Saturday, June 05, 2010

You can find me at HitFix

As mentioned here and here, I've accepted a new job at, and will be covering TV there for the forseeable future. The new blog URL is:

See you there. Click here to read the full post

Friday, June 04, 2010

Where you can go to find my Wire season 3 reviews

Updating an old post for completeness' sake. For a variety of reasons too dull to repeat again, season 3 of "The Wire" is the only year of that show I never covered on this blog, but I'm covering it in my new home at Hitfix. So each week I'll come into this post to add links to find both versions of each reviews, so you'll still be able to find links to every one of my "Wire" reviews in one place. (You can find all the previous reviews along this blog's siderail.) Links coming up after the jump...

• Episode 1, "Time After Time": Newbie version & Veteran version
• Episode 2, "All Due Respect": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 3, "Dead Soldiers": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 4, "Hamsterdam": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 5, "Straight and True": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 6, "Homecoming": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 7, "Back Burners": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 8, "Moral Midgetry": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 9, "Slapstick": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 10, "Reformation": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 11, "Middle Ground": Newbie versionVeteran versionGeorge Pelecanos interview
• Episode 12, "Mission Accomplished": Newbie versionVeteran version

"The Wire" is one of the subjects of Alan Sepinwall's new book, "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever." It includes fresh material, including new interviews with David Simon and the executives at HBO who greenlit the show. For more information and purchasing links, go to Click here to read the full post

Monday, May 03, 2010

Chuck, "Chuck vs. the Role Models": Lady or the tiger?

A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I loosely translate your nickname from Bantu...
"Dear God, it's us 30 years ago." -Turner
"Sarah, that's us in 30 years!" -Chuck
In recent years, cable dramas like "The Shield" and "Breaking Bad" have suggested that the 13-episode model of a cable season makes better creative sense than the traditional 22-episode broadcast model. When you have only 13 hours to play with, the argument goes, everything is plotted more tightly, there's no filler, and the cast and crew don't burn themselves out two-thirds of the way through each season.

The odd construction of this season of "Chuck," though, is suggesting that tighter isn't always better.

Going into the year, Schwartz, Fedak and company thought they only had 13 episodes to work with, and nearly all of that was devoted to telling the story of Chuck becoming a real spy, the arrival of Shaw and the war with The Ring. There simply wasn't room for goofy, largely standalone episodes like last season's "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer" or "Chuck vs. the Best Friend." So if you were on board with the Shaw/Ring story, you were okay, but if you weren't, it was largely that week after week. Now, I liked the Shaw stuff a lot more than some of you, but I was worried about the lack of one-offs even before the season began, and there absence was noticeable as the original 13 went along.

With this bonus mini-season, we're sort of getting those little palate cleansers we otherwise might have gotten earlier in a regularly-planned season, just at the end. Until Ellie's friendly Doctors Without Borders pal was revealed to be a Ring operative in the episode's closing moments, this was the second "Chuck" in a row whose only ongoing elements were largely internal (Chuck and Sarah's relationship, Morgan's assimilation into Team Bartowski).

That's been a nice change of pace, as has the lighter tone of these two, and I suspect the creative team recognized how much better the show is when there's more balance between silly and serious, and between arcs and episodics. And if the show comes back next season, for however many installments, I would hope we see more of that give and take, because I have been having a lot of fun watching these last two.

As I had suspected, Sarah and Chuck as a couple have so far provided plenty of story fodder, as well as plenty of humor. I had long ago accepted that Yvonne Strahovski brought so much else to the table that it didn't matter that Sarah rarely seemed to be funny, but for the second week in a row, Strahovski was bringing the laughs. Sometimes, it was more about the characters around Sarah (Morgan and Sarah living under the same roof already is and should continue to be splendid), but other moments like her withering delivery of "You're not asking me to move in with you again, are you?" were all her.

Beyond Sarah being funny - and in a less blissful situation than we got last week on the train - the episode also gave us a tiger (which Chuck refused to kill because "They are endangered, and majestic!"), plus Casey reluctantly teaching spycraft to Morgan, plus Fred Willard(*) and Swoosie Kurtz as the bickering Turners.

(*) I watched a screener of this episode back-to-back with last week's "Modern Family," also guest-starring Fred Willard. The man is everywhere, and his ubiquity gives me an excuse to once again link to "Wha happen?"

Sometimes, "Chuck" casts guest stars for the iconography of them. Sometimes, with John Larroquette last season and Willard and Kurtz here, it casts them because they're funny. I don't know that I look at those two and automatically think Levi+Strahovski+(30 years x 2), but the two old pros played off each other, and off our regulars, quite nicely. And whether writer Phil Klemmer intended it or not, I like how the Turners' staged bickering tied into the fear some had that Chuck and Sarah together would eventually become a bickering couple with no obvious chemistry. Assuming "Chuck" is still somehow on the air 30 years from now (and we'd have to get some really big flash mobs today for that long an extension, methinks), we can worry about them down the road. Right now, they're doing fine, and "Chuck" is doing fine with them together.

For the second week in a row, we got a lot of Chuck and Sarah in one group of scenes and a lot of Morgan and Casey in another. I don't want this to be a permanent state of affairs - Casey needs to be more present in future missions to show his disgust with Chuck and Sarah's new schmoopiness, and, again, Morgan and Sarah look like a comic combo with a lot of possibilities - but right now it's entertaining to see them have to work together. In the silly world of "Chuck," the idea that neither Chuck nor Morgan would ever have to undergo any kind of real spy/combat training is about middle of the pack on the implausibility meter. But in watching the scenes with General Beckman, I get the sense that she has no expectations of Morgan ever amounting to anything; she's just making Casey suffer for forcing her to ever have to deal with the little bearded one. And that's amusing to me - as is Casey's attempt to balance his growing respect for Morgan ("Semper Fi-Dizzle!") with his public persona and usual hatred of nerds, dorks and geeks.

With Awesome again crossing paths with someone from The Ring (is this the third time this season? fifth?), it looks like we're heading back to both more serialized and more serious storytelling in the weeks to come. And that's okay, as I've loved a lot of the darker moments of seasons two and three. I just want there to be a balance, which we're finally getting during this little victory lap of season three.

Some other thoughts:

• This week in "Chuck" pop culture references: Morgan's dream sequence at the beginning was a riff on the opening credits to "Hart to Hart," a late '70s/early '80s detective show about a super-suave married couple who were still sexy and sleuthy in middle age. (Chuck should aspire to be more like Robert Wagner and less like Fred Willard.) Morgan once again talks about learning about guns through "Call of Duty" (then turns out to be inept with the real thing), and I suppose you could call the bad guy (played by Hey, It's That Creep! Udo Kier) keeping a tiger with a fancy collar a riff on Blofeld (who had a much smaller cat) from the James Bond movies.

• This week in "Chuck" music: songs tonight included Mel Torme's "Comin' Home Baby," Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" and Miike Snow's "Sans Soleil."

• Unexpected quasi-trend: last week's "Cougar Town" had a running gag about Courteney Cox and her friends gathering to watch her son sleep, and here Big Mike complains to Morgan that he doesn't like anyone watching him sleep. We need one more for a full trend, people!

• With Morgan essentially filling the role Chuck had two seasons ago, I liked seeing Morgan and Chuck's collar-stealing attempts intercut with one another.

• Awesome and Ellie's story in the Congo was largely about setting up whatever's coming next with The Ring, but I thought Ryan McPartlin did a great job of showing Devon being so charming and reassuring with Ellie as he promised her a date night under the stars. Truly, he is Dr. Super Fantastic White Person.

Finally, as mentioned several times (including this morning), this is the last review that's going to be posted to this site before I move to tomorrow. I'll be blogging about the rest of season 3, and a lot of other shows, and hopefully "Chuck" season 4, so please come early and come often. Though the timing was largely accidental, it feels kind of right to say goodbye to this home with "Chuck," doesn't it?

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Only the beginning

Today's the last day at these old digs. Tomorrow, I move to HitFix, and with that comes one final blog logo featuring the four shows that largely defined my time here with the Blogger site. I kept trying to find a way to squeeze in Tony reading The Star-Ledger, but since "The Sopranos" was in its final days when the blog began, I decided to give him the big picture here and go with "The Wire," "Chuck," "Lost" and "Mad Men" for the last logo.

