This Week In TV Year II (Week 7)

As I have already said, I’ve been taking my time on this one for several reasons, but one of the most important ones is that The Shield was so great last week it overwhelmed my brain in much the same way that Lost does when it’s on. Except for one notable exception, this week was pretty poor, and my enthusiasm for some shows is waning. It doesn’t help that I started writing this while the wonderful In The Name of the Father was on Sky Movies, distracting me even more (and holy shit, Mark Sheppard plays one of the Guildford Four!), and tried to finish it while The Incredibles was on. That’s my favourite film of the decade we’re talking about. How could I not get distracted?

Non-Shield Highlight of the Week:

As this week’s Friday Night Lights ended, and the final slow-motion shot of “Smash” Williams faded to black, Canyon said, “My God, it really is back on form.” I couldn’t agree more. Though we enjoyed the second season more than many, this third season has been exceptional even by this show’s high standards. The latest episode was just about perfect, and was filled with examples of how the showrunners have upped their game this year.

Part of it is the shorter season. This time there won’t be any Carlotta missteps, or new characters not given a full arc (I’m still upset at how Santiago was treated). Sticking with the core characters and seeking to build upon old tensions rather than introduce new ones, the show has done the miraculous and made a season that feels like the first season while telling stories that are new enough to feel fresh but have expanded from previous concerns. The best example of that is Matt Saracen’s relationship with his grandmother. Though his position as QB1 is now endangered, and has generated a great deal of turmoil for himself, Coach, and the Dillon fanbase (who are jerks, let’s be honest), we still have the old, unresolved arc featuring his grandmother’s illness informing his every choice.

That story should have become boring a long time ago, but while season two featured that awful Carlotta plot, this season sees Matt reaching out to his mother in an act of desperation, and from there we find out more about him, his family, his capacity for forgiveness, etc. Carlotta told us nothing other than how teenage boys get horny and make mistakes. This new plot has been a revelation in more ways than one. Most importantly, it’s given Zack Gilford a chance to show what he’s capable of, which seems only fair after season two gave Taylor Kitsch numerous opportunities to shine. His scenes with his mother, played by the ever-excellent Kim Dickens, were a joy to behold. I’m glad the showrunners got around to giving Gilford a shot at the prize.

Another consequence of the shorter season is the chance to finish arcs conclusively. Next week we’ll find out what Jason Street has been up to, but for the first four episodes we saw Smash get a second chance to get into college. Last week I admitted I was getting a bit sick of the constant doubts Smash had, but luckily this frustration was assuaged by this week’s conclusion. By the time Smash gets his phonecall of acceptance, he’s really earned it, having faced down every obstacle going. If he didn’t make it, it might have been “realistic”, but it would also have been wrong.

The whole point of Coach’s philosophy, and Smash’s confidence, is that hard work and dedication bring you what you want, and this was the perfect dramatisation of that. My misgivings faded as Coach delivered yet more stirring speeches about living up to his promise, and the last five minutes of the show were viewed from behind a veil of happy tears. It was exactly the ending we had hoped for, and justified everything Smash has gone through. If only all TV could be like this.

What the Hell Just Happened? Disaster of the Week:

As this season has progressed, you’ll note that my fondness for Fringe has increased from my initial position of slightly optimistic reticence, with much of that interest based around Dr. Walter Bishop and The Observer, that bald Easter Egg I love so much. In the first season of Alias, created by J.J. Abrams and often written by Fringe creators Kurtzman and Orci, I remember the pilot episode being one of the strongest hours of TV I’ve seen, and that first season containing pretty much no clunkers, so confident was the showrunning team. Though the Fringe pilot was nowhere near as good as the first hour of Alias, it was still compelling, and the premise grew to be more interesting than I had first thought by the time The Observer showed up. So how the hell did last week’s episode turn out to be so feeble, even though it opened with such nasty events as brain-cooking and blood tears?

Much of it comes down to a truly crappy script, which was little more than a list of cliches of forehead-slapping overuse, with serious misjudgements throughout. I’m not sure which was worse: the scientist who, when rumbled, shoots himself in the head; Olivia’s rogue investigation and sudden random and hilarious aggressiveness; the race against time kidnap plot (also used this week in CSI), and much more. Perhaps the worst crime was sticking Lance “Intensity” Reddick with some dialogue of look-away-it’s-so-awful clunkiness.

There were other problems, though. One scene at a horseriding club was lit so badly you could see shadows on the floor even though it was supposed to be filmed during late-afternoon, and other scenes were blocked terribly, with characters pulling guns on each other in a room so small the camera almost gets in the way. I understand that the show has to make the most of its budget, and the shooting schedule is tight, especially as development on the show would have been affected by the writers’ strike, but it still seemed amateurish. These egregious errors are above and beyond the main problems; that it was sluggish, boring, silly, littered with tonal errors (having a main villain played, by Canyon’s least favourite actor Chris Eigemann, with outrageous mustache-twirling evilness), and criminally over-writing Walter so that he is almost annoying. Almost. I’m sorry, but even though he went a bit far, having him get upset over microwaving a papaya to death because it’s the friendliest of fruits made me laugh too much to get angry at him.

Fringe is away for three weeks, what with sport and elections and whathaveyou. It’s a good job the fourth episode was so freakydeaky, because otherwise I would be walking away after this. It wasn’t as bad as Knight Rider (surely impossible), but maybe it was approaching Flash Gordon levels of awfulness. It gives me no pleasure to say that, and the only thing that makes me feel better about that judgement is that I refuse to believe the show is going to sink. Surely this is an anomaly. I’m just hoping the number of bad episodes don’t end up outweighing the good.

Slowly Improving Show of the Week:

As I had hoped, this week’s Mentalist was definitely organised around a central location, a sort of bland office complex that featured last week without being named as the CBI HQ.

Other notable features of the episode included more screen time for Gregory Itzin (working as the pencil-pushing jerk I had hoped he would be), more panicky reactions from Patrick Jane upon being confronted with a gun, and some humour. It’s babysteps, but the hour went much quicker than some of the other shows we watched this week. Spotting some of Derren Brown’s techniques helped (the fumbling disarming of a gun-toting Eastern European was particularly welcome), and I hope we see more of his team using elaborate lies to fool the criminals into giving themselves up. That said, I still don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who’s not a huge fan of procedurals, though. It’s still not quite there yet, but it’s a little victory that, five episodes in, it’s managed to create an episode that is arguably more entertaining (if less well constructed) than this week’s episodes of House (not as bad as I had feared, but a little dull) and CSI (would have been better if the serial killer introduced this week didn’t get arrested at the end).

Heartbreak of the Week:

Oh Friday Night Lights, how you torture us. Tyra and Landry’s ill-fated love was never meant to be, only beginning because of the murder/rape plot that annoyed the fanbase so much. This week, Tyra definitively moved on, leaving a heartbroken Landry behind with nothing but his slowly weeping guitar for solace.

Yes, the murder plot might have been handled well but was not welcome on the show. Yes, it was a contrived way to get Tyra and Landry together when in real life there is no way she would ever want to be with him. But who cares about that when we get to see acting of the calibre displayed by Adrianne Palicki and Jesse Plemons? Fuck it, they could have been abducted by aliens for all I care. Seeing Landry’s heartache and Tyra’s sadness over the consequences of her decision was one of the acting highlights of the season so far.

Your Sex Is On Fire of the Week:

And so were the words to transpire, whatever that means. Yes, this week House finally had bisexual Thirteen have some gay sex, because in TV land, as Canyon pointed out during the hectic sex scene (which was as hot as a fever), bisexual means lesbian, but a lesbian that the male viewers have a chance with. I really doubt that having lesbian smooching and the attendant rattling bones hinted at in trailers means twenty million more viewers tune in, but even if the opening felt unusually exploitative for the show, it kinda matched Thirteen’s desperate effort to live her life to the full before she dies. Sort of. Well, it was edited really frantically. Luckily, it’s not forever, but it’s just tonight, oh we’re still the greatest. The greatest! The greatest! And YEEEAAAAHH Yo’ sex is on fiyah!

Yeah, you know Kings of Leon are the shit.

Actor We Love of the Week:

Lee Pace is always great on Pushing Daisies, but we want to give him a shout out this week, just cuz.

Actually, it’s more that we just saw him in The Fall (directed, of course, by… TARSEM!), and he is unnaturally great in it. Let’s hope that the imminent cancellation of this lovely show frees him up for more great work. For instance, the West End loves American actors lately, Mr. Pace. Some are very close to pie shops. Plus, you can stay at our house while you are here. We have a very small bed that only slightly smells like cat vom. You’ll love it.

Improbably Attractive Biologist of the Week:

Evil David Esterbrook, evil CEO of evil pharmaceutical company Intrepus, is more than happy to hang around while a woman is injected with a compound that will turn the strontium capsules in her head into a weapon, but he won’t be doing any of the injecting himself. Instead, he has an improbably attractive biologist to help him out.

As you can seen, the improbably attractive biologist is wearing a HazMat suit, and if you think she took off the helmet and shook her long black hair out like the stereotypical sexy librarian who lets her hair down to the amazement of all the horny chaps nearby, you would be right.

Sudden Romantic of the Week:

Though Landry and Tyra get the award for most heartbreaking relationship failure of the week, Dwight Schrute’s agony over the imminent marriage of Angela and Andy came a close second.

That he kept undercutting that pain with such horrible treatment of Phyllis was perfect, but even better was his pathetic but noble attempt to make it up to her at the end.

Of course, there were other romantic developments in this episode, but this was the one that seemed to get forgotten in the rush to squeal with delight over the other stuff.

Worst Performance of the Week:

I’m beginning to think that the Fringe showrunners made a huge mistake in casting Anna Torv to head their new show. Though all of my affection for the show rests with either John Noble or Lance “Intensity” Reddick, I’m willing to open my arms to allow others in. No one has stepped up yet. Kirk Acevedo’s tics irk me, Blair Brown is as shaky as she was during Altered States, and even though I thought he was okay opposite Patrick Stewart in Mamet’s A Life In The Theatre, I’m otherwise baffled by the appeal of Joshua Jackson, especially in a role as poorly written as this one.

Torv, on the other hand, has shown little spark of life in Fringe, which we attributed to the lifeless role of Olivia, who has been asked to swallow her grief over her lover’s death and possible betrayal (and, you know, the fact that his consciousness is living inside her brain or something). This week, however, Olivia has been re-written as an angry young lady, all guns drawn and snarly, telling tales of her evil step-dad and going after nasty pharma-jerks who abduct women to make their brains a big radioactive weapon, or somesuch. (Check out this week’s appearance of The Observer, who seems to find Olivia’s inept flirting more interesting than someone’s head exploding in the opening scene. He truly is inhuman!)

While I would definitely say Olivia needed a revamp, and pronto, and while I would accept a mid-flow personality change as a quick fix to what must have been an obvious problem with the template for the show, did the showrunners realise that Anna Torv can’t really pull it off? With the whole episode revolving around her dangerous past and sudden no-nonsense attitude, her acting quirks were on full display, and warning bells sounded throughout.

While I’m not able to discuss her acting technique using technical terms, and though a lot of what was wrong with that episode is down to the shockingly poor script, it was still a dispiriting display of faux-rage and stroppy, confrontational bluster, none of which convinced. Though Torv’s voice is possibly the most soothing thing currently on TV, hearing her spit sarcastic and furious lines at her co-stars just made us laugh in incredulity. Her goofy reaction to the scientist’s suicide was amusing too; this picture does not do justice to the WTFness of it.

In other venues, I’m sure Ms. Torv is just fine, and she must have done something right to get the job, but so far this role seems like a bad fit. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare her to Jennifer Garner, whose work on Alias was so consistently impressive (shut it, haters), but she had some warmth or lightness that Torv desperately needs. Of course, perhaps she is not meant to portray that, in which case the character needs to be rethought, as she can’t do tough guy, so it’s going to be a problem if Olivia 2.0 is meant to go all Horatio Caine week after week. Nevertheless, Torv is on probation until there is another change, because right now, Angry Olivia is still good for a few laughs, which harms the show’s atmosphere, but holds our attention more.

Magnificent Insanity of the Week:

It’s official: America’s Next Top Model has lost its mind. Words cannot describe the lunacy on display. I’ll let this photo montage do the explaining for me.

There really is nothing else to add.

