Archive for May, 2008

The Office: Job Fair
May 8, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Its Funny Because its Oh So True.

Ah, Michael Scott.  Man, I don’t know about you sometimes.  Tonight’s episode found Michael, Pam, Oscar, and Daryl heading to Pam’s old high school for a job fair.  Apparently Dunder Mifflin Infinity Scranton (hereby known as DMIS) needs a summer intern.  And Michael was looking for the best.  Not someone who’s meant to be a cashier or whatever other things Michael listed.  Besides Oscar’s great “Why wouldn’t you say that to her face” line while Michael was telling a kid what he really thought of Pam, this aspect of the episode was slightly a letdown.  Anytime Michael is out of the office, he really steps his embarrassment game up a notch.  “The Convention” was a perfect example of this.  However, this episode was just kind of gag after gag, none of which really landed.  Even Michael’s microphone moment, though it made me squirm, not in the funny way that I’m sure it was intended.

What saved this episode was the golf course.  In the wake of Ryan’s warning last week, Jim took the greens to stir up  new business.  And he brought Kevin and Andy with him.  This was just good stuff.  The Office rarely does physical gags.  But when they do use them, they use them well.  Andy’s golf cart crash actually made me laugh out loud.

But this was truly and Jam episode.  The only reason Jim was on this golf course was because he needs to succeed before he can actually give Pam that ring he has.  After his first overture with their golf partner was shot down, Jim had pretty much accepted it for what it was.  But then Pam called.  And Jim redoubled his efforts.  And weren’t you proud of him when he pulled through.  Last week I said that you can’t deny that Jim’s a slacker.  But you also can’t deny that you want to see him win.

We also saw Pam back in her old art room, looking disappointed when her old work was gone.  But more important was what happened right before the credits.  Pam was going to apply for a graphic design job before she found out she was very underqualified.  The only places she could get qualified are Philadelphia and New York.  And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have the conflict for the season finale and to fight over for the summer.  Pam wants to move forward with her life.  But if that means moving, can Jim afford to do it.  Or are we going to reverse season 3, where Pam is away while Jim is in the office alone?

Final Grade: A-


Scrubs: My Princess
May 8, 2008

NBC, Thursday at 8:30PM (Never Again)

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Imagine If Grey’s Anatomy Was Funny…And Just Better

To start off, Natalia Imbruglia had two good songs: “Torn” and “Wrong Impression”.  I’m just saying.

Ok, I missed the teaser on this episode, but can someone explain to me how we moved back in time?  All of a sudden, we’re only a month from this season’s premiere, Kelso is still chief, and Keith returns from his post-strike banishment.  My guess is that this episode was ready before, but realizing it was going to be an abbreviated season, the show decided to use this as the series finale.  I just wanted to know if they explain the time shift in the beginning.

So Scrubs takes its bow on NBC.  And it does so with a concept show.  In the last two seasons, Scrubs delivered two excellent concept shows.  “My Way Home” was a truly clever ode to “The Wizard of Oz” which was funny and very subtle in a lot of its funnier jokes.  “My Musical” was a highlight of the series.  Its easy to make a musical episode.  Its hard to do it well.  Scrubs did it well.

“My Princess”, which was by far the biggest in scope concept episode thus far, was a clunker.  Dr. Cox is telling Jack a fairy tale using the cast as characters.  This is where Scrubs misses first.  “My Way Home” and “My Musical” both used clever conceits for the episode.  This was the exact opposite.  Most of the episode referenced JD and Eliot’s unresolved feelings stemming from their near miss in the season premiere.  Again, the fact that this episode can be time misplaced by several episodes and that still be true is further proof that this “Will They Won’t They” thing is tired and needs to be abandoned.  I’m pretty sure EVERYONE preferred JD & Kim and Eliot & Keith to JD & Eliot.  The only bright spot was that Zach Braff finally seemed to find his voice as JD again, as that had been missing since the end of last season.  Per usual, Janitor and Turla (that’s the Turk and Carla connection for those who don’t know) really stole the show throughout.

And with that, Scrubs is done on NBC.  The cast as we know it is probably done as well.  Budget cuts are probably going to demand that some of the casts background players (Laverene’s sister, Ted, and…dare I say it…The Todd) may have to go.  Its sad that they couldn’t leave NBC on a note that really showed how great this show was for showing that single-camera comedies could work.

By the way, Bill Lawrence, more Dr. Cox and Jordan next season, please.

Final Grade: C

Law & Order: Strike
May 7, 2008

NBC, Wednesdays at 10:00PM

Genre: Drama

Conceit: The CSI of Procedural Shows.