Still a full day to go here, including whatever news happened, plus tonight's "Chuck" as the final review of this iteration of the blog. Then we move in the morning to HitFix. But before I go, I wanted to look back over the last 4 and a half years at the blog, as well as looking ahead a bit to the new place...

As I've said before, I started out writing about TV online with the "NYPD Blue" website, and nearly a decade into my time at The Star-Ledger, I missed the immediacy of that interaction, as well as the ability to write about shows after they'd aired (when I could discuss all the juicy stuff) rather than before (when I'd have to be wary of spoiling anything). was still experiencing a lot of growing pains at the time, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to the idea long-term, so on October 7, 2005, so I started the site here on Blogger as an experiment. I figured I'd try it out, see if I liked the process, and also see if anyone but the friends I'd e-mailed the link to might ever find me and care to keep reading.

If you go back and look at those early posts from 2005, the blog then bore little resemblance to what it became. No pictures, no spoiler protection after the jump (and therefore no "just as soon as"), nearly everything done in a grab-bag format where I talked about multiple shows at once, and very few comments - and all of those from my friends.

The outside world began to discover the place on a fluke: while looking over NBC's schedule for the January 2006 TCA press tour, I noticed Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme were listed as panelists for the "West Wing" farewell session, and I threw up a quick post noting this. It turned out to be an error - someone told me later that no one at NBC had even asked Sorkin or Schlamme about it at that point - but somehow, that story got picked up, the link spread around, and suddenly the blog had a small but growing - and smart - audience.

As you guys began to find me, I in turn began to find my way in blogging, and the site slowly but surely evolved into what you see today. People complained about being spoiled on the main page, and I figured out how to hide the bulk of each post on the jump. I noticed that posts dealing with one show at a time tended to get far more comments than the grab bags, and so I began doing more and more of those. And beyond that, I saw that the deeper I went into discussing episodes - moving past the simple "I liked this"/"I didn't like this" of the blog's early days into discussing not only why I liked things, but what I thought they meant - the deeper in turn your comments got, and I started trying to apply the depth and breadth of my "Sopranos" Rewind columns to lots of other shows. When I got bored with summer TV one year and suggested that instead we all watch and discuss "Freaks and Geeks" on DVD, a lot of you went along with me, paving the way for later summer DVD projects, including the early seasons of "The Wire" (with Season 3 coming up in June on HitFix).

Along the way there have been some great highs (the David Chase interview, Ben Silverman telling me I saved "Chuck") and some weird lows (the "Chuck"pocalypse, overwrought discussion of "SNL" in the fall of 2008 leading to the No Politics rule), but the good has vastly outweighed the bad. This blog rekindled my interest in a job I'd been doing for a very long time, and it taught me how to do it in a new way. And I thank all of you for helping me figure that out.

As I said last week, the goal is for as little to change as possible at HitFix, with shows moving in and out of the rotation based on my level of interest (and time). The blog URL, once again, is, while the new RSS feed will be at As before, I'll also be using my Twitter account to tweet links to new posts as they go up.

I know some of you in the last week have expressed concern about the design and functionality of HitFix versus this place. Just know that every issue you've raised is one that I'd already thought of, and in turn most of those were ones that Team HitFix was already aware of and working on when I asked about them. (And a few of them may be addressed/solved by the time I put my first real post up there tomorrow.) Because you guys are so valuable to the experience of both reading and writing What's Alan Watching?, I want the new site to be as user-friendly as this one was. I would just ask for your patience, and if you have a specific concern, feel free to e-mail me at

End of one era today, start of what I hope will be an awesome new one tomorrow. Hope you can come along with me.
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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Treme, "At the Foot of Canal Street": The out-of-towners

A review of tonight's "Treme" coming up just as soon as my coffee drink is comped on behalf of my overwhelming righteousness...
"But New Orleans is still my home!" -Antoine
On "The Wire," David Simon was fond of illustrating a thematic point by having characters in very different social circles experience the same kind of event: McNulty and D'Angelo getting chewed out by middle management in the series pilot, or Namond and Clay Davis espousing the same philosophy about free money. With "At the Foot of Canal Street," Simon and company - here with "Wire" alum George Pelecanos scripting a story he wrote with Eric Overmyer - are doing parallel play again, as we see Antoine, Sonny and Delmond all traveling out of town for different reasons.

Antoine is a son of New Orleans, through and through. Born there, raised there, with no interest in going anywhere else (though perhaps he'd feel differently had his musical career gone differently), he has to be goaded repeatedly by Ladonna just to take the bus to Baton Rouge to see their sons, and even then he mainly goes for the promise of free dentistry from Larry.

Delmond is a son of the city, too, but a prodigal one. Never invested in his father's Indian traditions, or the city's music, he got out as quick as he could, and as he tells his manager, while he's from New Orleans, he doesn't play New Orleans. He has a girlfriend in New York (one of several, it would appear), and would be happy to never go back were it not for family or professional obligations.

Sonny's no son of New Orleans, but he wishes he was. He tells everyone, including Annie, that he dreamed his whole life of living there and playing that music. But a year and a half into living his dream, he's still basically on the outside looking in: a street musician always playing in the shadow of his more talented partner. So he journeys to Houston, hoping to be more accepted in the world of New Orleans expatriates than he's been in the city itself.

Ultimately, each man's trip away from New Orleans is only so satisfying. Antoine's time in Baton Rouge prepares him for a permanent solution to his embouchure problem, but the bridge he builds with his sons is only temporary at best; even he can recognize how guarded they are around him after so many years of disappointment. Sonny's fantasy of acceptance only lasts as long as it takes the band leader to spot another, more accomplished keyboard player in the crowd. And while Delmond has access to the finest in New York culture, he finds that professionally, he has to tie himself back to his home city to succeed.

Antoine happily returns to New Orleans. Sonny's trip back is more mixed - Houston didn't quite work out, and he returns to see Annie thriving without him - but at least he takes pleasure in bringing the Houston bouncer along with him, and introducing another outsider to the city he loves. And Delmond isn't going back yet, nor does he seem particularly eager to go.

In the wake of the storm, many natives had to leave the city, and many of them never returned. "Treme" is focusing on either the ones who never left or the ones who found a way back, but "At the Foot of Canal Street" provides a brief glimpse of three worlds that many New Orleanians found themselves in after Katrina.

Speaking of leaving town, Delmond's scenes in New York had to be filmed out of production order, which means I got this episode very late in the process. In the interest of getting the review done in time for posting after it airs, let's deal with everything else bullet point-style:

• I'm sure Baton Rouge has many fine independent restaurants, but of course Antoine's kids would have fallen in love with Friday's and The Olive Garden, wouldn't they?

• Ladonna does Antoine a good turn, largely for the sake of those boys, but you see in the trip back to the jail to confront her brother's impersonator that she is not to be messed with. Khandi Alexander beautifully portrays the character's soft and harsh sides, doesn't she?

• Once again, please go read Dave Walker at the Times-Picayune for his weekly explanations of all things New Orleans on "Treme." I'm sure he will have much to say on the notion of the lagniappe.

• As Dave has written about in the past, many of the characters on "Treme" are based on real-life New Orleanians. Much of Creighton's character in general and his YouTube rant in particular come from the late blogger Ashley Morris, for instance. Delmond, meanwhile, owes quite a bit to Donald Harrison Jr., who was also the son of a Mardi Gras Indian chief and left the city to play jazz from a different school. What's interesting, though, is that it appears Delmond will be touring with Harrison (who already played alongside Delmond in the pilot episode); I'll be curious to see if the two characters bond over their shared past, or if Harrison will mainly be there to play music while Delmond lives out a fictionalized version of his story.

• Anwan Glover returns as the fake Daymo, and we get two other "Wire" alums in small guest roles: Jim True-Frost (aka Prez) as Delmond's manager, and Steve Earle (aka Bubbs' sponsor Walon, and also the singer of the season 5 theme song) as one of Annie's musician friends (the other was played by Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle). And unlike most of the other famous musicians who wander through this show, Earle isn't playing himself.