Troubling Development of the Week:

We’ve been thinking it for a while now, and this week might have set our opinion in stone: Ugly Betty is now officially boring. While we’re a week behind on Pushing Daisies out of regrettable error, we’re not up to speed with Betty mostly because we just don’t care about the majority of the storylines currently running. While Claire Meade’s incarceration was amusing, this week’s prison sub-plot just made me wish I was rewatching Arrested Development, an urge more pronounced after Jeffrey Tambor turned up on CSI the following week.

The biggest problem the show has this season is that there is very little it can do that it hasn’t done before. The O.C. had a similar problem in its middle two seasons, after the crazed first burned through major arcs in the space of a couple of episodes. Eventually the show had nowhere to go, and the penultimate season ended up filled with clanging plot failures like Sandy’s descent into evil, Marissa’s infinitely boring friendship with the world’s most depressed surfer, and Ryan’s war with the adorably named Volchok. Ugly Betty is in similar trouble. Other than the attempted murder of Christine, which was done and dusted in two and a bit episodes, we’ve wasted hours (or thereabouts) on Hilda’s affair and Daniel’s son, both of which are the most tedious sub-plots of the year so far.

A large proportion of each episode is now given over to stories that don’t go anywhere, merely offering cloying moments of grief from minor characters who are unhappy over events that don’t really matter. Don’t believe me? Watch how often Daniel mentions his son over the rest of the season. Also, Hilda made her true love go back to his wife to try to make it work out? Yeah, I’m sure that the guy who was crazy about you and didn’t want to be with his wife any more is real happy about that decision. It was all so dull that even her son looks like he wishes he was on Heroes or something.

Of course, while The O.C. had a similar quality dip, it found its feet again for a mostly entertaining fourth season, but that was by ditching the dark plots and going all out with the weird (alternate realities?), which might have annoyed the purists (if there is such a thing as an O.C. purist) but kept us happy. How can Ugly Betty go that route? It’s already cartoony, and until now has worked by maintaining that slightly hysterical soapy semi-dramatic tone. Turning it into an out-and-out comedy might make it more fun in the short term, but it might finish the whole thing off as well. It’s worth a try, though. Even the happy-making return of Gio became a meta-comment on how much the show has begun to annoy us.

My suggestion is the same as I’ve been saying for a while now. Give Marc and Amanda more to do. Make Claire Meade a catty matriarch again. Give Wilhelmina something else to do other than plot to takeover Meade Publications every week. Betty’s fine for now, but her family is dragging the show down (plus, Justin is realistically snotty as a teenager, but he’s also zero fun). Give Daniel a victory or two, or bring back his tacky lad’s mag (dozens of story possibilities flew out the window with that decision). Most importantly, make it funny again. Jokes are flopping lifelessly to the ground with depressing regularity, and it’s making the show a chore to watch. I’m not sure how much longer we’re going to stick with this, and I bet we’re not the only ones.

Shurely Shome Mishtake Moment of the Week:

Olivia Dunham spends much of last week’s Fringe being grumpy about her birthday, which is later explained away as a consequence of her abusive stepfather beating up her mother so much that Olivia ends up shooting him. He nearly dies but somehow survives (is Mad Science responsible??!?!?!?), before disappearing. His only contact with Olivia is sending her a birthday card every year since. That the whole speech was only lacking a reference to the screaming of the lambs was not the worst thing about it, nor was the cliche of Olivia transferring her anger of her stepfather over to her investigation of Evil David Esterbrook. It was the fact that she shot someone when she was nine and grew up to become an FBI agent.

Oh sure, she did it in self-defence, but surely there has to be some rule that someone who once tried to kill someone else, no matter what the circumstances, should not rise through the ranks of the FBI to become an agent. It just strikes me as being highly unlikely. No doubt someone somewhere knows that it’s actually mandatory or something, but until then, I call bullshit.

Gratifying Performance of the Week:

We’re a week behind on Pushing Daisies, and rumours of its imminent cancellation are sapping our enthusiasm, but that doesn’t mean we’re not getting any pleasure out of it. The episode from two weeks ago, with Ned, Chuck and Emerson visiting Olive’s convent featured many amusing moments, but most pleasingly it gave Anna Friel a chance to show off her acting skillz. Wracked with doubt about her place in the world, and whether or not she should have received a second chance at life, she is saved from a potentially terminal depression by the news that Aunt Lily is actually her mother. Her tear-soaked reaction was almost enough to set me off.

I’ve been waiting for years for Friel to live up to the promise of her Brookside performances, and regrettably she’s not had any roles good enough to give her a chance to show off what she can do, but Chuck is perfect for her. I especially like that even though she is becoming more unhappy as the show progresses, she is still cheery enough to hide it convincingly. Plus, the way she keeps waving at Olive is adorable.

Here’s hoping we get to see a full season of endearing character moments like this.

Distracting Embonpoint of the Week:

It is my sincere wish to be as progressive about gender politics, the insidious male gaze, and the negative impact of the objectification of women as possible, but Catherine Willows’ breastal area seemed way way larger than usual this week, causing me to lose focus on the plot.

This, in turn, made me feel like a lecherous wanker for getting so distracted. Was I being irrational? Am I no better than some Daily Star-reading creep whose favourite word is PHWOAR? Surely I’m better than this, I thought as I rewound subsequent scenes several times because I had become so anxious about my distraction and the psychological consequences of my sudden fascination with the boobs. It was upsetting me so much I had to blurt out my suspicions about a size increase to Canyon, who, thankfully, had been thinking the same thing. Not that I’m saying, “It’s okay for me to be staring at boobs because my wife was as well,” but it did make me think I was onto something with my suspicions. And I’m not judging Marg Helgenberger if she has indeed had cosmetic surgery. That’s her choice, and more power to her for doing it. Good on her. Not “Good on her for having bigger boobs. Or not, if she’s not done anything and I’ve made a mistake.” Just, you know, good on her for doing what she wants to do. If it is what happened. I’m not saying it definitely is. I’m not the kind of guy who gets obsessed with these things. It’s just idle curiosity. So, what happened? Cosmetic surgery (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? Or just that top she is wearing? It could just be shadows. Not that I’m insinuating she has small boobs normally. I’ve never really thought about it one way or the other, to be honest. They just caught my eye this week, which is unusual. It’s almost aberrant, you could say. Me noticing her boobs, that is, not the boobs themselves. I’m sure they’re as great now as they have always been. Though of course I don’t go around saying, you know, “Hey, boobs are great! Yowsa boobs!” And I certainly don’t think women are expected to have cosmetic surgery done. It’s totally their choice and it’s none of my business. Of course, I also think that wanting to enhance boobs is totally acceptable, and I would never suggest otherwise. And it’s not just for women either, or wymyn, should I say. Men can have them too, if that’s what they want, certainly if they are intending to change gender, which, again, is supercool with me, and I would never think to make any disparaging comments about that either. Which is getting me away from my question about Catherine. Now that I think about it, I’m fairly sure it’s an optical illusion or something to do with the lighting, and I’m reading too much into things, which is more than likely. It’s the culture we live in, you know, obsessed with body image and looks and what-have-you, reducing people to their parts instead of dealing with them as a whole. It’s so terrible. I never ever do that. Except this one time. And earlier on when I was going on about all of the hott gay sex in House. But that was just me pointing out the show using sex as a ratings winner, in an exploitative manner, otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all, because of course I don’t want to seem like I watch TV just to ogle anyone, because I totally don’t. So, we’re settled with this, right? It’s just a very nice top she is wearing, and I should be ashamed of myself for being so interested in it. Good. Glad we’re clear on that. [/torrential flopsweat]

Distracting Groin of the Week:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Holy shit! Don Draper is 150% more man than most! (Believe me, that bulge next to the AMC sign is not the pleats.)

He could appear in the porn version of this show. As Dong Draper.

Inaccurate Depiction of Bloggers of the Week:

CSI wandered into dangerously luddite CSI: Miami territory last week, with our heroes hingeing their investigation on the comments section of an art blog. While a serial killer left macabre posed corpses around Las Vegas, an immoral blogger (seen below, with more hair than is usual for bloggers) made vodcasts about the project, leading the killer to post comments about how awesome he was.

I say the blogger was immoral because, in a bit of judgemental stereotyping, the blogger was more concerned with the statement than the crime, though he got the message after being pulled in to lay a trap for the killer. If this was CSI: Miami the blogger would have been the killer, and he would have broadcast the murders on The YourTube, the sick bastard. He would also have been a pedophile. And a terrorist. CSI: Classic was not as bad as that, but it still chafed.

Still, the thought that the police were going to trace the IP addresses of the commenters in order to find the killer must have made the hearts of many bloggers soar in much the same way that the end of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back did, with fantasies of finding abusive jerkoffs and making them apologise for being douchey. Ah, how lovely the internet would be if everyone had some goddamn manners.

Shock of the Week:

Hard to believe, but last week’s Heroes did not totally suck. I’m not saying it qualifies as good, but it was intentionally amusing at times (as well as unintentionally), and contained some surprises that actually worked until you thought about them for a moment, instead of seeming like contrived nonsense right off the bat. I have no idea what last night’s episode was like (I intended to get this finished before it aired, but I’m still feeling super-rough), but this episode managed to be flawed but fun. Things to like: Hiro’s tantrum after getting hit over the head with a shovel for the second time…

…Daphne trying to ignore the power of Parkman’s turtle totem…

…Pops Petrelli’s power being a new variant on Peter and Sylar’s power absorption, and best of all, Peter going down like a punk in the final scene.

Things not to like: Daphne wondering how Parkman could know so much about her which is stupid as, even though it’s not the reason for his knowledge, she has just read a folder on him pointing out he is telepathic; Adam also going out like a punk, with much crying and whining and dessicating…

…Peter not reading his dad’s mind before getting powersucked; the utter lameness of Pops Petrelli’s Association of Evil Individuals…

…Hiro’s power suddenly freezing Daphne, even though it has been established that he can’t, which also means that last week’s fake-out murder of Ando was just as stupid as expected…

…all of the deeply boring Puppet Man plot, especially finding out that Meredith went after him even though she knew he could control her body…

…and everything involving Tracy, Nathan and Suresh, who are an Unholy Trinity of boring stupidity.

Still, that’s a lot more in column one than in recent weeks. I strongly doubt the show is ever going to be what we hoped it would be, and some viewers are never going to warm to it, such as a disgusted Canyon, who barely made it through this installment, but it might get to the point where it makes sense once in a while, something the second season seemed to render impossible.

Guest Stars of the Week:

Just recently I made a comment about how CSI often blows the mystery of the week by casting guest stars who are obviously going to be the killer, but this week convention was shirked, meaning Alex Kingston really was a grief counsellor, and Jeffrey Tambor really was just a snotty artist. The killer turned out to be just some guy doing a weak Kevin-Spacey-in-Seven impression.

Tambor is one of those rare Scientologists its okay to like, such as Beck, Chick Corea, and mid-to-late 90s Travolta. It’s always a treat to see him on TV, and he was lots of fun here. Kingston did an equally good job as the counsellor who ends up facing off against Gil following a misunderstanding, but even so I was worried that the show was suddenly employing two guest stars.

It’s a bit of overkill that suggests the showrunners were eager to distract the viewer from the new character, who would otherwise be the biggest deal in the episode. Speaking of which…

Unorthodox Introduction of the Week:

…new character Riley Adams, played by Lauren Lee Smith, arrived at CSI HQ with an aggressive attitude and a malfunctioning sense of humour. As Lee Smith appeared in the credits, replacing Gary Dourdan, we discussed how difficult it would be for her to fit in with the fanbase’s expectations, who treat in-show change with a range of emotions running the gamut from thwarted yet undeserved entitlement to seething indignant rage.

Perhaps the CSI showrunners realised that, and didn’t bother creating a likeable character, knowing it would all be for naught. Better to just alienate the audience on purpose and win them over in the long term (I wonder if naming her after a famously unpopular character who joined a show late in its run was part of the plan). Also, I noted that Riley is the first permanent team member added since Holly Griggs (not counting Greg, who was promoted. Griggs, of course, was murdered in the pilot due to Warrick’s negligence. So far Riley is the total opposite of Griggs, which makes the whole thing nicely symbolic. Or cyclical. There’s a point being made here, but sadly the grogginess is making it hard to find.

