘character’ of every jive is something like two spazzy hobos who are happy that they just found a nickel. Obviously, I am much more predisposed to like the tangos this week.

I left my notes at home, so I might have people in the wrong order this week. I know you’ve come to expect better of me.

SABRINA BRYAN – She’s really good, but I just don’t care. It always takes a second for me to figure out who she and her partner are when the show starts. I’m always mildly surprised that they’re on the show. They’re such non-entities. To me, her dances always sort of look the same, like some sort of modified Laker Girl choreography. She’s really good at that, but in another week or so, she’s going to start getting lectured. And it was kind of cool how Mark did the Worm, but wrong place, wrong time.

CAMERON MATHISON – So, the guy works a couple of Superman riffs into his dance, and suddenly I’m on Team Cameron. I’m so easy. This actually was a cool, counter-intuitive kind of tango. I sort of liked that it was so aggressive. At this point, that’s probably a smart move. He’s stuck in the middle of the pack on scores, so he might as well try to bring in some votes with a unique performance. He’s also kind of funny, so I could end up rooting for him.

MARK CUBAN – Ick. Like one of the judges said, it’s like he’s imitating somebody dancing. There are a lot of times when his feet aren’t moving, which is sort of, you know, not dancing. Plus, he’s still stupid and gross. And I’m not going to feel sorry for him and his bad hip. He knew he had a bad hip when he signed up for the show. That doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you dumb. And that tongue has got to stay out of my sight. I did not get a big screen TV so I could see Mark Cuban’s creepy porno face. Come on, vote him off!

JENNIE GARTH – I was really glad to see her come back from that fall. She was clearly embarrassed, and the woman seems to have some self-esteem issues. I can’t tell if that makes me want her to succeed or if it just irritates me. I sort of have this affection for her, even though I wasn’t exactly a 90210 fan. (By the way, I’m not going to say which of my friends was way into Tori Spelling for a couple of years, but it was Brian.) I thought this really was a very good dance, and I found that I was happy for her.

MEL B. – There’s just no chance of her not irritating me. Even when she does well, I don’t care. And then she’s dancing a jive, so things are just not going my way at all. I don’t remember much about her dance, actually. I’m starting to think that there’s a sense of humor behind all of Maks’ swagger, which makes him much more likeable in my book.

WAYNE NEWTON – OK, the mustache was funny. Swear Jar Buddy Lana pointed out that he’s so tucked and Botoxed that he sort of looks like an Asian woman, and I can’t disagree with that. His dancing isn’t really bad in the hilarious Jerry Springer sort of way. It’s just sort of flat. He’s working hard, but he’s old and he can’t get over that particular hurdle. And this is the first time we’ve really seen Cheryl with a partner who wasn’t a serious contender for the win – I don’t think she has the experience in designing choreography to hide mistakes that some of the others has. For three seasons, she’s been all about showcasing strengths. Actually, I think his footwork is so much better than his arms. His holds are crazy – his arms are stiff and weird. And yet, at least he’s likeable.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER – He’s just not working for me. That’s right, I continue not to like the very strong man who has a residence in my hometown. Once again, jives always look hilarious to me, but aren’t you supposed to be in sync with your partner? He was not matching Karina at all. Whenever they weren’t in contact, they were doing two different dances. And you could see her try to get things back on track, but it didn’t work. Also, it looked to me like he bounced her off the floor pretty hard at the end. That could have been the angle and the booze, but that’s how it looked to me.

JANE SEYMOUR – I thought it was a really good tango. As irritated as I get over people trying to exploit sympathy, I think she handled herself with dignity and class. To find out that her mother died right after last week’s show? That’s just awful. I really think they handled in the best way they could, and it seems like she’s holding up.

HELIO CASTRONEVES – I am not completely convinced that he’s real. He’s a Borat-like hoax by a British comedian. I find him entertaining at all, but there’s no way he’s a real guy. Have you noticed how his accent wanders more than Dennis Hopper’s in the first season of 24? Regardless, I like him. He’s easily the strongest of the men, but there’s sort of spastic quality that may not serve him well in more structured dances. It was pointed out to me that his hip action is not good, but I can’t really tell. What do I know from hips? Nothing, that’s what!