• Darius and his aunt Lula return, and things seem to be setting up nicely for Albert to take the kid under his wing to teach him some combination about life, contracting work, and Indian tribes. With Lorenzo leaving town and Delmond never showing an interest, Albert's got to have someone to pass this stuff on to - just as the writers need a novice character for him to explain the culture to, the way Lester had Prez on "The Wire." (Also nice to see that Albert is just as gracious with the ladies as Cool Lester Smooth.)

• I thought it was a nice touch that the insurance salesman understood what a horrible thing he was doing to Albert and so many customers like him, and that he acknowledged it a bit by explaining that he sleeps at night by drinking.

• I was waiting to see if or when the show would address Michiel Husiman's slight Dutch accent, and here Sonny talks about growing up in Amsterdam. (And his friends, in turn, allow Pelecanos to throw in a joking nod to the Hamsterdam story from "Wire" season 3.)

• Though Creighton has plenty of venom for the rest of America, he seems to be softening just a bit towards Davis, doesn't he? He gives him a ride back to his busted car, empathizes with him about the stolen instruments - and the diminished nature of lagniappe - and looks like he can relate as Davis goes to town on the inflatable lawn display.

• Janette, on the other hand, has far less patience for Davis as things go from bad to worse at the restaurant, and then as he turns his attention from her troubles to appearing to flirt with Annie at the bar. And as with McNulty poring over tidal charts on "The Wire," this show isn't afraid to spend long portions of episodes just watching characters work in (near) silence, here with Davis composing his political "pot for potholes" song.

• Very funny reaction from Rob Brown after Delmond's girlfriend pretends to spot Janet at the party.

Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Treme" review I'll be doing before I relocate to I'll still be reviewing every episode there the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.

What did everybody else think?
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Breaking Bad, "One Minute": The magic bullet

A review of tonight's insanely great "Breaking Bad" (aka The Best Show on TV Right Now) coming up just as soon as I look like a TV weatherman...
"I'm just not the man I thought I was." -Hank




Sorry, just need another minute to pick my jaw up off the floor after that.

What an incredible, bananas finish to the strongest episode yet of this third season. As written by "Breaking Bad" newcomer Thomas Schnauz (another of many "X-Files" vets Vince Gilligan has brought in) and directed by Michelle MacLaren (who joined the staff full-time after last season's gorgeous "4 Days Out"), the parking lot climax was a perfect model of suspense filmmaking. We'd already been primed all episode to fear that the Cousins could hit Hank at any moment (every time the elevator doors opened, I know I gripped my armrest), but then to have someone(*) warn Hank ahead of time kicked things up several levels. Suddenly, we and Hank were in the same mindset, looking around every corner, jumping at shadows (and/or men with squeegees), waiting for the two men to come and wondering if an unarmed Hank possibly had a chance against those two unrelenting figures of death.

(*) So, is there anyone it could have been other than Gus? Gus clearly wanted the Cousins the hell out of his territory, and I can see him warning Hank in the hopes that he might be lucky enough to take them out - or, at least, to bloody them enough that they'd have to re-cross the border in a hurry rather than hanging around in the hopes of also killing Walt. Other than Mike making the call on Gus's behalf, there doesn't seem to be a character in a position to know or do anything about the planned hit. For that matter, I'm not sure how even Gus would have known that Hank had roughly a minute to act, but I'll accept that he could for the sake of what that call added to the scene.

In many ways, the parking lot shootout evoked the failed hit on Tony Soprano from the end of "Sopranos" season one, down to the use of an SUV as a weapon. But I'd argue this scene one-upped that. Violence on "The Sopranos" always had something of a black comic tinge to it (the lead-up to the hit is Tony wandering around in a depressed stupor, and the hitmen were introduced in a scene played for laughs because of Uncle Junior hiding in the back of a car), and these guys didn't have the kind of mythical build-up the Cousins got. And on top of that, Tony Soprano was the star of the show, and it wouldn't work with him dead, whereas "Breaking Bad" would miss Hank but could easily continue without him. So the danger was far more real even without the Cousin factor.

In the end, though Hank is tough and resourceful, he won the only way anyone could against these two: through luck. He was warned in advance and was still in his car. Leonel's(**) gun also happened to fall right where Hank could reach it, and Marco conveniently had an extra, special bullet in his jacket pocket courtesy of the friendly gun dealer, and the duo's flair for the dramatic gave Hank just enough time to find the bullet on the ground and load it and shoot out the back of Marco's skull before the shiny ax could finish its backswing.

(**) Nice of the show to finally give the Cousins names - and a backstory - right before Hank killed one and either crippled or killed the other. The flashback with a middle-aged Tio at the height of his powers was chilling in its portrait of the culture those two grew up in. With Don Salamanca as the dominant male in their lives, and giving them "lessons" like that one, is there any wonder how they grew up to be these two unflappable killing machines? Note also that Leonel, the one who as a boy cries over Marco's destruction of his toy, is the one who's now hardcore enough to tell the other to finish the job rather than staying to help him. Tio made him that way.

But here's the thing: even without those crazy final minutes, "One Minute" still would have been one of the best "Breaking Bad"s to date.

What an amazing showcase for both Aaron Paul (who seems a lock to repeat his Emmy nomination next year, and possibly to win it if he submits this episode) and Dean Norris (who sure deserves to join Paul, but may not in what's always a crowded category).

Hank's beatdown of Jesse brings both men to a crossroads. Having lost his girlfriend, his partner, and now his source of income in the RV, Jesse finally tumbles over the abyss after Hank puts him in the hospital. Acting with half his face hidden by some really convincing prosthetics, Paul showed us a Jesse even colder and angrier than he was in his "I'm the bad guy" phase earlier this season, giving a riveting monologue(***) about all the ways he intended to punish Hank - and the way he'd drag Walt down with him if the DEA came after him.

(***) If the parking lot scene reminded me of "The Sopranos," Jesse's speech was like a more controlled version of Al Capone's speech from "The Untouchables" about what he wanted done to Elliott Ness.

But when Walt returns to Jesse's hospital room later in the episode to try to save his former brother-in-law, Jesse's evil calm is replaced by raw, unbridled pain, as he unloads on Walt with the laundry list of all the ways his life has gotten worse since Mr. White came back into his life. These are words Walt has needed to hear for a long time now - to have someone he can't tune out explain how toxic he's become to everyone in his life - and it's to Walt's credit that he already seemed aware of this after first seeing Jesse's ruined face. When he chews out Gale for screwing up the temperature, it comes in part from his need to feel superior to others (he does this shortly after Gale starts working two steps ahead of him), but also clearly out of guilt for what he saw happen to his previous lab assistant. Walt is a monster, but there's enough humanity left in him to recognize the pain he's caused, and the debts he owes, and so he manages to talk Gus(****) into letting him fire Gale and bring Jesse into the Walt-cave.

(****) And Gus's willingness to go along with that plan torpedoes my theory that he was using Gale to appropriate Walt's methods and then say goodbye to the loose cannon. It's entirely possible he still has that in mind (maybe the Walt-cave is tricked out with surveillance gear?), but could Gus have far grander plans for Walt that extend past the initial three month agreement?

And in the wake of putting Jesse in the hospital and his own career on life-support, Hank finally lets himself open up to Marie. Getting back to my fear of the elevator doors, when Hank got on the elevator the first time with Marie, I was expecting Cousins and was then floored to see husband and wife sobbing in each other's arms (and amused to see them completely composed by the time the doors opened on the ground floor, because there are some things Hank Schrader will not show the world). Even better than that scene, though, was Hank getting ready for his hearing with OPR, where he talked about his PTSD (in terms he could use), and about how much he's been struggling since he killed Tuco.

So here's what I wonder: the shootout with Tuco is what started Hank down this mentally unhealthy road, and the exploding turtle made things worse, but he finally seemed to be at peace by the time he left the DEA field office, knowing he'd probably lost his job but wouldn't go to jail. Now that he's barely survived a horrific ordeal, seen more people killed in front of him (and because of him) and killed one or two more himself, what happens? Does Hank's psyche shut down on him again, or does knowing he overcame two unbelievable bad-asses give him a new sense of invulnerability? And will this give him a road back into the DEA? Surely, the Cousins are in a law-enforcement database somewhere, and the man who took them out is about to become a legend - and someone who perhaps might be put back on the trail of Heisenberg.