Model of the Week:

We’ve decided on our favourite for this cycle. I had been convinced that Lauren Brie was going to win for sure, despite being partially covered in an almost inedible rind, but it was not to be. As is now the way with ANTM, we got to see her being a big bitch two weeks ago, and not long after she was SENT! HOME! Unfortuately the same happened to the awesome Joslyn, leaving us kinda bereft. Now, we’re not sure she can pull it off, but we’re totally rooting for Analeigh, who has been adorable and is getting better every week.

Her CoverGirl ad this week was possibly the best in the show’s history, and her in-house diplomacy has been a refreshing change from the usual catty shenanigans (Marjorie and Samantha have been moved to our Shut-The-Fuck-Up Corner). Of course, Elina will probably win now that Tyra has made it her mission to break her spirit and mold her into something else as if she were V and Elina were Evie, but we’re hoping Analeigh (and therefore justice) will win out.

Grisly Moment of the Week:

Was it Pops Petrelli yanking a tube out of his throat after absorbing Adam’s power?

Or Fringe Mysteriously Experimented-Upon-Person Emily Kramer after her head exploded due to some particularly Mad Science involving Strontium or something?

Or the eerie image, from CSI, of a child suspended in a tank filled with carbon monoxide?

That wasn’t gross, but it was deeply unnerving, especially as it brought back uncomfortable memories of Vincent D’Onofrio’s elaborate murders in The Cell, which was, of course, directed by… TARSEM!

Silly Bet of the Week:

Not only does he have a name guaranteed to make Brits laugh for all the wrong reasons, Wayne Rigsby (played by Owain Yeoman) bets Mentalist Patrick Jane that he can’t seduce the widow at the funeral they are staking out. For crying out loud, not only is he The Mentalist, but he’s played by Simon Baker.

Yum! He’s such a mischievous hottie. No woman could resist his Amazing Powers of the Brain and his sexxy waistcoat. Bet lost. (Actually, Rigsby kinda wins, but only because the widow is a murderous psycho and Jane has to put her away using psychology and subterfuge. Bad luck, Mentalist.)

Hitchcock Reference of the Week:

Having an obvious but non-showy Vertigo reference in Pushing Daisies was very welcome.

You see, later that week we watched Eagle Eye, and the hamfisted way D.J. Caruso visualised his rip-off of the big finish of The Man Who Knew Too Much, with a CG overlay of a sheet of music with a big note sticking up where the bomb is going to go off, was just horrid. Just showing the tower, identical to the one in Vertigo, is the way to go.

Intensity of the Week:

Even from a distance…

…Lance Reddick brings it.

I’m really startled by how much this week has disappointed me, stripping me of all of my enthusiasm for this project. It’s not just me, either. Brian Michael Bendoom was harder to track down for comment, but after leaving numerous messages for him, he got back to me to say…

…and to be honest, I think he’s being generous. Be better this week, TV!

These Weeks In TV Year II (Weeks 4-5) Part 3

I swear, these post titles are beginning to look like quadratic equations.

Tear-Jerking Moment of the Week(s):

Goddamn Coach Taylor! Considering his default personality is “very pissed off”, his farewell to Jason Street in the second season of Friday Night Lights made me blub like a baby, and in this season opener his vow to help Smash Williams get the scholarship he has always wanted made me shed multiple tears.

Oh man, it’s so good to have this back.


The return of CSI was a muted affair, dealing with the aftermath of Warrick’s shooting by the dastardly Undersheriff McKeen. Opening on Warrick’s death in Gil Grissom’s arms, a large part of the show showed the CSI team dealing with his death, with Gil, Catherine and Nick taking it hardest.

While I had problems with the crime-solving aspect of the episode (how great it would have been to have kept Undersheriff McKeen around, knowing he was the bastard who killed Warrick), the rest of the episode was terrific, and when the usually stoic Gil breaks down during the eulogy to his friend, I lost it.

I guess this is where we start to see Gil get ready to leave the team, prior to the heavily-anticipated arrival of Morpheus. I don’t think he’ll be crying at any funerals.

Mentalist of the Week(s):

CBS has an honest to God hit on its hands with The Mentalist, which surprises me. While a lot of serialised or complex shows appear to have hit the buffers, procedurals seem to be doing well. The Patinkin-less Criminal Minds is doing great, the CSI opener had the highest ratings of the season so far, and Crime-Fighting Derren Brown is surprising everybody. We thought the second episode was passable at best, but it didn’t help that we saw it right after watching the special features for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which included multiple unused clips from the made-up in-film procedural Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, and lots of extra previews for Sarah Marshall’s next show with Jason Bateman (including Divine Justice and Jesus H. Cop). As a result, The Mentalist looked like another spoof, so closely did it hew to a procedural formula.

Still, that formula is subverted a bit. The main character, Patrick Jane, is still disliked by his whole team, and does not do well in action situations: he gets bailed out twice this week, and his plan goes wrong in the final act, leaving him at the mercy of two murderers.

Luckily, even though he’s impetuous he’s still smarter than everyone else, and solves cases while the rest of the team chase their tails (which is a format convention similar to House’s weekly misdiagnosis of a patient and his or her subsequent respiratory arrest/cardiac arrest/anaphylactic shock). Nevertheless, so far we’ve seen three people get shot because of his intervention, and we’re only two episodes in. No wonder no one likes him.

We’ll probably stick with the show for a while longer, while it finds its feet, but it occurred to me that I’m already impatient for Jane to use his Amazing Powers of the Brain throughout, getting restless when the show falls back on the usual procedural nonsense (evidence logging, interrogations, mobile phone calls, rap sheets, etc.). It reminded me of being a kid and watching dreck like Knight Rider (original flavour) or Airwolf. I couldn’t give a shit about the talky bits. I just wanted to see KITT leap over a hedge or Streethawk use his beam weapon or BA Baracus throw a stick of dynamite at someone. Same here. All I want is The Mentalist hypnotising people and winning rock, paper, scissors competitions. That’s the fun stuff. And when is Derren Brown getting a guest spot?

Fashion Faux-Pas of the Week(s):

Even the all-black, all-the-time stylings of the Future Heroes can’t top this cringe-inducing ensemble from Don Draper.

His pants/trousers are sort of beige as well. It was a nauseating sight. All he needed to complete it was a pipe and he would have looked like the deluded 50s dad from Ren and Stimpy. The only thing that came close was Maya, again forced to totter around in high-heels and cleavage-tastic dress on account of how hot she is for Suresh, not realising he’s all wrong on a genetic level.

Poor Dania Ramirez. I gather her power was going to be used to kill the Shanti virus in season two, but that plan got cancelled when the writer’s strike killed the season early. From saviour of the world to hott, scantily-clad babe making failed booty calls to a mad scientist. She needs a better agent.

Still, at least the clothes, horrible though they are, look good on her. These pants, worn by Anna Friel on Pushing Daisies, do not flatter her at all.

And this combo not only features much heinous plaid (or tartan or something ugly), but also a daring top.

When I say daring, I mean, “Why is she exposing that much skin around a guy whose touch could instantly kill her?” It’s not the style that bothers me, it’s the risk of doom. I really get conniptions when I see them together. Love the show though I do, it really stresses me out.

“Where The Hell Did That Plotline Come From?” of the Week(s):

At the end of a fluffy Ugly Betty, someone pushes Christina down a flight of stairs.

Harsh. I know I’m no fan of Ashley Jensen’s mugging, but I don’t want her character to actually get mugged. What was great was that the episode had set this up with some stealth, with her former husband and Claire Meade set up as possible suspects. It was especially welcome as the following week brought us the best Ugly Betty episode in some time, overcoming some dreary structural tricks (flashbacks and police interrogations again?) with much humour, silliness, and an almost surprising denouement. I say almost, but the reveal of the attacker would have been more surprising were it not for Rebecca Romijn’s obvious pregnancy.

They obviously needed an excuse to lose Alexis for a while, but at least they used her real-world situation in this way, resolving the attacker plot without pinning it on some hastily introduced patsy. This way the assault has some real consequences.

Uncomfortable Scene of the Week(s):

Seeing Paul Kinsey attempt to weasel out of travelling to civil rights battleground Mississippi with his girlfriend Sheila was hard to watch, as Paul’s hipster liberalism is punctured in front of the Sterling Cooper bellhop, Hollis, he has just made an effort to greet as an equal.

Liberal white guilt, fractious race relations, relationship strife, the civil rights movement: all commented on in just one minute of screentime. ::doffs cap::

Bravery of the Week(s):

As much as I’m utterly uninterested in any of the characters played by Ali Larter on Heroes, kudos to her for allowing the showrunners to use this photo from her youth.

Humiliating Scene of the Week(s):

This is a personal one. Earlier in the week an attempt at defrosting our fridge cost me a rather large amount of money thanks to some less than clever (i.e. unbelievably fucking stupid) and very impatient behaviour. I don’t want to go into it too much, as I’m utterly embarrassed about it and really furious at myself, but let’s just say that this moment…

…with Betty defrosting a fridge using a bowl of hot water and not a knife and meat tenderiser combo would have been rather helpful if I’d watched it two days earlier. At least our new fridge doesn’t smell weird and can’t be dismantled by our cat Sydney, I guess.

Asshole of the Week(s):

We love Buddy Garrity from Friday Night Lights, with his bumbling ineptitude and endless enthusiasm.

In the first two episodes of the third season, however, he crossed a line into pure asshole-dom, scheming against Tami over her decision to divert his Jumbotron money into funding the school, and threatening Riggins prior to dinner.

Sure, he’s onto something in his distrust of Riggins, and most parents would probably agree, but by not trusting Lila’s judgement and ability to understand her boyfriend’s childish impulses, he just makes things worse for everyone.

Soundtrack of the Week(s):

The CSI season opener was, as mentioned before, more contemplative than usual, and part of the reason was the lovely ambient soundtrack by John M. Keane, channelling The Mighty Eno or Cliff Martinez. While Forgetting Sarah Marshall writer Jason Segal is onto something when he criticises procedural soundtracks as being little more than ominous tones and atmospherics (Mark Snow, I’m looking at you), this week CSI proved him wrong. It was a joy to listen to, and increased the emotional impact considerably.

Accidental Political Satire of the Week(s):

Obviously Friday Night Lights was filmed a little while back, but surprisingly they still managed to comment on the Sarah Palin vice-presidential debacle with a sub-plot about Tyra Collette trying to win an election by appealing to the groins of intellectually stunted morons, with sassiness, broadly caricatured feminine wiles, and mean-spirited insults.

It’s as if the writers have precognition or something.

Best Nerd Reference Scene of the Week(s):

Jim’s torture of Dwight, recasting Battlestar Galactica as Dumbledore Calrissian’s quest to return the Ring to Mordor, made my hair stand on end.

I’m sure many shared our pain.

Facial Expression of the Week(s):

Is it Noah Bennett donning his famous horn-rimmed glasses?

Olive reacting to a dishonesty overdose?

A rare smile from Stanley, who is only happy when food comes into the equation?

The mysterious Dr. Zimmerman (regrettably not played by the world’s best Zimmerman) getting accidentally frozen by Tracy Strauzzzzz?

Tyra Collette moments after her stripper sister gets engaged to Riggins the Elder?

Lily Charles, as a nun, trying to reassure Olive?

Peter Petrelli using Jesse’s “sound manipulation” superpower (which, it turns out, is thankfully more like Banshee from X-Men than Michael Winslow from Police Academy)?

Tami Taylor reacting to the political corruption of Sarah Palin Tyra?

Most Insane Televisual Event of the Week(s) Year Decade:

We’ve almost caught up with America’s Next Top Model (it’s delayed by about a year in the UK), having just started Cycle 11 after a mostly pleasing Cycle 10 (I’ll be getting to that soon, hopefully). Yes yes, this aired a few weeks back, but it’s been a busy period in our lives. God! Anyway, within minutes of this cycle season beginning, we were overjoyed at the shambolic and relentless insanity unfolding on our TV. The futuristic theme for the premiere and auditions was the greatest stroke of genius in the show’s history, and almost killed us from the laughter. I don’t know what I loved most. It was a battle between Alpha and Beta Jay (with Alpha Jay looking utterly mortified by his silver get-up)…

…the laser scanning of the catsuit-clad model-wannabees…

…the Orgasmatron Glaminator 11.0 (what does that even mean?)…

…The Tyrabot (for crying out loud)…

…the three hosts beaming up “fiercely” (which almost gave me a hernia from the laughter)…

…and the entrance of Noted Fashion Photographer Mr. Nigel Barker later in the premiere, this time from a magician’s cabinet.