I figured I would give Anthony Anderson a week to settle in without review.  Everyone deserves at least that much when they’re replacing a favorite co-worker.  Well, for starters, he delivered quite possibly the worst “Boy, is it hot our here” line i’ve ever heard.  Other than that, Det. Bernard didn’t do much in terms of investigation.  However, he did find himself at odds with the district attorneys office.  Still, even then, it wasn’t much.

No, this episode was ADA Rubirosa’s time to shine.  The defendant, Ted Sanderson, was a county employee, who was recently exonerated of his wife’s murder.  Lups and Bernard were after him for having run over and killed a public defender who was on strike.  In classic L&O, the murder seems to have been a “wrong place wrong time” kind of thing. But, as always, things are not what they seem.  Turns out the victim had an affair with Sanderson’s wife right before she died.  As Legal Aid was on strike and he couldn’t afford a lawyer, the Judge asked Rubirosa to step across the aisle and handle only the bail hearing.  But of course it wouldn’t only be for the bail hearing.  Sanderson successfully moved to have Rubirosa made her attorney for the case.  It is sweeps after all (well, sweeps in this abbreviated season anyways).  Things go the way they should.  It turns out this guy is innocent.  The episode wouldn’t have worked if he wasn’t.  And in classic fashion, Rubirosa chars bridges trying to defend him.  Unfortunately, she tries to play both sides of the field, when she uses her district attorney badge to get evidence she wouldn’t have otherwise.  This completely backfires as the evidence not only implicates Sanderson, but it makes Rubirosa look bad.  No wait, Sanderson is guilty.  But apparently Rubirosa feels his wrongful conviction earns him a shot.  And so she returns to bridge charring.  And she gets him a deal.  But wait, he’s even more guilty than she thought.  Classic.  The one thing I didn’t like about this episode was, for the sake of making Rubirosa seem stronger, ADA Cutter was uncharacteristically inept.  This is usually how these episodes go.  To make a supporting cast member a star, the stars seem dumber.  And they have to constantly compliment the supporting cast member.

I’ll be honest: I never really thought anyone could take Sam Waterston’s place as executive ADA, but Linus Roache does a pretty good job of it.  He’s just a little more aggressive than Jack McCoy, but it works.  McCoy, meanwhile, finds comfort in getting to add a cynical quip here and there when he gets the chance.  Unfortunately, the producers make him grandstand for a scene, which is very not Jack McCoy.  He also wanders around the office more than Adam Schiff or even Arthur Branch ever would.  However, he does redeem himself with Adam Schiff advice at the end.  Its not the perfect formula, but its as good as it can be if we want Jack McCoy as Manhattan’s DA.  And we definitely want that.

Final Grade: B

Hell’s Kitchen: Day Six
May 7, 2008

FOX, Tuesdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Reality

Conceit: LiKe Top Chef, But Less About Cooking And More About Violent Yelling.

This show is becoming more and more like Top Chef.  Well at least in terms of their challenges.  This week’s gimmick episode was more intrusive than last week’s.  Whereas pizza delivery didn’t end up taking as much camera time as we expected, this week Hell’s Kitchen hosted a Sweet 16 party.  The challenge was going to the market and finding ingredients for 3 dishes which would appeal to the crowd and then make said ingredients.  It was pretty hilarious to see how blatantly the guys have decided to ignore Matt, but in the choosing of dishes and preparing.  Melissa, the sweet sixteener, and her mom came to taste the food.  My first thought was, “Wow, she looks well adjusted for someone having their Sweet Sixteen on TV”, and my second that was, “Wow, Melissa’s mom looks exactly how I’d expect”.  The guys pulled out the win by the skin of their teeth.

At dinner, things started off well enough, with both teams getting appetizers out pretty quickly.  And then things slammed to a stop.  Melissa sent her steak back to the girls kitchen to get recooked.  This made Ramsey lose his mind.  Not wanting to fail the guest of honor, (in believable fashion) Chef Ramsey took over recooking the steak and sent it out.  Melissa’s overly botoxed mom sent back her halibut to the guy’s kitchen because it was too dry.  Matt tried to fix his mistake, but when it didn’t happen, Bobby took over and got the job done.  He really continues to astound me.  He may not be the Black Gordan Ramsey as he claims, but he is doing far better than he was at the beginning.  That didn’t stop Chef Ramsey from chastising him for completely taking over someone else’s station.  However, for the second week in a row, both kitchens finished the entire service.  In general, the losers of the service were Matt (again) and Shayna (who pretty much made it thus far without anyone realizing she was on the show).