MARIE OSMOND – This was another nice dance. She’s really done a good job so far, and she’s steadily improving. Plus, she has a weird sense of humor. She was eating a rose on camera! Whether that was an actual rose or just a prop, that’s a weird thing to do. I don’t have much else to say, since she did a good job. The women are pretty much controlling the scoreboard this season.

Come on people, who among you is voting for Cuban? Do you really want another ten weeks of him? I submit that you do not.

Get to a Bookstore!

Remember, today is the long-awaited release of Stephen Colbert's book "I Am America (And So Can You)"! Go out there and buy it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Heroes 2-3: "Kindred"

Wow. A death confirmed, another one foretold, and a plain old murder. Ladies and gentlemen, Sylar’s back!

Sort of a shame they couldn’t get the original Candice back for one last appearance (she’s on Reaper now), but shapeshifters are easy to replace. I wonder who she was working for this time. She had seemed pretty loyal to Linderman, and I doubt she put that all together on her own. (By the way, was I crazy or was that a Flight of the Conchords reference when Candice/Michelle proposed the Sylar on Sylar action? “If that’s what you’re into” – It made me laugh, at any rate.) And Sylar can’t use his powers now – he didn’t even use his amazing screw-top head trick to kill Candice. (Notably, the “Five Years Later” episode last season made it clear that he had killed Candice at some point.) Candice indicated he still had his powers and just couldn’t access them. I wonder if that has something to do with the way Sylar’s original powers focused on sensing when things were broken. Now that he himself is broken, it’s all shut down. Still, it’s nice to see that losing his powers doesn’t slow down Sylar’s murder streak. Dude could be a brain in a jar and he’d find a way to rack up a body count.

You know, Alejandro is the worst car thief ever. It’s not like that cop snuck up on him – the guy was leaning in a doorway. And hey, they escaped in Clare’s car. Bennett is going to smack that cellmate guy so hard…

DL is dead? I am not happy at this turn of events. Something about Niki’s line “Whenever you want to see your father, I will make that happen” makes me think there’s more to the story. It’s such a weird way of saying it. Maybe it’s just clunky dialogue, but this episode was written by JJ Philbin (Regis’ daughter), who’s usually pretty careful about things like that. I don’t know. I think there’s more to that story. And Niki has the virus? Clearly she’s learned nothing about owing favors to creepy guys. (Although it would be good to see her in butt-kicking mode again.) Now that I think about it, this is a very weird virus. She doesn’t seem to have passed it on to her son – it doesn’t actually seem like it’s contagious. It’s like something degenerative in their genetic code. (I could totally be Mohinder.) And by the way, that was Nichelle Nichols who’s taking care of Micah. Better known as Uhura from Star Trek, she was involved in TV’s first interracial kiss. (I am bothered that I recognized her instantly and have never seen an episode of Star Trek.) And I’ve got a dollar that says she’s one of the Twelve.

The little scroll messages in the sword were pretty darned clever. I like that Hiro is sort of mindful of the damage he could do by changing history, but he’s just so excited that he has to share with his buddy. And yes, Kensei was clearly not aware of his power. Whether that’s because it’s new or he’s just never suffered a fatal wound before is unclear. Similarly unclear is whether Hiro chose to stay in the past longer or is power just wouldn’t work. We know that he can subconsciously sabotage his own powers so it’s possible that he’s temporarily stuck. Of course, a man in love with his great-great-great-(etc.)-grandmother can do some crazy things. Can’t wait to see where that’s going. (And yes, I know that a ‘ronin’ is technically a masterless samurai, and thus 90 of them would be unlikely to guard anything with their lives. I mean, they could be getting paid. And also, it’s a cool name.) I’m still fingering Kensei as the modern day killer. I don’t think somebody who regenerates would age past their prime, and I refuse to believe he’s had a change of heart. He’s Sark, for pete’s sake. It doesn’t matter what he tells you, he is planting a bomb on you as he says it.

Does anybody else hate that stupid West kid? (I want his name to be Wes, but I swear everybody is calling him West.) I mean, he totally ripped off Superman with that ‘world tour’ move. And I’m not blaming the writers – I think they want to indicate that West is the kind of guy who’d get ideas on using his powers from movies. And it’s not like he’s going to get any better, if he’s prophesied to bring about Bennett’s death. And I am not cool with that. Bennett went from being all creepy and seemingly evil to being the best and most interesting character on the show (except Hiro). There’d better be something darn good on those other six paintings, because I am not buying into a world where Bennett gets shot in the face.