This pleased me greatly. Almost as much as the delicious schadenfreude of vicious bigot Sharaun getting kicked out in the first week. Usually the out-and-out bitches hang around for a few weeks, or right until the end (cat-human hybrid Dominique and the amazing Jade spring to mind), but this time there are so many nasty women in the house that they could sacrifice one straight away and not bore-ify the show later.

Intensity of the Week(s):

For once, there’s a challenge to Lance “Intensity” Reddick’s Crown of Intensity. In a welcome return to the show, The Haitian, aka Jimmy Jean Louis, has enough dignity left over after getting knocked out by both Ando and Peter (embarrassing) to deliver some awesome intensity.

Still, even that attempt is crushed by the effortless intensity of my man Reddick, here reacting to the news that Olivia has discovered the presence of The Observer.

It strikes me that what we’re seeing here is a case of White Men Can’t Do Intensity. It could be argued that Don Draper’s reaction to the appearance of Jimmy Barrett is a sure-fire winner…

…but I’m not sure that that doesn’t count as psychosis rather than intensity. Removing that candidate leaves us with this.

It’s just pathetic, really.

Holy shit I’ve finished! I feel like I’ve been writing this since February. In summation, not bad stuff, with some great returning shows and the smart move of avoiding new shows and things that are proven to be terrible (Knight Rider). I asked Brian Michael Bendoom what he thought, and…

…I think that’s good? [/old man]

These Weeks In TV Year II (Weeks 4-5) Part 2

Much as I don’t want to derail this post with talk about a quality movie (i.e. Hairspray), I suppose I can make it more TV related by carping about Sky. Hairspray was as entertaining as expected (and ten million times the movie Dreamgirls was), though it was hard to tell thanks to the botched broadcast on both Sky Movies and Sky Anytime, which filled the film with so many glitches and bloops that it sounded as if it had been remixed by Aphex Twin. It was taken down from Anytime last night, as was Breach (which comes highly recommended solely on the basis of Chris Cooper’s awe-inspiring performance). If Sky’s technology is getting hinky, it’s a bad sign. I’ve already had trouble with their Box Office downloads disappearing, and our Sky+ box has taken to crashing every Sunday morning. Is it our machine, or is there trouble at their end?

That’s neither here nor there, especially as I’m here to make fun of Heroes and say good things about Mad Men.

Most Boring Side-Plot of the Week(s):

Is it Hilda Suarez’s adulterous love affair with Eddie Cibrian?

Or Taub’s mysterious relationship problems with his wife?

Or Daniel Meade’s battle to keep his hideous son in America?

Or Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor possibly getting back together?

At least Daniel’s son turned out not to be his son (a real shock), and Hilda’s relationship meant we got to see Marc and Amanda losing their composure.

The other plots are just mogadon.

Biggest Badass of the Week(s) Century:

Check out The German. Last week on Heroes he totally staked his claim to being the most awesome villain since Kang the Conqueror, who, never forget, once destroyed Washington DC, an act so heinous it actually made Thor cry! First The German used his magnetic powers to draw some blinds. Just moments later, while we were still catching our breath, he cracked a safe, using those same magnetic powers to turn the dial instead of using his hands!

Ho. Lee. SHIT! Fuck you, Polaris! Eat donkey shit, Magneto. What have you ever done besides reversing the poles and other miscellaneous acts of supervillainy?

Even better, a little while later he totally neglected to use his powers to protect himself against a deadly superpowered punch!

Just amazing. I hope current X-Men writers Mike Carey, Chris Yost, Warren Ellis, and Ed Brubaker are taking notes.

Thematic Coherence of the Week(s):

The tenth episode of Mad Men, while maybe not as entertaining as the previous one, was still excellent, mostly because of the beautifully sustained theme of lost or recaptured youth and adolescence. Early on we see Betty’s father recovering from a stroke, seemingly senile and prone to confusion. He mistakes Betty for his first wife, which upsets her enough to drive her into Don’s arms, as she humps him on the floor like teenagers trying to elude their parents.

Her father, now trapped in his own adolescent state, threatens Don and makes a pass at his own daughter, which is surely the most shocking moment of the episode, if not the season, and beautifully played by everyone. This distresses Betty further, and she seeks solace in the arms of her old nanny.

Upon returning home she kicks Don out again, and then hangs out with that creepy-ass kid from the first season. Using his presence as an excuse to regress even further, she chills out with some Bob Kanigher madness

…and watches cartoons while sipping on soda like a kid.

Of course, her new friend might only be a kid, but he thinks he’s an adult, visually represented by the t-shirt he wears, covered with Don Draper pheromones (which overpower every woman in the room, obviously). His creepy-ass desire for Betty shocks her back to herself, and she snitches on him to his mother, filled with regret at the loss of her fantasy. It could be worse, of course. She could be made to wear a bonnet.

Good stuff. It also made me realise that the theme of the entire season was youth (and young manhood) all along, with the odd dabble in cultural awakenings, which is what the 60s are remembered for. Perhaps there will be more of that in later seasons (I look forward to Don hearing Are You Experienced? for the first time). This year, though, we’ve already seen the introduction of Sterling Cooper’s first youth consultants, Roger trying to recapture his youth by running off with Jane the Scheming Secretary, Freddy peeing his pants, Pete hiding from his adult responsibilities, and Jimmy Barrett being an impulsive brat (though that hides a calculating mind). Though we’re not yet sure what a toll this disconnect will take on any of them, it’s fair to say that it’s not just Don’s infidelity that has made the normally pristine Betty end up looking like this.

All of this childishness throws Don’s behaviour into stark relief. Along with Peggy, he is more responsible and “adult” than almost everyone else on the show; they all think they’re mature but they act like kids. Don is the alpha male (and alpha character) because he observes everyone else in the playpen from a position of behavioral superiority and relentless Draper-esque fury. The irony, of course, is that he never got to have a childhood, and is either angry at those who surround him because he is jealous of them for having that, or because their behaviour is totally alien to him, creating a confusion that fuels his rage. All this time Don is searching for who he really is, but maybe there’s nothing to find.

Mysterious Theme of the Week(s):

While Mad Men brilliantly visualised the infantilisation theme in The Inheritance, Six Month Leave featured a curious motif that I really didn’t get. Many of the main characters started their scenes lying down.

There’s a possibility this had something to do with Marilyn Monroe’s death, referenced at the start to the show…

…which would suggest that the characters are, thematically, being killed by the times they are living in (certainly Joan’s repose is deathly, turning Roger’s office into a tomb).

Also, there was a blood drive subplot, which could be a hint that all of the characters shown lying down are bleeding out, that their souls are grievously wounded.

Or they’re just lazy.

Best of them was Betty’s faceplant.

Oh Betty, if only I could send some Prozac back in time for you!

TV Return of the Week:

So great to see Francis Capra on TV again, after illness made his appearances on Veronica Mars sporadic.

He did a great job on that show, mixing youthful cockiness, insecurity, and machismo. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to do the same on Heroes.

::sigh:: Never mind.

TV Return of the Week(s) That Didn’t Involve Getting Killed Like A Totally Lame Punkass Bitch:

Xander Berkeley, a character actor I’m immensely fond of, appeared in The Mentalist as a folksy cop who helps our team track down the Redhead Killer, as well as becoming a suspect towards the end. Here he is being a big red herring while talking to Amanda Righetti, formerly Hailey Nichol on The O.C.

If this had been CSI, the killer would have been Berkeley, as the guest star is always the killer. CSI might be the superior show, but it does keep making that mistake. Ten points to The Mentalist, but if it really wants to totally win me over, it can come up with some complicated way to make Berkeley a regular. Automatic 10,000-point George Mason bonus.


Look! It’s Sara Sidle, come back to Las Vegas to attend Warrick’s funeral!

I see Jorja Fox is rocking the late-80s Ally Sheedy look. Shame it doesn’t suit her, because otherwise my late-80s smitten-adolescent self would heartily approve.

Beautiful Visual of the Week(s):

Ned bringing hundreds of bees back to life with the help of Chuck was the most memorable visual of the last couple of weeks.

I can imagine that the ladies who love Lee Pace (LL Lee P) would also agree.

Clever Visual of the Week(s):

House guest star Breckin Meyer, playing a crappy artist, is exhibiting symptoms of visual agnosia, which means his perception is distorted though he doesn’t realize it, leading to a clever cold open featuring a hideous portrait that he sees as normal. Later in the episode he is visited by two strange doctors…

…but they are actually Taub and Thirteen, their identities obscured by his ailment.

It’s not much to rave about, but in a mostly underwhelming episode, I was taking what I could get.

Ridiculous Visual of the Week(s):

Was it the sight of supervillain Knox activating his super strength by sniffing very hard?

Or unpowered Daphne being revealed to have a flappy-arms dash that does not scream Wally West so much as Dean and Hank Venture’s various “Super Run Away!” moments?

Maybe it was the moment it was revealed she was running at superspeed in high heels.

Could it be the pirouetting Wall Street traders flying off in a scene that would otherwise have been supercool (a New York populated by flying people and speedsters)?

Or the ludicrous Men in Black stylings of Agent Glasses and Agent Sylar?

How about Suresh the Super Hoodie scuttling around his future lab like a verbose Phantom of the Opera?

Or maybe it was domesticated Sylar (sorry, Gabriel) hanging out with some kid named Noah and Mr. Fucking Muggles, who is apparently immortal?

Perhaps it’s the future of fashion, which, to the horror of designers everywhere, appears to be lots of black…

…with black dyed hair a la Al Pacino…

…or,if that’s not an option, the Young Republican look (thanks to Heroes semi-fan Diane Court for that observation).

Surely the strongest contender has to be Matt following his animal totem, a turtle (which seems to at least be intentionally funny, and an obvious way to keep him out of the way for a week or so).

I think by now you get my point.

Psyche-Tearing Visual of the Week(s):

It’s either the removal of a drug-filled bezoar from Breckin Meyer’s stomach…

…Meyer’s grotesque swelling caused by anaphylactic shock…

…or this nightmarish image from Pushing Daisies, as a bee-coated assassin menaces Chuck.

A nice reverse of the final scenes of The Wicker Man, where, as everyone knows, bees will go for THE EYES! NO, NOT THE BEES! MY EYES!!!

And yes, there is still more to come (and I will happily admit I’m milking this to make it look like I’m posting more).

These Weeks In TV Year II (Weeks 4-5) Part 1

We went on holiday! To Italy! And when we got back we had about one million TV shows to watch (and had missed some movies at the cinema, such as ::choke:: Appaloosa). It was a lovely trip, but it meant I have been avoiding blogging (thanks to Masticator for holding the fort with his defense of Jersey Girl). So, here is a bunch of whining about everything we’ve spent the last few days slogging through, with some omissions. I’m considering saving my soul by not watching Knight Rider anymore, have not seen this week’s installment of Pushing Daisies yet, and haven’t tried out Eleventh Hour and Life on Mars, though that’s partially because I’ve not yet watched the originals either. So, bear in mind there are some episodes missing, but otherwise, this is a lot of stuff from the past two weeks.

Triumphant Return of the Week(s):

Saved from cancellation by a weird deal between parent network NBC and DirecTV, Friday Night Lights, the best non-Lost network show on TV, returned with a long stretch of time left unvisited, which is an unfortunate side-effect of the unfairly truncated second season. After a burst of exposition for the benefit of any new viewers (oh please let there be a few million when it returns to NBC!), the show fit right back into its groove as if it had never been away.

Show highlights included Tyra’s existential panic, Buddy and his beloved Jumbotron, the uncertain relationship between Lila and Riggins, and Matt Saracen’s imminent retirement due to the arrival of hotshot QB J.D. McCoy and his scheming dad. To be honest, it was so great there’s little to say about it other than OMG IT WAS SO GREAT and so was the second episode OMG! But perhaps that’s enough.

Most Hectic Hour of the Week(s):

The return of Pushing Daisies was overwhelming even for someone who has been following it since the pilot, so God knows how it was received by any new viewers (of which there were probably none, considering its disastrous viewing figures). With two guest stars (Missi Pyle and French Stewart), the usual murder mystery, Chuck and Ned’s estrangement and reconciliation, and Olive’s departure from The Pie Hole (not to mention her nunnery subplot and Emerson’s pop-up book project), it was perhaps too busy, but it was at least funny and smart and original.

The script was beautifully constructed and satisfying as well. Moaning about it all makes me feel like an awful misery-guts, you know.