As both kitchen performed very well, no one really won and so both had to send one.  Matt knew it was inevitable and started packing, obviously fed up with the guys in his kitchen.  After debating between Rosann and Shayna, the latter ended up before Chef Ramsey.  He was particularly annoyed that for the second night in a row, the girls failed to send the person who deserved to go.  So he also put Rosann, who’s undercooked steak he had to personally fix, into the mix.  And then Matt lost his mind.  He said that his team was awful and he couldn’t work with them and he preferred to work with the girls.  And it worked.  Matt was safe and Shayna went home.  And Matt went to the girl’s team.  This is a true disadvantage for the girls.  Sorry, ladies.

Final Grade: B+

The Hills: No Place Like Home
May 5, 2008

MTV, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Watch What Happens When MTV Stops Being Real And Starts Letting Producers Manipulate.

Lets start with this: Can we stop thinking that Bolthouse lets Heidi “work” at SBE for any other reason than the promotion from being on The Hills.  Last season it was Les Deux, this season S Bar.  Lets call a spade a spade, ok?  Heidi asked Brent for more responsibilities, specifically those which would take her out of town.  I swear that the way Heidi described her responsibilities far exceeded anything that Bolthouse said in the meeting, but isn’t that The Hills?  Heidi arriving with Bolthouse and “Sam” in a Bentley to take their private jet was a bit much of Bolthouse playing to the camera.  I loved Stephanie’s statement that if Heidi leaves, Stephanie will never get rid of Spencer.  How very true.  Man, this kid is five years old.  I admit that I regress when I’m with my sister, but this is rather ridiculous.  “Lalalalalalalala…go away.”  Really?  The only thing worse was Spencer longfully moping around Heidi’s empty apartment.  Seriously man, dignity please.

Speaking of using The Hills for promotion, this episode was all about letting the world know how great The Alkaline Trio is.  Subtle.  The awkward tension in the studio while the girls watched the Trio was…awkward.  This just further widened the gulf between Audrina and the Laurens.   Lo’s feelings about Audrina seems pretty obvious to anyone but LC.  Audrina was the new friend who took Lo’s place when LC moved and Lo wants in the door and wants to shut the door behind her.  She made this clear when she told Audrina that Chloe (their new puppy) had two moms, while all three of them were in the room.  She pours her heart out of Justin-Bobby, who by the way is far more bearable with short hair.  Audrina also finally seemed human during her conversation with J-B.  Its odd that she hasn’t ever seemed that way when talking to LC.  I guess that’s the difference between being in a conversation and being a sounding board.  Audrina walked away thinking its about time she looks for her own place.  Thankfully this “story” is moving somewhere.

Final Grade: B

House: Living The Dream
May 5, 2008

FOX, Mondays at 9:00PM

Genre: Drama

Conceit: Who Needs Bedside Manners?

House kidnapping someone to treat them.  Well that’s random.  Mostly because House doesn’t care about the patients who come in for treatment.  Turns out the actor who’s pivotal to his favorite soap opera may have a tumor.  Or so House divined by watching episodes.  It was pretty funny to watch House run tests on Evan Grier himself, while digging for plot spoilers.  It was even funnier to watch him drug the Grier so he couldn’t leave (when’s the last time House went that over the top?).  Jason Lewis turns in a rather compelling performance as a soap opera actor who is well aware that he is merely a soap opera actor.

Cudday is taking an accredidation inspector around the hospital, which means she needs to keep House on a leash.  This means Cameron has to sit and do file work in House’s diagnostic room.  That actually was nice.  Since she placed herself on equal footing with House near the end of season 1, no one handles House better.  It was also nice to see that Cameron desperately wants to be in diagnostic medicine again, even if she won’t admit it.  It was nice to see her out of scrubs again.  It was even better when Cameron pointed out what we all know: 13 and Cameron are really inter-posable.  The problem with this is that it really shines a light on Foreman’s impotence in his new role.  He doesn’t really do anything anymore other than run interference between House and the crew.  And it backfired this episode.  It wasn’t until the end of the episode that we saw classic House-Foreman sparring.  We need to see more of this.

Wilson and Amber.  This was rather…well…interesting.  House’s theory that Wilson is dating She-House really proved itself tonight.  Amber gave Wilson a choice on picking their joint mattress.  Wilson did what Wilson does: he picked the one he knew would make Amber happy.  And she yelled at him, in true House style, though more lovingly.  Apparently Amber believes Wilson’s relationships fail because he feels the need to take care of the lady.  She doesn’t need to be taken care of.  She just wants Wilson.  This also leads to a rather endearing moment when Wilson final makes a decision of his own.  Didn’t really work out, though.