It certainly makes sense for the show to have Walt being pursued by a (former) family member, but how will Hank (and Marie) cope with being thrust back into this violent world right when it looked like he was out for good? And now that Hank has taken out three members of the Salamanca family, will the cartel be even hotter for his blood, or might they want to stay far away from the brewer of Schraderbrau?

Damn, damn, damn that was good.

Some other thoughts:

• Of course the only thing Walt could tell Jesse to heal their rift was that his meth was good. That was all Jesse wanted to hear when he showed the stuff to Walt in the high school parking lot - really, it's all he's wanted to hear from the guy since the partnership began. Jesse (whose parents have cast him out) needs a surrogate father even more than Walt (who has a good relationship with Walter Jr.) needs a surrogate son.

• As Hank beat on Jesse and asked how Jesse knew his cell phone number and wife's name, I began to worry that Walt took things too far with that gambit. I understand why Hank has blinders on about Walt, but sooner or later, he has to make the math work, doesn't he?

• Note that the Tio/Cousins flashback also included Tio on the phone discussing the start of the cartel's business relationship with Gus, whom Tio dismissively refers to as "The Chicken Man."

• Saul had a few good funny lines at Jesse's expense (comparing him to Rocky, then Ringo), but the scene in the hallway - shot, appropriately, in half-darkness - where he started preparing Walt for the idea of killing Jesse was a reminder that this guy is not a joke.

• Hands up: who would be happy to go to their local supermarket and buy a "Breaking Bad" brand pre-made PB&J sandwich, cut up Walt-style?

• A few years back I was in a car accident where I broke several ribs, and I am very familiar with that pain assessment chart. After Jesse's half-face stared at it, I may never think of that thing the same way again.

Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Breaking Bad" review I'll be doing before I relocate to I'll still be reviewing every episode here the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.

What did everybody else think?
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The Pacific, "Part Eight": Jarhead in love

A review of tonight's "The Pacific" coming up just as soon as I make a table appear out of thin air...

After three harrowing episodes focusing on Sledge's time on Peleliu, "The Pacific" takes a sharp right turn, leaving Sledge and Snafu behind for a bit (other than a brief cameo at the top of the episode) to spend the hour on John Basilone, who hasn't been a major part of the miniseries for a month.

I can see how that would be jarring to some. "The Pacific" has been a more sprawling, less tightly-focused miniseries than "Band of Brothers" was, but that's been by design, as the creative team has tried to show a broader picture of the Pacific theater than they did of the Atlantic. So that means not only bouncing from character to character as we cover different island conflicts - here with Basilone being killed during the early hours of the Iwo Jima invasion - but also showing how different kinds of characters were affected by the war.

Where Sledge was a naive kid emotionally unprepared for what he saw on Peleliu, and where Leckie was a cynic and iconoclast, Basilone was a career military man (first in the Army, then the Marines) who knew what he was getting into when he went to war, and had no regrets about the fighting, the command structure, or any other part of being in the Corps. Given the man that we saw in the early episodes, and the brief, frustrated glimpses we got of him on his war bond tour, it's not a surprise that Basilone would have declined promotion, a cushy detail or an outright discharge in favor of going back into action. But it was still moving to watch his journey, from bored and out-of-shape celebrity to misunderstood drill sergeant to inspiring leader of men, and to see that even though he didn't survive Iwo Jima, he was every bit as brave and resourceful there as he was on Guadalcanal.

But this hour is as much the story of Lena Riggi as it is of Basilone.

Unlike Stella, Leckie's Australian girlfriend Stella from the third episode, Riggi was entirely real: the woman Basilone fell for, courted and married before shipping back out to the Pacific. So where Stella ultimately was more symbol than character, Riggi gets to be both a stand-in for the many women who lost loved ones in the war as well as her own person, well-played by Annie Parisse in a nice romantic duet with Jon Seda. While the story hit some familiar war movie beats (Basilone and Riggi even huddle up on a wave-swept beach in a scene evoking the iconic kiss in "From Here to Eternity"), the idea of them as kindred spirits - fellow non-coms who feel most at home in the military, and who fully understand the dangers and responsibilities that come with the uniform and the stripes - made it feel unique to them, and compelling.

Now, by the time Basilone pushed his superiors to let him be a regular Marine again, a lot of time had passed since Guadalcanal. Other famous heroes of the war had emerged, and while Basilone still didn't have to buy himself a drink anywhere he went, it's understandable that one of the two young men who form the foundation of Basilone's new squad wouldn't have heard of him, and that both might at first think the hero of Guadalcanal was overdoing it in training them.

But as we see when everyone lands on Iwo Jima (in another Hell-on-earth sequence to rival the airfield crossing on Peleliu), Basilone knew what he was doing, both in terms of training the men and in terms of what he'd need to do to survive. That he died doesn't mean he was wrong - as he told JP back in the second episode, life and death in battle is often a matter of luck and inches - and even in the moments leading to his death, he was still thinking clearly, helping others and not blinking in the face of an unbelievable onslaught.

And for all his heroism and celebrity, the final shot of the Iwo Jima sequence - with the camera pulling up to show Basilone lying among so many other dead men - was a potent reminder of the hundreds upon thousands of less famous Americans died under similar circumstances to the great John Basilone, and how many of them left their own version of Lena behind.

Some other thoughts:

• When Google is not your friend: after Anna Torv turned up in the fifth episode as Virginia Grey, I decided to do some web-searching to find out more about the real Grey. One of my first stops was her IMDb biography, which told me, "During her participation in WWII bond drives, she developed a close relationship with John Basilone, US Marine Medal of Honor winner, who was later killed on Iwo Jima." Whoops. And that, boys and girls, is one of the reasons I've been so strict about trying to avoid spoiling the fates of Basilone, Sledge and Leckie.

• There are, of course, many books about John Basilone. The one I've been perusing for background detail has been James Brady's new one.

• I liked how the gravel falling on Basilone's face after he was shot resembled the pencil shavings that go flying throughout the miniseries' opening credits sequence.

What did everybody else think?
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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Doctor Who, "Victory of the Daleks": Cookie, monster

A quick review of tonight's "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I enjoy a nice biscuit...

Perhaps because I came to the series with the Russell Davies reboot, I've never much cared for the Daleks, and in particular have grown frustrated in how frequently the series appears to kill the entire race off, only to bring them back almost immediately. So I was especially disappointed that Steven Moffat felt compelled to do this again, only three episodes into his tenure.

There were some fun things on the side of "Victory of the Daleks" - The Doctor's friendship with Winston Churchill, British Spitfires turned into space ships(*), The Doctor and Amy helping Bracewell embrace his programmed humanity - but the only portion of the episode tied directly to the Daleks that I found myself interested in was Amy not remembering the events of "The Stolen Earth." I'm assuming that will be part of the season-long arc with the cracks in the universe (which once again appeared as the TARDIS was leaving, making me wonder if The Doctor is somehow causing the cracks).

(*) Last week, there was some discussion of Moffat starting to incorporate a lot of specifically American references into this most British of shows, and here I saw a couple more of those: the Spitfire assault on the Dalek ship looked very much like the climax of "Independence Day," and of course the Union Jack gets raised like the American flag at Iwo Jima. Hmmm... On the other hand, Moffat's understandable Scottish pride continues, not just with Karen Gillan's awesome pronunciation of "Dalek," but the casting of Bracewell as a Scotsman.

Hopefully, the stupid pepperpots - now in their United Colors of Benetton look - will go away for quite a while so Moffat can focus on other things.