Non-Returning Highlight of the Week(s):

My love for Mad Men now solidified, I can get on with enjoying the show instead of getting annoyed by the odd flaw. Of the two episodes we saw during this fortnight (Sixth Month Leave and The Inheritance), perhaps the second was more cohesive on a thematic level (see future Weeks 4-5 posts), but the first episode, dealing with Freddy Rumsen’s sacking, was more fun.

Highlights included Freddy peeing his pants (kudos to the foley artist who captured the sound of his shoes squishing as he leaves the office), Pete and Peggy facing off over her promotion, Don crushing the juvenile idiots working under him like the unworthy scum they are, and of course the out-of-the-blue revelation that Roger Sterling was leaving his loyal wife for that overconfident floozy Jane.

My favourite thing, though, was the long sequence where Don and Roger take Freddy out and let him know, through glaringly obvious doubletalk, that he’s being let go. The pace of the show is always a marvel, and here it allows the show to take a long detour as they wine and dine their friend, who is smart enough to know what they are doing but not smart enough to know what he should do next.

Joel Murray gives a terrific performance as Freddy, a dopey but genial executive who has come to the end of the line and accepts it with a mixture of resignation and fear. These long scenes were a total joy to watch, taking their time to tell a dozen stories in a way a network show would never be able to.

Alarming Failrate of the Week(s):

Heroes really is screwed, isn’t it. I mean, we had a great time watching the last two episodes back to back, cracking up every few minutes at some dreadful staging or silly dialogue: we had great fun with Suresh and his terrible rash, which made us think all those geneticist brane-smarts mean nothing if he doesn’t think to wear a condom while ravishing hott babes (sorry for the insinuation, Maya!). By now the disastrous writing, all speechifying and incomprehensible plot twists, is not the worst of it. It’s full of errors, perhaps most visibly the self-plagiarism. When Usutu revealed his gallery of predictive paintings, we growned aloud.

It’s becoming apparent that the powers are being spread between characters (Usutu and Isaac, Nathan and West, Claire and Adam, Future Ando and Elle, Claire’s mom Meredith and Pyrokinetic Man etc.), and this will almost certainly be explained by the utterly dreary plot about the lineage of all of the Heroes (as soon as Angela Petrelli appears I totally tune out). Nevertheless, it still means the narrative is eating itself. Another apocalypse, another series of predictions, more time travel, more Company shenanigans, and on and on and on. If the characters were written better, this wouldn’t be a problem, but they seem to have no fixed identity at all. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing matters.

Even on a surface level the show can’t keep itself straight for two seconds. Early in the fourth episode, Suresh kicks Maya out of his lab and blathers on about fate and valour and DNA or something (I tuned out again), and then he sets his recording doohickey down onto a table. Time passes, and we’re in the future, as shown by the recorder being covered with dust and cockroaches.

Immediately Canyon said, “He never picked it up again? Bullshit. He’ll use it again later in the episode.” Of course, she was totally right.

And are we supposed to believe this is a real headline? Any self-respecting editor would off him or herself if they let this go to print.

If the showrunners think none of this matters, they’re horribly wrong. The amateurishness and silliness have reached epidemic levels, and viewers are deserting in droves. Not us, of course. If we’re going to watch Car Crash TV, this is at least less painful to watch than Knight Rider.

Show Change of the Week(s):

Doug Petrie always seemed to be an odd choice for CSI producer/writer, not because he isn’t talented (he is), but because his work on Buffy was leagues away from the tone needed for a gritty procedural. Many of his episodes were quirky, much as expected (especially Toe Tags, with the talking corpses), but he was able to come up with the expected grimness when necessary (he is credited with co-writing my favourite CSI episode ever, Monster In The Box).

It was never a problem that he was on the show, especially as it’s always good to see Mutant Enemy writers doing well (see also: Marti Noxon on Mad Men, which is a hell of a step-up from Point Pleasant). However, nice though it was to have a writer we like work on a hugely successful show, seeing that he has jumped over to Pushing Daisies really cheered us up. His writing is perfectly suited to Daisies, and the only thing that sours that news is that Daisies is doing so badly in the ratings that it might get cancelled before he gets to write an episode. ::is sad::

Unexpected Cameo of the Week(s):

Holy shit! Betty Draper’s dad is played by John McCain!

He was perfectly cast as well. Belligerent, lying to himself and others to cover up his confusion, and so overcome with attraction to hot females that he loses his composure.

Steady on, fella! That’s no way to treat a vice-presidential candidate. Hehhhhh? Hehhhhh?

Second Most Unexpected Cameo of the Week(s):

This is Betty Draper’s brother.

How did they de-age Robert Englund?

Opinion Reversal of the Week(s):

How quickly I have soured on Lucas the hapless PI in House. Individual moments were still funny, such as his appearance in House’s closet, but the desperate attempts to create an audience for his forthcoming spin-off are embarrassing and distracting.

The stalking and subsequent courting of Cuddy has the potential to ruin her character forever, and the temporary suspension of House’s usual disdain for any and all people in his sphere looks idiotic and transparently calculated.

A narrative decision this blatantly cynical could backfire horribly. David Chase should have thought twice.

Funniest Joke of the Week(s):

This rendered us helpless this week (it’s between 7:30 and 8:30, but you should watch the whole thing.

Infantile genius.

Punch of the Week(s):

Don Draper clocks Jimmy Barrett, and it is beautiful.

The best part of that is that even though I enjoyed seeing Don batter that obnoxious jerk, I also really enjoyed the scene from a few weeks ago when Jimmy humiliated Don by revealing he knew all about the affair with Bobbie. This is the show that gives and gives and then gives some more. Such brilliance is hard to achieve. Compare Don’s effortless cool with Daphne’s speedpunching, a supercool Flash trick rendered ugly by some dire effects on Heroes.

I’m really bitching about Daphne, which is not really representative of my opinion. You’ve got to love a snarky speedster, and she goes well with Hiro and Ando.

I just think her superpower pales into insignificance compared to the fearsome might of Don Draper.

Easter Egg of the Week(s) Month:

It took very little time for me to fall for the new nerd-baiting mystery man The Observer, who arrived in the latest episode of Fringe in an explosion of debris, flame, quirky tics, and hot peppers. Even though it was obvious to me that he is little more than a grab-bag of weirdness calculated to appeal to the nerd fanbase, I immediately became enamoured of him, partially because he is bald and loves jalapenos (we’re like brothers!), but mostly because he has driven the show headlong in an even stranger direction than I thought it would. What I had assumed was going to be a mildly diverting Alias-meets-X-Files procedural looks now to be a batshit curio that will split the audience into opposing groups of rabid fans and exasperated haters to such an extent it will make the Lost Talkback Wars look like a love-in.

It could have gone the other way, though. Midway through the episode, upon being confronted by Anna “Vanatron” Torv, Lance “Intensity” Reddick reveals that he has been seen numerous times at Pattern events, including the hospital in which the grisly birth scene from the second episode occurred. A photo is produced, showing The Observer, which offended me greatly. A blatant piece of ret-conning, it made the show look amateurish and desperate, trying to convince the audience that the show mythology had been planned in advance but instead making it look like it was being made up as it goes along (just like haters think is happening with Lost). Just to prove this, I went back to the second episode, hoping the hospital scenes would be Observer-free. Well, I’m not too proud to admit I was horribly wrong.

How cool is that? He’s so fucking creepy. Thrilled by the knowledge that the Fringe team are trying to generate a plan for the show with seeded cameos and whatnot, I checked the net for more news about The Observer, and whaddaya know, he’s been in all four episodes so far, with a Hitchcockian cameo walking past MASSive Dynamic in the pilot, and an eerie stalker moment on a train in the third episode.

Even better, it’s obvious the show has been designed to appeal to those of us whose idea of a good time is to waste hours clicking through Lostpedia or play ARGs like the current Dharma Initiative Initiation game. As you can see here, there have been Easter Eggs throughout the series (The Observer was namechecked in the pilot title sequence), either feeding into the mythology or giving ARG hints. It’s all very entertaining.

In fact, I find the promise of a new sci fi mythology more exciting than the actual show, which, despite the introduction of nose torture, glowing subterranean torpedoes, and crazy 50s rayguns, still kinda bores me whenever Dr. Walter Bishop is not onscreen. Hints that Peter and Olivia have a secret Pattern-influenced past might make them more interesting, but right now I’m not interested in them at all. And yet I can’t wait for the next episode. I’m such a sucker for big mythologies. It’s actually really embarrassing.

Well-Used Secondary Character of the Week(s):

I keep on about it, but it needs to be shouted from the rooftops of New York; Marc and Amanda are the best things about Ugly Betty, but are sorely underused. Amanda is getting about two lines an episode right now, though thankfully she is talented and funny enough that she at least knows how to make those lines count.

Marc, on the other hand, was given a juicier plot than usual, scheming to get Wilhelmina demoted from her new position as Mode editor-in-chief just to keep her all to himself. This angered Canyon, who was disgusted to see the status quo returned after a long period introducing numerous story opportunities that ranged in potential from promising to almost certainly a dead end. She has a very good point. Still, there is the short term gain that Marc got to show a new, Macchiavellian side. It ain’t much, but it meant I laughed a lot, and sometimes that’s enough.

How To Ruin a Character Recipe of the Week(s):

Add one book…

…Stir in one genetically engineered triplet damsel in distress…

…Sprinkle with liberal amounts of an invisible old man who probably never shuts up about working with Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson between takes…

…And you end up with a hyper-lame loser who can only get about four people to attend his press conference about a catastrophic disaster that kills hundreds of thousands of people.

Nice Jackie O glasses there, Tracey.

And now, I shall stop there, so that I can finally watch Hairspray (remake). More to come, peeps.

The Curse Of Caruso!

Seriously, I think this blog, as well as changing Heat magazine policy on shameful circles, has somehow punched way above its weight class (like, way way way way above), and affected the Emmy voting. Here is a rundown of the horror:

Two weeks ago, I said of Michael Emerson in The Shape Of Things To Come, (pictorially represented here by co-stars Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Dae Kim, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Emerson):

[T]he best performance of the year. Screw it, the decade. Michael Emerson’s command of the screen is already frightening, and this most shocking of episodes featured his greatest moment yet, a near-wordless breakdown followed by terrifying revenge as our anti-hero chooses to unleash unworldy terror upon his nemesis, even at the cost of losing his hold on the thing he holds most dear. There were countless other superb moments in this episode, but that was the most impressive five minutes of the year.

And the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series goes to… Zeljko Ivanek in Damages! I’ve not seen the show, so I can’t say what he is like on it. However, he is a terrific actor, impressing me hugely in The Pillowman opposite Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum a few years back. Nevertheless, NOOOOOOOOOOO! I hope you’re happy now, Jacob!

A few months ago, I said of House’s Head co-director Greg Yaitanes (pictorially represented here by House actress Olivia Wilde, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Yaitanes):

[W]hile I liked the whole finale overall, the first part was, sadly, overdirected to the point of obnoxiousness by Greg Yaitanes (who I have railed against before). If ever there was a TV director who is determined to get noticed enough to win a film career, it’s him, filling the episode with annoying Sonnenfeld-esque close-ups, flashy lighting, and Cuddy stripping. Here is a picture of her post-strip. [ETA: See original post for boring picture if you really need to see House and Cuddy looking bored.] I’m not going to contribute to the uncomfortable memory of poor Lisa Edelstein having to dress like a schoolgirl and rub her butt on a pole. [ETA: And I'm still not going to. It was unedifying.]

And the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series goes to…Greg Yaitanes for House’s Head! As I said before, I’m perplexed as to why co-director Katie Jacobs got no mention, but there might be some info out there I don’t know about. Still, at least he didn’t win for his hilarious work on Heroes, and House’s Head did feature some good work.

Earlier this year I said of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (pictorially represented here by Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Weiner):

After the first episode we had learned that during the 60s, men were sexist pigs, women were oppressed and treated as chattel, homosexuals were closeted, white Americans were racist, and everyone was drinking and smoking way too much and ignoring the health risks. It was enlightening! And then the next six or so episodes did very little to move beyond these points.

And the Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series goes to…Matthew Weiner and his script for Mad Men pilot Smoke Gets In Your Eyes! As I’ve said since, the show has grown on me, and I don’t feel so frustrated by its insistence on drawing attention to its period detail as I did at first, but even so, that pilot was awfully obvious, and season closer The Wheel, which Weiner also wrote (with Robin Veith), was much stronger.