But in the end, House was wrong.  And he admitted it.  He figured it out in the end, but he was wrong.  And he admitted it.  Hmm.

Final Grade: B+

How I Met Your Mother: Rebound Bro
May 5, 2008

CBS, Mondays at 8:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: 20-something.

Barney is on the hunt for a new wingman in the wake of the end of his bromance with Ted.  After a series of failed requests including Robin, Barney takes Randy (SNL’s Will Forte), who applied before the job was even available.  He had to learn.  Apparently you can’t use the word “bro” in the name of a failed Democratic vice presidential candidate (Broseph Lieberman).  But Barney was ready to take him under his nurturing wing.  Forte really steals the show in a series of horrible misfires, the best one being when he tells a girl his favorite part of a Koala bear.  Robin comes along for exposition sake and tells Barney what we all know: he’s coping with losing Ted by jumping back into the bro market.  The show does pair up Barney and Robin again.  It may have been really as friends, but I think they’re leading us to somewhere we already know.

Sarah Chalke returned as Ted’s ladylove, Stella.  Things are going great between the two, with one qualification: they haven’t been intimate.  When pressed, Stella admits she’s nervous because she hasn’t done it in a long time.  Ted thinks she’s been dormant as long as he is: 5 months.  Its actually that times twelve, which places a lot of pressure on Ted.  That pressure was relieved when Stella finds out that Ted told his friends about her drought, much to her embarrassment.  In Ted’s defense, its really not something a friend should blurt out knowing to a friend’s girlfriend (that MUST be in the Bro Code).  Ted calls out Stella’s reaction as merely looking for an out.  Turns out she’s right and eventually they go further than they had before (though not how you’d think…well not initially).  I’m curious to see how Chalke fits into this show.  Part of me believes she agreed to the guest spots when it seemed like Scrubs was going off the air.  Now that its renewed, I wonder if the writers have to change things up.  It would suck, because Stella and Ted work well together.

The problem with tonight’s episode was that it was terribly formulaic.  This is the problem with HIMYM.  It uses different plot devices to keep things fresh.  But at times you feel the devices are done too often.  That is until they go straightforward old school multi-camera sitcom.  And then you really want the devices.  A double edged sword it is.

Final Grade: B-

Something Completely Different: Iron Man (Spoiler Free)
May 5, 2008

Genre: Sci-Fi Action Adventure

Rated: PG-13

Conceit: The Man In The Iron Mask

Disclaimer: I am a large comic book fan.  Have always been.  This makes me more inclined to see a comic book movie.  It makes me more inclined to appreciate the nuances that others may miss.  And it makes me more inclined to be critical of a comic book movie.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.  Absolutely.  The way that Patrick Stewart is Professor X (and hopefully Heath Ledger will be Joker), Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.  He absolutely makes this movie.  Downey captures every nuance that makes the comic book Stark such a compelling character and he is a pleasure to watch.  The movie makes sure it conveys two important characteristics of Stark: his quick witted sarcasm and his genius.  A lesser movie would sacrifice one for the other, but Iron Man manages to show both sides perfectly.  A genius playboy and CEO of Stark Industries, Tony owns the weapons company he inherited from his father and co-runs with Obadiah Stane.  While demonstrating a new weapons system in Afghanistan, Stark is kidnapped by terrorists.  (Side Note: I’m pretty sure in years to come, we’ll view the current usage of Middle-Eastern Terrorists as the all-purpose enemy the same way we view 80’s movies always casting the good guys against communism)  Needless to say this opens Stark’s eyes to what his weapons really do.  This is an aspect that the movie gets completely right.  Downey plays Stark’s fears and regrets perfectly.  We really believe he rides the iron because he wants to make up for what he’s put out there.  And the evolution fromt Tony Stark to Iron Man feels organic.  Its not that he puts on the armor and kicks butt.  There are several violent (and comedic) crashes before (and during) the butt kicking.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is a mixed bag.  Bridges himself is excellent.  He captures Stane perfectly and is a pleasure to watch.  The problem is with Stane himself.  The character is such a cliche and follows such a cliched path that it really does detract from the movie itself.  All of Bridges acting ability cannot save a character who follows such a predictable path from beginning to end.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns from movie exile to play Stark’s doting secretary, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, the quintessential “stand by your man” type.  Paltrow is fine as Potts.  That’s all I can really say.  This role ends up being very similar to Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes character in Batman Begins (although Potts exists in comic book continuity, whereas Dawes does not).  She brings what she can to a character that really doesn’t do much in the movie.  Sure Potts runs from here to there, and we know there’s a spark between her and Stark, but there’s really nothing there to praise or criticize.  Potts’ character seems all the more one dimensional when stacked up next to Downey’s multi-faceted portrayal Stark.  Hopefully Paltrow will get a meatier rule when Iron Man 2 (already announced for Summer 2010), before she’s un-ceremonially canned ala Holmes.