Keeping in mind that we are NOT going to discuss episodes that have yet to air here in America, what did everybody else think?
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Party Down, "Precious Lights Pre-School Auction": Rumpled Stiltskin

A review of tonight's "Party Down" coming up just as soon as you know the difference between you and James Van Der Beek's parrot...
"You'll never work in this town again!" -Leonard Stiltskin
"I know." -Henry
Rob Thomas(*) has told the story many times of how he, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd pitched "Party Down" to HBO, only for the HBO execs at the time to decide that they had conflicting visions of what a Hollywood comedy should be. And so HBO ultimately gave us "Entourage" (about Hollywood insiders who get everything handed to them on a silver platter) and Thomas and company eventually found a home for "Party Down" (about Hollywood outsiders who struggle for everything and fail far more often than they succeed) at Starz. And an episode like "Precious Lights Pre-School Auction" - which namechecks "Entourage"(**) while featuring the return of JK Simmons as foul-mouthed movie mogul Leonard Stiltskin - is a reminder of why the outsiders' perspective is so much more fun.

(*) Rob, by the way, spent a year at the start of his career writing for "Dawson's Creek" and has taken opportunities in the past to have fun at the expense of The Beek, here with the phrase "James Van Der Beek's parrot."

(**) Love that Roman is a phony who will say "F--k 'Entourage'" while at the same time knowing and caring about the show enough to be indignant at Kyle's suggestion that Roman would be Turtle, when Roman clearly knows, "I'd be E, and you'd be Turtle."

So here we have the members of Party Down once again attending a function they'd never be allowed into as guests in a million years, though Casey comes closest by running into a comedian-turned-mom who's basically Casey a few years down the road. (***) Stiltskin and his wife are there to taunt them about how far all the characters haven't progressed in the last year: Henry never got to play Young Abe Lincoln, Kyle is still nowhere (and, unsurprisingly, Mrs. Stiltskin has chosen to forget their time together), Roman is at best proprietor of a a prestigious blog, etc.

(***) And in a meta touch, the character was played by Andrea Savage, who played Casey in the original homemade pilot shot in Thomas's backyard. Savage couldn't do the series because, appropriately enough for this character, she got pregnant.

Kyle's still trying, and still believes in himself enough as an actor to enjoy gaming Roman, while Henry is slipping so deeply into his new manager job - with the Taco Bell view that accompanies it - that he tears into Ron with the kind of speech he'd have laughed at a year earlier. (He tries to play it off as acting, but you can see the self-loathing on his face afterward.) But they're all running in place, and Ron, with his disgusting 'pit stains and loss of his barely-legal girlfriend, is actually going backwards.

But for once we get a small victory, as Casey nails her audition for a small role in a Judd Apatow movie(****), dissuading her from following Savage's path for at least a little while.

(****) Between Lizzy Caplan's early role on "Freaks and Geeks" and the amount of crossover between the Thomas and Apatow repertory companies, what other director could it be?

Structurally, "Precious Lights" didn't have the comic build that the best "Party Down" episodes do, but it still had plenty of great one-liners, whether it was Stiltskin explaining that he once drank ape sperm to get a game with Tiger Woods, or Roman's line about The Beek's parrot, or Casey lamenting all her bad auditions, including the time she was told she was "'too Jew-y'... and I was reading for 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'" And the tip jar gag was a nice role reversal from the episode last year where team leader Ron insisted on putting out the tip jar over everyone's objections, only for the partygoers to cheap out on them.

What did everybody else think?
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The Office, "Body Language": Kiss me, stupid

A review of last night's "The Office" - and this week's bit of potentially huge "Office" news - coming up just as soon as I reanimate a bull...

The internet briefly freaked out earlier this week when a radio clip turned up of Steve Carell saying he intends to leave "The Office" when his contract ends. Everyone calmed down quickly once they realized two things: Carell's contract runs through next season, so we still have a while to go; and chances are high that over the next year, NBC will find a way to keep Carell around, whether that requires more money, a more flexible schedule that would have Michael largely absent from some episodes, or what have you.

Now, I think most of us are in agreement that this hasn't been a particularly strong season for "The Office," and that's led many of you to declare that the show needs to end soon. Even with the Carell situation, that ain't happening. "The Office" is one of NBC's few success stories, and its only real comedy hit (the other three Thursday sitcoms are largely being buoyed by its wake), and while a network's fortunes can change in a year, I have to believe the show is too valuable to let go. And I do think, as I've said before, that whatever problems there have been this year, the show can rebound, because I've seen it happen to great sitcoms that have had off years.

And in watching an underwhelming, Michael Scott-centric episode like "Body Language," I almost wonder if an arrangement where Carell isn't around as much might be beneficial.

Look, I love Steve Carell. Funny man, talented man, kind man, and the show would not exist without him. He's been at the center of most of the funniest moments and episodes of this show's history, as you'd expect from the leading man. But despite being at the center of the show, Michael has always been the character the writers have had the most trouble getting a handle on. Some weeks, he's the 8-year-old who never grew up. Some, he's got Asperger's. Some, he's just a normal guy who isn't as funny as he thinks he is.

The inconsistency, and the writers' tendency to fall into the trap of highlighting Michael's worst qualities (writers on "The Simpsons" fall prey to the same thing with Homer), can make me really dread Michael-centric episodes sometimes. "Body Language" wasn't nearly as bad as this season's "Mafia" - nor was Michael as idiotic in this one as he was there - but it was still a fairly uncomfortable, airless outing, one where nearly all the laughs could be found in the Dwight/Daryl/Kelly subplot.

Given the choice between more episodes like this or occasional episodes where Michael's on the road and Dunder-Mifflin has to get by without him, I think I might take the latter. That way, perhaps the Michael-heavy episodes might be more focused.

I know there can be a danger in trying to elevate supporting characters above the lead, but "The Office" has always been structured in an odd way, where Michael is the main character in terms of screen time and his importance to the plot, but where he's otherwise written like a supporting character while Jim and/or Pam are written as more traditional leads. So I think an "Office" with Carell's reduced participation might actually work, and perhaps work better than what we've gotten this season.

But again, that's a year away, at a minimum, and hopefully the series can rediscover some of its juice before then.

What did everybody else think?
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Parks and Recreation, "94 Meetings": But a rich ain't one

A review of "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I alter a gazebo...

Ron Effing Swanson hates meetings. I know that. You know that. April Ludgate certainly knows that. But you can only put off the thing you hate for so long, and "94 Meetings" had a lot of fun with the idea of Ron trapped in a hellish day of meetings (and dragging April, Andy and Ann along with him), while at the same time doing some nice character work on both the budding April/Andy romance and the sweet, paternal relationship developing between Ron and April.

The meetings were a nice mix of the absolutely ridiculous (the purple bikini man, the guy who yells at 5-year-olds for lack of talent), eminently reasonable ones made absurd (Andy being unable to say yes to the woman) and unlikely left turns (Ann spending her day diagnosing moles). And perhaps the funniest part of all was Ron describing the situation as "a blood-saked, nightmarish hellscape. However, to Leslie Knope...," followed by the abrupt cut to a giddy Leslie declaring, "Oh, how fun!"

Leslie's own plot, however, didn't quite click for me, in part because they didn't tie the gazebo situation strongly enough to Leslie's fear of Mark and Ann getting married, in part because the show has been a little vague about where Leslie stands on that relationship, anyway. We've mostly moved past the idea that Leslie is crushing on Mark, but when she claimed to feel nauseous over news of a possible engagement, I began to wonder if she still had feelings for the guy that she's suppressed all this time for the sake of her friendship with Ann. Instead, it turned into a commentary on Leslie's fear of being a single person in a world of couples, but the idea was introduced too late in the episode, I think, for it to have worked.

On the other hand, Leslie chained to the swinging gate? Oh, how fun!

And any episode that can give us both Ron whittling a duck and an introduction to April's parents (who couldn't be less like her) and sister (who couldn't be more like her) is an overall winner.

What did everybody else think?
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Community, "The Art of Discourse": See if you can guess what I am now

A review of last night's "Community" coming up just as soon as I meet Sting at a Cracker Barrel...
"Ridiculous situation descending into heavy-handed drama for the illusion of story... check." -Abed
After last week's all-out "Goodfellas" parody, "The Art of Discourse" confines most of the meta/pop culture humor to the Abed and Troy subplot, while going more straightforward in showing Jeff and Britta, and also Pierce and Shirley, dealing with being the old men (and women) out on campus.