And that’s about a million nerd points for making sure that Peter’s tattoo disappeared. I was instantly irritated by that scene, and then it disappeared, and I was proud of the writers. They clearly think about the same nerd stuff that I do. I think the main point of the storyline is to remind people about superpowers (nobody else is using theirs!), but I’m sticking with my belief that Peter lost some very important part of himself. He was going to kill that guy, and that’s not our Peter. Our Peter cares so much about others that he lets it almost cripple him. Something’s wrong with that boy.

I have to sleep now. More later, if I think of anything.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Aliens in America

Aliens in America
CW, Monday, 8:30

THE PREMISE: A Wisconsin family sponsors a foreign exchange student so that 15-year-old Justin can have a friend. The aforementioned student turns out to be a Muslim from Pakistan and hilarity ensues. (It actually does!)

THE PERSONNEL: I’m not familiar with any of the creators, but Scott Patterson (Luke from Gilmore Girls) plays the father. I’m happy to see him, but I feel like he’s cheating on Lorelai.

THE REVIEW: Wow. This was a delightful surprise. (Should I be saying things like ‘delightful’? Is that why I have a hard time meeting women?) It sounds like sort of a horrible idea, and my immediate reaction to the ads was to be a little offended. Expectations were low going into this, but it’s really good.

It’s such a dicey premise that’s pulled off beautifully. Justin is so unpopular that his parents agree to house a student ‘from London’, just to give him a friend. When Raja arrives (technically, he did fly in from London), the family is horrified and attempts to trade him in. Let’s face it, it’s hard for TV comedies to deal with race, and it seems like it’s only gotten worse and more awkward in recent years. The ‘anti-PC’ movement that FOX in particular seems to love is boring and stupid, and really just a way of justifying old school racism and sexism. And let’s face it, the Arabic people as a whole really do not need to be mocked on network TV at this moment. Let’s not give racists ammunition, you know?

The genius of it is that they really try to portray small-town xenophobia. There’s a funny classroom scene where the teacher asks how the students feel about Raja, and one of them answers “I’m mad at him because his people flew planes into those buildings in New York”. It’s shocking that they went there, but it’s also a vocalization of what so many people feel. It’s not a rational way to feel, but that really is how so many people still feel. It’s a bold move in a sitcom, you’ve got to give them that.

Luckily, Justin and Raja are both well-realized characters with good hearts. These are legitimately likeable characters who just feel true. Justin’s a smart-ass (and also the narrator – not as good as Ron Howard, but way better than Mary Alice), but he’s such an underdog that you have to root for him. Raja’s a sweet kid, and just oblivious enough that he isn’t really aware of his effect on people. They’re solid, interesting characters.

Mom Franny is initially horrified that the exchange student isn’t the blond boy she was promised. Gary, Justin’s Dad, is just thrilled that they get a check every month for housing Raja. (Scott Patterson is very funny in this role. I sort of want him to meet up with Julius from Everybody Hates Chris to fight it out for top cheapness honors.) And of course, Raja has a crush on Justin’s sister, Claire. Yes, there are two high school girls named Claire on Monday night television. They’ve still got a ways to go to catch up on the Chucks, but it’s a start.

THE VERDICT: I liked this a lot. I have to figure out how to balance all of my shows on Monday night. Does anybody want to invite me over to watch Dancing with the Stars? It would make my life a lot easier. Regardless, this is an interesting, fresh, and authentically funny comedy. (I just went back and saw there are very few jokes in this entry. I apologize, and I will try to be funnier when I review Women’s Murder Club.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Quickies!

--Did anybody catch this week’s episode of Chuck? Early on, when Chuck was being analyzed, there was this montage of secrets, and one of them began “Oceanic Flight 815 was shot down by…” and the rest was inaudible. Remember what I said about how I’m the target audience for this show? Yeah, throwing in a Lost reference doesn’t hurt one bit.

--On House this week, I clapped with delight when Wilson made a joke about Schroedinger’s Cat. I swear, they wrote that just for me. And the race is on for the first show to use the phrase ‘A Nickel for the Swear Jar’! Come on, writers. You’ll bring such joy to a man with very little in his life!