A loooooooong time ago, I said of Pushing Daisies director Barry Sonnenfeld (pictorially represented here by Pushing Daisies actor Lee Pace, as I couldn’t find a red carpet picture of Sonnenfeld):

His work on the Coen’s early movies blew me away when I was younger, and he did strong work with Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally and Misery. Then he became a director with an extremely limited bag of tricks ripped off from his time on Raising Arizona, mostly involving dollying into something to express emphasis, fish-eye lenses, lots of attention-seeking POV, and pointless overhead shots…In a 42 minute long show, he had at least 34 emphasis dollies, 11 overhead shots, and POV every five minutes (yes, I actually counted). It blighted the show to such an extent that I even forgot to be annoyed by the cloying narration. I may have enjoyed some of Tim Burton’s early work, and I might have even liked Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which were stylistically very similar to Pushing Daisies, but that knowing fairy-tale style gets old real quick, and the show was utterly hamstrung by it.

And the Emmy for Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series goes to…Barry Sonnenfeld for Pie-lette! As Noel Murray said on The AV Club, “it’s kind of interesting that Sonnenfeld was all-but fired for going over budget and getting too ambitious with the show”. Consider this a validation of his over-spending and reliance on a limited set of ideas. Thanks, Emmys! Luckily, as I have said many a time, once he stepped away from the director’s chair, things improved immensely.

A little while ago I said of the episode of The Office called Dinner Party:

Director Paul Feig and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky delivered a masterpiece of sphincter-tightening discomfort that not only showed up the original BBC series (which I would have thought was an impossibility), but also anything that fraud Mike Leigh has done. It was the kind of format-busting experiment that proves that, when given enough legroom by the suits at the network, mainstream TV can transcend expectations and deliver devastating and uncompromising storytelling.

And the Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series goes to…Tina Fey for the 30 Rock episode Cooter (pictorially represented here by herself, because of Reason X)!

Oh, I can’t hate on Tina Fey for winning that one, as she is just literally absolutely factually the utter Queen of the mystical land of Shiznit, but even so, that wasn’t the best episode of the season. Great fun, but not quite there (though I did love all of the Matthew Broderick stuff; some of my favourite satire of the year).

It’s all a bunch of gratuitous carping up in this bitch! That’s not good. Ignore it all. Though I had my own preferences in these categories, the winners all pleased me in some way or other. It’s not like there are any really egregious choices there, and even if I felt really negatively towards something (such as the work of Sonnenfeld and Weiner), it was often setting in stone a template for something that I grew to like very much. Congratulations to everyone who won, for reals. And yes yes, I did find a red carpet picture of Matthew Weiner (seen here with John Slattery).

If you think I’m going to get as many hits by covering this blog with pictures of Matthew Weiner, talented fellow though he is, instead of pictures of Christina Hendricks, then you are smoking the drugs. I’m all about the hits, people.

Dexter Ex Machina

Dexter Morgan is Hannibal Lecter if Hannibal Lecter was a vegan puppy dog. Ostensibly asking questions about morality and justice, the second season of Dexter, which finished in the UK last night, began weak, got stronger as it went along, and ended up throwing away a lot of the progress it had made in a meldoramatic blaze. If you’ve not yet seen the second season finale, read no further. If you’ve not yet seen any of it, skip it altogether, and instead watch Pushing Daisies (for something that gets the stylisation/tone equation correct), The Shield (for a truly brain-shaking and thrilling exploration of the effects of corruption and moral confusion on the justice system) and Manhunter (for Will Graham cursing his quarry out, and for Brian Cox being amoral and weird and wonderful).

Funny I should mention spoilers. When The British Invasion aired in the US last year, I mistakenly heard that Dexter killed Doakes, and so watching the lead-up to the finale was seen through that lens. It meant that, for the first time since the show started, we began rooting for Doakes, and were pleased to see Erik King move on from his reliance on Blue Steel (jumping past Le Tigre and going straight for Magnum). It also made us restless to get to that moment, even if we had begun to dread it, as Dexter explored his options through his preferred medium of pretentious voiceover, which sucked all suspense out of the No Way Out style plot. I’m not going to criticise the show for not ratcheting the tension up more, because I wonder if that was even the intention of the showrunners, but it suffered by comparison with the third season of, yes, The Shield, which we were watching at the same time we were watching the second season of Dexter. As Vic Mackey and the Strike Team dodged their colleagues for fifteen stunning and nerve-wracking episodes, all while exploring the consequences of their corruption, Dexter could only look anaemic in comparison (pun sort of intended).

What’s worse, while the Strike Team suffer terrible emotional consequences for their actions, Dexter dodges a bullet in an unfortunately silly fashion. The fiery death of Doakes inspired many conflicting emotions in us (possibly a first for the show, which usually just irritates us): relief, as having Doakes killed by Dexter would push our anti-hero over a moral line we could never forgive; frustration, as being killed by Dexter would have been the boldest thing done on the show yet and would have shown some real courage on the part of the showrunners; slack-jawed astonishment, as even though Lila’s mental process had been set up with great care throughout the season, it was still an outrageous cheat to take Doakes’ ultimate fate from Dexter and place it in her hands. To follow that up with a series of coincidences leading up to a melodramatic kidnap plot, not to mention the godawful and ill-judged in-show recreation of the wonderful title sequence, and the unintentionally silly Satanic Baptism/Rebirth visual of a newly re-purposed Dexter bursting through a conveniently flimsy wall, was utterly exasperating.

That’s before we get to the plot stasis of the show which is a regrettable side-effect of the success of the show. While it would be nice to see the show end on a properly bleak note for a show out someone who, despite his cuddliness, is a fucking serial killer for crying out loud, we’re always going to see Dexter fudge his moral challenges and do the “right” thing. Killing the people who understand him best (his brother and Lila) might seem like a big deal on a surface level, but it’s always done in such a way as to present no challenge to his morals, with the extra consequence of making him seem like a martyr by sacrificing his own peace of mind through the act of murdering the “right” person instead of keeping these monsters around for company. That said, kudos for allowing Dexter to see that the one person he thought understood him, his adoptive father, was actually disgusted by him. Having him face the fact that he really is a monster with a nice line in self-serving justification was one of the things this season did really well.

By this point in the show it’s become apparent that the show can be seen two different ways. If you’re willing to forgive Dexter his murderous ways, the show is all about following him on a journey of self-discovery, trying to fit in and learn how to feel like he belongs, all while he struggles with his impulses, trying to transform them into a productive act, even when faced with complications. This new Dexter might have finally understood what it is to feel, instead of being a blank slate, which is the first real character progression the show has had. However, if you don’t buy into it, it’s a bunch of pointless plate spinning. Dexter might make speeches about how he’s not operating by the Code of Harry by the time the season finishes, and the next season might mark a notable departure from his past, but to be uncharitable for a moment, though his modus operandi seemed to be slightly different while killing Lila, he’s still punishing a murderer, thus keeping the show running for a while linger. This season hinted at pushing Dexter into breaking the code, but at the last second he was saved by a British deus ex machina with a annoying way of talking.

That he killed her and then seemed to embrace family life is only an incremental change from what he was like before, i.e. someone who would have killed her and then tried to fake having a happy family life. Again, I’m curious to see how it plays out, but this new Dexter is only known to us so far through portentous narration. A finale like this needed to see a more visual, dramatic expression of his new nature for us to feel any sense of narrative movement. As it was, the final scenes fell flat, with only his voiceover to tell us things had changed, and no amount of shots of Jaime Murray standing around in Paris was going to stand in for that need (and I’m not going to go on about how Dexter found her, but seriously, when did he become Jason Bourne?).

What’s worse, having Lila take Doakes off Dexter’s hands was seemingly done because the other options would paint the show into a francise-wrecking corner. Killing Doakes, while an interesting narrative choice, would push Dexter too far over the audience-sympathy line (same with his sister in season one, which is a shame as we were really hoping he would do it and get that potty-mouthed Gupta the hell off our screens). On the other hand, framing Doakes would mean the next season would constantly be derailed with the side sory of Doakes trying to prove his innocence and Dexter’s guilt. We’ve already had a season of that, and it needed to move on. Therefore, Lila conveniently deals with Dexter’s problem. That means the drama up to that point mainly serves to show how Dexter would deal with the Doakes problem, and he does it just the way you would expect, by trying to frame him. We learn nothing new about him, no matter how many tedious monologues we hear, and in the end the only dramatic point of it all is that we see Dexter’s actions through someone else’s eyes, when Doakes is trapped in a cage while his captor hacks a drug-dealer up.

An aside: while I’ve been ragging on this show a lot, I still watch it in the hopes of some improvement or impressive story-telling, and this season managed it once. The scene with Doakes begging for this man’s life, where we see Dexter for the monster he really is, was easily the best thing about the whole season. Kudos to King and Hall, both of whom really stepped up to the plate. So I guess the Dexter/Doakes plot was justified in that we got to have that great scene, but otherwise, it was a waste of time. The drama, which had the potential to completely change the direction of the show and really challenge our assumptions and empathic allegiance (something The Shield does constantly), ended up becoming little more than Dexter mulling over his options without ever having to act on them thanks to the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl Serial Killer Groupie. Yawn!

The end result of all this is a confused me. Do I watch the next season, which might feature a new brand of Dexter? Or do I cut my losses now, fully expecting that the reset button will be hit at the end of the year? The potential for interesting storytelling is still there, so maybe I should stick with it, but I also have to take into account how much the execution irks me, which is a whole hell of a lot. In the end it could all come down to time. Why watch something that annoys and frustrates me when I could be reading the new Neal Stephenson novel? Put like that, the choice is very easy. I need this show to shock the shit out of me, or it’s dropped. Dexter, consider yourself on probation.

The 2007-2008 Caruso Awards (The Good)

Though it might seem perverse to be assessing the bests and worsts of a TV year when the new TV year is very much upon us (The Shield started last week, and Fox’s big new hope, Fringe, starts tomorrow), weirdly enough we’re actually doing this earlier than last year. It’s hard to know where to put the cut-off dates, but now seems the right time to get on with this. There are going to be some omissions, such as Mad Men (we didn’t think the first season had anything strong enough for inclusion, and the second season, though improved, is not yet over) and The Shield (we’re a couple of seasons behind, but catching up fast). Also missing are mentions of Terminator: The Sarah Conicles (© Masticator and Masticatrix) and The Middleman, two shows I think I will end up loving but have not seen enough of to be sure (and believe me, the first fifteen minutes of the third episode of Middleman was so funny it almost got into the list anyway). I will also include a couple of two-parters, because they were just too perfect to be separated, and will regrettably be going over a lot of stuff I’ve covered before, but what can I say? When I’m enthusiastic about something, I have no off-switch.

Best episodes of the season:

10. Pushing Daisies – Sniff It Good

For a few weeks there, I was in two minds about sticking with Pushing Daisies. Maybe I would have been more forgiving of it if it hadn’t been treated like God’s own TV show by most critics before it had even aired, a blanket pre-judgement that grated because no one seemed willing to admit that for everything that was right with the show, there was something very wrong. At least, that’s how it was at first. As the season progressed, it became clear that the critical consensus was swinging away from blanket praise to complaints that the tone was too sickly, and just to be contrary, we began to fall in love with it. As the show became more bittersweet (in counterpoint to the colours and romance) it blossomed, and this episode represented the high watermark. Not only did it introduce Paul Reuben’s olfactory expert, it ended on a heartstopping rendition of Morning Has Broken by Ellen Greene playing over a hallucinatory animation sequence that still makes me choke up whenever I think about it.

9. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – Goodbye and Good Luck

Coming after the two best seasons of this long-running show, the eighth was a disappointment, though one littered with the odd classic moment. This episode, chronicling the final case of CSI Sara Sidle, was the season highlight by a long chalk. Directed by star helmer Kenneth Fink (also responsible for the excellent finale, which detailed the last moments of CSI Warrick Brown), it featured the return of Sara’s arch-enemy, the bad seed Hannah West, and brought their antagonism to a surprising and moving conclusion, just in time for Sara to leave the team in an attempt to save her damaged soul. Visually impressive (as I mentioned at the time), emotionally draining, and beautifully judged, it was the total opposite of the empty gore-fest that non-fans assume CSI to be. Even when not operating at maximum efficiency, surely this is one of the most underrated shows on TV right now.