Jeff and Britta's conflict with the high school kids was played entirely for laughs, as we once again see that those two are more entertaining when they join forces for some ridiculous goal than when we're supposed to care about the simmering sexual tension between them. This was a really strong episode for Gillian Jacobs as Britta let herself get sucked into trying to pwn the three Schmitty kids, whether pathetically trying to defend her life choices (invoking Winona Ryder and wearing a Discman) or going pure evil in that moment when she had the brainstorm to send Jeff to have sex with Lisa Rinna.

The Pierce and Shirley plot, meanwhile, did a nice job of balancing laughs (Pierce being oblivious to his racism, the gang all turning on each other in the search for New Pierce) and some more genuine character moments about Shirley and Pierce's feelings about each other and their respective places in the group. Unlike the scenario Abed described in the quote above, this felt like actual story, and like something the show's been building to for a while. If the series wants us to care about this community and its characters beyond their role as avatars of pop culture gags - and it clearly does - then sooner or later Pierce's treatment of Shirley in particular and the group in general had to be addressed, and in a mostly heartfelt, sincere manner. Some very nice work by Chevy Chase and Yvette Nicole Brown in this one, and ultimately their moment of bonding climaxed with a nice callback to the pantsing joke that started the whole mess - and by the time we got to the food fight and the extended riff on the end of "Animal House," it felt okay to go whole-hog on the parody, and I look forward to seeing Troy and Abed in "College Cut-Ups 2: Panty Raid Academy."

What did everybody else think?
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cougar Town, "Letting You Go": Sail away

A quick review of last night's "Cougar Town" (which, if I haven't said it enough lately, has been vastly improved since the start of the season) coming up just as soon as I use my mouth vacuum...

I haven't written much about "Cougar Town" lately, but it hasn't been for lack of watching/enjoying. It's just that between vacation time and the crunch of Wednesday programming, something's had to give, and this show has settled into a nice, strange groove that doesn't always leave me a ton to say by the time I have time to say it.

But "Letting You Go" was a very strong episode on several levels. It kept up the goofy enthusiasm of Jules and her cul de sac crew to find ways to fight boredom by trying to start new rituals, first with morning drinking, then with the late night Enya parties. The entire cast is really game for this stuff, and here I want to single out Josh Hopkins, who came across as a total stiff in nearly everything I've seen him do in the past, and is completely loose and fun and fearless here as Grayson.

The episode also did a good job of pushing the Jules/Travis relationship back to the forefront, after letting it slip away at various points this season. Jules is, on many levels, a sad character (again: morning drinking), and I like that the writers have found ways to acknowledge that quality, and the clinginess of her relationship with Travis, without undermining the humor of it all. And it also makes sense that Travis's impending departure (from her home, if not the show) would finally send Jules towards Grayson.

One question: is the mention of Winston University (home of the med school affiliated with Sacred Heart on "Scrubs") the first sign that "Cougar Town" and "Scrubs" are part of the same fictional universe, even with Christa Miller playing different roles in each? Or was there an earlier one I've forgotten?

(And second question: funnier Bill Lawrence show dog? Rowdy or Dog Travis?)

What did everybody else think?
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Modern Family, "Travels with Scout": I am not left-handed, either

A review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I lose the deposit on that fog machine...

I often have less to say about the episodes of "Modern Family" that work than the ones that don't, and since two and a half out of the three main stories this week were very funny, I'm going to be brief.

Cameron's brief drumming career was a nice example of the writers striking gold with an unexpected character crossover, with Dylan and his bandmates briefly being awed by Cam's stick skills, and Mitchell and Hayley bonding over their totally rockin' boyfriends. Jay's fiasco with the slasher film was a good story where good intentions (and a mental image of Mitchell's friend as a sweet kid who would never star in such a movie) led to increasingly bad consequences (and which gave Rico Rodriguez his usual chances to shine as Manny), and in the main plot, I enjoyed both Claire's growing affection for Scout and Luke unintentionally acting like a dog.

But as to the main part of the main plot, I think I find Fred Willard a little too perfect in his casting as Phil's dad, if that makes sense. If you wanted to cast someone who'd be Phil plus a few decades, you go get Willard, who's made a career out of playing men who think they're much funnier than they actually are. But the idea that Phil is the way he is because his dad is exactly like him, while logical, was maybe too on-the-nose to click for me, and I spent a lot of the Willard scenes waiting for the episode to swing around to someone else's story.

Still, very funny overall ("What's up with 21 Jump Street?"). What did everybody else think?
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

American Idol: Top 6 results

Quick spoilers for tonight's "American Idol" elimination show coming up after I laugh about how the show actually ran short tonight, forcing Seacrest to vamp...

So, bottom three of Big Mike, Siobhan and Casey. Big Mike sent to safety, commercial break, then Siobhan goes home.

Early in the finals, Siobhan was the only contestant I cared about other than Crystal. But as I said last night, I grew tired of Siobhan's one not-so-great trick, and also of her endless babbling whenever the judges criticized her (she was at least 40 percent responsible for a lot of the overruns). I'm more bored with Aaron, but she was one of two who most deserved to go home.

Question: when is the last time someone in the finals went home after getting the pimp spot? I know Melinda Doolittle did in season 6 (but in the Top 3 show, which doesn't quite count), and I know Lilly went home despite being pimped in the semis this year, but has it happened in the finals in recent years before this week?
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Firewall & Iceberg podcast, episode 14: Happy Town, Breaking Bad, and more

Wednesday brings with it another episode of the Firewall & Iceberg podcast, this time with Dan and I (with no new "Lost" episode to dissect) trying to muster some enthusiasm to talk about "Idol," teaming up to slam "Happy Town," discussing our divergent paths with this season of "Survivor," checking in on the awesomeness of "Breaking Bad" this season, and more.

Fienberg has all the relevant links and times up at his blog, and if you subscribe via iTunes or RSS, it should be all ready to download. Click here to read the full post

30 for 30, "Run Ricky Run": The spliff myth?

A quick review of "Run Ricky Run," the latest "30 for 30" film, coming up just as soon as I put on a wedding dress...

After last week's unsurprisingly polarizing "Silly Little Game" (which I liked even with the wacky re-creations of events), "30 for 30" is back on firmer documentary ground with "Run Ricky Run," Sean Pamphilon and Royce Toni's extremely personal portrait of Ricky Williams. Though Pamphilon's perspective was more inside than, say, Steve James's on Allen Iverson, I appreciated that this wasn't a one-hour apology for Ricky. It looked at his failings, but also at the potential causes of those failings (being molested by his father, anxiety disorders) that go far deeper than the easy media "He just likes smoking pot too much" narrative.

(On the one hand, I found it a nice touch that they kept showing "PTI" clips to see how Tony and Wilbon's take on the guy changed over the years. On the other hand, I'm angry that I was forced to watch even a few seconds of Skip Bayless, after going out of my way to avoid him for several years now.)

I watched this only a few days after a Tribeca Film Festival screening of Ice Cube's "Straight Outta L.A." (it airs May 11), and it's hard for this more low-key story to live up to seeing Al Davis's terrifying face in HD on a giant movie screen. But "Run Ricky Run" did its job in showing me a side of a story I only thought I understood.

What did everybody else think?
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American Idol: Can't anyone here produce a TV show?

Okay, this is just getting stupid now. After everyone got so angry last week about "American Idol" running five minutes long (despite only having seven performances to stretch out over an hour) and cutting off people's DVR recordings of "Glee" (and after people were torqued that the "Idol" Gives Back results show ran 17 hours long and prevented part of America from enjoying Tim Urban's elimination), the show somehow ran long again last night. It was only by a minute or two, but once again people watching "Glee" on a DVR delay lost part of the final musical number.

After the jump, I look at who's potentially to blame, and what can be done to fix things...

Okay, so our candidates for blame, in no particular order:

Bruce Gowers: He's the director of the show (Emmy-winning director, no less, even though they can't bring it in on time and the cameras are never where they should be), so on one level the buck stops with him. By now, he should have realized they're having trouble with time and ordered some things cut, whether it's judge talk, or Ryan Seacrest chatting up Shania Twain to fill time that ultimately didn't need to be filled, or what have you. Keep the show lean and mean for the first 2/3rds, and if it looks like there will be time, you can do a little padding around the last few performances. In a live telecast, the director is calling the shots, and Gower has failed miserably in this area.