Terrence Howard also pops in as James Rhodes, military liaison to Stark Enterprises and Tony’s friend.  Howard does a good job of playing an old friend and advisor in Tony’s life, but like Pepper Potts, there isn’t much there.  Methinks that Howard agreed to this role because of what happens to Rhodes in the comic books, something that the movie alludes to for a moment.

Jon Favreau knows comic books and it shows.  He was able to take the source material and make it accessible.  He also managed to effectively walk the tight rope of making the movie accessible to the general audience while staying in the source material enough to appease the comic shop heads (well, as much as they’re ever appeased).  Favreau also Hitchcock’s himself a cameo.  The clever part of this, and what shows Favreau loves the source material, is that he puts himself in a role that is more important to the Iron Man legacy than this movie would have you believe.

Marvel Studios should be proud.  Their first independently produced comic book movie easily sits amongst the top comic book movies made.  Though it slows down for necessary exposition in the middle after taking off at rocket speed, the pacing of the movie is perfect for a summer popcorn flick.  They made Iron Man a compelling character and even planted seeds for their broader vision. (Hint: Stick around after the credits roll)  

Final Grade: A-

Keeping Up With The Kardashians: Kardashian Family Vacation
May 4, 2008

E!, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Reality-ish

Conceit: Vapidness Sells.

So here I am, reviewing the Kardashians for the second week in a row.  Last week, the Kardashian drama felt authentic (enough) to warrant watching another episode.  So the warring clan found themselves in Colorado for skiing.  Things don’t get off to a great start, as Kim immediately hops online to talk to Reggie Bush, her boyfriend, as opposed to spending time with her family.  Things devolve pretty quickly as Bruce gets tired of Kim sitting in a room with everyone, and texting someone else.  So Kris throws Kim’s sidekick over her head, and Kim responds by doing the same.  The family tries to make up, but Kim just isn’t having it.  (Continuity issue: based on clothes and hair and such, the Sidekick incident happens right after they get to the cabin, and before the skiing begins, though E! cut it to look different.)  Kim bails on a family dog sledding experience because she just doesn’t want to deal with it anymore.  On the advice of Reggie, she then actually leaves the cabin and goes home.  And leaves a note on the bed.  In a day of cell phones and emails, that feels a bit over-dramatic, but again, this is reality TV.  Kim got a contrite voicemail from Khloe which genuinely seemed to move her, and she returned.  And things got better.  I don’t know.  I felt it.  I hate myself for enjoying this episode as well.

Bruce is going through a midlife crisis.  I really can’t tell how much of this is authentic, because I really do believe he is in the midst of his crisis, and how much of this is enhanced by the producers.  Either way, he ends up inviting the ski instructors over for pizza and beer.  A bizarre family vacation, I know.  Part of me also feels that this whole thing would’ve been fine without family members saying “this is so not like him” every couple minutes.  I will admit, Kris and Bruce have been more endearing together during this period than when Bruce really is doing nothing else other than sitting around, waiting to comment on the girls.

Man, when everyone is acting authentic, this show really works well.  This usually involves the girls not caking on the make up and Kris acting normal.  That’s what’s been relatively true for the last two eps.  Keep it up, Seacrest, and I’ll keep watching next season.

Final Grade: A-

30 Rock: Sandwich Day
May 4, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Less About SNL And More About Tina Fey Not Having Time To Write SNL.

Y’know, Tina Fey is a geek’s dream come true on many levels, but man, hand her a flat iron and a red dress and she’s a lady for any man.  Liz classed it up because Floyd was back in town for a day and needed to crash at her place.  Of course, when any ex comes into town, you want to “win” (we learned this lesson from How I Met Your Mother a couple weeks back), so Liz went lady.  And it worked.  Floyd was mesmerized.  That is, until a cancelled flight found him popping back to Liz’s and seeing her in all her normal glory.  An awkward silence led to the funniest moment of the episode: Liz questions Floyd, in less than lady-like form, about a woman who answered his phone during the season premiere.  Things go back and forth throughout the episode until both pretty much arrive at the same place they were at the beginning.  I complained last week that the story heavy episode just wasn’t that funny.  I think the difference this week was the chemistry between Fey and Jason Sudeikis.  You want to see them together.  Hopefully we’ll see more of them trying to be together in the future.  

Jack’s story was pretty awful.  Not worth mentioning.

Final Grade: B