8. Doctor Who – Forest of the Dead

The general consensus is that no matter how shaky Doctor Who can be, at least Steven Moffat will pop up at some point and save the day. So it was with the River Song two-parter, which was lauded pretty much before it aired. Another truism is that heightened anticipation will often lead to disappointment, and the first part, Silence in the Library, featured so many of the tricks Moffat had already used that this felt less than fresh, even with a spirited performance from Alex Kingston. Luckily for Nu-Whovians everywhere, the second part, Forest of the Dead, was a heartbreaking triumph. Though still reusing elements from previous Moffat scripts (especially The Doctor Dances), the emotional surge in the last five minutes dispelled any misgivings, mixing uplift and tragedy with enough enthusiasm that pointing out its flaws feels like mean-spirited carping.

7. Journeyman – Emily/Blowback

Journeyman was the little show that couldn’t, no matter how much we had hoped it would. Damned as nothing more than a Quantum Leap rip-off, it struggled to attract the Heroes audience at exactly the moment that the Heroes audience decided it didn’t want to watch an entire episode through, let alone hang around to see what was on afterwards, even if that meant missing out on something bold, complex, and thought-provoking. By this point in the show’s run we had realised something special was happening, and this two-parter, exploring the disastrous consequences of Dan Vassar’s actions, and the limitations of his power, was a perfect example of its uncompromising storytelling. With our temporally-challenged protagonist’s liberal good intentions responsible for attracting the attention of a serial killer (played with sleazy menace by Raphael Sbarge), he is forced to contemplate the unthinkable in order to save his family. Kevin McKidd acted the hell out of that moral quandary, Juan Carlos Coto and Kevin Falls wrote the shit out of it, and all across the internet, people finally woke up to the brilliance of this show. Sadly, it was too late to save it from cancellation.

6. Battlestar Galactica – The Hub

Bouncing back from a sorely disappointing third season, Battlestar Galactica picked up a bit but was still not firing on all cylinders. While the plot seemed to be moving pieces into place with some actual honest-to-God events, of all things, many episodes were still tainted by unconvincing histrionics, variable performances, dreary subplots, and clumsy narrative conceits. The Hub featured none of these. With super-total-ace writer Jane Espenson focusing on Laura Roslin (one of the show’s most compelling characters), all of the swish pyrotechnics and gung-ho action paled next to the season’s most dramatic moment; Baltar’s delirious confession of his role in the Caprican genocide, and Roslin’s almost homicidal response. That Mary McDonnell is not the recipient of every award going for her pitch-perfect reaction is a crying shame. And then, to top it off, she tells Bill Adama she loves him. This is the show I once loved. Where the hell has it been?

5. The Venture Brothers – Tears of a Sea Cow

After a long wait, The Venture Brothers returned with a greater emphasis on continuity and drama, to such an extent that my enormous anticipation soon withered into confusion and annoyance. While Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were still providing the gags, something seemed amiss. By the time we reached Dr. Quymn: Medicine Woman, the repeated focus on a depressed Monarch, the creepy Sgt. Hatred, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s efforts to cheer her husband up had robbed the show of so much of its energy that even that episode, which featured none of those characters, was still not hitting the bullseye. Luckily, Tears of a Sea Cow marked a huge return to form. With Dr. Venture and Brock Samson missing in action for the majority of the episode, the focus shifts to Hank, Dean, and Dermot on one side, and The Monarch’s defiance of the Guild of Calamitous Intent on the other, and as they all accidentally come into conflict of the most half-hearted kind, the show got its mojo back.

Nothing much happens for 22 minutes, but the details are perfect. 21′s immortality misunderstanding, H.E.L.Per’s incessant drumbeat (running joke of the year), The Monarch’s psychosexual obsession with Dr. Venture coming into full bloom; just those three moments would qualify it for the list, but the episode was filled to the brim with comedic gems. In the last few episodes of this reinvigorated season we were treated to the sight of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde in a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen spoof, the return of Colonel Gentleman and his manboobs, the introduction of super-robot Ventronic, and a shocking two-part finale that featured death and retirement horror. Arguably, those moments were funnier or more dramatic, but Tears of a Sea Cow wins out for bringing the show back on track.

4. Friday Night Lights – Let’s Get It On

As with many of these mini-posts, I’ve already gone on about this exemplary episode at length, so forgive me for going over old ground, but though this season didn’t reach the heights of the first, it was by no means the disappointment that many felt it to be. The worrying plot threads were handled well, the stupid plot threads didn’t hang around long, and the performances were as classy as ever. Though the series had many high points, including Riggins’ speech to his former team-mates, Santiago’s first game, and Tami’s sister arriving to drive Coach insane, this episode featured the highest quota of genius moments, with special praise for Street’s plunge from a boat and subsequent “baptism”, and the sweet and funny Y Tu Mama Tambien scene at the end of the episode. No other show on TV treats adolescent confusion and pain with such seriousness of purpose, or respect for its characters and audience. Everyone who doesn’t watch it is missing out on an incredible experience. Seriously.

3. The Office – Dinner Party

The Deposition, the episode that preceded this one, was excruciating enough, showing the relationship between Michael and Jan to be riven with distrust, mutual loathing, and flashes of inappropriate aggression, yet held together by desperation and fear of loneliness. The Dinner Party, set almost entirely in Michael and Jan’s house, made The Deposition look like a traditional two-camera and laugh-track sitcom from the 70s. The vicious sniping between Michael and Jan was terrifying in its ruthlessness, made all the worse for happening in front of Jim, Pam, Andy and Angela (and, later, Dwight and his babysitter, played with deadpan skill by the wonderful Beth Grant). Director Paul Feig and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky delivered a masterpiece of sphincter-tightening discomfort that not only showed up the original BBC series (which I would have thought was an impossibility), but also anything that fraud Mike Leigh has done. It was the kind of format-busting experiment that proves that, when given enough legroom by the suits at the network, mainstream TV can transcend expectations and deliver devastating and uncompromising storytelling. And yes, I’m aware I’m saying that about a comedy.

2. House M.D. – House’s Head / Wilson’s Heart

Again, I’ve hyper-praised these two episodes, but allow me to indulge myself once again. As with the Journeyman two-parter, it’s impossible to separate these two episodes, even though this time there is a distinct quality difference between the two. While the second half, with the team attempting to save the life of Amber the Cutthroat Bitch, was measured and quiet, the first part, with hallucinations and bus crashes, was big and flashy. It was a superb episode, but mostly despite the attention-seeking efforts of director Greg Yaitanes. That he has been nominated for an Emmy while Katie Jacobs, director of the second episode, was overlooked, is regrettable (on edit: turns out IMDb lists her as co-director on the first episode, but she gets no attention from the Emmy judges). Nevertheless, this season finale represented House at its best. Coming at the end of the most entertaining and thought-provoking season yet, it was the perfect capper, the best episode in the history of the show, and proved the doubters wrong; there is still life in that controversial static formula, especially when used by a showrunning team as bold as this one.

1. Lost – The Shape Of Things To Come

I have spent the months since the season four finale of my favourite show trying to decide which episode was the one I loved the most. Was it The Constant, which used the baffling premise of the show to create a love story that defied time and mortality? Or was it that amazing last episode, filled with more action and surprise than anything other show screened all year? Or was it the one that made me even more long-winded than usual? Just a week ago, I finally came to the conclusion that it had to be this episode, featuring time-travelling, cold-blooded murder, the triumphant return of Cerberus the Smoke Monster, and the best performance of the year. Screw it, the decade. Michael Emerson’s command of the screen is already frightening, and this most shocking of episodes featured his greatest moment yet, a near-wordless breakdown followed by terrifying revenge as our anti-hero chooses to unleash unworldy terror upon his nemesis, even at the cost of losing his hold on the thing he holds most dear. There were countless other superb moments in this episode, but that was the most impressive five minutes of the year. Forgive my hyperbolism, but no other work of art or popular culture has moved and amazed me more than that “simple” bit of acting. I am simply in awe of the man, and the entire Lost team for ignoring the critics and getting us to this point at the deliberate pace they have. If the rest of the payoffs are even a fraction as powerful as those featured in this episode, it will all have been worth it.

Coming up! The ten worst episodes of the year (hint: one of the shows included rhymes with Fuck. Another one rhymes with Norchwood). I might even get into some other stuff. Let’s see how this week goes.

End Of Season Review – House M.D.

While compiling our weekly views of how the previous seven days of TV had affected us, we noticed that the first half of House‘s fourth season had often been the highlight. Coming off an appalling third season, with its format badly in need of an overhaul, season four began with an almost clean slate. His usual acolytes scattered to the four winds, House was coerced into finding three new minions, which he did by way of a selection process that took up the first half of the season. It was pure genius, allowing the show to keep its dramatic side confined to disposable subplots (diseases of the week), while allowing the comedic half to flourish with withering putdowns, mischievous gameplaying, and petty squabbling. I think I said at the time that the show had been waiting to find its voice, and finally it had. Forget about the dreary seriousness of season three, with its silly bad cop subplots, and forget the formulaic nature of the show. It had finally found a way to rise above those limitations.

Much criticism is made of the rigid format and how the show cannot escape it, but it can wiggle around within it, which tends to take the attention off House and his machinations. Season four changed a lot, including pushing the medical drama just ever so slightly out of the spotlight, and concentrating more on House and his gameplaying. Plus, he wasn’t in danger of being “cured” by his colleagues, and no one had yet another freakout about his drugtaking. It allowed Hugh Laurie to do what he does best; supersnarky misanthropy tempered with flashes of intense humanity. Agonising over how to cure House (which can often waste several episodes of a season) was almost entirely removed, except in an episode in the second half of the season, No More Mr. Nice Guy, in which Kutner suspects House is suffering from neuro-syphilis which could be responsible for his terrible personality. Of course, this is a joke played by House, but much of the episode featured House’s colleagues worrying that they would ruin him as a doctor by curing him of his misanthropy, much as the show would be ruined by such a plot development. It was a nice way of acknowledging that they’re not going to be messing with House for a while.

At least, they’re not going to waste time with the staff of Princeton-Plainsboro trying to figure him out. Instead, in a nice twist, House himself might want to trigger a change in himself, with the two-part finale throwing him into a situation where one of the few things he cares about, Wilson’s friendship, is in jeopardy. Due to his irresponsibility, House and Wilson’s girlfriend Amber get into a bus crash just after she takes flu pills. With her kidneys damaged in the crash, she cannot process the amantadine in the pills. At the end of the final episode, Amber dies in Wilson’s arms after he shuts off her life support, and we sobbed. Seriously. Like, for a long time after the episode ended. Stupid TV show.

Perhaps next season this new antagonism will provide much of the drama, as House tries to win back the friendship of his only friend, perhaps by becoming a better person. The prospect of such an arc is potentially interesting, as change has to come from within, and I’d much rather watch Hugh Laurie battle with his demons instead of putting up with conversations between his colleagues about what to do with him, conversations that are rarely done well and can drastically shift the balance of the show from humour into boring hand-wringing and frustrating contrivance. However, it will almost certainly feature the removal of one of the most appealing features of the show; House and Wilson’s mostly good-natured game-playing. As I’ve said before, their interaction is one of the most entertaining things on TV, and losing that would suck. That change in tone at the start of season four might be temporary, but if Wilson’s reaction to the sight of House recovering from the coma he entered while trying to diagnose Amber is anything to go by, we’re in for a rough patch. Ingrate!

As I say, the first half of the season was especially good, with House bouncing off a large roomful of well-sketched characters, with his other colleagues stripped of their angst over his personality and becoming entertaining foils for him. They even fixed Foreman, who had previously just been a sulky minion and ended up becoming almost an equal to House. His arc was especially well thought out and depicted, with Omar Epps at first disgusted with himself for becoming the thing he most hated (i.e. an approximation of House), and then becoming reconciled with it.

That the second half of the season, after House had chosen his new team, was not up to the first nine episodes was not that great a surprise, especially with the disease of the week drama becoming more prominent, but there were consolations. Frozen, featuring House diagnosing an snow-bound Mira Sorvino via webcam was particularly entertaining, and Living The Dream, with House kidnapping the star of his favourite daytime soap was funny too. All the while, the tone of the show remained lighter than it has been, and even though the formula of the show reasserted itself in later episodes, I still felt that my support for the show even through its most tedious interludes had more than paid off. As Canyon said prior to watching the finale, even if the show can often feel like it is doing the same thing over and over again, there are very few, if any, shows on TV right now that do this kind of thing so well. The dialogue is better than pretty much anything else on TV. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s philosophical. If it veers into sentimentality every now and again, that’s the price we pay for the rest of the intelligent writing showcased almost every week. The show doesn’t get enough credit for that.