Ryan Seacrest: Keeping the trains running on time has always been one of Seacrest's specialties, but he's been flaky in a lot of ways this season, including this one. If Gowers isn't telling him to cut the judges off when they start to bicker, or to go straight to the phone numbers once Simon's done talking, then Seacrest needs to take that initiative on his own and get things moving. Again, save the contestant-judge dialogue for late in the show if it's abundantly clear you have time to spare.

Four judges: It still boggles my mind that it occurred to no one on the show last year that bringing in a fourth judge would consume air time, and that something else would have to give. What's given, for the most part, is the number of songs - we're only going to get 5 next week, when in the pre-Kara days, we would have gotten 10 (two from each contestant) - even though that's the whole point of the show. But even when stretching 12 songs over 2 hours, or 6 songs over 1, the judges still consume way too much air and airtime. And it isn't just that there's an extra judge, but that Kara and Ellen are both chattier than Paula was (Paula, for all her insanity, seemed aware that she should stop talking after a while). So by the time we get to Simon (the other major reason for watching), the other three have gone on so much that the show is running long, and Simon gets cut off abruptly more often than not. They all need to be given earpieces so that Gowers (or, hopefully, someone more competent) can tell them to wrap it up and hand things off to the next judge. That, or they need to be given shock collars that go off if they run over their allotted time.

The producers: Again, four judges is too many. They either needed to not replace Paula when she left (and I was saying that even before Ellen turned out to be a complete waste of time), or they needed to be willing to sacrifice some other part of the show. I don't care if that's the mentor clips, or the Seacresterviews (which, admittedly, Coke sponsors), the introduction, or what have you, but something had to give, and nothing has. And as the bosses of the judges, Seacrest and Gowers, they should have authority to speed things up. But they don't seem to care.

Fox: The sense I get from talking to people at Fox is that they're as annoyed by this as the rest of us - several "Fringe" episodes got messed up this way last spring, and now it's happening to "Glee," a much more important piece of the network's future - but they have no control over the "Idol" producers. When a show is as big a hit as "Idol" is - single-handedly carrying Fox to a first-place Nielsen finish season after season - the producers realize that the network needs them more than they need the network, and they can do what they want with impunity. What's Fox going to do? Cancel "Idol"? Cut off the telecasts at 9 no matter what? (That would anger even more people than are being irked about the "Glee" thing.)

Basically, until Ken Warwick and company decide they care about ending on time, we're stuck with this mess. So if you watch "Idol" and/or "Glee," make sure your recordings are padded by a minimum of five minutes every week. And even that wouldn't have helped you with last week's results show. Sigh...
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Parenthood, "Perchance to Dream": It's tricky

A review of last night's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I unleash the fever...

Parenthood (whether the concept or the TV show) isn't a competition, but I couldn't help noticing that the parent doing the best job in "Perchance to Dream" is Crosby (and Jasmine, too). Adam freaks out over Haddie's sexuality, Sarah again tries to project all of her regrets onto Amber, and Julia took the broken mug issue way too far to overcompensate for the old lawyer=liar saw. Crosby, meanwhile, had no problem interrupting his date with Jasmine to help Jabbar through his fear of pooping in strange places, and he and Jasmine both recognized that they don't want to send the wrong message to the kid if their attempt to go from co-parents to couple doesn't work out.

Now, I'm not complaining about any of the others this week. Some of the most interesting stories on this show involve parents screwing up, as we saw with the scene where Haddie called Adam on his double-standard treatment of her. But just as no one would have expected Dax Shepard to give one of the best performances among this cast, who would have thought after the first few episodes that we might get a night where Crosby was so much more on his game than his siblings?

I don't want to give short shrift to Kristina's decision, by the way. The whole work/kids dilemma is a familiar one, in life and on TV, and Kristina has the added complication of a special needs kid. As much as she enjoyed her time back in grown-up world, I can understand her reluctance to go back full-time not long after finding out about Max's Asperger's (and not long before Haddie goes to college). And it was interesting to watch Adam throughout that scene, because you could tell he was trying to do right by his wife even as he very clearly didn't want her to go work for Sundra from "Survivor: Cook Islands."

"Perchance to Dream" was one of the show's more thematically and tonally consistent episodes. It was also a fairly light one, not only with Adam's goofy dancing, but Sarah and Amber listening in horror to Mike O'Malley's poems about Sarah's va-jay-jay, everyone else's reaction to Julia's cordoned-off area, and Drew's reaction to Haddie taking off her bra in the kitchen. Plus, Run-DMC! (Which gives me an excuse to link to the original video, with Penn & Teller.)

What did everybody else think?
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'Happy Town' review: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I review "Happy Town," which premieres tonight on ABC. Not a fan, and it won't be part of the blog rotation as I move over to HitFix (nor would it have been were I staying here). Feel free to discuss the premiere here if you watch it tonight. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Justified, "Blind Spot": Don't make me a target

A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as you think we're going to banter here...
"You think there's never going to be any consequences for this?" -Art
Raylan Givens began this series as a man in control - of his emotions, of predicting the actions of his opponents, and of winning any and every fight. As we enter the second half of this first season, his return to Kentucky, and the various headaches from his past that have come with it, now has him as a man in control of very little, save for his usual good aim and skill in a fight. He can keep it together when dealing with the amateurs and low-level thieves and killers he's faced in recent episodes, but put him in a room with Boyd Crowder as Boyd goes on about the Good Book, and all of Raylan's cool, all of his training, goes out the window, and he becomes every bit a 21st century Seth Bullock. His relationship with Ava has opened up all kinds of blind spots - to how he's risking his career, and to the dangers still posed from the Miami mob over his shooting of Tommy Bucks - and all of a sudden, Raylan looks less a superman than a mortal, fallible one.

After last week's episode tried to split its focus between a routine Raylan case and all the ongoing storylines, "Blind Spot" was devoted entirely to the various messes Raylan finds himself in, with Art, with the Crowders, and with Miami. And while I've quite enjoyed a bunch of the self-contained stories the show has done, there's no question that it's more intense, and more fun, when we're dealing with stories and characters continuing from week to week.

Walton Goggins was tremendous tonight (as was Timothy Olyphant at showing Raylan losing his cool). Goggins can go pretty broad at times, as he did in the series pilot, but ever since Boyd had his jailhouse conversion, he's been doing some really small, interesting work with the character. As Goggins plays him, you're never quite clear how much of the born-again thing is real and how much is Boyd just playing an angle. After all, Raylan told us in the pilot that Boyd was too smart to buy into the white supremacy nonsense, and was just doing it as a way to get over. It's entirely possible that's what he's doing here - that he knows it gets under Raylan's skin, and even that he knows he can survive whatever the other prisoners throw at him - but there's also a weird conviction to it. If it's all an act, would he really let things in the prison laundry go that far, not knowing his father was nearby and ready to save him?

And speaking of big, bad Bo Crowder, give a big welcome to Mr. M.C. Gainey, boys and girls. When I said a few weeks ago that the producers had to get a really imposing actor to play Bo after the off-screen build-up, Gainey (aka Tom Friendly from "Lost," among many, many bad-ass roles) was the kind of guy I had in mind.

We're very clearly pushing towards some kind of ultimate confrontation between Raylan, the Crowders and Miami in the second half, and I'm looking forward to every minute of it.

Some other thoughts:

• Better late than never, but I was glad to see Ava finally acknowledge that it's kind of a big deal, emotionally, that she killed her husband. Up until now, Ava's been temptress first, character second, and between the early scene in her bedroom and then her initiative in stopping the bad guys at the end, she seems both more like a real person and more like a good match for Raylan.

• And speaking of which, note Winona trying to mark her territory by going on and on with Ava about all the burdens of having been married to Raylan.