--Tuesday’s episode of The Daily Show might have been the best interview ever. Chris Matthews was there to plug his book on how life is like a political campaign, and Jon Stewart just lit into him. He was funny the whole time, but he just savaged the book. “I’m not saying it’s a bad book, I’m saying your philosophy is terrible.” That’s some good stuff right there.

The All-Pilot Project: Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies
ABC, Wednesday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: A pie maker can bring the dead back to life with his touch. A second touch kills them, this time for good. If they stay alive for more than 60 seconds, somebody else in the area dies. So, you know, it’s pretty much exactly like Friends.

THE PERSONNEL: It’s created by Bryan Fuller, who I will love forever for having created Wonderfalls, and also for being involved in Season One of Heroes. Not everybody shares my love, given that Wonderfalls was cancelled after four episodes. The producer/director is Barry Sonnenfeld, who tends to make movies that are hits but sort of suck, and TV shows that are great, but fail quickly. Remember how great The Tick and Maximum Bob were? Yeah, we all do. Stars include Lee Pace (Wonderfalls) and Kristin Chenoweth, who is awesome and deserves a far better TV legacy than to be the basis of a poorly-handled character on her ex-boyfriend’s poorly-written television show. (Subtlely, thy name is Sorkin.) Oh, and the narrator is Jim Dale who is widely known as the King of Audio Books – even if you don’t listen to a lot of books on tape, you’ll recognize his voice from approximately 2/3 of the movie previews and television promos you’ve ever seen.

THE REVIEW: First off, the show is gorgeous. They’ve saturated the color palette, so it absolutely pops off the screen. It’s very effective. I don’t know what the budget is, but the sets are amazing. Everything’s so full and occupied, and it looks like a feature film. Check out that exterior of The Pie Hole – it’s glorious. (And I’m totally giving them extra points for that name.)

So, after a lengthy Secret Origin of Ned scene, which was clever and beautiful, but far too precious, we get to the meat of the story. Ned makes some money on the side by solving murders. He and his partner Emerson (Chi McBride – always funny), resurrect the victim, ask who killed them, and then collect the reward money. Do they really offer monetary rewards for solving murders? How ineffective is the police force in this city? Wouldn’t they get suspicious when the same person collects every reward?

(Before I go further, I really did like this show. It’s just that the whimsy level is almost oppressive. All I want is for the fictional world to have a little bit of internal logic. I’ll take a leap of faith, but I shouldn’t have to constantly struggle for footing. More on that later.)

All is well and good until Ned’s childhood sweetheart is found murdered. (Ned accidentally killed her father bringing his own mother back to life. And then killed his mother.) For the record, she has the nickname of ‘Chuck’, which is a) sort of funny, b) sort of irritating, and c) sure to vex my sister, who’s already complained about the number of pop-culture Chucks these days. He brings her back to life, thus causing the death of an innocent funeral director. (Luckily, we find out he’s sleazy, so it’s conveniently OK.)

The rest of the plot revolves around the mystery of Chuck’s murder, a plot which includes a pair of monkey statues, cheese-addicted agoraphobic synchronized swimmers, and pie. And I liked it. I liked it a lot, really. It’s witty, with clever dialogue. I mean, there’s a joke based on the fact that ‘ruminating’ has two definitions. How am I not going to love that? The performances are great throughout, with Kristin Chenoweth as Ned’s co-worker Olive a real stand-out. She’s hilarious and tiny.

The problem is the sheer, crushing weight of whimsy. It’s a little much. I like a good flight of fancy as much as the next guy, but you know, Occam’s Razor. Sure, it’s funny that Ned has to use a backscratcher to pet his dog (who Ned resurrected as a child), and it’s cute that Ned and Chuck hold their own hands, since a touch from Ned will mean she returns to being dead. Fine. And I assume this is a world where gloves don’t exist?

I’m OK with the strange and ill-defined powers. And I’m even good with the piling of random quirks on top of one another. Heck, I sort of like that. But to artificially increase the whimsy by ignoring simple logic, that’s a little hard to choke down.

Also, I liked the narration for the most part, but there was a little too much of it this time out. And that gimmick where the narrator tells you everybody’s exact age right down to the day? That needs to go away in a big hurry.

THE VERDICT: It doesn’t sound like it, but I really liked Pushing Daisies a lot. There are just certain factors that irritate me, and now it’s going to be a race to see whether the good can outpace the bad. It’s on ‘Record All’ for now, but they’d better balance out the whimsy.