Sadly, with the strike shutting the show down for a while, once more we had an arc damaged by not getting enough screentime, as with CSI’s Warrick arc. Amber quickly switched from Cutthroat Bitch to Best Girlfriend Ever, and if you had an inkling about what was lying in wait for her in the finale, you would possibly have found the whole thing contrived. Luckily we had no idea what was going to happen, but still, it could have done with more room to breathe. That’s not a proper criticism of the show, though, and Canyon’s praise still stands. The showrunners did the best they could with little time to properly set up that two-parter.

And boy, did it work out well. Writers Peter Blake, David Foster, Russel Friend, and Garrett Lerner (working from a story by Doris Egan) went all out over the two episodes (called House’s Head and Wilson’s Heart), treating the viewer to interactive hallucinations, spectacular set-pieces, arc resolutions (poor Thirteen finding out she was positive for Huntington’s while we were already upset about Amber was simultaneously cruel and brilliant), and heart-rending goodbyes. It was devastating and amazing and brutal and a million other things. It was easily the best of all the season finales we’ve seen so far, with Reaper, Ugly Betty, and Lost yet to come (not to mention Battlestar Galactica‘s mini-season finale and the last episode of Doctor Who).

That said, while I liked the whole finale overall, the first part was, sadly, overdirected to the point of obnoxiousness by Greg Yaitanes (who I have railed against before). If ever there was a TV director who is determined to get noticed enough to win a film career, it’s him, filling the episode with annoying Sonnenfeld-esque close-ups, flashy lighting, and Cuddy stripping. Here is a picture of her post-strip. I’m not going to contribute to the uncomfortable memory of poor Lisa Edelstein having to dress like a schoolgirl and rub her butt on a pole.

In contrast, Katie Jacobs, helmer of the second half of the finale, was relatively restrained, which was just what the more emotional episode needed. With more subdued editing and framing, we were treated to an emotional rollercoaster, perfectly judged and beautifully performed (there’s a good chance Laurie’s usual award nominations will be joined by some for Robert Sean Leonard and Anne Dudek). Okay, I will admit that there was one good sequence by Yaitanes in the first part, namely the dazzling bus crash flashback in the final scene. It’s big, scary, and superbly shot, and made me regret grumbling about the rest of the episode. That is, until I realised that the whole sequence was very reminiscent of the plane crash flashback at the end of Peter Weir’s underrated drama Fearless, even down to the shots of hands reaching towards each other, a tunnel of light, spinning and debris and carnage, etc. I don’t blame Yaitanes from borrowing from that sequence, as it’s great. If he didn’t borrow, then the guy knows how to create good scenes that just happen to really resemble scenes from a well-known movie. I guess that’s a skill too.

Other than the possibility of an organic transition from misanthropic House to a more caring, sharing House (who would still hopefully be enough of a jerk to be entertaining; turning him into Santa would be absurd), I have no idea what to expect of the new season. Will the new team leave? Thirteen now knows her days are short, so there’s a possibility she won’t be around for long. Will that mean a return for Cameron? That would mean more screentime for Jennifer Morrison, whose only purpose this season seemed to be making sure she stands as far away from ex-fiancee Jesse Spencer as possible while still remaining on the same show (it was as if they were playing hide and seek on set, which was both funny and sad at the same time). All I want to know is, will the show stay funny? Or will this be Tritter-Redux, with House and Wilson at each other’s throats? After the awesomeness of season four, that’s the last thing we need.

End Of Season Review – CSI

A while back we got into the habit of reviewing the shows of the previous week, at first in depth, and then, when it became apparent that it was cutting into my eating and sleeping time, with a bunch of quick comments. I was enjoying doing it, before the strike came and threw everything into total disarray, thus making such a project untenable. When shows slowly dribbled back onto the screen, we barely even noticed. Ugly Betty returned with such little fanfare (in the UK, that is) that we have only just caught up with it. Same with Reaper. Some shows didn’t bother coming back (Pushing Daisies, Heroes), the showrunners deciding to start afresh next year, and some will never come back at all (Bionical Woman, the unfairly cancelled Journeyman). Of those that came back, many of them had lost whatever momentum they had prior to the strike. A pity, but still, over the last couple of weeks, the season finales made up for some of those missteps. We intend to have a look at the state of these shows at the end of the season, but please bear in mind, the quality of the shows was damaged by the strike, and nothing managed to escape losing energy as a result (even my beloved Lost has struggled to cope with the disruption to its schedule). We accept that judging them too harshly would be unfair.

CSI returned with some not so great episodes, much to our disappointment. Though my love for the show remains, I think they’ve passed their high-water mark, which for me would be season six, which featured the aftermath of the amazing Tarantino-helmed season five finale, the introduction of the evil Hannah West, and the incredible two-parter A Bullet Runs Through It, which I maintain is better than almost all crime films I’ve seen in the past ten years. Season seven memorably featured the brilliant Miniature Killer arc (and my personal favourite CSI episode ever, Monster In The Box), and Greg’s ongoing woes after killing a mugger, which fitted in perfectly with his growth as a CSI; everyone else on the team acted like his difficulties were just part of the job, and no worse than anything they had gone through themselves. It also featured the intriguing mid-season Liev Shrieber arc, which was marred only by the actual presence of Shrieber himself. However, on a week-to-week basis, I thought season six was stronger. Perhaps if I rewatch I will disagree with myself, but for now I’ll rely on my memory of that slight deflation I felt as season seven progressed.

This season was weaker still, with some very strong episodes scattered throughout. The best was probably Sara’s departure, Goodbye and Good Luck, which featured the return of Hannah West at her creepiest. Brilliantly directed by Kenneth Fink, it was moving and gripping in perfect balance, and since then hardly anything on the show has matched up (again, bear in mind we’re aware the show was damaged by the strike, and are just glad it came back at all this year). Post-strike, we saw the return of Method Man as Drops, in his most entertaining episode yet, though that’s not saying much as his previous appearances were in the horrible Big Shots and Poppin’ Tags, memorable only because of the running joke with Brass ineptly talking like a rapper and not getting laughed off the screen by everyone around him. It’s kind of embarrassing, and while I’m all for more Method Man, I wish his episodes were stronger.

There was also the classy A Thousand Days On Earth, which saw the team investigate a child death, with some of the team jumping to conclusions and investigating someone on the child sex register, only to find that every one of their assumptions was incorrect. By the time they realise their mistakes, lives have been destroyed everywhere, and Catherine ends up with a new enemy. It was a brilliant examination of how disparate facts do not count as evidence of guilt, no matter how completely those facts apply to the crime in question, and how assumptions make an “ass” out of “u” and “mption”. (A non-Chim Chim Cookie to the firsts person who names the film I just quoted!)

Another highlight was the peculiar The Theory of Everything, with a teleplay from David Rambo and Buffy ace Douglas Petrie that felt like a semi-comedic X-Files episode. Only a tenuous grasp of physics let it down, trying to link the connectivity of a series of crimes with string theory, and including characters called Bohr and Planck. Other than that it was a well-paced head-scratcher, quirky but funny, and not “funny” as many comedy episodes end up being. Speaking of that, following on from the half-comedic/half-serious The Chick Chop Flick Shop, which I thought would be the low point of the season, CBS foolishly came up with a writers-swap plan, with Evan Dunsky, Sarah Goldfinger, Carol Mendelsohn, and Naren Shankar writing an episode of the nigh-unwatchable Two and a Half Men, and Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn derailing a beautiful procedural just so they could settle some old scores with an underwritten parody poking fun at their time spent working on Roseanne, Grace Under Fire and Cybill.

Just to make things worse, they cast the awful Katey Sagal as the screeching, egotistical sitcom lead, and her yokel-voiced double, which was an early warning sign the episode was going to be full of silly trickery and ineptly handled nods at the more melodramatic end of the whodunnit spectrum. Sagal seems fine as a dramatic actress (though at the moment I think my only experience of her playing a role straight is in Lost, as Locke’s lost love Helen, where she was terrific), but as a comedic actress she is appalling. Her flat, joke-killing line-readings in Futurama destroyed the show almost every week, and to see her continually cast in comedies amazes me. Why do people think she can do funny? She has no idea of how to tell a joke, and what’s worse is that her crappy timing is matched with eye-rolling hammery that Zero Mostel would have envied. Dear God, I hated this episode so completely. When the Shades of Caruso End of Season Awards are handed out, this is gonna be high on the horror list.

Luckily, the season ended strongly with For Gedda, at the end of which we lost another CSI, as trouble-laden Warrick’s involvement with the evil Lou Gedda came to a bloody head (literally!). Framed for Gedda’s murder and suffering from amnesia (a device I could normally do without, and yet was used well in this finale and that of House), the CSI team work to clear their colleague, which happens with uncharacteristic ease (and with a little help from the usually officious Ecklie. Obviously getting killed on Lost made his mood-swings more manageable). Of course, this being a season finale, it wasn’t going to end without a big event, and knowing that we were expecting something extra to happen, Warrick is cleared with several minutes of show left to go, and the pace slows right down so that we, the viewer, are left to agonise over what is going to happen. There’s the moment he is cleared, and a discussion with Gil, and a bit of team bonding over dinner, and a farewell to Nick, and a walk to his car… By this point we were in pieces, knowing that he would be leaving the show in a much more dramatic fashion than we’d previously thought, our nerves stretched to breaking point. For Warrick, there was no decision to quit, no suspension over his recklessness. Instead he got a bullet in the neck from the under-sheriff, revealed to have been complicit in Gedda’s criminal activity all along. It was a truly bleak and upsetting end to the season.

We’ve said it many times before; CSI is a rare show where we like every character, and it’s always hard to see them go. Jorja Fox has her fans and detractors, but even if she was our least-favourite character, we liked her enough to be sad to see her go (and seeing her relationship with Gil suffer made us sad too). This was even worse, though Dustin Lee Abraham and Richard Catalani were smart to put Warrick’s woes into perspective by referencing his gambling addiction and culpability in the death of Holly Griggs, who was killed in the very first episode. He’s always been heading towards this final tragedy, which maybe is what made it so hard to watch. To be honest, the denouement of his arc needed a bit more time spent on it prior to the final episode, but as with many shows, having a truncated season meant some plots got given short-shrift (I gather that, in particular, the final episode of Bones has enraged people for rushing a big development with one of the cast). We can’t hate on the show because of that.

Though it wasn’t the best season finale ever, it did feature some of the best filmmaking. Director Kenneth Fink (having a good year) and director of photography Nelson Cragg pulled out all the stops. This episode some of the most luminous and beautiful visual work of the whole season, with some gorgeous backlighting and bounced light giving everything a soft edge when not filling the frame with stark colour contrasts. It was a joy to look at. Most movies don’t look this good. Kudos to the crew and production staff for making such a gorgeous show.

So what next? According to Michael Ausiello, Jorja Fox and the real-life-naughty-man Dourdan will both be in the next season opener, though I doubt they’ll be around for long after that. Though I’m sorry to see those characters go, this season hinted that the format has been going without changes for too long. Though the ambition of the show has increased, it has strayed too closely to gimmickry this year, what with the Two and a Half Men project, the Without A Trace crossover, Hodges and the murder game (an episode I liked, but still thought was a jokey episode too far), and the other shenanigans listed above. Next season will feature at least one new character, Bryce Adams, played by Lauren Lee Smith, an actress who is utterly alien to me. I’m still happy about it, as the first choice for that role was Katee Sackhoff, who is utterly alien to everyone on planet Earth. As a Starbuck hater who thought Sackhoff was beyond laughable on Bionical Woman, I’m thrilled she won’t be stinking up this show.

The only other question is, will Ronnie Lake return? She got some screentime earlier this year and has yet to come back. Another Louise Lombard moment for the show? A quick IMDb check shows she’s been jinxed by taking centre stage in The Chick Chop Flick Shop and is now appearing almost exclusively in slasher flicks. I guess we’ll just have to hope the shake-up to the series extends to something more than just a cast change, and we’ll see an intelligent continuation of this murder plot, now that we have a bona fide sneaky asshole villain on the show. As Jon Stewart would say, just as he reflexively does in almost every edition of The Daily Show, Damn you, Undersheriff McKeen! Damn you all to hell!!!!