30 Rock: Cooter

May 12, 2008 - Leave a Response

NBC, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

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

What does it mean when a show’s regular cast is regularly outdone by their reoccurring characters?  The abbreviated second season of 30 Rock came to an end in an episode which was a metaphor for the season as a whole: hit or miss.  

The hits were obvious.  Dean Winters was barely in this episode, but absolutely owned every scene he was in.  When Dennis found out that Liz may be pregnant with his child, he returned into her life and was hilarious with the few lines he was given.  I really like Floyd because he just has great chemistry with Lemon, but Dennis is the funniest person on this show.  Make him regular cast.

Picking up from a joke earlier in the season (as 30 Rock does so well), Paul Scheer returned as Donny, Head of the Pages and Kenneth’s sworn enemy.  Both were vying to be the NBC page sent to China for the olympics.  Again, Scheer wasn’t given many lines to work with, but went miles with the ones he did.  The Kenneth/Donny rivalry is one of the better inside jokes this series has found.  Scheer should team up with Winters to get a nod as regular cast.

Sadly, when you start with the B and C story characters, it says something about the A stories.  As mentioned, Liz had a pregnancy scare.  Turns out the chips she insists on eating from the Spanish deli use bull semen, which tripped the tests.  Meanwhile, Jack was adjusting to a life in politics.  Or more accurately, trying to find his way out.  Matthew Broderick played Cooter, an aide that would have been his rival, if not for the fact that he was just as desperate to get out.  Unforunately, Cooter just wasn’t a funny character, nor was the storyline as a whole.  The only plus: we got to see C.C. again.  Ok, Dean Winters, Paul Scheer, and Edie Falco: make them all regular cast.

Final Grade: B-


Lost: Cabin Fever

May 9, 2008 - Leave a Response

ABC, Thursdays at 10:00PM

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama

Conceit: The Thinking Man’s “Gilligan’s Island”.

Penultimate episodes generally go one way or another.  Either they do such an incredible job preparing you for the finale that you just can’t wait 7 more days or they end up being a lead balloon and you take comfort in the fact that the finale will be that much better.  Cabin Fever was the latter.  

First off: stop with the flashbacks.  Unless its really going to add something huge to the story, don’t do it anymore.  This is the second flashback this season (not counting Desmond’s travels) and it was just as good as the first one, by which I mean it was not good at all.  John Locke is special.  Fine.  We know that.  Its been beaten into our heads. Apparently the island’s original inhabitants have been interested in his since he was born.  Amazing.  Apparently Richard Alpert never gets older.  Ok, well that is kind of interesting (and gets added onto the list of really sci-fi things about this show).  But still, this episode was truly a throw away.  Locke, Hurley, and Ben wander around the jungle, looking for the cabin, each thinking the other is going to lead them there.  Eventually Locke has a dream and finds the cabin.  That’s pretty much it.

There were two bright spots of this episode.  The first was Ben.  Michael Emerson continues to make a great argument for deserving an Oscar.  His transition from evil-ish mastermind who’s always one step ahead of the curve to helpless participant who’s accepted he’s not special anymore is brilliant.  Its filled with nuance and one of the most compelling roles on television.

The other bright spot happened at the very end.  I was right when I thought I saw Christian in Jacob’s Cabin during the season premiere.  But what was interesting was that Locke saw him too.  And he even identified himself as Christian.  For the first time, a character who “shouldn’t be on the island” has been seen by someone who doesn’t have a personal tie to them.  Is Christian actually alive?  And that shot of Claire just sitting there was brilliantly creepy.  How could she leave her baby, be with her estranged father, and be so at peace?  Brilliant.

And then they ruined it.  I let out a rather deep “ugh” when Christian told Locke what he had to do.  I’m sure it wasn’t to be taken literally, but still, lame.  Oh, and all heck is breaking lose on the tanker and people are coming to kill the island.

Lets hope that this three hour finale spread over the next three weeks (1 hour next week and then 2 hours in a row in 2 weeks) makes up for it.

PS: If this whole series ends up taking place in Locke’s mind while he’s on his walkabout in Australia, with each character representing another aspect of his persona, I will flip my lid.

FInal Grade: C

The Office: Job Fair

May 8, 2008 - Leave a Response

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 - One Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - One Response

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-