• Getting back to Seth Bullock, in an interesting bit of casting, the hitman from Miami was played by Ray McKinnon, who played the doomed reverend on "Deadwood" season one. Not only does he have history with Olyphant, but he and Goggins teamed up for "The Accountant," a 2001 short film that won both men an Oscar (and led to me sitting at home asking, "What on earth is Shane from 'The Shield' doing at the Academy Awards?").

What did everybody else think?
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American Idol, Top 6: Shania Twain Night

A review of tonight's "American Idol" performances coming up just as soon as I lament professional comedian Ellen DeGeneres' need to do two different "Shania Twain-as-train" jokes in one episode...

First of all, Shania Twain's Canadian-ness is one of those things I tend to forget (in spite of my own half-Canadian ancestry) for years at a time because I only hear her sing, and the accent only comes out in her speaking voice. Very unsettling to be reminded she could have played the love interest in a Bob & Doug McKenzie movie if the timing had been a bit different.

As to the show itself? Well, let's just say I find Shania's speaking voice more interest than a lot of what's in her songbook - and particularly the parts of her songbook that were performed this evening. (If only Big Mike or Aaron had come out and did "Man, I Feel Like a Woman"...)

Lee Dewyze, "You're Still the One": Every week, the judges completely ignore the number of outright horrible notes he lets into his performances. Until this week, those at least were the exception each week and not the rule, but tonight Lee sounded more off-key then on, while at the same time looking like he had just been up all night trying to recreate the "ADRIAN!!!!" scene from the end of the first "Rocky." I don't dislike Lee in general, but this was probably the worst he's been so far.

Michael Lynche, "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing":
This is Big Mike doing his young Luther thing. Mostly sounded good - though the falsetto was oddly weak in spots - and passionate (the "wet" quality Simon was complaining about), but didn't do a lot for me.

Casey James, "Don't": Some other contestants this season have been ruined by inconsistent comments from the judges. Fortunately for Casey, the judges have all been telling him the same thing for weeks, and he finally listened. No pointless guitar mini-solos, no fixed half-smile; just his usual Bob Seger voice married to some genuine emotion. More vibrato than I would have liked, but overall his best since "Jealous Guy," and one of his strongest performances overall.

Crystal Bowersox, "No One Needs to Know":
After last week's powerhouse, tear-inducing "People Get Ready," Crystal takes it down several notches with a quirky alt-country performance that sounded very much like the sort of thing she might play at a concert five years from now in between two of her better-known hits. I liked the vibe of it, and the way Crystal sounded a bit like Neko Case when she went into the falsetto. The judges were clearly irked (though only Simon came out and admitted it) she didn't swing for the fences again after last week, but I'm fine with a Mama Sox double now and then.

Aaron Kelly, "You Got a Way": Aaron's voice has been pretty brutal the last month or so, but on a country-themed night he finally managed to grab hold of the notes and not sound like he was straining to reach them. But if he sounded better technically, he still put me to sleep, though I believe I woke up just in time to hear Kara accuse him of being a virgin. Is that about right?

Siobhan Magnus, "Any Man of Mine":
Okay, I think I'm done with her. All the usual Siobhan tics - dull, pitchy low notes at the beginning, building to a wail and an endless power note - and here we got the added bonus of her having major breath control issues as she tried to walk and sing at the same time, and then as she tried to deal with some particularly wordy verses. The judges were impressed by the big note at the end, but I've seen that trick too often to care when the rest of the song was so uninspired.

Best of the night: The Outlaw Casey James, followed a ways back by Crystal.

In danger: I'd be fine with either Siobhan or Aaron going, but he had the whole "I was singing it to my mom" moment, and she had the pimp spot, which is still mostly invulnerable, so... Lee, in spite of never being in the bottom 3 before? Big Mike, because his voters could get complacent twice? I'll be curious to see if Crystal goes bottom 3 after the judges finally criticized her, and also after a small-by-design performance, but I'd be stunned if she was in real danger.

Finally, as many of you know by now, I'll be blogging at HitFix starting next week, and in figuring out how the new job is going to work, I think "Idol" is one of the few shows I cover regularly now that won't get the weekly treatment in the new home.

Part of that is that it's been a real bear doing "Idol" and "Lost" live on the same night (which wasn't a problem this week), part is that I've been really uninspired by the cast this season, and part of it is that Fienberg has always been much, much better at writing about "Idol" (here's his review of tonight's show). When I was a solo act, it made sense for me to carve out time to do these weekly write-ups; when I'm at a place where another guy does it and does it better than me (and cares more than I do), it makes sense to focus time and energy elsewhere. I'm sure I'll weigh in from time to time, and maybe even do a weekly post where I link to Dan and invite you to comment, but at least until the finals, I'm out of the "Idol" reviewing game.

What did everybody else think?
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Lost: You (still) want answers?

Tonight's "Lost" is the only repeat of the season ("Ab Aeterno," the Richard episode), so I figured I'd use the opportunity to re-ask a question from the start of the season: which mysteries will you be most disappointed if they aren't answered by season's end?

And to that I'd now add this: based on how this season has gone, and how some mysteries like the whispers have been explained, have your expectations for the final episodes changed? Click here to read the full post

Monday, April 26, 2010

United States of Tara, "Torando": Beautiful disaster

A review of tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as my anger is a very pretty costume...
"Group time. Who wants to begin?" -Shoshana
We're at the midway point of season two, so why not lock most of the regulars into the Hubbard basement for some bonding and uncomfortable truths?

"Torando" - named for the misspelling on the TV weather report that so unnerves Marshall - ultimately didn't go as full "Breakfast Club" as I was expecting once the Gregsons, Charmaine and Ted and Hanny(*) went into the basement together - but, of course, it couldn't. Still lots of season to go, lots more to be revealed about Tara's psyche, the childhood secret that she and Charmaine share (that fractured Tara's mind and made Charmaine afraid of basements), and the state of Tara and Max's marriage.

(*) But not, interestingly, Courtney, whom I would have pegged for a berth in the basement just so she could weird out Marshall and his new grown-up gay role models with her plan to be a "celibate power couple." Down the road, I guess.

But "Torando" still offered us plenty of revelations, including a lot more detail about Shoshana and Tara's relationship with her. I wondered all through last week's episode whether Shoshana knew she was an alter, and it becomes clear here that she does, and that this fact doesn't seem to matter to either her or Tara when it comes to their "therapy." (And it was also interesting to see Ted acknowledge how much she resembles the real Shoshana, other than the slight lisp - and then funny to see Max and Charmaine simultaneously tell him not to tell Tara that, lest the lisp become part of the character.) I don't know if there's an actual case of an alter being used as a healing tool like this, but as a dramatic device, it works, particularly in an episode like this where the other characters were all trapped with Shoshana and forced to listen to her psycho-analyze them. (And because Shoshana is an alter, with a slightly over-the-top Noo Yawk accent from Toni Collette, we can laugh a bit at her rather than feel uncomfortable that the show is using Shoshana to tell us things about the characters we should be able to figure out in less obvious ways.)

And in addition to Shoshana, we got rapid-fire appearances by Buck, and Alice, and even Gimme, as Collette got to prove once and for all how unnecessary last year's alter costumes were. She's good enough to tell you exactly who she's playing without the pumps and the ponchos and the hunting vests, isn't she?

And for all of Max's despair about the flickering light at the end of the tunnel, and Marshall's unease about what the "Torando" misspelling says about society, and everyone's fear of the storm's damage, in the end the Gregsons do what they usually do in these circumstances: they took pain (or, in this case, fear), and they (literally) danced around it. And in the final moments of the episode, Tara stepped out of the Hubbard house and into the wreckage of their neighborhood (in a sequence gorgeously shot by Craig Gillespie). Tara's as much a mess as that tornado-ravaged street, but in the end she and her family will have to pick up and start trying to patch things up again.

Finally, in case you missed the news earlier today, I'll be moving to in a week's time. While I've tried to get these "Tara" reviews up by the time the show finishes airing on Monday nights, I suspect the next week is going to be chaotic enough that my review of episode 7 will be one of the first things I post to the HitFix version of the blog on Tuesday, rather than one of the last things I post here on Monday. So I look forward to discussing "Department of (Bleeped)-Up Family Services" with you at HitFix next week.

What did everybody else think?
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